Monthly Archives May 2014

Famous writers, writing… Beryl Bainbridge

Beryl Bainbridge “I don’t know why everybody doesn’t write because everybody talks.” So says an author who reached the very top of her profession, but her quote is misleading. It implies everyone can write, and ignores the years she spent working on her craft, perfecting it. We can all admire the skill of a gymnast dance on the beam or a concert pianist play Rachmaninov, but we know we could not do it ourselves no matter how much we tried. Beryl Bainbridge was shortlisted five times for the Booker Prize but never won, until she was presented with a one-off award, the Man Booker Best of Beryl, created especially to honour her five shortlisted novels. They are:- 1973 The Dressmaker 1974 The Bottle Factory Outing 1996 An Awfully Big Adventure 1998 Every Man for Himself 2000 Master Georgie My favourite Bainbridge novel? The Birthday Boys, a fictional account of Captain Robert Scott’s 1910 expedition to Antarctica told from the perspectives of five men on the voyage: Scott; Petty Officer Taff Evans; ship’s medic Dr Edward Wilson; Lieutenant Henry Bowers; and Captain Lawrence Oates. To read The Guardian’s obituary of Dame Beryl Bainbridge in 2010, click here. Bainbridge was renowned for
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: The Awakening of Miss Prim

The title gives away the storyline of this charming tale by Spanish journalist Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera [below]. Miss Prim is to be awakened. The assumption is that the catalyst for this awakening is love. But that is to over-simplify a thoughtful tale of self-knowledge, or maturing as an adult, about making the leap from intellectual maturity to emotional maturity. Prudencia Prim is a librarian who begins a new job in a private house in the village of San Ireneo de Arnois, in an un-named country. Even when I had finished the book I was still unclear in which country it is set, though this does not affect the storytelling at all. Miss Prim is to catalogue the private library of a man who is never named, but is known simply as The Man in the Wingchair. San Ireneo is an unusual village, it feels as if you are taking a step back in time. “That morning she urgently needed to buy notebooks and labels. The day before, she had had a small disagreement with her employer, the fifth since her arrival at the house. He’d come into the library and declared that he didn’t want her to use a computer
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

New books coming soon

Dorothy Koomson Dorothy Koomson’s next two novels will be published by Cornerstone, where she has moved from Quercus. With Quercus, Koomson published The Rose Petal Beach in 2012, and The Flavours of Love in 2013. Previous novels include My Best Friend’s Girl [Sphere, 2006], chosen as a Richard and Judy Summer Reads pick, it sold 587,325 copies according to Nielsen BookScan. Her sixth novel, The Ice Cream Girls, was adapted for ITV last year. Her first novel for Cornerstone will be published in Century hardback in spring 2016. To read Koomson’s interview with The Independent about The Ice Cream Girls, click here Robert Thorogood Creator of BBC television series Death in Paradise, Thorogood has signed a deal with Mira Harlequin UK for three novels. The novels will take inspiration from the television show and feature Met police officer Richard Poole and Detective Sergeant Camille Bordey. Thorogood has been an avid reader of murder mysteries all his life and is a huge fan of Agatha Christie. To read a BBC interview with Thorogood on how he wrote Death in Paradise, click here To watch the original trailer for the television series Death in Paradise, click here To read an interview with
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Blood Med

Page one, Spain waits, the king lies dying. There is the feeling of a nation on the edge. In Valencia, there are homeless on the street, immigrants are being harassed, the police department faces cutbacks despite rumblings of public unrest, and there are not enough drugs for the sick. Blood Med is the fourth in the Cámara Valencia-based detective series by Jason Webster [below]. There are two deaths and Cámara and his colleague Torres are given one case each, the hidden agenda is that one of the two men must be made redundant. One death is suspected suicide, the other a brutal murder. In the way of crime fiction, you know there will be a connection but that connection is of course invisible at the beginning. The detective, orphaned young and raised by his grandfather, now lives in Valencia with elderly Hilario plus Max’s girlfriend, journalist Alicia. Both Hilario and Alicia have key roles in this story. Hilario is a huge influence on Max’s approach to life, and he often recalls his grandfather’s fondness for proverbs when he finds himself in a sticky situation. ‘Visteme despacio que tengo prisa’ he tells himself when he feels the investigation is being rushed. It
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Famous writers, writing… Iris Murdoch

Iris Murdoch in 1963 Creating a character is a fascinating process. I start with the exterior, a feature or expression, perhaps a habit or tic. Getting inside, working out what makes them tick, why they behave the way they do, is something I’ve got better at with practice. Murdoch said: “People have obsessions and fears and passions which they don’t admit to. I think every character is interesting and has extremes. It’s the novelist privilege to see how odd everyone is.” Absolutely. We are each a mystery to everyone except ourselves. Read the first paragraphs of A Severed Head, The Sea The Sea, and The Philosopher’s Pupil. Read here about the first edition of The Sea The Sea.   ‘A Severed Head’ by Iris Murdoch [UK: Vintage Classics] Buy now See these other famous people, reading & writing:- Jack Nicholson Madonna George Orwell And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Famous writers, writing… #author Iris Murdoch via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-AY
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#WritingPrompt Writers’ BLOCKbusters… oak

Oak… nature, strength, longevity, acorns, leaves, ships, carpentry, solidity… 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 ‘oak’ and that you write about a completely different subject. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other writing prompts:- Evidence Anonymous People Grassy 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
Read More

Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Follow me on Pinterest

If you like collecting visual images, you may enjoy Pinterest. When I first checked it out I was amazed at how much Pinterest content is connected to books, either boards by authors about their books, by book bloggers, designers discussing book cover design, and generally boards about creativity. My current favourite quote was culled from Pinterest:- “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” Virginia Woolf [below, portrait by Roger Fry] I have recently started collecting images connected with my writing at my new author page. There are three sections, one devoted to my Spanish blog, a second to Ignoring Gravity, and the third to my general writing. The Ignoring Gravity board includes research photos not shared elsewhere. I will gradually be adding to my boards, so please check back occasionally. Click here to go to my Pinterest page.  
Read More

Categories: My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Writing.

A Dragon again

I haven’t figured out the connection between a dragon, and loyalty. Have you? But I like this award which rewards the loyalty of regular readers. Sage Doyle nominated me for this, and I in turn will pass it onto my dedicated readers. Sage, not his real name, writes poetry and contemporary fiction, click here to visit his blog. First, a few things about dragons you might not know:- There are two types of mythical dragon, the European and the Chinese, which developed separately. Originally they were based on a serpent, but since the Middle Ages they have assumed legs and resemble a lizard. The English word ‘dragon’ derives from the Greek δράκων (drákōn) meaning ‘dragon, serpent of huge size, water-snake’. The best-known literary dragons of recent times are probably Smaug from JRR Tolkein’s The Hobbit [above], Christopher Paolini’s Eragon [below] and the dragons in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. As well as baby Norbert, there is the Hungarian Horntail which Harry fights in the first task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament. In Vietnam, according to an ancient creation myth, the Vietnamese people are descended from a dragon and a fairy. Now, the award rules:- 1. Display the award on your blog.
Read More

Categories: On Writing.

I agree with… Celia Brayfield

Celia Brayfield “There’s a face I know too well, the face of a debutante writer who doesn’t want to leave their comfort zone, a queasy little moue that means they want their protagonist to have an inoffensive life. No conflict, no anger, no unpleasantness, and definitely no passion, no death and no war. ‘My character would never do that,’ she says, not realising that fiction without its darker side is like a Miss Marple mystery without its murder, all tinkly tea-cups and nice chats with the village postmistress.” [excerpt from MsLexia magazine, Dec/Jan/Feb 2013/2014 issue]  I find her words quite depressing, that new writers now are not daring to take risks. When I think back now to my fellow students on the numerous writing courses I have attended, there were some who were cautious but thankfully there were more of us who pushed it perhaps too much. Brayfield continues: “It’s not only creative writing students who wince when they’re invited to create some conflict. The editor of my first novel, set partly in Malaysia during World War II, wanted me to cut ‘the war stuff’ – without which there was no plot. My agent wanted me to cut the sex and
Read More

Categories: On Writing.

Famous people, reading… Madonna

Madonna “Poor is the man whose pleasure depends on the permission of another.” [reading about Hitchcock] I think what she means is, don’t expect universal approval. I don’t think Hitch waited for the permission of others, either. For more about Madonna at her official website, click here.   ‘The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock’ by Donald Spoto [UK: Plexus] Buy now See these other famous people, reading & writing:- Jack Nicholson Ernest Hemingway Jonathan Franzen And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Famous people, reading… Madonna reading about Alfred Hitchcock #books #film via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-Yh
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Burial Rites

So much has been written about this book by Hannah Kent, I feel pretty sure that by now you know it is the fictionalised story of an Icelandic woman found guilty of murder in the 1820s. You may possibly also know that this book, rich in Icelandic saga and with Iceland present on every page of the story, is written by a young Australian. If this book does not win a drawerful of awards, it will make me lose faith in literary awards. The confidence with which the story is told defies the knowledge that this is a debut novel, any allowances I had mentally made for a debut are not required. Not only does Kent write a historical novel set in a foreign country with a difficult language, from page one you are in Iceland. Put aside the names of people, the names of the farms [the map at the front of my edition was much thumbed in the beginning, then forgotten], Iceland surrounds you as you read the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir. You sit with her in the badstofa, the smell of the dung walls in your lungs, the dirt under your fingernails. “The herb plot of Kornsá
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

The symbolism of trees

The tree as a symbol for family history research is well known and I use it throughout Ignoring Gravity. The family tree, the networking of roots and branches, stretching wide, unseen beneath the earth and hidden by leaves, is an ideal image for the twists and turns of Rose Haldane’s heritage. Trees are everywhere.Trees also symbolise life, fertility, the seasons, the passing of time, and renewal. They appear throughout literature and art. One of my favourite paintings is by David Hockney, a scene painted a few miles from where I grew up in Yorkshire. Bigger Trees Near Warter, measures 12×4 metres and was painted outside in six weeks, then completed in the studio. Hockney used digital technology to assemble a computer mosaic of the picture, comprising 50 individual canvases, so he could step back and see it as a whole. It features two copses, a sycamore tree, buildings and early flowering daffodils. The concept of a tree of life has been used throughout religion and mythology, alluding to the interconnection of all forms of life throughout nature. Trees appear in history too, ancient oaks were often used as meeting points for rural councils. Much of England in the 13th century was covered
Read More

Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Writing.

Book review: An Appetite for Violets

The beginning: it is 1773. Kitt, a brother who seeks his disappeared sister, arrives at an Italian villa to find it abandoned, the dinner table laid with forgotten cakes and sweetmeats. You think the story of An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey will be about Kitt’s sister Lady Carinna but she is a bit-player. The real story belongs to her under-cook Obedience, Biddy, Leigh, forced to accompany her mistress on a Grand Tour to the Continent. After this first short section at the Villa Ombrosa, the story starts at Mawton Hall in 1772 where the servants are surprised by the arrival of their new mistress, without her elderly husband. Lady Carinna asks Biddy to copy her favourite violet sweets bought from an expensive London store. Although Biddy is an honest cook she is not a craftswoman, and her attempt produces “shocking poor copies of the originals.” She is rescued by the Indonesian footman Mr Loveday who provides a box of original sweets to substitute for Biddy’s home-made variety. Pleased with the sweets Lady Carinna gives Biddy a rose silk gown. Trying on the dress, Biddy gets a glimpse of a life so different from her own. This experience bonds
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

How to Get Ahead: Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood “Learn from those who’ve come before you. This is true for any discipline, not just fashion. It’s a sickness of the modern age – all too often, people decide they want to do something but don’t take the time to master the discipline in the first place.” [Vivienne Westwood, quote from ‘Grazia’ magazine January 18, 2010] You don’t have to like fashion to have heard of Dame Vivienne Westwood. She truly is one alone. She has designed and sold clothes since 1971 when her boyfriend Malcolm McLaren opened a shop called Let It Rock at 430 King’s Road, London, challenging the establishment every step of the way in her own eccentric inspirational way. As a young Yorkshire journalist in London, she showed me that it was okay to have a northern accent. What Westwood is saying here is ‘learn the rules before you break them’. Not something you want to hear when you are young but something that does apply to writing. Perhaps it’s the journalist in me but I have always been a bit of a stickler for the Style Book, and I know I continue to use the same grammatical and style rules I learned as
Read More

Categories: On Writing.

I agree with… Simon Sebag Montefiore

Simon Sebag Montefiore “For writers, wasting time is as vital as working, so it is essential to sit all day without doing anything.” [excerpt from Simon Sebag Montefiore’s column in British Airways ‘High Life’ magazine, March 2014] I totally get this, although I think non-writers will consider it a complete waste of time. Most writers I know are walkers in some form or another, all are dreamers. Where else do we get our ideas from? Read about my writerly wanderings around Wimbledon Common, my haunt while writing Ignoring Gravity, here. Read more about Simon Sebag Montefiore’s fiction and non-fiction here.   ‘Sashenka’ by Simon Sebag Montefiore [Corgi] Buy now If you agree with Simon Sebag Montefiore, perhaps you will agree with:- Deborah McKinlay – the lean years focussed me on what I really wanted Matthew Thomas – don’t deny the autobiographical Jeanette Winterson – writing never stops And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: I agree with Simon Sebag Montefiore: #writers need time & space to think http://wp.me/p5gEM4-RQ via @SandraDanby
Read More

Categories: My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Writing.

My favourite bookshop…

I cannot resist secondhand bookshops, the book sections of charity shops, book stalls at church bring & buy sales, or the book tables at the Southbank every weekend. Any Amount of Books in Charing Cross Road is one of my favourites dating back to my student days in London. The road of course is famous for its bookshops, thanks to Helene Hanff’s novel 84 Charing X Road. Any Amount of Books is at number 56. Number 84 is no longer a bookshop. And the 1987 film starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins tells the love story formed by an exchange of letters between Miss Helene Hanff of New York and Frank Doel of Messrs Marks and Co, seller of rare and secondhand books, at 84 Charing Cross Road. To watch a scene from the film on You Tube, click here.   
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

New books coming soon

David Mitchell The Bone Clocks, the new novel by Cloud Atlas author Mitchell [below], will be published by Sceptre in September 2014. It tells the story of Holly Sykes who in 1984 runs away from home; 60 years later she is living in Ireland with her granddaughter as the world’s climate collapses. The story follows the arc of Holly’s life, from a Swiss resort where she is a barmaid, via the Iraq war in 2003, and then a widower. Peter Matthiessen In Paradise, the final novel from 86-year old US novelist Peter Matthiessen who died on April 5, has just been published by Oneworld after its publication was brought forward following his death. Previously scheduled to be published in June, In Paradise is about a group of people at a meditation retreat at the site of a Second World War concentration camp and the subsequent revelations that surface. A Yi A Perfect Crime by A Yi, a Chinese novel about a teenager who murders his best friend, will be translated by Anna Holmwood and published by Oneworld in early 2015. Vanessa Manko Manko’s novel The Invention of Exile follows the life of a Russian émigré when he is deported from
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Famous people, reading… Vincent Price

Vincent Price “There comes a time in life when you know what you like and have to make up your mind to like what you know, or at least have begun to know. In other words, you must determine in what direction your knowledge is leading, thus far.” Okay… I know what I like, but how do I know I don’t like a book/genre/author if I don’t try it? He is rather contradictory, elsewhere in the same book he says, “There’s something fascinating about seeing something you don’t like at first but directly know you will love—in time.” So, read genre, read literary fiction, read poetry, read memoir, read non-fiction. Read it all.   ‘I Like What I Know: a Visual Autobiography’ by Vincent Price [UK: Open Road] Buy now See these other famous people, reading & writing:- Marilyn Monroe Gregory Peck Jerry Lewis And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Famous people, reading… Vincent Price reading a #film script via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-10d
Read More

Categories: Book Love.