Charlie Britten's writing blog

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Having rubbished Alan Bennett’s ‘The History Boys about a year ago, when I read the play and went to see it at the theatre, I was dismayed when my lovely aunt in Canada pressed a copy of Bennett’s ‘The Uncommon Reader’ into my hands, saying how much she had enjoyed it. However, I could see that it was a slim volume (124 paMasonic Hall at Fort Edmontonges), and I am on holiday.

“You don’t read proper books,” said my One and Only Husband, when I started reading. True, darling, true, I don’t normally, and one of our jobs on my retirement will be to clear out the many paperbacks which we have both read 10, 20, and many more, years ago and which we will never read again. We will have to offload them on to unwilling charity shop, who will probably send them to be pulped. This is the main reason I read everything on Kindle. Btw… Ssh…over this holiday One and Only has started reading from the Kindle app on his iPad.

Back to ‘The Uncommon Reader’. The premise of this short novella (first published 2006) is that our Queen (Queen Elizabeth II) gets into readinRose hips In Wild Rose Countryg in a big way, thereby neglecting her royal duties, also acquiring insights into political matters on which she had normally been prepared to accept the advice of politicians and courtiers. The story starts well with the royal corgis running into a mobile library van in the grounds of Buckingham Palace and HMQ taking out a book by Ivy Compton-Burnett just to be polite. The best parts of it concern the machinations of equerries and civil servants, jostling for position between themselves, but all determined to nip the Queen’s new hobby into the bud, for no better reason than that she had never read much before and they were used to her old ways. Other members of the Royal Family don’t figure much, except for occasional short appearances by Prince Philip who is depicted – guess how? – as a grumpy old man. (No surprises there, then.) The end of the book was enigmatic. I think I understand it.

I always have reservations about fiction which includes real people, especially people who are still alive and when they have major roles. Sue Townsend’s short, supposedly humorous, work, ‘The Queen and I’, in which the Royal Family were turfed out of its palaces and put on a council estate in Leicester, was similar, but not at all funny, merely a whinge by someone who resented the Royals having more than she did. Bennett, however, wrote about HMQ witWigwam at Fort Edmonton h gentle sympathetic humour (nothing laugh-out-loud), intimating that the Queen was wiser than those around her. He developed for her a character of his own, which may or may not be accurate, but was gentle and respectful – yes, I know, an unusual adjective for a twenty-first century author – but all the more effective for it.

Bennett’s English style, btw, is not vivid or parChurch at Fort Edmontonticularly fluent and on occasions it jarred. For instance, this is the opening sentence. ‘At Windsor it was the evening of the state banquet and as the president of France took his place beside Her majesty, the royal family formed up behind and the procession slowly moved off and through into the Waterloo Chamber’. His style was wordy, with lots of long sentences, joined by ‘and’. Get that past your writing circle!

So what did I say to my lovely aunt this morning when I gave the book back? She’s a very direct lady, who doesn’t do flannel but does do plain speaking. I told her unequivocally that I enjoyed it.

The photos are of Canada, nothing at all to do with Alan Bennett of ‘The Uncommon Reader’.


Confederacy BridgeWhen we started planning our holiday in Canada, I knew that, this time, we had to go to Prince Edward Island.  We have visited Auntie Mary in Edmonton (in the West) twice already, but I found myself saying to The One and Only Husband, “…wouldn’t it be nice to see the East as well.  You know, Nova Scotia… Halifax… And…. Ooh… We could go to Prince Edward Island.  They’ve built a bridge now, you know.”

“Why?”  asked One and Only.

Why indeed?

Auntie Mary was not encouraging.  “Well, you could go to PEI if you like…  Yep, you go there and see what you think of it.”  I knew what she was getting at.  The existence of The Shining Waters Family Fun Park, which I’d seen advertised on the Internet, was surely enough to put off anyone over ten years old. 

However, last Friday lunchtime saw us driving over the Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick into PEI then eating lunch in Tim Horton’s diner in Summerside, thinking about how to spend our afternoon.    One and Only was all for going to the Anne of Green Gables museum at Park Corner immediately, so as to get-it-over-with, I think.  So we did.  Dear Reader, this was no theme park.  Think National Trust, without the tea room.  This was no children’s thing.  In fact, its clientele were all (except for One and Only) middle aged women, quietly and respectfully walking from room to room,  looking at the first edition books on the shelves, perusing mounted letters and photographs.  The setting was idyllic, with the real Lake of Shining Waters in the grounds of the museum.

It was so moving I nearly cried.  I found my eyes brimming with tears, one if those truly heart-stopping moments which are so unbearably intense you want them to end.  Yes, I know it was all fiction and none of it really happened, you know, but  L M Montgomery’s Anne Shirley, along with the Elinor Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School, and Enid Blyton’s stories , had formed a huge part of my reading childhood.  Also my mother had recommended Anne of Green Gables to me (as she had the Chalet School) and I had, unconsciously imbibed and internalised L M Montgomery’s outlook on life, loving, homely, grounded and – in spite of her sad start in life – upbeat.

The most poignant exhibits were a letter in which Lucy Maud recalled a meeting with someone who had known her mother ( who had died when she was 22 months old) and another letter in which she thanked a nephew for sending her $10 as, apparently, she earned very little from her books.  In one of her diary pages on display, she recounts how she wrote the first chapter of Anne of Green Gables, the one where Mrs Rachel Lynde sees Matthew Cuthbert go out in his pony and trap, how the words just came to her, as she sat at the kitchen table in the evening sunshine.  I believe her.

(Will include photos later.  They are on my iPhone and I’m writing this on the iPad.  I’m writing this post using the Internet facilities on Westjet and we’re about to land in Edmonton.  Hope to include photos soon.)



These tips, from a writer more experienced than me, are well worth re logging. Note the use of a numbered list!

Originally posted on Lynette Noni:

A few months ago I was asked by the Gold Coast Bulletin to come up with a list of writing tips that they could publish in their newspaper. I really wanted to include those tips in a blog post back then too, but the Bulletin asked me to wait until they’d published them first, which is fair enough. I’d pretty much forgotten about it, but this week my wonderful publicist tracked down the link for the whole article that they wrote up on me back in May in the aftermath of Supanova, which means I can now share my tips with you all!

Top 10 Tips (Portrait) JPEG

Feel free to share the above tips if you find them helpful at all. And if you want to read the whole article (it’s an entire page, which is so cool!), you can do so by clicking on this link to find a screenshot JPEG of it here: 

View original 44 more words

I must be doing this all wrong, because the ‘footfall’ on this blog is not good.  In fact, it’s hopeless.  So, a few weeks ago, I Googled how+attract+readers+blog and I read all the standard advice which I sort of knew already.

1.  Thou shalt optimise your content for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)

SEO means get your website to the top of the hit list on Google when someone makes a particular search.  (Honestly, no other search engine matters.)  On a normal website, you implement SEO by using a relevant headings Green Tickand repeatedly using keywords within your text.  I’ve done all this, Dear Reader, and also, using WordPress, chosen and used relevant categories and tags to flag up my content to search engines (well… Google).

2.  Thou shalt provide, on thy blog, buttons to other social media

Buttons To Prompt Readers to Share Your Content.

Like the one at the side.  The idea is to make it easier for readers to share your content in other social media.X

No, I’ve never done anything like that, although I’m sure it’s easy to set up and I do use the WordPress link to publicize on Facebook and Twitter.  But, if no one’s reading the blog in the first place, they’re not likely to refer it on to Pinterest (or something else), are they?

Thou shalt write an interesting heading for each post

Something to draw the reader in.   A familiar concept for all writers.

I’ve tried, DR, although some of my headings have not been particularly special.  Three Reviews and Other Sort OfThings for instance.)  Could do better!

Thou Shalt Invite Other Bloggers To Make Guest Appearances

XThe idea is to create more interest, and they say it works, but,if I’m reading one person’s blog, I want to hear from him/her, not someone else.  I haven’t attempted this.

6.  Thou shalt network with those with similar interests

the blogs of other bloggers writing about the same sort of stuff as you.  To a writer, this is the Green Tickobvious one:   have a lot to learn from other writers, not least getting to know what goes and what doesn’t.

 7.  Thou shalt create a sense of belonging

I should make my blog a sort of open clique, with its own language and jokes.  I can see the appeal of this but I’ve never seen it done.  I keep referring to Dear Reader in my posts, because I like it, and it’s so CharloXtte Bronte, but I wonder if readers actually find it annoying.

8.  Thou shalt use numbered lists

Well, it says in the Bible that every hair on your head is numbered, so why not five or this and three of that?  The idea is to make your content feel more manageable.  Your reader should think to himself/herself “Well, at least Sort Ofthere are only five ways to attract more readers to your blog.  This shouldn’t take me long to read and act upon.”   I have tried to do this occasionally, but without good results.  I wonder if this isn’t this a bit of an urban myth?

9.  Thou shalt stay on topic

This is supposed to be a writing blog but I have to confess that I have gone off topic, several times, largely on to Xpersonal issues.  Bad girl!

On the other hand, thou shalt not patronise your readers

This, believe it or not, comes from an otherwise useful article on promoting your blog:

Ah yes. A familiar beginner’s problem for any new blogger: No readers.

Another thing writers must not do is boast about their successes.  Naively I supposed I could use my blog to say things like, ‘Oh, I’ve had this accepted and that accepted’, but – guess what – those posts attracted fewest hits of all.  We writers are a jealous lot.

There are all sorts of other things thou shalt and shalt not do but the more I read the less I liked the the quick fixes.   However, two thoughts from two consecutive issues of a printed magazine, ‘Christian Writer’ (the journal of the Association of Christian Writers), struck home with me.

First of all, Philip Davies (Chair of the ACW), who is about to publish a YA Fantasy novel, writes in the editorial of the Spring 2015 edition:

‘It’s much easier to promote something that’s well written.  Great stories, powerful testimonies, entertaining and life-transforming books almost recommend themselves to each reader through word of mouth.’

Then in the Summer 2015 edition, the incoming editor of the magazine, James Prescott, writes:

‘I began to write simply to gain an audience.  I wrote what I thought would appeal to most people, using the right language, the most attractive title, and, in hindsight, wrote not out of passion but out of a desire to impress and  gain a following.

And I lost my taste for writing.’

James goes on to say that only when he ‘wrote from deep within’ that he regained the joy of writing and produced better work.

There are bloggers whose blogs are more of a personal diary and who are genuinely not bothered about ratings, but I don’t think James was going down that road.  Many writers have said, in so many words, that you can sell anything on any topic if you write with emotion and interest, and how can you do that if you don’t write from the heart?  It’s very difficult writing from the heart about writing, when you’re not doing any other writing, with the result, I feel, that this blog has lost direction.  I therefore must find my direction, through my heart.

Hope you find this ruminative, and painfully honest, post just a little bit interesting.  We’re off on hols tomorrow, to Iceland then Canada (via Wonderful Daughter in Sussex first).

My sources for all the ideas above are

5 Ways to Attract More Readers To Your Blog

How to attract readers to your blog and make them stay

You’ve Got a Blog. Now, Get Readers

21 Ways to Attract New Readers and Keep Them Coming Back

5 Inexpensive Tips to Attract Readers to your Blog

(Note that three of the six articles above use the numbered lists method!)









5 Ways to Attract More Readers to Your Blog





Fitbit_onwristMost writers walk, as a means of consolidating what they are going to write next, so why not monitor your fitness using an electronic device strapped to your wrist?

I bought my Fitbit Flex on recommendation of a colleague, online  through Amazon, for £64,   but it’s taken me quite a while to get around to using it properly.  The theory is that you take delivery of your Fitbit, in a box containing two black rubber straps (smaller and larger size), an electronic device the size of a – very slim – fingernail and a minute usb dongle (for synchronising with your computer).  You are then supposed to set it up, using online instructions, having been directed to them by the postage stamp leaflet inside the box.  Reader, I failed… on the first instruction, about inserting the device into the strap, so I left it standing idle for weeks, until another colleague showed me how to peel back the strap so the hole lengthened and widened, and in it went.   (Honestly, deflowering a virgin must be easier!)



For a while, everything was fine, me trotting around the countryside, checking on my phone to see how many steps I had walked, and waiting for the thing to buzz when I managed ten thousand steps in a day.  From a psychological point of view, of getting you off your bottom and moving about, the Fitbit hits the spot.  It is motivational.  Yes, I will walk into town at lunchtime.  Yes, I will go the long way around to the carpark.   It is also informative:  I was very  surprised to find out how many steps I took, not just from ‘going for a walk’, but during the ordinary course of the day, doing things like cooking, ironing and cleaning.  You can record other things, such as exercise, calories eaten and sleep, on the Fitbit Dashboard (online), but, as these have to be done manually, and much of what I might enter would be estimates, I haven’t bothered.

My Fitbit honeymoon was, unfortunately, short. First of all, the synchronisation with both computer and iPhone has stopped.  Having followed online instructions on how to restart the thing and found them useless, I reported the problem to the Fitbit Team who supplied with a new device and a new battery charger.  A few weeks later, I had to contact the Fitbit Team again, to tell them that tears had developed in the strap, right next to the hole where the device is housed;  they very kindly supplied me with another one, only for that to tear within 8 hours, in exactly the same place and to fall off my wrist on to the floor … in the Barbican Theatre, actually.  (I did tell you, that I went to see ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, didn’t I, Dear Reader?)  Another strap was required.  I did feel for the Fitbit Team at this point:  was this woman running a Fitbit parts racket, or what?  They required a photograph of the damaged straps on both occasions, but generally they accepted that the customer was being truthful.

Two broken Fitbits

Two broken Fitbits

So, do I recommend the Fitbit?  Yes, but with reservations:

  • Printed and meaningful instructions, with diagrams, inside the Fitbit box are definitely needed.  These should include advice about peeling the strap back to insert the device.  If I had done this correctly first time around, maybe the first strap would not have torn (although why the second strap tore within such a short time is a mystery).
  • Synchonising the device with the computer and the phone is problematic.  Once you get it working, the computer/phone remembers the settings and you’re away, but it takes several attempts.  Also, you cannot synch with one device while the other one is in the room, unless you turn off Bluetooth on the other device.  (This messed me up several times.)
  • The rubber straps are ugly.  (Mine is black.  Other colours are available but they are not beautiful either.)
  • The Fitbit does not count stairs.  At the college where I work (only for another two weeks – hurray!), I have been walking up and down four flights of stairs several times a day, but the Fitbit counts these as normal steps.  Pity!
  • Fitbit charging using Kindle Charger

    Fitbit charging using Kindle Charger

    Charging the Fitbit can also be a problem.  The charger fits into a usb port but it won’t charge from a computer which has been shut down – and when do you want to charge your Fitbit, at night, when you’ve shut down your computer?  What works better is to insert the charger into the usb port of, say, an iPhone or Kindle charger, and plug it into the mains (having taken the iPhone/Kindle lead out first, obviously).

Yes, really, I would recommend it.  The plus side is that, when it works, it works very well.  And the customer care I have received from the Fitbit Team has been second to none.

Postscript About the Fitbit

The Fitbit doesn’t go through the security arch at airports.  I got called over at Gatwick when I tried to walk through wearing it.  I got frisked, had to take it off and put it in a tray, then show the frisking lady my asthma inhaler AND the used tissues in my pocket.  Mind you, I do think that our UK airports are the strictest in the world – rightly so.





I’m shocked to realise that I wrote my last blog post over a month ago (2 June).  Advice to bloggers:  if you want people to visit your blog, post often – in other words, have something for punters to read.  The truth is, Dear Reader, that I have been overloaded with work.  Again, DR asks, rolling eyebrows and groaning.  Yes, again.  For the whole of this term, and particularly during June, I marked students’ work, chased students to finish work and internally verified (checked somebody else’s marking), not just throughout the working day but in the evenings and weekends as well.  No time for anything else at all.  Our sample of students’ work went to Edexcel on the last day of term and, suddenly, I no longer had three difficult things to do at once, with at least four people needing them urgently.  However, this will never happen again.  31 August and my retirement from teaching edges closer every day.

Book Reviews:  Spike Sanguinetti Mysteries

The books are available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble :  Sleeping Dogs and Shadow of the Rock

Barbary Ape, on Rock of Gibraltar

From Wikipedia

During my small windows of free time, generally late in the evening, I read.  Too exhausted to tackle anything literary and worthy, I chanced upon Thomas Mogford’s Sleeping Dogs, fourth in the Spike Sanguinetti series, about a tax lawyer, practising in Gibraltar .  More crime, I’m afraid, but it was just ticket.   In Sleeping Dogs, Spike takes himself off for a holiday in Corfu, and from there on to Albania, both of which are described in detail and with the authority of someone who has visited both countries.  The author is clearly fascinated by Albania, its people and way of life.  Although it takes a long time for the main storyline to get going, and for the reveal to be sufficient for the reader to make connections, once it starts, the plot has pace, lots of tension and excitement, majoring on cannabis production in a southern Albanian village called Lazarat (50% of Albania’s GNP).  At the time of writing, this was all true, btw, because I checked it on Wikipedia, although Wikipedia has been updated to report that – last month, June 2015 –  the government used military force to demolish this illegal industry.

Interwoven with the main storyline were well-drawn characters – Spike, his father, his legal partner Peter Galliano, their landlady and her family – together with a family of wealthy villains, one of whom has a passionate interest in Greek antiquity.  Thomas Mogford managed to bring the reader into a comfort zone with congenial characters, eating good food and wine and enjoying themselves – balm to the exhausted and hassled.  Readers don’t always need to be challenged and have their minds (or other parts) broadened.

On finishing Sleeping Dogs, I hastened back to Amazon and downloaded the first three books in the Spike Sanguinetti series, all of them about 99p each.  (The reader in me is whooping for joy, crying ‘Bargain’.  The writer  feels she ought to disapprove of such low prices for books, but can’t quite get round to it, having earned approximately £50 for her own efforts).  I then opened Shadow of the Rock, the first in the Spike Sanguinetti series, preparing to relax again.  This time, Spike rushes off to Morocco, visiting medinas and souks and also a Beduoin village in the desert, again all convincingly researched, and with great atmosphere, including a particularly nasty latrine in the desert and wide-eyed lambs being transported in lorries to be butchered for Eid.  However, some mistakes were evident:  for instance, the author refers to Spike’s client, a Sephardic Jew, eating halal food, when he meant kosher.  Although this novel contained some distinctive characters, such as Jean-Baptiste, who replicates DVDS – loudly – in his hotel room, Spike’s elderly father, Rufus (an asset in Sleeping Dogs), hardly features and the female lead, Zahra, is undeveloped.  Spike himself seems rougher around the edges, blundering into situations without finesse, including having sex (improbably) in a railway compartment a few hours after having been beaten up.  The storyline of Shadow of the Rock is very complicated, with twist after twist, and a football stadium of characters and, for much of the story, it was difficult to understand where Spike was going and why, and, when he got there, the significance of what he found out.

Theatre Review:  To Kill a Mockingbird, at the Barbican Theatre, London



In the middle of all this, I also saw the staged version of To Kill a Mockingbird at the Barbican Theatre, last Saturday.  This was a birthday treat, shared with close friends and family, and what a good choice it was.  Everyone knows Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, I’m sure, not least because it has, apparently, featured on more school syllabuses than any other book.  I always tend to shy away from books ‘done at school’  and, as a result, I read To Kill a Mockingbird as an adult and was wowed by it.  I believe that, by reading it when older, I appreciated  layers of meaning I wouldn’t have picked up as a teenager, but, in the staged performance last weekend, I picked up on many many more.

This performance is not so much a play but a play-reading, with a chorus reading from the text every few minutes, a good device for moving the story from scene to scene. The three (out of the nine) child actors we saw, playing Scout, Jem and Gil, had the largest roles and are totally amazing, every bit as professional as the adults around them.  If you live near London, do and see it.

Yes, really!  But not a writing judge as you know it, Dear Reader.

Not poetry, though.  Oh no.  Charlie doesn’t do poetry.

It happened like this.  Some time ago, I paid £12 entry fee to enter a story for the Poetic Republic’s 2015 Short Story Competition, for which the first prize is £2000.  Not to be sniffed at.  When I subbed my story, I read that Poetic Republic’s comps weren’t like other comps, in that there would be no panel of judges (professional or otherwise) and that judging would be carried out by the short story ‘participants’ themselves.  So that’s how it’s all happened.  In the past, I’ve been a member of several different online writing communities, on which I have been encouraged to comment/review other members’ work, and my ‘judging’ is pretty much like that.

After the submission deadline, there are two rounds of judging, followed by a final shortlist.  For both of the first two rounds, you have to log in, click on  ‘judge entries’, then click on the link for the comp you are interested in, whereupon the system throws up seven random competition entries (never your story, obviously), for you to read and comment on.  Then you select your first, second and third choices.  We have just finished the second round.  It has been illuminating, because, although you always read round a mag before you submit or, in the case of a comp, last year’s entries, you never normally get to see what you’re up against in real time.  Obviously, I would love to win this one, but, having seen the quality of some of the other stories, I don’t expect to.

As I keep saying, I’m not doing much writing at the moment, unless you count that other sort of judging – marking students’ work, giving ‘feedback’ as we now call it.  I don’t know about you, Dear Reader, but I loath and detest the term ‘feedback’; it makes me think of regurgitation.  However, only 18 days now until the end of term and 13 weeks until the day I actually retire, in the sense of no longer being employed – not required to do anything, or be paid (except for my pension).  This last bit is quite scary btw.  In the meantime, it’s teach-teach-teach, mark-mark-mark, cover for colleagues who are off sick, chase students who are absent, worry about results, go to useless meetings.  It’s strange to think that all the fevered activity will…  Suddenly.  And.  Abruptly.   STOP.

One of the crazy things I will have to do before the end of term is learn enough Visual Basic to support a class of students learning VB (with another tutor, who’s running out of time).  You remember that one of my new year’s resolutions was to learn some programming?  Code Academy, here we come!

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