Tuesday, 11 September 2012


Twitter's great. It's a great time-waster: how often are you tempted to break into whatever you're doing to just check up on what everyone else is up to? On the other hand, a time-filler par excellence: you can have fun and claim it as good, solid work. But does it really reach out and connect you to your target audience? I watched two Twitter storms rampage across my account this week, and thought they were a neat illustration of how important it is to engage with your followers and how necessary to react to issues in a way that wins you friends.

The first concerned National Schools Film Week http://www.nationalschoolsfilmweek.org. This runs every October, giving school kids the chance to go and see films for free. One of my other hats is Home Educator, and my kids and I love this week. We go through the list of options and make short lists, charting them out to see if it's possible to fit our wishlist into our time and travel constraints. Home educators have always felt welcome, even getting our own button to click on the booking form.


This year, a new rule was introduced, stipulating a minimum of ten for each booking. Not a realistic option for small family groups. I should add a cautionary message at this point: home educators tend to be feisty, determined and adept at using social media to both keep in touch with each other and make their voices heard. NSFW had helpfully given them Facebook and Twitter links to facilitate this...

I have no idea whether NSFW appointed anyone to look after these feeds. What I do know is they were unprepared for the flood of comment that followed. They reacted by cutting off comments on Facebook, and ignoring tweets, which may have given them time to breath, but did nothing to dispel the rising frustration of those who wanted answers. Even the announcement that the minimum bookings rule had been reviewed and that groups of less than ten would be able to join in the fun did little to wipe out the the negative feelings left in the wake of the storm.

The other happening concerned writers, specifically women writers. You may have witnessed the first upsurge following an article in The Telegraph http://t.co/1EUzpQVx in the wake of Maeve Binchy's death, suggesting that women who have not had children are somehow lacking in emotion. The issue raised its head again on BBC Radio Scotland's Book Cafe http://t.co/xlbYsMjy. Again, an flurry of outrage. This time, however, someone was there to respond. I can't talk for anyone else, but I ended up having a friendly chat, feeling that my opinion was important. I also discovered a new radio programme and gained some followers.

Granted, the BBC is a megalithic corporation who ought to get this sort of thing right, and NSFW is a small charity with limited resources. However, if you're going to open up to social media, it doesn't matter who you are: you need to think about what you're saying before you send it out and keep an eye on it what is coming back. A good lesson for us all, I think.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Much as I enjoyed Eats, Shoots and Leaves, I can't really blame my apostrophe fixation on Lynne Truss. Long before that was published, I was spotting errant usages and, occasionally, applauding apostrophal correctness. One of my favourite pieces of graffiti ever was, and maybe still is, on a bench just around the corner from where I lived in Eastbourne. Was it in marker pen or had they gouged it into the back of the seat? It doesn't matter. The inscription read, "Mel's and Stephen's bench". Wonderful.

I live in Lancashire now, but I can't blame what follows on Northern-ness: the retail giant in question has its headquarters in Cheshunt, way down in Hertfordshire. It's the Tesco store in (yes, I shall name and shame!) Burscough Bridge. Whose enormous, neon-lit, road-side sign states that here, in this store, you can purchase both CD's and DVD's. Groan. You'd think a company making that much money could afford to hire a literate proofreader.

The problem with writing about grammar, of course, is that it leaves you wide open to other writers coming in and pointing out all of the errors you yourself have allowed to creep into your prose. My excuse is that my children are watching Nanny McPhee. Not a good excuse, I know, and not one I would accept from the Tesco signwriter, but there we are.

So, to round this out, here is a link to an apostrophe test. I am relieved to say that I got 7 out of 7...

Check Your Apostrophes Now!

I also enjoyed this page http://hayesthompson.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/apostrophe-catastrophe.html with a nice little video featuring Stephen Fry which made me happy that I have never actually taken a marker pen to a Tesco sign. You should watch it to find out why.