Archive for the ‘writing’ Category


Earlier this week I created the index for my eponym book, a thrilling task as I’m sure you can imagine. It got me thinking about the word itself. Clearly it has some Latin roots going on, but where exactly do we get index from?


The word in means “towards” in Latin and an index does point us towards information so that makes sense and also links it to the index (or pointer) finger.

It expands to indic- as prefix (still in Latin) to mean “forefinger or sign”. That combines with either dicere or dicare to give us index. Dicere means “to say” and dicare means “to make known”. Taken together that gives us index as meaning “to point the way and to make known”, that’s pretty good fit for the modern use of the word, or finger.

Index reached middle English by the early 1400s and has retained its meaning since although an index will mean different thing to people working in different fields. An index is vital in databases, for example, where it points to the data. They are part of scientific instruments. We have a price index in economics and sadly an index of forbidden books within religious history. The interesting thing is that index in all these cases has the same core meaning – it’s a way to point out the relevant information. Most words I explore here change over a 600 year history, but index is still pointing the way.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)



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This week’s word is a phrase, suggested to me by friend-of-the-blog, Noelle.

“Heavens to Murgatroyd!” is an exclamation of surprise, particularly in American English, and it was a new one to me although I had heard heavens to Betsy (same usage) a few times. Unfortunately it appears that Murgatroyd and Betsy aren’t real people but I am very tempted to put a character called Betsy Murgatroyd in my next story. Perhaps her inclusion can be a dare for NaNoWriMo 2016 in my region?

The excellent Phrase Finder, a long-time favourite of mine, has investigated the phrase thoroughly and tells us that Heavens to Murgatroyd dates from the mid 20th century thanks to a pink character called Snagglepuss on the Yogi Bear cartoon in the 1960s. You can see him do the line in this YouTube snippet.

The phrase predates the cartoon slightly thanks to a movie called “Meet the People” and the screenwriters for that were Gilbert and Sullivan fans likely to have chosen Murgatroyd thanks to the plethora of ghostly Sir Murgatroyds in one of their comic operas.

At this point nobody can be sure of where Murgatroyd came from, but what is certain is that he was a surprising fellow.

As for Betsy, although she pre-dates Murgatroyd to about 1880, nobody is sure about her either. Sometimes words and phrases must remain mysteries.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,


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It’s week three of NaNoWriMo and one of my writers has already written 50,000 words. I am so proud of her. That’s about 3000-4000 coherent words every day, on top of her normal life. It would be between three and five hours of what most people would  call “overtime” every day. Not just on Friday because you had a special job on, but every single day, for a whole month, without pay. When November is over she’ll sit down and revise and edit that story for between one and three years before spending one-three years seeking traditional publication, or self-publishing and then promoting her work. That’s the work that goes into those paperbacks you read on the train/beach/sofa.

I'm the municipal liaison for Ireland North East

I’m the municipal liaison for Ireland North East

I’m a big believer in priorities. It’s vital in life to know where yours lie and to live accordingly. Every year in November I am reminded of that fact. I ask writers in my region to think about that before they start NaNoWriMo and chances are, if they drop out during the month it’s because priorities higher than writing got in the way.

Where does your dream lie (be that writing a novel or something else) on your priority list? Does it come above your family/romantic relationship/health/social life/watching TV/exercise/housework/social media/hobbies/work/education?

If you can’t place it above TV and social media then you have a problem. If your priorities clash with those in your immediate family then you will need to come to a compromise that works (let me ignore housework during November and I’ll let you go on that golfing weekend, for example).

If you want those around you to treat your dream seriously the first step is to treat it seriously yourself. Own up to it. Tell the people you love. Buy and wear the proverbial t-shirt. Adjust your priorities (even for a short time like November) and admire the progress you make.

But whatever you do, don’t tell me you don’t have time to write (draw/learn Greek/get fit/etc). You do. You simply have to prioritise it. It doesn’t even have to snag the top spot (family comes first with me), but it’s got to be in the top three, in my opinion.

Do I have this cracked, personally? Nope. Close family and friends “get” it and support it (a little). Newer friends have to be reminded and I spent the last two days doing that.

“No, I can’t do that this month, remember I mentioned I’m doing this big writing challenge? And that I run the whole region? Perhaps we could look at that in December?”

and again

“I’m writing every night this month. Sorry. I’ll be in touch in December.”

and again

“If you schedule that meeting in November, I won’t be there.”

and again

[silence as I refuse to reply to the emails and calls]

Yeah, my priorities don’t always agree with those around me. Saying YES to my novel sometimes means saying NO to other things, but by the end of this month I will have taken a huge step on the path of completing the draft of my first historic fiction novel. I’m in love with my story and having priorities will get me to those two magic words “The End”.

until next week happy writing, reading, and wordfooling,


p.s. I’ve reached 31,000 words by writing naval battles, banquets, ship wreck, tragic drownings, betrayals, and castle intrigue – 1588 was a fun time in history.

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regular readers of Wordfoolery will know that I take a break from unusual words every November and take part in the National Novel Writing Month – a 30 day challenge to write 50,000 words of novel. This will be my ninth year participating and my seventh year as a municipal liaison (ML for short) for my local region Ireland North East where I host writing events, mentor writers aged 13 to 100, run the online forums, write pep-emails, and generally cheer-lead the wordy creativity in my area.


If you’re a writer and you’ve never tried it – check it out, it really is good fun and a terrific way to build a writing-every-day habit that will help you all year long. There are local groups all over the world and more than 300 Irish writers take part every year. I started because I’d heard about it online and wanted to meet other writers face-to-face. I’m lucky enough to have made some wonderful writing friends through my years on NaNoWriMo.

So, what am I writing this year? Last year I wrote the contemporary narrative of “Ready for the Storm” – following Amy Johnston as she returns to Castle Cove, on the West coast of Ireland, and inherits the family’s crumbling castle. A trained lifeboat crew-member, she joins the local boat on their rescues but finds the helmsman has a grudge against her family. She has to dig into the past before she can forge her future.

This year I’m writing the historic narrative of the same novel which follows Amy’s ancestors in the 16th century and echoes the contemporary story. Orla Johnston, daughter of the local Anglo Norman lord, doesn’t understand the political difficulties she has unleashed on her family when she rescues Jose, a cabin boy wrecked from the Spanish Armada. Jose isn’t quite what he appears and the English garrison in Galway are keen to wipe out all survivors of the ill-fated Armada and crush Irish rebellion against their Tudor Queen.

I’m particularly pleased to be able to include real historical character, and my namesake, Grace O’Malley (the Irish Pirate Queen) in the story. I do enjoy a good swash-buckle!

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (6,216 words written, day 2 of NaNoWriMo)

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This week, instead of my usual musings on the origins of unusual words and phrases, I’m going to give a roundup of the RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland Publishing Day (2015) which I attended last Friday. For my non-writing subscribers, don’t panic, normal service resumes next week.

Patricia, Pauline Clooney, Catherine

Patricia, Pauline Clooney, Catherine

Some background first – this annual event began in 2010 and attendees are limited to short list and long list entrants of the annual short fiction prize. I was lucky enough to make the top ten on my first attempt and was delighted to attend. There were writers from all over Ireland there and for several I spoke to it was their first short fiction submission, so don’t be afraid to enter even if you’re new to writing. There were 300 entrants this year.

Jane Alger gave a welcome address and this was followed by Patricia Deevy (Penguin Ireland) and Faith O’Grady (literary agent) explaining their roles plus a Q&A. I asked about the ebook market in Ireland (as many of my US writing friends are doing well in that field in particular). Patricia said that it wasn’t huge in Ireland but was significant in the UK market. The Easons book buyer (Easons is a large book selling chain in Ireland) later added that the ebook market here has flattened but physical book sales are rising and that overall more books are being sold, so that’s great news for writers!

Then we had the author panel hosted by Sinéad Moriarty (commerical women’s fiction) with Karen Gillece (one half of Karen Perry crime partnership) and Emma Hooper (literary fiction), again with Q&A.

Stephen Boylan (Easons book buyer) gave a great run down on the market and excellent advice on using social media as well as book reviews and book clubs to sell your work and Cliona Lewis (publicity director at Penguin Ireland) spoke about the marketing side of your work as a author once you’ve been taken on by a traditional publishing house. The consensus was that you’re only starting your work once you land a contract and that you sell yourself as much as you sell the book.

Catherine (editor of the RTE Guide) and Patricia (Penguin Ireland) presented a framed copy of her winning short fiction to Pauline Clooney.

After a light lunch and time to chat with the other writers in attendance, Rachel Pierce (editor and also children’s author as Emily Mason) gave an excellent presentation on editing – both the self-editing every writer needs to master and the editing process after the book contract is signed. The authors (including Paul Perry – the other half of that writing partnership) chipped in advice here too. Paul Howard (author of the hilarious Ross O’Carroll Kelly books) must have had burning ears at one point as all agreed he was 100% professional – always happy to engage with readers, booksellers, and media but also always making his deadlines with perfect manuscripts. That will have to be my target now!

Overall a great day and the goodie bag at the end brought a smile to everyone’s face despite the rain which arrived in time to soak us as we left. I took oodles of notes but here’s a selection of my favourites –

  • Penguin Ireland took only one fiction book a year in the last few years. They want the xfactor, strong voice, amazing story.
  • Faith gets 60 submissions weekly but only takes about one client per year. She likes narrative non-fiction like H is for Hawk and The Hare with the Amber Eyes.
  • If your book includes images, you sort out the permissions yourself before approaching the publisher.
  • It’s good to have a plot you can sum up in 1-3 sentences.
  • Luck plays a part – but the more you submit, the more the odds tip in your favour.
  • Don’t market where other writers are, market where readers are – get book bloggers to review you, local papers (not national), local radio, book clubs – six free books could drive word-of-mouth.
  • Publicity starts a year before the book is launched to build word of mouth.
  • Content drives action – post good links, be yourself, consider sharing flash fiction, engage in chatter with readers, connect with your fans.
  • But don’t forget that lots of readers are NOT on social media – that reminded me of my parents who read more books than anybody else I know, but they don’t even own a computer.
  • If you want to get your book listed at Easons email buyers at easons.com to get the application.

My Favourite Editing Tips from the Day

  • Draft one is dreadful, it is meant to be.
  • Draft two is draft one minus 10% (I totally agree with this).
  • Write the book you need to write, don’t cling to the one you think you should write. (Paul Perry)
  • Be brave. (Emma Hooper)
  • Ask why and what if of every plot point.
  • There are always structural issues – you know where they are, so fix them.
  • Consider changing character genders or collating minor characters.
  • What is your character most afraid of? Make it happen to them.
  • Ebook sampling takes the first 15% so make sure that sings.
  • Each chapter must pay its way.
  • Do not panic and rush your ending, control it, make it satisfying. Then rewrite the start because you know your characters properly now.
  • Unsure on viewpoint or first person vs. third? Try a few chapters and see what works best. It’s like getting your jeans to fit properly. (Emma Hooper)
  • Trying to clear out your “used too often words”? Use wordle to make a visual graphic of your language and see what you are over-using (Emma Hooper)

Until next week happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,


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This week I’ve been giggling about the rather unusual names some UK politicians sport. It’s not their fault and they may be admirable public servants with a great loyalty to their family name, but they do raise a smile.

Lady Garden (Liberal Democrats)

Mark Reckless (UKIP, formerly of the Conservatives)

Alistair Darling (Labour)

Eric Pickles (Conservative)

Ed Balls (Labour)

Sir David Amess (Conservative)

James Cleverly (Conservative) – he represents a place called Braintree

Matthew Pennycook (Labour)

I should add that I love old English names that show an ancestor’s occupation. It’s not common in Ireland. The MP list also includes surnames like Butler, Baker, Cooper, Fletcher, Fuller, Goldsmith, Hayman, Knight, Miller, Skinner, Slaughter, Smith, and Wright. If I wrote a story featuring Skinner and Slaughter as serial killers, my editor and readers would say the names were outlandish, and yet they are real.

We do have a news correspondent here called Samantha Library though. She pronounces it differently (and has taken to spelling it Libreri too) but I can’t help wondering if an ancestor worked in a large building filled with books.

Next time you’re seeking surnames for English characters, check out the MPs, you may find some inspiration.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,


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This has been a good week and it’s only Tuesday. Yesterday I passed the 10,000 word mark on my first ever CampNaNo challenge and proceeded to dance around my kitchen like a loon. My original celebration plan had been a jam doughnut and some reading time but my local shop had run out.


Clearly that was a writing victory and I’m delighted to have drafted seven short pieces towards my eventual aim of an anthology of my work. Astute readers will notice that April isn’t over yet. No, but my CampNaNo is and that’s because I fell victim to two unanticipated traps.

Trap One: churning out up to 80,000 words in NaNoWriMo (plus running the Ireland NorthEast region and mentoring my writers) is easier than changing characters, genre and plot every few days on a short fiction challenge.

Trap Two: My secret target was ten stories. I’ve cancelled the end of my CampNaNo so I can, ironically, plan another camp – a real one this time, for 30 Beaver Scouts (age 6-8). I’m Camp Chief and I’ve got to get to work or the children won’t be putting up tents in June.

My frustration is immense but I’ve decided to view this month as a victory rather than become a victim and this prompted my wordfoolery. With such similar spellings are victory and victim related?

roman mint cropped The answer lies with those pesky Romans again.

Victory entered English around 1300, via Old French, from Latin’s victoria (which means victory). It’s a direct steal from Latin.

Victim entered English two hundred years later which is surprising as there’s always a victim wherever there’s a victory. It came from the Latin victima which means a person or animal killed as a sacrifice to a deity. It may have a cousin in the German weihs, meaning holy or consecrated which is part of Weihnachten, the German for Christmas.

The meaning of victim weakened over time. By the 1650s is meant someone who is hurt or killed. By 1718 the victim was oppressed by a power or situation. By 1781 the victim is one who is taken advantage of. Clearly we still have murder victims and that’s tragic, but victim as a word is bandied about on minor attacks too.

Are victory and victim related? No, despite the spelling they don’t share a word root but their roots do share a language, Latin.

Until next week happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,


p.s. Congratulations to writing friend and previous contributor to Wordfoolery, Ashlinn Craven. Her latest novel “Core Attraction”, a contemporary romance set in Dundalk, Ireland, is out now. You’ll find the purchase links and full description here. I had the pleasure of reviewing some early chapters of the story. When a nuclear protester falls for the power plant press officer it’s hard to see how they can head for a mutual meltdown but Ashlinn manages it.


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