Let’s Talk Opinion | Wanders with Werewolves


“You write well when you’re angry, Vic.”

This was the express conclusion of a friend who had taken the time to read a couple of my Let’s Talk Opinion posts. I was surprised to hear it.

I could not recall an instance when that particular emotion had prompted me to write, at least not opinion pieces. It is true that some subjects I feel strongly about and treading on egg-shells is not my strongest suit. But anger brings to mind a flaring face, augmented to the size of a Halloween pumpkin and gradually acquiring the hue of a ready-to-explode blueberry Willy Wonka style.

My posts I hope are never dispassionate, but I did not believe them to ever be guided by a sense of annoyance or downright hostility.

Pondering with some degree of perplexity on the matter, in re-reading the posts the aforementioned friend referred to, I came to a conclusion of my own. It was my propinquity proclivity to use irony and dark humour as rhetorical devices that must have come across as written in anger.  I do this intuitively, without forethought, and like any writing that gets submitted to public scrutiny, it may at times appear to linger on the threshold of sarcasm, if not crossing it altogether.

The reader is always a better judge than I could ever be of whether that is the case or not, so I will leave you to draw your own conclusions. For now, I will keep the promise of yesterday’s Let’s Talk Opinion | Lunchtime Edition and add the remaining favourites of the series for a complete top ten:


thinkoutsidetheboxcold#6 Clichés | Avoid them like the plague! Laughter is contagious, and having just about managed to pick myself off the floor where I lay in stitches for a while after reading Michael Alexander Chaney‘s “cliché” misadventure, I decided to repay him in kind. This is one of those rare instances (for me at least) where humour went hand in hand with utility.


beach-love-couple-silhouette1#7 Consent is Sexy When it comes to the issue of tacit consent it is difficult to disagree with Queer Guess Code: traditional media continue to portray romantic encounters as the prerogative of silence. If the other’s advances are unwelcome, we are expected to say “no”, but are women given enough opportunities to say “yes”?


blogging_6#8 Danger Blogging explores the dangers bloggers expose themselves to on a daily basis, and offers a few tips on how to avoid them. I have fallen foul of a couple of these myself and the effects were immediate and lasting so beware. In conversation with Idiot Writing.


Vogue Issue Cadeaux#9 Child Pornography and The Sexualisation of Children “Do child pornography websites lead to acts of unimaginable evil?” asks Giorge Thomas in the wake of Ian Watkins – the lead singer of Lostprophets – being convicted of child pornography charges. With this question in mind I consider the impact of the sexualisation of children perpetrated by popular media today. Some readers found the accompanying images disturbing, so please tread with care.


animal-farm1#10 Some are more equal than others In hindsight I wish I had named this article “Wanders with Werewolves”.  If you are familiar with this piece then you will know why. If not: then take a peek and let me know if you think a title change is in order. I believe this is the opinion piece that my friend referred to when she said “You write well when you’re angry, Vic.” Well… angry perhaps not, but a little wolfish, certainly.


Let’sTalk Opinion posts engage with issues that are important to other bloggers, connecting with others on matters close to their heart. If you like a topic and would like to contribute, please feel free to add to the comment box, reblog, share, email or message me on Twitter @shardsofsilence.

Or if you happen to be a fellow Hogwartsian send me a letter by owl. ;)

Trees planted by fire | Compare This


You have done it!

Your manuscript is immaculate in its presentation; you have found your distinctive authorial voice, the prose sounds just right, and even those tricky modifiers have been wiped off the page, within reason. What do we go hunting for next?

Analogies, similes and metaphors – collectively referred to as comparison.

I have to admit that I shy away from comparison. To me, there is no trickier devil to get right. This is rather strange considering that my poetry abounds with similes. When it comes to prose however… I tend to err on the side of caution.

Let’s have a quick look at some definitions, just to get warmed up.

Analogy: a) Similarity in some respects between things that are otherwise dissimilar. b) A comparison based on such similarity. E.g.: “Just as a sword is the weapon of a warrior, a pen is the weapon of a writer.”

Simile: A figure of speech in which two essentially unlike things are compared, often in a phrase introduced by “like” or “as”, as in “How like the winter hath my absence been” or “So are you to my thoughts as food to life.”

Metaphor: A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison, as in “a sea of troubles” or “All the world’s a stage” (Shakespeare).

The use of comparison is to a writer the equivalent of putting their writing skills under a spotlight. When a reader comes across a comparison they stop and pay attention. Comparisons are a double-edged sword: get it right and the reader will thank you for it, get it wrong and you are in big trouble.

Once again we return to the cliché – because it is in the world of comparisons that clichés abound and are most difficult to eradicate. The use of clichéd comparisons is one sure way of getting our manuscript off the agent’s desk and into the rejection pile.

How do we avoid this? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Use comparison sparingly. Only key ideas necessitate comparison in order to clarify them and create a memorable image in the reader’s mind. Two comparisons on one page are one too many.
  2. Avoid commonplace comparisons as this will make your writing appear commonplace too. Don’t make your characters sweat like pigs, laugh like madmen or make it to their destination in the nick of time for example.
  3. Precision is your best friend when it comes to comparison. Does the comparison bring to light the idea exactly as you imagined it would? If not. Cut it out and try again.

Comparison is the spice of prose. It can make a bland dish extraordinary, but add too much and you’ve ruined the whole.

One way to enrich your comparison stock is by adding to it every day. Open a new document, pick a random object and give free rein to your imagination. Come up with five new ways of describing that object and let them simmer on the page. When you come back to it, you may discover a gem.

Compare – Contrast – Enjoy!

Judging a Book by its Cover

All of us – at least some of the time – judge a book by its cover. It is a shortcut and in this hectic life shortcuts can come in handy. The way a book is presented tells you something of its content – and if the cover is one of the author’s own choosing – it will give you a glimpse into (if not who they are) how they want to present themselves to the world.

It may come as no surprise then that agents and publishers do this too when it comes to manuscripts. How a manuscript is presented may seem the least of worries to those of us still caught up in the process of writing, re-writing and revising some more. Yet it does matter.

ManuscriptA poorly presented manuscript may unwittingly suggest that the writer is either careless or messy, or perhaps they are making a statement: one of disregard for the publishing industry’s standards.

If it is the first then the person holding the manuscript in their hand may be led to believe that the writing will be careless and messy too. If it is the second, they may be annoyed that someone would be making a statement at their expense.

We get only once chance to make a good first impression so… why begin by putting the wrong foot forward?

Here are three things to keep in mind when it comes to presentation:

  1. Check what the industry’s standard is and ensure that your formatting complies with their demands (A4 paper, standard white, text appearing on one side of the page only, double-spacing, correct font size etc.) big-time-ny-literary-agency1
  2. Always send a new manuscript. This is not a rule as such, but I think that if an agent or publisher receives a worn manuscript, or a manuscript that is defaced in any way, they will assume that it has been read and rejected by others already. This may influence how they approach it.
  3. Finally… there are a plethora of industry jokes about the Paranoid Manuscript – the one that has “Copyright” and “Confidential” inked onto every page – major turn off I am told and not much use either.

However… even when all these rules are followed there is one biggie that can’t be overlooked before sending the manuscript in: The Cliché!

Clichés | Avoid them like the plague!

They are tricky little crumpets these clichés. If one of them finds its way onto the opening page or sneaks its way somewhere into that first chapter, then that’s it for the rest.

With great writing comes great responsibility. Show no mercy! Throw that cliché out with the bathwater 😉

November’s Darlings

Feeling a little blue and want something to cushion your first winter day?

Take a leaf from Cumberbatch’s homely delights on this. Light a fire in the grate (it is winter after all), pour yourself a good measure of whiskey (when in doubt, always go Scottish on this), and get yourself comfy for a good read. When only the best will do, here’s our critics’ pick of November’s Top Ten Shards guaranteed to satisfy.

untitled#1 You Are Not White Enough! Laughter and tears was the overwhelming reaction to this humorous rant against the Racist Vagina Police. “There’s no man in this world who will reject you because of your unbleached Bermuda Triangle,” says Vic. This anti-fairness advocacy piece is our critics’ favourite shard.

#SherlockLives#2 #SherlockLives  This piece, courtesy of The Batch on Sunday, took the Tweetosphere by storm. It chronicles the fandom’s reaction to the surprise trailer for the third series of Sherlock, as well as musing on the meaning of John Watson’s upper lip décor. The latest news is this: Sherlock comes to UK screens on the 1st of January!

RAPED_683000#3 Drunk Sex / RAPED This is the second Let’s Talk Opinion piece to make it to the top of our critics’ list for November. It is a counterpoint to the claim that regret in hind-sight plays a role in reporting intoxication related sexual assaults.

skyferreira_album#4 Get Naked. Be Art. By delving into a discussion regarding the intent of this choice, whether artistic or commercial, the author attempts to think through whether nudity in this context is empowering and disarming, or whether it is just another gimmick. “Nudity sells. It has done for as long as there were people willing to be nude, and those with the skill to depict it,” says Vic in response to Sky Ferreira’s C.D. cover and her choice of exposed nipple.

thinkoutsidetheboxcold#5 Clichés | Avoid them like the plague! Now this one’s the bees knees! Despite being a late November entry, this little escapade into the world of clichés, has clearly found resonance with readers and critics alike. “Provoking and funny,” says Michael Alexander Chaney, whose piece  Clichés I Don’t Get  happens to be the source of inspiration for this shard.

#6 Brokeback Mountain Whispers is an opinion post about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender rights. The horrific stories of abuse and murder suffered by members of the LGBT community do not make for easy reading.

Marie_Antoinette#7 Temptation is the only poem in the November repertoire to make it onto the critics’ Top Ten list. “Oh hoah, V. A little hot in here – wanna open that window? This one has some of the best lines I’ve seen on this blog yet,” says Holistic Wayfarer. Tempted?

Vogue Issue#8 Child Pornography and The Sexualisation of Children  Establishing a connection between paedophilia, child pornography and the sexualisation of children by the fashion, film and music industries, this article argues that amongst other harmful consequences, the increased sexualisation of children in the media may inadvertently result in lax attitudes towards abuse.

cuffed#9 Cuffed “They came for me in the late summer of 2011,” begins the story of a young journalist whose life is turned upside-down when the police turns up at her door with a warrant for her arrest. It is the first snippet of a novel, currently under revision. “Ever read the first page of a novel and just immediately know you’re in for a great ride? I have. And I just did again,” says JMC813. Hope you agree.

Johnlock#10 #BrokebackSherlock In the latest instalment of writer turned director Vic Briggs’ Dreamscapes epic, she takes the Johnlock relationship to another level. “We need Johnny, Benedict and Martin to see this thing. Seriously. God, I am still laughing,” says beddyburc. This is one for the boys.


Do you agree with the critics’ choices?

Which was you favourite November shard?

Now… You are in your favourite armchair, the fire blazes in the grate, and the whiskey shimmers amber at the bottom of your glass. You’ve got your nice reads at the ready. What could be more wonderful on a cold December day? Here’s to a beautiful winter.

Clichés | Avoid them like the plague!

Let’s Talk Opinion in conversation with michaelalexanderchaney

“These sayings took hold because they bespoke the warped consciousness of a whole people during the infancy of their social contract. Do you want to see civilization’s baby pictures? Take a long cold hard look at a cliché and then say goo-goo gah-gah.” Clichés I Don’t Get


In today’s piece Michael embarked on a humorous investigation of clichés he doesn’t get. Well worth a read if your funny bone is in need of a tickle.

I chuckled from the bird in the bush to the one in the hand and back again, going as the crow flies, and killing two birds with one stone, I got to know his piece like the back of my hand, which nearly slapped me silly as I did my best to avoid getting drunk as a skunk in the process.

You get the idea. Clichés. The bane of writers everywhere.

I can tell you now that I have a handwritten collection of nine hundred and eight clichés to avoid, and I’m pretty sure that my list only scratches the surface. He-he. See what I did there?

I’m sure you all know what a cliché is, but I’d like to be thorough, just in case a novice comes across this post and would like a quick definition.

A cliché is an expression or idea that has become trite due to overuse. They come from all over the world, have different interpretations contingent on cultural knowledge and identity, and are – as we are all well aware – a popular form of expression.

Some clichés are used to describe time, as for example:

  • Time will tell: something will revealed or elucidated over time
  • In the nick of time: when something happens just in time
  • The time of my life: instead of a really great time

There are a plethora of clichés used to describe people, such as:

  • As old as the hills: very old
  • Fit as a fiddle: someone in great shape
  • Weak as a kitten: a very weak person.

Even our inner life is one for clichés:

  • Opposites attract: people who like different things and have different views are likely to fall in love
  • Scared out of my wits & Frightened to death : being very frightened
  • All is fair in love and war: you can do whatever you have to in order to conquer someone’s heart
  • All’s well that ends well: if there were problems along the way, it doesn’t matter as long as there is a happy ending

They all became clichés for a reason. They are a convenient expression shortcut. However, these overused phrases can also be a barrier to communication. When a reader comes across a cliché, they start tuning out and may even miss the message we are trying to get across.

I refer you here to George Orwell’s advice, which I believe is as pertinent today, as it was when first pronounced: Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”

“At the end of the day” is one that gets my blood boiling, as well as the constant use of “like” as if it were a form of punctuation. “To the bitter end” gets another big NO from me. Also, I cannot stand “That’s ironic”, “virtually” or “literally” when misused. It makes me want to scream “I will literally kill you if you keep saying that!”

There are other repetitions which may not be exactly clichés, but which for me certainly read that way. For example, I will literally die 😉 if I see another exhibition of a “burning gaze”, “looking though thick eyelashes”, “wry smile”, “rearing of an ugly head”, yet another “dumb blonde” and that oh-so-annoying “OMG” in print.

If only walls could talk, they’d tell those cliché lovers to think outside the box and stop chasing their tail or that’ll be the nail in the coffin of their literary career. Walls would of course attempt to communicate in a language intelligible to repeat offenders. To those who are beginners in their craft, they may adapt their language and presumably would find a way to say all this without using clichés.

Which clichés do you find the most annoying?

I’m sure you must have a few favourites at least.

Now I very much doubt that Michael will see my picking this as the topic of today’s Let’s Talk Opinion as the equivalent of taking candy from a baby, although I did feel like a kid in the candy store when I visited his blog earlier today. Just killing time, I thought, but it was certainly a game-changer and I soon realised that comedy like that comes once in a blue moon. That’s that. Cat got my tongue! 😉


Let’sTalk Opinion posts engage with issues that are important to other bloggers, connecting with others on matters close to their heart. If you like a topic and would like to contribute, please feel free to add to the comment box, reblog, share, email or message me on Twitter @shardsofsilence.

Or if you happen to be a fellow Hogwartsian send me a letter by owl. ;)

Back in the USSR

I never got the meaning of that song.

“You don’t know how lucky you are?” Whose luck was it? The Brits’ and the Americans’ because they weren’t born there?

I was born in the USSR. Trust me when I tell you this: luck did not come into it.

Have you ever been hungry? Really hungry? Hungry because all you had for breakfast that morning was a stale piece of bread smeared with margarine? You needed the margarine, even if you did not want it. You had to get some fat content into your system to resist the temptation to eat the other piece of stale bread that your parent had packed in your schoolbag for later. Margarine in the USSR smelt like soap. A far cry from the ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’ margarine of today. It smelt like soap, and it tasted like it too.

We did feel lucky. We had parents who went without so that we wouldn’t.

Last year an English friend of mine did a ‘survive on one pound a day’ challenge for charity. I made my contribution and left it at that. What I did not tell him was this. At the age of fifteen I got a thirty dollar-a-month scholarship to go to boarding school. One dollar a month. It smelt of independence (and maybe a little of margarine). I had never been so rich! My mother’s salary as a teacher was half that at the time.

I did not ‘survive’ on a dollar a month: it was more money than I had ever seen in my life.

Remember the old cliché writers are warned about: do not write ‘More than I have ever seen, ever had, ever – anything?’ Well… It fits the bill here (he-he, here’s another one).

When Latin American telenovelas flooded our three-channel-USSR screens, we watched amazed life in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and the slums of Sao Paulo. Obrigado Brazil! It was not shock at their living conditions that kept us glued to the screens. It was envy. The favelas of Rio were a few clouds up from our respectable Soviet homes. What the rich had in those dream-peddling machines was exactly that to us: a dream, an illusion. But we could aspire to favela-chique.

I suppose we were lucky. Luckier than some. We had a roof over out heads. And we had enough stale bread in our belies to dream.

Then came the trucks. The truckfuls of second-hand clothes from the West. They were supposed to be handed out for free, but it became a thriving black market trade in no time. And we felt lucky. Sometimes you found a bargain. It still cost an arm and a leg, but at least you got some clothes on your back. And that was something. Sometimes they allowed you to keep the limb: ‘Buy one get the other half price’-style.

How we showed off with our new oldies! Now I get it. Vintage. We were lucky after all.

The West won the Cold War. The USSR fell. We had to pay for a loaf of bread the sum that would have bought a studio apartment a few days before – if buying apartments had been an option in our glorious USSR. Mind you. We got our bread. Fresh this time. At least the first slice was. We couldn’t go buying studio-apartment-loafs every day. That’s the reality of recession. “You don’t know how lucky you are.”

But that’s not the worse of it. It was raining men. And women. Old men and women to be precise. People who had broken their backs to save a little money, live out with a little dignity the last years of their lives. They lost everything. They jumped in their hundreds off the rooftops: Soviet legacies splattered on the broken-up asphalt.

Were they the lucky ones?

At least they didn’t get to see their granddaughters ripped from their villages and prostituted in Yugoslavia’s warzones. Yes. They were lucky not to live through that.

Capitalism – the type of capitalism that at least begins to resolve the problem of scarcity – is yet to arrive ‘back in the USSR’. What we have now, defies description. I can at least label it: Raging Wild-East Capitalism.

“Back in the USSR.

You don’t know how lucky you are.”

Cheers, Macca. You are a legend. But next time, please stick to what you know. Writers are forever told this. Songwriters should try it sometimes.

Confessions of a disgruntled Ape-wo-Man