Monthly Archives May 2013

An old book: Treasure Island

This copy of TREASURE ISLAND was my father’s. It is from Collins’ ‘Laurel & Gold’ series, measures 16x11cm so fits easily into a pocket, and is bound in a pale green linen. In 1933 my father was nine. It is inscribed in pencil with his name and the date which makes it a second edition; the first was printed May 1931, the second January 1932.  I especially like the poem ‘To the Hesitating Purchaser.’ Perhaps today’s books should feature a similar ode. ‘Treasure Island’ by Robert Louis Stevenson [Alma Classics] And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: TREASURE ISLAND by RL Stevenson http://wp.me/p5gEM4-k9 #oldbooks via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love.

Reading for research… Tracey Emin: My Life in a Column

I bought this book in the gift shop at the Hayward Gallery in London after Emin’s ‘Love is What You Want’ exhibition in 2011. My Life in a Column is a collection of the columns written by artist Tracey Emin for The Independent newspaper over four years. I picked it up because a) I remembered reading some of the original columns and finding them amusing, and b) at that time I was toying with the idea of making a character in my new novel a controversial artist. So who better as a role model then Tracey Emin? The book turned out to be so much more than the controversy linked with Emin by people who don’t know much about her. I found her fascinating, the highs and lows of her creative process were a great inspiration for my character Justine Tree in Connectedness. She writes: “Faced with the daily prospects of failure and self-loathing, a numb chrysalis starts to develop around you, and if you are not careful you wake up one morning to find yourself not awake, but in a semi-comatose state, baked into a hardened shell, breathless and mind-numbing. You have to poke your finger through the hardened
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Categories: On Researching and On Writing.

Book review: Lord John and the Private Matter

If you have read the time-travelling ‘Outlander’ series by Diana Gabaldon, you will be familiar with the character of Lord John Grey. This is a historical detective story starring Lord John in his own right, without Jamie and Claire Fraser. Many Gabaldon fans will bemoan the lack of the Frasers, but Lord John is a quite capable protagonist. Gabaldon is an experienced storyteller and she paints a picture of London in 1757 which the reader trusts as authentic. The plot pushes on as Lord John gets involved in two separate matters which in the beginning I found a little confusing, but which inevitably became neatly entwined. Along the way he encounters an eccentric German, a sweet whore and a dodgy molly house, all of which he deals with in his distinctive charming and intelligent manner. Lord John is certainly worthy of his own standalone series, and can be read independently of the Outlander series. This book is more than just a tale for readers suffering from Fraser-withdrawal syndrome. And it is also much shorter, Gabaldon could never be accused of writing novellas. If you like this, try:- ‘The French Lesson’ by Hallie Rubenhold ‘The Lady of the Rivers’ by Philippa
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Categories: Book Love.

Great opening paragraph 23… ‘The Last Tycoon’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Though I haven’t ever been on the screen I was brought up in pictures. Rudolph Valentino came to my fifth birthday party – or so I was told. I put this down only to indicate that even before the age of reason I was in a position to watch the wheels go round.” ‘The Last Tycoon’ by F Scott Fitzgerald  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier ‘Goldfinger’ by Ian Fleming And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A 1st para which makes me want to read more: THE LAST TYCOON by F Scott Fitzgerald #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-eM via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: Life after Life

It’s a while since I read a book I didn’t want to put down, a book that made me continue reading in bed gone midnight. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is that book. Kate Atkinson manages the macro settings and the micro details with ease, from the petty sibling squabbles at Fox Corner to the camaraderie of the ARP wardens in the Blitz. Before I started reading ‘Life after Life’ I read the phrase ‘Groundhog Day’ a few times in reviews, which belittles the intricate weaving of Ursula Todd’s lives. In the way that Logan Mountstuart’s life runs parallel to the great historical moments of the last century, Ursula’s life stories are book-ended by the approach and aftermath of the First and Second World Wars. Ursula, little bear, is an engaging character we see born and die, again and again through her own personal déjà vu.  I wasn’t sure how this was going to work but once I stopped worrying about it and surrendered myself to Ursula, I was transfixed. This is another work of art, as mesmerising as her first Behind the Scenes at the Museum. It is such an ambitious novel, that I can only guess at
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Categories: Book Love.

If books were food, ‘Sense & Sensibility’ would be…

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen… would be a French macaroon. Both smell sweet, they are pretty, girly, full of sugar and spice and all things nice. S&S is a coming of age story, Marianne is led by the heart, by sensation, by immediacy. I read it at different ages and got completely different things out of it. I admit to being irritated by Marianne when I first read the book as a teenager, I thought her rather silly and vapid. Re-read when I was older and bruised by love, I felt sad for her loss of youthful energy. Her final understanding is that the true nature of love is nothing to do with fleeting romantic gestures and fine words, but everything to do with dedication and constancy and two souls chiming as one as the years go by.   ‘Sense & Sensibility’ by Jane Austen [UK: Vintage Classics] And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Imagine, if books were food: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY by Jane Austen #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-j5 via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love, If books were food... and On Writing.

I agree with… Tom Penn

Tom Penn “When someone picks up a book, they ask first, “why should I care? Why should I read it? Why should I stick with it, when there are so many other things to do and so many other things to read?” A biographer has to get into the mind of the subject, “has to find the subject so compelling you can’t push the subject away… you’re the person who has to bring this person, this subject to the reader – you’re the person who has to live with this subject for years, decades, as long as it takes to write.” [Tom Penn, editorial director, Penguin Books, speaking to a meeting of the NUJ’s London Freelance Branch in February 2013] Tom Penn commissions biographies, but his words apply just as well to fiction. It reminds me of the airport test, which someone told me about years ago. Imagine you are at the airport, looking for a book to read on the plane, and you are faced with a selection of books by unfamiliar authors. Unable to choose a familiar name, you turn to page one and start reading. It’s my job as author to bring the story to life, to draw the
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 22… ‘The Collector’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“When she was home from her boarding-school I used to see her almost every day sometimes, because their house was right opposite the Town Hall Annexe. She and her younger sister used to go in and out a lot, often with young men, which of course I didn’t like. When I had a free moment from the files and ledgers I stood by the window and used to look down over the road over the frosting and sometimes I’d see her. In the evening I marked it in my observations diary, at first with X, and then when I knew her name with M. I saw her several times outside too. I stood right behind her once in a queue at the public library down Crossfield Street. She didn’t look once at me, but I watched the back of her head and her hair in a long pigtail. It was very pale, silky, like burnet cocoons. All in one pigtail coming down almost to her waist, sometimes in front, sometimes at the back. Sometimes she wore it up. Only once, before she came to be my guest here, did I have the privilege to see her with it loose, and
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 21 ‘Freedom’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The news about Walter Berglund wasn’t picked up locally – he and Patty had moved away to Washington two years earlier and meant nothing to St Paul now – but the urban gentry of Ramsey Hill were not so loyal to their city as not to read The New York Times. According to a long and very unflattering story in the Times, Walter had made quite a mess of his professional life out there in the nation’s capital. His old neighbours had some difficulty reconciling the quotes about him in the Times [“arrogant,” “high-handed,” “ethically compromised”] with the generous, smiling, red-faced 3M employee they remembered pedalling his commuter bicycle up Summit Avenue in February snow; it seemed strange that Walter, who was greener than Greenpeace and whose own roots were rural, should be in trouble now for conniving with the coal industry and mistreating country people. Then again, there had always been something not quite right about the Berglunds.” ‘Freedom’ by Jonathan Franzen Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Dance Dance Dance’ by Haruki Murakami ‘A Bouquet of Barbed Wire’ by Andrea Newman ‘After You’d Gone’ by Maggie O’Farrell And if you’d like to tweet
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

I agree with Jeanette Winterson…

Jeanette Winterson “I never think: ‘I’m not at work now, so I’ll relax.’ For me, there’s no distinction. Work is the most absorbing thing in my life. Why would I want to switch off?” [excerpt ‘A Life in the Day: Sunday Times Magazine’ May 5, 2013] I’m with her there. I have always earned my living by writing, but writing is who I am not what I do. Stories have been the centre of my life since I first was able to read, the magical moment was when I realised I could make-up my own. Now the writing switch is hard-wired in my brain and cannot be turned off.  And I don’t want to turn it off. I stop when I am tired, not because I have run out of ideas. And I have never suffered from writer’s block, though this may be another benefit of my journalism background where there isn’t time for writer’s block to exist. If you agree with Jeanette Winterson, perhaps you will agree with:- SJ Watson – write every day, even if it’s rubbish Celia Brayfield – fiction without its darker side is like a Miss Marple mystery without its murder Chris Cleave – more
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Reading for research – Forgotten Voices

Coffee at Costa today, not tea. A medium soya wet latte with an extra shot. My regular morning drink which the staff know by heart. Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon.  I picked up a great book in the British Heart Foundation shop. Forgotten Voices of the Blitz and the Battle of Britain by Joshua Levine, in association with the Imperial War Museum. It is a compilation of oral and written memories and, like the other book I’ve just finished reading Young Voices: British Children Remember the Second World War by Lyn Smith, the voices of real people vividly bring their stories to life. I’m particularly interested in the Auxiliary Units which were set up throughout England in case of invasion. I’d love to visit one of the underground bunkers. It sounds like a Boy’s Own story, a secret hideout hidden in a field, bunks and a stove, going out in the dark to sabotage the Germans. It’s the sort of story I grew up with, raised during the Sixties on a diet of Alistair Maclean books, The Dambusters film and the TV series The World at War.   ‘Forgotten Voices of The Blitz and the Battle for Britain’ by
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Categories: On Researching.

I can’t write without…checking my emails

… checking my emails and updating my blogs first. Then I start writing. I know lots of other writers say they find doing emails distracting, but for me I need to get them out of the way before I feel free to write. I write every day, that’s the discipline of journalism deep in my bones. Each to his own. And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: I can’t write without… checking my emails first #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-hg via @SandraDanby
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Categories: On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 20… ‘Notes on a Scandal’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“1 March 1998. The other night at dinner, Sheba talked about the first time that she and the Connolly boy kissed. I had heard most of it before, of course, there being few aspects of the Connolly business that Sheba has not described to me several times over. But this time round, something new came up. I happened to ask her if anything about the first embrace had surprised her. She laughed. Yes, the smell of the whole thing had been surprising, she said. She hadn’t anticipated his personal odour and if she had, she would probably have guessed at something teenagey: bubble gum, cola, feet.” ‘Notes on a Scandal’ by Zoe Heller  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche ‘I’ll Take You There’ by Joyce Carol Oates ‘Death in Summer’ by William Trevor And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #FirstPara which makes me want to read more: NOTES ON A SCANDAL by Zoe Heller #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-84 via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

I agree with… Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin “Today my studio is calling me. The paintings are all really happy and the paint wants to be used. It’s all spangly and exciting. There’s almost nothing that I hate, or nothing that depresses me. This is a state of mind that is created by what I make, not the other way around. To know that I will be spending the rest of my life being controlled by my own creative output is exhausting. It’s not a job, and if it were a job I would just do it, I would just get up and do it.” [excerpt from ‘My Life in a Column’ by Tracey Emin] There are days when writing feels like this, when the words flow and I’ve written 2000 words and drunk no cups of tea apart from the first one I carried upstairs with me after breakfast. Oh that every day were like this, when I finish in the evening with an ache in my shoulders, a good ache that won’t turn into a crippling headache, a good ache that will succumb to a bath scented with Aromatherapy Associates De-Stress bath oil. If you agree with Tracey Emin, perhaps you will agree with:-
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Categories: On Writing.

I can’t write without… a cup of Yorkshire tea

… a cup of Taylors’ Yorkshire Tea It gets me started in the morning, gives me a reason for a screen-break mid-morning, after lunch, mid-afternoon screen-break, and various other times throughout the day when I have absolutely no other excuse to leave my computer than to say I WANT a cup of tea. And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: I can’t write without… a cup of Yorkshire tea, lots of cups of tea #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-hm via @SandraDanby
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Categories: On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 19… ‘Catch-22’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.” ‘Catch-22’ by Joseph Heller  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World’ by Haruki Murakami ‘The Philosopher’s Pupil’ by Iris Murdoch ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #FirstPara which makes me want to read more: CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-fc via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

If books were real, Jamie Fraser…

Jamie Fraser …would be First Minster of an independent Scotland and still be happily married to Claire into their 80s [and he might look like Gerard Butler].     ‘Outlander’ by Diana Gabaldon, #1 Outlander [UK: Arrow] How would other fictional characters behave, if they were real? Torak in ‘Wolf Brother’ Bilbo Baggins in ‘The Hobbit’ Sarah Burton in ‘South Riding’ And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: If #books were real, Jamie Fraser be Scottish First Minister: CROSS STITCH by @Writer_DG via @SandraDanby  http://wp.me/p5gEM4-hX    
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Categories: Book Love and If books were real....

Reading for research… The Yellow House

I love doing background research for my novels, I guess that’s the journalist in me. With hindsight, I researched my first novel Ignoring Gravity too much, I didn’t recognise the point at which I knew enough and when to let my imagination take over. I was reading about adoption, something I haven’t experienced myself and know no-one who has. So I turned to books [a typical reaction for me]. As a reader, I hate writers who put all their research onto the page. Needless to say, a lot of the stuff I put in the first draft, was stripped out later. Martin Gayford is an art writer I turn to. My second novel Connectedness is three-quarters written and the researching process was much briefer. It is a sequel to the first book, so still about adoption, but this time I decided to make my new main character an artist. Because… I love art, but what knowledge I have is self-taught and disconnected. So, it was an opportunity to learn. And I have loved the process, going to galleries and exhibitions, trying to paint watercolours, and reading, always reading. The most dramatic art book I have read by far is The
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Categories: On Researching and On Writing.

Reading for research… Young Voices

As research for the next novel, I’m reading a lot about the Second World War. For a while I’ve been working my way through a fascinating book called Young Voices by Lyn Smith, produced with the Imperial War Museum. I picked it up in my local library. It is an account of children’s experiences during the war. I’m particularly interested in children who lived through Occupation and there are children quoted throughout who grew up Guernsey. One woman tells how it became compulsory at school to learn the German language. One day the German kommandant arrived to present a prize, which she as top of the class in German, was to receive. He asked her a simple question in German, ‘how old are you?’ Her brain froze and she couldn’t answer, terrified she was going to be shot. Someone whispered the question again in English, and the girl was able to answer correctly. The prize? A book in German which she was unable to read. Fascinating stuff, don’t know yet how I am going to use any of this. I enjoy researching my next novel while writing the current one. Sometimes it just gives the brain a rest, a new
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Categories: On Researching and On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 18… ‘The Ghost Road’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“In deck-chairs all along the front the bald pink knees of Bradford businessmen nuzzled the sun.” ‘The Ghost Road’ by Pat Barker, #1 Regeneration Trilogy  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier ‘The Murder Room’ by PD James ‘That They May Face the Rising Sun’ by John McGahern And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #FirstPara which makes me want to read more: THE GHOST ROAD by Pat Barker  #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-ev via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.