My standout gigs

I’ve been to some great gigs in my time. Here are five of my favourites, in no particular order.

Suede, Wolverhampton Civic Hall, 1 November 1994
I was into Suede from the first moment I heard their music, and really loved the angst in the guitar sound. This was one of the first gigs at which Richard Oakes replaced Bernard Butler, and they rocked. The night is covered in this post.

Ezra Furman and the Boyfriends, Birmingham Glee Club, 16 February 2016
I didn’t really want to go to be honest, but my wife did, having seen them on Later… and they were ace. Maybe it was something in the Birmingham audience, but there was a real buzz in the air and energy in the music. As Furman commented: “We do play quiet songs. But that’s not the mood of the room, I can tell.” The support band, The Big Moon, was later shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize, but looked scared to death throughout their set on this particular night.

Fetch Eddie, Goldwyns, 16 May 1990
The best band in Birmingham to never make it, playing funk pop with a bit of indie, and lyrics sometimes a little too close to home. On this night, which turned out to be their last ever gig, the band integrated The Cure’s A Forest into their classic Too Much to Ask For, and wowed everyone. I married one of them. The good looking one. She still does that shake and sing thing.

Alt-J, Nottingham, 8 December 2015
Our daughter introduced us to this band and was desperate to see them, so we took the drive up to Nottingham on a cold and dark December night. I had no idea what to expect but they were brilliantly inventive, and made the kind of music I’d want to play myself. Support band The Horrors, sadly, lived up to their name.

PJ Harvey & John Parish, Birmingham Town Hall, 23 April 2009
Harvey’s powerful songs and masterful use of some vocal effects doodad that added layers of complexity to already incredible vocals were underpinned by a fine rhythm section and fruity Fender Jazzmaster guitars that bathed the audience in a sound like vintage merlot. The juxtaposition of the music’s heritage against the classical backdrop of this entirely seated venue made for a memorable evening. When they played Pig Will Not, the woman sat next to me went absolutely mental.

What are your standout gigs? Post in the comments.

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Ezra Furman (Source: ezrafurman.com)

 

 

Punctuation Basics

I know punctuation was one of your favourite things at school, right up there with long division, but there’s often confusion over certain points. I’ve put together the examples below to help clarify some of these, as a misplaced apostrophe or hyphen can cause all manner of problems.

COMMAS

Commas are widely misunderstood, and generally underused by those writing in an academic context. Common misconceptions are that they should be used “when you take a breath” and that they “shouldn’t be used before and…”. You should use commas to separate different pieces of information within a sentence. Here’s an example:

There is widespread misunderstand regarding use of commas and apostrophes, and both are important to ensure clarity in writing.

You’ll see that the comma in the above sentence is used before and to separate two distinct pieces of information.

APOSTROPHES

These can be pesky little blighters that can cause all manner of confusion, but they’re essential to clarify meaning. Hopefully the examples below will help you get to grips with them.

The chair’s leg is broken.
Chair’s – this is a possessive: it is the leg of the chair.

Chairs’ legs are often broken.
Chairs’ – again a possessive, but this refers to the legs of multiple chairs; legs does not have an apostrophe as this is simply the plural of leg.

The chair’s got a broken leg.
Chair’s – this is chair has, different from the possessive chair’s above.

The chair’s broken.
Chair’s – the chair is broken.

Someone should really mend these chairs…
No apostrophe for chairs here, as this is simply the plural of chair.

The kids’ bedroom is untidy.
Kids’ – this is the bedroom of more than one kid.

The kid’s bedroom is untidy.
One lazy kid who can’t tidy a room.

The children’s playground…
Children’s – apostrophe-s here, as children is already a plural. Similarly, the people’s champion.

There can be confusion over whether to put an apostrophe before or after the s regarding names, etc. Officially, if there’s an s then the apostrophe goes after, but there’s also a school of thought that this only applies if the s actually has a z sound:

James’ coat was wet.
James ends in a z sound.

Thomas’s coat was wet.
Thomas ends in an s sound.

However, if you’re referring to a brand or company that has an apostrophe, then you have to keep it:

McDonald’s’ burgers are very popular. Similarly, M&M’s’ market share…

ITS, IT’S and ITS’

OK, the easy one first: its’ does not exist. Never has, never will. So, that established…

It’s is only ever it is or it has.

The chair’s broken: it’s one of the legs.

Here we’ve got chair’s for chair is, then it’s because we’re saying it is one of the legs. The colon separates the statement from the reason (more on that later).

The chair’s wobbly; I think its leg is broken.

Chair’s here shortens chair is, but there’s no apostrophe for its, because we’re not saying it is or it has. There’s a semi-colon for the run-on sentence.

If unsure just ask yourself whether you’re saying it is or it has. If not, then its.

COLONS AND SEMI-COLONS

Use a colon to indicate a list, reason or example to follow:

There are three primary colours: red, yellow, blue.

Unattended belongings will be removed after 30 minutes: this is a security issue.

Also use semi-colons to separate several longer clauses after a colon:

Today the student asked me about punctuation, and we covered several points in depth: the correct way to use an apostrophe in several contexts; use of a semi-colon in run-on sentences and to separate clauses; the difference between hyphens and dashes.

Also use a semi-colon with a run-on sentence:

Library attendants regularly patrol the building; unattended belongings will be removed after 30 minutes.

HYPHENS AND DASHES

Use hyphens to join related words:

Peer-to-peer sharing… / One-to-one tutorials… / This is a long-term trend.

However, examples like the latter can be context-specific, so:

The trend is evident over the long term.

Dashes can be used to indicate text that deviates from the main point:

Apostrophe use needed some explaining – so many variations! – but we got there in the end.

But use brackets for supporting information:

The Cold War (1947-1991) was a state of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union with its satellite states, and the United States with its allies following World War II.

AND FINALLY…
Some spelling mistakes are invisible to the spell-checker, and other words are commonly misused for one reason or another. Here are some to look out for, and a few examples of unnecessary text.

  • form / from – a classic, easily missed.
  • manufactures / manufacturers – a manufacturer manufactures, but the rs at the end can hide an error.
  • program / programme – in British English a program is only ever computer software; for something entertaining on telly, a series of events or a theatrical souvenir, it’s programme.
  • public / pubic – a missing “l” makes all the difference here. You wouldn’t want to embarrass yourself in a pubic place now would you.
  • aging / ageing – all over the world populations are ageing. Our American cousins are happy to go with aging, but that reads a bit too much like gagging, so add the e to soften the g.
  • convenient store / convenience store – a convenience store is a small grocery shop; if it’s nearby and sells what you want, when you want it, then it’s also convenient.
  • customer / costumer – here a transposed o and u turn someone buying goods or services into someone who designs pantomime outfits. Oh no it doesn’t! Oh yes it does! etc.
  • loosing / losingloosing indicates untightening (although loosening would be better), while losing is the process of loss: The man was losing patience with punctuation.
  • off of and gotten – both horrible Americanisms; avoid (unless you’re American, writing in America).
  • skyrocketing – widely used, but conjures up a somewhat comical image; soaring is much better.
  • mid-end – you can’t have a “mid-end”, because if it’s in the middle it’s not at the end; try mid-range, mid-price or similar instead.
  • every day / everyday – every day = each day; everyday = ordinary: Every day I write the book; it’s the story of an everyday guy. Every day I go to the supermarket: it has everyday low prices.
  • forecasted – just use forecast, okay?
  • countries around the world – where else would they be? Just countries.
  • going forward – usually completely unnecessary, for example: This could change going forward if the company provides an incentive for consumers. This reads much more concisely as: This could change if the company…
  • continues to remainThe company continues to remain the leader in its market. Much tighter as The company remains…

This is by no means exhaustive but might help someone along the way. A confused member of the writing pubic, perhaps. Feel free to add other suggestions in the comments.


I’m a writer and Royal Literary Fund Fellow.
Find out more, tweet me, or email.

Pilgrim repeats on Radio 4 Extra

If you’ve been here before you’ll know how I love my BBC audio drama, particularly Pilgrim by Sebastian Baczkiewicz, starring Paul Hilton as William Palmer “compelled to walk […] between the worlds of magic and of men”. Well, BBC Radio 4 Extra is repeating every episode, giving you the opportunity to listen again or discover for the first time what all the fuss is about. Highly recommended.


I’m a writer, editor, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow.
Find out more, tweet me, or email.

Bringing the ghosts of Birmingham’s criminal past back to life

Always quality writing from the BOLDtext collective. Book your tickets for this unique event now!

Bold Text Playwrights

By BOLDtext writer Tim Stimpson

If you’ve ever walked down Steelhouse Lane in Birmingham you more than likely  have no idea what lies behind the front door of the unprepossessing redbrick building on the corner of Coleridge Passage. Unless you’re a police officer or have been arrested, it’s even less probable you’ve seen inside. But the old Central Lock-Up has been the first stop for many of the city’s criminals for 125 years. As such it’s an important and fascinating part of Birmingham’s heritage.

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The Lock-Up closed its doors in 2016 and West Midlands Police are now in the process of transforming the grade II listed building into a new home for the force’s museum. All being well it will start welcoming the general public in the next few years. In the meantime BOLDtext have been busy writing short plays about some of the people who would have passed through…

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Create simple text notes using Keyboard Maestro and TextEdit

Sometimes you just want to make a note on your Mac. Nothing fancy – just a text file that’s searchable, giving you quick and easy access. There are several ways to do this, but most are more complex then necessary. If you have Keyboard Maestro, however, you can easily create a simple macro that provides a streamlined solution using TextEdit.

Such files store simple snippets of information. For example, I’ve recorded my Writers’ Guild membership number in this way, so if I ever need to quote my number all I have to do is use Spotlight (I actually use Alfred but it’s a similar thing), type the file name, and hit return to open said file. I have lots of others, and storing these in a Dropbox folder called Notes means I can access them using the Files app on my phone.

TextEdit is a stalwart of the Mac, but for many uses, such as blogging or coding, it’s been supplanted by more use-specific apps with added functionality. Yet it’s TextEdit’s simplicity and lack of bloat that make it particularly appealing in this case.

First off, launch TextEdit, open Preferences, and set a couple of defaults. In Preferences, I set new documents to open as plain text, to streamline and simplify, and set the plain text font to Menlo 14pt so it’s nice and easy to read.

The macro itself is quite simple, requiring the following steps:

  • Open TextEdit
  • Create a new file
  • Save that file to give it a name

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Then all you have to do is type your note, and quit when finished. When saving in TextEdit for the first time, navigate to the folder in which you store your notes, and the app will continue to use this path unless you dictate otherwise.

To make this process really convenient, assign a hotkey to the macro – I have OPT+1 set to several macros, which gives me a palette; I just hit the appropriate number – in this case 6 – and Bob’s yer uncle.

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I previously used nvALT to create such notes, but when I upgraded my computer it was one of those apps I didn’t bring to the new machine. iA Writer, in which I’m drafting this post, can also be used for this purpose. Yet while Writer’s a great-looking and functional app whose files are searchable, for something as simple a one-line or even one-word text note, there are just too many layers to the processes of creation, saving and organisation.

As with most things Keyboard Maestro, thinking about each step is key – there are often more than you expect, and you may need to add pauses to allow each step to be completed before the computer tries to take the next. The real trick is examining the way you work, and finding ways to utilise Keyboard Maestro’s extensive capabilities.


I’m a writer, editor, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow.
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Scrivener Tip – progress at a glance

Scrivener’s Project Targets tool is great for keeping an eye on word count, especially if you’re writing something to a prescribed length. On a Mac, to set your targets and check progress call up the Project Targets window using SHFT+CMD+T.

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However, you can also get an idea of your progress as you write with a quick glance at the toolbar. Whatever document you may have selected in the Binder, a line beneath that file’s name indicates how close you are to reaching your pre-defined overall project target. Moving your cursor over the area reveals more detailed information.

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It’s always best to over-write your project and edit down, but this is a great way to keep track, not only of how much work you still have to do, but how much you’ve already done.

To read my other Scrivener tips, click here.


I’m a writer, editor, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow.
Find out more, tweet me, or email.