Marcus Trower 30 June 1967 – 05 June 2019

There are precious few occasions in life when you come across someone you are moved to believe is truly extraordinary. But when it happens, you know they are a blessed gift. Marcus was one of these rare, extraordinary people.

Those of us who knew Marcus well – and really paid attention – were elevated by him. Marcus had depth. He had soul. He had dimension. He was nothing like anyone you’ll ever meet again. You only get to know one of his kind in a lifetime.

The smart young man

Marcus was talented. From a young age, he shone. By 10, he was chess champion of East Surrey. He won a scholarship to Reigate Grammar where he was so good at rugby, he played in the school team in the year above his own, winning against boys almost as big as adult men. He got 12 O’ Levels and a complete set of As at A’ Level and went on to study history at Leeds University.

Marcus was born to move against the grain. It was in his late teens, that Marcus discovered an intuitive skill – and love for – martial arts. He practised taekwondo, judo and Muay Thai – later even living in Chiang Mai for two years so he could train at the source. Eventually, he succumbed to a life-long passion for grappling. He took up Brazilian jiu-jitsu in his late 40s and got his purple belt at 51. But it was in those early years, working in London after university, when by chance he came across a scrawny pamphlet missing its cover in a second-hand bookshop in Fulham, that the singular, inimitable man began to emerge.

Wrestling by EJ Harrison was a manual on wrestling techniques published in 1934, featuring illustrated pencil drawings of wholesome youths with side-partings and wearing trunks. The only thing Marcus knew about wrestling was the pantomime tea-time TV variety. But this was something very different. To Marcus the pamphlet had the feel of a bygone era, of something very valuable that had been lost. The wrestling in this booklet was an art and it was worth redeeming.

Marcus used the manual to teach himself real grappling. There were no schools or classes to help. He paid for adverts in papers looking for training partners and practiced with them in basements and hired spaces, eventually setting up his own club in Victoria. Grappling had entered his bloodstream. For Marcus, wrestling was way more than a sport, it was an activity imbued with soul, and it was wide and deep and it went all the way down.

At his writing desk in Spain

Marcus was a gifted writer. He was in his early 20s when he eschewed the soulless grind of the 9-5, going freelance as a sub-editor and journalist. Marcus worked for some illustrious titles: Record Mirror, Loaded (part of the award-winning team in its heyday) and film magazine Empire. His writing appeared in The Times and the Mail on Sunday and a myriad of other magazines and publications.

He went on to become a critically-acclaimed author and latterly worked as a very successful fiction copyeditor, flipping with impressive ease between the different grammar and punctuation systems of the US and British markets in which he worked.

Marcus was a true original. By his late 20s, he was practicing yoga and meditating intensively and becoming more and more interested in wrestling as a spiritual practice. It bothered him greatly how misunderstood the sport had become. He wanted so much to restore its integrity and give it back the dignity it once had. He wanted everyone to see it as he did, a noble art form with a spiritual realm.

With friends in Mongolia

And with that exalted aim in mind, he gave up work, and spent most of his 30s living abroad in India, Mongolia, Nigeria, America and Brazil, among cultures where wrestling was practiced and revered.

The Last Wrestlers

He poured everything he’d learned into his narrative memoir, The Last Wrestlers, which was published by Ebury Press in 2007 to rave reviews in the national media. He was even interviewed by Excess Baggage on BBC Radio 4. The Last Wrestlers is a beautifully written, intelligent, panegyric to the lost and noble art of real wrestling. It’s as original, arresting and lyrical as the person who wrote it.

Marcus was a natural teacher and mentor. He was patient, humble, expert, generous and kind – whether teaching English to students in Barcelona and Granada where he also lived or, latterly, teaching grappling at the Brighton Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Exchange, the club he founded in Brighton. Marcus had come to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu late – at 47 – and had caught the bug. He was a mere blue belt when he had the vision to open a club where price was no barrier to becoming a BJJ addict. Marcus researched the sport exhaustively – in books, manuals, online libraries and via subscriptions to endless US channels and vlogs. He practiced how he would teach the techniques at home with each of his students in mind. He was never going to fail. That’s not how he rolled. After his passing, six of those students formed a co-operative and are running the club in his honour, continuing the ethos Marcus established.

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Grappling with kittens

Marcus was creative. He had a flair for seeing things with different eyes. When living on the Maltese Island of Gozo, Marcus built ‘apartments’ out of plastic boxes and straw for a colony of feral cats. And when some feral kittens had to be kept indoors so they could be found forever homes, he spent hours fashioning obstacle courses from Amazon delivery boxes to help their development and used the plastic tapes that secured the packages to improve their reflexes. He even brought the outside in – branches, drainpipes, mud and rubble – to best prepare the babies to make their way in the world.

Calendar pic
In Gozo, at his happiest

Marcus was unique. He was highly sensual, embodied and present and even trained as a masseur while living in Australia. Marcus felt intensely and acutely, crying often with manly ease.

His was a noble existence, full of dignity, integrity, high-mindedness, gentleness, respect and humility.

Marcus was extraordinary, a blessed gift. He will never be forgotten and forever missed.

From all of those who loved him dearly and will go on loving him.

Spelling Trouble

The English language is a warzone, with all sorts of people fighting over what they think is right and wrong. But when it comes to spelling, like in so many other matters, there isn’t necessarily only one way of doing things.

Be Your Own Copy Editor #12

Chicago17You might not have noticed, but there was a huge ripple in the editing universe a couple of months ago: The Chicago Manual of Style, the arbiter of style in US book circles, published a new edition – its seventeenth since its inception in 1906. Now, I work for US publishers a lot, so what Chicago has to say matters to me a great deal in my work, and my latest book projects have come with a document summarising the relevant changes in the new edition. And lo, the style bible said that ‘Internet’ was no longer good, but that ‘internet’ shall be written in its place, without an initial capital letter, and that ‘e-mail’ was no longer good either, and that henceforth it shall be written as ‘email’, without a hyphen. And lo, the people thought it was good! According to the online edition of the Washington Post, the de-hyphenated spelling ‘email’ got cheers at a copy editors’ convention. You can imagine the scene: high fives, fist pumps, shouts of ‘Woohoo! In your face, hyphen! Get back to the nineteenth century, where you belong!’ Yes, it was good.

Unless you disagree with the changes, of course, which, the English language basically being a battlefield, obviously people do. In that case it was bad. Really bad, according to one Bad Hambre, who left a comment at the foot of the Washington Post review of the new edition: ‘I will continue using the hyphen in the word “e-mail”. I guess it is a way of sticking my tongue out at the world of self-appointed grammar police.’ Similarly, Dogless Infidel commented that they wouldn’t be lower-casing ‘Internet’. ‘There is only one Internet,’ they wrote. ‘It’s a proper noun. So I’m going to continue capping it until it somehow becomes a generic term, or until I retire, whichever comes first.’ (Not sure that act of defiance makes sense, actually. Surely in the freedom and anarchy of retirement you can cap ‘Internet’ till your Shift key wears out, but whatever.)

Pikeman One: ‘Thou shall spell it “Ye Olde Internet”!’ Pikeman Two: ‘Never! It shall be spelled “ye olde internet” for all eternity!’

Meanwhile, the online version of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary still gives ‘Internet’ with an initial cap but notes that the all-lower-case spelling is gaining ground. ‘E-mail’ is the spelling of the term when a noun, but it can either be ‘e-mail’ or ‘email’ when it’s used as a verb, according to M-W.

So where does this leave the fiction writer writing in American English? Should you be writing ‘e-mail’ or ‘email’, ‘internet’ or ‘Internet’? The truth is, on this and many other subjects relating to written English, there is no single right way of doing things, even though a lot of people will tell you otherwise – something which I find incredibly tedious. Let’s embrace pluralism, people. If you want to write ‘email’, that’s fine, as is ‘e-mail’; if you want to write ‘Internet’, that’s fine too, as is ‘internet’. And none of those spellings suddenly became acceptable or unacceptable on publication of the newest edition of The Chicago Manual of Style. Some words have more than one acceptable spelling, and as a fiction writer, you’re likely to be a highly sophisticated user of the English language who can make good choices on spelling and lots of other matters. The key is to choose one and use it consistently — unless you have a good reason to be inconsistent, which you conceivably might, in which case you should be consistent in your inconsistency.

When a copy editor copyedits a novel for a publisher, they are asked to follow the guidance of recognised authorities on style and spelling. For the US publishers I work for, those authorities are The Chicago Manual of Style and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Publishers also have a house style guide, and that will list spellings favoured by the publishing house that are different from those given in their preferred style guide and dictionary. So the publisher stamps a little individuality on spelling choices, and that licence is also given to authors. Authors can choose to use variant spellings, as long as they are within the acceptable range, and their variant spelling choices are listed on the individual style sheet created for their novel – yes, every novel gets its own style sheet.

When you’re self-editing your novel, you should do the same. Choose a dictionary and style guide to follow – if you’re writing in British English, not American, then you could use either Collins or Oxford as your dictionary, and New Hart’s Rules as your style guide – but then create an individual style sheet, listing any spellings you want to use that are different from those favoured by the dictionary and style guide but are nevertheless regarded as acceptable.

The key, as I said, is consistency. It can be distracting for the reader to see you using a couple of different spellings of the same word, so avoid doing that.

Self-Editing Checklist

  1. Decide which dictionary and style guide you are going to follow (more or less).
  2. If you have any flicker of a doubt about a spelling, look it up. Looking stuff up is so easy these days, since dictionaries have excellent online versions.
  3. If you want to use a legitimate variant spelling, be confident in your choice. Make a note of the spelling, preferably in a style document that you’ve created for your novel, and make sure you use it consistently throughout your manuscript.

Words: © Marcus Trower 2017. Feel free to e-mail me an email, or email me an e-mail, via the Internet, or even using the internet, with questions about any editing issues you’re having while working on your novel. Send a message to mbtrower @ yahoo dot co dot uk

Present and Correct

Do you tell your story using past tenses? If so, don’t think you can’t also use the present tense. Sometimes it’s the right tool for the job.

Be Your Own Copy Editor #11

ak-47-872500__340When copyediting novels narrated using past tenses, I frequently find that an author hasn’t got to grips with how to use the present tense within their past-tense pages. Either it’s used tentatively or it’s not employed at all when it could be, perhaps because the author thinks using the present tense would be a mistake. I’m not talking here about using the present tense – specifically, the present simple – in dialogue, where of course it’s natural to see it, or in direct-thought inner monologue (if you don’t know what that is, read this blog), but in narration. The passage below makes clear what I mean. Imagine it’s a chapter opening.

The AK-47 has a rate of fire of six hundred rounds a minute.

        DC Josh Kavanagh was thinking about that fact as he drove to the lock-up in South London where an AK had been found carefully hidden behind packing cases. If, as seemed likely, jihadis coming back from Syria had smuggled this and other weapons back into the UK, the consequences could be horrific. He tried to push visions of a Mumbai-style massacre on the concourse of Victoria Station out of his mind.

Notice how the present simple is used (‘has’) in the first sentence, and then there’s a switch to past tenses (‘was thinking’, ‘drove’, ‘had been found’). There’s nothing wrong with using the present tense side by side with the past like this. A feature of English is that we use the present simple to talk about general truths, such as the rate of fire of an AK-47, and we can do it in a past-tense novel if we wish. Here are a few more examples of the kind of general truths we use the present simple for:

The moon orbits the earth.

One in every four climbers who attempt to reach the summit of K2 dies trying.

Brighton has a lot of seagulls.

Let’s return to that chapter opening and now write the first line in the past simple, since that’s what a lot of authors do, perhaps because they think they’d be making an error if they strayed from using past tenses in narration.

The AK-47 had a rate of fire of six hundred rounds a minute.

        DC Josh Kavanagh was thinking about that fact as he drove to the lock-up in South London where an AK had been found carefully hidden behind packing cases.

That opening line reads okay to me. It’s unlikely readers are going to think that, because the past simple is used (‘had’), AK-47s once had a rate of fire of six hundred rounds a minute, but something has changed and they don’t any more. However, this opening sentence is not as powerful as the original. The original line, written in the present simple, makes a bigger and bolder statement. Here it is again:

The AK-47 has a rate of fire of six hundred rounds a minute.

That statement is reaching out to you, the reader. It’s more involving and in-your-face. This line is saying AK-47s have a rate of fire of six hundred rounds a minute in the world you live in as you read the book, and they always have done and always will.

So, not only is there nothing wrong with using the present simple in this way, but also there can be a lot right with it. However, there’s a ‘but’ coming, which is this: when you use the present simple to talk about general truths, the statements made can come across as strong interventions by the narrator, and that might not be an effect you want. If, as a novelist, you’re trying to maintain narrative intimacy with a viewpoint character (the character from whose viewpoint a scene is written), you need to handle lines like the one above with care.

I had the issue of maintaining narrative intimacy with my viewpoint character in mind when I composed the example chapter opening. You’ll notice that though it’s the narrator who tells the reader the rate of fire of an AK-47, the information is quickly owned by the protagonist, DC Josh Kavanagh, who we learn is thinking about the damage that could be done with the weapon. If you use the present simple to give a general truth in narration, you might want to find a way to quickly re-establish narrative intimacy with your viewpoint character too.

Self-Editing Tips

1. See if you’ve used the present simple in the way outlined above in your novel, since you may well have done without realising. If you have, don’t think that there’s anything wrong with using it per se, and check that you’ve consistently used the present tense. (I often see novels in which an author sometimes uses the present simple to give a general truth, but at other times switches to the past simple to do the same thing, without apparently noticing they are being inconsistent.)

2. If you discover that you’ve made statements giving general truths using the past simple, try converting the sentences to the present simple. Are the statements made more powerful and resonant as a result?

3. But be careful with using the present simple in this way. You might not like having the narrator speak so directly to the reader.