Sunday, 6 October 2013


The arrival of a new grandchild has held up my writing progress over the last week in the nicest of ways. While the distance between us all is considerable, the two-hour train journey between Bournemouth and Brighton enables me to focus on my laptop screen.

Last month’s Writing Magazine also made the journey but, unfortunately, I did not dip into it. Imagine my horror then, on my return, to see the next edition sitting in a pile of post. I will have to start speed reading if I am to catch up. Tony Buzan’s book on Speed Reading is something I recommend to dyslexic students. Of course reading a book about ‘how to read’ is not easy but a tutor can dispense key points from this book and encourage practice such as moving a pen along the line ahead of the eyes as a means to ‘keep going’. Speeding up then happens quite naturally.

Skimming and scanning for essential points is another skill that benefits dyslexic students. Again running a pencil or other pointer down the page to locate key words is an effective method. Scanning reading material ahead of a more serious study read is something that dyslexic students have often not been encouraged to try. Dyslexic students frequently say they think ‘other students’ read word for word from beginning to end and that they take everything in without any re-reading. This is not true. Even non-dyslexics need to revisit parts of their reading material after the first read. Even they will find that scanning for keywords as a precursor to the actual read enables them to take in the material more quickly on the second read.

Dylexic students and pupils need to practise the following if they are to get the best out of their books and study materials.

1                 Look at the Contents page. Find the relevant chapter.

2                 Have a reason for reading – a question to answer. Reading for an assignment is an excellent reason. All other parts can be read later.

3                 Look at the summary at the end of the chapter before reading to give your brain a ‘schema’ on to which the information gleaned on the second reading will attach itself.

4                 Remember learning is about making new connections in the brain. The activity in 3 will pave the way.

5                 Look at the first sentence in each paragraph and highlight it. This is the topic sentence and, again, gives you a preview of what you are about to read in the paragraph.

6                 Use the margins to scribble notes. Do not be afraid to ‘mess up’ your handouts and textbooks. Not on library books of course!


Now back to Writing Magazine. The front cover tells me about the articles. The fast track to improve your writing definitely appeals as I am short of time on my nearly-completed novel. 10 projects to inspire you this month covers an introduction to NaNoWriMo and if you are a writer and don’t know what this is then google it and get involved. There is an article by Melvyn Bragg about completing your novel – a definite must for me at this point in time.

But what interests me most is an article on How to Fight Writers’ Bottom. Sitting for long periods is an occupational hazard. I intersperse my writing spurts with a quick walk to the shops or along the sea front. Strolling will not lift the pounds. One needs to put in some effort. The fresh air and some human interaction means that I return refreshed to attack whatever part of my WIP (Work in Progress) I am working on.

I have taken Writing Magazine for about eighteen months and it certainly makes my day when it lands on my doormat. It reminds me of why I get up in the morning, puts me in touch with ideas and success stories of other writers and provides numerous tips and valuable information.

Now I just need to find the time to read it!


In later posts I will deal with how parents can help their children with reading and writing about study skills that dyslexic students in Higher Education need to develop early on in their course.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012


This finance update for those going to university comes to you courtesy of Martin Lewis on his website

Need-to-knows. No first-timers need pay fees upfront. The Student Loan Company pays and gives cash for living money. Yet it ain't like a normal debt.

Read Martin's full 20+ Student Finance Mythbusters for 2012 and prospective 2013 starters including...

1) After uni, you will repay 9% of any income above £21,000/yr. Earn less, repay nowt.
2) The loan wipes after 30 yrs. Many on low or mid incomes won't have fully repaid by then. So, while you can pay fees upfront, for many it risks throwing £10,000s away.
3) The oft-quoted "£50,000 student debt" figure is mostly irrelevant. What really counts is the cost to you, which depends primarily on earnings. Use the updated to see your real cost over 30 years.
  • Free booklets and video guides. Free booklets for 6th formers | part-timers | teachers. Video guides: Martin's 30 min briefing
  • You can sign up for Martin's weekly e mail by going to his website on the link at the top of this page.

    Monday, 14 May 2012

    A Sense of an Ending Review

    The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes has been on my ‘to read’ list ever since I saw that Barnes had at last won the Man Booker prize in 2011 after many years of being nominated and shortlisted.  I already had on my bookshelf his ‘Arthur and George’ which I had started reading although the bookmark one fifth of the way in tells me that this one lost out to other books in the competition to sustain my interest.  No such problem with The Sense .... with its mere 150 pages reminiscent of the Great Gatsby.  Some books just do not need to be longer and The Sense .... is definitely one of those.  The story is well paced and I read it in two sittings.   The plot evolves through the nostalgic meanderings of one Tony Webster as he recalls his schooldays with three friends, only one of which will be referred to later in the story.  ‘This is not part of this story’ is a phrase used often to indicate that some recalled event, feeling or conversation has no later relevance in the story that is unfolding before our eyes.  As the book is about memory and seen only from one perspective, we would be foolish to think we can believe everything we read and in this respect Tony Webster is an unreliable narrator.

    In the first part of the book he makes brief reference to writing a letter to his friend – a brilliant academic with a promising start at Cambridge university.  The letter is prompted following the discovery that Adrian and Tony’s ex-girlfriend are now reported to be ‘an item’.  His recap of the letter is short with some detrimental reference to Veronica.  In part two he is presented with the actual letter which we now see is a lengthy piece of vitriolic sentiment written from the heart – a broken and revengeful heart.  He sees it for what it is - a rant written in the heat of the moment and he is suitably humbled and eventually remorseful of his descent into the invective with such a diatribe.   But the discovery of the letter and his increasing curiosity about his ex-girlfriend lead him down some unexpected paths and no-one is more surprised than Tony to discover on the last two pages what the letter may have triggered all those years ago.  No-one, that is ... than the reader.

    Such is the puzzling ending of this book – and note the title involves both the word ‘sense’ and ‘ending’ that great debates now rage on various literary blogs as to what might have really happened earlier in the narrator’s life and how the story takes the final twist.  Some reviewers suggest a better ending than the one we have just read.  One suggests the title should be No sense in the Ending and with that I do concur as we are never privy to the full truth of what happened on a crucial weekend many years past.

    It is impossible here to give away the story, the plotline and the eventual outcome for the characters as there are so many questions unanswered and the book has left me wondering whether that was the author’s aim ie to stimulate the readers’ and leave them with an unsatisfactory ending upon which they can lay their own ideas.

    The Sense of an Ending is beautifully written and deserves all the accolades it has received and I wouldn’t have missed reading it.

    I suggest that you read the book yourself and then, and only then, consult the debate on

    Sunday, 13 May 2012

    Contribution to Your Royal Wedding Anthology

    This is my contribution to an anthology competition which was held last year to coincide with the Royal Wedding.  Louise Gibney, a prolific writer and enthusiast, arranged for the booklet to be printed and it is available on ebay - just search Royal Wedding Anthology.  It is £5 plus 92p postage and half the receipts go to UNICEF.
    I am hoping that by showcasing my own entry, sales of the complete anthology will increase.
    I had fun writing this so I do hope you enjoy it too.
    Di Castle, writer

    The Royal Wedding 29th April 2011

    Well it was just the day we had all been looking forward to and we were not disappointed, were we?
    First there was the early morning cup of tea drunk in leisurely fashion in front of our bedroom television set on this bonus bank holiday to celebrate the first Royal Wedding for thirty years.

    Most of us will remember the joy and anticipation of that other Royal Wedding on a sunny July day in 1981, especially those who had young children for whom the parents were arranging a street party.  For us, there had been a swathe of meetings with mothers organising food and mini meetings of Dads organising tables and music broadcasts.  That year there were no flat screen televisions on which to broadcast the pomp and ceremony of a London State event, only our small sets around which we sat all morning while preparing food, games and activities.

     Another mother and I spent most of that morning huddled in a corner disappearing frequently into my garage to organise the script and props for the amusement we had planned for the children.  No magician or kids’ entertainer had been booked; it was the days of simple birthday parties and under-stated follow on activities.  Party teas in those days comprised egg or paste sandwiches and jelly in a cardboard dish with a dollop of ice cream.  We had hats, flags and party dresses.  In the mayhem that was the television coverage of Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding and party preparation,  our children failed to miss their scooter and bouncy jump ball, hooters and bicycle bells which we had commandeered for our raucous entrance with which we intended to bring the party to a sudden halt.

     My acting partner was well versed in the vagaries of putting on entertainment having honed her skills in an infant classroom.  I did as I was told, acting as her stooge and we gave a good rendition of two lost clowns who were late for the wedding and required directions from the assembled children.  We were slightly deaf too, demanding constant repeats of the shrieks of “It’s finished” and “You’ve missed it”.  Some of the brightest sparks attempted to give us an approximate route out of Middlesex if we followed the road ‘that way’ and went up to the A40.  Much was inaudible above my fellow actor’s fury as she scolded me for spending too much time on my hair, whacking me with a national jack flag and above my bawling protests that I was wearing my best dress – well, a bright orange clown outfit of bloomers and mop hat.
    Eventually, we were exposed by one or two of our own offspring who had no conscience about spoiling the display for the younger less observant children.  After all, the jelly and ice cream was more enticing than watching a couple of mothers make fools of themselves.  We had, with foresight, arranged a quick getaway in an open top sports car belonging to a young neighbour who we had sworn to secrecy. So with our jokes now falling on deaf ears, we beat a hasty retreat.  It was our ride in the sports car which my children remembered, their envy a source of conversation for days.

     This Royal Wedding was spent more quietly due to the effects of ageing and the fact that our present road is unsuitable for street parties.  But there were other differences.  How television has changed; this time there were countless venues where we could have viewed the big event on a large screen.  But our own 32 inch screen gave us perfect visions of this magnificent spectacle.  The shrinking violet that was Diana 1981 had made way for a confident mature young woman, fully aware of what lies ahead.  The frilly, flouncy and over-gathered dress of 1981 was replaced by a fitted, beautifully shaped and unfussy creation which said much about the wearer.
    And the words on all mothers’ lips were no doubt, how proud Princess Diana would have been of her eldest son and how much she would have loved to be there.

    Friday, 13 April 2012

    Recommendations for a Primary Pupil with Dyslexia Indicators

    Some of you may have read about Callum and the difficulties he was facing in school and at home.   Callum struggles with spelling and writing and was beginning to demonstrate low self esteem.

    An initial assessment showed that his reading is in the average range but his spelling ability is much lower, in fact only just inside the average range. 

    I hope the following recommendations from his report are helpful to other parents whose children have similar difficulties.


    Callum would benefit from some extra help with spelling and I have already given his mother some ideas, books and material to use.

    Spelling vocabulary should be developed from what is known and visual strategies such as Look/Say/Cover/Write/Check for irregular words should be taught so that Callum may become an independent speller.  Learning spellings with common patterns is also useful, as a larger spelling vocabulary can be developed.  These spellings should be reviewed frequently by reading them over and practising a few from each pattern.

    Writing on a computer and using the Spell-check also helps develop spelling ability. Learning to touch type with a computer keyboarding program such as TYPEFASTER or the BBC Dance Mat is a skill which will be invaluable in the future as his learning load increases and the spellings become more complex.  If word processing is encouraged this enhances presentation and subsequently self-esteem.  Use of the spell-check can have a ‘natural’ improvement effect on spelling.  One successful strategy used by specialist tutors is for the child to ‘write their own book’.  They use known spellings but are free to experiment as they are on a computer and the composition can be changed.  The pages can be built up from his spelling and sentence practice with some content being suggested to provide a challenging word in occasional sentences.  Callum will feel immediate success if he can do this at home and his self esteem will be boosted.

    For his self-esteem it would help if some of his typed written work could be displayed so that he can demonstrate his original ideas to his peers.  This would heighten his self esteem and make learning fun.  Using a computer is motivating and can be used in conjunction with a handwriting programme.  Callum could also practise his spellings on the computer and change the font colour on the common pattern string.  Plain fonts such as Arial and Courier are best for children who have difficulty with spelling.

    Callum should be encouraged to ‘clap syllables’ of multi-syllabic words as this is a useful strategy for more complex vocabulary.  With such strategies Callum will be able to demonstrate his very good verbal ability.

    Some children benefit from supplements particularly the Omega 3 and Omega 6.  A useful website is

    Callum is exhibiting behaviours typical of children with Specific Learning Difficulties (Dyslexia) and multi-sensory teaching and appropriate support will ensure that he does not fall behind as he moves on through junior school and makes the transition to secondary school.

    Further assessment is advised to establish Callum’s preferred learning style and his full range of abilities.  I have every confidence that the school will monitor his progress and provide the support that he needs.

    A list of useful websites and links to the keyboarding program suggested will be provided later.

    For purposes of confidentiality the name of the pupil has been changed.