Scrabbling Brains Alive!

My partner keeps his brain alive -- his expression -- by playing Scrabble.
     He's only been playing the game for about a year, but he took to it ferociously and now plays every chance he gets. He even plays against himself.
      He joined his local U3A and their unsuspecting Scrabble-arm made him welcome. Since then he's beaten them all, even their best player, monotonously, like gongs. And by 'beaten', I mean by over 300 points.
     In self-defense, they brought in rules such as: No cheating by using the official Scrabble dictionary instead of an old Concise Collins without a cover, published in the 1940s.  And when that didn't work: No looking things up in dictionaries.
     It did them no good. He's simply memorised all the allowable two and three letter words, and all the allowable words containing 'U', such as:

the right to enjoy the use of another's property, so long as it's not damaged or destroyed,




the emblem of power, in the form of a serpent, on the front of an Egyption god or ruler's headdress.


  This is well worth the effort, he tells me, because 'U' is the hardest vowel to get rid of. Unless you have a 'Q' of course -- and needless to say, he's also learned by heart all the words you can play where the 'Q' doesn't have to be followed by a 'U.' (Qat, qi, qis...)


You can see that I have fallen into the trap, above, of telling you what usufruct and uraeus mean, as if it mattered.
     I'm a writer. I'm handicapped by an interest in what the words mean. I waste brain space and energy by trying to remember them. My partner, always happy with numbers and the patterns they make, has no interest in their meaning, only in their mean.
     All that matters to him is what they score on the Scrabble board.

(Usufruct is good: it has an F (4) and a C (3).) Get it on a triple and you could score 39. Or 29 if you could only get the F on a triple letter tile. If he can't score 20 or over, he considers missing a turn and changing his letters.

     I've picked up some of his Scrabble tricks and get better and better. I skelped (14) the cheukster (18) the other night -- beat him by a whole 60 points, while he usually beats me by hundreds. I did a victory dance around his room. And last night I ran him hard -- he won, but only by one point.
      It is a very good game, with that complexity which builds from simplicity -- but I look back over my life and the last few years and wonder if my brain really needs Scrabble for life-assistance. I'm an author, for gods' sake -- and an Electric Author at that.

      I've spent most of my life suddenly realising that I urgently need to find out, for instance, a lot more about the invasion of the Great Danish Army, or the atmosphere of Mars... the floor-plans of Border pele towers... what Vikings carried as packed lunches... or the design of half-submerged, floating hotels and houses already being built and planned for the water-logged future.

     And then along comes e-publishing and several steep learning curves as I found out how to make e-books and CreateSpace paperbacks -- and along the way, try to get to grips with marketing -- with social media... None of these things were in the job description when I started. Or even imagined by most of us. Maybe a few science-fiction writers had a glimmer...

   Because I need copyright free images, I'm getting more and more involved in the complexities of graphics programmes. Just last weekend my Author Electric colleague, Karen Bush, was telling me about Pic Monkey and Be Funky.
     In the past, I've several times written the texts for picture books -- but I've never been so closely involved in writing and designing them as now, working with my brothers. The pictures change the words, and the words change the pictures... It's a very challenging form and the fact that it's 'only for kids' makes it harder, not easier.


Once, a girl made a chapati for her tea.
But the chapati didn't want to be eaten.
Up from the table it jumped and out of
the door it ran.
"Run, run, fast as  you can
You can't put me in your frying pan!"
         The Runaway Chapati

The most exciting day of little Tinku's life!
The Maharaja is to be married and the whole
palace is alive with hustle and bustle...
          Tinku Tries To Help




      I haven't even gone near audio books, as some of my colleagues have... Maybe, one day...
     But if always learning and puzzling things out is what keeps the brain alive, then a horde of villagers with pitchforks are probably going to have to visit the cemetery, six months after the death of AE members, to beat our still buzzing brains to death.

Susan Price won the Carnegie Medal for her book, The Ghost Drum, and the Guardian Fiction Prize for The Sterkarm Handshake (to be reprinted this summer, by Open Road.)

Her first solely self-published book, The Drover's Dogs can be found here: