Monthly Archives December 2013

#WritingPrompt Writers’ BLOCKbusters… The Queen

Here’s a FlashPic writing prompt from Writers’ BLOCKbusters to get you started writing today. Study the photograph, then use the sentence below as the beginning of a new short story. “The light went on in the small window on the third floor, seven windows from the right, and he knew the Queen was awake. Same time as usual…” © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other writing prompts:- Freddie Mercury Toothpaste Beware, Danger from High Tides Beyond 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 writers of fiction, any genre, novels, short stories, flash fiction, they are suitable for all genre of fiction precisely because each exercise is based on a subject unrelated to whatever you are struggling with. I am not looking over your shoulder. Ebooks coming in 2019 at
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

IGNORING GRAVITY #27

Rose woke with a start at 2am, took a deep breath, and eased the stiffness in her right shoulder. The flat was still. Her dehydrated tongue had swollen to the proportions of a bath sponge and was pressing uncomfortably against her teeth. She lay for a while, watching the luminous numbers of the clock radio, feeling increasingly hot thanks to the fact that she was still wearing her white velour Jennifer Lopez tracksuit bottoms and purple Abba t-shirt. Oh God, almost as bad as orange Lycra. Each second took a minute to pass, each minute took an hour. After what felt like 20 hours, she could stand it no more. In the kitchen she fumbled for a bottle of water in the fridge and wondered if she’d dreamed him. But the kitchen was tidy, pots were draining by the sink and in the middle of the table, propped up against a tin of tuna Whiskas, was a note. “Hope you feel better. Take two paracetamol every four hours and drink as much water as you can. Nick.” He really does think I have flu, she thought. For just a moment she forgot she wasn’t Rose Haldane any more, she was just
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

Famous writers, writing… George Orwell

Eric Blair, aka George Orwell 1945 Animal Farm was the first adult book I read, as an eleven-year old, and I have retained a fondness for Orwell’s writing ever since. Like Hemingway he is another journalist-turned-author, both share a clarity of language I admire. George Orwell said: “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity” Read the first paragraph of Animal Farm and 1984.   ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell [UK: Penguin Modern Classics] Buy now See these other famous people, reading & writing:- Ernest Hemingway Iris Murdoch William Golding And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Famous writers, writing… #author George Orwell via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-y6
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

IGNORING GRAVITY #26

She grabbed her purse and headed out. Thank God the rain had stopped. Head down, sunglasses on, she dodged steaming puddles as she crossed to road to the corner shop opposite the tube station. She would be home again in two minutes. She gathered teabags, milk, bread, eggs and baked beans, paid and turned, banging straight into a cyclist who appeared from nowhere in the shop door, huffing and puffing, radiating heat in fluorescent orange Lycra and smelling of sweat. The food bag fell at her feet. “Watch where you’re going.” She knelt and tried to scoop the food back into the thin plastic bag. “Sorry, sorry,” said the man. “My fault, I was thinking about something else. Here, let me help.” He crouched to pick up a tin and Rose noticed he had rather bony ankles. Her head whirled again so she grabbed everything in one sideways sweep and turned towards home again. “Rose?” Him? How could it be? Not here, not now, especially not now. Run! She ran across the road. If she didn’t look at him he wouldn’t see her, she would be invisible. Somehow she dodged a taxi, something silver, something red. A motorbike swerved to avoid
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

New books coming soon

Lucy Clarke Clarke’s debut novel, The Sea Sisters, was chosen as part of Richard and Judy’s Summer Book Club. Now HarperFiction has signed two novels by Clarke which are scheduled for publication in 2015 and 2016. They will follow her next novel, On a Single Breath, which is inspired by her travels and is scheduled for publication in March 2014. Sara Taylor The Shore by Sara Taylor is an interconnected series of stories about residents in a group of islands off the coast of Virginia. The novel will be published by William Heinemann in 2015, in a deal signed at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Anna Freeman Bristol, female pugilisits, the 18th century. This is the world of The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman,to be published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in August 2014. Freeman was the winner of the Tibor Jones Pageturner Prize 2013. Chris Chibnall & Erin Kelly Broadchurch, the novel inspired by the ITV crime series of the same name, is to be published by Little, Brown. Co-written by the screenwriter of the TV series, Chris Chibnall, with thriller author Erin Kelly, the novel will include previously unseen material and elaborate further on the plot. More is promised on
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Categories: Book Love.

IGNORING GRAVITY #25

When the phone rang, Rose was watching a sit-com about a group of twenty-somethings living in a cul-de-sac in a Welsh ex-mining village. It was ‘Pick of the Day’ in the newspaper but she couldn’t get a fix on the plot. The answerphone’s electronic greeting invited the caller to leave a message. It was Lily, sounding like she’d been sipping helium from a balloon. “Rose, are you there? Rose? If you’re not there you must be at work, so I hope you’re okay. I came round earlier but you weren’t in… so anyway, I wanted to tell you that I’ve done what you said. I’ve made an appointment with the doctor on Friday. I’m going to ask how to get pregnant, I mean obviously I know how, but he might have some tips on how to improve my fertility, perhaps a supplement or a special diet, and …” Lily chattered on, something about an apron and roses and their mother… Rose’s mind blanked out, she had hardly enough energy for herself. She longed for silence. But Lily’s voice was small now, very young. Rose sighed, then picked up the phone. “I’m here, Lil. Sorry, I was in the shower and
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

Applying the rules of art to writing: embrace the ‘happy accident’

“All forms of painting, film photography, sculpture, printmaking, and non-mechanical modes of production produce unintended results. When a passage of under-painting looks ravishing, or some studio calamity produces an arresting effect, embrace the accident and incorporate it into the piece. Exploit the unexpected consequences of experimentation and process. If you see it, own it.” Excerpt from ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White The same, for me, applies to writing. I particularly love the exploratory process when working on an idea. It could be for a novel or a short story, perhaps a character, or a setting. I enjoy teasing the idea, and this is when free-writing works for me. The majority of what I write goes into a folder marked ‘exercises’ and is used as background, but some pieces find their way into the finished novel. When I am re-drafting, I get a kick when I come to one of these early passages: it reminds me where the idea started, and refreshes my delight in words I wrote months/years previously and have read many times over. ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White [MIT Press] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet
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Categories: On Writing.

IGNORING GRAVITY #24

Lily’s first thought when she awoke on Monday morning was Rose. Monday was a Good Times day, the gift shop where Lily worked part-time in Chiswick. Usually it was her favourite work day of the week, the day for re-designing the window display, but today it was the last thing she wanted to do. She rung Rose at 6.30am as she waited for the kettle to boil, then 7.30, but the phone rang out. No answer from her mobile either. Bad, she thought, I want to talk to her. But good too, because Rose is okay and at work. At 9am she rung the Herald. Rose Haldane is out, she was told. Typical Rose, she thought, nothing gets her down. Well if she’s strong enough to go to work today, so am I. But she didn’t feel strong. Throughout the morning Lily rang Rose every hour. She’d wanted to leave a message but hadn’t known quite what to say or how to say it. Really she just wanted to hug Rose and reassure her that nothing had changed. They were still sisters. Standing in the large shop window, something she still felt self-conscious doing, she looked critically at the half-finished
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

Reading for research: Breakfast at Sotheby’s

Philip Hook is an art dealer. He has spent 35 years in the art market, first at Christies then at Sotheby’s, so he knows his stuff. As soon as I heard about this book I put it on my ‘to-read’ list. It’s about the art business, about what sells and why, and what doesn’t and why. It is a fascinating insight into the world of art, written in an entertaining, informative style that is never too dry. Hook mixes in art trivia and some of his own mishaps with an authoritative account of art and money. Does an artist’s back story have any effect on the price his work fetches? Why do some artists not make the big prices until they are dead? Are the portrayals of artists in literature accurate, or stereotyped? What difference does it make if the subject of a portrait is smiling, or solemn? For me it was interesting on two counts. First, because my protagonist in Connectedness is an artist; so Hook is writing about Justine’s world. Second, because of the many parallels between the creative twins of art and writing. There are sections on artists who write, creativity block, and artists as characters in
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Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Connectedness' and On Researching.

IGNORING GRAVITY #23

The next morning, six-and-a-half hours after she’d left it, Rose stood again outside her father’s house. All was quiet, the open curtains revealed an inner emptiness. Lily had closed the kitchen curtains before they’d left last night. He’d been home then. It felt like spying. Her father’s favourite mug, yellow with a bumblebee and ‘To Bee or Not to Bee’ on it, was draining by the kitchen sink. He’s not dead. Her stomach gave a little twirl of relief which felt almost like hunger. Rose ran to the allotment, tapping the lamppost on the corner twice as she went. When she was little she’d discovered that if she tapped a lamppost on her way home from school, or a tree or the gatepost by the garage, it meant her father would be in a good mood that night and might play footie with her after tea. She climbed onto the bottom rung of the padlocked allotment gate, squinted into the bright sun, and cursed her lack of sunglasses. Her father liked to do a bit of early morning weeding before work. Not today. The receptionist at Woodbright Engineering’s Welcome Desk was polite but firm. Yes, Mr Haldane was here today
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

I agree with… Joel and Ethan Coen

Joel and Ethan Coen “Culturally people are used to watching certain kinds of movies, and a lot of movies have genre types as characters, and those are the people you see in movies. They are used to seeing Tom Cruise play Jaaaack Reeeeeacher,” he slurs the name sarcastically, “and the characters are all kind of the same.” [Joel Coen, interview in the Sunday Times Culture magazine, September 15, 2013] In this interview, Joel and Ethan Coen talk about characterization in their movies. They have been accused of creating odd characters, critics call these grotesques [below, Frances McDormand as Marge from Fargo]. Ethan: “The whole people-taking-it-as-grotesques thing is they don’t see it or they want to disavow parts of themselves by saying ‘Oh those people are weird’.” I worry that we have a tendency today – in film, in literature, in life – of needing to label and pigeon-hole people. Anyone different is odd. Labels and pigeon-holes do not tell a complete picture. Authors should be free to create their characters, free to let their stories develop without having to discount a story turn that may take it ‘out of genre’. More authors these days are self-publishing where they are free to
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

IGNORING GRAVITY #22

She was not provisioned for a stake-out. When they left their father’s house earlier they’d been in a rush and Lily pulled the door closed behind them, not expecting to return, not thinking of a key to get back in. So when Rose saw her father’s house still in darkness, she resigned herself to sitting in the Mini. She knocked at the front door and the back door, and rung the bell, cursing that day last year after the burglary when new locks were fitted and she hadn’t insisted on having a key. She went back to her car, moved the seat back and wriggled to get comfortable. She had thought she was like everyone else: mother, father, sister, nice home, okay family life, family history absorbed haphazardly over the years from family stories and gossip and photo albums. Inheritance by osmosis. She had always accepted her dark brown eyes were inherited from her father’s side of the family, but now her mother’s words in the yellow book made all of this a lie. Her mother, who had owned up to taking a shop-bought cake to the primary school fete’s ‘home-made cake stall’, and who saved her Monopoly money rather
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

Did you know, Adriana Lisboa…

Why does Brazilian author Adriana Lisboa sit on a pilates ball at her desk, rather than an office chair? In an interview with Independent Radar magazine, she says “I work at a mirrored desk bought at a thrift store, my chair is a pilates ball.” Read my review of Crow Blue by Lisboa, the rising star of Brazilian literature.   ‘Crow Blue’ by Adriana Lisboa [UK: Bloomsbury Circus] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Did you know… #author Adriana Lisboa sits on a pilates ball when #writing via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-yS
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

IGNORING GRAVITY #21

Her senses were turning on one by one, so she must exist, mustn’t she? The weight of her eyelids stopped her eyes from opening. The goosebumps. This was what it must feel like to be buried by an avalanche. Then arms were around her, hugging her, the warmth of another body, arms which settled her gently against something as soft as snow. “You’re okay, Rose, you’re okay. Stay here. I’ll make some tea. Breathe deeply.” Rose felt her head nod. It was disconnected from her body. Nothing was connected. She breathed in and out, not knowing how long a second lasted. Then warm lips were brushing her cheek, a hand stroked her hair, and something hot touched her hand. She struggled to open her eyes. Lily, white with worry, was gently pushing a hot mug against her hand. Breathe in, breathe out. One thing at a time. The yellow exercise book lay open at Lily’s side, the pain etched across her cheeks told Rose that she too had read that diary entry and come to the same conclusion. She knew the pain in Lily’s eyes was a reflection of that in her own. She focussed on moving her hand to
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

IGNORING GRAVITY #20

Rose held the book for a moment before opening it at the first page. The handwriting was easy to read: tiny, italicised script, every letter carefully formed, every serif perfectly angled in relation to the full shape of the letter. A very neat version of the script familiar from every birthday card her mother had ever given her. Each diary entry was headed by a date, underlined precisely with a ruler, written in blue ink. 31st December 1966 It will be so romantic if John proposes tomorrow. A New Year’s proposal. I’ll drop a hint to encourage him, he sometimes needs a little nudge. I saw him smiling at Abigail Allen in the newsagent yesterday, and I saw the way she fluttered her eyelashes at him. She’s a cheap little flirt and she’s not going to get him. I‘ll even do IT, if I have to. If this diary hadn’t been written so clearly in her mother’s handwriting, Rose would never have imagined her oh-so-correct mother being so, so, girly. 1st January 1967 ENGAGED!!!!!! John proposed. On one knee too, except he didn’t do it right the first time and I had to ask him to kneel down and start
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

New books coming soon

Jane Northumberland Weed is the new novel in the Poison Diaries series written by the Duchess of Northumberland and published by Bloomsbury’s digital-first imprint, Bloomsbury Reader. The books are inspired by the Poison Garden at Alnwick Castle, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Northumberland. Weed, the troubled hero, journeys across the country in 19th-century England from his home in Alnwick. Weed, co-written with Hugh Sington, is released this month. Eliza Kennedy A debut comedy on sexual politics by US writer Eliza Kennedy is to be published in the UK by Jonathan Cape. I Take You is scheduled for publication in early 2015. It tells the story of a woman lawyer preparing for her wedding but finding herself unable to stop sleeping with other men. Kennedy has a law degree from Harvard and is married to author Joshua Ferris. Stephanie de Velasco A bestselling debut novel from Germany, Tiger Milk, is to be published in the UK in September next year by Head of Zeus. De Velasco’s novel is about two 14-year-old girls “on the loose” during a hot summer in Berlin called Tiger Milk. HoZ editorial director Laura Palmer says the author has captured what it is like being
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Categories: Book Love.

IGNORING GRAVITY #19

Upstairs they sat on the floor surrounded by the detritus of their mother’s married life. Lily sat cross-legged, her skirt arranged neatly around her knees, not speaking, twisting her hair again. To give her a little space, Rose concentrated on the striped handbag. She emptied it out onto the carpet: bus tickets, tissues, purse, lipstick. Rose doubted her father had opened the bag since it was returned by the hospice. Men of his age had a thing about handbags as if they were full of mysterious Women’s Things. She sniffed the blue leather purse hoping for a whiff of Youth Dew but smelt only dust and worn leather and the metallic tang of coins. Lily looked up. “Do you really not know Sylvie Watson?” Rose shook her head. “Don’t you read the gossip pages of your own newspaper?” “Hardly.” Rose sneaked a glance at Lily whose head was again bent over a box. “Lil, do you really think William will leave you if you don’t have a baby?” Lily sighed. “Yes. No. Not really… but he does get irritated with me. And when we do it, I can’t seem to think about anything else but babies. Afterwards, I lie in
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

The Milk of Female Kindness… stories of motherhood

Two of my stories are published in this anthology, The Milk of Female Kindness: an Anthology of Honest Motherhood, now available on Amazon. In Tin Can, a daughter visits her elderly mother who, wracked by dementia, does not recognise the stranger who takes her hand. The Biscuit Tin, an excerpt from my second novel Connectedness, sees Lorna on her deathbed struggling to stay alive long enough to give her daughter one last piece of advice: do not lose sight of who you are and where you came from. Short stories, poetry and photography on the theme of motherhood, being a mother, and our relationships with our mothers. ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’ ed. Kasia James [UK: K James] And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Notions of #motherhood in THE MILK OF FEMALE KINDNESS #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-K5 via @SandraDanby SaveSave
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

IGNORING GRAVITY #18

Diana’s clothes hung in the wardrobe organised by colour. Rose took the turquoise Liberty-print floral blouse off its hanger, sniffed deeply. It smelled faintly of moth balls. She was surprised at the sudden swell of tears in her eyes. Lily patted her on the back. Rose admired her mother’s strong conviction about what colours suited her and wished she had that discipline: nothing red, brown or orange was given rail space. Three old-fashioned hat boxes balanced on top of a heavy brown suitcase; how typical of their mother to use hat boxes. Lily held up a pale pink sandal with a chunky crepe sole. “I hate throwing them out. Mum liked them so and there’s nothing wrong with them. Perhaps we should keep them.” “Why? They’re awful and they don’t fit us.” Comfortable was the first adjective that came to Rose’s mind, the pink was salmon. “I know,” replied Lily, “but still.” Her hand wavered for an instant, then she put the pink sandals beside her. “They’re Mum’s.” They continued sorting in silence. Rose watched a silent tear slide down Lily’s cheek and wondered why she wasn’t crying too. Getting upset won’t bring Mum back, she thought. I can help Dad
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

Applying the rules of art to writing: read!

“Art is a continuing dialogue that stretches back through thousands of years: What you make is your contribution to that dialogue. Therefore, be conscious of what has come before you and the conversation that surrounds you. Try not to repeat what has already been said. Study art history and stay alert to the dialogue of your moment.” Excerpt from ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White In other words: read, read, read. To quote Stephen King [above]: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White [MIT Press] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: To quote @StephenKing Read!: applying the rules of #art to #writing http://wp.me/p5gEM4-xc via @SandraDanby
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Categories: On Writing.