Review of ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’ by P D James

(‘Death Comes to Pemberley’ – P D James – Faber and Faber (2011)

(One of the many sequels to Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’)

I approached ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’ – in paperback, not Kindle – with trepidation.  I don’t do sequels written by some B list author trying to swell her coffers by piggy-backing on to a well-known classic – usually ‘Pride and Prejudice’.  In fact, Jane Austen must shudder in heaven (where she will be, seeing as she was reputed to be sweet and saintly) at the large number of apocryphas to this particular work.  But I was given this book for Christmas and this was P D James – my best eighteenth century author meets my best twentieth century author.

Well, dear Reader, I was captivated from the first page, because I was drawn into a story about the familiar characters.  The book started with a prologue, which was not just a summary but an analysis of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, and finished with an epilogue… about which more later.  P D James has got into Jane Austen’s characters at least as thoroughly as Jane herself, and, although she developed some of them, Darcy in particular, she did so sympathetically, with no need embellishment, Hollywood fashion.  With the exception of Mrs Bennett, Mary and Kitty (and Lady Catherine de Bourgh and the Collinses, who appeared through their letters only) they were all there, and, although new characters were introduced, none of them figured for very long.  Jane nee Bennett now Bingley remained generous and unable to believe ill of anyone.  Wickham was still a charming womaniser, although he had now become a war hero.  Lydia appeared – very briefly – screaming hysterically that Wickham had been murdered.  He hadn’t, but the publishers still mentioned this passage in the blurb on the back cover, which was misleading.  I longed for Lydia to return to the page, because P D James, who had her worrying about her dress for Lady Anne’s Ball while Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam searched for Wickham’s body, brought her to life even more so than Jane Austen had – loud, in-your-face, a possible ‘Big Brother’ contestant, I thought.

Regarding Elizabeth, the author made two assertions without any supporting basis from Jane Austen’s text: that Elizabeth was not liked in Meryton because she affected not to like Darcy and then married him, and that she wouldn’t have had him had he not been wealthy.  I’m not sure about either of these, but, having got this off her chest, she then allowed us to enjoy with Elizabeth the pleasures of being chatelaine of Pemberley, ordering the household and the visiting the tenants.  It was also a pity P D James had to demystify Darcy – he who should always remain aloof and distant – but, as so much of the story was written from his point of view, this was inevitable.  In this book Darcy is shown to be emotionally dependent on Elizabeth, and, because he is honest and decent, making some uncomfortable choices.  For schoolgirls and Bridget Jones, Darcy lost much of his sex appeal, but he has now grown up, into a husband and father.

So far, so good.  P D James set up her plot perfectly, with many hooks which kept me turning the pages, but, as I worked my way through the last third, it all started to unravel.  Wickham (not dead) leans over Denny’s body saying “He’s dead.  Oh God, Denny’s dead.  He was my friend, my only friend and I’ve killed him.  I’ve killed him and it’s my fault.” but Darcy and the others don’t believe him, for no substantive reason, and we readers are also encouraged to overlook his confession.  The plot then heads rapidly to a trial at the Old Bailey, but the writing here lacks excitement, even with the twist after the verdict, which requires another hundred words, including the Epilogue, to fit in all the necessary details.  This is not the sort of stuff Adam Dalgliesh handled.  It’s muddled and confused.

In addition, the question of who Georgiana Darcy would marry was bigged up in the first few chapters, with a triangle forming between her, Colonel Fitzwilliam and new character, Henry Alviston… but then we lose that thread for several hundred pages and only revisit it on the last two.

So, dear Reader, do I recommend ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’ or not?  Yes, on balance.


Review of ‘The Black Madonna of Derby’ by Joanna Czechowska

This will – I hope – be the first of many hot-off-the-press reviews posted as soon as I have finished reading.  Although the reviews will appear as posts initially, they will be moved on to a new page (not yet built) when I write the next post.  I intend to tell it as I read it, without mincing words, ‘praise sandwiches’ or any other ruses.  If there are things that don’t work for me, I will say so.

Btw, I read everything on Kindle… apart from ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’, the real, paperback book I’m reading at the moment, which was bought for me as a Christmas present.

‘The Black Madonna of Derby’ by Joanna Czechowska

The title – wow!  It signals exactly what this book is going to be about – Polish immigrants in the English Midlands.  The thread of authenticity that runs through The Black Madonna is palpable.  Joanna (as you would expect with a name like hers) has Polish blood – a Polish father and an English mother (according to her Amazon profile) and she is clearly writing about what she knows, not what she has researched.  Those of us who attended school alongside many a Maria, Ewa, Helena and Evona will recognise the complicated lives of the Baran family: the suppressed and repressed memories of unspeakable happenings during the war; the sexing up of those memories; parents and grandparents who live in the past; and the feeling of not quite belonging.

The Black Madonna charts the story of three generations of  a Polish family who fled Eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War.  Zosia falls in love with the romanticised version of Poland dished up by her grandmother, Barbara, whereas younger Janek stonewalls his Polish heritage, refusing to speak the language and embracing everything Anglo-Saxon. Wanda, the older sister, who first appears in the book as a child of the Sixties and a Paul McCartney groupie, runs through the gamut of emotions regarding her Polishness.  This novel involves a huge number of characters in diverse situations, including Irina and family still living in Warsaw, and a wide variety of issues, from Beatlemania, (possible) racial bullying, under-age sex within the Church of England, forced labour under the Nazis and dissident activity under the Communists.

Pawel was an interesting character: on one level he was an unconvincing dissident, running off copies of ‘Animal Farm’ from a printing press in a secret location at one point then, several chapters on,  defecting to the West – but what else could a disaffected Polish young man do in the 1970s?  Joanna understands that, just as not every Frenchman/Frenchwoman during the Nazi Occupation was Resistant, citizens of East European Peoples’ Republics weren’t all Lech Walesa. However, I was surprised that the Gdansk Shipyard Strikes of 1970 didn’t get a mention.

The fact that I have to think about the written style of the Black Madonna must be a good thing, because nothing detracted me from the tableau Joanna was revealing.  I use the word ‘tableau’ advisedly, as there was no real plot-line, and a few loose ends.  I felt that Wanda’s transformation from Carnaby Street girl was  bit sudden, even bearing in mind her various disappointments.  I never really did understand why Zosia was being bullied.  Was it because she was Polish or because she was pretty and clever?   A nice touch, though, was her schoolmates shedding crocodile tears over her.  There are occasional bursts of typically self-deprecating Polish humour, such as when Wanda is about to leave for London and her grandmother for Warsaw, and Wanda’s mother suggests they celebrate the two events together.  “Yes,” says Wanda, “I’m sure my friends will want to attend a memorial mass.”

‘The Black Madonna of Derby’, which ends when John Paul II is elected Pope in 1978,  is the first book in a two part series.  The second, ‘The Sweetest Enemy’ (which I haven’t read yet) is about the Polish independent trade union, Solidarity.  I did just open the first Kindle page, to see the heading ‘Gdansk Shipyard, August 1980’ and, having been there myself four years ago, this was another blow to the solar plexus.  Wow again.

Nothing to Write On…

On Sunday, the power supply and adapter for my Dell Inspiron 1545 laptop pegged out.  To tell the truth it had been struggling for several months and, without the mains connection, the battery hardly lasted five minutes.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t afford to deal with the situation but that I was preoccuppied with other things… work, for instance.  Anyway, on Sunday, after its monthly visit to church to record Fair Trade takings, it joined the ‘choir invisibuuule’, like Monty Python’s Dead Parrot, and the replacement components from Dell were going to take three days to arrive.

“Don’t worry about me.  I’ve got the iPad,” I assured the husband,  even though I was half-way through writing a review on Patsy Collins’ ‘Paint Me a Picture’.  It wouldn’t matter if I delayed it for a few days, would it?  I mean, the editor wasn’t going to bother with it before Christmas, was she?  But on Monday evening, being the sort of person who can’t leave things alone, I called up my half-finished review on Dropbox on the iPad.  I loaded it in Pages, completed it and posted it on to ChapterSeventyNine (my online writing community).

Then I started to wonder… do I actually need the Dell with Windows and Microsoft Office?  Apart from for work,  where I teach using Ms Office and Adobe CS5 applications, I wonder.  For writing-writing, probably not.  Pages is not like Word, nor is iOS like Windows.  My biggest issue was that the iPad keyboard layout provides letters in one view and numbers and symbols in another one, whereas I’m used to having numbers at the top of the conventional Dell keyboard.  I also missed home and end, which I use a lot, and also the cursor key.   Selecting, copy and pasting could be done, but the techniques felt very strange.   But, Dear Reader, I do believe the problem was that it was different, not that it wasn’t as good.  Having used Microsoft products for so long, I am institutionalised.

The only real problem when inputting using Pages was that pressing on the touch screen to access an exact character for editing was nigh impossible.  I nearly always resorted to the backspace delete and retyping.

The battery, power lead and adapter arrived this morning and I fitted them in the space of a few minutes, so the Dell with Windows and Microsoft Office is alive and well again, yet my experience on the other side was interesting.   Unfortunately, however, the work I did on the review using Pages has not synced with Ms Word, even though Dropbox reckons that all files are fully uptodate.  Hey-ho.

The Perils of Backing Up

Beware, all you files on the computer.  Be very afraid.  Bleep, bleep.  Writer backing up.   Bleep, bleep.  Writer may be reversing… (Hope not, though.)

What’s all this, you ask.  Writers jolly well ought to back up work from their computer hard discs on to a memory stick or portable hard drive, shouldn’t they?  Yes, indeed.   I work with IT students in further education who are notoriously slack about backing up anything, and I have seen, first hand and many times over, the anguish caused when crucial assignment work is lost.  I am pretty pedantic on backing up.  I save into the cloud (Dropbox) in case of computer failure and I copy files from Dropbox to my portable hard drive every few days.

And that’s exactly what I was doing last night, only I managed to drag and drop the wrong way round.  I overwrote the Dropbox file I’d just finished working on with the old version on my portable hard drive.  The file concerned was not a writing file (Thank God, you think), only my session plan for my teaching and learning observation for next week.  Gulp.  (Oh, sorry, that phrase is copyrighted to Sally Bercow, isn’t it?  I wouldn’t know.  I don’t follow her on Twitter.)  So, I had to set to and redo all my – substantial – edits, at ten o’clock at night.  Gulp again.

I confess that I’ve done this before, with about 10,000 words of a young adult novel I was writing.  My only plea in mitigation is that this was in 1996 and I hadn’t done again – until last night.  The 1996 accident happened using Windows 95, when operating systems were a lot simpler.  Do you remember the DOS commands we used to use to back up on floppy disc?  (diskcopy a: a: ) Much safer!  Copying files using Windows 7 is unnecessarily complicated, with prompts asking you if you want to merge subfolders and with big graphics to ask you whether you want to overwrite with a newer/ older copy or keep both.   Windows XP (which we use at work – I joke not) is much more straightforward – do you want to overwrite older file with newer file… or not?

What’s the solution?  I make it my practice always to drag and drop in one direction.  Because I’m right-handed, I always drag from right to left – that is, new files on the right overwrite old files on the left.  My reasoning is that, if I carelessly did it the other way, my brain would shout ‘No!’  But that method’s not foolproof… as I proved last night when I was backing up when I was tired and fed up.  Another way of dealing with the problem is to keep two back-ups, but that is onerous to keep going, and, if one is always out of date, there is not point in keeping it.

Backing up is a dangerous activity.  There is no solution… except extreme care.

Blog of the Year 2012

No, we haven’t won it.  (Highly unlikely, considering how new this blog is! )

I would like to nominate Patsy Collins’ blog, Patsy Collins Words about writing and writing about words, for the Blog of the Year 2012.  The ‘unique selling point’ of the blog is ‘free to enter’ writing competitions, which Patsy puts in a lot of effort to find every week and shares with everyone who reads her blog.  Patsy also uses her blog to tell us what she is writing at the moment, about her novels and the stories she has had accepted, but it’s not all about Patsy.  For instance, her post for 7 December listed other writers’ competition wins and other writers’ books in progress.

I’m now supposed to list the rules of the comp… in case someone else reading this wants to nominate, so here we are:

1. Select the blog(s) you think deserve the ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award

2 Write a blog post and tell us about the blog(s) you have chosen – there’s no minimum or maximum number of blogs required – and ‘present’ them with their award.

3 Please include a link back to this page ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award –   and include these ‘rules’ in your post (please don’t alter the rules or the badges!)

4 Let the blog(s) you have chosen know that you have given them this award and share the ‘rules’ with them

5 You can now also join our Facebook group – click ‘like’ on this page ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award Facebook group and then you can share your blog with an even wider audience

6 As a winner of the award – please add a link back to the blog that presented you with the award – and then proudly display the award on your blog and sidebar … and start collecting stars…

6 stars image

Yes – that’s right – there are stars to collect!

My Published Stories

In my first post, I said I would put links to my published stories on to a separate page, which I would name ‘Sweet Success’.  Well, I’ve put them as links on the sidebar instead, under the heading ‘Some of Charlie’s Published Stories’.  Much more convenient.

I’m still chasing editors for permission to link, so there’s more to come, but I’ll never be able to get together the whole Charlie Britten catalogue because some sites only keep stories online for a very short period and several of my stories have appeared only in printed form.  Hope you enjoy reading what’s there.  I certainly enjoyed writing it.


Really useful article last week about pov (Points of View) in the Daily Post. Particularly good for writers like me who haven’t studied literature post… er… O level.

The Daily Post

“Point of view” or “narrative mode” describes the pronouns used when writing a story. At the most basic level, the points of view can be broken down as follows:

POV Pronouns
First person I, we
Second person you
Third person he, she, it, they

View original post 1,009 more words

Hello World

Nine out ten dentists should follow this blog if they wish to improve the reading matter in their waiting rooms.  Yes, it’s another writers’ blog.  Another writer wanting to share with you the ups and downs on the road to getting published.

A few readers will remember me from the defunct Google Blogspot blog ‘Lives to Write, Would Love to Write to Live’.  Hel-lo!  Yes, it’s me!  As I belong to various online writing communities (and have belonged to others in the past), some other readers may recognise me as Bluecity. Again, hel-lo.

Charlie Britten
Yes, that’s me. In my oldest ever T-shirt, on a ferry in Croatia. Wonder if I’ll ever be famous enough to need the sunglasses.

As this is the first post, let me tell you about ‘Write On’.

  • This blog will be about writing, not about me in real life… wife, mother, lecturer etc.  I would like to share with you my successes and failures, things that work for me and things that don’t, plus what I have learned from point zero, which was where I was a few years ago.  And did I say I will go off on the occasional rant?  Well, I fully intend to.
  • Links to my published works will eventually appear on the Sweet Success page, although that is ‘under construction’ at the moment.  I have first to seek the permission of all the editors of ezines who have published my work.
  • My area of expertise is IT.  The Writers and Computers page is about how I use IT as a writer.  What I will not do is recommend any so-called ‘writers’ software’ (free or otherwise),  all of which can go straight into the recycle bin, as far as I’m concerned.
  • I also know far more than I would like to about the dreaded writers’ condition – RSI.  If my experiences, as described on the Dreaded Lurgy page helps anyone else, I would be delighted.

I think that’s enough to be going on with.   I am also hoping to develop my own online writing magazine, to be named ‘Dear Reader’.  In fact, it’s three-quarters finished, but I just don’t have enough time to complete the magazine, get this blog up and running… and write as well.  That’s life, I think.