Monthly Archives June 2014

Book review: The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me

I wanted this book by Lucy Robinson to start in a different place. The story is about Sally Howlett, wardrobe mistress at the Royal Opera House, who sings opera… in the wardrobe. There are so many good things about this book that make it a pleasurable read, but throughout I had the nagging doubt that there was a different book trying to get out. A book better than the prologue, or ‘Overture’ as it is called to match the opera theme, a book better than the cover, a book seriously about opera and more concerned with life’s big themes. Instead it seemed trapped inside its rather lightweight cover. The Overture starts with a person trapped in a wardrobe with a teddy bear called Carrot. This person is Sally Howlett, who the next day starts a post-graduate diploma in opera at the Royal College of Music. I don’t always have a problem with Prologues –although I know there is a view that it demonstrates nervousness on the part of the writer and a need to explain stuff ‘up front’ – but I did have a problem with this one. It was confusing. In the first paragraph, the person looks in the mirror
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Categories: Book Love.

I agree with… Karen Maitland

Karen Maitland “Do all the research, then close the textbooks and just write a cracking good story. It’s the story that has to come first. The detail has got to be right but you’re telling a story, not writing a history book.” [Karen Maitland, in an interview with The Bookseller magazine May 30, 2014] Maitland is talking here about her new novel The Vanishing Witch. Like her previous novels, it is a medieval thriller. She is meticulous about her research, even cooking the food she writes about. “I think that’s quite important because medieval food was so different from our own. It’s so strangely spiced – for example sandalwood was a flavouring.” Interesting, that she puts the emphasis on story. No matter how in-depth the research, if the story idea is rubbish then the novel will be rubbish. Thank you Karen Maitland. Click here to visit Karen Maitland’s website. If you agree with Karen Maitland, perhaps you will agree with:- Joel and Ethan Coen – on genre types of characters Hilary Mantel – remembers the first time she read ‘Jane Eyre’ Kate Atkinson – on using your own life and family, then fictionalising it   ‘The Vanishing Witch’ by Karen
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Famous writers, writing… Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens “There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.” [excerpt from ‘Oliver Twist’] We have all read books like this. The ones you can’t remember why you bought them, the ones recommended to you by friends who read books you wouldn’t normally pick up, the ones bought in a rush at an airport or a train station, bought in that desperation of ‘any book is better than no book’, the fear that haunts book readers of being caught on a transatlantic flight without a book. This still applies today even with e-books I think, as they are even easier to buy. Just one click and they appear magically on our Kindles, a bundle bought in a weak moment from Amazon, the complete works of an author when you haven’t read even one book.   ‘Oliver Twist’ by Charles Dickens [UK: Penguin Classics] Buy now See these other famous people, reading & writing:- Beryl Bainbridge Peter Carey Joseph Conrad And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Famous writers, writing… #author Charles Dickens via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-11K
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#WritingPrompt Writers’ BLOCKbusters… lament

Lament… sorrow, memory, regret, heavy, loss, betrayal… or joy? 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 ‘lament’ and that you write about a completely different subject. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other writing prompts:- Music Bronze Push Button at Pedestrian Crossing 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
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

I agree with… Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson “Everyone said [it] was an autobiographical novel, and I was very offended. It’s fiction, but there’s so much of my life and other people’s lives in it that it’s hard for me to defend that. I took a lot of the structure of my own family – the aunts, the uncles, the cousins – and lots of my memories of atmosphere. I think my best memories were always for atmosphere… I took it all and made it into something because, for me, fiction is about making the chaos in my head into objective external order.” [interviewed by Melvyn Bragg on ‘The South Bank Show’, Sky Arts] Since Kate Atkinson wrote her first novel in 1995, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, she has fielded questions about ‘the autobiographical novel’. All novelists will be familiar with the questions: Are you [add name of protagonist]? Did that happen to you? Etcetera. Odd questions really, when all novels must start from ideas that come from the author’s own life and experiences, somewhere, some time, to some degree. Perhaps it’s the sort of question that someone asks who hasn’t written a novel, almost as if there is something wrong with autobiographical elements in
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Applying the rules of art to writing: admire your forebears…

“… but don’t try to build a career by repeating their discoveries. Most students come to art training after a passionate engagement with established or historical art. Nothing is more thrilling than to delve deeply into the beauties of Titian, Turner, Rodin, or Cézanne or into the edgy excitement of contemporary work. But every student must remember that art is a constantly tilled field, and its job is to overcome what we know in order to examine and celebrate what we don’t yet know. What makes work of the past endlessly satisfying is the vistas it provides into a moment in history. Every artist must do the same for his or her moment.” Excerpt from ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’ by Kit White Every writer must read. If you want to write crime fiction, read Sayers, Christie, James, Larsson, Rankin. If you write thrillers, read Harris, Boyd, Grisham, King, Le Carre, Fleming. But don’t stop there. Read outside your genre too. Read the classics, read genres you know nothing about. And read as a writer. Learn from the masters. Then leave behind all that you have read, and write your own thing. Yes learn from the masters, but
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Categories: On Writing.

The copy-editing experience

This is an unusually long post from me today, as I want to write about copy-editing. One thing I wasn’t prepared for when preparing the manuscript (MS) of Ignoring Gravity for publication was copy-editing. This was something I just hadn’t got around to organising.It wasn’t that I didn’t know it would have to be edited, but I hadn’t factored in the time needed. The novel has been read so many times, in its many forms and with its different titles, by so many different people, surely copy-editing is just picking up bad punctuation? Wrong. I am so thankful that a journalist colleague now runs a copy-editing business. Dea Parkin [below] and I go back a long way, I trust her. Fiction Feedback gave me a brilliant service. I heard Dea gulp when I said she had a week to turn around the MS, and another gulp when I said it was 99,000 [alright, 100,000] word MS. But she did it. In fact we did have more time, and in the end Fiction Feedback read the MS three times. It was worth every penny. On all style points, Fiction Feedback refers to the Oxford English Dictionary, and New Hart’s Rules. The
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Categories: On Writing.

I agree with… James McAvoy

James McAvoy “I’d rather be working in a green screen studio with a good script, than working in a beautifully realized physical location that has a bad script.” [interviewed by Sophie Raworth on ‘The Andrew Marr Show’, BBC, May 25, 2014] James McAvoy? Actor: The Last King of Scotland, Atonement, the young version of Charles Xavier, the Patrick Stewart character in X-Men, and not forgetting Mr Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Why am I quoting an actor, not a writer? Because he supports good writing. And he likes superheroes. Each faces a human crisis, he explains: “They are all persecuted, they are all closeted, ghettoised…” To visit James McAvoy’s website, click here. To watch part of the BBC interview with James McAvoy, click here. If you agree with James McAvoy, perhaps you will agree with:- Lauren Owen – family relationships are very interesting Barbara Taylor-Bradford – for me it all starts with a memorable character Ruby Wax – I always ask the booksellers to look at me and recommend a book And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: I agree with James McAvoy: better
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Categories: On Writing.

#WritingPrompt Writers’ BLOCKbusters… music

Do you listen to music while you write? Well today you can use your music for inspiration too. Get working with this writing prompt from Sandra Danby’s Writers’ BLOCKbusters series. Go to your phone/CD shelf/ i-Tunes, close your eyes, and choose an album at random. Write the title of the album [not the name of the artist] and concentrate on it. Now think of five words at random – nouns, adjectives, verbs, it doesn’t matter. Write a paragraph incorporating each of those five words. Now write a Flash Fiction piece of 250 words, incorporating that paragraph. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other writing prompts:- Stairs to Who Knows Where Death Valley At This Mark on the Pavement  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,
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Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.

New books coming soon

Lisa Jackson Deserve to Die, the new novel in the Alvarez/Pescoli suspense series by American author Lisa Jackson [below], will be published in August 2014 by Mulholland, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton. Jackson is a bestselling author in the US and H&S says there is a huge appetite for this type of thrilling suspense with a romantic edge, made popular by Karen Rose and Karin Slaughter. Standalone thriller Close to Home, a standalone thriller, will be released in hardback in September 2014. Click here for Lisa Jackson’s website. Eve Makis The Spice Box Letters is the new novel from Eve Makis, to be published by Sandstone Press in 2015. It tells the story of a young woman’s search for her family origins through the written memories of her Armenian grandmother. The publication date is timed to mark the centenary year of the Armenian genocide in 1915. Makis’ first novel, Eat, Drink and Be Married, originally published by Black Swan [above], is to be re-issued by Sandstone as an e-book in 2015. Visit Eve Makis’ website here. Hilary Mantel The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher is a new collection of contemporary short stories by Hilary Mantel, to be published by 4th Estate on
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Elizabeth is Missing

Can there be a more unreliable narrator than an 81-year old woman with dementia? Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey is a brilliant debut. Maud lives on her own, she has carers visiting, they leave prepared food for her and tell her not to use the cooker. But she does love toast. There is a rebelliousness about Maud which immediately made me connect with her. She reminded me of my mother, who suffered from dementia. I was impressed with the way Maud’s condition is portrayed, in convincing detail, slowly deteriorating as the story progresses. Maud writes herself notes, as memory prompts, and keeps them in her pockets and around the house. The note she re-reads most often is ‘Elizabeth is missing’. Elizabeth is Maud’s friend, and she is not at her house. The story has a cyclical motion as Maud finds the note, goes out to hunt for Elizabeth, and then is told by someone that Elisabeth is not missing, that she is fine. And then Maud finds the note again, and the cycle re-starts. Interwoven with Maud’s search for Elizabeth, is a narrative strand set in 1946 when she lives with her parents and lodger Douglas. People are displaced
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Categories: Book Love.

#Writingprompt Writers’ BLOCKbusters… green apples

Today’s writing prompt is a photo and an exercise from Writer’s BLOCKbusters. Study the photo then do the following without over-thinking. Quickly write down the first five adjectives which occur to you when describing this photograph. Now write a sentence featuring one of those adjectives. Repeat this exercise so you have five separate sentences. Write a Flash Fiction piece of 250 words, incorporating these sentences. You may not re-use the same adjectives. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other writing prompts:- Push Button at Pedestrian Crossing Beach 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 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
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Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.

How I write flash fiction

There’s something freeing about writing a short story, compared with a novel, and that effect is exploded when it comes to writing flash fiction. So when I was nominated by writer Lisa Devaney for the ‘My Writing Process’ blog tour, I decided to take the opportunity to explore the way I write flash fiction. But first, something about Lisa [below] who I met at the book launch party for our mutual friend Tina Seskis, whose book One Step Too Far was published in April by Penguin. Lisa’s new novel In Ark is just published. It is a new genre called cli-fi [climate change fiction]. In the year 2044, Mya Brand lives in New York City and pursues her passion—trying to digitally save the life story of every human on the planet before climate change makes Earth un-liveable. Recovering from a failed marriage, she stays laser-focused on her mission. With support from her actress best friend and bartender buddy, she is rebuilding her life and trying to heal her hard shell. For more info about In Ark, visit Lisa’s blog here. Now to my writing process. What am I working on? I have a selection of flash fiction ideas at the moment
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Categories: My Flash Fiction and On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 56… ‘Lord of the Flies’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The boy with the fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way towards the lagoon. Though he had taken off his school sweater and trailed it now from one hand, his grey shirt stuck to him and his hair was plastered to his forehead. All round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat. He was clambering heavily among the creepers and the broken trunks when a bird, a vision of red and yellow, flashed upwards with a witch-like cry; and this cry was echoed by another.” ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Death in Summer’ by William Trevor ‘Fair Exchange’ by Michele Forbes ‘Herzog’ by Saul Bellow And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A great 1st para: LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-7Z via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.