Monthly Archives July 2015

Book review: Last Child

Tudor lovers will love this sequel to the popular Kings and Queens saga by Terry Tyler about construction magnate Harry Lanchester [Henry VIII] and his six wives. Now, Harry is dead. The King is dead, long live the king. In this case, his only son. This book follows the tale of the three orphans and, like their Tudor namesakes – Isabella/Mary, Jaz/Edward and Erin/Elizabeth – they make a history of the 21st century kind. Adultery, boardroom betrayal, sibling arguments, sexual chemistry, this book is full of it. Business here takes the place of royalty, creating quite apt parallels as the themes transfer across the centuries: truth, compromise, pragmatism and bravery. It helps to have read Kings and Queens before you start this, but not essential. The first narrator is Hannah, who was nanny in the first book to the three young Lanchester children, and is now back on the scene to pick up the pieces. Jaz, Harry’s heir, is 13, his father’s friends surround him as he prepares to take the helm of the family construction when he is 16. But Jaz, like his father, is a rebel and things do not go to plan. If you know your Tudor history, you
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Categories: Book Love.

Great opening paragraph 75… ‘Diary of an Ordinary Woman’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“26 November 1914. Father said if I want to keep a diary I must begin it on New Year’s Day. He said no one starts a diary in November. But New Year’s Day is five weeks away and I do not want to wait. I don’t see why I should either. Why should diaries have to start on 1st January. It is tidy, I admit, and I am a tidy person, but that is all.” ‘Diary of an Ordinary Woman’ by Margaret Forster Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Affinity’ by Sarah Waters ‘A Month in the Country’ by JL Carr ‘Armadillo’ by William Boyd And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: DIARY OF AN ORDINARY WOMAN by Margaret Forster#bookshttp://wp.me/p5gEM4-1GKvia @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: The Threshold

This is a refreshing tale, a modern-day parable, more novella than novel as it comes in at approx 65 pages [approx. because it is only available as an e-book]. In the Foreword, Anita Kovacevic explains her inspiration for the story: one word read in one of her favourite stories, one word which was seemingly unimportant, but which inspired this story. Threshold. From page one, the tone is unusual. It’s almost as if you are being told a bedtime story. An elderly lady takes her dog for a walk, past the grand decaying house on the block. In a gust of wind, a piece of paper drifts to her feet. It is a letter from the man who once owned the house, but who has not been seen for years: Josephus Clarence Thibedeaux III. The letter is his will, bequeathing the house to the first person who enters the house and comes out again. Alive. It is at this intriguing point that the story diverts, to the life story of Joseph Thibbit. Stick with it though, and you come to the climax, the television programme ‘Urban Legend’, run by media mogul Ken Scott. Into the media whirl steps nice guy Mike
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Categories: Book Love.

How Anne Tyler writes

Anne Tyler: “For 20 years sometimes I’ll pass a card and it does nothing for me. But the 21st year I’ll pick it out of the box and it will feel like something is flowering in my mind.” [talking to ‘The Bookseller’ magazine] Keeping track of ideas is something that every novelist does, in their own way. Pulitzer-winning novelist Anne Tyler [she won in 1989 for Breathing Lessons] uses a box of index cards. She writes one note per card, sometimes a possible character’s name, other cards may be more detailed. After she uses the card, she throws it away. I like this idea. At the moment I store all ideas, fragments, no matter how small. But they are in different places and it can be frustrating tracking them down and matching them together. Keeping them in an index box means they are in one place. Somehow it is more tactile to write it on a card rather than type a note in a Word document: the difference perhaps between free writing in a notebook, and free writing on a keyboard. Read my reviews of A Spool of Blue Thread and Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler.   See how these other
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Categories: On Writing.

Book review: I Belong to No One

This is a brave book, a memoir written by Gwen Wilson knowing that she may be criticised, knowing that readers may disapprove, but having the courage to write it anyway. To say ‘This is me, this is what I did when I was a teenager’. Gwen Wilson had a tough start in life. Her father was not in her life, in fact in later years she discovers that her father was a completely different man from the one she thought he was. Instead she grows up with her mother and half-brother Steve. Her mother would today be diagnosed as bi-polar, Steve is thrust into the role of authority figure. The young Gwen grows up relying on stand-in families, those of trusting neighbours or the parents of her schoolfriends. Looking for love, for approval, it is little wonder that she gets ’into trouble’. Gwen Wilson celebrated her 60th birthday just before this memoir was published. She has travelled a long way and become a different person since the girl who struggled to be a mother and wife when she was still a young girl. There should have been more support for her, but 1970s Australia was in many ways an unforgiving
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Categories: Adoption, Book Love, and Family history research.

Famous people, reading… Jack Nicholson

“If you think you’re attractive, you’re always attractive.” Jack Nicholson, actor I’ll have a go at dating this photo. It looks to me around the time of The Shining [1980]. Definitely not The Postman Always Rings Twice [1981] when his hair was shorter and neater. And to me he looks older than when he was in Easy Rider [1969] and Chinatown [1974]. He’d make a great starting point for creating a fictional character. See these other famous people, reading & writing:- Peter Carey Agatha Christie Madonna   ‘The Shining’ by Stephen King [UK: Hodder] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Jack Nicholson: passing the time #reading? #films via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1GT
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Categories: Book Love.

I agree with… Peter Carey

Peter Carey [on the sound of pneumatic drills outside his Manhattan apartment]… It’s been going on for a few days. Actually, I wrote ‘Oscar and Lucinda’ across the street from a construction site, with rock-splitting equipment banging away constantly for months. I can deal with this.” [Peter Carey in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine September 12, 2014 about the forthcoming publication of ‘Amnesia’] Some writers like noise, others hide from it… Jonathan Franzen famously writes with noise-cancelling earphones. I can pretty much write anywhere, my journalism background I think. When it comes to music though, I prefer classical, non-lyrical music. When it comes to doing my admin, e-mails, filing etc, it is loud rock music. I’m currently re-listening to my collection The Police albums. To read more about Peter Carey and his books, click here for his website. Read this interview with The Paris Review to find out why the young Carey thought it was a good idea to send his unpublished novel to English theatre critic Kenneth Tynan. To read my novel of Carey’s latest novel, Amnesia, click here. ‘Amnesia’ by Peter Carey [UK: Faber] If you agree with Peter Carey, perhaps you will agree with:- Lizzie Enfield
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Bill Clegg Writes

Bill Clegg “My brother had been in heating and plumbing school doing an apprenticeship and was talking about homes – vacation homes especially – that had propane leaks, which would blow up. I am distracted and restless, so I sort of imagined myself as the person who might leave the gas on.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, June 19, 2015] Before this conversation with his brother, Clegg already had his themes, some of the characters and the setting. But it didn’t come together until the conversation about leaving the gas on. The book opens with a literal bang, a home explodes, killing everyone inside. For inspiration, Clegg drew on his own life. The setting – Wells, Connecticut – is straight from his childhood town of Sharon, Connecticut, with class tension between the residents, the townies, and the wealthy second-homers. “Celebrities and the wealthy would blow into town with this unknowable glamour, leading lives we couldn’t begin to understand. I worked for them – landscaping, gardening, raking leaves – during the week when they weren’t there. I would be on these beautiful properties, just imagining the lives of the people who owned them – they were so different from
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: Outline

Outline by Rachel Cusk is a strange book, without a narrative spine. So, not a novel as such, more a collection of incidents which happen to an unnamed woman writer visiting Athens to teach creative writing. We learn more about the people she interacts with, than about her. People rarely ask her questions and her internal monologue is sparse. There is no cause and effect, no tension, nothing to make me curious. This book was shortlisted for two prices, the Folio Prize, and the 2015 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. The writing is beautiful, by which I mean the expression, the ideas explored and use of language, but it left me untouched, without strong feelings of like or dislike. Central to this feeling, I think, is that we do not know the narrator’s name. There is a quote from one of the narrator’s writing students, speaking in a class discussion, which sums it up for me: “…a story might merely be a series of events we believe ourselves to be involved in, but on which we have absolutely not influence at all.” If you like ‘Outline’, try:- ‘Yuki Chan in Bronte Country’ by Mick Jackson ‘Foxlowe’ by Eleanor Wasserberg ‘All
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Secrets, Spies and Spotted Dogs

This is the true story of one woman’s search for her birth family which crosses continents from South Africa and Rhodesia, to Australia, the UK, and Holland. Jane Eales discovered she was adopted when she was 19. Her adoptive parents made her swear never to tell anyone else about her adoption and never to search for her birth parents. She lived with the uncertainty of not knowing for 40 years until, when both her adoptive parents were dead, she started to search. The journey crosses continents as she uncovers a family’s pre-World War Two flight as Hitler threatens, the politics of Southern Africa, and spying during WW2. The ‘Spotted Dogs’ in the title is a reference to Dalmatian dogs; the author’s birth mother, Phyllis, was a renowned UK dog breeder. For Jane Eales, the promise she made to her adoptive parents was a difficult one to break. They were the only parents she had known, they cared for her, she loved them though she found it difficult to accept and understand their need for secrecy when it made her own life so ill-defined. What prompted her to search? With a learning-disabled son, she was advised to check her own genetic
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Categories: Adoption, Book Love, Family history research, and On Researching.

Family history: 20 top tips to find your missing ancestors

You’ve decided to trace your family tree, back through the generations. Easy, it’s just a case of trawling through the Birth, Marriages and Deaths records, right? Sadly it’s not always that straightforward… but there are ways to track down missing ancestors. These are the 20 Top Tips by Who Do You Think You Are?’s TV show genealogist Laura Berry. If you have an ancestor who is missing from official records, there are numerous possible reasons for their absence. 1 Ancestors may have used middle names. I don’t have a middle name but Adeline V Stephen, who was christened in 1882, was known by her second name Virginia. She became the writer Virginia Woolf. 2 Check the mother’s maiden name, not everyone was born in wedlock. 3 If you are really stuck, you can post a question on a genealogy forum such as the WDYTYA Forum. Often other forum users may be able to help. 4 Perhaps your ancestor simply moved. Try searching in a neighbouring area. 5 Names were often misspelt, and the mistake is continued down the line. 6 If you are drawing a blank at your favourite genealogy website, try using a different website which may have a slightly different
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Categories: Book Love, Family history research, and On Researching.

My Top 5… World War Two novels

This was an impossible list to write. My childhood was filled with World War Two novels and films, plus lots of cowboy and westerns too, thanks to my father. So this list combines childhood favourites with literature discovered in later years. ‘Sophie’s Choice’ by William Styron Who can forget the book, or that scene in the 1982 film. Sophie’s Choice: the phrase now commonly known to mean ‘an impossible choice’. Buy now ‘Where Eagles Dare’ by Alistair MacLean The 1968 film: Clint Eastwood, Richard Burton, need I say more? I gobbled Alistair MacLean’s books as a child; cheap paperbacks bought by my father and read by us all. Old-fashioned now, but still great page-turners. Buy now ‘Schindler’s Ark’ by Thomas Keneally I bought this one in July 1983 after it won the 1982 Booker Prize. In 1993 it was made into the film Schindler’s List starring Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler, Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern and a young Ralph Fiennes as the terrifying Amon Goeth. Buy now ‘Fortunes of War 1-3’ [The Balkan Trilogy] by Olivia Manning Guy and Harriet Pringle [aka a very young Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thomspon, then married in real life, in the 1987 BBC
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: Confusion

This, the third in the five-book series by Elizabeth Jane Howard which is The Cazalet Chronicles, covers March 1942 to July 1945, again we see the family’s experiences through the teenage eyes of Polly, Louise and Clary. Much has changed now as the war progresses, particularly affecting the role of women, the breakdown of class barriers, the empowerment of working women and educated poor. These books are quite a social history of a period which more often is the reserve of thrillers and spy novels. Elizabeth Jane Howard has a subtle hand when it comes to observing relationship, such as Polly’s observation after her mother’s death: “It was possible to believe that she was gone; it was their not ever coming back that was so difficult.” Confusion is in part a study of the grief of Polly and her father Hugh; and that of Clary and Neville, whose father Rupert has disappeared in action in France. Clary continues to believe her father is still alive, though the rest of the family quietly accepts his death. Then word from France brings a sliver of hope. Clary grieves for the father she remembers as a child, writing a daily diary for him, and
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Categories: Book Love.

I’m looking forward to reading: ‘Sweet Caress’ by William Boyd

I’ve loved William Boyd ever since A Good Man in Africa in 1982, and have the battered paperback to prove it [below]. Why? Because:-Boyd is one of the best British novelists alive; I’ve read most of them. Still to read Solo, delayed because I am not a great fan of continuation novels written by not-the-original author; My favourite novel is Any Human Heart; The most astonishing read: Brazzaville Beach; Best novel to start with: I would start at the beginning, but that’s just me. For the ‘fictional autobiographies’ read Any Human Heart; to be shocked, try Brazzaville Beach; if you like thrillers, start with Restless or Ordinary Thunderstorms. Sweet Caress is different because: it’s the life story of photographer Amory Clay, and includes around 70 photographs chosen from 2000 sourced at auctions, car boot sales and online. It is the fourth of his ‘fictional autobiographies’ which comprise The New Confessions, Nat Tate and Any Human Heart. Visit William Boyd’s website here ‘Sweet Caress’ by William Boyd [UK: Bloomsbury] Buy now
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Butterfly Barn

Reading this book was like sitting down with a crowd of girlfriends for a long-delayed get-together. In Butterfly Barn by Karen Power, Ireland leaps off the page, present in the speech of the characters, the scenery and the ‘feel’ of the book. This is an easy book to read in that the pages turned quickly, but it deals with difficult topics: infant mortality, grief, betrayal, guilt. Like many Irish authors, Karen Power writes with a connection to the Catholic faith and – though I am not in the least bit religious – this did not interfere with my enjoyment of the tale. It is a women’s novel, about women, their strength, their suffering, their mutual support and above all the way they deal with what life throws at them. On a transatlantic flight, Grace gets talking to the lady in the next seat. A friendship is forged which sees them re-united in Bayrush, Ireland, where Grace’s best friend Jessie is expecting twins. Grace is engaged to Dirk and all looks happy, until Jack – a teenage crush – returns home from Dubai. This is the first of a series of this wide cast of characters, at times a little too
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Categories: Book Love.

How to get ahead: Kate Turner

Kate Turner “Be yourself. Never try to be something that you are not or you will be found out. At the end of the day, people buy people, so your ability to get on with others is paramount.” [Kate Turner, quote from ‘Grazia’ magazine January 18, 2010] This is great advice for life, not just for work. Kate Turner is head of advice policy at financial planning and investment management firm Towry. When she made the comment above she was head of private banking at Coutts & Co. And it is a reminder that although we writers do our work pretty much in isolation, we need to be able to sell ourselves and our book too. What’s the best advice about writing you’ve ever been given? Try these tips to get ahead:- Anya Hindmarch Nicky Kinnaird Sarah Sands And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Be yourself: advice from finance advisor Kate Turner via @SandraDanby #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1aS
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Categories: On Writing.

Book review: Snow White Must Die

A tight-knit community where everyone looks out for each other, bound together by past tragedy. Into this walks Tobias, released from prison after serving his sentence for murdering two teenage girls. In the village where he grew up, where the two girls died. Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus starts with this potent mixture of past and present, lies and threats. The truth never went away but there will be more deaths before the full story is known. This is the first German thriller I have read, and Nele Neuhaus is a new author for me. This was no more difficult to adjust to than reading a Swedish thriller, yes the names are different but the story pulled me along and I cared about what happened to Tobias, Amelie and Thies. Nothing is what it seems. Detectives Pia Kirchoff and Oliver von Bodenstein bring their own personal hang-ups to the investigation, as is always the case with modern detectives. For me, it was the line-up of characters in the village which was fascinating. Lie is layered on lie: the doctor, the actress, the businessman, the politician, and twenty-somethings who were all teenagers when the murders happened. The village closes ranks so
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Categories: Book Love.