Friday, 16 August 2013

George Orwell's six rules for authors

We write, we procrastinate, and we find the internet stacked with advice for us authors. Out of all I've read on storytelling it's George Orwell's six rules I believe every writer should know.

Orwell is of course the man behind two of the most classic stories in literature, Animal Farm and 1984. Incidentally, in June this year sales of the latter spiked following the scandal surrounding the National Security Agency's (NSA) collection of data from millions of phone and internet records.

Published in 1949, this novel has proven to be somewhat prophetic. Big Brother is indeed watching us all... and if you're writing, imagine him looking over your shoulder making sure you follow Orwell's advice.

The six rules are from his essay Politics and the English Language, and they are as true now as they were back in 1946.

  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

If we're honest, when writing we can easily allow some of these to slip through the net. Certainly, as writers we must ascertain why we choose a particular word or phrase instead of an alternative. Having learnt what I've learnt, I now find it pretty damn hard these days not to spot others breaking Orwell's rules. When I do, the book is thrown on the floor by me.

With each beta reader's keen oculus sinister and oculus dexter on The Shadow Fabric, I hope to hell I've followed these rules!

Author photo (c)Christopher Shoebridge
Mark Cassell lives in a rural part of the UK with his wife and a number of animals. He often dreams of dystopian futures, peculiar creatures, and flitting shadows. Primarily a horror writer, his steampunk, fantasy, and SF stories have featured in several anthologies and ezines.

His debut novel, The Shadow Fabric, is a supernatural story and is available from Amazon.

Twitter: @Mark_Cassell Facebook:

Monday, 12 August 2013

Useless Facts: monkeys, fashion, ketchup, the bible... and more

Disclaimersome of these facts may actually be complete bullshit.

1) Between human and ape there is only a 1% DNA difference. 

2) In 1995 there were over 300 banana-related accidents. 

3) Your ears and nose are the only piece of living flesh that continues to grow throughout your life. 

4) If you laid flat 9 two pence pieces, one on top of the other, it would equal the exact height of a five pence piece. 

5) If you multiply the base of the largest pyramid in Egypt by 1,400,000 times you'll get the distance, to the exact mile, of the Earth to the Sun. 

6) Humans share 98% of genes with chimps, and the other 2% with bananas. 

7) The average human sheds 40lb of skin throughout their life. 

8) If you dropped a coin from the Empire State Building and it hit a poor innocent passer-by, then it would pass down through their skull, down, down, down, until it came out of their backside and then wedge firmly into the ground. 

9) In 1833 at Futtepoor, India, nearly 4000 dried fish fell from the sky, and quite remarkably they were all of the same species. 

10) The average pencil could draw a straight line, continuously, for 28 miles. 

11) Cockroaches fart every 15 seconds. Now, if all the cockroaches of the world got together on one side of the planet and farted at exactly the same moment, then the Earth would be knocked 2 degrees out of orbit. 

12) Birds cannot fart, their bodies do not have the right type of intestines to allow them to. That's why they poo a lot... but, anyhow, if you fed them baking powder... well, they'd simply explode, because they wouldn't be able to get rid of all that built-up gas. 

13) It takes the energy of 11 Mars Bars to run a marathon in 4 hours. 

14) 36 years ago, in 1977, NASA sent Voyager One into space, it has charted Jupiter and Saturn and it's mission ended in 1996. But, it still thinks it's on that mission and it keeps going and going and going. It is now in the heliosheath, which is the outermost layer of the heliosphere. On June 15, 2012, NASA scientists reported that it may be very close to entering interstellar space and becoming the first man-made object to leave the Solar System.

15) The world crop of bananas estimates from about 35 million to more than 40 million metric tons. Many countries, including those in Africa, consume most of what they grow. 

16) Everyone knows the saying 'Sweet Fanny Adams' or 'Sweet F.A.'... Well, this was a little girl who lived in the middle of the 19th Century, although unfortunately was murdered on Saturday 24th August 1867. 

17) Another phrase: 'Nosey Parker'... This was the nickname for a Priest, whose name was Parker. And, I need not add, that he had an extraordinarily large nose!

18) In the days leading up to 6 June 1996, the sixth day of the sixth month in a year ending with a six, a pamphlet warned the people of Bogota, Colombia, that the Antichrist (whose number is 666) would claim their unbaptized children on that particular day. About 20,000 people were baptized in the city over the weekend of 1 - 2 June, 10 times the average. 

19) One of the pupils that survived the slag-heap landslide in Aberfan, Wales, in 1966 decided to work out that 21+10+19+66 = 116. The date on which this tragedy happened was 21st October 1966 (the first part of the sum), and 116 (the answer) was the total of pupils that were killed. 

20) The 'fashion' for wearing caps backwards is explained in Parson Kilvert's diary. He notes that "boys would wear their hats the wrong way lest they should be enticed into the fairy rings and made to dance." 

21) In July 1994 a stretch of migrating toads more than 1000 miles long made their way through north-eastern China's Liaoning province. Most were newly-born and no longer than a fingernail, while larger ones were spaced out every 30 feet or so, leading the others along. 

22) In March 1996 a huge, perfectly shaped tear drop of ice, weighing four pounds, fell out of the sky and landed on a grass verge near stunned commuters at a bus stop in Ecclesfield, England. 

23) During the summer of 1995 a farmer from Vikingstad, southern Sweden found his herd of 2500 pigs staggering around, fighting, lying on the ground or vomiting. They had got themselves drunk on a milky feed that had fermented. 

24) If you chewed celery the way you're supposed to (until it's a mush in your mouth), instead of chomping for a few times and then swallowing, you'd use more calories than you'd actually be gaining. 

25) The countries that produce bananas refer to this marvelous fruit as 'Jamaican Gold', the same as oil-producing countries refer to oil as 'Black Gold'. 

26) Joseph Merrick, the 19th century Englishman known as the Elephant Man didn't actually suffer from the disease that is named after him. Years after his death, and after countless experiments made on his skull and remains, radiologists have ruled out any similarity between his deformation and this 'Elephant Man' disease. 

27) In 1993, in the UK, almost nineteen and a half thousand people were found guilty of cannabis-related offences. 

28) A grasshopper cannot hop if the temperature is below 62 Degrees Fahrenheit (16 Degrees Celsius).

29) Within the average human body there is enough carbon to make 900 pencils. So that means if you could make that carbon into pencils, then the human body could draw, in theory, a straight line for 25,200 miles before running out of carbon (see Totally Useless Fact no.10). 

30) The common housefly beats its wings approximately 333 times per second. 

31) During a day cows fart enough methane to fill a hot air balloon. 

32) 64% of Americans own a yo-yo. 

33) The largest yo-yo ever built weighed 64lb. 

34) The average person gets 400 paper cuts during their lifetime. 

35) An estimated 50,000 bees swarmed into a subway station in Rio de Janeiro on 8 January 1994 and attacked passengers on the platform and in trains, leaving one person dead and a hundred injured. 

36) Throughout our lives we grow, on average, a total of two metres of nostril hair. 

37) Sea turtles can hold their breath for up to 12 hours. 

38) There are more people living in Buenos Aires than in the whole of Chile.

39) The smallest species of snake is only 3 mm thick. 

40) During a year 8 spiders, on average, crawl into your mouth whilst you sleep. 

41) The 'crack' of a whip is actually a sonic boom, and the displacement of sound is the proof that it is breaking the sound barrier. 

42) 2012 marked the 85th anniversary of the start of the Stan Laural and Oliver Hardy duo. 

43) The average red-head loses almost twice as much hair throughout the day than the 'normal' people of Earth. (I'm allowed to say that because I'm one of them).

44) In George Lucas' marvelous sci-fi movie The Empire Strikes Back, there were 74 asteroids that hit the Millennium Falcon, one of which was - incredibly and hilariously - a potato! 

45) 1998 saw the first 3 Necroscope Novels by Brian Lumley in print in Russia.

46) There are 500,000 deer in Ohio, and their government have issued 500,000 hunting licenses. 

47) At any one time there is an average of 150,000 people airbourne over the United States. 

48) 26% of American men have an emotional attachment to their cars.

49) 1976 saw the debut of Jim Henson's Muppet Show, which was also the year that I was born... but I'm not a Muppet.

50) The sport of boxing was first included in the Olympic games in 688 B.C. 

51) The first condom was made from a sheep's bladder. 

52) The longest distance a pair of trousers have independently flown in the wind is 50 miles. 

53) In England per year, an average of 160 people are injured by toothpaste. 

54) 21% of the population of the world own at least one Beatles album. 

55) The largest coin ever minted was 12 feet across. 

56) Russia was the first country to operate a decimal monetary system. 

57) 56 million people use internet gambling sites. 

58) In England per year, an average of 2 people are injured by lightning. 

59) The furthest an egg has ever been thrown without breaking is 323 feet. 

60) 18% of the population of the world own a copy of The Holy Bible

61) In England per year, an average of 3600 people are injured by curtains. 

62) The origin of the word 'Electricity' derives from the Greek word 'Electra', which means amber. The Ancient Greeks discovered forces of attraction between amber and animal fur when rubbed together. The transfer of electrons causes the amber to become charged, attracting it to the fur. 

63) If one ounce of gold leaf was flattened into a single straight strand, it would stretch for a little over one mile. 

64) The largest baby ever born weighed 22Ib 8oz. 

65) In 1984, a woman from USA wore a beard that was 14 inches long. 

66) The longest ever recorded moustache was 11.5 inches long. 

67) The largest private sand collection in the world is owned by a German, and contains 2100 different types of sand. 

68) The largest waist that has been recorded was carried by a man from America, and it was 10 feet 11 inches wide. 

69) If you wanted to fly like a bird, then your rib cage would have to be at least 6 ft wide. 

70) Some species of ribbon worm can be as short as 2.5 inches, whilst others can stretch up to 100 ft long. Most can be found along shallow sea coasts. 

71) The coconut tree grows to 98 ft in height and can live as long as 100 years. 

72) Crabs have as many as 19 pairs of appendages, five pairs of which are developed into walking legs. 

73) The "save" icon on Microsoft Word shows a floppy disk, with the metal slide on the wrong way. 

74) The only 15 letter word that can be spelled without repeating a letter is: 'uncopyrightable'. 

75) 'Facetious' and 'abstemious' contain all the vowels in the correct order, as does 'arsenious' (meaning containing arsenic). 

76) Cats have over one hundred vocal sounds, whilst dogs only have about ten.

77) The word 'Checkmate' in chess comes from the Persian phrase 'Shah Mat', which means the king is dead.

78) The ice of the South Pole covers all but 2 to 3% of Antarctica and extends out over the surrounding ocean. If this enormous sheet of ice melted, then the amount of water would cause the sea level to rise more than 60 m (200 ft) worldwide. 

79) Solar flares can cover up to a billion square kilometres (386,000,000 square miles) of the Sun's surface. 

80) The word 'Wasp' derives from the Anglo-Saxon words 'waefs, waeps, waesp' that apparently originated from the root wefan (to weave), in reference to the woven nests made by social paper wasps. 

81) During the Industrial Revolution the United Kingdom became rapidly urbanized, and 2000 more than 70% of the total population was concentrated in cities which occupy 10% of the total land area. 

82) The average caterpillar has 248 muscles in its head. 

83) From 1988 to 1998 the number of multiple births rose by an astonishing 25%. 

84) The shortest British monarch was Charles I and he stood at 4 ft 9 ins. 

85) Iguanas and koala bears have two penises. 

86) Women blink twice as much as men. 

87) An ostrich's eye is bigger than its brain. 

88) On August 16th 1962, Ringo Starr replaced Pete Best as the Beatles' drummer, which is exactly 14 years before I was born and exactly 15 years before Elvis died.

89) The band Red Hot Chili Peppers were originally named 'Tony Flow & The Miraculously Majestic Masters Of Mayhem'. 

90) There are 336 dimples on a regulation golf ball. 

91) The number of glasses of milk taken from a cow throughout its life is 200,000. 

92) A snail only mates once in its entire life, and it lasts 12 hours.

93) On the body of an adult dalmatian there are an average of 70 dots. 

94) 84% of dog owners prefer their dogs licking their toes rather than their partners. 

95) When Heinz ketchup leaves the bottle, it travels at a rate of 25 miles per year. 

96) Elephants are the only mammals that cannot jump. 

97) The cigarette lighter was actually invented before the match. 

98) Every year on average, there are 100 people that choke to death on ballpoint pens. 

99) Cannibals have a name for us, the non-indulgers of human flesh, and translated it means 'Long Pig'. 

100) Manhatten Island was originally bought from the Indians for trinkets worth $24. 

101) It takes 3000 cows to supply the NFL with enough leather for a year's supply of footballs. 

102) 35% of the people who use personal ads for dating are already married. 

103) The world's termites outweigh the world's humans 10 to 1. 

104) Pound for pound (kilo for kilo), hamburgers cost more than new cars. 

105) In 10 minutes, a hurricane releases more energy than all the world's nuclear weapons combined. 

106) In the classic movie Ben Hur over 400Ib of human hair was used for wigs and beards. 

107) Bungee jumping can actually dislodge the optic nerve from the retina. 

108) The game of Cluedo when first distributed contained real string for the murder weapon rope. Of all the sets originally made, adding every piece of string together would measure 4700 miles long. 

109) Since the Beano comic was first printed, there has been 90,000 tons of pages. Which could cover the whole of England 86 times. 

110) The amount of printed material consisting of comics and graphic novels in England is 0.67%, compared to Japan's 33.3%. 

111) Since 1988, the number of cars on the motorways and highways has increased by over 50% worldwide. 

112) A Jupiter 'day' is only 9hrs, 50mins long. Whilst one year on Jupiter is equal to 10,400 Jupiter days. 

113) A cat has 32 muscles in each ear.

114) Barbie's measurements, if she were life size, would be 39-23-33. 

115) The male gypsy moth can 'smell' the virgin female gypsy moth from 1.8 miles away. 

116) The characters Bert and Ernie on Sesame Street were named after Bert the cop and Ernie the taxi driver in Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life

117) In most advertisements, including newspapers, the time displayed on a watch is 10:10. The reason for this is because subliminally the configuration of the hands represents a smile. :-)

118) One sperm has 37.5MB of DNA information in it. Which means a normal ejaculation represents a data transfer of 1587GB in about 3 seconds.

119) Your earlobes are directly inline with your nipples.

Author photo (c)Christopher Shoebridge
Mark Cassell lives in a rural part of the UK with his wife and a number of animals. He often dreams of dystopian futures, peculiar creatures, and flitting shadows. Primarily a horror writer, his steampunk, fantasy, and SF stories have featured in several anthologies and ezines.

His debut novel, The Shadow Fabric, is a supernatural story and is available from Amazon.

Twitter: @Mark_Cassell Facebook: