February 13th, 2014

Should you read on regardless or abandon ship? Spinebreaker Emma muses over whether it’s ever acceptable to make an early exit if you find a book that doesn’t float your boat.

Reading at home, at school or in bed has become a chore. Your book is going nowhere – no excitement, no conflict, no action. You swear you’re about to fall asleep. You can’t remember what a good reading experience was like. Closing the book, you contemplate giving up. Is the ending worthy of being known? But, being an avid reader, visualizing an abandoned book on your shelf makes your decision harder. This will take so much willpower. Will you be frowned upon for putting it back?

Here’s the question: is abandoning your book acceptable or not?

As a young girl, I couldn’t imagine giving up on a book. Countless English teachers snapped at anyone who did. Every good reader I knew told me it was wrong. In the second half of primary school, Mum sometimes sat me on the sofa with a book and forced me read. I moaned and whined, but four years later I realised why. I wasn’t enjoying my book and wasn’t putting it down because I never realised I disliked it.

If that was me now, I’d have happily given up on the book and read something else. I like reading much more now than I did four years ago. Why? Maybe I’ve chosen better books to read, but now anything I don’t like, I forget it. This is just one of many reasons why it’s acceptable to give up on a book. Carrying on with something you don’t like isn’t good, it bores you and as in my situation, it can put you off for life.

Secondly, this does sound weird, but giving up on a book can make you learn lots about your reading habits. If you experiment with a genre and you don’t like it, you’ll know you won’t have to read from that genre in the future. Similarly, if you give up on a book in a series, then you won’t have to endure other books that come afterwards, like I stupidly did when I was younger.

Asking around, many adults I know don’t think giving up on a book is acceptable. You might not pay attention to it, but when you give up on a book, that’s about £8 down the drain (or less for an eBook) and this could be some of your precious pocket money wasted. Lots of other adult readers I know also like to give a book chance. I’ve done this before, when I read Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver when I was about twelve. At the start, the book was failing to entertain me, but later it got better and better, and I really enjoyed it. Now, I tend to give up on a book later on if it’s still not doing it for me.

Do you know how long it takes for an author to write their book? That’s why books in a series are released around a year after the one before. You could argue that not finishing a book is disrespectful to the author. However, they won’t know about it, and as a reader, you have your own rights.

Personally, I think that giving up on a book is acceptable as long as you’ve given it some chance to grow on you and you still don’t like it. This is mainly because you don’t have to read anything you don’t want to, and you won’t get put off.

What do you think?

February 7th, 2014

We’re giving away SIX Roald Dahl audio books through our Twitter competition!

The Magic Finger & The Minpins
Danny the Champion of the World
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Boy Tales of Childhood
Going Solo

…Could all be yours. All you’ve got to do is enter our competition via Twitter and Tweet us a photograph of your take on one of his stories. It could be you as a character, it could be a drawing, it could be a new book cover etc. Whatever it is we just want you to get creative and capture the magic of Dahl!

Entires will be judged on three things:
1) Originality
2) Creativity
3) Whether it captures the spirit of Dahl

Please make sure you don’t use any images that aren’t your own. Entrants must be from the UK.

All you’ve got to do is enter our competition via Twitter and Tweet @spinebreakers with your photo and a title PLUS the hashtag #DahlSnap

So head over and enter now on Twitter

December 9th, 2013

We are pleased to announce that Spinebreaker Yana is the winner of our Wendy & Peter Pan competition!

Entrants were asked to submit a 250 word re-writing of the end of JM Barrie’s classic tale of Peter Pan for a chance to win tickets for a family of four to a matinee performance of Wendy & Peter Pan at the famous Royal Shakespeare theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon, plus family accommodation at The Arden Hotel.

Playwright Ella Hickson, author of the RSC’s Wendy & Peter Pan, chose Yana’s entry “because it had the best combination of imaginative flair and a clear writing talent. The prose was concise and yet lyrical and the idea was wonderful. I’d rather like to see this version!”

You can check out her full entry below. Congratulations, Yana!


“Wendy!” “Hmm?” Wendy turned over in a state of half-consciousness. She felt sure that she’d heard something. “Wendy!” “Huh?” Wendy propped herself up on one elbow. A small silhouette was perched on her windowsill. Wendy slipped out from under the covers and padded over to the window. “Tiger Lily!” Wendy whispered joyfully. Tiger Lily sat there in all her glory, her hair long and silky, the feathers from her headband resting on her brow. “Wendy!” she greeted. “What are you doing here?” Wendyasked, confused. “I have come to ask you something,” Tiger Lily said, her face becoming serious. “Would you join my tribe?” Wendy stopped short. “What?” Tiger Lily explained everything quickly. The Indians had crowned a young male as their leader after he saved the tribe from a dangerous animal, and the male had tried to make Tiger Lily his wife. Tiger Lily had fought back, which made the leader angry. He had exiled her, and Tiger Lily had formed her own tribe – the Found Girls, the title the opposite of the Lost Boys. They had their own little hideaway in Neverland, in a far-off jungle. Tiger Lily travelled around, seeking out girls who had been ‘abandoned’ by boys. Wendy had been abandoned by Peter Pan – and so she was the top of the list. Wendy cast an eye back at her brothers and the adopted Lost Boys, all sleeping soundly. “They have each other,” she decided. And she took off with Tiger Lily into the night.


December 6th, 2013

Our Spinebreakers team interviews the punctuation pundit himself! “I’ve really enjoyed answering your questions,” he tells us. Check out his answers below!


 - What made you want to write this book?

A few years ago, I wanted to redesign a couple of websites. A colleague of mine recommended a book called The Elements of Typographic Style, which describes the basics of selecting and using fonts, and separately, a friend told me I should read a book called An Essay on Typography, written in the 1930s by an English sculptor (now dead) called Eric Gill.

Gill’s book was peppered with a mark (¶) that I recognised but couldn’t place. I checked the glossary at the back of The Elements of Typographic Style to find that it was called the “pilcrow” and that it was a paragraph mark, but there was very little else to go on. Some internet research and more reading convinced me that there was a story to be told about the life of the pilcrow – not only the pilcrow, though, but also the many other unusual marks of punctuation that have been created, lived, and died over the centuries.

- Where do you write?

I live in Edinburgh, and I try to work at the National Library of Scotland as often as I can. It’s a legal deposit library, which means that it can request copies of all books published in the UK, and so its collection is incredible. Just the other day I checked out a book about papyrus, the ancient Egyptian writing material (it turns out that the book was one of only 495 copies ever printed), to find a leaf of papyrus glued into the book itself. It was little a little reminder of how important physical books are – I learned more about papyrus from that one sheet than I would have from any number of e-books – and of how important libraries are in granting us access to them.

If I don’t make it to the library, I work from home. You know that idea you have of a writer shivering away in their garret, wrapped up in a scarf and too many layers of clothing? That’s me in the winter months in Scotland.

- What inspired you to write Shady Characters?

It was the life of the pilcrow, or paragraph mark: ¶. Its name comes from the ancient Greek word paragraphos, which meant a break or a change in topic in a text, and its shape comes from the C at the beginning of the Latin word capitulum, or “chapter”. The concept of the paragraph turns out to be older than punctuation itself, and the pilcrow has been around in one form or another for over two thousand years; empires have quite literally risen and fallen while this little mark soldiered on.

- What’s your favourite word and why?

“Interrobang” and “pilcrow” are definitely up there, purely because they’re inextricably associated with Shady Characters. I’ve been told, however, that I say “interesting” far too often. It isn’t my favourite word, but apparently I can’t do without it.

- Do you think book covers are important or should you never judge a book by its cover?

I’ve read some brilliant books whose covers are incredibly dreary, and some dreadful books with great covers. As such, I’ll always give a book a chance, regardless of its cover; maybe we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we can certainly judge a cover by its book once we’ve read it.

- Physical books or e-books?

Both have their place. When I’m travelling, it’s great to be able to take as many e-books with me as I want. Novels, especially, make sense as e-books because the layout of each page is so simple, and I don’t often miss having a paper copy of a work of fiction.

On the other hand, if I’m at home or at the library then it’s far nicer to leaf through a physical book, particularly if it’s heavily illustrated or its design is a little more intricate. There’s some research that says we’re better at finding information in a physical book – we subconsciously respond to its weight, how easily it falls open at a certain page, that sort of thing – which suggests to me that we’re just more compatible with physical books than e-books.

- Why do you think the interrobang did not become a regular punctuation mark that you would find in writing or on keyboards, like things such as a dash or and ampersand?

I think that technology had a lot to do with it. There wasn’t an interrobang key on the typewriter keyboard for years after the mark had been invented, and when it did appear it was only as an optional extra. In the 1960s, when almost every office in the world depended on the typewriter, this was a big problem. Not only that, but for a long time there was only one font that contained an interrobang, and it was meant mostly for headlines and other large text. If you were a writer and you used an interrobang, it was very difficult to see that interrobang all the way through to print.

The reason that the ampersand and dash have survived all this time is that they were in common use when typewriters were first invented; new marks that come along have a difficult task in displacing an older one from our keyboards.

- What would you say are the most useful and not useful punctuation marks and why?

Commas, colons and semi-colons are very, very useful. Without these, we’d be stuck with very simple sentences, and though that isn’t necessarily bad, it would quickly become boring. Speaking of sentences, the full stop, exclamation mark and question mark tell us a lot about the tone and intention behind a sentence. These six, I think, are essential.

On the other hand, we could live happily ever after without curly braces {}. They’re most often used when you’ve used parentheses to mark an aside in your text (like this [and you want to add another aside {like this}]). If you have brackets within brackets within brackets, your sentence is too complicated for its own good!


- If you had the opportunity to re-introduce one ‘lost’ or ‘obscure’ punctuation mark, which would it be and why?

This is a tough question. I imagine it’s like having to choose between your children. I’d say the interrobang (‽), which is used to mark a surprised or rhetorical question (“Who threw that brick through my window‽”), or perhaps the ironieteken, a Dutch mark used to punctuate an ironic statement, where you write one thing but mean something else. It never really took off, but I think it’s a lovely design.

- Why do you think many punctuation marks date back from the times of the ancient Greeks and the Romans?

When the Greek alphabet was still relatively new, it was written with no punctuation of any kind (including spaces between words!). Readers tended to read aloud, whether to themselves or to others, and one scholar suggested that readers might want to insert dots, or points, to signal where to pause when reading. These points were the komma, signalling a short pause (·), the kolon, for a medium pause (.), and the periodos (˙) for a long, or “final” pause. This was the beginning of punctuation, and many of our modern marks come from these three dots.

- Do you think that newly-discovered punctuation marks should be taught in schools and available throughout technology?

Another good question! I think we should concentrate on teaching marks that are in common use, though it would certainly have been fun to have learned about the interrobang and pilcrow at school.

As for technology, the good news is that lots of these marks are already available if you know how to get at them. Normally this involves entering a numerical code corresponding to a particular mark, or copying and pasting it from another document, but neither of these methods is ideal. The problem, really, is the hundred-and-thirty-year-old typewriter keyboard, which changes only very slowly over time. Smartphones and tablets, however, have virtual keyboards which could very easily be customised to show new marks, and if you have very deep pockets you can even buy a customisable PC/Mac keyboard with a tiny screen under each key so that you can type an interrobang, pilcrow or any other mark with a single keystroke. At £1,500, though, better start saving!

November 28th, 2013

Strategically minded Spinebreaker Gesbeen breaks down the steps necessary to get your name in the papers… for the right reasons!

As a third year journalism student at City University London, it has become apparent that self-educating before entering higher education is crucial for aspiring journalists.

With the birth of the Internet, writers and journalists have come upon a realisation; never has it been so easy to be a writer and yet never has it been so hard to become a professional writer. Anyone can blog, but there is a major difference between blogging to advance your career and blogging for fun. That is the writing style or narrative, if you like.

Blogging with the aim of writing to journalistic standards, will make you stand out of the massive blogosphere and possibly get you on the career ladder. Remember, excellent articles, short stories, and information are published online for free non-stop. The publishing industry is running out of money, no longer does interning for half a year at a paper guarantee you a salary.

The Web provides great platforms for young writers and journalists, such as Spinebreakers for 11 to 19 year olds, allowing creatives to get content published before even entering higher education or work. For those who wish to make writing a career one day, you’ll struggle much less with a portfolio to show the scary interviewer.

If you want to see bylines with your name in publications, here is some advice regarding how to start improving your writing style now!

1. Objectivity

One of journalism’s cores lays in objectivity, meaning the journalist often is an observer as events take place. The simplest thing a young journalist can do at this stage, already, is remove the I’s from the copy. Why? Generally, less so in blogs, as a journalist, the writing should be a reflection of the event;  the news. Unless, you are writing a column or post about your experiences and journey, it is far-more interesting (but more challenging for the writer) without the I’s. Harshly, as one of the lecturers put it; ‘’ We don’t want to see any I’s, you are not interesting.’’

2. Read, Read, Read

Always remember to read, whether it’s newspapers or fiction. If your bookshelf is stacked with Hemingway, Orwell and Woolf, you can apply the literary styles used to feature writing. More importantly,  reading expands and activates the mind, eventually creating new ideas.

3.  Be descriptive in feature writing

‘’Show, don’t tell,’’ the most eye-opening advice one can give. Imagine reading a novel, written like, ‘’ The scenery was beautiful. It smelled nice. I was going to see my wife.  But there was a car accident.’’ What made the scenery beautiful? How did it smell nice for the protagonist? How did the car accident make his journey home troublesome, how did it ruin his day? Allow the reader to see what you saw. Provide imagery, whether it is fiction or journalistic writing.

4. The Big No-No

Repetition, often a sign of a lack of confidence in writing, is a narrative-killer. Avoid at all times. Make a point in a paragraph and move on, don’t try and hammer the same idea into the reader’s head.

Once you’ve started the process of improving, the to-do-list extends.  Intern at organisations, where you see yourself having a career one day; you’ll learn an awful lot and by the time you’ve graduated from university, you’ll be equipped with skills that university alone can’t give. With relevant experience and a perfected writing style, the bylines will be yours!