Charlie Britten's writing blog

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Zoe and Greg Milton have let themselves go, to the tune of 14 stone 7 pounds (her) and twenty stone (him).   When Zoe’s friend and colleague, local radio host, Elise, suggests they join five other couples in an on-air weight loss competition, ‘Fat Chance’, they are cross and resentful, but, on the other hand, they could do with £50,000 prize money.  As the story progresses they get into it, trying all manner of exercise and diet techniques, and eventually reaching the point where they enjoy healthy food and exercise.  They’re still after the 50 grand, though.

The story was told, almost entirely, as a series of diary entries (his and hers), the only exception being an advert for the ‘Fat Chance’ competition at the beginning.  This works well, as the journals contain dialogue and the sort of detail you’d find in narrative – not how you or I would write our diaries, Dear Reader, but this licence is adopted by many authors, including Helen Fielding (of Bridget Jones fame)…    Oh, how hard did I try not to repeat the word ‘diary’ in this paragraph, but I failed.  It didn’t make sense without 2 ‘diaries’.

The strongest parts of the book concerns the outrageousness of reality shows, how the media treat participants as freak shows, expecting them to confide the most personal issues on air.  Zoe and Greg resented it all intensely.  Nor was Stream Radio in the least concerned about participants’ safety, causing one of the Fat Chance participants to need oxygen following their more ridiculous exercise activities.  The weakest sections were those passages where the author took over his characters’ diary pages in order to lecture the reader on the value of diet and exercise, and which sorts of diets and exercise were best.

Characterisation was just about ok.   Most of the time we got the feel of who Zoe and Greg were – quite ordinary people, not the sort to set the world alight.  Nothing wrong with this.  Then we are told that Greg has been a college rugby star and heart throb;  whilst the idea of a sportsman getting out of condition is quite believable, Greg didn’t seem act and think like a sportsman, and I was surprised that he was surprised about what his personal trainer wanted him to do.  Zoe, on the other hand,  suddenly learns assertiveness, three quarters of the way through the text:  I hadn’t been aware of her being a doormat in the first place, and the person over whom she went all tough had never featured in the book before, nor did she appear afterwards.   What was refreshing, though, was Zoe and Greg’s warm relationship;  you would expect some ups and downs, but the author didn’t include any at all, which made for a gentle, easy read.

To my mind, there were too many characters, some of whom, like Zoe’s parents, really did have bit parts.  Moreover, we never got to know the other five couples in ‘Fat Chance'; they were introduced to the reader all at once, in a sort of bulleted list without the bullets, after which the author writes repeatedly about ‘Frankie and Benny’ and ‘Shane and Theresa’ and  the others, without properly reminding us who they all are.

This book is ‘humour’, so it didn’t have a proper plot, although it followed a general storyline, but there was no real tension at the end.   The author avoided the obvious ending (which would indeed have been very dull), but didn’t provide a twist either.  The characters had moved on.

‘Fat Chance’ is the sixth humourous book by Nick Spalding.   For more information about Nick, try his author Facebook page and blog.  Released this month (October), ‘Fat Chance’ has gone straight into the Amazon Kindle top 5!

So, Dear Reader, would I recommend that you read ‘Fat Chance’?  Well, I feel like my husband used to feel when I cooked him something experimental from a vegetarian cookery book.  “I ate it,” he would say as he reached ham in the fridge.  I read ‘Fat Chance’ and I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t my all time favourite.

By the way, I’ve got Blogs I Follow pouring into my email inbox on a Monday morning once again.   Well done, me.  None of the WordPress ‘help forums’ or ‘user sites’ were able to help.   When I get my new phone on Monday,  I intend to install WordPress app on to it, the better for reading posts and commenting.  And also the Classic FM app; I’ve never thought of myself as one for music, seeing as virtually every other member of my family is ‘musical’, but I’ve started really enjoying Classic FM in the car on the way to and from work.


A useful guide to self-publishing with Kindle and Smashwords. Thanks very much, Mishka Jenkins of ‘A Writer’s Life for Me’.

Originally posted on A Writer's Life For Me.:

I’ve had a few emails from people asking about when I publish my books on Smashwords if they go through the ‘Meatgrinder’ and how do I do it.

I have to say I’ve never had a problem with Smashwords and all my books have gone through first time with no trouble. So, instead of copying and pasting the answer to reply to the emails, I thought I would do a blog on it.

Please note that these are just some of the things I do to get my books through Smashwords and Kindle, don’t take it as fact! I highly recommend reading both Kindle’s guide and Smashwords style guide in order to better understand the process.

This is a comparison of the same manuscript (my newest release, The Magic Spark) put through Smashwords (on the left) compared to Kindle (on the right).


Kindle Formatting:

– Justified alignment.
– Max…

View original 708 more words

Just over a week ago, I entered a story in the AlfieDog International Short Story Competition.  The entry fee for this comp was the purchase of five stories off the site, so, for a total of about £2, I bought:

  • ‘Home’ by Sheffield – Mary Driver-Thiel
  • ‘It’s Duncan’ – Susan Wright
  • 8 Sycamore Close – Susan Wright
  • A Changed Woman – Patsy Collins
  • A Christmas Carol – Lorraine Coverley

I picked Patsy’s story because I ‘know’ her well online and always enjoy her work, and Lorraine Coverley’s because I have been in correspondence with her too.     I also read and reviewed Susan Wright’s  ‘In the Kitchen with a Knife’ a few months ago.

The stories varied in length, ”Home’ by Sheffield’ the longest at 4700 words.  Mary – an American writer,  the only non-Brit – has only one story published on Alfie Dog (this one).   Unpolished at times and with no distinct plot, ‘Home’ was about a dog who ran away because he was bored.  The perfect rebuttal to the writing ‘rule’ that mcs should not be dogs.  This one was and it worked well.

‘It’s Duncan’ was typical womag and aimed at older readers, as it was about a widow finding new love, but beset by old fashioned conventions about women asking men out.  The main thrust of the story (but not all of it) was told through telephone conversations – an interesting device.  My only slight reservation was that mc was supposed to be in her sixties, but her staid ideas seemed more like those of someone much older.

Still very rooted in womag, ‘8 Sycamore Close’,  about a divorced woman looking for a house of her own, was more to my taste.  A censorious mother and a well-meaning but interfering boss added colour to this story, even though mc knew her own mind all the way along, and just needed time to get herself into gear.  A great twist at the end, which I didn’t see coming at all.  I was surprised to see IVF mentioned in this story, not just in a few words but forming a central plank of the plot.

‘A Changed Woman’ was also in the womag genre, but featuring a younger, more feisty woman and a visitor called ‘Paul Newman’ who was definitely not the actor.  No wonder her husband was jealous.  And was the reader right to accept the explanation for Paul Newman’s presence, especially after those groans in the bedroom?  Enigmatic endings, I love them.

We all think we know Charles Dickens’ ‘Christmas Carol’, but I really enjoyed Lorraine’s take on it, especially a petulant Scrooge who came out with things like ‘I don’t like sweetcorn,’ and ‘Look what you’ve done to this goose… Look, it’s all squished.’  This piece broadly followed Dickens’ tale, but, just as we lesser writers produce unspeakable first drafts which we have to edit, re-edit and edit over and over again, so did the great man himself.  (If you’re not following all this, read Lorraine’s piece for yourself!)

All very enjoyable stories.  What a wonderful competition entry fee!

Well, Dear Reader, I’ve certainly cured the problem about not receiving email notifications on posts from Blogs I Follow.  With a vengeance!  DR, yesterday I received over 200 email notifications from WordPress, also today because I didn’t have time to adjust the settings again until this evening.  You see, I’d just switched on everything, had all you Blogs I Follow on instant, and also checInbox full of notifications from Blogs I Follow on WordPressked the Default Jabber Instant Messenger Delivery (I thought of  it as the Jabberwocky).  I’m now gradually readjusting the settings; there are so many to adjust which basically do the same thing – instant, daily, weekly.   WordPress would actually do well to review their tools, in my opinion.  However, during the last two days, I have been truly amazed at how frequently you are all blogging and commenting.  I have tried to join in… a little… but it must all be very time-consuming for you, Dear Readers.

Now I have another problem, in that OneDrive has suddenly stopped signing me in and, after a bit of research on the old internet, I eventually discovered that, over the last couple of days, a lot of other people have been having the same problem.  Come on, Microsoft.  It might be Friday (still) in Seattle, but do sort it out.  I have to work weekends.  A few weeks ago, I copied a whole load of family photos on to OneDrive (about 10gb) and OneDrive is still uploading it.  What I didn’t realise (until my wonderful colleague, Masud, explained it to me) was that cloud storage applications (like OneDrive and Dropbox) make two copies of each file, one on your hard drive (which is saved very quickly) and the other on the internet – in the cloud – which takes very much longer, several weeks in my case, because we have such a poor, rural, connection.  One bonus of not having OneDrive uploading in the background is that my laptop has suddenly speeded up, but I still won’t be able to see all  my photos on my iPad.

Available from Random House.   ISBN 978178089body1507.

I was hooked on this from the thrilling motorbike joyride on the first page.  ‘I cling to him as the wind blasts over my body, cutting through my mind, sweeping clean my thoughts’.  The pov of the prelude is in the first person, whilst the remainder of the book adopts various different third person povs.  Using first person in that amazing beginning brings it even more alive than it is already.  ‘I give him a squeeze beneath his ribs, so he knows I want to go all the way…’  Of course, the identity of the teenage girl who is ‘I’  is not revealed… but, Dear Reader, I’ve read too many crime stories.  I sussed her in about three chapters.

In the first proper chapter, the reader is introduced to DI Lorraine Fisher, making a big thing of an hour long journey by car from Birmingham Hangman Gameto the Warwickshire village of Radcote.  There has been a recent spate of teenage suicides in Radcote – but are they suicides?  Lorraine is on holiday, of course, so she doesn’t want to get involved, until she is dragged into it by her sister (whose a bit of a disaster area) and, furthermore, blatantly all is not right with her nephew, Freddie.   The story fairly rocks along, never still for a minute, involving a small number of believable characters, who rattle the plot along to its terrible conclusion.  In the Random House blurb, this work is described as a psychological suspense novel, but, although many of the events in the story were truly shocking, it felt more like cosy crime to me.  (Maybe, I really have read too many crime stories, although, if there is anything to be shocked about, I’m the first to be shocked AND upset.)

There are inconsistencies and loose ends in the plot.  For a long time, the reader is led to believe that one particular character is culpable, but, not only does he fall out of the story when the real murderer reveals himself (which is what you would expect) but his motives and actions are not properly explained.  Another character is being cyberbullied in a particularly nasty way and in a very teenage way, but, even at the end of the book, it was not clear who is trolling him , or why.  If the murderer is supposed to be the cyberbully, the murderer is not a teenager.  If the character doesn’t find out who it is but deals with it anyway, maybe that point should have been made.  There are also issues of emphasis, with two characters suddenly becoming driven by an issue which should have exercised their thoughts from the beginning.  But the story is so vivid and the characters so believable, I am happy to excuse these discrepancies with the thought that real life is rarely tidy.

Lorraine Fisher is one of the many female police detectives who has been cropping up in fiction recently.  (Leigh Russell’s Geraldine Steel also comes to mind.)  Lorraine is a real woman, not a toughnut male detective in a skirt, nor a babe who’s all boobs.  A married woman with a warm, loving relationship with her husband, she relates to her sister and her friends, her nephew and her daughter, thinking and feeling like a woman, and like a professional police officer at the same time.

Well, Dear Reader, would I recommend that you read ‘Before You Die’?   Yes, definitely.  Me myself, I’m off to download Samantha’s first book, ‘Until You’re Mine’.

On another topic, I think I may have resolved the not-getting-notifications-from-blogs-I-follow problem, as, during the time I’ve been typing this, I’ve received two notifications, one from Rachel Carrera and one from Charlotte Hoather.  It was really good to see you both in my inbox again!  So, what did I do?  In Blogs I Follow, I found the Delivery Settings and clicked on it:Delivery Settings in Blogs I Follow menu.Quite a long way down that menu,  I unchecked Block all email updates from blogs you’re following...

Block email notifications from Blogs I FollowSo far, so good!  Why didn’t I see it before?  Looking forward to hearing from you all next Monday, when all the weekly post notifications come in.

Available for Harper here.

Take two young and glamourous American women – one rich and one poor – and one bloke, an investigative TV reporter, who researches the sort of social issues that women readers care about.   A simple formula, isn’t it, as obviously, only one of the young and glamourous women can have the bloke?  There’s not much you can do with something like that – or is there?  Barbara managed to do an awful lot with it.

Barbara Taylor Bradford knows her readership inside out, exactly who they want to be, who they want to be with and where they want to travel on the page.  She also appreciates how much tension they can take, and how much action/disaster, how much seediness and evil they can cope with and how much sex.  She allowed herself only 100 pages in which to work through a plot which made perfect sense, without deviating or getting stuck up blind alleys.  She is quite rightly judged to a master (mistress?) of her genre.

But what am I saying, Dear Reader?  Haven’t I written before that I HATE CHICKLIT?  I do, I do. But you’ve got to admire someone who does it as well as this.  I’m glad I read this short book (and also relieved it wasn’t any longer).  This was a book about seering emotion, about obsession, possession and jealousy masquerading as love, where one character paid thousands of dollars for a hairstyle and clothes, which she then wrecked in frustration and despair.  However, the characters themselves were not clearly delineated and the reader cannot see how the main two girls got to be where they were as personalities.  A schoolgirl incident, which took place a little while before the first page, was supposed to explain everything, but it didn’t, because this happening itself begged further questions.  This is not the sort of novel where you ask ‘why’, because there is no ‘why’  to be found.  Nor is there any sense of place.  Most of the action took place in New York, but there were no illuminating descriptions of the Big Apple.  I’m not sure whether it was assumed that the reader knew enough about the city to picture it for herself or whether she was supposed not to be bothered about location.  I suspect the latter.

But, quite blatantly, this is not literary writing.  Goodness only knows, there is enough literary stuff about – much of it excreable and pretentious.  This unashamedly genre fiction was written in straightforward prose, with a plot that worked, and in good (American) English.  Job well done!

On another subject, I must apologise to everybody whose blog I follow, as the email notifications from WordPress have suddenly stopped, so I haven’t been visiting.  I used to get about twenty updates every Monday morning, something which really brightened the start of my week.  I have adjusted settings in Blogs I Follow (to receive notifications of posts) and in Settings (to make sure this blog is connected to the correct email address).  I have even got on to a WordPress user forum, but nothing seems to make any difference.  If anybody has any ideas, I would be very pleased to hear from him/her.  I must mention, though, that I do get notifications of Comments on my own posts.

I have also managed to get round to subbing one story, to the Alfie Dog International Short Story Competition (which closed at midnight yesterday).  Mine must have been one of the last entries.  It always amazes me how long subbing takes, even when you don’t have to edit the story itself, but afterwards I really felt as if I’d achieved something yesterday evening.  Now, it’s fingers crossed until the short list at the end of this month.

Available from Le French Book.   (Yes, that really is the name of the publisher!)

I read this book after reading an earlier review by FictionFan, as I was instantly attracted to the idea of a crime fiction story set against the backdrop of the French wine industry.  In the blurb at the end, I was invited to order more books in the series featuring oenologist Benjamin Cooker and his assistant Virgile Lanssien, but, Dear Reader, I shall decline.

What struck me as I started to read was that I was being invited to share the life of a man whose life was perfect:  a loving wife, an adoring dog (called Bacchus – what else?), a lovely house in the beautiful area of Medoc and a highly successful career as a world authority on wine.  He drank fine wines for lunch and his wife rustled up delicious French meals.  High brow and intellectual, someonFinca_Solano_Tempranillo_Crianzae who appreciated classical music and seventeeth century French literature, he also has enough money to collect art and antiques.  There was a good feel about this main character and the general set-up, which made me realise, very quickly, what had been wrong about the last few books I had read.  I wanted to be Benjamin Cooker and to enjoy his life, whereas I had no desire at all to be the characters in the other novels.   Transporting the reader to a better world, where they can be richer, more comfortable and experience more excitement (without the dangers – obviously) is an essential element in all fiction, even gritty fiction.  Putting the reader into a different skin, that of the main character, where they can be braver, funnier and generally more interesting and better appreciated, is equally important.  This, the authors, did very well.

The character of Benjamin Cooker (since we’re talking about characters) was understated but well-drawn, a perfectionist who couldn’t sleep because he was afraid of not getting a wine quite right in his famous guide, reserved to the point that he didn’t want to mention to his assistant that he had a daughter.   All the other characters – of which there were generally too many – paled into the background.   Like many fictional detectives, he had rather too many ‘very good friends’ who turned up conveniently when they were needed in the storyline.  Cooker’s wife was a bit of a Dora Wexford (see Ruth Rendell)  but she lacked Dora’s comfortable but defined personality.

The work was written in French by French writers and tranlated by Anne Trager,  into American English unfortunately, even though the Cooker character was supposed to be British.  This jarred, not only because of the inevitable Webster spellings and occasional American words like ‘convertible’ and ‘pick up’, but American concepts like ‘high schools’.  That apart, the English style was pedestrian, with many phrases linked with ‘and’, lots of reps and sentences all constructed in the same way.

I haven’t yet mentioned the thrust of the story, the plot.  That is because the thrust of the novel was so wrapped up in Cooker and his wine that the plot was difficult to discern and the sleuthing  impossible to follow.  The reader had to wade his/her way through about a third of the book before a crime occurred – a crime that was scientific, technical and very involved – and then through another third to get to a proper murder, which was never investigated in the usual sense.  The police did not feature at all.  There is no reason, of course, why all crime stories should be about murders and police, although they usually are.  However, Cooker was following all manner of random leads, with great enthusiasm, but they seemed to relate to his art collection, not towards solving the crime, and the link was never properly explained.  As a result, the novel lacked tension.

So would I recommend ‘Treachery in Bordeaux’?  For the feel good factor, yes.

(Image from Wikipedia.)

Hello, Dear Reader.  Remember me?  I would understand if you can’t.  Bloggers are supposed to post frequently – hey ho!  I’m not a good blogger – evidently.

Over the last few weeks, I have been struggling with a short story and just getting the hang of it when REAL LIFE intervened yet again.  Since I last opened the file for that story, my one and only husband and I have been visitated by my beloved son and girlfriend, my favourite daughter and amazing grandson, and various others.  And oh, we’ve started a new term, which involved (amongst other things) writing three very long worksheets on using WordPress and one on using Dropbox, to say nothing of planning lessons, dealing with students’ issues and management’s voracious appetite for statistics.

So, I thought I would make a list of the Writerly Things I Have Learned, during the few years I have gone public with my writing.  (Before that, I had written huge quantities of stuff, mainly novels, but not really shared it with anybody.)  Here goes:

  1. Real Life (see above), which so gets in the way of writing, is a writer’s best raw material.   Dear Writer, don’t knock it.  Some writers will tell you that their writing is the most important thing in their lives.  No, it isn’t.  Your family and friends are.  The more eventful your life, the more resources you have… without resorting to reading it up on the internet.  People like me whose lives have been spectacularly pedestrian are disadvantaged here, although even we have conflict and encounter characters.
  2.  The first bit of advice that the Real Writers on online writing sites told me was ‘Thou Shalt Not Use Adverbs”.  Emphatically.   However, when you read those things called books (even ebooks), you find them littered with adverbs.  Definitely.
  3. However good you think your spelling and grammar is, it isn’t.  My advice would be to write with a dictionary to hand and also ‘New Fowler’s English Usage’.
  4. We all have our favourite words and phrases.  Recognise and avoid them.
  5. You can’t write when you’re exhausted.  If your brain seems to have turned into cottonwool and you’re staring at a blank screen, log off.  However, you might ask yourself how much you want to write and balance that against the things that are tiring you out.  These might even include the day job.  Can you afford to work less?
  6. There are many, many worse writers than you out there and they’re getting published, making mistakes you wouldn’t dream of.   Think about what they’re doing that you’re not.  Maybe they’re better at publicity, better at subbing to the right market or just in the right place at the right time?
  7. Writing is a young person’s vocation.  And they’re doing it very well.  If you’re an older writer, don’t assume that your readers have had experienced the same events and same thought processes as you.  If your mc is an eighteen year old, make him/her behave eighteen, without the wisdom and gravitas of a fifty-five year old… ooh and without patronising either.
  8. Plan your stories.  Yes, I know you’re dying to dive straight in… Hello Chapter 11 Syndrome!
  9. If you write straight on to computer, be totally on top of Word, or whatever wp package you’re using.  You can’t write if you’re battling the software application.  Handwrite on paper and type up, if computers don’t come naturally.
  10. While we’re on IT, save every few minutes and back up at least every week.  For backing up, use a larger device like an external hard drive AND cloud storage like Dropbox – so you’re all prepared when you’re computer goes pop.  In fact, don’t save anything on folders in My Documents at all.
  11. If, while you’re writing, you discard a few paragraphs, save them in a separate ‘dump’ file.  You never know when you might need them again.
  12. Switch off the television when you’re writing.
  13. Read, but not passively.  Analyse what you’re reading:  1st or 3rd person, past/present tense, length etc.
  14. Write about what you enjoy.  If you don’t, no one else will.
  15. Sounds, especially music, are difficult to get on to a page.  Of course, you should mention them, but beware of the issues.
  16. And from Julie Wow:  Try not to compare yourself to anyone else. Tread your own path.Cartoon writerHope this strikes a chord.  Please write in with Writerly Points of your own.

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