“Infectious Stuff”! Oh Dear…(!)

My cousin is a teacher of English language in Portugal. He works for the British Council in the beautiful hilltop city of Coimbra some 40 kilometres from the Atlantic coast. I’d certainly recommend it as a place to visit. Anyway, away from my travel advice, you’d think he’d know his stuff when it comes to the ins and outs of good writing. A few years ago, I remember him telling me how letters from his mother were always strewn with an excessive number of exclamation marks. Ever since he made this remark, I’ve always been very conscious of not over-doing it with the exclamation marks, especially when exchanging messages with my cousin! (I’m being ironic! There too…). Wikipedia describes usage of the exclamation mark; ‘to indicate strong feelings or high volume (shouting)’. Why is all this relevant? Read on…

I don’t know too much about Isobel (or her cat). She describes herself in her Twitter biography – she is @isobelandcat by the way – as an “accidental boat owner and converted cat lover, [from] sunny south London, UK” but through exchanges of 140 characters or fewer, I have also picked up that she is (or was?) also a teacher of modern languages, the same chosen profession as my good self (after ‘author’, ‘traveller’ & ‘blogger’ of course). She has read my book, Good Vibrations: Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie and has been kind enough to write a review on her website. Below is a slightly abridged version of what she has written. She was struggling to maintain her laudable ambition of cycling every day in April (as were many others, encouraged by the website, but the wet weather had finally beaten her;

“So, Iโ€™ve settled for cycling vicariously. I am reading Andrew Sykes’ book Good Vibrations: Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie. I bought the Kindle version… which makes for handy reading in the bus… Andrew is a modern languages teacher, so one of my tribe. Not that I think Iโ€™ll ever be one of his. Long distance cycling is something I am far happier about from my sofa than in the saddle. The book recounts his journey from his home in Reading to friends in the heel of Italy. It has been said more than once that teaching is a job with a vacation, and Andrew certainly makes the most of the long summer break. Of course if Michael Gove reads this, heโ€™ll simply see it as proof that teachers have too much time on their hands, so I am glad Andrew starts with a comment about the demands of teaching.

So far, I have reached Day Ten, ten days further than this book would be had I undertaken the journey. Andrew, Reggie, with me riding pillion, are en route to Strasbourg. The book is based on Andrewโ€™s blog entries, posted via his iPhone. Who says technology has stifled literacy. The style is more Bill Bryson than Paul Theroux, and I am particularly enjoying the vignettes of places Iโ€™ve never visited, or quite often even heard of. I now know where Rimbaud was born, escaped from and buried. Luxembourg ought to be actively promoting this book as in a few paragraphs it has made me want to visit. I am also recognising the frustrations of the francophone in France who is relentlessly addressed in English…

I am enjoying the book very much, and have already decided it is the perfect gift for a cycling colleague who dreams of spending summers freewheeling in Europe… There have a been a few laugh out loud moments, and I hope Andrew writes more… Thereโ€™s a sense of fun and adventure; a delight in what he is doing that bounces off the page. Itโ€™s infectious stuff. I have even started to imagine myself cycling those voies vertes in northern France.”

How very nice of Isobel. I sent her a copy of the paperback version of the book to thank her for not just taking the time to read what I’d written, but also for making the effort to write about the experience on her website.

However, her review wasn’t quite finished. She continued;

“Iโ€™d like to take a blue pencil and edit out most of the exclamation marks. Too often I can feel when they are coming, and the quality of the prose usually makes them unnecessary. So far the court is out on the school masterly perorations.”

Mmm… I think she may have a point and how well she puts it. It chimes with my cousin’s comments about the letters from his mother. I’m going to set myself a challange similar to that of cycling every day for 30 days; I am going to attempt to refrain from using any exclamation marks in anything I write – posts on this website, emails (personal & for work), Facebook updates, Twitter messages, Post-it notes (that will be a tricky one) – for the remaining 27 days in May. Let’s see if I can convey my feelings of desperation, exasperation & exclamation in everything that I write rather than the end of sentence punctuation. Anyone want to join me? But before you do, I have to do this, just for old-times’ sake. Are you ready? On your marks, get set, go!

You can read Isobel’s complete review as well as the numerous follow-up comments by following this link to her website.

5 replies »

  1. I did mean your writing is good enough not to need exclamation marks all over it to tell when I should be remarking something especially. I hope I didn’t offend.
    I am still enjoying the book, but was back on the bike this week, now afloat and a shed load of work with me as well as newspapers and family visits. The sun has come out on your journey now you have reached Italy, I wish it would come out here, and I am learning the purpose of spokes. Now I want to put an exclamation mark. Caught in my own petard.

    • Offended? Not in the least (arghh… I wanted to use a couple of exclamation marks just there). I think you make a really good point and, as I said, it was nicely put in your blog. Delighted you are still enjoying the read but I’m afraid I have no powers over the weather here in the UK… ๐Ÿ™‚

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