Monthly Archives August 2015

Great opening paragraph 76… ‘Jack Maggs’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“It was a Saturday night when the man with the red waistcoat arrived in London. It was, to be precise, six of the clock on the fifteenth of April in the year of 1837 that those hooded eyes looked out the window of the Dover coach and beheld, in the bright aura of gas light, a golden bull and an overgrown mouth opening to devour him – the sign of his inn, the Golden Ox.” ‘Jack Maggs’ by Peter Carey  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Sea Glass’ by Anita Shreve  ‘Such a Long Journey’ by Rohinton Mistry  ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte  And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: JACK MAGGS by Peter Carey #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1GN via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: Did You Ever Have a Family

Everyone by now must know the premise of this novel by New York literary agent Bill Clegg. A vacation home explodes, a family is wiped out. This is the story of those who remain, of grief, of memories and regret, of resentments and prejudice. This is a very affecting novel, it feels almost voyeuristic, invading the privacy of those who are grieving. It is clear that Bill Clegg writes from the heart, from his own experience, not only of grief but of the Connecticut landscape, the setting, and the secondary theme of drug use. This novel is a study of how ordinary life can be torn apart by tragedy, so mind-blowing that the irrelevance of real life must stop. But daily life doesn’t stop, not really, day follows night, as June discovers as she drives from east to west coast. This is one of those books I will buy as hardback. I want to keep it, and re-read it often. To read more about how Bill Clegg writes, click here. If you like Did You Ever Have a Family, try this:- A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara If I Knew You were Going to be this Beautiful I Never Would
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Killing Lessons

This intense thriller by Saul Black opens with a murder particularly tough to read because it features a woman and her two children at an isolated farmhouse. Why is it so horrible? The three are vulnerable, the countryside seems threatening, the snowy landscape is forbidding, and there seems no escape. I had mixed feelings about this book. I enjoyed the story and the efficient writing, I disliked the scenes of violence and skipped past them. The two killers are cold, ceaseless, unforgiving and unstoppable. There are three story strands: the killers and their psychological battle for power; the daughter Nell, who flees and takes shelter; and the homicide detective Valerie Hart, troubled, alone, regretting a broken relationship [don’t all detectives these days?]. This book is more than its violence, more interesting are the predicament of Nell, and Valerie’s reaction to the appearance of her ex-lover. All three story strands are about trust: betraying it, losing it, and learning to trust again. If you like The Killing Lessons, try:- Wolf by Mo Hayder Eeny Meeny by MJ Arlidge Wilderness by Campbell Hart ‘The Killing Lessons’ by Saul Black [UK: Orion] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The House at the Edge of the World

The premise of this book by Julia Rochester is great. One night, on his way home from the pub, Morwenna and Corwen’s father stops to pee over the cliff edge. And falls. Their lives are never the same again. The house of the title is the Venton family home on the Devon coastline, and this book is imbued with the history of this family, woven together with real family stories, family myths of things that may have happened, and coastal history. The twins’ grandfather, Matthew, is something of a recluse, working on the family history and painting an enormous map of the local area. Cameos of local places, people and events are featured on the map. Again and again, as the twins grow up [they are 18 when the story starts] they each run away to different places. Finally events draw them back to their childhood home, their grandfather and his map, as if drawn by a magnet and still wondering what really happened to their father. I grew up by the seaside, and the town where they live is drawn so clearly the memories flooded back: the beach huts, the seagulls, the cliff top paths, the dropped ice cream cones.
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Categories: Book Love.

#FlashPIC 8 Death Valley #writingprompt #amwriting

You are alone. No one knows where you are. You do not know which direction is north or south, east or west. You are in Death Valley, USA. As part of the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series, here is a writing prompt to kick start a flash fiction story. Use the photo as the starting point for a short story, or use some of the following phrases in a writing exercise:- Emptiness Vacuum Solitary Mist Desert Wasteland Rough Grey Forlorn Planet Valley Water Scorching © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Nothing of value left overnight Cable We are watching you 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
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Book review: The Black Tower

A sinister mystery this by PD James, partly location, and partly the feeling that Dalgliesh is not operating at the full capacity of his deductive powers. He has been ill and goes to Dorset to convalesce, to visit an elderly friend. His love and energy for detecting are muted, there are hints he may not continue. On arrival in Dorset he finds his friend, Father Baddeley has died. Dalgliesh is inevitably drawn into the daily life at Toynton Hall, the care home at which the Father was chaplain. All is not as it seems. Baddeley’s was not the first death. But Dalgliesh looks at clues and is unusually reticent, unmotivated, tired. This is an intricate story set in a strange community with overtones of religious fervour, financial difficulties, disabilities not clearly explained, relationships tangled, past stories and resentments lurking beneath the surface. I am re-reading PD James in order and with this, the fifth in the series, she seems to be getting into the rhythm which those familiar with the last of the Dalgliesh books will recognise. Dalgliesh is oddly denuded in this book, giving us an insight into his character we have not have seen before, we see beneath
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Categories: Book Love.

I agree with… Maggie O’Farrell

Maggie O’Farrell ‘How to write while looking after a very young baby: get a sling. Aim for the most supportive, ergonomic one you can find. Strap yourself in. After the mid-morning feed, while the baby is still in a post-milk trance, insert her into the sling with the minimum disturbance possible. Forget anything like clearing away the breakfast, emptying the washing machine, returning calls – even dressing. You won’t be doing anything as rash as answering the door.’ [in an interview ‘How I Write’ with ‘The Guardian’ October 18, 2012] I don’t have the baby so can’t claim that as a distraction from writing, as O’Farrell can, but I totally get the rest of her advice. DO NOT BE DISTRACTED. It’s about being strict with yourself, make the most of every minute you have allocated for writing. Set the alarm on your mobile or use the oven timer.  To read the full article in The Guardian, click here. For more about O’Farrell’s books, click here for her website.   If you agree with Maggie O’Farrell, perhaps you will agree with:- Sarah Waters – putting people into houses is akin to a pressure cooker Joanna Trollope – e-books are leased Simon Sebag Montefiore – it
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Shellyback Books reviews ‘Ignoring Gravity’

“This book genuinely surprised me. Reading the first couple of pages I almost put it down but I am really glad I didn’t make that mistake because as it drew me in I found it increasingly difficult to stop reading. I love books about secrets and this was no exception. Solving this puzzle was literally like peeling layers off an onion. A chance discovery of an old diary turns Rose’s world upside down causing her to question her identity and initiate her search for her other family,” says Michelle de Haan at book blog Shellyback Books. “Highly recommended debut novel. Whilst promoted as the first in a new series this book is complete in itself and easily stands alone.” To read Michelle’s review in full, click here for her book blog. To read what other readers are saying about Ignoring Gravity, click here. Want to know more about Ignoring Gravity? Click here to watch the book trailer. ‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: IGNORING GRAVITY #bookreview by @haanmy at Shellyback Books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Jj via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

How Hanya Yanagihara writes

Hanya Yanagihara “What any writer hopes for is that the reader will stick with you to the end of the contract and that there is a level of submission on the reader’s part. If the reader can’t quite submit it either means that you haven’t done your job in creating a fully convincing world, or it’s just not the right reader for you. I don’t think anything is helped by the writer trying to second-guess what the reader can or cannot take.” [author Hanya Yanagihara, in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, May 29, 2015] Hanya Yanagihara’s second novel, A Little Life, has been described as a ‘dark’ book. Too dark for some readers? How dark is too dark? And is it up to the writer to temper the darkness, to suit reader tastes? Was Yanagihara worried that people would stop reading? “My opinion is that readers will go with you much further than you think… and if they don’t, then they don’t. I wasn’t going to try to change the spirit of the book because I was worried about frightening off the readers. I think as long as the reader knows they are in good hands they are happy
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: The Invasion of the Tearling

The action from book one of this trilogy by Erika Johansen continues straight on page one, so read the first book before you open this one. At the end of The Queen of the Tearling, the neighbouring countries Tearling and Mort were on the verge of war. But author Johansen throws in a curve ball, Queen Kelsea is having visions, of a woman called Lily in what looks very like 21st century New York, with a twist. So, is this where we learn the Tearling’s Pre-Crossing history, things hinted at in book one? Yes, and no. I was left with unanswered questions – is Kelsea related to Lily? Who is Jonathan Tearling? Was there more than one ship to cross the ocean, and cross from where to where? This has left me ready, now, to read book three. I will have to wait. Kelsea is not just having visions of Lily, but of moments in history such as the sinking of a Crossing vessel and the drowning of its passengers. And she seems able to hurt the evil and heal the sick. Is it magic, or the power of her sapphires? And where did they come from? Is it the sapphires
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Categories: Book Love.

Old and treasured friends

I think we all have our favourite book covers, some for the illustration, perhaps even the typography. One artist has taken this love a step further, and paints pictures of old books. Mark S Payne sources secondhand books and paints them as they are now, including the tears, the creases and spillages. They are living things, they have been read and loved. Mark treasures his old books: “I love books. Real books, as tactile objects that you can feel the weight of in your hands, leaf through, and into which you can simply disappear. Of course, like most booklovers, the excitement of a new novel, especially of a favourite author, is always an occasion to be savoured. But I find the books I treasure most become old friends. I love to revisit them, and celebrate down the years their graceful journey as they age – so often to marvel at their maturity, and sometimes to stand back with wonder as my youthful friend has become a classic! I love the feel of these my inanimate friends, who live with me and in me so vividly. Their stories, their feel, their warmth and their comfortable familiarity, – it is all these qualities that
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: A Little Life

This book by Hanya Yanagihara made me cry and I feel inadequate to describe it. It opens with two friends – Jude and Willem – moving into a tiny apartment in New York. They are at the beginning of their careers and A Little Life is their story and that of their two friends Malcolm and JB. A lawyer, an actor, an artist and an architect. The spine of the book is Jude’s life, his horrific childhood makes him the man he is though his friends know nothing of his early years. Yanagihara stretches out the telling of Jude’s secrets for the whole of the book – and it is a long book – to the point where my imagination went into overdrive. Gradually, we learn what he is hiding. I felt sympathy for Jude, but also irritation, impatience and admiration. This is an epic book full of love, pain, honesty, concealment and brutality. Sometimes the brutality will shock you, it did me, although the worst of it is not expressed on the page – like the most effective of dramatic murders, it happens off stage and is left to the reader’s imagination. There is art and theatre and New
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Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Oxfam’

I read this glimpse at the detritus of life and I am standing in my local Oxfam shop. Another great offering from Carol Ann Duffy. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘Oxfam’ A silvery, pale-blue satin tie, freshwater in sunlight, 50p. Charlotte Rhead, hand-painted oval bowl, circa 1930, perfect for apples , pears, oranges a child’s hand takes without a second thought, £80. Rows of boots marking time, £4. Shoes like history lessons, £1.99. That jug, 30p, to fill with milk.” A reminder that in today’s world of excess, one person’s cast-offs can be another person’s treasure. For Carol Ann Duffy’s website, click here. Click here for Sheer Poetry, an online poetry resource, by the poets themselves, for all poetry lovers from general readers to schoolchildren. Why did Duffy write a poem about a charity shop, click here to read a story from The Mirror explaining why.   ‘The Bees’ by Carol Ann Duffy [UK: Picador]  Read these other excerpts and find a new poet to love:- ‘On Turning Ten’ by Billy Collins ‘Elegy of a Common Soldier’ by Dennis
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

Favourite Lines from Favourite Books: Swallows and Amazons

“I should have been sorry to lose the old box, because it’s been with me all over the world. And I should have lost the book I’ve been writing all summer in spite of the efforts of Nancy and Peggy to make any writing impossible. Never any of you start writing books. It isn’t worth it. This summer has been harder work for me than all the thirty years of knocking up and down that went before it. And if those scoundrels had got away with the box I could never have done it again.” Captain Flint, on the return of his manuscript Mixed Moss [excerpt from Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome] To see why my old copy of Swallows and Amazons [below] is important to me, click here.    ‘Swallows and Amazons’ by Arthur Ransome [UK: Vintage Children’s Classics] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Favourite lines from SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS by Arthur Ransome #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Ia via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Casting Off

July 1945. Hugh Cazalet, after the death of his wife Sybil, now suffers another loss as Miss Pearson, his secretary for 23 years, resigns. But the end of the European war is in sight. By the end of Casting Off by Elizabeth Jane Howard, it is 1947, the war is over and there have been more engagements, marriages and divorces, births and deaths. The title refers not just to ending relationships, but to letting go of war-time life. This is more complicated than anticipated. Longing for something for so long, does not make it easy to live through when it happens. Change is challenging. Post-war life is not all it is expected to be, in some ways it is harder.  Though the privations of rationing continue, often harsher than during the war itself, possibilities for new life unfold like a flower in bloom. But there are no easy answers. The three cousins are grown-up– Polly, Louise and Clary now face life as young adults, their idealism tainted by the sadness and disappointments of war. But there are surprises in store for Clary, while the Cazalet brothers must make a business decision which affects the financial future of the whole family.
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Categories: Book Love.

I’m looking forward to reading: ‘Purity’ by Jonathan Franzen

… because:- I have a love/hate relationship with Franzen; I loved Freedom; I liked The Corrections, but… I struggle with his superior New York intellectual persona. But, I’ve never met him, so maybe his personality doesn’t translate well in his publicity; He is probably one of the finest US novelists alive; I like the fact that he has two desks and two laptops in his study, one wi-fi connected, the other not; I even like that he wears noise-cancelling earphones when he writes; I would like to see The Reduced Shakespeare Company do versions of The Corrections and Freedom; I own hardbacks of his books, somehow it doesn’t seem right to buy an e-book; He does for middle-class East Coast families what Jane Smiley does for mid-west families and Anne Tyler for the Whitmores in A Spool of Blue Thread. All three writers take ‘the cover off our superficial lives and delving into the hot stuff underneath’. That last is a Franzen quote from an interview with The Paris Review printed on the publication of Freedom. Click here to read the full article; Visit Jonathan Franzen’s Facebook page here, it is run by his publisher [Farrar Straus and Giroux] not
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Categories: Book Love.

New books coming soon

Sandy Taylor The Girls from See Saw Lane is the first in a nostalgia trilogy from debut author Sandy Taylor [below], to be published in the UK by Bookouture. To be published in December 2015, it is set in late 1950s Brighton and tells the story of childhood friends Dottie and Mary. Described as an emotional story of friendship, love and tragedy, this first book will be followed by the second in late spring 2016, and the third in autumn 2016. Catherine Ryan Howard Distress Signals by Irish author Catherine Ryan Howard is being positioned as The Girl on the Train meets Murder on the Orient Express. A man’s girlfriend disappears. His investigation leads him to a cruise ship where another girl has disappeared. It will be published in the UK in June 2016 by Corvus. Howard [above], previously self-published, said: “This really is a lifelong dream come true for me and I have proof: on my desk, I keep a photo of an eight-year-old me on Christmas morning, tapping away on the typewriter Santa brought while a Barbie van sits to the side.” Click here for Catherine Ryan Howard’s website. Rachel B Glaser Paulina and Fran by Rachel B Glaser
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Categories: Book Love.