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Writer’s Retreat

Funny tales from the writing world

Enjoy this writer’s retreat by reading on for a little literary light entertainment.

Writing is a serious business … or at least that’s what I’ve heard. We’ve all experienced the lonely self-doubt that comes from hours of stringing letters into words, words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and so on, only to dump the whole damned lot into the recycle bin. Or perhaps, if you’re optimistic, into the dark recesses of a USB. Bruised egos and crushed hopes are part and parcel of a writer’s life, and, for many, the starving artist cliché isn’t really a cliché.

So what’s my point? I don’t have one – this is oftentimes the reality you all know and I won’t labour the topic any further. Today, I invite you to read about the lighter side of writing. I offer an assortment of fun and random facts. No advice, no rules, and no worries about whether you’re doing it right. Sit back, relax and read on.


I’m a little behind the times in reporting this, but it’s marginally possible you missed this historic event. After 18 years of fighting the ‘good’ fight, the Apostrophe Protection Society has closed its doors. To quote John Richards, “We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!” The days of notices through the letterboxes of apostrophe abusers have come to an end, although John’s successful battle with his local library to remove the apostrophe from CDs will never be forgotten. Unfortunately, Waterstones chose to ignore him.


Bacon can be used as a writing tool (homework from an 11-year-old).

Short sentence: I like bacon.

Compound sentence: I like bacon so very much, so I eat bacon.

Subject first: Bacon is so amazing.

Adjectives first: Crispy bacon in my mouth.

Adverbs first: Quickly, I chewed and swallowed the bacon.

Editor’s Note: PS Livingstone does not endorse bacon as the only option – other foods are available.


There are numerous writing competitions out there, ones recognisable to any and all of us; Booker Prize, Nebula Award, Bram Stoker Award, TS Eliot Prize, etc. But what of the lesser known, considerably more quirky competitions? To Hull and Back is the humorous short story competition from Christopher Fielden, run biennially. The winner gets £1,200, which is rather nice, but more importantly they receive the “Most Awesomely Awesome in its Awesomeness Writing Prize in the Known Macrocosm”. This entails the winner’s face on the To Hull and Back anthology front cover: the previous champion being depicted on the front of a flaming motorcycle, holding the quill of wrath!

Have you heard of The Bookseller’s Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year? Of course, you have, and it’s now in its 41st year. Previous winners include Lesbian Sadomasochism Safety Manual, Cooking with Poo, Joy of Water Boiling, and American Bottom Archaeology. Let’s all imagine those covers, shall we?

The Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest is my personal favourite. This contest, started in 1982, was created to celebrate the very worst in fiction writing. No entry fee and no limit to the number of dreadful submissions you can make. But don’t let it fool you, a certain degree of talent is needed to write this badly. Here’s the 2019 Grand Prize Winner, written by Maxwell Archer:

“Space Fleet Commander Brad Brad sat in silence, surrounded by a slowly dissipating cloud of smoke, maintaining the same forlorn frown that had been fixed upon his face since he’d accidentally destroyed the phenomenon known as time, thirteen inches ago.”


Even the most famous and successful of authors face criticism. If nothing else, these happenstances can become wonderful anecdotes.

An old woman approached Stephen King in a supermarket and said, “You are the horror writer. I don’t read anything that you do. I just like things more genuine, like that Shawshank Redemption.” He said, “I wrote that.” And she said, “No you didn’t.” And she walked off and went on her way.

Some of the most renowned books in the history of literature have been shredded, and by other writers. Here are a couple of choice reviews.

Katherine Mansfield on Howards End: Putting my weakest books to the wall last night I came across a copy of Howards End and had a look into it. But it’s not good enough. E. M. Forster never gets any further than warming the teapot. He’s a rare fine hand at that. Feel this teapot. Is it not beautifully warm? Yes, but there ain’t going to be no tea.

Martin Amis on Don Quixote: While clearly an impregnable masterpiece, Don Quixote suffers from one fairly serious flaw—that of outright unreadability.

Criticism is an unavoidable consequence of any artistic endeavour, and I suspect if no one has a bad word to say then the line between safe and banal might’ve been crossed.


Is a word a word if it’s not in the dictionary? Debatable. However, the Oxford English Dictionary (or OED, if you’re cool) is updated on a quarterly basis. Here are just a few of the words added in March 2020.

Ambitus – ‘The action of seeking to obtain an office or position through underhand means; esp. the use of bribery to gain electoral support.’ … I wonder why that’s come back into use?

Beardo – ‘A nickname for a person who has a beard.’ I need this in my life.

Coulrophobia – ‘Extreme or irrational fear of clowns.’ Nothing extreme or irrational about it!

Delexical – ‘Of a verb: having little or no meaning in itself; deriving meaning from a noun.’ We’ve all done it, and now you can name it.

Puggle – ‘A young or baby echidna or platypus.’ Because cute.

An addendum was made in April 2020, thanks to the pandemic. Now, you might be thinking that coronavirus has been included, but no. It was first described in 1968 and was first entered into the OED in 2008. COVID-19 is new and is the only actual neologism. Other terms include ‘elbow bump’ and ‘flattening the curve’.


No matter how many edits and proofreads a manuscript has had, there’s always a typo that slips through. In my experience, it’s usually picked up immediately by someone else, often resulting in an expletive and the desperate need to go through the book with yet another, even finer, toothcomb. But it happens to the best of us. Check out these writing mishaps.

The Queen’s Governess by Karen Harper: “I tugged on the gown and sleeves I’d discarded like a wonton last night to fall into John’s arms.” Wee naked dumpling.

The Bible: The 1631 edition of the King James Bible offered a different take on the 7th commandment, stating that “Thou shalt commit adultery”.

The Pasta Bible by Lee Blaylock: I’m fairly sure Mr Blaylock didn’t mean to espouse cannibalism when he suggested people season their pasta with “salt and freshly ground black people”.

A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin: While the entire Song of Ice and Fire series has been riddled with typos and inconsistencies (perhaps he was feeling the pressure), this book had the most. “’I am beautiful,’ she reminded himself.” Put a whole new perspective on the relationship between Cersei and Jaime.

For these last two … well, I’ll just leave them here.

Image says 'Missippi's literacy program shows improvement'. The poster says 'Lyndon B. Johnson School of Pubic Affairs.







In the mood for something more serious? Read a short story here.

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