Monthly Archives September 2013

Flash Fiction: ‘An Apple Five Ways: 4/Hunger’

The businessman never noticed him, people generally didn’t. Whether because they really didn’t see him or it was a conscious avoidance of the uncomfortable, he wasn’t sure. He knew he wasn’t pretty but he tried to keep himself in order. He’d learned over the years how to stay invisible, to recognise kindness, developed an instinct to avoid trouble and to be gracious. He was first in the supermarket every morning, into the bathroom where he stripped off and washed. Sunday Opening had seemed a bonus, the supermarket was open seven days a week except it opened very late which messed with his routine. Thirty years he’d been on the road. His food came from bins at supermarkets and restaurants. Twice a year, spring and autumn, he updated his clothes and shoes at the same charity shop, the cancer one down the side street, where the manageress let him in early before the punters arrived. He chose what he needed and she would put her own money in the till. Often she added a book to his pile, something she thought he’d like. A poetry anthology one year, a guide book to the birds of Britain and Europe another. She never refused
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Categories: My Flash Fiction.

New books coming soon

Mark Lawson The Guardian journalist and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Front Row programme, Mark Lawson, has a new novel just out, his first for eight years. The Deaths is a state-of-the-nation novel positioning the ‘new aristocracy’ of bankers, professionals and business tycoons in the ‘old aristocracy’ setting of listed houses in the English countryside. This idyll is threatened by the economic downturn, then turned upside down by an act of violence. Paula Hawkins Paula Hawkins’ debut novel, The Girl on The Train, is described as an edge-of-the-seat thriller in the tradition of Before I Go to Sleep. The book will be published by Doubleday in spring 2015. Hawkins said: “Like most Londoners, I’ve spent more hours than I’d like to think about shuttling backwards and forwards on trains to various jobs in various parts of the city, and many of those hours have been spent gazing out of windows at the same streets and the same houses, every now and again catching a glimpse into the lives of others. I find that there’s something so intriguing about those snatched glances into strangers’ lives, partly because they’re so frustratingly fleeting, so you only ever see a tiny sliver of a
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Categories: Book Love.

Reading for research: Blue-Eyed Son

The story of Nicky Campbell’s search for his birth parents had me hooked from the beginning. Blue-Eyed Son is a personal story but everyone will be able to identify with his themes of family love, the need for belonging and a clear sense of identity. Nicky Campbell is a broadcaster and knows how to tell a story well. He charts the ups and downs of his search for his birth mother and father, the agonies of deciding to search, the worries about whether he was betraying his adoptive family. He shares the pain, the anticipation of making that first contact: “She [his wife Linda] stood in the hall and dialled the number. I was sitting on the stairs, rigid with fear, my head buried in my hands, my body folding into a foetal position. I really didn’t think I could go through with it. I was petrified and exhausted. What the hell would I say? What the hell do you say? This woman gave birth to me. I needed an epidural. “I had held this fantasy in my head for years. I had a mental picture of a beautiful but driven career woman – a free spirit who found herself in
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Categories: Adoption and On Researching.

Great Opening Paragraph 41… ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together. Early every morning they would come out from the house where they lived and walk arm in arm down the street to work. The two friends were very different. The one who always steered the way was an obese and dreamy Greek. In the summer he would come out wearing a yellow or green polo shirt stuffed sloppily into his trousers in front and hanging loose behind. When it was colder he wore over this a shapeless grey sweater. His face was round and oily, with half-closed eyelids and lips that curved in a gently, stupid smile. The other mute was tall. His eyes had a quick, intelligent expression. He was always immaculate and very soberly dressed.” ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’ by Carson McCullers  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant’ by Anne Tyler ‘Astonishing Splashes of Colour’ by Clare Morrall ‘Sacred Hearts’ by Sarah Dunant 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 HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: Stay Where You Are and Then Leave

I’m sure this will be the first of many books about the First World War which I will read over the next two years, and what a one to start with. Written by John Boyne, probably best known for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas [now released as a film] this is a touching story of a boy’s determination to help his soldier father. Destined to become a children’s classic, it is a tough tale with a tender touch. Boyne doesn’t shy away from the difficult subjects of enemy aliens, conscientious objectors, loss, injury, death and fear. On July 28th 1914, war is declared. It is also Alfie Summerfield’s fifth birthday. His biggest wish is to go one morning with his father Georgie on the milk cart with his horse Mr Asquith. Life changes for Alfie and his mother without Georgie. As the years pass, Alfie stops believing the grown-ups who say the war ‘will be over by Christmas’. Then his father’s letters stop arriving. Alfie’s mother says Georgie is ‘on a special mission and cannot write’ but Alfie doesn’t believe her. He doesn’t like being treated as a child, so he decides to do something about it. This is a
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Categories: Book Love.

Books Are My Bag

I’ve made a promise to myself this week that I will not be lazy any more. I will not sit at my computer and order books from Amazon or Oxfam Books and wait for them to arrive in the post. I want instant gratification. I will go down to the high street and into my local independent bookstore and buy them there. Because I love my bookstore, I believe passionately in book shops on every high street, I believe every town should have a library and every school should be filled with books. Books Are My Bag is a UK campaign which celebrates the importance of bookshops on our high streets. I was astounded to learn that although 56% of all book buying decisions are made by consumers in a bricks-and-mortar bookshop, accounting for almost 40% in value of books bought by consumers, many of our high street bookshops are under threat. So next time you go shopping, don’t just look in the window then buy online. Walk into your local bookshop and buy at least one book. Make it a habit. Because if we don’t buy books on the high street, these shops will disappear. “1/3 of the country’s
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Categories: Book Love.

#Writingprompt Writers’ BLOCKbusters… yogurt

On a day when the words are refusing to be friendly, try an exercise using something everyday around you. This writing prompt from Writers’ BLOCKbusters uses a pot of yogurt. Go to your fridge and find a pot of yogurt: any yogurt, any flavour, bits or no bits. If you haven’t got yogurt, anything creamy will do: cream, hummus, cream cheese, fromage frais or guacamole will all work just as well. Stick your [clean] fingers into the yogurt and close your eyes. Consider the sensations, remember your first reaction. Write down that reaction and use it as the opening sentence for a piece of free writing. Just go with the flow and write what occurs to you: single words, phrases, full sentences. This writing could be used to build a new character who has a thing about yogurt – a love, or a hatred. A character without a sense of taste. Someone tasting yogurt for the first time. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other writing prompts:- Music Red Sign, Pedestrians Go Berries What are ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to help you put words on the page. Those words won’t necessarily be the first line of your
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Flash Fiction: ‘An Apple Five Ways: 3/Temptation’

Florence’s calorie counting was going well. She’d bought a diary and kept it in the front pocket of her handbag with a mini-pencil. According to her doctor, the trick to losing weight was to “Know what you eat, and then cut things out.” Florence found that concentrating on what she was eating was helping her diet, though finding out the calorie count was a pain in the proverbial. Today’s list so far was:- Large hot chocolate and skinny blueberry muffin on the way to work; Diet Coke [all the other women in the office were dieting and they drunk Diet Coke, without exception]; Bottle of sparking water with peach [because water had no calories and peach was fruit]; Pizza margherita for lunch in the canteen [that was two of her 5-a-Day]; Mini-pack of chocolate Bourbon biscuits bought in the canteen and saved for afternoon break; A piece of Tara’s birthday cake with lemon in the icing [Chloe on Reception said lemon juice helped her lose two stone]. In the canteen there was always a bowl of fruit, usually untouched, slightly soft, browning; it smelt like the food waste bin which hadn’t been emptied since the last time the bins were
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Categories: My Flash Fiction.

I agree with… Michèle Forbes

Michèle Forbes “In retrospect, it was obvious it was something I knew and it had resonance. I was born there, grew up there, and I felt I had to reconnect with the place. I guess there is something of a preoccupation because I left; there is almost a guilt.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, September 20, 2013] Forbes was born in Belfast and her debut novel Ghost Moth is set in Northern Ireland. Although she was keen to avoid it being labelled as ‘a book about The Troubles’, she felt compelled to write about the place of her birth. I understand the feeling that draws a writer homeward. One of the two key protagonists in my second novel Connectedness was born in Yorkshire and grew up where I grew up. I didn’t plan it that way, somewhere along the road of character development, writing exercises, putting myself into Justine’s head, I realised she came from East Yorkshire, like me. It was fact. That wild eastern edge of Yorkshire which juts out into the North Sea and is battered by the bleakest of winter weather shaped Justine as it shaped me. It drew me to explore how landscape impacts on
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Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Connectedness' and On Writing.

It… and the power of fiction

On Friday 13th September, in a small English town, an anonymous clown terrified passers-by. He stood on street corners, holding a bunch of balloons, and stared at passers-by. It must be 26 years since I read It  by Stephen King [first published in paperback in the UK in 1987] but to this day I remember clearly how much that book frightened me.It is the only novel I have been forced to sit up reading all night, not being able to sleep until I finished it… because I was terrified. I didn’t want to finish it, I wanted to throw it away [I didn’t, this is my paperback, below]; but knew I would not sleep easily until I got to the end. I trusted Mr King to give me a resolution at the end which would let me sleep freely. I haven’t picked up the book since. Needless to say, I don’t like being frightened. I don’t like horror movies, I don’t like fairground rides, I don’t like heights. In the 1990 US TV mini-series, Pennywise was played by Tim Curry [below]. I didn’t watch it. Last week, Pennywise was again terrifying people. In Northampton, England. This time it was a local man, a
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Categories: Book Love.

New books coming soon

Mel Sherratt Self-published author Sherratt has signed a two novel deal with Amazon Publishing’s thriller and mystery imprint Thomas & Mercer. Sherratt has already released Taunting the Dead, the second book Watching Over You is unpublished. Taunting the Dead was first published via the Kindle Direct Publishing programme, reaching number three on the Kindle chart. James Oswald Crime writer, and farmer in Scotland, Oswald is to publish the third in his Inspector McLean series, following on from Natural Causes and The Book of Souls. The Hangman’s Song is scheduled for publication in February 2014. The new deal will see one book published in July 2014, and two more in 2015 Al Robertson Crashing Heaven, the sci-fi debut of Al Robertson, takes place in the future where earth has been abandoned and humanity lives on Station, an asteroid run by the sentient corporations of the Pantheon. Jack Forster and Hugo First, a virtual puppet tied to Jack’s mind, try to uncover how two of his friends died. Cecilia Ekback Hodder will publish two titles from Ekback, a graduate of the Royal Holloway creative writing masters under Andrew Motion. Wolf Winter, her first book, tells the story of a vicious murder in
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Categories: Book Love.

#WritingPrompt Writers’ BLOCKbusters… toothpaste

Can’t get started writing? Try today’s writing prompt from my Writers’ BLOCKbusters collection. Go to the bathroom and take your tube of toothpaste, the type or brand doesn’t matter. Squeeze a little onto your tongue. Don’t swallow or chew, just let it sit there. Now close your eyes, and concentrate on the sensation.Write one word to describe each of the following:- –          Taste –          Texture –          Smell Now run your tongue over your teeth. Write down one word to describe how your teeth feel. For each word, write a sentence including that word. The sentences will be completely unrelated to each other. Choose one sentence, and use it as the beginning for a flash fiction story of 250 words. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other writing prompts:- Looking Over the Parapet These Feet Were Made for Walking Moon Rocks  What are ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to help you put words on the page. Those words won’t necessarily be the first line of your novel, or indeed anything to do with your novel, but they will be words to fill that intimidating blank space. And it couldn’t be quicker. Writers’ BLOCKbusters is a collection of three
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Flash Fiction: ‘An Apple Five Ways: 2/Outdoors’

The list fell out an old book. It was a story torn from a paper magazine and the headline read ’10 things for your child to do outdoors’. Marianne was clearing out the apartment belonging to her elderly neighbour, who had recently died. Evelyn had lived alone and had no family and Marianne, liking to be helpful, found herself sorting and emptying the flat of Evelyn’s life. There were so many books, thick, old-fashioned books with pictures on the covers, so different from the e-books waiting on Marianne’s tablet for her to read. The motivation was absent. But now the printed word drew her in. She sat on the floor, surrounded by books large and small, thick and thin, and picked up one at a time. Gold letters, The RAC Guide to English Villages; Gates on fire, Rebecca; An egg, Cooking for One by Delia Smith; A beach, the sea, Echoes; Reader’s Digest Guide to the Garden. The piece of paper fell from the gardening book. It was the first Marianne opened, drawn by the cover picture of old English roses. Pink, pale as the first hint of a sunset, dark like a blood blister forming. ’10 things for your
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Categories: My Flash Fiction.

My top 5… novels in an English setting

Some of our best-loved novels have a strong sense of place. Setting can be an additional character. These are the English novels which, for me, create immediately for me the landscape in which they are set. ‘Waterland’ by Graham Swift [UK: Vintage] “For, flood or no flood, the Leem brought down its unceasing booty of debris. Willow branches; alder branches; sedge; fencing; crates; old clothes; dead sheep; bottles; potato sacks; straw bales; fruit boxes; fertiliser bags. All floated down on the westerly current, lodged against the sluice-gate and had to be cleared away with boat-hooks and weed-rakes.” ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ by Thomas Hardy [UK: Penguin Classics] “The river had stolen from the higher tracts and brought in particles to the vale all this horizontal land; and now, exhausted, aged, and attenuated, lay serpentining along through the midst of its former spoils. “Not quite sure of her direction Tess stood still upon the hemmed expanse of verdant flatness, like a fly on a billiard-table of indefinite length, and of no more consequence to the surroundings than that fly. The sole effect of her presence upon the placid valley so far had bee to excite the mind of a solitary heron,
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 40… ‘Norwegian Wood’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“I was 37 then, strapped in my seat as the huge 747 plunged through dense cloud cover on approach to Hamburg airport. Cold November rains drenched the earth, lending everything the gloomy air of a Flemish landscape: the ground crew in waterproofs, a flag atop a squat airport building, a BMW billboard. So – Germany again.” ‘Norwegian Wood’ by Haruki Murakami  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue ‘Lolita’ by Vladimir Nabokov ‘A Passage to India’ by EM Forster 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: NORWEGIAN WOOD by Haruki Murakami #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-lW via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#WritingPrompt Writers’ BLOCKbusters… coffee

Drinking your first cup of coffee this morning? Waiting for the caffeine to kick in before you start writing? While you’re waiting, try today’s writing prompt from Writers’ BLOCKbusters. Make a cup of coffee – any coffee, anywhere, black or white. Close your eye, hold the cup to your nose, and smell. Write the first five words you think of. For each word, write a sentence. Do it quickly, don’t over-think. You should have five sentences, completely unrelated from each other. For each sentence, write a paragraph. Choose one paragraph, and use it as the basis for a flash fiction story of 500 words. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other writing prompts:- Wardrobe The Meaning of Purple Between the Train Seats What are ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to help you put words on the page. Those words won’t necessarily be the first line of your novel, or indeed anything to do with your novel, but they will be words to fill that intimidating blank space. And it couldn’t be quicker. Writers’ BLOCKbusters is a collection of three ebooks of writing prompts. Why are they different? Precisely because they are short, easy to use, and flexible. Designed for
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

New books coming soon

Sarah J Maas A new trilogy from YA author Maas, A Court of Thorns and Roses is a fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Aimed at adults and upper YA readers, Mortal, the first of the three books, will publish in the winter of 2015. Maas’ debut novel last year Throne of Glass was shortlisted for Waterstones Teen Book of the Year. The sequel, Crown of Midnight, is out now. Sally O’Reilly Aphra X is a new historical novel from Sally O’Reilly, based on the life of Restoration playwright Aphra Behn. The daughter of a barber, Behn rose from her humble beginnings to become a spy for Charles II in Antwerp, before becoming a favourite in London with her writings. O’Reilly has another historical novel, Dark Aemelia, due for publication in March next year, also by Myriad Editions. Emily Gould This debut novel from American journalist and blogger Gould is about a friendship between two women. Friendship chronicles the two dynamic between the two 30-somethings as they come to terms with relationships, work, money and parenthood. The book will be published by Little, Brown on its Virago list in 2014. David Gilbert David Gilbert’s novel & Sons has been critically
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Categories: Book Love.

My Top 5… books about writing

When I first made the switch from journalism to fiction, I did what journalists do; I researched, I read books. So here are my top five books about writing fiction, the ones on my bookshelf which I still turn to. ‘Story’ by Robert McKee [UK: Methuen] If the number one book is to be quantified by the amount of underlining and number of Post-Its, then this is my ‘most-used’ book on my shelf. The sub-title reads ‘Substance, structure, style, and the principles of screenwriting’. Yes, it’s a book about writing screenplays, not novels, but it is full of wisdom about storytelling. For example: “If you make the smallest element do its job, the deep purpose of the telling will be served. Let every phrase of dialogue or line of description either turn behaviour and action of set up conditions for change. Make your beats build scenes, scenes build sequences, sequences build acts, acts build story to its climax.” And this, on risk: “We’d all like to have our cake and eat it too. In a state of jeopardy, on the other hand, we must risk something that we want or have in order to gain something else that we want
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Categories: My Top 5... and On Writing.

Aah Snoopy, you are so right… 6

Handling tension, pacing, the positioning of the tipping point: Snoopy understands all this. ‘Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life’ ed by Barnaby Conrad and Monte Schulz  [UK: Writer’s Digest Books] And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Suddenly a shot rang out: advice for #writers from @Snoopy http://wp.me/p5gEM4-sH via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 39… ‘The God of Small Things’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun.” ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Spies’ by Michael Frayn ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ by Thomas Hardy ‘American Psycho’ by Brett Easton Ellis 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 GOD OF SMALL THINGS by Arundhati Roy #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-n7 via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.