Monthly Archives: April 2014

Quick tutorial: where does that damned apostrophe go?

iStock_000018482964XSmallA friend asked me recently to explain where the apostrophe should go in the phrase my parents house. I realised that this is something I’ve corrected many times when editing manuscripts, so it seemed a good subject for a quick tutorial. Here’s an easy way to work it out.

Ask yourself: How many parents are we talking about? If only one (singular), then the apostrophe goes after the word parent:

my parent’s house
meaning: the house of my parent

But if we’re talking about plural parents—mother and father, two mothers, two fathers, any combination of people playing parental roles!—then the apostrophe goes after the plural s:

my parents’ house
meaning: the house of my parents

In summary, to indicate possession:

add apostrophe + s to a singular term

add apostrophe only to a plural term

Where it gets complicated is when the singular term ends in s. There are acceptable variations here, and it becomes a matter of style rather than a rule. I prefer the recommendation of the Style guide for authors, editors and printers (6th edn, John Wiley & Sons, 2002), which is:

apostrophe + s (i.e. no change to the rule above for a singular term)
Dickens’s novels
meaning: the novels of Dickens
Burns’s poems
meaning: the poems of Burns
For: It’s easy to remember because it’s the same style!
Against: Some people think it looks clumsy.

Feel free to disagree! Here are a couple of alternatives.

Some guides recommend:

apostrophe only
Dickens’ novels
Burns’ poems
For: Some people think it looks neater.
Against: Why complicate things?

Others recommend different styles depending on the number of syllables in the singular term:

more than one syllable: apostrophe only
Dickens’ novels
one syllable: apostrophe + s
Burns’s poems
For: I can’t think of one!
Against: It looks inconsistent, and why complicate things even further?

There’s yet another variation involving pronunciation (i.e. whether you sound the s or not), but that, in my opinion, is a highly dubious way of deciding which style to use: not everyone pronounces words the same way. So let’s not even go there.

As with any point of style for which there are variations, what’s important is that you choose one (or follow the style set for you) and use it consistently.

Happy apostrophising!


Filed under Tips for writers

An April photo-reminder…

because sometimes you see a whole story when you’re looking down…



Filed under Photo-reminders looking up/looking down

And the Mother’s Day giveaway winner is…



picisto-20140325120046-443119Thanks to everyone who entered the big Mother’s Day book giveaway featuring the latest releases from Annabel Smith, Emma Chapman, Dawn Barker, Sara Foster and me, plus a book that each of us chose as a Mother’s Day gift.

And … drum roll, please … the winner is Amanda Barrett. Congratulations, Amanda!

And there’s a little bit of icing on the cake for our winner: as Amanda is from the Perth area, she also receives the special bonus prize of two tickets to the Jennifer Saunders event at the Octagon Theatre on 28 April.

BSB_logo_long_black_SMALLThanks again to our friends at Beaufort Street Books for sponsoring the giveaway.

For those who have recently signed up for my newsletter, the next edition will be out in a few weeks. In the meantime, there are new posts coming up on the blog.

I wish you all a happy and safe Easter break!

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Filed under Writers ask writers

Big Mother’s Day book giveaway

17 April 2014: Congratulations to Amanda Barrett, winner of the giveaway and bonus prize!

16 April 2014: Competition CLOSED. Winner announced tomorrow.

15 April 2014: Last day to enter! Competition closes midnight. To enter, remember to (1) sign up for the newsletter, and (2) leave a comment here. Good luck!

This month I’m happy to be teaming up with Writers Ask Writers friends Emma Chapman, Annabel Smith, Sara Foster and Dawn Barker to offer a fabulous Mother’s Day prize of ten books: our most recent releases plus one that each of us has selected as a book we would give to our mothers. So the winner of the competition will receive a copy of the following titles:


There’s also a bonus prize, if the winner is from Perth: two tickets to see Jennifer Saunders discussing her recently released memoir, Bonkers: My Life in Laughs, at the Octagon Theatre on 28 April 2014, 7.30–8.30pm. (If the winner is not from Perth, the bonus prize will go to the first Perth entrant we draw after that.)

Huge thanks to Beaufort Street Books—one of my favourite bookshops—for sponsoring the giveaway. Jane and her fabulous staff really know books—and really know their customers, too! We’re delighted to have them on board.


How do you enter? There are a few ways, and the more ways you use, the more chances you’ll have:

  • Sign up for my free email newsletter here, and leave a comment on this post, telling me what book you’d like to give your mother on Mother’s Day. If you’re already a newsletter subscriber, you won’t miss out; just leave your comment and that will count as an entry. *If you want to be in the running for the Jennifer Saunders tickets, make sure you add ‘PS I’m local’ to your comment.
  • Go to Emma’s, Annabel’s, Sara’s and Dawn’s blogs (links at the end of this post) and follow their instructions for entering.

Apologies to our international readers, but this one is open only to Australian residents.

The competition ends midnight on Tuesday 15 April, and we’ll be announcing the winner on Thursday 17th. So if you win, you’ll be well prepared for spoiling your mother, or someone else’s, or just yourself on Mother’s Day!


My mother is a great reader, and my sister and I are always giving her books, or suggesting titles she might like to borrow from the library. Among several she’s enjoyed recently are Jo Baker’s Longbourne (Pride and Prejudice told from the servants’ point of view), Ian Reid’s That Untravelled World (a novel of early twentieth-century Perth) and Deborah Burrows’s Taking a Chance (a romance set in World War II Perth).

I’ve chosen Simone Lazaroo’s 2010 novel Sustenance as a wonderful Mother’s Day read, for several reasons. But first, let me tell you a little about it.

sustenance_cover_AWSustenance is set in the foothills of Bali, at the Elsewhere Hotel, a luxury boutique hotel for Western tourists. The main character, Perpetua de Mello, daughter of a Malaccan mother and an English father, is the hotel’s cook and an observer of life and of lives—the hotel’s wealthy guests, its Balinese staff, its owners (her ageing father and his dubious American business partner), its village neighbours, and a visiting Australian food critic who has a proposition for her.

The peaceful, idyllic world of the Elsewhere is torn asunder when the hotel is invaded by armed gunmen, its staff and guests taken hostage, and everything underpinning the comfortable complacency of Western tourism is revealed.

And so to my reasons for choosing Sustenance as an ideal Mother’s Day book.

First, the writing. Simone Lazaroo is one of Western Australia’s—indeed, Australia’s—most gifted writers, three times winner of the WA Premier’s Book Award for Fiction, and Sustenance is a beautiful, moving, witty, thought-provoking book.

Second, the food! It is a sensory delight to read the sumptuous descriptions of Perpetua’s meals, and we discover so much about this character through her respect for ingredients and the traditional recipes inherited from her mother.

Third, place. Bali is a destination well loved by so many Australians—including my mother—and this novel both celebrates and interrogates the relationship between the countries. It also evokes a visceral sense of place—the colours, the textures, the tropical scents, the human tapestry.

elemental_COVERFinally, Sustenance is a mother’s story—powerfully so—and that is an aspect of the novel best discovered through the reading. And I think that makes it a good companion novel for Elemental, a grandmother’s story written by my character Meggie and intended as as a gift for her granddaughter’s 21st birthday. Elemental’s dedication reads:

Edna Jean

and all grandmothers


And so, get commenting and signing up, and you’ll be in the draw for our big book giveaway—plus the bonus Jennifer Saunders tickets if you’re located in Perth. Links to posts by Sara, Annabel, Emma and Dawn are below.

Good luck!

Sara Foster has chosen for the giveaway a book she’s already given to her mother, M.L. Stedman’s bestselling The Light Between Oceans. Sara’s mother loved it!

Annabel Smith’s Mother’s Day pick is Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour, ‘a book about motherhood—about the sacrifices it asks of us and the rewards.’

Emma Chapman calls her chosen book, The View on the Way Down by Rebecca Wait, a real page-turner: ‘a wonderful, heartbreaking novel about the effects of depression on a family.’

Dawn Barker says of her pick, Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret: ‘My mum would love the page turning story and the emotional drama—as I did.’


Filed under Writers ask writers

3, 3 and 3: Pearse Buchanan, marine scientist

The traditional divide between the arts and the sciences is, like so many divides, artificial and arbitrary. Many creative artists draw their inspiration from science, and the sciences attract—and produce—creative minds, which is just as well, as it’s going to take unprecedented feats of creativity on the part of scientists if we are to hope for the future of our world.

Photo by Pearse Buchanan

Photo by Pearse Buchanan

Enter this month’s 3, 3 and 3 guest, marine scientist Pearse Buchanan. I first met Pearse some years ago, when he was still studying Marine Science at the University of Tasmania. He has since gained a First-Class Honours degree at Murdoch University, Western Australia, worked as a volunteer in several important environmental studies, undertaken contract projects, and is currently an expeditionary scientist with The Clipperton Project. His present role involves collaborating with research organisations around the world, developing scientific programs for various expeditions in a number of countries, participating in expeditions and contributing through community outreach.

He also (when time allows) plays guitar and writes poetry—no divide there!

Welcome, Pearse.

3 things I love about what I do

1. I love the diversity of projects and science I get to involve myself with. I started out by volunteering (some would call it being exploited) alongside PhD students during my degree in Tasmania, and through this I managed to dive in some of the most beautiful spots around that wonderful island. The seed that was sown then grew into taking on my own projects in third year and in honours, where I took a particular interest in the mysterious microscopic world of plankton. Now, fresh out of university and working with The Clipperton Project, an international non-profit environmental educational initiative, I get to research, plan and undertake marine science in so many different programs and within so many specialties that it makes my head spin!

Some phytoplankton of cool temperate south-east Tasmania. Many of these are warm water species that have been carried south by the ever stronger East Australian Current. (A µg is 1/100th of a millimetre.) Photos by Pearse Buchanan

Some phytoplankton of cool temperate south-east Tasmania. Many of these are warm water species that have been carried south by the ever stronger East Australian Current. (A µg is 1/1000th of a millimetre.) Photos by Pearse Buchanan

2. I said that the diversity of science made my head spin, but the quantity and diversity of travel give me vertigo. I’m currently working and living in Mexico but by the end of the year will have worn my lab coat in Spain, subarctic Scotland, Uruguay, the Falkland Islands, subantarctic South Georgia and Gibraltar, with a little trip to Cuba to add some flavour. But, while this is undoubtedly a privilege, it is the form of travel that really makes it special for me. In all of these places, The Clipperton Project utilises a sailboat to deliver inspiring workshops with an international team of scientists and artists that crew the vessel. The very notion of exploring these environments using the wind in the sails above, with the swell lapping the sleek sides of our floating laboratory beneath, makes both my heart and scientific mind soar.

3. Even more so than the travel, it is the people involved in my job that are the true privilege. In the three months that I have worked for The Clipperton Project, I have met people that I will remember forever. One once said to me that ‘more than just sailors, we are sailors of life’, and this philosophy resonates deeply with me. Spinoza thought that to accumulate friends who share mutual wisdoms represented the highest form of happiness. It could be that he was right.

3 places I’d like to visit or revisit

1. Apparently, as a non-Muslim, I cannot visit Mecca, which is incredibly disappointing. But I have been fascinated by the Islamic faith for some time, probably since 2001. In recent years, though, this has begun to gain traction due to a number of reasons: a trip to northern India in 2011; the simultaneously otherworldly and unmistakably human call to prayer I heard in Kuala Lumpur; and a book of poems given to me by my father by Rumi, a twelfth-century Sufi mystic, poet and philosopher. Pictures of Mecca give me goosebumps. Footage of hundreds of thousands of people kneeling and praying as one never fails to move me. I think I’ll read the Koran next.

2. I was lucky enough to travel to Antarctica in 2012 as a research assistant aboard the Aurora Australis. My job was to study the planktonic community of the sea ice of East Antarctica, and I spent two months living on the ship but working on the sea ice for various stretches of time throughout. Honestly, while I was there I actually felt a little disappointed, or perhaps challenged, in what I found. I had close-up meetings with penguins every other day, witnessed the most beautiful and the longest sunsets and sunrises I have ever seen, and caught snowflakes with friends. But I think the desolation of the place got to me, making the experience uncomfortable. Now, however, with time to digest the journey, it has gotten under my skin, and I catch myself occasionally daydreaming about it, and even sometimes planning how I’m going to get down there again.

Emperor Penguins are fascinated by these strange, colourful beings doing strange things with the ice. I wish my office now was graced by their waddling presence. Photo by Ruhi Humphries

Emperor Penguins are fascinated by these strange, colourful beings doing strange things with the ice. I wish my office now was graced by their waddling presence. Photo by Ruhi Humphries

3. India is another place that I daydream about. In 2011 I travelled to northern India and, unlike my Antarctic experience, loved every minute of it. One particular place I visited was Manali, a small city nestled at the foot of the Himalayas in the province of Himachal Pradesh. The place, dare I say it as a scientist, was magical. My favourite place in the city was a Hindu temple that housed natural hot springs. It was free, so that anyone, rich or poor, religious or non-religious, could benefit from the heat of the springs. This is pretty important throughout the winter and considering that many people don’t have access to running hot water. You could see the positive effect on people as they left. Also, I quite enjoyed the curiosity of the locals, who were unsure what to make of my pale Scottish skin.

3 favourite natural phenomena

1. When I was in Antarctica I came across something I had never heard of before. A parhelion, otherwise known as a Sun Dog (apparently), is a halo that surrounds the sun and is caused by tiny ice crystals that form in cirrus clouds high in the atmosphere. They can be observed anywhere, from tropics to poles, but their prevalence and intensity are certainly greater in the poles. They were very beautiful and form a strong part of the Antarctica I remember.

2. I was introduced to ocean bioluminescence in a truly wonderful way in the temperate waters of Tasmania. I was diving at night in a shallow protected bay and noticed, despite the brightness of my torchlight, the rapid movement of fish in the corner of my eye that caused a bright spark of blue. I moved my hands out of the light and, sure enough, my hands were engulfed in a storm of the same fluorescence. This phenomenon is best articulated in the film Life of Pi, although exaggerated. I strongly recommend that at least once in your life you go for a night dive during a bloom of bioluminescent plankton, turn off all lights, and just flail about in the dark. But you won’t be dark for long. You’ll be engulfed in neon blue!

The beautiful bioluminescence of plankton that never ceases to be special. Photo by Doug Perrine

The beautiful bioluminescence of plankton that never ceases to be special. Photo by Doug Perrine

3. And once again I find myself turning towards the poles! Brinicles are just plain creepy. Sea ice is not solid, but in fact is extremely porous, like a sponge. Within the floating mass of sea ice are many tiny rivers in which brine exists, a fluid super-saturated with salt that is exuded from the ice as it forms (because sea ice is fresh). The higher density of brine caused by its super-salt-saturation makes it sink, and as it comes into contact with the cold water beneath the ice it freezes. This process eventually creates a brinicle, or a brine icicle, that slowly grows towards the sea floor, not unlike the formation of a tornado. Once in contact with the sea floor, the creepy brinicle begins to freeze and kill all living creatures it touches. The ice spreads out in a circle from the touch-down point and, because of its slow formation, first entraps those it touches and then proceeds, ever so slowly, to engulf them. If you want to see it in action, I recommend the BBC series Frozen Planet.


Filed under 3 3 and 3 (creative people)