What a few small marks say about you

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It has been a feverish few months on the literary front line as we scrabble about for a concept that will set the tills ringing this autumn. Publishers and booksellers are busy people, with balance sheets to read and launch parties to attend, so truly professional authors keep their ideas simple. Anything that requires an explanation that could not be included on the front of a T-shirt is unlikely to survive an editorial meeting.

It has been a feverish few months on the literary front line as we scrabble about for a concept that will set the tills ringing this autumn. Publishers and booksellers are busy people, with balance sheets to read and launch parties to attend, so truly professional authors keep their ideas simple. Anything that requires an explanation that could not be included on the front of a T-shirt is unlikely to survive an editorial meeting.

My contender has the simplicity marketing people love, taking two vibrant genres and meshing them into an irresistible package. This will be the book which, as the expression goes, will "melt from the shelves".

Eats, Shoots & Leaves, the bossyboots punctuation manual, was fine in its way - if you read Lynne Truss's bestseller, you would be well equipped to write a presentable job application without making a fool of yourself. But then what? Many people need to know where to take their new-found interest in semi-colons and apostrophes from there.

My new project, Punctuation Signs: How Dots and Dashes Could Change Your Life, has the answer. Just as books of astrology reveal personality through the arrangement of the heavens, so Punctuation Signs will uncover the startling secrets behind the written prose that everyone uses. Before the major promotion, I am able to share a few of its original insights into what your favourite punctuation signs reveals about you.

Full stops. There are those who write English in a staccato fashion. They do not believe in subordinate clauses. Their prose barks at you like a sergeant-major on a parade ground. Essentially, these people are afraid of the complexity of modern life and try to corral their thoughts into neat boxes. An addictive full-stop user is not just a control freak but that much sadder thing, an unsuccessful control freak. Many have difficulty maintaining relationships, and male full-stoppers tend to suffer from premature ejaculation.

Commas. People who have a fondness for the comma, its beckoning curves, the lilt in a sentence, gentle but insistent, that it represents, are in touch with their feminine side. They like ebb and flow in their communication and in their lives, and make, good, loyal partners but slightly weak employees. If one were to be hyper-critical, one would have to point out that comma-users can be slightly dull and are invariably late for appointments.

Exclamation marks. Call the shrink quick! The repeated use of the exclamation mark is a cry for help, a plea to be loved or, if that is impossible, just to be noticed. Users are insecure personalities forever drawing attention to themselves, yet feeling unworthy. Their search for validation may lead them down some of the darkest byways of addictive behaviour.

Semi-colons. These much-misunderstood punctuation marks denote a strong personality; those who like to use them have subtle thought processes and an artistic temperament. Though career-minded, they lack a killer instinct, preferring friendship and conversation to advancement. They are surprisingly good with animals.

Colons. Here is what to expect from colon-users: not much. Their lives are dominated by a sense of anticipation, invariably leading to disappointment. A way to help them recover a sense of equilibrium is to introduce them to the semi-colon and civilise them slowly.

Dashes. In our busy lives - meetings to attend, people to meet, films to see - the dash has become an emblem of modish hurry, suggesting that the user simply does not have the time to use old-fashioned punctuation. Charismatic, but unreliable, dash-users tend to be bad drivers.

Ellipses. Self-conscious and anally retentive, ellipses-users like to imply that their lives are enigmatic and interesting but, as to why and how that is, they prefer to leave to the imaginations of others. There is usually less to them than meets the eye...

Miles Kington is away

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