Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


Stats, Beautiful Stats

This is my 600th post.

At the time of writing, Charlotte’s Web has had 423,822 hits.

Today, most of my visitors came from the USA (45) and the fewest from Egypt (2).

Top post is still the ever-lasting 10 Things I Find Weird about Germany with 34,970 views. If I one day sell this many books, I will be a happy writer.

Second most popular post is the good twin 10 Things I Love about Germany, with 19,613 views. This many books would also be great.

Top search is for Charlotte’s Web with 4,155 hits.

The second highest search is I love Germany with 2,817 hits.

So let’s hope I’ll still be blogging when I hit 1,200 posts. At least by then, I should have sold one or two books.

Thanks to those of you who are still with me, despite the sporadic service. You deserve a bit of this:

With thanks to darwinbell (red balloons), Gregloby (traffic lights), ZeroOne (Manhattan), Pedrosimoes7 (bare feet), AdamBindslev (coffee and cake), Luc Viatour (spider web), Steys (Deutschland) and Timailius (champagne).


10 Blog Things that Drive Me Mad

I’ve been blogging for over six years now, and I have written nearly 600 posts of my own and read thousands more. I no longer have the patience, or the time (writing novels, full-time job, not to mention tending the ever-growing humans), that I used to have to scroll through new blogs and try find like-minded people to befriend. I tend to stick with my old friends, those who have lasted the blogging journey alongside me, or occasionally follow a new stand-out blog, or that of someone who loyally visits and comments here.

So in my years of reading, writing and trawling, I have developed a blogging radar that helps me discern within seconds if this is a blog I want to follow – or run from.

Here are ten signals that send me screaming into the hills:

1. Any blog called ‘Rants’ or ‘Musings’ or ‘Thoughts’. Especially bad if combined with ‘Random’. This is now done to death and unoriginal. I am not interested in your randomness, nor your musings. I want you to be specific and interesting. Specifically interesting, if possible.

2. Blogs that play music. Don’t do this! I don’t want to know what your taste in music is, unless you have written a brilliant post about it. If you assault my eardrums, I will skip away at high speed and not hit the follow button.

3. No updates in the last six months. This is a dead blog and its corpse must be removed from sight. In the public interest, please do so.

4. Blatant self-promotion. There is nothing wrong, if you are a published author, of having links on your blog to somewhere where readers can buy your book. The end-goal of any writer’s blog is to ship product. However, I also want to know what kind of a person you are, and I will find that in your words not in big shiny product placement.

5. Messy design. Too many flashy, jumpy things. Header photos that are so large I have to scroll down to read the words. Too many boxes and intersecting lines. Once again, writers and readers are out in the blogosphere for the words. These are the things that we like and we like them when they are joined together in clever ways. Don’t let your design fight your words, and win.

6. Cutesy. It’s starting to pall. I’ve done the chocolate and the shoes and the cupcakes references myself and it’s okay in small doses, but twee is over, done to death by a million bloggers, skewered by its own pink polka-dottedness. Be yourself, don’t be Cath Kidston.

7. Being boring. Just not allowed. If you have to write about the laundry or your head cold or that strange rash on your ankle, then at least do it with flair.

8. Making excuses. If you need a blog break, declare it and own it. However, blog posts that begin ‘I’m sorry I’ve been away for a long time, but …’ are dull and unacceptable.

9. Bad grammar. Sorry, but if you are a writer and your blog is peppered with grammar errors, I will sigh and turn away. As writers we must stand up for the apostrophe and defend it to it’s bitter end.*

10. Posts that start “10 Tips for [Fill the Gap]”. We all know these are pimping for search engines. Don’t do it.**

What makes you follow a blog? What makes you run screaming?

* See what I did there? If you did, then I will follow your blog. If you are scratching your head, then sorry, our blogs will never find conjugal harmony in the link-love paradise that is my Google Reader.

**I’m lying. Do it do it. If you are an author with a book to sell, or a blogger trying to build a platform, you need to work that SEO.


The State of the Blog

Do you remember the days when blogging was new and you’d breathlessly check your stats every half an hour to see if they’d crept up to 22 views? Or that shaky feeling when you pressed “publish” and sent your thoughts out into the world? Or the tingling joy when your new post got its first comment?


Maybe it was just me, then.

I miss the days when blogging was the most exciting thing I’d ever done, when it seemed like a radical act. I miss the effort I used to put into posts, the conversations they would start and the thrill of finding a new blogger whose ideas seemed to resonate with mine. Blogging was a form of connection that my life on an English island in the middle of Germany sometimes lacked.

My goal for my blog was to write posts of which I could be proud. My rules were:

1. Never blog about the laundry

2. Never moan about being sick

3. Don’t apologise for not posting

In other words, I didn’t want to be boring. A brief ruffle through some old posts shows that I wasn’t. Here are links to a couple of posts that, while they didn’t get the most hits, I most enjoyed writing and putting out into the world:

An anecdote about someone taking a phone-call during a yoga class: Zen and the Art of Switching off Your Phone

My guide to bores: People Who Explain too Much

Something on post-wedding depression: Bridezilla, moi?

My early incarnation was as a bit of a Mommyblogger, but I came to the decision that using my children as blog fodder before they were old enough to read what I was writing about them and tell me to shut up was a bit unfair. So I stopped mining that rich vein. Instead, I got rather a lot of leverage out of teasing the Germans.

I tried my hand at writing book reviews, but I found the effort I put into writing them well difficult to sustain. Instead, I wrote reading round-ups, which were a bit of a cop-out.

One thing this blog has done well has been to document my progress in writing a novel, from finishing the first draft to snagging an agent.

In numbers, this is where Charlotte’s Web stands today:

350, 768 views

576 views on its busiest day

565 posts


Since we’re auditing, here are my top commenters: LitloveDoctor DiDad Who WritesLilian Nattel and Kit. Thanks for your loyalty – I hope I’ve been as frequent a visitor to your blogs as you have been to mine.

And the post that get the most hits – 17,776 as we speak – is still this one: 10 Things I Find Weird About Germany. If you have five minutes to spare, go and take a look at the comments. I have archived a couple of adorable little trolls there, a small museum to the eccentrics of the Internet.

So, five-and-a-half years into blogging, I no longer get the tight-throated thrill of a new post. However, I have maintained friendships, made new ones and even met some lovely people who started as commenters here and are now real-life friends. I still enjoy crafting a good post, when I have the time, the energy and inspiration. The question is, where to now?

Obviously, I hope to one day make an exciting announcement about Balthasar’s Gift right here, but having seen so many writers’ blogs turn into overt and crass marketing tools, I want to avoid that. My question is, what would you like to see from Charlotte’s Web – more of the same, a bold new direction, the usual mix? Please let me know in the comments. And, if you don’t want to talk about me (I can cope), then let me know how your blogging journey has gone. How far down the line is your blog? How have you coped when your blogging energy flags?

I would love to feel the blogging thrill again. Over to you for ideas.


When I Was 35

In 2007, I wrote a blog post called When I Was 25. I had forgotten all about it, until the lovely Amanda visited and left this comment:

I’m so happy I came across this, now several years after you wrote it. I turned 25 eight days ago and I’m kind of doing research on the disenchantment and restlessness one feels around this age. I’ve certainly gained some insight in a different way than I expected from your post as well as all the comments.

I reread the post and realised that making an effort to remember a time long ago brings its own lessons, ones that are worth contemplating. It is now seven years since I turned 35 and since I believe in the seven-year cycle and the spirit of learning more, I give you When I was 35:

When I was 35, I thought my family was complete with two darling little girls. Then I fell pregnant again and our son was born. I learnt that being a parent of three children is significantly different from being the parent of two. A wise friend said, ‘Embrace the chaos,’ and once I did, life became much easier. But much more than that, my heart just expanded to include him and what a feeling that is.

When I was 35, I had never heard of blogging. Now I have a whole alternative, Internet-fuelled life and I love it. I have even met some people off the Internet and came home intact.

When I was 35, the idea of writing a book, finishing it, rewriting it multiple times, joining an online writing community, getting beta readers,  submitting to and signing with a literary agent was only a dream. I made it reality.

When I was 35, I grew tired of buying expensive (though delicious) cakes at the  bakery and taught myself to bake. This happened.

When I was 35, I thought that donning sports shoes and propelling my body in a forward motion was closer to hell than I thought it was ever necessary to go. As an asthmatic kid and an adult with couch-potato tendencies, jogging never entered my personal vocabulary. This year, I’m running in the MLP Marathon relay event.

When I was 35, I was still buried deep in the intense phase of parenting: nappies, bad nights, tantrums. Now that my three spend large chunks of the day in other places being taken care of and taught by others, I have had the luxury to do things like write, run and earn money.

When I was 35, I had never had a migraine. Now, I have worked out my cure: no alcohol for two weeks of the month. It’s radical, but it works.

When I was 35, I had just moved to the Burg from Surrey, England, and was suffering culture shock. I settled down, made lovely friends and a home for my family. The Burg grew too small, so for a while, I considered Berlin, the German city that holds my heart and where I still hope to live one day. Now I live in Heidelberg and love my new life.

When I was 35, I still highlighted my hair blonde. Then I went grey for Obama and it turns out I was leading a major trend. Just call me a rock ‘n roll fairy princess.

When I was 35, I had been married for 10 years and believed that I was in it for the duration. I still do *waves to darling*.

When I was 35, I had no idea what my future held. I trusted that things would work out, that I would be gainfully employed, that my family would be happy and well. Since then I have read hundreds of books, held dozens of dinner-parties, cooked hundreds of meals, written hundreds of thousands of words, written dozens of articles, run a few dozen kilometres, met my girlfriends for book club dozens of times. On the bad days, I have sighed and taken stock and picked myself up and carried on. While I now have an inkling of what my future may hold, I still cannot say for sure that it will turn out the way I have it in my mind. But I won’t stop hoping. Or cooking, baking, reading, wiping faces, loving, writing words, occasionally running, dreaming, sighing and imagining a world where my family is happy and well.

What was life like for you when you were 35?


Big Bad Bloggers’ Competition – The Poll

I disappeared there, under the weight of chocolate and some great new books. Last night I finished The Loss Adjustor by Aifric Campbell and today I’m having Eleanor Catten’s The Rehearsal along with my Easter eggs. Reviews to follow, as promised in my blog relaunch. There’ll be no more lazy blogging around here.

I’ve selected my top five responses to the Big Bad Bloggers’ Competition and now you get to choose the winner, who will be the recipient of either a box of German Easter goodness, or a book. The respondees had to define their blogs in six words.

Here they are. You pick:

And let no-one say it’s not democratic around here.


Big Bad Bloggers Competition

Because who wants to be small and good?

Something is afoot here at Charlotte’s Web. The times they are a’ changin’, to quote Bob who let me down with the world’s most boring live concert a couple of years ago. But things aren’t boring here. We are shaking, we are moving, we are thinking about ways to bring the playfulness and the fun back into blogging. And we are going to stop talking about ourselves in the plural right now.

I find there’s nothing better than a competition, and a creative one at that, to getting the blogging juices flowing and bring some life back.

Here are the rules, as invented and dictated by me:

1. Cast your eye over my newly-freshened blogroll and see if your name is there.

2. If it is, you are automatically entered into the competition. If not, and we are friends and have been sharing comments for years, months or even just weeks, then please comment below and request that I add you to the blogroll. New readers are also welcome to join in.

3. Then what you have to do, and this is the creative bit, is define your blog in six words. Think of it as the six-word memoir, but for blogs. For example, I might describe Charlotte’s Web as Perspicacious Spider Spins Words into Tales. Or something. I worked on that for five seconds and it shows.

4. Post your entry in the comments.

5. At the end of the month, I will choose the top ten six-word descriptions. Then I will choose the top three. Then I will choose a winner and two runners-up, all of whom will receive unspecified but seasonal prizes from some of Germany’s top chocolatiers. Or maybe a book. I haven’t decided yet.

6. The winner and the two runners-up will be announced in April, to plaudits from their blogging friends.

Go to it, readers and writers. Define yourself and help me put the fun back into blogging.


Dani Noir

One of the joys of blogging is being able to connect with writers all over the world, right here from The Dorf, Germany. One writer whom I “met” early in my blogging days was New Yorker Nova Ren Suma, who blogs at Distraction No. 99. Nova has inspired me and many others with her dedication to writing. She is a writer with every core of her being; she lives and breathes it. (Occasionally, she breaks from writing to eat cake, which is another reason to love her.)

Having ghosted a series of tween and YA novels, Nova decided to try her hand at writing for younger readers. It was clearly the right decision: her debut Dani Noir was published by Simon and Schuster’s Aladdin imprint in October this year. Within a month, it was on Amazon’s list of Top 10 Books for 2009: Middle Readers.

I’ve read Dani Noir and I loved it. It’s witty, pacey and delightful. If you are looking for a present for a girl this Christmas in the nine to 14-year-old range, Dani Noir might be just the thing. Be warned though: you might have to start renting Rita Hayworth movies!

Here’s a link to the Dani Noir site, and to my recent interview with Nova, published today on Buzzine.


Scenes from a Diary

I came across my diary from July 1999, when I was expecting my first child. Never mind gestating a baby, I think I was a blogger waiting to be born:

“Waiting in the Tesco’s car park for Thomas to do the groceries. I went in with him, but after a couple of minutes of retching, gave up and on his suggestion came and sat outside. I am having much better days generally, but now and then am assailed by smells, combined with not having enough food in my stomach, and start to feel grim. The answer is constant eating (grazing).”

“Thomas must be buying the whole shop: he’s still in there! I wonder what he’s getting for supper. Food is a major focus at the moment: how does it look, how does it smell, do I feel like it, what do I feel like, I felt like that yesterday but don’t today. My main desire is for very bland nursery-style food, so things like mashed potatoes rank really high.”

“STILL no sign of Thomas. Could he be lost among the dairy products? He’s bought a lot of cheese lately, so maybe we’re getting some more. LONG PAUSE. There he is, looking dapper in his blue suit.”

“Right now, I’m making my second attempt to read Salman Rushdie’s “The Ground Beneath her Feet”, which I am finding intensely irritating. He is so intent on being clever. It is very tedious: laboured classical and literary references dropped in like bricks to spoil the narrative. I keep wanting to throw it across the room.”

“I have lost interest in work completely. While I am happy to earn money (furniture for the new home, minature Baby Gap items), I no longer find what I am doing particularly interesting or exciting. Baby Otter, you have taken over my life. I can’t wait to meet you, little darling. We are so excited that you have chosen to share our lives. Bless you, our little angel.”

Children, food, books. Not much has changed in ten years.


Around the World in 80 Clicks

Here’s a cool blog experiment. Catherine of Her Bad Mother teamed up with her friend David to see if it is possible to traverse the world finding mothers who blog in 80 clicks. Their other aim was to find out if mothers raising children in different places have different perspectives. Kit, who was tagged by Poppy Fields, tagged me. I have to list five things I enjoy about motherhood, and then link to five other mothers who blog, preferably in far-flung lands.

Five Things I Enjoy About Motherhood:

1. The on-demand kiss and cuddle service that my kids provide.

2. Learning to bake. The days of the bought-in birthday cake are gone. The birthday cakes here don’t look as perfect but they taste damn good. And even better, Lily has now learnt to bake, so I don’t have to.

3. Fulsome compliments. Daisy: “Mummy you are the best!”. Lily: “I love you even more than cheese.” Ollie: “Mummy is Fabian’s mummy as beautiful as you?”

4. The feeling that I am building the foundations for three friendships with three fabulous grown-ups. The time that we spend together is so much fun and is only going to get better. I mean they already read (some of them), are not scared of a hike, can be taken to restaurants, converse reasonably at mealtimes, do yoga, like safaris, enjoy a bike ride, happily hang out in bookshops, have great senses of humour and enjoy travelling. In sixteen years time, we’ll be doing all that, plus having a glass of wine together. I look forward to it!

5. The things I have learnt about myself: that I am not as patient as I once fondly imagined, that I can handle only a certain amount of chaos before I crack, that I really, really like good manners, that almost anything goes as long as it is said in a pleasant voice, that I love reading aloud but am bored to tears by Lego, that I don’t mind wearing unironed clothes, that I can tune out fighting but not whining, that I change personality when I don’t get enough sleep, that I actively worry about fruit and veg intake, and that I plan never to sing another nursery rhyme until I am a grandmother.

And now I tag Helen (Australia), Lizzy (Pakistan), Lynn (New Zealand), Lady Fi (Sweden) and Rae (India). If you comment on the original post, you’ll be included in the round-up here.


I’d Like to Thank My Mother

It’s award season here at Charlotte’s Web. While I’d like to say I’ve been styled and primped to within an inch of my life, I am sitting here in my pyjamas wrapped in a big fleece blankie. But that’s the cool thing about blogging – you can accept awards from the sofa, without having to go much further than the fridge for the next snack.

My first award is from the ever-amusing Ms Honeypiehorse, who I’m dying to meet since I believe she is just like me, only taller, blonder and funnier. She’s given me the lemonade award for great attitude, which I’m loving since I do try to be just a little bit perky. Here it is:

lemonadeIsn’t it cute?

And I would like to thank my mother, since I have learned it all from her, all the glass half-full, stay away from toxic people, you can do anything you put your mind to, it’s all about the journey stuff that keeps me going. She has been a firm influence in my life and I am so pleased to count her as one of my favourite people in the whole world. Toni, I raise my glass of freshly-pressed lemonade to you.

I get to pass the award on. Excuse me while I go and have a browse in my feedreader.

I’m back! Still wearing the blankie, though.

1. The first award goes to Diana, with her beautiful smile, and completely enviable haircut. Diana’s attitude through recent sorrow – and indeed throughout her long blogging career – is nothing short of remarkable. Pour yourself a glass of lemonade, Ms Martinis for Two. I know you will receive this award more appropriately dressed than me.

2. The next glass of lemonade is for Rae of Journey Mama, who recently relocated to Goa, India with her superstar husband and three small children (a fourth joined them shortly afterwards). Rae faces life with the most incredible attitude, and I have been loving her gratitude posts, which remind me daily to be grateful for what I have.

3. Ms Musings from the Sofa is my kind of girl, all about the books and the shoes. While she lives in the US, she has retained her dark British humour which peppers all her musings. I just know that you’ll drink your glass of lemonade while wearing vertiginous high heels, Ms M, and probably also flicking through an erudite tome.

4. Lia of the Yum Yum Cafe was my first BTRL (Blog to Real Life) friend. I love her attitude, which is thoughtful, engaging and resilient. Lia is an aficionado of European cafe society, and apart from teaching me how to appreciate a great cup of tea, she has also taught me to cherish my writing time and space.

5. P of Life is Just One Big Adventure is a RLTB (Real Life to Blog) friend. She is new to blogging, and I am sending her this long tall glass of lemonade as a welcome to the blogosphere. You have fabulous attitude, dear P, and it shines through in your life and in your blog. I am so glad you are my friend!

Folks, if you can bear it, the love-fest ain’t over yet, for the lovely Kit – who I am about to meet in Cape Town for the first time ever – also sent me an award. This one is for being fabulous! My blankie and I accept the award graciously, for fabulosity is one of our aims. The award looks like this:


Before I pass it on to fabulous others, I have to list my five fabulous addictions. (A list! Hooray!) Here goes:

1. Dresses. For someone who mostly wears jeans and lives in a country where the sun shines for about two months of the year, I own a silly amount of dresses. When it comes to dresses, I am weak-willed. I cannot resist a good one. One day I have will do a dress post so that you can see just how addicted I am.

2. Foolish shoes. I have had a lifetime’s love for foolish shoes – pointy, high-heeled ones that give me blisters and make me walk like a donkey. Ditto the dress post for the shoe post. I live in my Chucks, but gosh do I love those heels.

3. Low-carb eating. Am a convert. Eating, feeling full and Not Having Any Sugar Cravings For the First Time in My Life. I don’t need to say any more.

4. Champagne, sparkling wine, Sekt – really any form of wine with bubbles – preferably drunk at breakfast-time. Lends the day a certain je ne sais quoi.

5. Books! I might not be eating sugar, but I am always hungry for more books.

On that note, I think I will deliver the Fabulous Award to five book-bloggers. Please go on to share the award with others. Here goes:

1. Pete of the Couch Trip. Like me, Pete throws some life into his book blogging. He hails from my favourite African city and never fails to be intelligent and interesting, especially in his field, psychology. I believe that boys can be fabulous too, and Pete, you certainly are.

2. Emily, who claims not to be a book blogger but so is. You are fabulous in every way!

3. One of the blogosphere’s most dedicated book bloggers is the fabulous Litlove. Every post is a seminar, radiant with intelligence and generosity of spirit.

4. Helen of A was Alarmed is completely fabulous, in her writing about writing, books and the escapades of her small son.

5. And the final nominee of this evening is BlogLily, whose blog shines with fabulosity.

Well, that’s a wrap then. The blankie is mewling and wants to be put to bed, and I really, really should stop drinking champagne. These after-parties can get quite out of hand.