Monthly Archives May 2015

How to get ahead: Kate Silverton

Kate Silverton “Your instinct and not your fears should be your guide – it’s too easy in a world that constantly feeds into our insecurities to be led by what we think we ought to do – rather than be true to what we really are.” [Kate Silverton, quote from ‘Grazia’ magazine January 18, 2010] So write what you want to write, the way you want to write it. Don’t be afraid to try something new: new genre, new point of view, new voice. Write poetry or a short story. Do you enjoy writing dialogue, why not attempt a play? What’s the best advice about writing you’ve ever been given? For BBC journalist Kate Silverton’s website, click here. Try these tips to get ahead:- Kate Turner Nicky Kinnaird Vivienne Westwood And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Follow your instinct, not your fears: advice from #journalist Kate Silverton http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1aP via @SandraDanby #amwriting
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Categories: On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 73… ‘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:- ‘Brighton Rock’ by Graham Greene ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote ‘The Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: NORWEGIAN WOOD by Haruki Murakami #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1xx
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Family history: using maps

Understanding your lost relatives is a little easier when you can place them geographically. Today there are huge online resources of historical maps which make this easier. If you are searching for someone today and you have an address, the best place to start is the simplest: Google Maps. Just type in a place name and map focuses on the area you want, making it easy to find addresses from birth certificates, for example. When you are dealing with an area of the country with which you are unfamiliar, using GoogleMaps allows you to familiarise yourself with the area and perhaps connect up a couple of clues which previously did not make sense. For example, birth certificates or baptism records with addresses which do not tally with other clues you have. Looking at the area on a map can often clarify the options. Britain From Above allows you to look down on early to mid-20th century homes, from the skies. For example, I grew up on the North Yorkshire coast near Filey, below are two photographs from the area. Top is a 1925 photograph showing Carr Naze and Filey Brigg; the pic below shows Crescent Hill and Foreshore Road in Filey in 1932.
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Categories: Book Love, Family history research and On Researching.

#WritingPrompt Writers’ BLOCKbusters… secret

We all have secrets, don’t we? Secrets lie at the core of most fiction. So if you are having difficulty putting pen to paper today, try this writing prompt from Writers’ BLOCKbusters. What’s the biggest secret you didn’t keep? Now write one word answers to the following prompts:- What Why When How Where Who Write one paragraph about each response. From those six paragraphs, choose one sentence and use that as the beginning of a flash fiction piece of 250 words. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other writing prompts:- Wordstorm: Run Two Empty Glasses Coffee Shop  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
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Book review: Homeland

No, not the American TV series about Carrie Mathison and Nicholas Brody, the thriller by British author Clare Francis. Francis is a proficient thriller writer, but it is some years since I last read one of her books: until I picked one at random off my shelf one day. Homeland is set after World War Two in the quiet rural corner of England that is the Somerset Levels. A land of rising and ebbing water levels, and unworldly place of withies and willows. Into this walks Billy Greer on his return from the war, going back to the house of his uncle and aunt where he spent the difficult teenage years before the war. There, he finds the house and farm in disarray, his uncle dramatically aged, and his aunt upstairs confined to bed after a stroke. And he meets again the woman who made his spine tingle when they were both teenagers. Will he stay to rebuild the farm, or will he go to the promised job in London. And what of Annie, the local girl he could not forget while he fought his way around Europe? Underlying the telling of Billy’s story is that of the Polish soldiers,
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Categories: Book Love.

Writing romantic comedy: Nancy Meyers

Do the same writing rules apply to films as to novels? Film director Nancy Meyers – What Women Want, and It’s Complicated – told Grazia magazine [January 18, 2010] the top six things she thinks women want at the movies. Do they apply to romantic novels too? One. Cast a lead man who looks like a nice person. “Most women’s husbands and boyfriends don’t look like movie stars. That’s why I cast Jack Black as Kate Winslet’s love interest in The Holiday.” Two. Romance doesn’t always mean boy meets girl. “Women want films with substance humour, which also reflect their own lives.” She cites The Devil Wears Prada, where the romance is between the woman and her work, her relationship with her boyfriend didn’t really matter. Three. Don’t sideline the women. She is disappointed with some romcom films. “A couple of years ago, all the romantic comedies were guys with guys, films like Wedding Crashers or Knocked Up”. Four. Less can be more. Movies don’t need to be big productions with massive budgets. She cites the classic 1960 comedy-drama The Apartment which was filmed in 30 days. “These days, audiences are used to getting something new and more dazzling every second,
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: The Faerie Tree

This is a touching tale of love, self-awareness and how love persists over the years. Izzy and her daughter Claire are shopping. It is just before Christmas, the streets of Winchester are crowded and the air is icy. Izzy bumps into a tramp, a homeless man, and is sure she knows him. But when she turns round, he is gone. This is the story of Izzy and Robin’s love for each other, their loss, and how they find themselves and each other again. Where does the faerie tree come into it? It is place where children leave gifts and messages for the fairies, and where the fairies leave their replies. The tree is central to this story of hope and compassion, of flawed characters, real people, finding their way out from the darkness. Beneath the faerie tree, Izzy and Robin swear eternal love to each other in 1986 but are soon after parted by circumstances. When they finally meet again, their memories of their early time together are so different: why? And whose memory is correct, whose flawed? This story combines a love story with suspense and a sprinkle of folklore. Jane Cable is turning into an author where I
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Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 72… ‘Nineteen Minutes’ #amwriting #FirstPara

By the time you read this, I hope to be dead. You can’t undo something that’s happened; you can’t take back a word that’s already been said out loud. You’ll think about me and wish that you had been able to talk me out of this. You’ll try to figure out what would have been the one right thing to say, to do. I guess I should tell you, Don’t blame yourself; this isn’t your fault, but that would be a lie. We both know that I didn’t get here by myself. ‘Nineteen Minutes’ by Jodi Picoult Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Sacred Hearts’ by Sarah Dunant ‘The L-Shaped Room’ By Lynn Reid Banks ‘Bel Canto’ by Ann Patchett And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: NINETEEN MINUTES by @jodipicoult #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1xt via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Flash Fiction: The Ten Questions

There are various tests to be passed in life. Some we pass, some we fail. Sylvestra hated tests. Practise or don’t practise, learn by rote or don’t, nothing made any difference. It coloured her life. Spelling tests at school: Rhubarb, Psychosis, Blancmange, Rhododendron. The egg-and-spoon race. The driving test, certification to drive a motor vehicle. The breathalyser test, when stopped for driving erratically in charge of said motor vehicle. Sylvestra tried, and failed them all. She was not a clever woman, but she would not call herself stupid. She knew right from wrong, right from left, she knew wars were started by men who thought they knew better than everyone else, she recognised when she was being over-charged and knew instantly whether or not someone could be trusted. Then came a new Government test. The ‘clever enough to vote’ test. Over 10 years ago, voter turnout fell. Subsequent governments elected were all further and further right-wing. This was the first test Sylvestra had ever passed, but she took no delight. Now Sylvestra awaited the most controversial element of the next Queen’s Speech. It was a white paper anticipated with relief by an ageing electorate tired of decades of family-dominated government
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Categories: My Flash Fiction and On Writing.

Long Lost Family: Denise’s story

This adoption story from the 1960s belongs to a teenager whose father died when she was 15. Missing her father and growing apart from her mother who was distracted by a new husband, she sought love and attention elsewhere. She went clubbing, and at 16 was pregnant. This is Denise Temple‘s story from the Long Lost Family television programme. The family agreed the child would be given up for adoption. But Denise remembers looking at her new born baby, Deborah: “I thought I’d die for this child, I’d die for her… I just cried and cried and cried. I said ‘I’m not giving her up’.” But her stepfather would not have her in the house. It was finally agreed that Denise and her baby could go home on the understanding that she could expect no help from her mother or stepfather. In The Sixties there was little state support for single mothers. Denise went home, and the baby slept in a drawer. She had half a dozen terry cloth nappies. “I was so alone.” She struggled on for three months, before finally giving her baby up for adoption. “It was no life for her, or me.” Denise never forgot Deborah.
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Categories: Book Love, Family history research and On Researching.

Book review: A Mind to Murder

A private clinic, psychiatrists and their patients: potent territory for a crime novelist such as PD James. The clinic administrator is found murdered in the basement archive, a chisel through her heart. The potential murderer must be within the clinic’s staff and as they set about analysing each other’s alibis and motives, Commander Adam Dalgliesh arrives from a literary party. A classic PD James, although for me a trifle slow-moving at times as the layout and routines of the clinic are necessarily explored. The culprit? An early suspect I had barely considered. Dalgliesh’s task is complicated  by office politics, blackmail, love affairs and ambition. Listen here to a clip from the audio book of A Mind to Murder. Read by Roy Marsden, who played Adam Dalgliesh in the 1995 TV movie. Published in 1963, this is the second of the Adam Dalgliesh mysteries. To read my review of the first, Cover Her Face, click here. If you like this, try:- ‘Wilderness’ by Campbell Hart ‘An Uncertain Place’ by Fred Vargas ‘The Killing of Polly Carter’ by Robert Thorogood ‘A Mind to Murder’ by PD James, Adam Dalgliesh #2 [UK: Faber] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to
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Categories: Book Love.

How to write a book review

Probably the biggest no-no is not to give away the plot. Do not do this, even if you write a big headline saying ‘this book review contains spoilers’. No-one likes it, don’t do it. Publishers will not send you preview copies, readers will not dare read any of your reviews in case it spoils the plot, and authors will hate you for doing away with the need to buy their book. There are basically two types of book review:- Descriptive: this gives the essential information about the book, the author, when/where available. Many book reviewers lift this information straight from the Amazon or Goodreads summary, but the journalist in me dislikes this habit. It can feel as if the reviewer has not actually read the book. Critical: this style of review describes the book and evaluates the story, with the reviewer backing up opinions with examples from the text. This is the more thorough review, considering the book within the wider picture of the author’s work, genre, publishing trends, its themes, characterization, plot, structure. While reading a book for review, I:- Make a note of my first impressions; Keep notes about plot turns, and particularly anything that surprises me; Write down excerpts
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Categories: Book publicity and On Writing.

My epiphany: Tess Jaray

“… we were taken out into the streets with our drawing tutor and I drew a row of trees into my sketch-book, the tutor was scathing: you are only looking at the trees. What about the spaces in between? You wouldn’t even see the trees if they weren’t framed with space. And look, he said, the spaces in between also have shapes – imagine the trees as the edges of the picture, and framing only the space. You still have a shape. Perhaps even more interesting than the trees themselves. Well, I’ve forgotten his name… but I owe him much.” Tess Jaray, in an interview with ‘RA Magazine’ [Spring 2014] Jaray is talking about an epiphany, a revelation, that lead her to consider the role of space in art. I first read this article as research for Justine Tree, the artist character in Connectedness. Jaray is an artist, but it got me thinking about my epiphanies about writing. I think the novel which has had the most influence for me in terms of structure and how to tell a time-slip narrative, is AS Byatt’s Possession [this is my much read copy below]. Booker Prize winner in 1990, Possession tells the story of
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Writing tips: learn from the masters

Learn from the masters. Take an author you know and love, and aim to emulate. Analyse the way they write by de-constructing the plot and characters of a novel. I’ve done this with AS Byatt’s Possession and John Grisham’s The Firm. Patterns and techniques become evident. Apply what you learn to your own writing.   ‘The Firm’ by John Grisham [UK: Arrow] Buy now ‘Possession’ by AS Byatt [UK: Vintage] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Writers’ BLOCKbusters: learn from the masters http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1u0 #writingtips via @SandraDanby
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Categories: On Writing.

How to give feedback to other writers

Giving feedback to other writers is a useful skill, whether you are a creative writing student, member of an informal writing group or online writing community. Writers are incredibly supportive of each other, but we do want constructive feedback, feedback that makes us think about what we have written. But there are good and bad ways of giving feedback. Here are some of the things I’ve learned, in +30 years of subbing the copy of other journalists, and 10+ years of attending creative writing classes and critiquing the novels of friends. Feedback should be the start of a discussion, not a unit of time comprised of you talking. Start with a ‘Feedback Sandwich’. This is a management technique I learned for handling staff appraisals but it works just as well when critiquing a fellow student’s work at a creative writing class. When asked for your comments, it is good to start with a short summary. The emphasis being on short. The sandwich is positive-negative-positive. The aim is to encourage, rather than to pick faults. Say what you liked about the work you read. Be specific. If there is something in the text which confuses you, point out the particular passage.
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: Me Cheeta

This book by James Lever was something of a word-of-mouth hit, a spoof autobiography by the chimp which played Cheeta in the Tarzan films of the Thirties, and was recommended to me by my husband. It sat on my to-read shelf for a long time, until I had a tired day when I needed something easy to read. It had me laughing right from page 1. “Dearest humans, So, it’s the perfect day in Palm Springs, California, and here I am – actor, artist, African, American, ape and now author – flat out on the lounger by the pool, looking back over this autobiography of mine. Flipping through it more than reading it, to be honest…” Okay, the laughs don’t come every page, and the section where Cheeta journeys from Africa to New York then Hollywood could perhaps have been shorter. But it made me laugh. The portrayal of some Hollywood stars is wicked, and there are very familiar names: Flynn, Niven, Dietrich, Rooney, Sanders, Chaplin, the Barrymores, and of course Johnny. Johnny Weissmuller. All fictional of course. At times, I forgot it was a spoof, so delicious were the laughs. “It would be true to say that I spent
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Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 71… ‘Mara and Dann’ #amwriting #FirstPara

The scene that the child, then the girl, then the young woman tried so hard to remember was clear enough in its beginnings. She had been hustled – sometimes carried, sometimes pulled along by the hand – through a dark night, nothing to be seen but stars, and then she was pushed into a room and told, Keep quiet, and the people who had brought her disappeared. She had not taken notice of their faces, what they were, she was too frightened, but they were her people, the People, she knew that. The room was nothing she had known. It was a square, built of large blocks of rock. She was inside one of the rock houses. She had seen them all her life. The rock houses were where they lived, the Rock People, not her people, who despised them. She had often see the Rock People walking along the roads, getting quickly out of the way when they saw the People; but a dislike of them that she had been taught made it hard to look much at them. She was afraid of them, and thought them ugly. ‘Mara and Dann’ by Doris Lessing Amazon Try one of these 1st
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.