You may have noticed a story from England about “the Banksy of punctuation”, a selfdescribed “grammar vigilante” who has been sneaking around for more than a decade, mainly in Bristol, largely at night, correcting punctuation on shopfronts and street signs. He’s especially tough on apostrophes: missing ones and, even more heinously, rogue ones, such as in Tomato’s 10p a pound. He has devised an “apostrophiser” to deal with lofty signs. I don’t want to offend him but I’d call that a long stick. He remains anonymous but a BBC reporter did track him down one night. “I do think it’s a cause worth pursuing,” he said. He recalled his first brush with grammatical badness, in 2003: “It was a council sign — Mondays to Fridays — and had these ridiculous apostrophes. I was able to scratch those off.” He identified a beauty salon as a career highlight: “Amys Nail’s. It was so loud and in your face. I just couldn’t abide it. It grates.” When it was suggested he was vandalising private or public property, as some have said of Bristol artist Banksy, he replied: “It’s more of a crime to have the apostrophes wrong.”
Hearing about this made wonder what he’d do with F..king Apostrophes. That’s the title of a little book by British advertiser Simon Griffin (Icon, $16.99). The asterisks are mine, not the publisher’s. Would Bristol bollock me for that? Griffin’s book claims to be a “profoundly useful short guide to the most maddening punctuation in English”. I don’t think “profoundly” is the right word there, but let’s leave that. And all the eff-ing aside, the book is an interesting take on the apostrophe. As the author knows, he won’t be on everyone’s side. “People will argue strongly (sometimes even violently),” he writes, “that they are right about f..king apostrophes, even when they are wrong.”
With that in mind, tell me about the apostrophes that have most annoyed you, on a sign, in a book, on a tattoo, anywhere. Or about other language mistakes that have made you condemn the perpetrator to “be the show and gaze o’ th’ time”, as MacDuff put it. I’ll share a few in coming weeks. I want to catch up with some recent prizes. First, The Australian/ Vogel’s Literary Award went to Marija Pericic for The Lost Pages, a brilliant (I was a judge) reimagination of the relationship between Franz Kafka and his friend and literary executor Max Brod, aka the Bloke Who Didn’t Burn the Books. In the sort of amusing coincidence that happens in the world of books, the day after Pericic won I spotted this book in a publisher’s catalogue: Baking With Kafka. By British cartoonist Tom Gauld, it’s a collection of sketches and literary-minded recipes. I may bake the cockroach pie, though I doubt I’ll do a Papillon and eat it.
Another manuscript award, the Richell Prize, had its debut winner with Sally Abbott’s theend-is-nigh thriller Closing Down. James Bradley reviews it and The Lost Pages on page 20. The Stella Prize was won by Heather Rose for The Museum of Modern Love, a novel that has a real artist, Marina Abramovic, as its central force.
Rose’s novel, set in New York and absent of Australian characters, was not longlisted for the Miles Franklin this week. It did, however, make the fiction shortlist in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, along with Gretchen Shirm’s Where the Light Falls (which started life as Vogel contender), Ryan O’Neill’s Their Brilliant Careers, Tara June Winch’s After the Carnage and Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things. O’Neill is also on the Miles longlist, with Steven Amsterdam ( The Easy Way Out), Emily Maguire ( An Isolated Incident), Mark O’Flynn ( The Last Days of Ava Langdon), Josephine Rowe ( A Loving, Faithful Animal), Philip Salom ( Waiting), Inga Simpson ( Where the Trees Were), Kirsten Tranter ( Hold) and Josephine Wilson ( Extinctions). Congratulations to all. The shortlist will be announced on June 18.