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How To Write A Blog That People Will Want To Read

January 4, 2015
by the gentle author

If readers are inspired to seek a new venture in 2015, they are very welcome to join my course HOW TO WRITE A BLOG THAT PEOPLE WILL WANT TO READ on Saturday 7th & Sunday 8th of February in Spitalfields. Here are a few examples written by participants from previous courses.


This picture was taken in 1905 and is of students at Tunassassa Indian School. This was a Quaker-run boarding school for Indians. My grandmother is the girl above the left shoulder of the matron in white. My grandmother married another student from the school and had three children with him. After he died, she married my grandfather. He had gone to Thomas Indian School. They had two children, my uncle and my mom. One of the many things my grandmother learned in school was how to quilt, and she is the reason that I became a professional quilter.

This is my mom – in the braids – when she attended the local school, before she went away to college where she met my father.  They were married for forty-three years until his death. She had seven children, me and my brothers. She died after a long illness two years ago. She attended a one room school house, then went to high school with white students. She hated to have to wear braids, and when she went to high school she cut her hair and never wore it long again.

Here’s a picture from about 1934 – seated is my dad and standing next to him is his half-brother.

There was this was big family secret I only found out years after he died, that they were half-brothers. My great uncle revealed the story after I said my grandmother had told me that my grandfather was “the handsomest man” that she ever laid eyes on. This was a puzzler as no-one would describe my grandfather like that.

So my great uncle told me the story of the mystery man who worked with my great uncle, he met my grandmother, they got married (?) and he left her before my dad was born. Later my grandfather had moved to the city and lived next door to my grandmother. When they married he made her a deal, she would never speak of my dad’s father and would have no contact with his family. She kept the deal, except for that stray comment.

My dad lived with his grandparents when he was little and was a native Russian speaker. He was a boxer, an artist and a bum. He died in 1992.


Every Wednesday, I find a new ‘weed’ to investigate. My only criterion will be that I will not have deliberately planted the subject of my inquiry.

The Totteridge Yew (Taxus baccata)

I always feel a little melancholy at New Year. Maybe it is because I am an introvert and I no longer drink alcohol, which makes me uneasy in situations of forced jollity and large crowds? Or maybe it is because January feels more like a time for staying in bed – preferably with an excellent novel and a bowl of syrup pudding – than a time for taking up jogging and eating kale?

So, to give myself some perspective, I went to see the oldest living thing in London with my long-suffering husband, John. This magnificent Yew tree lives in St Andrew’s churchyard in Totteridge, a twenty-minute bus ride from East Finchley. It has seen at least two thousand New Year’s days come and go, and is still full of fresh growth and vigor. To ensure its health, a team from Kew Gardens visited thirty years ago and did a little judicious pruning and shoring up of the centre of the plant, which invariably becomes hollow as the plant ages.

Yew is often found in churchyards. In this, as in many other examples, the tree long predates the church even though there has been some kind of ecclesiastical building here since around 1250. It is likely that the church was built on a site that was already sacred and the tree, then a stripling of just over a thousand years old, was already a place for rituals and meetings. In 1722, a baby was found under the tree, named ‘Henry Totteridge’ and made a ward of the parish.

Part of the reason for the longevity of Yew is that it is very slow-growing and some scientists believe it can reach ages of four to five thousand years – the Totteridge Yew is one of only ten trees in the country that date from before the tenth century.  The oldest wooden artifact in Europe, a 450,000 year-old spearhead found in Clacton-on-Sea, is made of Yew. All parts of the plant are poisonous, except the red flesh on the berry,  and chief of the Celtic tribe the Eburones (the ancient word for Yew was Eburos) killed himself by ingesting a toxin from it rather than submitting to the Romans.

Yew is known to be poisonous to horses and, in hot weather, the foliage produces a gas which is said to cause hallucinations. But it can also be used to produce a drug for use in breast cancer and so, for a while, pharmaceutical companies were looking for Yew forests to destroy. However, what is new to science is often already known by native peoples and Yew has long been used by Himalayans as a treatment for breast and ovarian cancer.

Yet this is not the first time Yew has been subjected to over-harvesting. It is perfect for the making of longbows and in the fifteenth century compulsory longbow practice for all adult males was introduced, depleting these slow-growing trees so profoundly that Richard III introduced a ‘tax’, insisting that every ship bringing goods to England had to include ten bowstaves for every ton of goods. During the sixteenth century, the supply of Yew dwindled until there was none left in Bavaria or Austria and the custom of planting Yews in churchyards to ensure future demand may have begun at this time.

Spending time outdoors  soothes my soul, especially when I am in the company of a tree of such remarkable character as the Totteridge Yew. It was already a thousand years old when the Normans came with their stone masonry and castle-building. How many babies have been borne past it in their mother’s arms for Christening? How many young couples have passed under its branches on their wedding day? How many sombre coffins have been carried under the lych-gate to the freshly-dug graves that surround it? Once people came up to the church on foot or in horse-drawn carts, where now they swoosh past in cars. If only it could tell me what it has seen.

As I go, I rest my hand for a moment on that smooth, rose-pink bark, as I suspect so many others have done before me. I feel a sense of calm descend, as if I have been holding my breath for a week and finally let it out.


David was a promising young boxer with aspirations to turn professional until, leaving a disco one night in Peckham, someone pointed a loaded shotgun at his head. David lost an eye and suffered a head full of pellets.  It took a full year and a great deal of personal courage just to learn to walk and talk again .Today, David is an active campaigner against the carrying and use of guns by urban gangs, often finding himself at odds with the civic authorities. David argues, with a great deal of authority, that he is uniquely qualified to talk about the dangers of gun crime.  Despite this, he tells me that he has been barred from entering City Hall and discussing the issues by Boris Johnson’s office. Different people, same objective, unable to agree on a common approach. What needs to happen, David asserts, is that ‘young stars’ take greater heed from someone who talks their language and fully understands the peer and other pressures that lead to the carrying of guns. Whatever the difficulties, David continues his campaign in his own personal and distinctive style.  That he is a survivor not a victim is undeniable – his resilience and determination to ensure that what happened to him does not happen to others is a tribute to this remarkable man.


Roxbury Puddingstone

We have a type of rock in my neighbourhood that is all our own, geologically found only in a corner of Boston. A messy mix of ‘non-glacial subaqueous mass flow’ or ‘leftovers’ it is not elegant but I love it because it is ours – and I look for it and notice it constantly.

Everywhere I go here, I ask if people know about our Roxbury Puddingstone. Very often they do not. One mom exclaimed, “Oh! That’s why a Massachusetts monument I saw in Washington looks like that! I thought they were being cheap!” Yes, our State Rock looks like poured concrete full of builder’s detritus.

Back in the day, Boston proper was a small peninsula jutting into the harbor. The large lump inland was Roxbury and, this huge region south of the peninsula, is where this conglomerate stone is found. It is also known as the Church Stone, since at least thirty-five nineteenth century Boston churches were built from Roxbury Puddingstone.

The Museum of Science in Boston boasts a marvellous Rock Walk, a Geological Hall of Fame. There you will find samples from such superstars as The Rock of Gibraltar and the Giant’s Causeway – such highs and lows as the peak of Denali and the depths of Death Valley, even a petrified tree from Arizona. As the local favorite, dear old Puddingstone gets a look in too, humble and shy amid such greats.

Perhaps because it is so ugly, the Museum prepared the specimen by cutting off a slice and polishing the cut surface to a beautiful, unnatural shine. It really brings out the unique qualities of the individual rocks in the mix. Actually it is lovely. “But look, kids!” I say to my children, “Look at the ugly side. That’s what it really looks like. Our Puddingstone.”

One Geologist states, “The Roxbury is to geologists what the dropped ‘R’ is to linguists, a sign that you are in Boston, for the Puddingstone only occurs in and around the Hub. And like this linguistic trait, no one knows exactly where these rocks originated.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes in his eighteen-thirties poem, The Dorchester Giant, imagined a fanciful origin for the stone and used to wax lyrical about the joys of it. “It is interesting to see how the same subject presented itself to the poet in different moods,” ponders an editor at Eldritch Press. “There is a passage in ‘The Professer at the Breakfast-Table’ which begins, ‘I wonder whether the boys who live in Roxbury and Dorchester are ever moved to tears or filled with silent awe as they look upon the rocks and fragments of ‘Puddingstone’ abounding in those localities.’ Then follows a half page of eloquent speculation on the Puddingstone.”

Creative Edwardian house builders perched mansions on precipices of the stuff rather than battle reality. Since driving kids past these mansions occupies far more of my time than writing this blog, I look and notice the Puddingstone and enjoy the journey far more. I scan sideways for the great, thrusting outcrops of the gray, bulbous mess, and smile lovingly at the knowledge that Oliver Wendell Holmes was just as filled with wonder.


Maureen Ni Fiann wrote a blog about the Herne Hill People’s Piano and now she has made this film


The Muslim Museum Of Australia

I take the number 86 tram to the end of the line and then walk through a creek for about forty minutes. I sigh with relief when I see a mosque, enter and ask the warder, “Can you direct me to the Islamic Museum of Australia?” The warder looks blank. He knows nothing about any museum so I hail a taxi. I fall lucky. The cab driver is a Lebanese Muslim who has taken his children to this new museum that recently opened in February 2014. “It’s a Turkish mosque,” he says as if that explains the ignorance of the warder.

I enter into a hall way filled with light filtered through a frieze of stars.  I pass quickly through the sections on Islamic way of life although stop to read an illuminating interpretation of ‘jihad’ and to listen to young enlightened Muslim women. In the next gallery, I stop to read about the Islamic take on the Dark Ages. It is the Golden Age of Islamic science, engineering, literature, art, architecture and navigation communicated through an up-beat, child-friendly film. The text too is engaging. I learn about a Muslim who opened vapour baths on Brighton seafront in 1759 and was appointed Shampooing Surgeon to King George IV and William IV.

Passing through the contemporary art gallery, I am stopped in my tracks by an upright surfing board decorated with Islamic design – even more startling than the Aboriginal kippah. It is the history of Muslims in Australia that captures me.

As early as the seventeenth century, Muslim fisherman came from Indonesia to Australia’s shores. They sailed across the ocean, fifty boats at a time, to fish for sea slugs, considered a delicacy by the Chinese. That is until their visits were banned in 1907. Then came the camel-handlers from Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Two thousand came between 1870 and 1920 to drive twenty thousand camels. The animals were ideal for exploring into the interior, and transporting material for constructing roads. Unable to bring over their wives and children the handlers left in the 1940s when camels were no longer needed. That is except for those who had married Indigenous or European women.

On the way back to the city, I pick up a newspaper and read about the siege in Sydney – a radical Muslim or a deranged individual? It was a timely reminder of the importance of such a museum.

HOW TO WRITE A BLOG THAT PEOPLE WILL WANT TO READ, 5 Fournier St, Spitalfields, 7th & 8th February

Spend a weekend in an eighteenth century weaver’s house in Spitalfields and learn how to write a blog with The Gentle Author.

This course will examine the essential questions which need to be addressed if you wish to write a blog that people will want to read.

“Like those writers in fourteenth century Florence who discovered the sonnet but did not quite know what to do with it, we are presented with the new literary medium of the blog – which has quickly become omnipresent, with many millions writing online. For my own part, I respect this nascent literary form by seeking to explore its own unique qualities and potential.” – The Gentle Author


1. How to find a voice – When you write, who are you writing to and what is your relationship with the reader?
2. How to find a subject – Why is it necessary to write and what do you have to tell?
3. How to find the form – What is the ideal manifestation of your material and how can a good structure give you momentum?
4. The relationship of pictures and words – Which comes first, the pictures or the words? Creating a dynamic relationship between your text and images.
5. How to write a pen portrait – Drawing on The Gentle Author’s experience, different strategies in transforming a conversation into an effective written evocation of a personality.
6. What a blog can do – A consideration of how telling stories on the internet can affect the temporal world.


The course will be held at 5 Fournier St, Spitalfields on 7th & 8th February from 10am -5pm on Saturday and 11am-5pm on Sunday. Lunch catered by Leila’s Cafe and tea, coffee and cakes by the Townhouse.

Email to book a place on the course.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. January 4, 2015

    Since you last featured Bug Woman I have followed her wonderful blog and now more to discover!

  2. January 5, 2015

    Is the course going to be available via webinar ? Than you.

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