Monthly Archives October 2015

Book review: A Taste for Death

Two men found dead in a church: murder and suicide, or double murder? One a politician, the other a tramp. Because this is a PD James novel we know it is murder, but we don’t know why or who by. This novel differs from the preceding six in this series because of its length [656 pages], compared with its predecessor Death of an Expert Witness [400 pages]. For this we get extra plot twist and turns, more detail about the potential suspects, more internal monologues, and more of the literary depth which characterizes the later Dalgliesh novels. Some readers will appreciate the extra detail, others may prefer a quicker moving, shorter, crime novel. The story is book-ended by the meeting and subsequent relationship between Miss Emily Wharton and 10-year old Darren Wilkes. They find the bodies and after that their very human story is lost in the swirl of police procedure and suspicion, accusations and alibis. Commander Adam Dalgliesh heads up a new squad to solve serious crimes which need sensitive handling. This murder of Sir Paul Berowne, a government minister, is the squad’s first case. On Dalgliesh’s team is John Massingham, familiar from earlier novels, and newcomer Kate Miskin.
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Categories: Book Love.

I agree with… Benjamin Wood

Benjamin Wood “The only time I’ve ever been blocked on Twitter was because I was defending creative writing teaching. You cannot teach someone to have talent but what you can do, if you’re a good teacher, is to take the amount of talent each person has and teach them to get the most out of it.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, April 24, 2015] Wood’s day job is senior lecturer in creative writing at Birkbeck University [where I too studied creative writing, though not with Wood]. His defence of creative writing teaching is spot-on in my book. Why is it that many people expect innate ability to just flourish when someone is writing a novel, but not place the same expectations on budding artists or surgeons or round-the-world yachtsmen? “The idea that it’s wrong for people who want to put themselves in a room and get better at something is crazy.” Is it because of the old adage ‘everyone has a book in them’, so writing a book is seen as easy? It’s not. And creative writing classes are littered with students who never finish their manuscripts. The Ecliptic is Wood’s second novel, his first The Bellweather Revivals
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Categories: On Writing.

Book review: Business as Usual

This was very excitable from the beginning, a debut author, EL Lindley, who let the need for tension dominate. It’s an excitable story: an unpredictable documentary producer, Georgie Connelly; a missing teenage girl; a silent ex-soldier; and a dodgy Russian businessman. At times, I wanted a breather from the tension, a slower build. The plotting is clever and it’s a tight group of characters, I hope they will continue in book two. I particularly liked Mervyn the taxi driver. The sexual chemistry between Georgie and former US marine James is evident from day one, though on the page they snipe and squabble. The novel is set in Los Angeles, though this is not immediate on the page. There is huge potential for this to be exploited in book two, I’d also like to see more of Georgie’s documentary production; in this book she just seems to sit in the office. So there’s lots to develop here for a likeable group of characters. There are three books in the series and I liked Business As Usual enough to want to read more. One minor quibble, the manuscript would benefit from stricter copy editing. Click here for EL Lindley’s blog. If you like Business
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Categories: Book Love.

My ‘Porridge & Cream’ read: Judith Field

Today I am pleased to welcome short story writer, Judith Field to share her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read. “My book is Anybody can do Anything by Betty Macdonald. I’d read her books The Egg and I (which, like the Curate’s egg, is good in parts) and The Plague and I (which I love), so when I saw Anybody in a second hand bookshop in 1981 for only 25p, I grabbed it. I re-read this funny and uplifting boot, with its brilliant character descriptions. when I need picking up, but I leave it long enough between reading that I can’t remember the text word for word. When I do read it, I feel a thrill of recognition, like meeting an old friend. Published in 1945, it’s a memoir of life in Seattle during the Depression, in the early to mid nineteen thirties. Betty leaves an unhappy marriage and, with her two small daughters, goes back to live with her quirky, warm, and supportive family of four sisters and a brother headed by Mother, who “with one folding chair and a plumber’s candle, could make the North Pole homey.”  Betty says “It’s a wonderful thing to know that you can come home any
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: A Question of Identity

A Question of Identity by Susan Hill starts with a flashback to a trial: a man is found not guilty of three murders. Elderly, vulnerable women. Such is the public outcry that he is given a new identity. Lafferton, ten years later. A woman is killed. Elderly, vulnerable, murdered the same way as those three women in 2002. But how can Simon Serrailler track down a villain who doesn’t exist: the man was given a new name, a new face, a new identity and was relocated. But we’re talking about murder, so surely one police department will help another? This is an intriguing premise, all too believable. As ever with Hill’s novels, this is efficient and chilling. She introduces us to prospective villains, each seems a little questionable: but are we being unfair, reading something into signs that don’t exist, generalising, making assumptions? In parallel with the introduction of prospective villains, we are also shown prospective victims. Whilst Simon Serrailler deals with this emotional case, his own heart is being pulled between love and guilt, and his sister Cat must manage two warring children. An excellent tale which keeps the pages turning, an examination of the jury system. When ‘not guilty’
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Categories: Book Love.

Great opening paragraph 78… ‘Divisadero’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“By our grandfather’s cabin, on the high ridge, opposite a slope of buckeye trees, Claire sits on her horse, wrapped in a thick blanket. She has camped all night and lit a fire in the hearth of that small structure our ancestor built more than a generation ago, and which he lived in like a hermit or some creature, when he first came to this country. He was a self-sufficient bachelor who eventually owned all the land he looked down onto. He married lackadaisically when he was forty, had one son, and left him this farm along the Petaluma road.” ‘Divisadero’ by Michael Ondaatje  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Tipping the Velvet’ by Sarah Waters ‘Back When We Were Grownups’ by Anne Tyler ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ by Thomas Hardy And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: DIVISADERO by Michael Ondaatje #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1KL via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Adoption reunion: Doing it for love

The fifth season of British television adoption reunion series Long Lost Family included this heartbreaker: a woman who gave up her first-born daughter twice, in order for her to have a better life. Scotland, 1960: Christine Gillard was 16, her father dead, her mother working away, she lived with her 80-year old grandmother in a tenement so small you could walk from one side to the other in four paces. Christine became pregnant. For two years, the two women tried to raise active toddler Marguerite, in this one cramped room. “It was going wrong and I couldn’t put it right,” Christine tells Long Lost Family. “I had a big decision to make, I didn’t want her to go into a home, abandoned, with no hope for the future.” The solution was for Social Services to place Marguerite with a long-term foster family. “I had asked for help and I got it, I thought ‘they’ve got my baby’.” Christine’s life went on, she married and had four more children. But it was not a good marriage. Six years after she had last seen Marguerite, Social Services contacted Christine to say her foster mother had died, and that Christine could have Marguerite back.
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Categories: Adoption, Family history research and On Researching.

I agree with… Rose Tremain

Rose Tremain “In a sense, writers live their lives twice over. We live in a day-to-day life, but our minds are always turning over the possibility of the transmutation of that life into something else. If, for some reason, I couldn’t be a writer any more, my life would seem rather thin to me, sort of without substance.” [Rose Tremain from ‘A Life in the Day’ in ‘The Sunday Times Magazine’ October 19, 2014] I understand this exactly. I live with my fictional characters, the situations I place them in, considering what might happen to them and wondering how they might react. Quite often the most lucid time for ideas, for me, is on waking, and drifting off to sleep, times when I shouldn’t be ‘thinking about work’. But writing is not work, it’s what I do and who I am. I cannot imagine not writing in some form or another My favourite Tremain book? The Colour, soon to be made into a film. Click here to read a review of The Colour in The Independent when it was first published in 2003. To see what I thought of The Colour, click here. For news about the film of The
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Jill Alexander Essbaum writes

“I use a lot of puns and rhyme and wonky meter. When I was writing this book, whenever I sort of hit a wall I stopped trying to think with my head, I tried to think with my ears and tried to figure out how to change the sound and the rhythm [of what I was writing]. You can feel sound as well as hear it. I use that in poetry and I used it in moments in Hausfrau.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, January 9, 2015] Jill Alexander Essbaum is a poet and for her, language and words hold immense power. Her first collection of poetry, Heaven, was published in 2000 and though she has dreamed of writing a novel, until Hausfrau she didn’t know what a novel might be about. I always read my copy aloud, when I’m rewriting. It highlights any judders in the rhythm of the text, repetitions leap out, and it does help me to fine tune each sentence so it flows. Awareness of rhythm is beneficial to all writers, I think. To read more of Jill Essbaum’s work, click here for her website.   See how these other novelists write:- Rose Tremain
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

New books coming soon

Jessie Burton The Muse, second novel by The Miniaturist author Jessie Burton [below], will be published in the UK in July 2016 by Picador. In the US it will be published by HarperEcco; in Canada by HarperCollins; and in Sweden by Modernista.Moving between 1930s Spain and 1960s London, The Muse tells of a young Caribbean immigrant, a bohemian artist and the mysterious painting that connects the two across the decades. For more about Jessie Burton, click here for her website. Aoife Clifford All These Perfect Strangers by Australian author Aoife Clifford [below] will be published in the UK [June 2016], Commonwealth, Australia [March 2016] and New Zealand by Simon & Schuster. Pen Sheppard’s life is blighted by scandal and tragedy until university gives her the chance to start again and leave the past behind. Except the past can never be forgotten. This is Clifford’s debut novel although she has won two Australian short story crime writing prizes: the Ned Kelly – SD Harvey Short Story Award, and the Scarlet Stiletto. She was also shortlisted for the UK Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger. Anna Mazzola The debut novel by criminal justice solicitor Anna Mazzola [below], The Unseeing, will be published in the UK
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Categories: Book Love.

I agree with… Frederick Forsyth

Frederick Forsyth “… [all authors are only half in the room] the other half is detached, watching, taking notes… I’ve always preferred not to join in, so I joined nothing… I used my separateness.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, July 17, 2015] Frederick Forsyth, author of The Day of the Jackal – one of my father’s favourite books and movies [see his old Corgi edition above], and therefore a large part of my childhood – has always stood apart. I understand what he says about observation, I do it too though I don’t think it’s a conscious thing. I don’t stand in a corner with my notebook out. But some time later, when I am trying to recall a characteristic, a description or a piece of dialogue, something I have seen somewhere or overheard will fall into place. All novelists have this ability, I believe. And journalists: as a trainee journalist I was told I must develop two things: a head for alcohol so I could keep my head when those around were losing theirs, so I could remember what was said in the morning; and secondly, a dirty mind, in order to notice all the unintended double entres
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Categories: Book Love, On Researching and On Writing.

Book review: Sweet Caress

This is a tour through history, via the life story of Amory Clay, photographer, born 1908. In 1977, from Barrandale in Scotland, she looks back at her life from schoolgirl to 1920s Berlin, 1930s New York, pre-war fascist riots in London, France in the Second World War, Vietnam in the Sixties and a hippie commune in California. In Sweet Caress, William Boyd uses the same technique that was so successful in Any Human Heart: slipping a fictional character into a grid of true events. It works, again, just. The lines between fact and fiction are satisfactorily blurred, when Amory meets someone new I found myself asking, ‘is this a real person or an invented one?’ I read this book quickly, the drive of historical events pulling me through. I didn’t quite connect with Amory, I’m not sure why. Possibly, because the only viewpoint we see is hers. I never really got why men were drawn to her so. She only sleeps with five men in her life, neatly there is one for each segment of her life. One scene I could have done without, a description of her first lover after sex made me cringe. Boyd is strongest when writing
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Categories: Book Love.

How Paula Hawkins writes

Paula Hawkins “[she is interested in the ways in which]… our perfectly ordinary lives go horribly wrong… not the violence itself but the psychology that leads up to the violence and how things break down.” [in an interview with Saturday Review, ‘The Times’ August 22, 2015] This is a pageturner, a novel with layers of intrigue, stalking, domestic abuse and fantasy. Inspired by her own commuter journeys on the District Line in London, The Girl on the Train is a film, starring Emily Blunt [below] as Rachel, the girl on the train who, out of the window, has a clear view of one particular house which backs onto the track. Read my review of The Girl on the Train. For more about casting for the film, The Girl on the Train, click here. Thanks to publicity for her first book, Hawkins got behind schedule writing her second, Into the Water, another psychological thriller. “I had actually written the whole thing last year but then I decided I wasn’t necessarily happy with aspects of it, so am rehashing everything about it… It’s basically about these women and how things that happened in their childhood affected them, has driven them apart; how they
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: Death of an Expert Witness

What a great title. Ask most people to name a PD James novel, and this is probably it. A gloriously convoluted plot surrounding a Fens village, a forensic science laboratory, and a tightly-knit community linked in ways the reader cannot forsee. The clues are there but each is so fleetingly mentioned, so parsimonious, and so intertwined, that you will forget each and discount its importance. When the senior biologist at Hoggatt’s Laboratory is found dead, New Scotland Yard is called in. Commander Adam Dalgliesh arrives with Detective Inspector John Massingham; it is not the easiest of working partnerships, another layer of grit added to the oyster. PD James’ observations are at times heart-rending. Of a victim’s elderly father: “The old man sat there, staring straight ahead. His hands, with the long fingers like those of his son, but with their skin dry and stained as withered leavers, hung heavily between his knees, grotesquely large for the brittle wrists.” The technical detail, at which James is always so reliable, is interleaved here with the writing style I associate with the later Dalgliesh books. On his way to interview a bereaved relative, Dalgliesh stands on high ground and looks towards Hoggatt’s Laboratory.
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Categories: Book Love.