New Times,
New Thinking.

14 September 2010

A sneak preview of my new book

Here's something to whet your appetite.

By Mark Watson

Work continues on Can I Help You?* but the sheer volume of interesting queries means I’ve not quite succeeded in wading through them all yet. I think I’m going to split them into two separate blog entries. I haven’t quite finished. So do be patient for a while longer. Should be ready tomorrow. These are definitely the best and most moving/complex/interesting questions so far. I’m very optimistic the blog (or blogs) will be a cracker (or two crackers).

In case anyone is thinking “I do hope Mark had a pleasant day today . . . Why isn’t he telling us?” I should say that today has been lovely. I’ve just been settling in to Melbourne. It’s a very easy place to settle in to; that’s why I’m here in the first place. It always reminds me of a British city but with fewer people and more 1920s architecture and nicer wine. I’m hoping to live here one day.

So, I’m writing my new book. I wrote a lot of Eleven here and I am writing the follow-up here while I get the chance. It’s almost meaningless to give you even the sneakiest of sneak previews because it will probably change so much between now and publication that anything I say now is almost irrelevant. But just to whet your appetite:

*It’s a murder mystery.

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*It’s to do with the TV industry.

*It’s about people turning into vampires. I’ve taken a look at the contemporary literature scene and realised that that’s what sells, these days. So all my characters are undead.

I’m joking about the last one. All the characters are “undead” but only in the sense that they are “not dead”, ie alive.

Just a few words on the phrase “whet your appetite”, used above. A lot of people write it as “wet your appetite” and don’t trouble to think about what that actually means. “Whetting” means sharpening something — for example, a knife, when you rub it against a rock. Hence: “whetting the appetite”. Annoys me slightly when people get this wrong. If it was “wet the appetite”, it would probably mean the opposite — to dampen the appetite down.

Other misheard popular phrases:

“He did it off his own back” — the phrase is “off his own BAT”. It comes from cricket, where you’re only credited with runs that come off your own bat; ie you hit the ball yourself. However, interestingly, “off your own back” is so widely used that it’s now become a phrase in its own right. Which shows that, in English, even if you’re wrong, you can be right, as long as you’re persistent enough.

“He could care less” — for some reason I can’t understand, Americans and sometimes Canadians say this when they mean: “He COULDN’T care less.” Obviously, if you say “I could care less about ancient history”, then you’re saying that you DO quite care about it — which is the opposite of what the phrase was invented for. But this continues to happen quite a bit. This isn’t the biggest problem in the world but it is a problem. North Americans, sort it out for me, will you?

“Solid as a frog” — the phrase is meant to be “solid as a ROCK”. Admittedly, I just made this mishearing up because I only had two and it wasn’t enough to make a feature. If you have a common grammatical or syntactical error that makes you a bit annoyed, though, let’s have a conversation.

Ooh, I also don’t like it when people start things with “an” because of a following “h”. It sounds wrong. Eg “an hilarious film”. But this is more controversial.

For further not-very-well-substantiated linguistic prejudices, I refer you to one of the first blogs I ever wrote, entitled “I Mind Your Language”. I think it was some time around 20 February.

As I say, tune in tomorrow when they’ll be more substantial fair on offer. And by “as I say”, I mean “as I said”; by “they’ll”, I mean “there’ll”; and by “fair”, I mean “fare”. God be with ye (goodbye).

*Can I Help You? is a cross between an agony aunt column and 63336, the people who supply the questions for “We Need Answers”. Essentially, you can ask me for help on any issue — logistical, emotional or practical. Every now and again I will round them up on my website and try to answer them all. I don’t know how often, so you’d be well advised not to ask anything too urgent, eg “How do I get out of this burning building?” But it might suit anyone who has something that’s been on their mind for a bit.

This post originally appeared on Mark Watson’s blog.

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