Looking Glass Language

a word bird reflects on life & language

Ken’s pants


Had to share a fabulous example of twisted kid’s language given to me by my lovely friend Amanda…

Her sister’s family used to holiday down in Cornwall, and the long car journey was punctuated by her niece Molly proclaiming, “We’re going to Ken’s pants! We’re going to Ken’s pants!”

I’m never going to think of Penzance the same way again…

Thanks, Molly.


The importance of dash placement

The Economist


Thanks to The Economist, for demonstrating how an unfortunately placed dash can change the thrust of a story…

Mistakes like this are why I always try to insist on seeing my signed-off copy on the page (whether digital or printed) before it’s published.

It’s particularly frustrating when clients tinker with signed-off copy at the last moment, as a ‘tiny change’ can so easily throw a line or a paragraph out of whack.


out of the mouths of bébés…

anouka cat

“Je vais faire de bruite très calme, car j’aime le bruit très calme1.”  The musings of a French romantic poet? Victor Hugo, Théophile Gautier or Alfred de Musset, perhaps? No. The musings of a three-year old.

With her French artist / yoga teacher mother and English sax player father, the odds were high that Noukie (now nine) would be quirky and artistic. But her idiosyncratic, artistic, and at times esoteric take on the world seems more profound than that.

Seeing the dusty body of a pigeon lying in the gutter, its blue-grey feathers ruffling in the wind, she said “il est cassé, le pigeon” (it is broken, the pigeon): as though it were a broken toy she could no longer play with. Then, taking Pascale’s hand, she asked calmly, “Parle me encore de la mort” (speak to me more about death). Read more…

just let me staple the vicar

From femidoms to pork pies, stapling the vicar to swimming in amen, it’s amazing what you hear being sung about on the radio.

All of us mishear lyrics, even those who sing for their living like my friend Rachel Mathews. (404005_185174974948910_105211750_nRachel and I used to sing together in a gospel group called Many Rivers, doing regular Sunday brunch sessions at the Oxo Tower on the South Bank and the 606 Jazz Club on Lot’s Road.) A talented singer / songwriter, with her own band, Rachel is also a founding member and soloist for Urban Voices, who came to prominence performing at the closing ceremony of the London Olympics. Read more…

oh no, brown cow

It might have been my love of reading that persuaded my mum to sign me up for elocution lessons when I was ten. Then again it could have been the fact that, while my elder sisters were excelling at the piano, I was more interested in kicking Heidi, our teacher Miss Hartman’s poodle, for licking my legs during the few lessons I had. Or simply that, in an effort to fit in at our frankly bloody awful school, I was starting to flirt with the Gloucestershire vernacular, saying ‘gurt’ for ‘great’ and ‘Ow bist?’ for ‘How are you?’… Read more…


photoNot everyone uses words in the same way, and Jennie Erdal shows the funny and frustrating effects of someone with a different take on what the ‘right word’ is, in ‘Ghosting’ (Canongate, 2004), her extraordinary book about life as a ghost writer.

“Once I used the word humility, as in ‘I felt a deep sense of humility‘ – to explain how Tiger had felt in the presence of a woman he very much admired and who had borne a heavy cross. I was confident he would love humility. But he didn’t.

‘Isn’t it the same like humiliation?’ he asked. Read more…

26AC: the exhibition

the secret archaeologist

Last Friday saw the launch party for the exhibition 26 Atlantic Crossings, the latest collaborative project from writers’ group 26. The three-day exhibition was in Prince Edward County, Canada, and the only one of the 26 UK-based writers involved able to attend was Faye Sharpe, who – with her artist sister – came up with the original idea and drove the project. Fortunately, Faye has penned a blog piece that lets us enjoy the ‘happening’ vicariously.

I’m now anxiously awaiting my copies of the printed book. There are no more copies left, so if you didn’t manage to buy one for yourself and you’d like to explore the art and poetry of 26 Atlantic Crossings, why not download a free e-copy of it here?


26 Atlantic Crossings


When ‘The Unseen’ (shown below), a painting by Canadian artist Barb Hogenauer, pinged into my in-box last May I felt a sharp pang of homesickness for the dramatic landscape of Céret in southern France, my home for seven years, where the view from my window was of The Canigou (above), sacred mountain of the Catalans.

‘The Unseen’ was my artwork – produced by Barb for 26 Atlantic Crossingsa collaboration between 26 Canadian visual artists and 26 writers based in the UK. You can read my poetic response to ‘The Unseen’, below.
my artwork the unseen

The Unseen

The squall hits at dusk, blackening the sky

Like a three-day bruise,

Shrouding the mountain in sulphurous mists

Red sandstone runoff bloodies the sea,

And icy flames of phosphorescence –

Blooming phytoplankton and disturbed crustacea –

Flicker on the ship’s churning wake

Old World émigrés cross themselves,

Filling with foreboding for their journey’s end,

But Canada holds no Ellis Island-like inquisition:

This is home.

Of course, everyone’s response to art is different: I’d be interested to know what Barb’s painting evokes for you. The painting was recently sold, along with a framed copy of my poem, so is now gracing the home of some second generation Canadians, for whom the combination of my words and Barb’s painting had particular resonance, and evoked profound emotions.

If you’re curious to learn how such a geographically challenging collaboration came about, you might want to read this blog post by project originator, Faye Sharpe. Of course, if you had, by chance, been in Prince Edward County, Canada when the project went live, you may even have visited the 26 Atlantic Crossings exhibition, which featured all 26 artworks alongside their matching sestudes (poems of exactly 62 words – a playful inversion of 26, the writing group’s name, inspired by the number of letters in the alphabet).

26 Atlantic Crossings is the latest in a series of fascinating projects I’ve been lucky to be involved with, organised by writers’ group 26: these range from 26 Treasures, a collaboration with National Museums in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (which resulted in a beautiful hard-backed book), to 26 Characters, a project celebrating favourite fictional characters from childhood, at the Oxford Story Museum. You can see more about these projects on my website.

If you’d like to know more about the project, why not download the lovely little 26 Atlantic Crossings e-book free, HERE? (You’ll find ‘The Unseen’ on pages 36/37.) On the same page you’ll find a link to a gorgeous paper version of 26 Characters, for sale at just £5…

Design Week | We Like | 26 Characters

Design WeekSo great to see that a project I’m involved in, 26 Characters, is this morning’s Design Week We Like pick… Having received my copies in the post a couple of days ago, I’m not surprised – it’s a lovely thing, with beautiful illustrations.


B is for Borrowers.

The book sees 26 children’s literary characters – from Mary Poppins to Merlin – reimagined by 26 writers (of whom I am one – see A Father’s Duty) and 26 leading illustrators. 

This book came about thanks to The Story Museum’s 26 Characters exhibition in Oxford. We writers were asked to respond to portraits of leading authors taken by celebrity photographer Cambridge Jones. The author subjects, including Malorie Blackman, Philip Pullman and Julia Donaldson, were dressed as their favourite childhood literary characters for the portraits, which featured in the museum’s inaugural exhibition.

Our written responses to the portraits had to be in the form of a sestude – a poem of 62 words exactly (26 in reflection – 26|62 – a form of verse invented by writers’ collective 26 to reflect our name, itself inspired by the number of letters of the alphabet). Each of us was given a letter of the alphabet as our starting point, and the completed sestudes were then passed to the illustrators.

My letter was B, and Paul Pateman, aka Pâté, did a fabulous job illustrating my sestude about Pod & Arrietty from The Borrowers – illustrating the B with a giant pencil clasped in a Borrower’s hands. ‘B’ is for beautifully done, Paul…


Pic by Cambridge Jones

Pic by Cambridge Jones

Here’s the portrait which inspired my little poem: Ted Dewan and his daughter Pandora dressed up as Pod and Arrietty. I’m looking forward to visiting the exhibition proper in a couple of weeks’ time but I’ve already relished seeing authors throw off their inhibitions to personify a favourite character from a childhood book – just look at how gleefully Malorie Blackman embodies The Wicked Witch of the West!


Malorie Blackman as The Wicked Witch of the West








The 26 Characters booklet is available here, priced at £5.

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Absolutely Shoreditched…

Image copyright Charlotte Cory

I seem to be unable to step foot on the grim and grimy pavements of Shoreditch after dark without getting drunk (or ‘Shoreditched’, as I’ve now christened it). See image at left by Charlotte Cory, from her ‘You animal, you’ series, which bears an uncanny resemblance to me the morning after the night before, and can be found on the walls of the Hoxton Hotel.


This tendency to overdo it whenever I head to Hoxton seems to stem from the period when I was working in Shoreditch, reeling from a break up with a long-term boyfriend/business partner. Hedonism seemed the way to go, and it was fun and frantic time of excess, irresponsibility and freedom – a kind of long-delayed adolescence. A dozen years on, I’d thought all that was far behind me, but the last fortnight has proved me wrong, as two successful client presentations in the Old Street area have ended up in decidedly messy evenings…


I’m starting to think I may have a Pavlovian response to being back on these mean streets.

But – reluctant to admit that Shoreditch can still ring my bell – I have another explanation. I blame the food, or rather, the lack of it. Everyone knows that if you forgo the tacos and enchiladas, a couple of glasses of Tequila can have the same effects as a bottle… And I’m frequently unable to eat when I’m out on the town, as I have a serious and frustrating allergy to garlic, which can make eating out positively dangerous. (Unfortunately, I love spicy food – I can think of nothing more delicious than Thai street food – but these days I have to resort to making my own, and it’s just not the same!)

Read more…

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