Charlie Britten's writing blog

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.

View original post 481 more words

I’ve read several tributes to fathers today, Father’s Day.  I suppose I’m a bit late now, seeing as I’m writing it at 10 o’clock, but I wanted to share with you some thoughts about my father, Reg, who died in 1986.  This is not be an eulogy, nor will it be very long.  He was a –

  • Schoolteacher, fascinated by his subject – geography – and with the ability to explain anything in a way that was easily understood by me, at whatever age I happened to be at the time.
  • Sportsman, primarily a cricketer, who played for Leicestershire during the war, and even when I came on the scene when he was thirty-nine, an active member of several cricket clubs.  Other sports he played included: football, until my mother forbade him at the age of fifty-five to continue, because she was fed up with dressing a knee injury sustained in a masters versus boys match; tennis; hockey; rugby (a bit); squash; everything else.  He was an ardent Leicester City fan through thick and thin (mainly thin).
  • Mechanic, never happier when tinkering underneath a car or mending machinery, often with my mother begging him to buy new.  When called up in World War Two, he wanted to service aircraft for the RAF but, having had scarlet fever four times, he was declared unfit for service, so he carried on teaching.  He also loved steam railways and model railways.
  • Carpenter and DIY man, who preferred to do all shelf-building, washer-changing and decorating himself.  He reckoned he, as an amateur, was better than any ‘proper man’, although he had to defer to my (maternal) grandmother on wallpaper-hanging.
  • As poor a musician as I am, with no sense of time or pitch.  (My mother was a great singer and pianist.)  He despised ‘pop music’, although he did have a sneaking admiration for the music of ‘The Beatles’ after hearing their songs all night through the party-wall in our semi-detached when our neighbour’s son had a few friends round.
  • Actor and producer (before I was born).  At school, he appeared in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado and his mother retained his costume, using it as a dressing-gown, until she died in 1969.
  • As bad a gardener as me.  He did like to grow runner beans on tall sticks, also dahlias.  His birthday being on 28 May, I once bought him dahlia seedlings, only for them all to be killed by an unseasonal frost on our lawn on 27 May.
  • Unadventurous traveller, never venturing outside the British mainline, except once in 1974 when I dragged him to The Netherlands for three days.  (He enjoyed his holiday abroad but never wanted to go again.)
  • Lapsed Anglican, despite my mother being a devout Christian.  He had a thing about Roman Catholics.  He had had a Catholic girlfriend but dumped her immediately he discovered her religion.
  • Man who misliked change of any sort, he spent a lot of time explaining to me why older things were always better.  For a long time, he convinced

    me.  Leicester’s motto is Semper Eadem (always the same).

  • Politically, a right-wing Conservative.  He supported Enoch Powell.  If he were alive now, I’m sure he’d vote Leave and support Ukip.
  • Devoted husband, who nursed my mother as the dreadful disease, onset at my birth, consumed her, manoeuvring her up and downstairs every day, lifting her feet under his own.  He never once complained.

When my mother died, my father went to pieces.  He became emotionally dependent upon me and I, at seventeen, couldn’t cope.  His cousin several times removed (my beloved Auntie Myra) tried to lift some of the burden, but she lived in Cheltenham.  Nevertheless, he supported me in going to university as planned, even though he missed me terribly and irritated me by forever asking me when I was next coming home.  (Understandable, I suppose.)  He eventually found solace playing bridge in a bridge club, and I was relieved when he remarried, to one of the bridge-players, but she was not very nice to me and drove a wedge between us.

When I was about to go into hospital to give birth to my son, I asked my father if he could travel the hundred or so miles from Leicester to Guildford to visit me, but he replied “We’ll see,” (meaning my stepmother would see) and he never did.  He did however appear at my son’s christening – half way through – but died of a sudden heart attack, two weeks later.  My husband and I arrived late for his funeral because northbound traffic on the M1 was gridlocked.






The Secret of Lakeham Abbey (cover)Today, we welcome Sally Quilford, whose latest novel, The Secret of Lakeham Abbey, the second in the Lakeham Abbey series, was published last month.  (The first was Dark Marshes.) From the blurb, I see that both books are daaark.  I hope to review both of them on the blog in coming weeks.

Sally is well known to we writers as an author of romantic intrigue fiction, and erstwhile competitions columnist in Writers Forum magazine.  I knew that Sally has written a lot of books but I was gobsmacked to find 30 listed on Goodreads.  A few years ago, I did one of Sally’s courses.  I’ve never written so much, so fast, whilst teaching fulltime.  Sally is also a quick worker, as you will see in her answers to my interview questions below:

  1. When you started creating ‘The Secret of Lakeham Abbey’, what elements came first? Did you, for instance, start with a scenario or a setting, or with particular characters?

I started with the setting. I’d already set one novel – The Dark Marshes – at Lakeham Abbey, and The Secret of Lakeham Abbey is a loose sequel to that. Readers of both will notice similar surnames turning up. But as with The Dark Marshes, the real story began with a voice. The story is told in epistolary form, and it wasn’t until I got Percy Sullivan’s voice (he is the teenage protagonist) that the other voices really came into focus. His particular style of ‘speaking’ set the tone for everyone else. It was the same with The Dark Marshes. The voice(s) that informed that were those of the twins Molly and Dolly, who speak as one.

I honestly feel that I have at least one more story to tell about Lakeham Abbey, which I believe is a character in its own right. I’m just unsure whether to send Percy there again, or jump forward in time to a more modern story to finish off the trilogy. But one day the right story will come to me.

  1. How long did it take you to write this book?

About a month, I think. I’d intended to enter it into a competition on Wattpad, for Carina, so I had to write it quickly in order to meet the rules of thatSally Quilford competition. It didn’t get anywhere in that, so I polished it up and sent it to Crooked Cat. The rest, as they say, is history.

  1. ‘The Secret of Lakeham Abbey’ is about a character being convicted of murder and sentenced to execution. Did you feel uncomfortable, angry or emotional when writing?  If so, in which parts?

I often cry when I’m writing and it’s usually a good sign. The first letter to Percy from Anne Pargeter, who is waiting to be executed set me off crying and I knew then that this was a story worth telling. I don’t know that I felt uncomfortable about writing about an execution, though some of the things I read as part of my research about executions going wrong, were very disturbing. However, I am not in favour of capital punishment, because of the dreadful mistakes that have been made, and I think I poured some of that into the story.

  1. Do you have a special time to write? How is your day structured?  Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?  Do you write every day?

Structure? What’s that? No, honestly, I’m terribly disorganised about my writing and can only write when I have a compelling idea. But when I do have a story to tell, I can keep going for hours and have written as much as 7000 words in a day in order to meet a deadline.

  1. For you, what is the hardest thing about writing?

Not having a story to tell. My family is going through a difficult time at the moment, with my husband being very ill, and whilst writing is usually my escape from stress, I’m finding it hard to settle down and write anything because of my worries about him. I have plenty of ideas, but they come to nothing. So I’m a bit like a bottle of pop that’s been shaken up. I’m ready to explode. If I can explode onto the page, rather than having a meltdown in Tesco, it will be much better for me and anyone else in a five mile radius…

  1. Have you (or do you) suffer from the dreaded writer’s block? Any tips for overcoming it?

I suffer from times when the stories just won’t come, which I suppose is writers’ block. Normally I just write my way through it, even if what I write is absolute rubbish. As I’ve said, that’s not working at the moment, but I live in hope that when the time is right, the writing will be there waiting for me. So yes, I do believe in writers’ block, but I also think that sometimes we just need to recharge our batteries. We are not bottomless jars of ideas. We sometimes need to step back and let the jar fill up again, so I’d advise any new writer not to mistake just needing time to regroup for writers’ block. Just because you’ve nothing to say now doesn’t mean you’ll never have anything to say in the future.

  1. Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?

I’m a binge reader. I have weeks where I don’t touch any books, then weeks and weeks where I can devour two or three books in a week. I do find it hard to read others’ work when writing my own novels. I find myself aping the style of the author I’m reading, so I’m much better keeping away from other novels so that my voice and ideas remain my own. My favourite novelists are Agatha Christie, Nevil Shute, Lee Child, Stephen King, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Barbara Cartland (yes really – I love a bit of Barbara when I don’t want to have to think too much). But I read lots of different authors and genres and don’t like to narrow my options.

Thank you very, Sally.

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