What I read in October

It’s almost the end of the month, which means its time to talk about what’ve I’ve read in the last four weeks.


The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Katrina Bivald, Vintage 2016

You’ve travelled from the European mainland to a middle-of-nowhere town in the USA to meet your pen pal. Only to discover they’re dead. It’s a good reason not to stay. But you also happen to be the most exciting that’s ever happened to the town, so nobody wants you to leave.

Broken Wheel has an entertaining premise, quirky characters, and a cute story. There are moments when things get too exposition-y, but the story makes this work. Sara, the novel’s book-loving protagonist, will have you asking yourself if you’ve done enough reading lately.


elephants-on-acid-coverElephants on Acid

Alex Bose, Pan Books 2016

A paperback about the most bizarre experiments in the history of science with almost no critical praise on its front and back covers can provoke scepticism. But the content of Elephants offers a plain English approach to well-sourced scientific information, and at the same time dispels some common myths.

It’s a great way of boosting your trivia knowledge, and you may want a copy close by before you take part in your next pub quiz.



twelve-silver-cups-coverTwelve Silver Cups

Enid Blyton, Award Publications Limited 1985

I found this collection of short stories for children whilst tidying my old bedroom. It’s clear each tale has a moral lesson for youngsters, and some of these are surprisingly blunt and punishing. But for the most part things are appropriately upbeat.

Blyton’s stories are good at establishing conflict, and length-wise don’t overstay any welcomes. Good news for parents reading their little ones to sleep, and don’t want to be up all night.

Your writing needs no introduction


Well, maybe it does. Mine doesn’t. Actually, this is an introduction. I’m waffling. And you’ve stopped reading and clicked on another web page.

I like writing a 25 or 50-word introduction to my blog posts, and I always include these during the planning stage as a way of summarising my content.

Persuasion can make your introduction stand out. Every post out there is fighting for a prospective reader’s attention. They may be short on time, so your introduction should persuade them your post is worth theirs.

Unneeded repetition

Whilst I like including an introduction in the planning stage, I don’t always end up using this. Sometimes, I find what’s written here gets repeated at the start of the main body. In this situation, I tend to start the post from there instead.

Unneeded repetition can be distracting to a prospective reader. This is something that could make them think your post isn’t worth their time. It may be better to start your post from the beginning of the main body.

Treat the first sentence of this like an introduction: it should be intriguing, flow nicely into the rest of your content, and encourage the reader to keep reading.

Aim to persuade

Whether you start your blog post with an introduction or from the main body, you should always aim to persuade the reader your content is worth their time.

Is social media causing anxiety?


I have not looked for any scientific backing to what I’m about to say. It is just an idea. An idea which has undoubtedly been addressed before.

Social media websites and text massaging have become the norm for how many of us communicate, ahead of face-to-face conversations and phone calls.

With social media and messaging, it’s easier to think about what we want to say before we say it. We can spend lots of time refining our words before we hit ‘send’.

It’s not like this with conversations. In order to keep the dialogue flowing, you have to respond fast.

Comparatively, this makes texting seem a lot easier than speaking. In a world where ‘life is tough’ or whatever your preferred cliché is, it’s common sense to pick the easy option, right?

This could explain why verbal communication can come as a shock to lots of us, and why we’d describe ourselves with a term like ‘socially anxious’. Texting has become our safe zone, our strength. Speaking is our weakness, and it scares us. 

Avoiding conversations

Social media has also given us the opportunity to avoid saying anything at all. And this can create friction between people.

Let’s say you’ve arranged to meet a friend for coffee, and then found out you can’t go. When conversations and phone calls were the default for communication, you would have to verbally tell your friend you can’t make it. There’s no avoiding that.

With social media, you can get invited to coffee and just not go, without telling your friend why. Personal experience has shown me this lack of verbal communication can create frustration.

Sometimes, there’s no beating a phone call or face-to-face talk when it comes to socialising. There have been times when a conversation seemed terrifying to me. But I’ve come to think of it like learning a new skill. The more you do it, the easier it gets.

Mishandling power

Social media and text messaging give us power over what we do and don’t say. But like any kind of power, it can be mishandled. Conversations and phone calls can seem intimidating, but the more we take part in them the less scary they become.

Do only writers care about good writing?


If you’re a copywriter, you may be familiar with the situation I’m about to describe.

You’ve been taught to write everything in plain English, free of jargon, and clearly and concisely. It doesn’t matter if the brand you’re writing for is business-to-consumer or business-to-business. At the end of the day, all communications is person-to-person.

So you write for a brand with this practice in mind. When you show them the work you’ve done, they tell you they want some things changed. This is inevitable.

But what they want changed is not what you’re saying, but how you’ve presented what you’re saying. They want the corporate-speak you spent ages removing back and the plain English you replaced this with made more complicated.

Learning and sales

Why should a brand hire a writer to make their language more accessible, only if they want it changed to a different shade of corporate?

This makes me wonder if only writers care about good writing. Writers want to learn about something, and phrase this in the best way possible. Businesses, on the other hand, want sales. Maybe they’re worried plain English won’t get them this.

Thick skin

For all the uncertainty in my writing ability this scenario makes me feel, it is proof of one thing I’ve been told copywriters need to have: a thick skin.

Copywriters should be used to their ideas getting changed or ignored, and not get emotionally attached to them. Even if the writer thinks the brand is wrong by making changes, not getting emotionally disturbed by these changes makes sleeping a lot easier.

What I read in September

Hello, and welcome to a new way of reviewing books on Thought Dump. Rather than just reviewing one book each month, I thought I’d talk more about all the books I read during the last 30 days.

By discussing more titles, I thought I could inspire you to give these books a try. As this is the first time I’ve done book reviews this way, I’m also seeing if it works. 


The Movie Doctors

Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo, Cannongate Books 2015

Packed with film trivia and script-formatted segments, this book on movies and the moods they should be watched in is a lot of fun. You’ll come away with a ‘to watch’ list that will keep you busy, but the inclusion of spoilers for many iconic films will undoubtedly bother more knit-picky readers.




the_girl_on_the_train-coverThe Girl on the Train

Paula Hawkins, Doubleday 2015

I was curious to read this much-hyped thriller before its cinematic adaptation is released in theatres in a couple of weeks. Train is full of ‘Oh my goodness!’ moments, although these sometimes feel like they’re only done to cause shock. Maybe that’s down to the story’s unreliable narrator, who is kind of tedious. If the aim is to shock, however, then Train shocks well.



how-to-be-a-tudor-coverHow to Be a Tudor

Ruth Goodman, Viking 2015

Having previously read Ruth’s How to Be a Victorian and been impressed with the detail that had been dug up on the everyday life of the era, I was expecting to be just as impressed with Tudor, and I have been. It’s refreshing to read history that focuses beyond royalty, and accessible instructions invite you to live the Tudor life yourself.


Graphic design makes me want to break things


If you’re a graphic designer, let me reassure you that I don’t want to hurt you. But if you make me do your job, I will break your computer.

I also believe it’s good for writers to have an awareness of graphic design. Knowing what shapes and sizes your copy will getting put on to can help you visualise how it will look on the finished marketing material, and help you plan your copy accordingly.

Writers and designers need to work in close proximity of each other because collaboration is essential. They are integral players in creating marketing materials, and their disciplines need each other to get the work finished.

But these disciplines aren’t the same thing, and experience has taught me it’s impossible to be both a writer and a designer.

Umbrella job

Sometimes, I read job descriptions that ask prospective employees to have experience of both writing and designing. This makes me want to break things.

These descriptions suggest the two disciplines fall under some kind of umbrella term, and this is far from true. Design requires concentrated training in software that takes years to become fluent with.

Experience has also taught me that you need to ‘get’ the software as soon as you start using it. I never had the patience for design software when I was younger, and I don’t now. I have tremendous respect for those who do.

Always a writer

Writing and designing are disciplines that should always be working in collaboration with each other. But they shouldn’t be treated as an umbrella discipline. I will always be a writer, but I will never be a designer.

How corporate branding guidelines can help your text TOV


Sometimes, tone of voice guides don’t actually offer guidance on how to use tone of voice.

When you read one of these guides and it tells you to write ‘clearly and concisely’, ‘using simple language’ or ‘as if you were talking to someone’, this doesn’t say anything about how to write your message.

This is just advising you of the principles of writing. To be even more pedantic, the principle of writing. Arguably the above statements all have the same sentiment. Although it is a useful sentiment.

When it comes to tone of voice guides, descriptive language is what you need to look out for. If you’re writing to sell jewellery, your copy may need to sound glamorous. Or if you’re writing a blurb for a war-based computer game, your copy may need to sound anarchic.

Delicate becomes devastating

Text messages and social media platforms have become the standard way of sharing news with each other. The kind of news that used to be reserved for phone calls and face-to-face conversations.

It’s easy to get a message across this way, but the lack of tone of voice in these mediums can make delicate situations even more devastating. Just think of how many times someone’s ‘phrased something wrong’ in a text and caused an upset.

They have a message, but they haven’t considered the tone of voice they should be using. While I don’t think it’s great for a couple to break-up over a text, for instance, the situation could be made slightly better by using words that show you’re considering the other person’s feelings.

Be assertive to show that’s what you want to do, but also be soothing so you don’t make your ex-partner even more distressed. And don’t read this blog for relationship advice.

Take a moment

When we read game-changing news in a text, it’s easy to misinterpret the message through misplaced tone of voice. But considering the tone of voice and descriptive language you use could make a big difference.