Semicolonic Irritation – a guide to the semicolon

Shell semicolon cr JDarleyThere are few punctuation marks that instil more dread than the semicolon. Getting good, simple advice on how to use it can, however, be rather difficult. In this week’s guest post, Karin Stone of WM Group offers a crucial guide to the semicolon.

Many people will tell you that using the semicolon properly is ‘just a matter of feel’. Unfortunately, if you don’t have ‘the feel’ in the first place, such advice isn’t much help.

The fact is the semicolon is a very useful little tool, and one that is all too often overlooked. And, far from being a question of feel, there are clear rules governing the correct use of the semicolon.

Tips for using the semicolon

In many respects, the semicolon can be regarded as about half way between a comma and a colon. The upshot of this is that there are two things the semicolon is extremely good at: lists, and joining sentences together.

Lists: what’s the big idea?

Read the following sentence out loud:

When you go camping in winter, remember to pack your Long Johns, for extra warmth, a silver blanket, in case of emergency, a propane stove, as butane tends not to work well in the cold, and make sure there are plenty of people who know exactly where you’re going.

The sentence feels breathless – like somebody is just blurting out a load of information. Now try this version:

When you go camping in winter, remember to pack your Long Johns, for extra warmth; a silver blanket, in case of emergency; a propane stove, as butane tends not to work well in the cold; and make sure there are plenty of people who know exactly where you’re going.

Essentially, the semicolon allows you to give better instructions to the reader about what each bit of the sentence is doing. That makes it easier to read, and people will thank you for it.

You can see that each big idea is followed up by a little idea – ‘a silver blanket [big idea], in case of emergency [little idea]’. When you have a series of big ideas and little ideas, separate the big ones with a semicolon.

Joining: independence day

We’ve said it before, and no doubt we’ll say it again: one of the most important things you have to do is to engage your reader. That means encouraging them to interact with the words you’ve written. And the semicolon can play an important part here too.

Say you have two separate sentences:

The semicolon is a much under-used punctuation mark.
For some reason, people seem to be scared of it.

Joining these sentences together using a semicolon demonstrates that although the ideas are independent, they are also connected:

The semicolon is a much under-used punctuation mark; for some reason, people seem to be scared of it.

Here, we’ve got two ideas that are intimately linked. To show that the second sentence comes as an explanation or refinement of the first sentence, we join the two sentences together – using a semicolon. As a result, the nature of the relationship becomes easier for the reader to identify.

A really comma error

The biggest single mistake people make when it comes to the semicolon is not using one when they join two sentences together. An awful lot of people use a comma instead of a semicolon. They tend to ‘feel’ that there’s something wrong with what they’ve written, but can’t tell exactly what.

Consider the following example:

I used to be convinced that the semicolon was really difficult to use, now, I’m not so sure.

The key to good writing is that it makes good reading. But in the above sentence, it’s difficult at first to work out what the word ‘now’ is doing, and the sentence loses impact because it’s confusing.

I used to be convinced that the semicolon was really difficult to use; now, I’m not so sure.

Here the reader has clear directions as to what’s going on in the sentence. The word ‘now’ clearly relates to ‘I’m not so sure’, and confusion is avoided.

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If you’d like to share your own writing tips or journey on SkyLightRain, get in touch! Just send an email  to Judy(at)

Figurework with Linda Samson

Life class 2 ceramic tile painting cr Linda Samson

Life class 2 ceramic tile painting © Linda Samson

The figures in Linda Samson’s artwork exude a distinct sense of solidity. Captured in paint, pen and ink or ceramics, they inhabit an enviably tangible space, as though they live deeply felt, vibrant lives just beyond their frames.

This impression makes sense to me when Linda explains that she draws inspiration from the Oceanic art of the Pacific Islands and, most recognisably perhaps, the monolithic statues of Easter Island.

“I think the strong forms came initially from my discovery of Oceanic art and the joined or reflected images from a study I did at the British Museum of conjoined twins,” Linda says. “Being traditionally trained at Glasgow School of Art, life drawings formed the foundations of my figurative style.”

The Bowl of Cherries, oil on canvas cr Linda Samson

The Bowl of Cherries, oil on canvas © Linda Samson

Continue reading

Midweek writing prompt – Cast Out

Cast out cr Heather Nevay

Cast Out © Heather Nevay

How I love this painting! Created by the splendidly disquieting Heather Nevay, Cast Out seems to me to capture the moment just after a child has fallen out with her siblings and playmates, and stormed off muttering, “You’ll be sorry when I’m dead!”

But what’s the significance of the dolls’ house on wheels? What doe it represent? Part of me can’t help wondering if her family have been shrunken by her rage and trapped inside, at her mercy. And looking at the anger in that girl’s eyes, I wouldn’t predict a particularly happy ending.

Oh, and before you begin, did you notice the ears sticking out of her intricately braided hair? And is that a tail in the right-hand corner of the picture.

So many options!

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket With your permission, I’d love to share it on

All I want for Christmas…

Library-Bookcase-Chair cr Alexander Love…well, not all. I mean, I’d also like a publishing contract, a warm house, a new pair of jeans, and, um, world peace, and quite a lot of other things, but yes, this amazing library chair is definitely high up on my wish list.

It’s designed and made by Alexander Love over in Brooklyn, and would look right at home in the corner of my office, providing I remove a few less beautiful items of furniture.

Foxy enjoying the Library chair cr Alexander Love“My parents had a coffee table that had books all the way round it and I thought it would make a good footstool with a cushion on top,” Alexander says. “When I drew it out with a cushion, I just carried on sketching and it turned into an armchair!”

And, by golly, it’s gorgeous. Deep enough to curl up in (and clearly as comfy for cats as for humans), it features 27-feet of shelf storage for your favourite books. There are several upholstery fabrics to choose from, but I’ve fallen for this rich peacock feather print. I also love the fact the armrests provide a space for steaming coffee cups.

“The sale that touched me the most was to a school in Ohio,” says Alexander. “The Reading and Literature teacher, Barbara Rooney, had died and she was such a popular teacher and had been there so long that the school decided to commemorate her time there and chose the Library Chair for the purpose. We fixed a bronze plaque on the back, stating: ‘The Barbara Rooney Reading Nook.’”

What a fab way to be remembered! In fact, if I managed to get one of these into my home, I’d be tempted to spend all my days, as Alexander puts it, “enveloped by books.” Heaven!

Find full details at

Become a travel writer for French Entrée

Lamothe_rural France

Rural France © CDT Auvergne/Lamothe

FrenchEntrée, the English-language website for people who love France, is searching for expats eager to describe their experiences of living and working in France.

Originally launched in 2004, the new-look website from the travel and property specialists provides comprehensive advice on everything from buying a property to cultural and leisure tips for those considering moving to, or who are already living in, the country.

The unpaid role will give you a chance to raise your profile as a writer, as well as providing the opportunity to share your love of France and all it has to offer with an audience of around 250,000 people a month.

Founder and Managing Director Guy Hibbert says: “With the new site’s focus on fresh content week in and week out, we are looking for authentic voices of all ages that can add something new to our considerable store of articles – whether that’s the trials and tribulations of a renovation project, or simply navigating the cultural rules of life in France.”

The website has been re-designed to appeal to increasing numbers of users accessing it from a tablet or smartphone.

Interested? Email FrenchEntrée Editor Justin Postlethwaite at with a brief outline of your experience. If possible, include links to blogs or sites you already contribute to, or other examples of your writing.

Find out more about the brand at

Signs by Louise Gethin

Mardyke Ferry Road cr Judy Darley“It’s around here somewhere.” Martha glanced at the map in her hand and pointed at the sign. “Look, Mardyke Ferry Road.”

            “ Well, I can’t see the lighthouse.” John frowned.

“Maybe it’s just up around the bend. Watch your step, it’s muddy.  I told you you should’ve worn your boots.”

“Okay. You were right.” Behind her, he tried to discreetly rub his plimsolls in the grass at the side of the path. He’d nearly slipped a dozen times already.  He would never live it down if he went flying.

Martha sped on. She, of course, was wearing her sturdy boots, the ones that had taken her to Annapurna Base Camp and back, as well as The Sugar Loaf, Blorenge, Snowdon and, and, and. John smiled. He loved her more than anyone although he could rarely say so. She was so…..resilient and unremittingly positive. She was Tigger to his Eeyore. He moved on. Why hadn’t he worn his boots? There’d been rain for days. He grimaced. It was in his nature never to do what he was told or even let himself feel he was being told. Perhaps if Martha hadn’t mentioned the boots at all, he would’ve worn them without a second thought. But no, they’d been cleaned and put out ready.

Up ahead, she was reaching the bend.

“I can see it.” she shouted back to him before disappearing out of view.  The Mardyke Ferry Landing was a historic site, long out of use since the floods of 1962 had swept Braveheart out to sea and the long awaited New Bridge had spanned the two islands. Nowadays, people drove across, or even walked the two miles. Hardly anyone bothered with the landing anymore and it had made its way into the Forgotten Sites Walks book by David Hellinger.

John made it to the bend and stopped to catch his breath. Wind whistled, leaves rustled and danced in the air. A horn sounded. He couldn’t see her.

“Martha.” He called. The word wavered away from him. “Martha!”

“Move out of the way, mister.” A group of boys in shorts cascaded past him on scooters. “We’ll miss the last ferry and there’ll be hell to pay.”

Clouds gathered overhead.

John made his way down towards the landing. It didn’t look forgotten. It was packed with people pushing to get on the ferry. The horn sounded again.  He looked in all directions. Where was Martha? Surely, she would’ve have waited for him; wouldn’t have just got on. Anyway, that hadn’t been part of the plan.

Drops of rain started to fall.

He would just wait until she arrived. She would show up eventually.

Soon everyone was aboard. The rain was heavier now. Wind whipped his cheeks.

“Are you coming across, Johnnie?” A man with a cap and a so’wester called as he started to pull up the walkway. “I can’t wait, there’s a storm brewing.”

John shook his head and waved.  How did he know his name?

The man untied the ropes and the ferry motored towards Dunbar, its wake washing up on the shore line.

As the ferry reached the mid-point between the islands, a swirl of wind spiralled into view. John watched horrified as the boat was taken and spun out to sea. Screams echoed in his ears as the waves and wind crushed and crashed the vessel into the lighthouse. Martha? A dull ache started in his chest.

“There you are.”

He blinked.

“I’ve been looking all over for you.” Martha was standing in front of him holding two cups of steaming liquid.  Rain glistened on her face. Behind her the landing creaked in the wind. The middle section had fallen away and a Danger  Do Not Enter sign swung across the entrance, on a chain.

“There’s a café just behind that old toilet block there. The waiter, Johnnie, his name is, was so interesting.  He remembers the landing in its prime and the Braveheart. He told me about the day she disappeared. He was only small; said he was watching the last sailing of the day and…”

“…..a wind spun it out to sea where it was lost with all the people?” John finished. The pain in his chest dissipating.

“Yes.”  Martha frowned. “How did you know? It didn’t say anything about it in Forgotten Sites.”

“I just saw it happen, somehow.”

“Are you feeling alright? You look pale.”


“Let’s go back and speak to him. He swears that whenever there’s a storm, he still hears the screams.”

Martha led John around the old toilet block then stopped in her tracks.  “How strange. It was here a minute ago.” She looked at her drink.

John took a sip of his. “Well, this is real and so are you.” He put his arm around her and led her back to the landing. For some time they stared out to sea, each wondering what it meant

“I thought I’d lost you for a minute back there.” John broke the silence.  “I don’t think I could bear that.”

Martha leaned into him and murmured. “I love you too.”

louise-gethin-reads-signs-at-small-stories-bristol-nov-2014Author bio

Louise Gethin writes about Love, Death and anything in between.  She is a co-founding member of Bristol Writers Group and has appeared in Hidden Bristol and Ashton Walks – anthologies of short stories written by the group.  She is also an affiliate member of Bristol Women’s Writing Group and, in 2013, appeared in Unchained – an anthology of poems and short stories published by Tangent Books.   She has appeared at Word of Mouth Events (Thunderbolt, Bath Road) and took part in this year’s Poetry Slam at the Arnofilni.

Living landscapes with Christa Hillekamp

Shimmering Town cr Christa HillekampThe townscapes of Christa Hillekamp bloom out of the desert like a glimmering heap of scales, shells, petals – aglow with all the light and heat they’ve absorbed.

Rush1 cr Christa Hillekamp

Even her ocean waves suggest sand and sinew – alive with the stories of people met and imagined on Christa’s travels across the world.

In fact, art and travel are the twin driving forces of Christa’s work.

“Since my early childhood I liked to draw and paint with anything I could find: with a stick in the sand, with broken stones or charcoal, on walls and paving slabs, and later on paper – this was for me a way to escape into a fantasy world,” she explains. “The other way to escape as I grew older was by hitchhiking to explore new environments, cities, countries and people of different cultures.”

Though born in Cologne, Germany, Christa sought a sense of belonging overseas. “I think that from a young age I lived my life trying to satisfy my wanderlust,” she says. “Only later I did I realise that the feeling of being rooted nowhere was a strong drive to search for a place where I would feel at home.”

Abandoned fields cr Christa Hillekamp

When her daughter was three years old and Christa had just finished studying for a social work qualification, Christa ventured out into the wider world once more. “We moved to Portugal and later lived in Côte d´azur, France, but still I felt like a stranger and when school started for my daughter we moved back to Germany.”

Around this time, Christa met Thomas, the man she would fall in love with and marry.

“Together we decided to live in South of Spain, where we felt very welcome. We’ve now lived for twenty years in the little mountain village of Cómpeta, Andalucia.”

She adds, “I no longer put too much importance on living somewhere that feels like home, because I feel much more home in myself, surrounded by friends I love, and especially with Thomas.”

I will find you cr Christa Hillekamp

Christa never lost her desire to be an artist. “Though I studied social work and was employed for many years in Germany as a theatre set-builder, there was no question inside me that art was my real profession. “

During her last two years living in Germany, Christa spent time as a social worker at Prison Lübeck, organising art classes with the inmates as part of this. “After moving to Cómpeta I worked in a project for kids and young adults with all sorts of problems. Art became an important part of this, because it provides a wonderful way to connect with people and create dialogues, both verbal and visual.”

Since becoming a full-time artist, Christa has discovered the pleasure of experimenting with a broad range of materials, including metal, wire mesh, plastic, rust, earth, wood, glass, mother of pearl, sand, horse hair, pigments, bark, and glitter. “Underneath the crust of earth there are layers over layers from millions of years,” she comments. “Here in the mountains you often see fissure through huge rocks. I like to reflect this in my work, building up layers, carving the layers, bringing out structures from deep inside the material. Texture both reveals and disguises sections of my paintings, engaging our senses in different ways.”

Christa’s paintings often tell stories too. “’Memory of a Journey with the Lost Friend’ (shown below) is a painting about a good friend who died in 2008,” she says. “We were travelling together in South Marueco in the desert, so the painting is my way of saying goodbye.”

Memory of a journey with the lost friend cr Christa Hillekamp

More recently, Christa has been turning her artist’s eye to the UK, not least because she is represented by Paragon Gallery in Cheltenham.

“Only two month ago Thomas and I visited Cheltenham for the first time, and then went to Exmoor, Cornwall and Devon,” she says. “I was impressed by the wild landscape. Once back in Cómpeta I painted from memory the painting: ‘The Hidden Coast Path’ (detail shown below), which I like very much.”

Discover more of Christa’s work at

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on Give me a shout at judy(at)

The Hidden Coast Path, detail cr Christa Hillekamp

Midweek writing prompt – open art

RWA Interior Photography by Mark Ashbee

RWA interior © Mark Ashbee

Last week I spend a delicious morning meandering through the breathtakingly diverse array of art of show at the RWA’s 162nd Open Exhibition.

Serena Curmi painting, Images from the Private View 11th OctoberI spotted a characteristically contemplative painting by Serena Curmi (titled Judgment – but who is the girl in the image judging? Herself?), and a beautiful, resonant sculpture (literally – when you run your hand over its spines, which you’re invited to do, it sings) by Kim Francis called Child.

I brought along a largish notepad and a handful of pens, and took my time, pausing to jot down notes whenever an idea or thought nudged me. By the time I left I had ideas for half a dozen stories, a rough first draft of a poem and a complete piece of flash fiction.

I urge you to do the same. The RWA Annual Open Exhibition is on until 7 December 2014, but if you can’t make it to Bristol, why not visit your local gallery or museum? The key is time – a good, solid chunk of it, to soak in the works on display and allow your subconscious to take what you see and turn it into an original piece of writing.

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket With your permission, I’d love to share it on

Poetry review – Short Days, Long Shadows by Sheenagh Pugh

Short Days, Long Shadows by Sheenagh PughAs we hurtle towards the time of year when this title becomes ever truer, I’ve been drawn to pick up Sheenagh Pugh’s 12th collection again. I reviewed it for Mslexia’s Sep/Oct/Nov 2014 issue, but with only a handful of words to play with, feel the need to take another, perhaps deeper look.

Sheenagh writes of the tenacity of living things to live while speeding towards their own inevitable demise. Yet her pragmatism makes this a far from melancholy thing. Indeed, she seems to suggest that our mortality should make the joy of the everyday that bit more intense.

In her opening poem, Extremophile, Sheenagh marvels at the ability of life to take hold and thrive in the least hospitable environments: molluscs “in the night of the ocean floor”, lichens “on Antarctic valleys where no rain ever fell.” It sets the tone for a collection celebrating vitality in all forms. Continue reading

Write a ghost story for Emerald Street

The Ghost of Clearwell Caves cr Judy Darley’tis well and truly the season of ghost stories, so why not follow in the footsteps of Susan Hill and scare yourself (and everyone else) silly?

Emerald Street, the fab online mag affiliated with Stylist magazine, have launched their first writing competition and invite you to enter!

In collaboration with Little Brown’s digital imprint Blackfriars (which is on the search for new writing talent), the winning entry will be published as a free ebook. The winner and the first two runners up will win a Kobo e-reader and the entire shortlist will have their stories published on

Emerald Street had an enormous impact on the writing career of a SkyLightRain favourite Rachael Chadwick, so being feature by them is a pretty fabulous prize in itself!

To enter the writing competition you need to write an original ghost story or supernatural thriller of 2,000-3,000 words (in English) “with a fresh and distinctive voice.”

Entering is free, but you must be subscribed to the Emerald Street email (also free) to submit your story. The deadline for submissions is Monday 5 January 2015.

Find full rules and entry details here.

Entries will be judged by the Emerald Street team, and winners will be notified by email. The results of the competition will be announced in Emerald Street in January 2015.