Book review: The Road Home

Book review:
The Road Home by Rose Tremain


The moving of people from their native places in search of a better life and livelihood is as old as the history of evolution itself. Taking place in this universal movement is the journey of Lev, an East European migrant in London.

The Road Home engages you from page 1 with a simple opening line, “On the coach, Lev chose a seat near the back and he sat huddled against the window, staring out at the land he was leaving.” It draws you in not because it is unique, but because it is such a familiar scene. You already know the answers; still, you want to know what he is leaving behind and where he is going.

With the journey come the relationships that are at the heart of Lev’s experiences. They keep you absorbed with heartwarming conversations and comforting food. Tremain constructs a touching account of the people Lev meets. Through all the strangeness, he discovers an old, familiar bond with them. They are the same people because their story is no different from his. It’s the story of existence. Instead of Lev in London, it could have been Omar from Syria looking for work in New York. Or Raju toiling in Mumbai.

The novel is engaging in its realism and contemporariness. What is missing is depth and description. The move to a new land offers a wonderful canvas to depict the myriad complexities of the journey and destination. Except for a couple of art and culture encounters, the more intimate experiences of London are lost in the daily quest for a meal, shelter, and wages. That Tremain does not mention Lev’s country specifically does not interfere with the narrative. Still, it is a gap that robs the opportunity for rich detailing about his country and culture.

Through a play that he watches with his British lover Sophie, the book offers us a peek into London’s dilettante and their pretentious dalliances with art and theatre. In the play, Dicer the protagonist molests a doll that has been customised to look like Dicer’s young daughter Bunny. Lev’s friends hail the play as ‘groundbreaking’, ‘brilliant’, ‘radical’, and ‘brave’. There is a ‘need to shock’, they state with great determination. “British theatre needs to be taken to a place that it has never visited before – the toilet”, declares Andy Portman the playwright. It is a telling contrast that Tremain sets up between the life and priorities of people. The satire, albeit gaudy, slams home. Tremain must have been grinning wickedly when she came up with the names Dicer and Deluca for the play characters. Lev is enraged, but you will be snorting. That’s the thing about pretences. Different people react differently.

She is not coy either about using her characters to notify the world about her views. Her voice can be clearly heard in comments like, ‘Public Works, Lev. You know, the very term terrifies me to the gills. Because you can never imagine anything good coming out of there. It’s meant to sound philanthropic, but what it signifies to me is some consortium of strangers replacing a thing you love with a thing you need’. 

The Road Home is a good read and the characters are authentic and relatable. The trouble is that they lack deepness and discernment in their description. Think of Atticus or Ma Joad or Jeeves or Hermione Granger or Mrs. Bennet. Their characterization had so much insight and strength. Lev or Ina or Christy won’t be in their league. It keeps the book from being counted among the greats.

For those who haven’t read the book, I won’t reveal how Lev’s journey ends. Either way, there would have been criticism – ‘too miserable’ or ‘too good to be true’. Tremain makes her choice and miserable or good, it is okay.

Will Lev make it in London?

It is a question that you will ask through Lev’s travails.

In a way, that is our question too, isn’t it?


Six reasons why your greeting cards and notes should be deeply personalised

You have got a lovely card, gift or bunch of flowers to celebrate a special occasion.

What about a special note to go with them? Most probably, you might have settled for a standard message that thousands of others have already used.

Personalisation does not only mean adding the recipient’s name to a card or a standard message. It means taking the time out to write and convey things that are deeply relevant to the person receiving the note, card or message.

Here are six reasons why you should invest in writing a personalised message for a special person and occasion:

1. Your personalised message is unique and therefore only one of its kind exists. Can there be a better reason than this?

2. Its value will multiply a thousand times because the recipient will know that your message has not been picked off the Internet or duplicated. It tells the person receiving it that you have invested a lot of time and care in crafting it.

3. Words are forever. Long after the flowers have dried, the candles have been blown out and the cake has been cut, the beauty of words will stay. They will immortalise the occasion and create lasting memories.

4. In the age of mobile phones, abbreviated text messages and vastly identical gifts and notes, a deeply personalised message will be cherished for its originality and genuineness.

5. Businesses are investing heavily in customised outreach to clients. Why shouldn’t you do the same for your personal relationships? The people who are most important to you in this world – your family and friends – also deserve custom-crafted messages.

6. A beautiful card or stationery that carries a generic message will become ordinary and runs the risk of being discarded. A handwritten note will increase in value and meaning when the words are written exclusively for the person receiving it. So ideally you should think about a custom-crafted message even before you get it handwritten or printed on a beautiful piece of stationery.

Next time you resort to writing a generic message, remember that it will dilute the depth of your feelings and make your note ordinary and forgettable.

Get a personalised message written today and experience the depth of your feelings come alive. 

Life of a writer on a Friday evening

5 pm in the afternoon and people unwinding
Friends and family calling; it was a Friday evening
The lonely writer sat brooding, copy in hand
There was no escaping this treacherous quicksand

Pronouns, adjectives, British or American?
Tricky apostrophes and commas; will it all be done?
Words much too compound and possessive
Complicated syntaxes and the questions obsessive

Infinitives, articles, predicates and coordinates
Nothing definite about those tiresome indefinites
The evening slipped in between the hyphenations
The writer sighed and longed for an Oracle to catch the omissions

Will the grammar police catch this one?
Don’t be pedantic, that’s fine, said some
Make that your rule and call it your style
Say they’re being picayunish and simply smile

It’s a new year. But the fundamentals of blog writing will not change

The need for content will remain unabated, as people will continue to seek information, data, news, views and insights.

Subject matter experts will make domain knowledge more accessible than ever.

As you strive to share knowledge and insights, keep these classic rules of writing handy.


The subject can be complex. But your writing shouldn’t be.

Whatever the topic may be, the most important reason why you are writing is to be understood.

Avoid unnecessary jargon and metaphors. Check if you can replace complicated words with simpler ones. For example, in this blog, we wrote, “it’s best to adopt neutral words and phrases” instead of “it’s best to adopt culture-agnostic words and phrases”.

Don’t be vague.

Ask what the reader wants to know and how best you can convey it.

Respect cultural and geographical sensitivities

Context matters.

Remember J K Rowling’s first book? The title “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” was replaced with “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” for the US market. It was done because the publishers felt that American children would be less comfortable with “philosopher”.

Check if words used in your blog resonate with a particular audience, geography or culture. When writing for a global audience, it’s best to use neutral words and phrases.

However, if you are writing for a specific country and if it is important that they relate to your writing, then make sure that your vocabulary and spellings reflect that.

And don’t forget, it’s equally or more important to research what’s not okay or taboo for certain cultures or geographies.

The three golden rules

One: Keep sentences short

This has been said before and we’ll say it again. Irrespective of the length of the blog, sentences should be concise.

A long read requires sharp writing. Findings from the 3rd Annual Survey of 1000+ Bloggers from Orbit Media Studios show that the length of a blog has increased over the years. Readers prefer 800 to 1,200 words articles that can showcase substance and depth. 

If blogs are going to be long, it is imperative that sentences should be short.  Short sentences make it easier to assimilate information and insights.

Two: Avoid long paragraphs

Paragraphs are built to focus on a particular thought, theme, idea or argument. Ideally, a paragraph should not have more than four sentences.

However, more blog writers are resorting to single-sentence paragraphs.

Orthodox writers will argue that a sentence cannot be a paragraph. That would be an oxymoron!

However, one could look at it as a technique where a paragraph is being deliberately deconstructed into single sentences to achieve a distinct style of writing and to hold the reader’s attention.

It could also be driven by the fact that mobile reading has increased. Writers want to avoid paragraphs that look exceptionally long on the average mobile screen.

Read more about paragraphs here by the University of Leicester.

Three: Write in active voice, but don’t junk passive voice altogether

As a rule, write in active voice. It allows for succinct and clear sentences.

Passive voice has its uses too. It works well if you are looking to heighten emphasis for the subject receiving the action. Also, when you are unable to or don’t need to mention the doer, then passive voice comes in handy.

Include links

Provide links generously to attribute source of data, quotes, information or insights. Readers will be grateful for pointers to additional reading. It also adds immensely to the credibility of your piece.

Follow best practices in proofreading

If you treat proofreading as a routine, last minute exercise, your writing will run the risk of errors and show your blog in poor light.

There is a method and discipline to proofreading and it pays to follow it rigorously. Read about best practices in proofreading here.

For more tips and techniques, follow us on twitter.


Best Practices for Proofreading – A practitioner’s guide

In the world of fine dining restaurants, the ‘Pass’ is a place where orders coming in and food going out of the kitchen is monitored.
In quality-obsessed restaurants, the Pass, usually sentineled by the head chef, is the ultimate test of quality before it is handed over to the service staff to take it to the customer. It’s a brilliant practice that should be replicated, especially by marketing, communication and content teams. Identify the expert and let that person be the sentinel at your Pass;
the final custodian of quality for your content.

Now for the best practices, ordered in sequence…

Edit first, proofread last
Yes, because editing is different from proofreading. Editing is a deeper exercise where the editor examines the style, tone, structure, choice of words etc., and rewrites it for overall refinement and appeal to the audience. Proofreading is more about spellings, grammar, syntax, typos and punctuation.

It is highly likely that one edits while proofreading and proofreads while editing. Still, make sure that editing and proofreading get their respective, dedicated focus. Edit first, proofread last.

The writer does not proofread
The writer/author owns the thought. An objective eye for proofreading therefore, becomes difficult. Get a second pair of eyes to proof your content.

Never proofread all aspects at the same time
Proofing requires you to be highly organised. Resist the temptation to fix everything at one go. Check only one aspect at a time. Make a checklist, print it and fix it on your soft board. Example:

Grammar and language
Sentence casing
Names and spellings

Assign at least three to four rounds
Some folks, especially managers in a hurry, will ask why proofreading can’t be done at one or two rounds. Tell them that it takes more than one round to spot all the errors. Poor copy results in poor impression. Be stubborn about allocating sufficient time to proofreading. The written copy that will go into public domain deserves a keen eye and lots of patience.

Proofread on printed copy, please
The last two rounds of proofing should be on a printed copy, preferably in 14 to 16 point size.

Spellings – Check. Punctuation – Check. Formatting – Check. Establish your own Proofreading Pass for every Check
In the world of fine dining restaurants, the ‘Pass’ is a place where orders coming in and food going out of the kitchen is monitored. In quality-obsessed restaurants, the Pass, usually sentineled by the head chef, is the ultimate test of quality before it is handed over to the service staff to take it to the customer. It’s a brilliant practice that should be replicated especially by marketing, communication and content teams. Identify the expert and let that person be the sentinel at your Pass; the final custodian of quality for your content.

Hit ‘send’ to a test team first
That ‘ouch!’ moment when you spot errors after hitting the ‘send’ button is every communication manager’s nightmare. Cheat that law by sending the email, newsletter, article, blog etc., to an internal ‘test’ team first. It will let you spot the naughty, elusive errors and fix them. Do some more ‘tests’ before you are ready to go official!

Phase out the ‘send’
This best practice works for online campaigns, especially when you have a large database that includes internal and external readers. Phase out the launch of your campaign across two or three rounds. Start with the marketing and communication team in your organisation. Then move to company staff. If you’ve got global offices, send it to branch offices first and then to headquarters. Wait for a day to see if anyone points out errors. It’s a fantastic opportunity to fix something that might have been missed. The last ‘send’ should be to the customer and partner database.