Charlie Britten's writing blog

You can find these two books here: ‘The Woolworths Girls’ by Elaine Everest and ‘Atonement’ by Ian McEwan.

I can’t tell you how long it’s taken me to get those two links up and running, using the iPad and Premier Inn wifi on one bar!  I’m disappointed only to be able to give you the Amazon link for ‘Atonement’ but I’m sure that the Booker short-listed author will survive.

A strange coupling, you might think, and an accident of circumstance that I happened to be reading these two books at the same time – together with Sally Quilford’s ‘Dark Marshes’ which I will continue next.  I don’t often read more than one book at a time, but I found that each provided relief and contrast to the other, particularly making me think about  what is Lit-era-ture and gets one on the Booker shortlist.  It also led me to ponder a Facebook post by Sally Quilford of a few days ago, which I hope she doesn’t mind me sharing.  Sally writes genre fiction, and does it very well, with numerous books to her name.  (This pathetic wifi won’t allow me to look it up and find out exactly how many.)  But Sally, who has taught me in the past, is now embarking on a creative writing degree at OU, amongst other things, to confront the dreaded literary genre.  (Whoops.  Literary is the opposite of genre fiction, isn’t it?  Wash your mouth out, Charlie!)

‘The Woolworths Girls’ is about girls working at Woolworths, as you would expect.  It’s a great concept for a novel, which, together with the girls in purple uniform on the cover, was what attracted me to it.  It seems to attract a lot of other readers too because I was sixth in the queue for this title when I reserved it on Overdrive.  Set in the Kentish Town of Earith and at the outbreak of World War 2, it chronicled the fortunes of Sarah, Freda and Maisie, in love and war, literally… but not literaturely.  This was genre fiction.  It had a distinct womag feel, actually.  Like all successful, traditional stories for women, it had a warm family feel at its centre. Ruby Caselton, Sarah’s grandmother, was the rock to which all the girls resorted in times of trouble, although I did wonder exactly how many rooms she had in her semi in Earith.  The storyline rattled along, admittedly with huge gaps between plot happenings, improbabilities and some things which didn’t ring true.  For instance, why weren’t the girls called up for war service, as my mother was, and made to join the women’s forces, the Land Army or work in a munition factory?  But the characters were well-defined, distinct and belonged to their era.  In fact, they displayed a valiant wartime spirit.  The only character who didn’t work was Sarah’s snobby mother.

‘Atonement’ is set roughly in the same period, but in a Woodhouse-lookalike country house,  with less self-belief than Woodhouse and less likeable characters, even though  each character was described in tedious detail.  I understand, from a novel-writing site I’ve been visiting recently, that authors should write down answers to a hundred questions for each character; McEwan did his hundred – and more – for all characters, I’m sure.  He also described every setting minutely, taking, in one instance, three pages to tell us about the scenery as two charters walked from the country house to a lake, then related the incident, which was the reason for the scene, in about one page.   I must admit, Dear Reader, that I skipped a lot, and I don’t think I missed much.  This lack of balance bothered me.  There was another section, one meandering event after another, describing the retreat to Dunkirk of the British Expeditionary Force, which went on for chapters, without saying very much, or rather making pints that could be made in one chapter – I skipped the latter part of that too.

In our family, ‘Atonement’ is one of those stories that everybody loves to hate.  I found it better than I expected.  After the boring soldiery bit, the story moved on to nursing in London during the war, which I found much more interesting, but that may just be my personal taste.  At this point we also got to the actual ‘atonement’ itself, which promised to be exciting, but failed, in my opinion, because it wasn’t properly justified.  I have to say I found the plot unbalanced because it took us about 200 pages to get to the inciting incident, there was no proper crisis and the resolution took place too quickly.  So that’s Literarure.  That said, for a writer, there is much to learn from McEwan’s descriptions, even if there were too many of them.

So we have to go and start off our day now.  We’re going to Hardwick House in Mansfield.  I’ll finish with a photo of the inside of the Richard III Centre in Leicester, which is housed in the building of the school where my dad used to teach.

RIchard III Centre, Leicester, relict of  Alderman Newton Boys School.

More Cliches

WordPress stats tells me that it’s eleven days since my last confession… er… my last post.  Oh dear, oh dear.  Bad Blogger, me.  Two nights ago, I started writing a follow up to my post of 2 May, about cliches, but, being very tired, I rambled.

First, the additional character cliche:

Down to Earth Yorkshiremen yorkshire-rose-cropped

He calls a spade a spade, speaks as he finds and treats you as fam’le’.  He says things like happen and by gum and regards all bloody southerners as unfriendly.   The Brontes, living in Haworth most of their lives, never felt the need to mention this stereotype – funny, that.  Interestingly, WordPress’s spellcheck recognises Yorkshireman but not Yorkshirewoman.

Me, I was born level with the Wash, in Leicester, where we address each other as me duck and have our own special word – mardy – for sulky and uncooperative.  Children in my primary school were forever going mardy.  The people of the East Midlands, who have no delusions of grandeur yet still a strong sense of identity, tend to be devastatingly and unsentimentally realistic, imo.  Btw, the former Roman city of Ratae (how’s that for awarding reps?) has produced just a few writers:  C P Snow, Su Townsend, Joe Orton (playwrite, one of the ‘Angry Movement’) and – a treasure I have just come across in the last few days – Susannah Watts, an Anti-Slavery Poet of the early nineteenth century, who wrote The Slaves’ Address to British Ladies

Think, how naught but death can sever
Your lov’d children from your hold;
Still alive- but lost forever
Ours are parted, bought and sold!

(You see how I rambled?)

The other cliches (below) are standard word/phrase cliches:

Aircraft DoorsDoors to Manual

This is supposed to be a snobbish reference to Carole Middleton, mother of the Duchess of Cambridge (Kate), having once been an air stewardess.   Whoopety-doo-dah!  Is there anything wrong with being an air stewardess?  My sister-in-law has worked for Virgin Atlantic for twenty years and – do you know? – we still speak.


Whenever I hear this, I think of added salt and sugar.  It has a good flavour does very well.  Better still, try and describe the taste.  If you’re trying to include all senses in a piece of writing, flavoursome does not cut it.

Health Issues

If someone has health issues, he/she is not feeling very well.  Say so.   Essex students sum this up very well.  Tutor: “Where’s Dylan today?  He’s not in class.”  Other student’s answer:  “Nah.  He’s well ill.”

The Latest Thinking

Usually used at work.   It means This is what the bosses want us to think.  I’m going along with it, because I want to stay in this job/I really don’t care.   I haven’t thought it through, though.  A few months down the line, the organisation will be in chaos because whatever it is doesn’t work – but, never fear, the next latest thinking will come along soon.

Finally, a word about the word for…


Apparently, we mustn’t say toilet because upper class people say lavatory, as in a Conservative sitting on top of a volcano.   It’s a very long time since we bothered about what posh people said and did.   Don’t the lavatory-sayers sneer at ‘the toffs’?  Such people must be so insecure that they don’t like to admit that they urinate and defecate.  Real old money has no such problems.   Should they need to avail themselves of the conveniences, they will normally say so at several decibels.  “Frightfully sorry.  One just simply must have a crap.”

Reading this through, I wonder if I’m just being old fashioned.  I hope not.  Anyone else have any cliches they would like to share with us?

The week after next, we’re off to Yorkshire (if they’ll still let me in after this post) where we hope to visit the Bronte Museum at Haworth, via Leicester, where I hope to visit Abbey Park, setting for my short story Burnt Down, which appeared on Sudbury Newstalk.  I’m on the ACW More thanWriters blog on Saturday 13 August, btw, writing about modern slavery.

Shocked to see that it’s ten days since I last posted.  When I look at my stats I see my viewings are a round 0.  Hardly surprising, really.   I’ve been busy – when have I ever written that before?  During last week, we have visited our daughter, son-in-law and grandson, come back and taught a class, then prepared the house and garden for a thirtieth birthday barbecue party for my son.  Dear Reader, I weeded the patio and three flower beds – the ones that could be seen from the barbecue – LOL.  On Saturday, I was doing (some of) the cooking for my expected visitors when I checked my phone, only to find that my Google calendar had me down to lead Intercessions at church, at a service I’d intended to skip the following day.  A different sort of writing, that; seriously, though, as I’ve found out recently, there are many opportunities for writing devotional material.

I’m still promoting the current Association of Christian Writers (ACW)/ Street Pastors comp, Today’s Good Samaritans.   Although the deadline’s fast approaching (this Sunday, 31 July), there’s still time for you to write one thousand words, fiction or non-fiction, on someone putting the Christian ethos into action.  Very cheap to enter – £3 for first submission – and, if you have time, £2 for a subsequent entry.  First prize £20.  You don’t have to be a Christian to enter.  After all, who’s checking?  For more information, visit

In my last post, I was all upbeat, with my ‘Five Outstanding’ subs, but pride comes before a fall.  Two of those subs have fallen on stony ground already, one outright rejected and the other getting nowhere in a comp.  The comp in question was Helen Yendall’s Blog About Writing  Random Word Writing Competition.  I wasn’t disappointed, because my story, which I wrote very quickly wasn’t the best, but what Helen wrote in her feedback stopped me in my tracks… because it was so obvious, I should’ve thought of it myself and I’d heard something along the same lines before, many times, at school.

Half the 32 entries used a skyscraper for their setting. After a while, all those skyscraper stories (and one poem) started to blend into one another. If you can be original and different, your story will make more of an impression on a judge. And 5 of the skyscraper stories were set in – or made reference to – New York.

Now what do you suppose I’d written about?  Not the building of the Empire State Building, surely?  How could I be such a prat?

The rejection of the other piece, about a middle-aged Christian woman who wins ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ and is challenged by having so much Tomatoes in my greenhousewealth, was more disappointing, because Christian short story markets are very limited… unless you know differently, Dear Reader.

However, I’ve managed today to edit another story and knocked it into some sort of shape in readiness for another comp.  Also on the agenda is compiling a video all my iPad clips of my husband playing in an organ recital, my last class (tomorrow) and writing another story for my real, face-to-face writing group.  The topic is indecision.  I have a few ideas, although none of them are consolidating.  However, I don’t think me not being able to decide what to write about would be good material.  I’ll leave you with a photo of my tomato plants in my greenhouse; they’re bigger now, with little green tomatoes on the stems.

I’ve just read an amazing post from one of the blogs I follow, Campari and Sofa, in which one of the writers explains that nothing much has happened in her week, but then goes on to highlight some interesting things which had caught her attention.  Well, Dear Reader, nothing much has happened in my week either, although I have subbed four pieces of work over the last week, and, together with a competition entry sent on 29 June, I have Five Outstanding, as we used to say on Chapter Seventy Nine writing site, for the first time for a couple of years.  I seem to be writing all the time, or looking at markets, but don’t have much to show for it.  As well as preparing worksheets for my lessons (which does take time), I’ve written a post for the ACW (Association of Christian Writers) More Than Writers blog, the ACW members E-news (not yet available), and an article for my church magazine.  When Mslexia came out, I entered all calls for submissions and comps they published in their magazine on to my subbing database. Waste of time, you might think, and so did I at the time, but I’ve looked at the information over and over again, picking out markets and working out when and where I need to sub.  I’m now looking at other similar lists and incorporating them.

I’m also Facebooking and Tweeting furiously about the ACW/ Street Pastors Today’s Good Samaritans competition – see cat-as-good-samaritan right.  (You know I can never resist a pic of a cute cat!) With the deadline 31 July, there’s still time to enter.  One thousand words, please, fiction or non-fiction, on someone putting the Christian ethos into action.  Entry fees:  £3 for first entry, £2 for subsequent entries.  First prize:  £40.  Not to be sniffed at!  You don’t have to be a Christian to enter.  In fact, we in ACW would be delighted to hear from non-Christians – give us some feedback on how we’re getting on.  Also you don’t have to be a Brit;  believe it or not, God does work operate outside UK.  For more information, visit

Over the previous three weeks, we in the UK have been unable to take our eyes and ears away by the political blockbuster being enacted in front of us.  Even Euro 2016 and Wimbledon have been knocked thoroughly into touch and into the tramlines (respectively – thought you might enjoy the puns!).  Of course, we did rejoice at Andy Murray winning Wimbledon – briefly – and, before that, roll our eyes at England losing to Iceland at football (which should’ve really drawn the tabloid column inches) but there was always Something More Exciting going on in Westminster.  I must admit I’ve enjoyed it all; I’ve got as big a buzz from the BBC News app notifications on my phone as from emails and Facebook.  When the news broke about the terrorist incident in Nice and  the attempted coup in Turkey, I realised why.   All that stuff about Brexit and government reshuffles was democracy in action, people talking to each other, even if they were occasionally being insulting.   Now we’re back to ISIS, terrorism and totalitarism… and I’m even hesitating about putting that last bit in, for fear of reprisals (not sure what sort of reprisals).

Another non-event in my week is that, with all the computer work I’ve done recently, I’ve given myself RSI again.  Hey-ho.  I’ve been very lucky to avoid it for a long time, over a year, in fact.  This afternoon, I’m going to do the garden, which is in a Terrible State.  In The Dark Marshes by Sally Quilford, which


tomatoes_greenI’m reading at the moment, the two maiden aunts use Capitals randomly, usually to emphasise a Point, so I shall do the Same.   I think I’m cultivating Weeds under Nets, but my tomatoes are doing OK – see Pictures Either Side.

My husband asked if I was going to appear on Radio 4.   No, I’m not on Radio Bore, but in a few days time I can be heard on Sudbury Newstalk, an audio magazine for visually impaired people.  I understand that there are 83 such people listening to this service in south Suffolk, including some living in residential homes.   My piece, a short story, entitled Burnt Down, based upon a childhood experience of being spooked by a burnt-out cafe in a park, was the only piece of fiction.  Other contributions included an article on travel tour guides, a reminiscence of watching Royalty, gardening tips and a quiz ; I think that the balance was probably right. 

I got to know about this opportunity through my real writing group and, being genuinely very busy, I put off checking when their deadline was until… Well, when I did look it up one afternoon, it was that evening… soooo…. I got to work, finishing my 800 word contribution at about 12.20am.  I DON’T WRITE FAST!  Sally Quilford, she can write very fast, a novel in a month.  Me, I feel very vulnerable when I have to write fast, quite sure I’m writing rubbish, but on this occasion it was OK.  A few days later, though, I did look at what I’d written and make major changes, including a totally different ending, and the later version I submitted to the (real) writing group yesterday.   However, this morning, when I retrieved the original version – slightly tricky because I’d saved over it – I realised that the very raw first version wasn’t so bad after all.  Ho-hum.  Do I edit too much?

Doing the actual recording was daunting, even though I’m used to standing up in front of a class and speaking spontaneously.   Not only had I never been in a radio studio before, not only had I never read one of my stories aloud before, but I know I gabble when I read lessons in church.  I can never get the microphone by the lectern in the right place and people (well, my husband) always says he can’t hear me.  Dear Reader, I was sitting in a proper radio studio, with a very nice young man sitting at a mixing desk with headphones on, counting the people on before me ‘3-2-1’, a proper presenter, and a desk with two microphones on it… and everyone else had done it before.  I was quite sure I would stumble, stutter, gabble, cough, sneeze, drop my pages… But – I know it’s one of the things people always say –  but once I started reading I was able just to immerse myself in the story.  And I managed to do some of the dialogue in a Leicester accent.  I was exhausted at the end, just wanted to go home, even though I was sort of buzzing too.

So, I’ve got an idea for another story about an elderly actress who turns to radio.  Now I can write it.

The picture below is a photo of a sign in a cafe in India, quirky and funny but not really relevant to this post.

Today we welcome Julie Lees of Julie Wow or Wittering blog and champion letter-writer.  Earlier this week, I asked her about how she managed to get so many letters published in magazines and newspapers.

Rosemary:  Do you use any particular format?

Julie:  I don’t have any specific format but, as in all writing projects, it’s important to study your market. All magazines and newspapers adopt their own style and this is reflected in the tone of the letters they choose to print. It helps if you’re writing something you feel passionate about or, at the very least, have an interest in.

Star Letter 2Rosemary:  What should you include in your letter?

Julie:  Again, this depends on the publication. I have had many letters published in the TV Times that relate to specific television programmes, usually from the previous week’s schedule. However, there are many other popular weekly magazines, directed primarily at women, that attract letters focusing on the family, children, partners, pets and holidays and are generally expected to be accompanied by a photograph. Included in the long list of monthly periodicals is the specialist market covering subjects as diverse as cookery, gardening, gaming, astronomy, angling, cycling, your dog, your cat, your horse… the list is endless. Not all include a letters page, so you need to research your market.

The Guardian has a Saturday slot in the Family section of the Lifestyle supplement that encourages readers to share the story behind their favourite photograph, song and recipe. Definitely worth a try!  Spending some time in your local supermarket studying the plethora of material on offer is a good and less expensive way of determining the best market for your work.

Rosemary:  In which publications are letters from budding writers more likely to be well received?

Julie:  In terms of letter writing, I think the novice writer has as much chance as the established writer of getting published. That’s what is so good about it. Of course, you’ll face stiff competition if you concentrate on those publications that pay well, so you may want to target those more likely to receive a smaller postbag, including your local paper.  A useful website is esthernewtonblog because it highlights some markets available to writers, including the particular criteria required.  Submit as much out as you can, as often as you can. Even if it doesn’t pay every time, there’s nothing like seeing your name in print, and it’s all good practice.

Rosemary:  Which magazines pay best?

Julie:  Some like That’s Life! pay as much as £75 for its Star Letter and £50 to any others printed. Pick Me Up! and Woman’s Weekly pay £25 to the Letter of the Week, but nothing to the others. Sainsbury’s Magazine is currently offering a gift of a set of pans worth £400 for its Star Letter, while a mattress bed for your pooch could be yours at Dogs Monthly. Letter writing won’t make you rich, but it can supplement your income and potentially garner some nice prizes along the way.

Rosemary:  Are there any words/phrases/topics that make letters more likely to be published? Anything to avoid? What is deemed an appropriate length?

Julie:  I know I keep repeating this, but study your market. Some publications demand very short submissions — sometimes no more than a caption to Letter to TV Timesaccompany a photograph. Some of the letters I’ve had success consist of no more than 2 -3 sentences, ending with a punchy phrase. I try to avoid topics that are popular.  This increases your chance of success, rather than finding yourself pitted against many others of the same ilk. If you can include a pun, all the better. I did this when I described a programme as ‘riveting viewing’, River being the title of the show. I wasn’t even aware I’d done this until the letter was printed with the caption ‘Stellan is Riverting’.

Capturing a photograph of a comic moment — be that of a pet or spelling mistake leading to confusion — can be a winner with the right tag line. (NB. Parental consent is required to use images of children, under the age of 16.)

Seasonal tips and advice can work for cookery, craft, and interior design periodicals but make sure to submit this in plenty of time. I believed a letter that I’d sent in concerning Christmas decorations had fallen by the wayside, only for it to turn up twelve months later as the Star Letter, securing me £100 worth of designer paint. That was a good day!

Choosing to comment about an article printed in the previous month’s edition of your targeted magazine is another way of increasing your chances of publication. Editors seem to like this; it sends a message that their magazine’s content has provoked a reaction in its readers.

Remember that you need to make your letter stand out, so it should be interesting and have something worthwhile to say, be succinct and without repeating the same point, as well as fitting in with the format of the publication. Good luck!


Thank you very much, Julie.  Lots of useful tips there.

Thank you, Margaret, for writing a comic story to my prompts. The original was on

Margaret Kazmierczak

Challenge given by Charlie Britten.

Place: Anywhere on the English coast.
Situation: St Augustine has just arrived at Border control, meaning to convert the British heathens.
Characters: St Augustine and a customs officer.
Keywords: Duty.

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