Monthly Archives March 2014

Applying the rules of art to writing: learn to accept criticism

“Critique is the foundation of art school education, and learning to make constructive use of it is one of the most difficult and important lessons to absorb. Look at your own work, and the work of others, as dispassionately as you can. Being defensive or hurt, while a natural reaction, will not help you improve your work. Learn the biases of your instructors so that you make the most use of their comments. Disagreeing with criticism is not wrong, but unless your work succeeds on its own merits in the eyes of your instructors and peers, resistance may not be constructive or helpful. Be brave under fire.” Excerpt from ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White This applies exactly to creative writing, which by its very nature means being published. Today, as well as being published in books, newspapers or magazines, that may mean self-publishing and blogging online. Wherever you publish, assuming you are writing to be published, other people are going to read what you write. They will have their own opinions about it – about the content, the style, the imagery, the characters – often strong opinions which may take you by surprise. And it’s
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Categories: On Writing.

Famous writers, writing… William Golding

Sometimes I fear that I have missed my chance, that now in my fifties I am too old to be published. And then I remember William Golding who said: “It wasn’t until I was 37 that I grasped the great truth that you’ve got to write your own books and nobody else’s, and then everything followed from there.” I know that I am now better prepared to write novels – with experience of life, of love, of death, of freedom – than I ever was in my twenties. I want to write what I want to write about. Read the opening paragraph of Lord of the Flies. ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding [UK: Penguin Classics] Buy now See these other famous people, reading & writing:- Agatha Christie Joseph Conrad Benedict Cumberbatch And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Famous writers, writing… #author William Golding via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-B2
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 53… ‘Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The elevator continued its impossibly slow ascent. Or at least I imagined it was ascent. There was no telling for sure: it was so slow that all sense of direction simply vanished. It could have been going down for all I knew, or maybe it wasn’t moving at all. But let’s assume it was going up. Merely a guess. Maybe I’d gone up twelve stories, then down three. Maybe I’d circled the glove. How would I know?” ‘Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World’ by Haruki Murakami Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Mara and Dann’ by Doris Lessing ‘The Ghost Road’ by Pat Barker ‘The L-Shaped Room’ by Lynn Reid Banks 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: HARD-BOILED WONDERLAND by Haruki Murakami #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-m9 via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

My new Facebook page

The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed a new button in the right-hand column. I now have a ‘Sandra Danby Author’ page on Facebook, and I’d love you to click your way over there and like it. There you will find extra content that doesn’t appear here, including lots more about Ignoring Gravity such as snaps from the filming of the book trailer [above] and author interview, research photos from locations I used when writing the novel, and general snippets as I whirl in the excitement of Britain’s Next Bestseller. Coming soon on Facebook… two pairs of sisters are at the heart of Ignoring Gravity, so to celebrate sisterhood I will be discussing sisters in writing, in art, in music, in business. Sister power! So if you have any suggestions of successful and influential sisters, please let me know… the more the merrier! Click here to read the first chapter of Ignoring Gravity. To learn how you as a reader can choose the books you want to be published, click here to watch a one-minute video about Britain’s Next Bestseller.
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Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Writing.

Book review: The Aftermath

Post-war Germany, Hamburg. The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook is a gentle novel with an emotionally difficult core: the adjustment of two families, one German one English, to the landscape of rubble a year after the end of the Second World War. Broken country, broken families, broken minds. The title refers to the aftermath of the war and also to the aftermath of events in the lives of both families. Both are grieving and are in new territory, geographically and emotionally. They are proud and unsure. Together, will they heal? The English family: Colonel Lewis Morgan is occupied with the Occupied while his newly-arrived wife Rachael prevaricates, “I don’t know. It was suffix and prefix to her every other thought. This indecision was becoming her signature.” Their son Edmund has no such doubts, facing a challenging encounter with the teenage girl upstairs involving a glimpse of knickers and a steaming pisspot, he then ventures beyond the house’s garden into forbidden territory and meets the local feral youth. The German family: Herr Lubert, a widower, and his daughter move upstairs when the Morgans arrive in the requisitioned house. Ironically Stefan Lubert is an architect, surrounded by broken buildings, but works instead in
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Categories: Book Love.

I’m not featured on Freshly Pressed

When this award nomination popped into my Inbox yesterday, it made me smile. So thanks, Rachel Carrera for thinking of me! I’ve been blogging a year and I’d love to be selected for the WordPress ‘Freshly Pressed’ feed on my Reader page. But it remains something of a mystery to me. Click here to visit Rachel’s blog to read about her novel The Prison. What do I have to do to be Freshly Pressed? –          Shower more often? –          Iron my clothes more carefully? –          Pay Someone [a Very Important Person at WordPress, obviously]? –          Make a chocolate cake for Someone? [ref. ‘Someone’, see above] –          Like every single post on Someone’s blog [ditto] –          Write about sex, religion, babies or Miley Cyrus? [never going to happen] –          Know Someone, who knows Someone, who knows Someone important at WordPress? [I definitely don’t] Or is Freshly Pressed selected at random by computer. Does anyone out there know? If so, please tell me! I’d love to be Freshly Pressed because, as Rachel says, the extra readership would be fantastic. I clicked on one of the stories at random on today’s feed, and it had 128 likes. 128! I continue to dream …and carry
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 52… ‘Astonishing Splashes of Colour’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“At 3.15 every weekday afternoon, I become anonymous in a crowd of parents and child-minders congregating outside the school gates. To me, waiting for children to come out of school is a quintessential act of motherhood. I see the mums – and the occasional dads – as yellow people. Yellow as the sun, a daffodil, the submarine. But why do we teach children to paint the sun yellow? It’s a deception. The sun is white-hot, brilliant, impossible to see with the naked eye, so why do we confuse brightness with yellow?” ‘Astonishing Splashes of Colour’ by Clare Morrall Amazon Read my reviews of these novels by Clare Morrall:- After the Bombing The Man Who Disappeared The Language of Others The Roundabout Man Natural Flights of the Human Mind Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Tipping the Velvet’ by Sarah Waters ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt ‘Queen Camilla’ by Sue Townsend 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: ASTONISHING SPLASHES OF COLOUR by Clare Morrall #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-mc via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: The Quick

Predicted to be a smash hit, this gothic thriller by Lauren Owen is a mystery tale about a brother and sister from Yorkshire. The story moves between Aiskew Hall – where we first meet Charlotte and James as children – and London; both settings atmospheric, both drawn so clearly you can smell the air. This book will reward re-reading: only after I had finished the last page did I go back to the beginning and appreciate the menace of the first sentence, “There were owls in the nursery when James was a boy.” Aiskew is ever-present. When they are older and far from home, Charlotte reminds James “… how the air smelled green in spring, and smoke-grey in autumn, how on April mornings the mists would lift slowly, leaving a blue haze behind.” This book has a really slow build. It starts with a prologue, an excerpt from 1890, which I read and then immediately forgot. I enjoyed Part One about the childhood of James and Charlotte at Aiskew, their mother dead, their father absent, Charlotte teaching James his alphabet by chalking the letters onto flagstones, playing games in the secrets of the big house. When the siblings are parted
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Categories: Book Love.

New day, new photo

I’ve been away from home all week, filming for Ignoring Gravity: a book trailer and an author interview in which I talk about my idea for the novel, adoption in the 1960s, and the symbolism of trees. I also have a new portrait photo, which I’m rather pleased with. For one thing, you can’t see me shivering… the blue sky gave way to grey, then wind, then rain… and secondly I love the setting. One of our locations was the most beautiful garden with a [leafless] tree, the trunk of which was surrounded by a circular wooden seat. I hope you like my new photo as much as I do!
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Categories: My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Writing.

Alternative ideas for your Mum

Motherhood means different things to different people. It’s just over a week until Mother’s Day in the UK. Still plenty of time to do one or more of the following things before next Sunday. –       Book a table in your mother’s favourite restaurant and order a bottle of sparkling something [champagne, prosecco, cava] to be waiting on your table; –       Write her a letter [yes, with pen and paper, putting it into an envelope, attaching a stamp, and posting it in a letterbox, the red things on street corners] telling her you love her and mean to tell her that every day and that just because you forget does not mean you don’t think about her; –       Buy her a greetings card, if you must, though she would prefer a letter I think; –       Cut some wildflowers from the hedgerow, or flowers from your garden [not someone else’s, not without permission anyway], and wrap them up in some brown paper or gift wrap paper. Much nicer than a supermarket bouquet in plastic film; –       Order her a book about what it is like to be a mother and a daughter, written by mothers and daughters [including me, the daughter bit not
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Holes

This book by Louis Sachar has been sitting on my shelf forever but I picked it up this week when I exhausted my Kindle’s battery. How lovely to hold an actual book again. I know this is a book for tweens, but I’d heard such good things about it that I wanted to see for myself. I loved the premise: that Stanley is wrongly found guilty of stealing a pair of trainers and is sent to a juvenile correction camp where the punishment is to dig a hole a day. Five feet deep and five feet wide. Every day. It is supposed to be character-building, but Stanley thinks there is another agenda. “There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years ago. Now it is just a dry, flat wasteland.” It is a story about finding out who you are, standing up to bullies and finding your bravery. “Out on the lake, rattlesnakes and scorpions find shade under rocks and in the holes dug by the campers.” Woven in with the day-to-day tale of hole-digging is the background to Stanley’s unlucky family;
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Categories: Book Love.

New books coming soon

Kat French Undertaking Love by Kat French is just out by Avon. The deal includes two further titles to be published by Avon in 2015 and 2016. French, an author on HarperCollins’ writing community Authonomy, also writes as Kitty French. Under this pen name she has written Kindle bestsellers Knight & Play, Knight & Stay and Knight and Day. Siobhan MacDonald Twisted River is one of two stand-alone psychological thrillers from Irish debut author Siobhan MacDonald [below] to be bought by Exhibit A, the crime imprint of Angry Robot. Twisted River will be published in October this year. Set in Manhattan and Limerick, Twisted River follows a dream holiday house swap goes horribly wrong. The second novel, The Blue Pool, will be published next year. Rod Duncan ‘The Fall of the Gaslit Empire’ is a new series of alternate history books by Rod Duncan, signed in a two-book deal by Angry Robot. The first, The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter, will be published this September with the sequel, Unseemly Science, in 2015. The series tells the story of Elizabeth Barnabus who lives a double life posing as her private detective brother. Kameron Hurley Kameron Hurley has signed a deal for world rights with Angry Robot for Worldbreaker Saga:
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Categories: Book Love.

Walking on Wimbledon Common

When I wrote Ignoring Gravity I lived in Wimbledon Village, first of all near the tennis club and then later nearer Wimbledon Common. Until I lived in SW19, I didn’t realise what a village-y place it is. It turned out to be ideal for a writer’s life; for me that involves long hours inside staring at a computer screen, followed by a daily walk in the fresh air for muscle relaxation and creative inspiration. I have drunk a lot of tea, and coffee, in all the cafes in Wimbledon Village. Wasting time, I guess, or thinking time. Prevaricating? Faffing? Familiarity is key for me, both in the route I walk and in my drinks. Coffee in the morning, tea at every other time. I had my favourite seat in each café, if I arrived to find it taken I would continue strolling to the next place. If my favourite barista was not in the coffee shop – the one who understood that when I ordered a ‘soya wet latte’ I meant ‘no foam’ – I would walk on. Food; most often a granola bar, sometimes pain au raisin. I am a creature of habit. I had my favourite bench by
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Categories: My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Writing.

I agree with… Lauren Owen

Lauren Owen “I think family relationships are very interesting; the idea of what you tell the people who are closest to you and what you don’t tell them – or what you’re able to tell them. And whether or not being able to tell them everything about yourself means that your love for your family is not complete.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, February 7, 2014]  The Quick is Lauren Owen’s first novel, a gothic tale about brother and sister James and Charlotte who grow up in a huge old house in Yorkshire. Owen is driven by this family dynamic, and I agree with her that all families are fascinating: who can know what really goes on in a family except the people involved? How well does your brother really know you, or you him? What is he not telling you, what is he hiding from you? When James stops communicating, Charlotte sets off for London to find him. It’s the same in my novel Ignoring Gravity. It never occurred to Rose that there were secrets in her family, that her parents would not tell her the truth. Click here to read more about Rose.   ‘The Quick’ by Lauren Owen
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#WritingPrompt Writers’ BLOCKbusters… dirt

Try this WORDstorm writing prompt from Writers’ BLOCKbusters to help you put the first word on the page today. Look at the three words below and, without thinking, write the next words that come into your mind. Write until you can think of no more words, you may have 10 words or 50. Allow the words to come into your mind without prompting, they will seem unrelated to each other. Now use these words as inspiration to move you onwards. You should find that your mind has taken you way beyond the subject of ‘dirt’ and that you write about a completely different subject. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other writing prompts:- The Queen Bronze Nothing of Value Left Overnight 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
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

‘Ignoring Gravity’ & the literary sisterhood

Creating the characters of Rose and Lily in Ignoring Gravity, made me ponder the subject of literary sisterhood. I had to sit and think quietly for a while before I came up with a list of novels about sisters. Beyond Austen, who of course crams every book with sisters. Elinor and Marianne. Elizabeth and Jane. The one book where the main character has no sister, Emma, is about the nature of sisterhood. Emma, is the ultimate big sister, she is organising, controlling and superior, and for the lack of a sister she gets to interfere in the life of Harriet Smith. I never liked Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma, who in my head is definitely a brunette. I much preferred Kate Beckinsale [below] in the 1996 television series. Why sisters? Well there are two pairs of sisters in Ignoring Gravity, a generation apart. Diana and Kate Ingram. Rose and Lily Haldane. Alike as chalk and cheese, they do not fit the fluffy profile of sisters who live in each other’s pockets, who are in and out of each others’ houses all the time, who tell their exciting news first to their sister rather than their husband. So when things go wrong for
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Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 51… ‘The Sea, The Sea’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The sea which lies before me as I write glows rather than sparkles in the bland May sunshine. With the tide turning, it leans quietly against the land, almost unflecked by ripples or by foam. Near to the horizon it is a luxurious purple, spotted with regular lines of emerald green. AT the horizon it is indigo. Near to the shore, where my view is framed by rising heaps of humpy yellow rock, there is a band of lighter green, icy and pure, less radiant, opaque however, not transparent. We are in the north, and the bright sunshine cannot penetrate the sea. Where the gentle water taps the rocks there is still a surface skin of colour. The cloudless sky is very pale at the indigo horizon which it lightly pencils in with silver. Its blue gains towards the zenith and vibrates there. But the sky looks cold, even the sun looks cold.” ‘The Sea, The Sea’ by Iris Murdoch  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Impressionist’ by Hari Kunzru ‘These Foolish Things’ by Deborah Moggach ‘Sophie’s World’ by Jostein Gaarder And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Ignoring Gravity: my eclectic research list

Being a journalist, and a Virgo, I am good at making lists. My research list for Ignoring Gravity was long and eclectic. From adoption to early menopause, roses to dinosaurs. I read voraciously, made notes, clipped articles out of magazines and newspapers, took photographs; I filled boxes and files with notes.  As soon as I decided to write about two pairs of sisters I realised part of my story would be set in a different period of time: the 1960s. I was a child in the Sixties, but I would be writing about two young women, two sisters, living in London. I was 10 in 1970, and I grew up on a farm in Yorkshire. Patently, I couldn’t write ‘what I knew’. So I researched the Sixties. What clothes did they wear? What music did they listen to? The Beatles [above]? The Rolling Stones [below?] How did they earn their living? What was happening in the world around them? What was daily life like, at home, at work? The political scene in the Sixties: CND, drugs. What did they read and watch: newspapers, books, magazines, television programmes. And then there was the non-Sixties stuff:- The Metropolitan Police. The streets of
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Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity', On Researching and On Writing.

Book review: The Accident

This is a fast-moving thriller with so many questions. To start with, we have the Prologue about an unidentified man writing a book. This is his third draft of a manuscript called ‘The Accident’. An excerpt from his m/s finishes: “…if what you are reading is a finished book, printed and bound and distributed into the world, I am, almost certainly, dead.” I was hooked. The Accident is the second novel of Chris Pavone, his favourite thriller writer is John Le Carré and he certainly paces his storytelling the same way. The next person we meet is Isabel Reed, a New York literary agent. It is dawn and she has just finished reading a manuscript: ‘The Accident by Anonymous’. She is astounded at the enormity of the story, the revelations and accusations. As well as being a page-turning thriller, this novel is also an insight of the publishing world in New York and how the connections of power function in the USA: media, publishing, Government, CIA, black-ops. Isabel was once a top literary agent, now she is desperate for the last big m/s. Is this it? She stands under the shower: “It all beats down on her, the shower stream
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Categories: Book Love.

Ignoring Gravity: Why Rose?

I honestly can’t remember why I called my protagonist Rose. I have been writing about Rose Haldane in Ignoring Gravity, and the sequel Connectedness, for more than 12 years and she is real to me. She came to me fully-formed as Rose, we live together, I have no memory or note taken as evidence that I ever considered a different name. In the early days, the title of the novel was Finding Rose because the story is essentially about Rose discovering the truth of her identity; she sets off on a journey to find herself.  I had fun with rose imagery but it is easy to get carried away, too clever, and a lot of this was cut in an early draft. Rose and Lily’s Grandma, Bizzie, is almost 80. She is from another era, her speech is based on my own Great-Aunt with the little verbal stutters, the clichés and repetitions, and a full-stop of quiet laughter at the end of a sentence when her words ran out. I browsed through the Penguin Dictionary of Clichés. Finally I had four clichés about roses for Bizzie to say: ‘a bed of roses’, ‘a rose between two thorns’, ‘a rose by
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Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity', On Researching and On Writing.