Monthly Archives September 2015

Great opening paragraph 77… ‘Vanishing Acts’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“I was six years old the first time I disappeared. My father was working on a magic act for the annual Christmas show at the senior centre, and his assistant, the receptionist who had a real gold tooth and false eyelashes as thick as spiders, got the flu. I was fully prepared to beg my father to be part of the act, but he asked, as if I were the one who would be doing him a favour.” ‘Vanishing Acts’ by Jodi Picoult Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Long Drop’ by Denise Mina  ‘The Guest Cat’ by Takashi Hiraide  ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: VANISHING ACTS by Jodi Picoult #writing http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1GQ via @SandraDanby
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

The Doves Type: resurrected from the River Thames

Have you heard of the Doves Type? Designed by Thomas James Cobden Sanderson and engraver Emery Walker, in London, at the turn of the 20th century. To cut a long story short, the two men disagreed about its use. As a result, Cobden-Sanderson threw 2,600lb of metal into the River Thames from Hammersmith Bridge. Now, after three years of research, making drawings based on the original source material, designer Robert Green has released a digital version of the lost metal Doves Press Font. This was made possible by the discovery in the River Thames 2013 of a portion of the original metal type. I know as a journalist I am probably more aware of typeface than your average reader. I’ve been involved in many magazine re-designs during my career, and the thing that gets people most excited during the process is the choice of font. It not only is the ‘handwriting’ of the design, it makes the design most easily recognisable, but it also has a dramatic effect on how easy it is to read a newspaper or magazine article. Get it wrong, and changes are made very rapidly before the reader complaints start to roll in. What newspaper do you
Read More

Categories: Book design and Book Love.

Book review: The Betrayal of Trust

The trust betrayed is marital, parent/child, doctor/patient, in a thought-provoking drama about the bonds between us – personal and professional – and the responsibilities we bear. Exploitation, dominance and manipulation should not belong in the patient/carer sphere, but here Susan Hill examines the difficult zone of terminal illness. Heavy rains and floods reveal first one skeleton, then another. The first is identified, the second is a mystery. Simon Serrailler must investigate, working almost on his own as police cutbacks see drug busts getting more staff than his investigative team. And then at what promises to be a dull evening, an official dinner at which he wears his police hat, he falls instantly in love: never a convenient time, for all sorts of reasons. In the midst of love at first sight we see a different Serrailler, not in control of the situation, distracted, wracked by longing. This is the sixth in the series, but unlike other crime series you can read these in or out of order. Of course there are references to long-running storylines – all related to the Serrailler family – which may pass you by if you read them out of order, but that will not affect your
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

How Kate Atkinson writes

Kate Atkinson: “This is a novel, not a polemic [and I am no historian] and I have accordingly left the doubts and ambiguities for the characters and the text to voice.” [in Author’s Note, in the Doubleday paperback edition of ‘A God in Ruins’] In her Author’s Note at the back of A God in Ruins [how I much prefer to read these texts after I have read the novel, not before], Kate Atkinson explains that she decided to write a novel about the Second World War, “I rather grandiosely believed that I could somehow cover the whole conflict in less than half the length of War and Peace”. Of course she couldn’t and so she settled on the London Blitz in Life After Life, and the strategic bombing campaign against Germany in its companion novel A God in Ruins. It is the difficulties of bombing that she leaves in the mouths and minds of her characters. She writes of the perils for the novelist of writing a story based on true events. “There is nothing that happens during the chapters set during the war in A God in Ruins that isn’t in some way based on a real-life incident
Read More

Categories: Book Love, On Researching and On Writing.

New Books Coming Soon

Neil Oliver The debut novel of Scottish historian and television presenter Neil Oliver, Master of Shadows, was published in hardback on September 10 by Orion. Oliver said of writing about John Grant, who was a real historical figure at the siege of Constantinople: “I found it great fun to imagine John Grant’s back story and to work out what, to me, seemed like plausible reasons for him finding himself in that place at that time.  He is real – but the story I have created for him is entirely a work of fiction.” Oliver is a Scottish archaeologist, historian, broadcaster and writer, and has presented successful BBC series such as A History of Scotland, Vikings, A History of Ancient Britain, A History Celtic Britain, and Coast [above]. The sequel to Master of Shadows is planned for release in 2016. Read more about Neil Oliver at his website. Amanda Jennings In Her Wake is a dark psychological thriller by Amanda Jennings, to be published in spring 2016 by Orenda Books. The book tells of the abduction of a child and the effect this crime has on everyone connected with it. Jennings said: “This book is close to my heart. In Her Wake is set in Cornwall, in and
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: How to be Both

I admire Ali Smith, own quite a few of her books, so it was without hesitation that I stared to read How to be Both, knowing it was an ‘experimental’ novel, a twisting, spiralling tale which has been shortlisted, longlisted, and won awards up the ying-yang. But, I wasn’t prepared for the first 20-30 pages [it’s difficult to be accurate on a Kindle] which completely lost me. Complete non-sequiturs, verse, stream of consciousness. Rambling, with little context. If it had been an unknown author I would have run out of patience, but it’s Ali Smith so I stuck with it and fell into the story of Francescho. The writing is beautiful, atmospheric, still a little short on fact for me: a child [boy or girl?] with artistic talent, whose father is a skilled brickmaker. The story of the child Francescho twists and twirls with that of the adult Francescho, a Renaissance painter of frescoes, who in his own quiet way challenges the status quo. If you love books about artists, you will enjoy this one. In a brothel, Franchescho paints the women rather than laying with them, and becomes known for this. As he paints, he remembers the words of
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Betrayal

This book by Laura Elliot didn’t really get going for me until the last few chapters, which I didn’t expect when it is billed as a ‘gripping novel of psychological suspense’. A case I think of a publisher trying to catch the coat tails of The Girl on the Train. I would describe it more as a family drama. That aside, this is a well-written study of a teenage relationship which, when it falters and is left to fester into adulthood, can mess up a whole family. This is an examination of the marriage breakdown between two empty-nesters, Jake and Nadine, who are then messed around by Karin, the ex-friend from hell. Yes, there is a stalker. Yes, there are accidents and co-incidences. There are some colourful sections to Jake and Nadine’s viewpoints which I enjoyed reading – the band Shard, Alaska, the container village – but these seemed like diversions when I spent a long time waiting to find out what the actual betrayal was. Perhaps an insight into Karen’s mind would have helped to balance Jake and Nadine’s story. A small aside, sadly I had another issue: for a traditionally-published book, my Kindle version was littered with grammatical errors.
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Family history: HistoryPin

HistoryPin is a great idea. A global project which enables you to attach photographs and memories to a global map. A fantastic resource for family history researchers or novelists, like me. Like Pinterest, but specifically for history. There are some fascinating subjects which I will re-visit for research; I particularly liked ‘Remember How We Used To…’ Photographs of how we kept warm, played, worked, cooked and cleaned, celebrated and worked. Another useful function is searching by location. Ignoring Gravity is set around Wimbledon, Richmond [below], London Docklands and Battersea. Searching Wimbledon brings up a photo of the Blitz in 1941, the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in 1962, a street party in Putney in 1989, and carriage cleaners at Wimbledon Traincare Depot in 1916. A search for Battersea is less populated, though there is a great black and white photograph of a boy and girl – siblings perhaps – standing outside a house on Winstanley Road in 1951-3. In conclusion, this is a work in progress and geographical coverage is not consistent. But it is worth consulting if you are researching a specific location. All uploaded photographs are pinned to a specific place, and are shown on a street map so it is
Read More

Categories: Family history research, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Researching.

Book review: A God in Ruins

If the best recommendation for a novel is that, once you finish it, you want to start reading it all over again, then this is my recommendation for A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. The story of Teddy Todd reeled me in until I was reading late into the night. Teddy is brother to Ursula Todd, who featured in Atkinson’s Life after Life, but this is not a sequel. More a companion piece, one book informs the other but stands up fully on its own. Read either first, it doesn’t matter. This is a book about war – the Second World War, the daily grind of Teddy’s life as a bomber pilot – and the effect this experience has on the rest of his life. War doesn’t happen and then go away, it colours lives and affects them until death, mostly unnoticed or misunderstood by relatives. And so we see Teddy’s life, told in a chopped up manner with excerpts from his childhood, war, early marriage and fatherhood, and as a much-loved grandfather. I don’t think I’m giving much away here to say he survives the war, but Atkinson’s descriptions of his bomber sorties are realistic, we feel the cold, the
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

My ‘Porridge & Cream’ read: JG Harlond

Welcome to the first in a new series in which one author chooses his/her ‘Porridge & Cream’ book. What is a ‘Porridge & Cream’ book? It’s the book you turn to when you need a familiar read, when you are tired, ill, or out-of-sorts, where you know the story and love it. Where reading it is like slipping on your oldest, scruffiest slippers after walking for miles. Where does the name ‘Porridge & Cream’ come from? Cat Deerborn is a character in Susan Hill’s ‘Simon Serrailler’ detective series. Cat is a hard-worked GP, a widow with two children and she struggles from day-to-day. One night, after a particularly difficult day, she needs something familiar to read. From her bookshelf she selects Love in A Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford. Today I am pleased to welcome historical novelist, JG Harlond. “My ‘Porridge & Cream’ novels are the House of Níccolò series by the late Scots author Dorothy Dunnett. In the 1970s I became hooked on her 16th century Game of Kings series featuring the exquisite Francis Crawford of Lymond. Then in the 1980s, Dunnett began the 15th century House of Níccolò series about a flawed Flemish apprentice Claes, who becomes a Venetian banker
Read More

Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Stuck: Sandra Danby is stuck, are you?

All three main characters in Rhoda Baxter’s new novel Please Release Me [published today] are stuck in some way. Sally, the heroine, is stuck in a coma but able to hear the world around her. Have you been mentally stuck, like this, or stuck physically in a place you don’t like, a job you hate, or a relationship past its sell-by date? How am I stuck? I’ve been stuck, recently, still am a bit. Mine is a writing dilemma. How much of a character’s backstory to give away, and when? Telling [nearly] all at the beginning of the novel [my second, Connectedness, sequel to Ignoring Gravity] might help my readers to identify with my new protagonist, artist Justine Tree. But, and it is a big but, how do I balance the needs of a) not giving away too much information about Justine’s student days [below, top]; and b) telling enough about her to make the dilemma of the adult Justine [below, bottom] interesting, while c] maintaining intrigue to keep the reader reading? As a reader, I dislike [I typed ‘hate’ and then deleted it, as it seemed a bit harsh]… I dislike novels where the author puts everything on a plate, where
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: The Audacious Mendacity of Lily Green

As the title suggests, this tale by Shelley Weiner is about telling the truth and telling lies, a clever novel of social comment which made me smile frequently at the spot-on observations. Beneath the humour though, are layers of contradictions, degrees of untruths and some wicked humour. Lily Green is 34 and a virgin, both in terms of sexuality and deception [circumstances that seem a little unrealistic for her age, but stick with it]. Lily tells her domineering mother that she is engaged to be married, and the story takes off as Lily’s combination of innocence and intuitive reasoning kicks in. Her unsympathetic mother departs on a holiday with ‘the girls’ and once she is gone, Lily wonders who Eva really is. “… Lily had a sense of her mother in masquerade – a series of costumes in which she’d played suburban wife, then grieving widow, and now crone in glad rags. Were the outfits like onion leaves with nothing inside, or as now seemed fleetingly possible, was there someone real beneath the camouflage.” Just as Lily doesn’t know her mother, she also doesn’t know herself. She tears cuttings from women’s magazines – how to lose weight, how to cook
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

How JoJo Moyes writes

JoJo Moyes “I’ve been in lots of airports over the last couple of years, but everybody knows someone who is having to deal with that kind of crap. The management structures, the targets, the endless upselling of things, the general dreary corporatisation of everything.” [JoJo Moyes in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, July 10, 2015] After You is the sequel to Jojo Moyes’ bestseller Me Before You. She hadn’t intended to write a sequel, but after the success of the first book she was inundated by messages asking what happened to the character of Lou. So, Moyes wrote After You [below], to be published on September 24 in the UK by Michael Joseph. Me Before You was a huge act to follow. The film featuring Sam Claflin and Emilia Clarke was released in 2016.At the beginning of After You, Lou is working in an Irish-themed airport pub. Moyes wrote about what she knows. “I’ve done all those jobs. I’ve been that barmaid, I’ve cleaned those toilets. I don’t think fiction always recognises the lives of genuine people. That’s how I grew up and I totally understand it – and I probably softened it a bit. It’s the world I’m interested
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: All Change

A leap forward in time; the fourth book in The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard left us in 1947 but this, the last in the series, runs from June 1956 to December 1958. Much has changed in the 11 years after VE Day: Queen Elizabeth succeeds to the throne after the death of her father King George VI, there are eight million refugees within Germany’s borders, President Eisenhower is elected. And in the world of the Cazalets, The Duchy dies. This final book is an examination of the nature of love that persists despite pain and trouble. The cousins experience difficulties in love – affairs, divorce, misguided attachments and betrayal – while their parents are fractured by the failure of the family timber business. Suddenly there is no money: houses must be sold, servants let go after years of service, meals cooked and houses cleaned without help. Family love persists through this dark time and, as throughout the war, the Cazalet family emerges out the other side, shaped differently for the next decade. Reading the last book in a well-loved series is always a mixed feeling: delight and loss. So it is with wonder that I consider how Elizabeth
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Past

The first conclusion I reached about this novel by Tessa Hadley is that she really loves this house and the surrounding countryside, because the description is sumptuous. Hadley writes as if it is a real place, well-known, personal. I enjoy reading books where setting is atmospheric, almost like the addition of a character. This is a story of a family reunion, four siblings – a brother and his three sisters, plus various children, partners, hangers-on – who get together for three hot summer weeks at their grandparents’ decaying house, the house they jointly inherited and must decide what to do with. Alongside this reunion we are told of the young children’s games of fantasy revolving around a dilapidated cottage in the woods, and the adolescent romance of Molly, 16 year old daughter of Roland, with Kasim the hanger-on and son of an ex-partner of Alice. Are you still with me? Unfortunately I found the characters not particularly likeable, perhaps more investigation of their pasts would have helped me with this. Instead Part Two, the only passage set in the past, belongs to Jill, mother of the four adult children and long deceased. The ramifications of Jill’s storyline on her children
Read More

Categories: Book Love.