How Not To Writte… A Holiday Postcard

It’s that time of year again. The schools are out, the out-of-office messages are on and everyone’s jetting off to sunnier climes to enjoy their fortnight of sand, sea and sangria.

And if there’s one thing we ALL love about going on holiday, it’s rubbing our friends’ and family’s noses in just how amazing our vacation is in comparison to their week of work at the corporate grindstone. Second only to forcing your nearest and dearest to painfully trawl through your Instagram posts, is the sending of the obligatory postcard back home.

Even in the digital age, we still get a strange sense of pleasure in sending a badly colourised photo of a long-dead seaside donkey to our relations. And with apps like TouchNote allowing us to send printed postcard versions of the holiday snaps on our smartphones, there’s little sign that the allure of the postcard is on the wane.

So, how do you write that perfect postcard home? Here’s the dos and don’ts for making your holiday postcard as palatable as possible, without rubbing too much salt (sun cream) into the wound.

Do:

  • Make sure you get the address correct. You might still be operating from a dog-eared address book you started in 1991, or you may be very high tech and have your addresses saved to your Google contacts. But either way, get the house number and post code right, or your friend/relative’s neighbours will get to find out all about your regrettable attack of explosive diarrhoea in the local taverna.
  • Pick a card with a lovely photo of your destination. To achieve maximum smugness points, you want your hotel and/or beach to look as awesome as possible. So choose a postcard that has the blue skies, golden beaches and beautiful vistas that will induce intense sensations of FOMO in whoever receives it.
  • Be succinct about the holiday. No-one wants War & Peace written out on the back of their postcard, so keep it short and to the point. Tell them about Grandma’s inadvertent dive into the rock pool, explain why Auntie Sarah is coming back with an ‘interesting’ sunburn mark and feel free to inform your recipient just why Mum has decided to set up a taverna with the moustachioed Georgios –  short bullet points will suffice; you can bore them rigid with the full details once you get back to Blighty with your stuffed donkey and extra holiday pounds.
  • Finish with a nice, ‘look forward to seeing you’, or ‘catch up soon’ – but do not use ‘wish you were here’. If you did, you’d’ve invited them, and you didn’t, therefore you don’t want to spend your holiday with them and that’s just rubbing salt in the jellyfish wound.

Don’t:  

  • Choose a highly inappropriate photo. Much as you may find it hilarious to send an image of a ripped Spanish man in speedos to your Great Auntie Enid, remember that it’s best not to offend your recipient, or give the Post Office workers any cause for a raised eyebrow (or more) when delivering your card.
  • Go right up to the margins with your writing. There’s limited space on the back of a postcard, which means you’ve only got a certain amount of capacity to fit in all your hastily scrawled writing. Limit yourself to a few paragraphs and some short bullets to get your point across, and don’t use tiny illegible handwriting that only a criminologist with a microscope will be able to read.
  • Write in the margins, around the margins, or by the postage stamp. No trying to be clever getting the recipient to turn the postcard clockwise to try and read anything, they won’t or they’ll end up with a crick in their neck – either way, they’re not going to be happy.
  • Leave instructions for your house sitter or other friends back home, you should have thought about that before you left. A postcard that the whole village may see is not the place to tell your sister where to find the back door key.
  • Try writing poetry, on any account. You may be half cut on sangria or ouzo, but there’s really no excuse for inflicting your badly-scanning rhymes on anyone other than yourself (and Georgios of course).

How Not To Writte…House Sale Particulars

The UK housing market isn’t exactly looking buoyant at the mo, but many of us are still looking to up sticks and put our house on the market. Whether that’s down to a change in personal circumstances, the need to free up capital or merely a lifelong search to find a mortgage rate that doesn’t leave you bankrupt and begging your parents for beer as payday approaches, there’s always going to be someone ready to nail a ‘For Sale’ board to the garden fence.

But how do you ensure that those nice people who can get a mortgage, or indeed the lesser spotted ‘cash buyer’, see your advert and want to buy your very own ‘mi casa’?

Do:

  • Point out your home’s selling points. Yeah, obvious we know, but remember people from outside your locale may be looking to relocate, so if it’s great for families, has low crime rates, incorporates a beautiful balcony or its own well-established vineyard, make sure you mention it.
  • If the house is ripe for redevelopment, investment and extending, let people know that it has potential. Some people LOVE a ‘project’ to work on, as even a cursory glance at Homes Under The Hammer on daytime TV will tell you.
  • Put the damn postcode on the advert. There’s nothing worse than trying to locate your dream home and realising you’ve been looking in the wrong ‘Middle Codswallop’, or that your ideal house is conveniently situated next to Yorkshire’s largest sewage works.
  • List the property’s best points first. Great selling points can include having a garden, a built-in garage, resplendent views of the countryside, large and roomy bedrooms or a brand spanking new Italian-designed kitchen that looks like it’s straight out of a brochure.
  • Include details of the parking arrangements and transport links, number of rooms, heating type and whether there are local shops etc (Ed: No need to mention the regular lock-in at the pub, or that your home is located equidistant to diddly-squat).

Don’t:

  • Say cosy, bijou, compact, or easy-to-maintain living space to describe your property – we all know this means postage stamp-sized lounge, where in one stride you can make a cup of tea/go to bed/have a wee.
  • Use the phrase park/city/area adjacent – any savvy buyer will be aware that this means you’re trying to extend the reach of a catchment area to include your property, which actually sits in the not-so-attractive area five miles outside the city.
  • Forget ancillary rooms and areas. If you’ve got a shed (and it’s staying) shout about it! Many a chap (or chapess) have been won over by the thought of escaping into the garden for peace and quiet with a copy of the Littlewoods’ lingerie pages and a tight grip on their power tool. (Ed: *makes mental note never to visit your shed*)

How Not To Writte… A Wedding Invitation

Weddings, eh. A social occasion much beloved by aunties, drunk uncles and teary eyed parents the world over – and for the rest of us an excuse for a massive shindig at dad’s expense.

If you and your life partner have decided to make it all official and tie the knot, you’re going to need to write that all important invite for the big day. Many months of preparation will go into making this day go with a bang, and equal amounts of care, attention and design skill will go into perfecting the ideal wedding invitation too.

So if you want to guarantee a speedy RSVP, and a lingering feeling that this is going to be the wedding of the century, here’s the lowdown on writing that invite.

Do

  • Be clear about the essential details: When? Where? What time? That’s the holy trinity you need to get right. Think ‘www or world wide web’, or ‘wedding will work’ if that helps keep this mantra clear in your head. It’s also probably a good idea to include your names, so people know who’s getting married. You can go formal if you want but remember your mates might not know you as the honourable Alistair and Archibald, so sticking with Al and Archie is just dandy.
  • State that you need RSVPs (Ed: for the uninitiated, RSVP stands for répondez, s’il nous plait, which is swanky French talk for ‘please reply’). Ultimately, just state somewhere on the invite that you need replies and, most importantly, by when. Feel free to include an RSVP card, so people don’t have to raid their drawers for lavender scented notelets (yes, these we are a thing).
  • Indicate if the invite is for the person or persons named only, or includes any ‘plus ones’. Standard etiquette is that plus ones are referred to as ‘and guest’, which hopefully negates your mate Sandra turning up with half the rugby club.
  • Be very clear whether or not children are allowed. It’s perfectly reasonable to have an adult-only do, but be aware that this may limit your guests’ attendance, or time spent with you. But if you don’t want the little buggers running round the dancefloor singing the theme from Justin’s House, make it very clear.
  • Put extra details like gift registries, directions or more info about the style of your wedding something other than the invite. You could even set up a wedding website, if that’s your kinda thing and you have lots of young, hip and trendy types coming along (Ed: get us – hip and trendy!). However, do ensure you also include this information on a standard bit of paper that can be passed to older or technophobe relatives who won’t know their internets from their fishnets.

Don’t

  • Be sappy and overly sentimental. Yes, we know romance is wonderful and you’ve found the love of your life and it’s all white doves, soulful sunsets and UTIs from all the shagging, but there is nothing more irritating to the rest of us than sickening displays of affection. We’re British (Ed: not you, overseas readers!) – so that’s reserved for dogs and John Lewis’ adverts.  
  • Use a font that’s so curly, antique or otherwise ‘fancy’ that no bugger can read it – you do want us to come don’t you?
  • Get so worked up about etiquette that you mix up your Madams with your Sirs, your ten o’clock with your 2pm or your wedding breakfast for the evening buffet. Ultimately, you want this group of people, let’s call them A, to turn up to a place you have chosen, let’s call that B, at an appropriate time, let’s call that C – and generally you want to have a good time. So ultimately It’s Dear A, Please go to place B, at C and we’ll have a jolly old shindig, wot ho!
  • Be too prescriptive – be it clothing choices, colour schemes or matter of arrival Your guests are here to enjoy your big day with you, not be part of a military siege to take over Marylebone Registry Office, complete with a SWAT team of ushers.

How Not To Writte… A Limerick

Yes, it’s National Limerick Day here in the UK today (12 May 2017)! The day is marked to commemorate the birthday of Edward Lear , the celebrated British writer, creator of literary nonsense and owner of one of the Victorian era’s most luxuriant and bushy beards – and the person who did most to popularise the poetic form we all know as the limerick.

Not sure you know what a limerick is? Here’s one we’ve just scribbled down for your delectation:

There was a young writer of words,
Whose prose became strange and absurd.
He tried to be clever,
With prose and whatever,
But his poems never quite scanned or rhymed… (Ed: bugger!)

So, if you think you can do better (and we’re pretty sure you can) here’s the dos and don’ts of writing your own limerick.

Do:

  • Stick to the strict AABBA rhyming structure of a Limerick. Your first two lines, and your final line must rhyme, unlike our tragically bad example. And it’s this rhyme scheme that makes your first choice of place/location so critical – if your subject is from Constantinople, you’ve got to find TWO more rhymes for that (Ed: good luck!!).
  • Work with the original conceit of ‘There once was a…’, or ‘There was a…’. These forms give you plenty of scope to insert names of people, animal, plants and objects… yes really! For example, ‘There was a young man called Bill…’,  or ‘There once was a venus fly trap/pretty young cat/anglepoise lamp…’ ok, possibly not the last one.
  • Make a rhyming dictionary your new best friend – rhymezone.com have a great one for free. You don’t want to be left bereft of a rhyme when you get to the end of your new limerick opus, so go through the rhyming options and see which word most tickles yer fancy.

Don’t:

  • Start your limerick with ‘There was a young man from Nantucket…’. You’ll be stuck for a rhyme that isn’t offensive or obscene and it will all end in tears, believe us. See also ‘There was an old man named Lunt…’
  • Although… there was a young man from Nantucket, who fell in love with a pretty pink bucket, they flew to the moon, and returned far too soon, as they ran out of fuel in their rocket… (Ed: good save with the ending there!).
  • Attempt to get Lear-esque with your imagery. Come up with your own style, try out as many variations as you can…and see which option raises the most smiles/giggles/looks of horror. Limericks, after all, are all about being silly, so knock yourself out.

If you’re feeling inspired, why not write your own limerick and send it to us… go on, you’re a poet and you don’t know it 😉

How Not To Writte… On Google+

You know that noise you get in cartoons when someone tells a really terrible joke and the obligatory tumbleweed rolls lazily past as the wind whistles all around? That’s what it sounds like when you log into Google+.

Google has brought us many brilliant and useful things – who, after all, searches for ANYTHING online and doesn’t use the Google search engine? Probably just people who work at Microsoft and are made to use Bing on pain of having red-hot pokers shoved in unpleasant places if they so much as look like they’re going to do a Google search. (Ed: *runs a Google search* “Do Amazon ship red-hot pokers that are compatible with Bill Gates?…”)

So we all love the Google search engine, right?

But Google+ is without doubt the worst social network of them all – there, we’ve said it and it’s out in the room! Phew, I bet you all feel better now, right? You thought it was only you, didn’t you? Even that little ‘+’ at the end is annoying, sitting there looking all smug and winking at you with its one little cross eye, twitching nervously at it contemplates whether to bollocks up your search optimisation.

Do:

  • Post your blog links and content here. Let’s face it, there’s only one reason to be on Google+ and that’s because posting your content and links on Google+ will help the search engine optimisation (SEO) of your web pages, blogs and digital marketing.
  • Post regularly. Because it’s all part of the one big Google family, if you do a quick status update on Google+, it’s more likely that your link will come higher up the search rankings – and that’s the pinnacle of your content dreams after all, right?
  • Use hashtags (# these annoying little finnicky buggers) to flag up your content – unlike Facebook, where using a hashtag marks you out as a prize tool, in Google+ tagging your posts may actually help you find the right audience for your latest treatise on why Fraggle Rock should be recommissioned (Ed: Good idea. Get on it, ITV!)

Don’t:

  • Try using Google+ as a social place to hang out, shoot the breeze and post the usual kind of chatty status updates. As a social networking site, it has all the ambience and attraction of a Wetherspoons boozer at 3pm on a Tuesday – in other words, it’s almost empty, and the people you DO meet will definitely not be your first choice of companion, drinking or otherwise.
  • Loiter once you’ve posted that update. Write it, stick in your hashtags and publish it: then get the HELL out of there! Stay around any longer and you may well be digitised and pulled into the Google mainframe to spend a Tron-like existence trapped for eternity in the HTML code of Chrome. Apply the Primark shopping approach: go in, get what you need, get out and hope no-one has spotted you paying £1.50 for your undercrackers.
  • Add anyone you actually know to the ‘Circles’ in Google+. This is Google’s way of grouping people together by friendship/work/customer type, and it’s all a bit too ‘sorting people and putting them in a box’ for our liking. Avoid at all costs, and talk to your real friends on Twitter or Facebook… or Snapchat if youse is like well young, innit.

 

How Not To Writte… A Novel

They say everyone has a book inside them (and we don’t mean in the ’embarrassing visit to A&E’ sense). We all have a story to tell, a journey to share or an idea that sounds like it could be worked into a passable novel.

But if you’ve just come up with the best idea ever for a chick lit flicker – featuring the forbidden love between a chocolate company owner and his down-at-heel cleaning lady – how do you get this blockbusting idea out of your head and into 100,000 words of tear-enducing literary prose?

Do:

  • Commit to writing, a LOT, and then some, and then some more, again… and wash, and repeat.
  • Learn the basics of editing skills. You don’t need swish software but you DO need patience and – in our opinion – rewards for getting your edits done. Chocolate works well (Ed: there’s a theme emerging here… ). Editing is not a necessary evil, it is just part of the whole process; you HAVE to do it – so make it as comfortable as possible.
  • Print your chapter or section out if you can when doing your editing. Plonk yourself down in a nice comfy chair, drink of choice in hand, sit back and relax. With whatever pen/pencil/quill you prefer, slowly go through the text, correcting the typos, grammar and things that make no sense. Does it scan, can you read it out loud, have you used ‘but’ far too many times?… But… when you get to the end of the section reward yourself with whatever you need in order to feel good about the editing process: biscuit(s), favourite TV programmes, Swedish massage from Lars…
  • Plan out the structure of the story, however roughly. With a few key ideas for story milestones you’ll give yourself a skeleton for the whole novel – you can add the flesh to these rough bones at a later point, giving birth to your very own literary zombie.
  • Make your characters feel like real people. Don’t just describe the colour of their dress/jacket. Give your reader a bold-brush-stroke idea of what this person is like and make them feel some engagement, empathy or emotion towards them. Human stories need rounded human characters – and when we say rounded we don’t mean Mr Blobby.
  • Start on the action – back story can come later. Engage with your reader and give us snippets of the back story and the ‘whys’ later on. In short, get our attention early or we’ll be tempted to turn on the telly and watch Googlebox/shout at Question Time.
  • Have a reason for everything that happens. Don’t introduce ‘colour’ to something if it doesn’t serve a purpose. It’s great that Auntie Flo’s beautiful russet red Manolo’s walked through the door, but if they don’t stamp on something, get thrown off at a disco, or describe that she’s kooky, it serves no purpose (take note, Dan Brown).
  • Write! Yes we know, prosaic, but you have to put in the time. And, yes, some of it will be bilge, but some of it will be brilliant too – write, write and write some more and soon the diamonds will start sparkling among the more work-a-day coal.
  • Get used to being ‘stuck’. It doesn’t matter – keep writing! Write anything. Write poetry, diaries, short stories, or a letter to your mum, but write something. Use writing prompts if need be, but if you’ve committed your time to write, then write, anything.

Don’t:

  • Miss huge bits of plot because you think your reader will know what’s going on. Nice as it would be, your reader isn’t psychic, so you need to give enough plot hints to make it clear what’s happening. Conversely don’t tell us everything – show not tell. No-one wants a novel to read like an Ikea instruction manual.
  • Be boring with your writing. Cardinal sins can include being too descriptive, going overboard with the adjectives (It was a dark and stormy night… ) or going into minute detail that adds nothing to the story, the character development or the excitement of the narrative – so choose wisely what to describe. Less is generally more.
  • Show all your wares up front (Ed: unless you’re drafting something for the ’50 Shades of Grey’ market). Like that unforgettable night at Foxy’s Exotic Dancing Emporium, the tease, the strip, is most of the fun… so take time to let us get at your goodies.
  • Attempt to hit your 3,000 words a day count whilst simultaneously having Twitter/Instagram/the news/CBeebies on a nearby screen. Get rid of all distractions. There is a time for inspiration (Ed: Late at night, after a few vinos, watching Michael Fassbender/Angelina Jolie), and there’s the occasions where you SAY you’re seeking inspiration but ACTUALLY you’re distracting yourself with YouTube videos of pandas on slides. Lock yourself away and (as we KEEP on saying) get writing, writing WRITING!!!

How Not To Writte… An Easter Egg Hunt invite

Easter.  A time of daft rabbit ears, waistline-increasing levels of chocolate and the perennial favourite that is ‘The Easter Egg Hunt’… oh and something about a bloke with a beard popping back up from beyond the grave to tell us how lovely it would be if we were all nicer to each other (definitely no bad thing, but we’re so over the smock and sandals look).

So, if you’re more interested in the confectionery than the theology of the Easter season, you’d better get writing some invites to your Easter Egg Hunt. We all know you’ve got to hide a selection of ovoid goodies in fiendishly difficult hidey holes but how do you make your guests turn up in the first place?

Do:

  • Put the date, time and place on the invite. Easter can fall at funny times during the year, so make it easy on folks and give ’em the blasted date.
  • Include a map, directions and any special instructions, such as parking arrangements or how to avoid George, your over chatty neighbourhood watch coordinator.
  • Include a postcode and directions for satnav-challenging villages. If you’re taking people ’round the back way’, do ensure there’s refreshments and shouts of ‘stop the clock, she’s found it’ when they arrive (Anneka Rice jumpsuits are optional).
  • Use a pun or two in your invite text to add some colour. For example, ‘hop on over’, ‘hip hop hooray’, ‘it’s an eggstravaganza’ or ‘let’s get eggsploring’… (Ed: no more bloody egg-asperating puns)
  • State if you need to bring your own basket (egg hauls can be cumbersome to transport) and if appropriate footwear is needed. Great Aunt Doris may need to re think her 4″ Manolos.
  • Be aware that, for some, Easter is a highly religious experience and many may be fasting. Also, bear in mind that for others it’s a ready excuse to smear themselves with the melted remains of a bumper-size chocolate bunny – either way, be respectable and cater for all.

Don’t:

  • Leave the word ‘Easter’ out of your invite – unless you want apocalyptic style abuse from your neighbours and Theresa May camping outside with a ‘down with this kind of thing’ placard. Forgetting to mention Easter in their ad copy got the lovely people at The National Trust and Cadbury (please send us free chocolate eggs!) into a spot of bother recently, so we’d advise titling your ovoid-hunting extravaganza an ‘Easter egg hunt’ – unless your idea of fun is being chased down the high street by a rabid mob of irate Christians and Daily Mail readers (cue Benny Hill-style chase).
  • Promise creme eggs or mini eggs on your invite: some egg fancier always buys them up in bulk in February and you’ll be left bereft, embarrassed and scrabbling round the shops, with nothing but Marmite and Pot Noodle eggs to appease your assembled throng.
  • Use this as the time to try out your Dan Brown-level of clue mastery. No-one wants to spend three hours working out that your clue ‘where sun and sand at happier times did meet’ refers to your ornamental glass paperweight from the Isle of Wight.
  • Make your egg hunt adult-themed and smutty – well, not unless it’s an adult party and all the eggs are the vibrating kind (Ed: could add a buzz to the party).
  • However tempting it may be, use a walking app to make your ‘trail’ look like a penis. Stick with an Easter Egg – it’s easier to draw and less likely to cause any neighbour envy (tip – you can make it as huge as you want 😉 ).