Charlie Britten's writing blog

They say you should blog frequently and write something else daily.

White Colne, Essex

White Colne, Essex

I can vouch for the benefits of both.  Posting often definitely generates more views, more likes and more comments.  Writing every day facilitates fluency, with words and phraseology, as well as helping the writer to keep track of plots, settings and characters, but, Dear Reader, there are so many OTHER THINGS I have to do: work, things to sort out at home, people I need to speak to and spend time with.   So you go and do the other things.  Many of these things, certainly the people, actually are indeed more important than your writing, so you should prioritise them, but, whatever your reason for Not Doing It, your writing becomes offside, the other things in your life get a free kick, then writing gets pushed to the touchline and off the pitch altogether.

You think to yourself.  This won’t do.  I must write… but what shall I write?  You dredge up a story that’s been in

White Colne, Essex. Lake.

White Colne, Essex

your mind for some time.  You get on to the computer.  You think of the thousand and one other things that you must do on your computer urgently, and you do them.  Half an hour later, you open Word.  You look at the blank screen for a minute, then – gingerly – type the title of your piece, but it’s terrifying seeing that title there in front of you.  Actually, you don’t like the font, so you change it… and the margins… and the line-spacing.  Ah, at last you can get on.  You type the first few sentences which you compiled in your head during the day… but, oh dear.  Already three reps and four adverbs are mocking you from the screen.  As you go back and change it, you realise that second part of your carefully honed sentence repeats the gist of the first part.

…Then you go and make a cup of tea.

I find that not writing for a while destroys my confidence.  Over the weekend I set myself the task of writing a short story for my real (face-to-face) writing group, on the topic blue.  I’d known, for about two weeks, that I would write it about being a football fan, but on Saturday night I couldn’t assemble the various ideas that were flitting through my head.  All that I knew was that it wasn’t working.  Lying in bed on Sunday morning, I thought about it some more and over breakfast I did something I rarely do.  I wrote down all my thoughts randomly in bubbles around the edge of a piece of scrap paper.  I did not attempt to put the thoughts in any time sequence, because, in the past, that has overwhelmed any sort of planning.   When, after church, lesson preparation and other things, which took far longer than I’d anticipated, I eventually got back to it, that piece of paper was a crutch.  Although I didn’t write up every bubble and the content of many of the bubbles changed as I went on, the blank page no longer frightened me and, the more I wrote, the more easily the story came.  I finished the story yesterday afternoon and in the evening wrote a book review for The Copperfield Review (which I’d meaning to do for a long time).

Turtle in Blackwater, Essex

Turtle in Blackwater, Essex

Which only goes to show, if I had been writing something every day, I wouldn’t have had a problem.  Ho-hum.

I appreciate that the photos have nothing to do with the text, but these pictures show that, contrary to the commonly held view, Essex is a beautiful country.  (Facebook friends, I’m afraid you will have already seen the turtle sitting on a log in the River Blackwater.)

 

Monroe Stahr is a top Hollywood film producer, seemingly secure, the man who hires and fires stars and writers, whose slightest mildly expressed opinion makes or breaks a production or a star.  A  repressed individual, we see nothing of the man behind the producer, certainly not when we, the readers, are taken through his typical day. He works all the time, a widower, scared of himself and thoughts of his past, as we discover later.

When, during a minor earthquake (in which no one was injured!!!), two women come sailing down an impromptu water course, on a film prop of the god Siva, Stahr spots two women, one of whom closely resembles his beautiful deceased wife.  He has to find her.  He sets all  his Hollywood machinery into finding her, only he locates the wrong woman… at first.  Then there is Celia, twenty year old daughter of Stahr`s dissolute partner, who has been in love with him for ever.  The first chapters of the novel are written by Celia in the first person, although much of it concerns events that Celia could not have witnessed and the PoV drifts into third person omniscient for large sections.  (You can hear the Writers Circle feedback here.  “For me, this would have worked so much better with a consistent point of view, Scott.”)  In fairness, what I read (what is published) is very much a first draft, and Fitzgerald, a vigorous editor, would have almost certainly fixed it, if he`d lived.

What made The Last Tycoon so magical were the vivid descriptions, largely of people, their actions, and the way they did things, of love and desire.  Read this, for instance:

…already he knew the down on her neck, the very set of her backbone, the corners of her eyes and how she breathed – the very texture of the clothes she would wear.

And this:

She opened the door of the verandah and pulled in two wicker chairs, drying them off.  He watched her move, intently, yet half-afraid that her body would fail somewhere and break the spell.  He had watched women in screen tests and seen their beauty vanish second by second, as if a lovely statue had begun to walk with the meagre joints of a paper doll.

I love the detail, what he’s thinking, how it might have been, what it reminded him of.  So much to learn!  (How did I Solar light socket being used as ashtray.ever believe I could write?)  You may wonder why on earth I’m including a photo of a solar light socket being used as an ashtray.  To me, it’s so Fitzgerald, something good, in this case, environmentally green, being abused for something bad (smoking).

First published in 1941, this is Scott Fitzgerald`s last novel, which he didn`t finish, before he died of a heart attack… alcoholism, high living, and the stress and worry of having to provide for a wife with mental health issues. Almost as interesting as the novel itself is the Extra Material at the end of the book – a synopsis of the unwritten chatters, an account of Fitzgerald`s turbulent life and brief summaries of his other works.

Available from Alma Classics Ltd …but I borrowed it from the library.

I’ve spent today being a poll clerk in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections and local authority elections.  The tuIMG_1513rn-out at our polling station was pathetic, so I was able to get on with other things during long lulls.  I was going to finish this post and publish it while I was there, using 4G, but time, which had crawled this morning (starting at 6.30am), ran on bobbins during the last couple of hours.  I also intended to write something profound about elections and polling, but the photos below will have to suffice, of wooden (and plastic) polling booths and ballot boxes like picnic bags.  Very quirky and old fashioned.IMG_1511 IMG_1510

Cliches

After spending the day with our friends in North London last Saturday, we returned home to a NOISE, a loud buzzingfreezer noise, emanating from the freezer.  Everything inside seemed to be still frozen… but not for long.  By Sunday morning, all the food in there was frosted like my windscreen early on a February morning and by the evening it had gone mushy.  Our dear neighbour (thank you, Helen) having offered board and lodging in her freezer to one-and-only-husband’s meat supply, we are now eating our way through the rest.   These things always happen on Bank Holidays.  Is that a cliche or a truism? Imo it’s a truism, but it leads me neatly into this week’s topic.

Every writing expert will tell you to avoid cliches, phrase cliches like to think is to act.  Of course, that’s right, but don’t you get fed up with the other sorts of cliches?  I mean, characterisation cliches.

On sex and puberty…
  • She was thrilled to be the first girl in her class to wear a bra.  (Really?  Most girls are deeply embarrassed about breast development.)
  • On having sex for the first time.  “Phew! Glad that’s over!”  (Have you ever heard any real person express this point of view?  For most young people, the whole thing is much more complex.)
On religion…
  • Churchgoers are always stuffy and hypocritical.
  • Roman Catholic priests are always Irish.
  • Anglican vicars are always male, even though we’ve had female priests in Church of England since 1994.
On gender…
  • Young women like shooooes, and shoppinggggg and chocolatttttte.
  • Men always leave the loo-seat up.
On age…
  • Teenagers sound like Harry Enfield’s Kevin.
  • Teenagers/ children can use a computer better than any older person.  (Really?  I used to teach sixteen year olds, Dear Reader.)
On nationality (and regionality – is this a word?)…
  • French wear striped t-shirts, berets and ride bicycles with strings of onions around their necks.
  • Germans are spotlessly clean and ruthlessly efficient.
  • Italians wear too-tight jeans and are sentimental about children and their mothers.
  • Americans shout and come out with stupid statements like “I love history.  It’s so old.”  (Conversely, the Americans write we Brits as all having bad teeth and speaking like something out of a 1930s film.)
  • All farmers have West Country accents.
On successful women…
  • If they can somehow tear themselves away from their board meetings and attend school sports day, all their parenting duties have been discharged.
  • These women are too grand to do housework.  The dirtier their house, the better they are… at work, as lovers and as parents.
  • Similarly, when required to donate to school bring-and-buys, they ‘distress’ cakes bought from the supermarket to make them look homemade.

Using these sorts of cliche shows both laziness and that the writer isn’t properly into his/her characters.   At its worst, it’s stereotyping and, just this week, we’ve seen how people’s perception of football fans – at that time – as hooligans, drunks and thugs led us to believe lies that were told to us by police and others.  The problem was, in the late 1980s, football hooliganism was a big problem, especially in the UK, but we, the general public, indulged ourselves by extending from the particular to the general.

In her blog A Writer of History, I see that M K Tod is currently spending three weeks in Paris researching, for her next book, how things were in that city in the 1870s.  That’s proper research which will, I’m sure, generate authentic characters.

lcfcWhile I’ve been typing this, I’ve just heard that another cliche has been… er… outFoxed, the lcfc1one about Leicester City never winning anything.  Well done that, City of my birth, supported not just by myself but my father and grandfather before me.  We are the champions.

It’s all getting too much.  I’ll have to go and eat something more from the freezer…

Blogger getting into bad habits again.  Yes, that’s right.  I haven’t posted for a whole ten days.  Bad girl!

I’ve also flunked reading a book:  Walk in the Light and Twenty-Three Tales by Leo Tolstoy.  The stories, which were all supposed to reflect Tolstoy’s Christian faith, were, in my opinion, too long, too pompous in a nineteenth century sort of way, too East European in that they were grim, and not particularly interesting.  I’ve moved on to The Last Tycoon, the last novel of Scott Fitzgerald, which he didn’t finish writing.  I intend to finish reading this one, however.  The style is very dense, involving a lot of people who come on and off the page episodically, in such a way that when one does come back, you’ve forgotten who he/she is.  I will review it properly later.

I borrowed the Fitzgerald, the Tolstoy and Cat Out of Hell  by Lynne Truss, as proper books, in printed form, from my local library, something I haven’t done for decades.  You are now expecting me, Dear Reader, to campaign for the preservation in aspic of all public libraries.  Yes, yes, take it all as having been said.  I know that printed books are very important to a lot of readers, those who say they love the weight, the smell and turning pages… and, really, they can’t be bothered to work out how to use a Kindle, and all the paperbacks they’ve ever read – once – are stacked up in Books stacked up in spare roomtheir spare rooms, as shown left.  (I shall probably get into terrible trouble for writing like this!)  In actual fact our public libraries are not in aspic at all, because, in addition to printed books, they offer a service called Overdrive, whereby library members can borrow electronic books by downloading them on to Kindle or tablet, for free, for the normal sort of period they’d borrow a printed book.   And, if you don’t see the book you want, you can request it.  You’ve probably known this for years, DR, but I didn’t, until a few months ago, when I retired from my job and actually had time to enter a library.

Of course, I’m now teaching again, albeit part-time, although class preparation is taking longer than I would like (as itFat pheasantalways does).  However, I enjoy the days when I am at home better now that I’m doing some work, than I did when I was not working at all.  Then, the days used to stretch out before me, one merging into another, even though I was doing other (voluntary) things, and seeing lots of people, but now my weeks and months have structure, and I no longer feel as if the world was going on without me.  I can now relax and enjoy things like two fat pheasants in our garden.  Here’s the male, and I can assure you that the female’s as traditionally built as he is.

In the bad old days of my previous job, the things that held me together were Classic FM on the car radio to and from work and Starbucks coffee from the college refectory.  The first thing I did when I left was to purchase a digital radio, so I can listen to Classic FM in the kitchen (although I still listen in the car whenever I’m out) and my husband makes better coffee than Starbucks.

You know me.  I can’t resist anything with the word cat in the title.  My own pussycat, now sitting on my lap, in the minute space between me and the computer, can’t either.  This fixation has had us read/watch all manner of rubbish.  Making the Cat Laugh is another of Lynne Truss’s titles;  I must get hold of it immediately.

The blurb on the back cover of Cat Out of Hell is beguiling.

Under a pool of yellow light, two figures face each other across a kitchen table.  A man and a cat…
The man clears his throat, leans forward, expectant.
‘Shall we begin?’ says the cat…

However, any preconceptions I might’ve had about talking animals being soft and fluffy are soon to dispelled.  In every other sense, this novel falls into the comic horror genre – or perhaps just horror – as it concerns men and cats working together to commune with the devil.   It was first published in 2014 by Arrow Books in association with Hammer – as in Hammer Horror.

When retired librarian, Alec Charlesworth, takes a break in Norfolk, following the death of his wife, he finds himself sharing his holiday cottage with a talking cat, Roger, a nine-lifer destined to live for ever.  Alec is also in receipt of some unusual computer files, sent by colleague, Dr Winterton, concerning Roger and someone else (unknown to Alec Charlesworth) called Wiggy, who has just been arrested in connection with his sister’s death.  As you can see, the plot is already involved and the first part, where Alec is largely looking at computer files, is difficult to follow, but Lynne cleverly uses a clunky and disjointed style and structure to show Alec’s distraught state of mind.  When Alec returns home to Cambridge, the catalogue of harm wreaked by the nine-lifers moves with him, but he cannot bring himself to discuss a cat who talks with anyone else.  He has difficulty believing it himself.  The tension mounts when Alec eventually commits and goes to Dorset to make his own investigations  and here things get properly sinister, although the amount of actual blood and gore and ghostliness is minimal, but Roger mentioning things things done to kittens really pressed my buttons.

Cat Out of Hell is available, from American publisher, Melville House or from Lynne’s author website.  Do I recommend, Dear Reader?  Yes, although it is one of those books you have to finish before you appreciate it.  Even though there was plenty going on throughout, the middle stalls; even though, at this point, several hooks are being laid, the thread that should have been holding it together became very thin.  Although the human characters were not distinct – too many middle-aged male academics and librarians – the cats had panache and attitude.  Anthropomorphism is one of the things writers are advised to leave alone, but Lynne proved that it could be done, and in a book for adults.

All this brings me back to my own darling cat, Clarabel, who insists on climbing on to my lap whenever I use my Author's Cat Sitting by Bookcaselaptop.  First, she walks across in front of me and over the keyboard, activating (mostly) right click menus, which I have to cancel using the escape key, but it destroys my flow.  For about ten minutes, she stands, so I have to work around this furry obstacle in front of me, and, although I try I push her into a sitting position, her bottom rides up again.    Eventually, she will sit, but then she nuzzles my jumper, so I have to roll up my sleeve.  And she malts fur all over my keyboard.  Why do I put up with it?  My husband asks why I don’t ‘just put her down’, but, if I do, she climbs back up and starts all over again.  The thing is she’s old and she’s so happy on my knee, purring like a little motorbike.

Actually, I can’t reblog this because it came off the Writers & Artists blog, a non-WordPress blog, but here is the link.

David Savill, Programme Director of the St Mary’s University Creative Writing MA and the author of this post, is writing about those darned rules for writers and how they don’t work, well, not all the time anyway.  He has just brought out a book They Are Trying To Break Your Heart  (Bloomsbury, 2016) which looks like a very interesting read.

A Small Grammar Point!   As I was writing the paragraph above, I wondered about the words not all the time.  I always believed that all the time was correct British usage and to insert of – as in, all of the time – was American usage.  Anybody any ideas?

Btw, I’m posting on the More Than Writers blog tomorrow (13 April), about humour.  Do take a look.  (Andrew Chamberlain is on there today, but he’s always good read too.)

See below the biggest grammar ouch ever, courtesy of Tesco!

Frees spelt with apostrophe, from Tesco sign.

Creative Commons (www.flickr.com)

Ah, after two blogs on real life and one on travel, here are two book reviews.  I hope the people who read my blog for the first time for my India post are not too disappointed.  I love reading.  Reading has always been a huge part of my life.  No, not always.  For a few years in my teens, I decided that what I was reading was overly-influencing what I was writing, so therefore I MUST NOT READ.  I was an arrogant bitch in those days.

Leigh Russell writes about two detectives:  Geraldine Steel and Ian Peterson, who used to be Geraldine’s second-in-command but has now moved to York.  Leigh has also commenced a new series, featuring Lucy Hall (released in February, which I haven’t read yet).  Leigh has a sure touch, content well researched and with watertight plot lines, and detectives who you enjoy reading about.

Blood Axe (Ian Peterson)

The first person we meet is the murderer, who is a Viking, navigating up and down the River Ouse in a long boat, carrying an axe and invoking the blessing of Viking gods.  Is Leigh writing historical these days?  Or fantasy?  Or is the murderer the genuine Nordic article?  The murders are brutal and gory, including a decapitation, bu

Creative Commons. Wikipedia.org

Creative Commons. Wikipedia.org

t they, and the coins (not paper notes, the reader observes) stolen from victims, will earn the murderer a place in Valhalla – or so the murderer believes.

There are a lot of characters, as you would expect in a crime novel, many of them featuring intensively for a few chapters then departing from the pages, as the story moves on, which reflects what would happen in a crime investigation.  The prevailing characters are Ian Peterson himself, now promoted to Detective Inspector, his assistant, Detective Sergeant Ted Birling, and Ian’s wife, Bev.  Ian is torn between wanting to go after the next lead in his murder investigation and being there for his wife.  The Ian and Bev story judders to a terrible climax in the final chapters, and the only person able to offer Ian any constructive support is Geraldine Steele herself, but this sub-plot finishes on a tantalising cliff-hanger.  I guess I will have to read the next book, when it appears.

Murder Ring (Geraldine Steele)

Creative Commons. Wikimedia.org

Creative Commons. Wikimedia.org

The first person we meet in this book is the victim, and, after reading the initial pages, I wanted to murder him too.  The greed surrounding a diamond solitaire engagement, which two women believed themselves to be entitled, is breathtakingly shocking.  This is a complex and devious story, taking place in central London, featuring several groups of arrogant and thoroughly unpleasant villains without redeeming features.   The identity of the real murderers took me by surprise, and I was actually quite disappointed not to see one of the other suspects locked up.

Even characters as tough as Geraldine, who is as tough as her name, should have a vulnerability, and hers is being adopted.  Again, Geraldine struggles between the compelling demands of a murder investigation and family life, with the murder investigation winning, but (without giving too much away) Leigh has left the plot door open again.

Both books can be obtained from Leigh Russell’s website.  If you like crime fiction, read them both.

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