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The Absolutely Literate blog is for people interested in writing, editing, design, history and family history.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Giving Your Word Docs Style

I was a co-presenter last night for Technology Skills for Writers at the Golden Ears Writers. I presented Microsoft Word for Writers and was reminded again at how well Microsoft has hidden some of its most useful features.

One of the most essential features of Word is Styles. It has been there since the beginning of Word, I used with with Word 95 but until they introduced the Ribbon toolbar it has been a hidden gem.

What the hay is a style?

A style is a group of formatting characteristics such as font, colour, and spacing that you apply to the text in your document at one time.

What does that mean? It means that if you use styles you can change the look of your document with just a few clicks. This saves you a lot of time when you are working on large documents and ensures a consistent and professional look to your whole document.

Learn styles and you will no longer waste hours manually going through your document and selecting text and trying to remember if you used 12pt Arial or 11pt Verdana on the last page. It means that with some time invested up front you can indent paragraphs, add space between paragraphs, double-space, add text and numbering to your headings (Chapter 1), and more with the click your mouse.

You can use and edit styles from the Ribbon.

On the Home tab, in the Styles group, right-click on the style and select Modify.

Or you can do it old-school (this is my preference).

On the Home tab, in the Styles group, click the Styles Dialog Box Launcher or use the shortcut keys (Alt+Ctrl+Shift+S).

The Style Pane will open.

Select a style and click on the drop-down button, select Modify.

Create Your Own Styles

If you like the dialogue in your book to be indented on both the right and left and in italics, create a style for dialogue.

From the bottom of Style Pane click on the New Style button.

Learn more about styles on the Microsoft site.

Friday, November 6, 2015

100 Years Ago

The Daily Colonist, May 28, 1916, page 19
100 Years ago on November 6, 1915 my grandfather, Tom Lister, enlisted in Victoria, British Columbia. He joined the Victoria Fusiliers 88th Battalion. He had been living in Duncan and working as a farmer. He had immigrated from Skipton, England in 1910.
Tom Lister, 1915. Courtesy Gerry (G.W.) Lister

The Daily Colonist from May 28, 1916 declared that "the Victoria Fusiliers hold the record for the number of Cowichan recruits."

The same issue has a wonderful image of the crowds in Victoria bidding farewell to the troops on board the C.P.R. S.S. Princess Charlotte.

Lieutenant Colonel Harold Joseph Rous Cullin, commanding officer of the 88th Battalion, wrote a letter to the Daily Colonist outlining their trip across Canada by train from Vancouver to Halifax. The bright and cheerful tone of the letter is punctuated with snippets of their training and welcoming receptions at the various stops. Marches in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Push-ups and knee bends in Schrieber, Ontario. Cigarettes and oranges in Kenora, Ontario. In Ottawa, Ontario they participate in a parade and a march to Parliament Hill where they are inspected by the Duke of Connaught and meet various colonels, generals, and government ministers. They saw the scaffolding on the Parliament Buildings; a fire destroyed the original Centre Block in February of 1916. Then they mark back to train to head to Montreal.

"Arrived in Halifax on Wednesday, May 29, at 11 a.m. Ten troop trains ahead of the 88th, two behind. Nearly 7,000 troops aboard. Heavy rain. Authorities very strict and guards everywhere. Lots of warships and destroyers in harbor. Men all intact. Wonderful behavior. No sickness in 88th. No deserters. No defaulters. Spirits simply wonderful. Message from Victoria Fusiliers to Victoria: ' Keep on recruiting. The war is only just starting. It will go another two years. Fill up the 88th again.'"

On May 31, 1916 they sailed from Halifax and headed to England.


"The Fire of 1916." Public Works and Government Services Canada. http://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/collineduparlement-parliamenthill/batir-building/hist/1916-eng.html

"Soldiers of the First World War (1914-1918)." Record Group 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 4930 - 35. Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.

“Vancouver Island.” Daily Colonist, May 28, 1916, 17.
“Remarkable Illustration of Victoria's Hearty Tribute to Fusiliers.” Daily Colonist, May 28, 1916, 19.
Cullin, Lieut-Col. “Had Fine Journey Across Continent.” Daily Colonist, June 29, 1916, 5.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


The internet is opening up the world of research and just recently the BC Dairy Historical Society  digitized and made available for viewing online the 674 editions of the Butter-Fat magazine published by the Fraser Valley Milk Producers' Association from 1923 to 1993. The Butter-Fat editions contain a detailed history of dairy and agriculture in BC including several historical editions with wonderful historic photographs. The editions are in PDF format and can be downloaded to your PC, iBooks or Kindle for reading and searching.

My family was very involved in the dairy industry as Jersey farmers, with 4H, and later working for the goverment in the agriculture department so I did search was rewarded with several results.

The 1924 February edition shows me that my grandfather had some very interesting names for his cows, Rosewood Model Kitty, Dorothy's Dimple Dot, Valentine's Bonny Maid, and Dora's Golden Lass. My dad has explained the naming convention is that first name is the name of the farm, the lineage, the name. In their case they didn't have a farm name so I can see that he named some of them for my grandma Dorothy.

Apparently Fauvic Baroness St. Mawes made the Jersey records in 1928 for milk production.

Look at this gem from the July 1927 edition. It includes this great group shot from a F.V.M.P.A. field day and picnic in Chilliwack.

I have much more to explore and I am looking foward to the journey.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Absolutely Literate at Fort Langley's Festival of the Book, July 1

I am looking forward to being part of the Celebrate Canada Day in Fort Langley July 1st party in Fort Langley.
Join me at the Fort Langley Festival of the Book between 11:00 and 2:30. The Festival is followed by the Bard in the Valley’s production of William Shakespeare’s Love’s Labours Lost at 3:00.
I will be at the Fort Langley Community Hall along with other local writers. I will have copies of the newly redesigned British Columbia History magazine and Looking Back: Volume One, a collection of stories written by Sheila Nickols.
See you there.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Friday Tech Tip: How to get Microsoft Word to read to you

At my talk last night "Editors as Partners, not enemies" for Art of the Book I mentioned that you can get Microsoft Word to read out loud to you.

Here's how to add the Speak command to your Quick Access Toolbar and use the tool:
  1. Open Microsoft Word.
  2. From the top of your screen next to the Save, Undo, and Redo buttons, click Customize Quick Access Toolbar arrow.
The Word Options dialog box opens.
  1. From the Choose commands from drop-down, select All Commands.

  1. Scroll down to the Speak command, select it, and then click Add.

  1. Click OK.
The Speak icon appears on your Quick Access Tool.

To use the Speak command

  1. Select the text you want to hear or select your entire document Ctrl+A.
  2. Click the Speak command.

Word will read to you. Admittedly, it reads to you in one of those computer voices and you might feel like you are on the Skytrain or have just been read to by Marvin the Paranoid Android.

Adjusting Voice Settings

If your computer’s sounds too computer generated or if it speaks too quickly you can easily adjust the settings.
  1. From the lower left-hand corner, pressing the Start button.
  2. In the search box, type narrator.
  3. Click on Narrator.
  1. Click Voice Settings.
  2. Edit the speed, volume, and pitch.
  3. Click OK when you are done.
  4. Click Exit.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Art of the Book with Brian Murdoch

Have you ever thought about books having a story to tell beyond the words on the page? Why was the book written? Who owned it? Did the owner write something of significance in the margin?

Brian Murdoch brought up these ideas and more on April 9 during his talk “The Importance of Books Beyond the Text: Books as Historical Artifacts.”

Brian made me think about why I love book stores and what we have lost with the demise of so many independent stores and the shift to online. I love the smell of ink, the feel of the paper, the promise of the spine of a book, and the potential of the covers. I enjoy displays in bookstores of books that have been banned through time or the favourite books of one of the employees. I enjoy it when you tell an employee that you like an author and they say “well if you like her, then you might like….”

In 2012 I attended Vancouver O'Reilly's Mini TOC (Tools of Change for Publishing). I wrote about how I heard a lot of discussion about discoverability, curated content, and interactive books. Although it is now 2015 I do not think that the challenge of discoverability for online book stores has been solved.  A number of social cataloguing websites exist where users can add books to their personal bookshelves, rate and review books, and see what their friends are reading. There are algorithms on these sites and the online shopping sites that suggest books based on your reading and shopping habits. However, there is no algorithm that can replace a passionate book store employee or antiquarian book dealer who loves books and creates “for his customers the joy of discovering a book they didn't know existed.”

Book selling and reviewing is now too often about the best-sellers. At chain stores we are often pointed by a disinterested employee in the direction of the genre rather than guided to an author waiting to be discovered.

Brian also talked about the art of books. The beauty of illustrations created by hand on metal plates and printed separately from the text; a world away from our digital creations. He talked about leather covers gilt edged by hand. He talked about how to tell a first edition and cautioned us about online purchasing. He asked why books are not valued as art on the same level as paintings.

This post just glosses over the depth and range of topics that Brian covered. I look forward to the second talk in the series on book design with Bill Glasgow of William Glasgow Design.

For more information or to register, follow the link:

Friday, March 27, 2015

Help send W.T. Waterston's Medals Home

Photo courtesy Gerry Lister

Photo courtesy Gerry Lister
Photo courtesy Gerry Lister
Friday mystery. My cousin has a World War I war medal that was in our family collection. The medal was issued to a W.T. (William Thomas) Waterston, regimental number 429616. We do not know of any family connection to our own family. The possible connections are that W.T. could either have served with Thomas Lister or known Carl Grossman through the Westminster Regiment.

His Attestation Paper is available at Library and Archives Canada but his service file has not been digitized yet.

According to this record he was born in Woodstock, Ontario June 17, 1882.

He is living with his parents and siblings in Vancouver in the 1901 Census. Father: Thomas Waterston, age 46, occupation mining; mother, Francis E., age 40; sister, Mattie, age 21; sister Katie, age 17, and brother Albert, age 11. (Year: 1901; Census Place: Vancouver (City/Cité), Burrard, British Columbia; Page: 14; Family No: 150)
Photo courtesy Gerry Lister

There is a marriage record for a William Thomas Waterston, age 30. Residence, Milner, BC. He married Ruby Miller Florence April 15, 1912. Says he was born in the United States. Parents: Thomas W. Waterston and Frances E. Bristol.

I am not sure what happened to wife #1 as his lists himself as no married on his Attestation.

He enlisted March 13, 1915 at New Westminster, British Columbia. Civilian Occupation: Farmer    

Next of Kin: Mrs. McKane, sister, of 6052 Hornby Street, Vancouver, British Columbia

Invalided to Canada for further medical treatment in Aug 1917 on the Letitia.

Married Eliza Jane Biggins at Vancouver December 9, 1918. Residence, Huntington, BC. He lists his place of birth as Morris, Minn, USA. Father, Thomas William Waterston, Lawyer and Frances Elizabeth Bristol.

I can find him in the directories living in Huntington in 1919.

He and Eliza lost their son, Harold Malcolm Waterston, born 12 Jul 1921 and died Jan 9, 1923.

Died at Sumas, British Columbia December 20, 1940 and is buried in Hazelwood Cemetery in Abbotsford, BC. His registration of death lists his birth as Woodstock Ontario, June 17, 1881. His father having been born in Scotland and his mother in the USA.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

How is Your Story Built? Editing for Structure

I started a series of posts a while ago about the different types of editing. Today I am going to write about editing for structure.

How is your document organized? Keep your fingers off your keyboard and read it as a reader. A large part of my work is editing non-fiction articles, but the same questions can be applied to memoirs, family history, fiction, and even business writing.
  1. Does the introduction prepare the reader for what follows?
  2. Does the introduction captivate?
  3. Are there confusing transitions?
  4. Does the timeline flow logically or does the piece move back and forth in time?
  5. Is there extraneous information that distracts the reader from the main point? Do all of the parts relate to the whole?
  6. Does the piece have a solid through-line that takes the reader from introduction to conclusion? 
Once you have answered these questions, you can start to revise.

Our goal is to create the best experience we can for the reader. We do not want to lose them along the way.

Advanced Study in Writing for Business and the Professions by Anne Hungerford (course material)
"Writing from the Top Down: Pros and Cons of the Inverted Pyramid", Poytner. by Chip Scanlan

Related Posts:
Revising, revising, revising
Truth and Accuracy
Editing for Audience and Purpose

Friday, January 9, 2015

Agent Carter - a taste of sexism in the 1940s

I watched Marvel's Agent Carter last night and while not strictly speaking a historical show it felt a bit like a sequel to Bomb Girls. The comic book based TV show is set in the post WWII era in 1946 but has the added twist of super villians from the Marvel Comic world. The show has lots of nice little bits that give you a feel of what life was like for women in that era.

Despite her work during the war Agent Peggy Carter is relegated to secretarial duties in the Strategic Scientific Reserve (the top secret Allied war agency). The male agents ask her to make coffee and do filing. Carter’s roommate Colleen complains that she has to train men to do her job at the factory and that the women are being laid off and replaced by men. Rosie the Riveter was being replaced with images of women in domestic roles and women were strongly encouraged to stay at home and not continue doing “men’s work.”

Carter’s interview for a room at a women’s residence really highlighted society’s expectations for how women were supposed to behave. They were only expected to work until they got married and lead a modest life.

So while not a history show the research and attention to detail gives the story a realistic feel.

Besides, Agent Peggy Carter is a woman to be admired, tough, resourceful, and smart.

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