Monthly Archives January 2016

Book review: In Another Life

This is the debut novel by Julie Christine Johnson but you’d never know it. She handles her subject matter – Cathar history, Languedoc setting – with confidence and has put together a compelling story of love, history and mystery. Lisa Carrer returns to France, to the place where her husband was killed in a cycling accident, drawn by the comfort of the place and the proximity of her best friend. She is looking to start anew and finish her research into Cathar history. But a strange experience on her first night in her new house is the first of a trail of events which entwine her own life in the present with people from the past, from the actual time in history she is researching. The story moves along quickly and kept me turning the pages, told in two strands – present day, and 1208. Originally inspired by a holiday in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, Johnson explains in her ‘Author’s Note’ at the end of the book, that she has draped “layers of fantasy over a scaffolding of fact”. This worked for me, I have a shallow understanding of the historical period and trusted her storytelling. It is a love story
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Categories: Book Love.

Family history: Deceased Online

I grew familiar with churchyards and graveyards when I was working on Ignoring Gravity as Rose Haldane believes her birth mother is dead and so searches amongst the headstones. If Deceased Online had existed when Rose was searching for her birth mother, perhaps she would simply have searched the database online. Deceased Online is the first central database of burial and cremation records in the UK, and records are constantly being added to its database. To read how I researched the graveyard scene in Ignoring Gravity, click here. So I tested the Deceased Online database with a random search for the name of my father. One exact match was found, a gravestone at St Maxentius, Bradshaw, Lancashire. Not my father, and not one of my relatives. Sadly my search went no further as this headstone is not part of the DO contract, so was available to view only by payment with the local authority: £2 to view the single headstone, or £15 to view all 511 headstones at this property. An annual subscription scheme is promised. My second search was for ‘Rose Haldane’. More success here, 36 headstone collections were found for Haldane, various cemeteries, mostly in Scotland, with multiple headstones. The most,
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Categories: Family history research, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Researching.

Author Interview: Julie Christine Johnson

In Another Life is the debut novel by Julie Christine Johnson. Set in Languedoc, France, the story tells the story of Lia Carrer, returning to France from the USA to the place where her husband was killed in an accident. Lia is a historian, specialising in the Cathars, and she intends to complete her unfinished research. But an experience on her first night introduces a hint of mystery and threat. Jetlagged and tired after a hot steamy bath, she stands at a window in her rental house at Minerve [below] and sees the scarred face of a man staring in from outside. With a loud screech from a Bonelli’s eagle sitting in a nearby tree, the man is gone. Was it a vision, a dream, or was he really there? What came first: the Cathars, Languedoc, or reincarnation? Oh, what a delicious question! First, Sandra, a warm thank you for hosting me on your blog. It’s an honor to be interviewed by an author I admire and a joy to share In Another Life with your readers! If one believes in reincarnation, then it must be supposed that souls have been returning to Earth in some living form for as long
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

My Porridge & Cream read: Rhoda Baxter

Today I’m delighted to welcome romantic novelist Rhoda Baxter. “My ‘Porridge and Cream’ book is actually a series: my Terry Pratchett collection. I started reading them when I was around 16. I had moved from Sri Lanka to Yorkshire and was very lonely. I was lucky enough to make a friend who suggested I try one of the Discworld books. I think he lent me The Colour of Magic. I borrowed the rest of the series from Halifax Central Library. I loved the puns and the pseudo-science jokes. When Mort came out, my Physics teacher told me that Terry was doing a book signing. My Dad took me all the way to Leeds to queue up and get my book signed. It was the first time I met a REAL author. At uni, I bonded with people who knew that a million to one chances happened nine out of ten times and that Klatchian coffee made you knurd. We used Pratchettisms as a verbal shorthand. I still can’t read the phrase ‘per capita’ for example, without mentally adding ‘if not, decapita could be arranged’. When Sir Terry died, I felt as though I’d lost someone I’d actually known. I read each book
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Forgetfulness’

The two first lines of this Hart Crane poem [below] grabbed me, will grab anyone in their middle years who starts to forget the odd thing, will grab anyone who has watched by as a loved on is taken by dementia. ‘Forgetfulness’ Forgetfulness is like a song That, freed from beat and measure, wanders. Forgetfulness is like a bird whose wings are reconciled. Outspread and motionless, – A bird that coasts the wind unwearyingly.   Forgetfulness is rain at night, Or an old house in a forest, – or a child. Forgetfulness is white, – white as a blasted tree, And it may stun the Sybil into prophecy, Or bury the Gods. I can remember much forgetfulness. This is the first Crane poem I read, found in an anthology. He committed suicide in 1932 at the age of 32, but that hasn’t stopped him being hailed as ‘influential’. His most ambitious work is The Bridge, an epic poem described as being similar to TW Eliot’s The Waste Land.   ‘The Complete Poems of Hart Crane’ by Hart Crane [Liveright]  Read these other excerpts and find a new poet to love:- ‘Cloughton Wyke I’ by John Wedgwood Clarke ‘Runaways’ by Daniela
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

New books coming soon

New books to watch out for in 2016 and 2017 are:- Rachel Khong Goodbye, Vitamin, the debut novel by Rachel Khong, will be published by Scribner in hardback in 2017. It tells the story of 30-year-old Ruth who, after a relationship break-up, goes home to her parents for the holidays, only to discover her father has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Ruth stays with her mother to help care for her father. Described as an ‘original, funny and tender story about family, friendship, illness and everyday survival’. SJI Holliday Black & White Publishing is to publish two psychological thrillers by crime author SJI Holliday. Willow Walk will be published this spring, with The Damselfly following in 2017. Both are set in Banktoun, the fictional town which is the setting for Holliday’s debut Black Wood [also published by Black & White]. Described as a novel of obsession, Willow Walk tells the story of local barmaid Marie. She is stalked by the brother that no-one knew she had, and sets off a chain of events that brings tragedy to the whole community. Click here to read SJI Holliday’s blog. EV Harte The Prime of Miss Dolly Greene and two other crime titles by Daisy
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Noonday

It seems inevitable that the final novel in a trilogy which started with the Great War should end with the Blitz, and that the theme should be death. Death, grief, guilt at being alive, guilt at longing for death, and guilt at wishing another dead. Noonday is a fitting end to the ‘Life Class’ trilogy by Pat Barker, the tale of three young artists – Elinor Brooke, Paul Tarrant and Kit Neville – which started on the verge of the Great War in Life Class, and continued through the war in Toby’s Room. But although the context is war, there are a lot of other things going on. The story opens with Elinor at the country home of her mother, who is dying. The assorted relatives wait, in the scorching heat, for death to arrive. Also present is Kenny, an evacuee sent from London to avoid death by bombing. So, the shadow of death is present from the very first page. Don’t forget about Kenny, he is important, particularly in the impact he has on Paul Tarrant – now Elinor’s husband. Paul’s connection with this sorry out-of-place boy leads him to a meeting with a medium, Bertha Mason. This is
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Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 81… ‘Fair Exchange’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“In her youth Louise Daudry, née Geuze, had committed a wicked and unusual crime. At that time, autumn 1792, she wanted money very badly, so she put aside her knowledge that what she was doing was wrong and would hurt others. She told herself that virtue was a luxury the poor could not afford. She let herself be persuaded that no one would ever find out.” ‘Fair Exchange’ by Michèle Roberts Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World’ by Haruki Murakami ‘Possession’ by AS Byatt ‘A Bouquet of Barbed Wire’ by Andrea Newman And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: FAIR EXCHANGE by Michèle Roberts #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Ob via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 10 Looking Over the Parapet #writingprompt #amwriting

Are you looking down, or is it your character? Why are you there? What do you plan to do next? What do you actually do next? Use this writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series to help you develop a character for your Work-in-Progress.   Examine the photo, and then use one of these phrases as the starting point for an exercise:- Down, down, so far down, she leant further forward, the edge of the stone parapet cutting into the spare flesh at her waist. We could put a glass roof over it, that would keep the rain out and let the sunshine in… but will Alexi say yes? I should never have come, he’ll see me. That’s his desk there, the second window from the right, if he looks out of the window he can’t miss me here. It felt like flying, it wasn’t quick at all, she expected it to be over in the minutest part of a second, but she was still here, floating, like a bubble blown from a child’s bubble wand. He crouched behind a wall, listening for the sound of marching boots. He was breathing so hard from running, he had to hold his
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Book review: Beside Myself

A novel about identity, about identical twin sisters. Do you recognise what is fake and what is true? One sister is prettier and cleverer than the other, and she is unkind to her twin who seems downtrodden, bullied, teased and not so bright. Then a childhood prank goes wrong which affects the two girls for the rest of their lives. Helen and Ellie play a cruel trick on a neighbour, they swap clothes and re-do their hairstyles appropriately (Helen wears a plait, Ellie is in bunches) and act like the other one does – Helen assertive, Ellie cowering. It is Helen’s idea, but when it is time to swap back Ellie refuses. Beside Myself by Ann Morgan is thoughtful, at times creepy and disturbing. The story is told from Ellie’s point of view, that is Ellie who used to be Helen. Hellie – Ellie who became Helen – is now a TV presenter. Helen – who is now Smudge/Ellie – is struggling with mental health problems. Confused, I was a little. After the switch, both girls seem to be accepted without question by friends and family, despite their obvious personality differences. Their mother has met a new man and is
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Original Sin

I am never disappointed when I pick up an Adam Dalgliesh mystery, I know what I will get with PD James: excellent plotting, thoughtful characterization, an impossible maze of clues, patient description and scene setting, and deep literary references. Original Sin delivers, and it also gives life to London and the River Thames. This is the ninth outing for James’ poet detective, Commander Dalgliesh, the taciturn, thoughtful, policeman with the stare which is as hard-as-nails. His colleagues respect him but cannot say they either know or like him. He is mysterious, and thereby hangs the fascination he holds for readers. The first death at Peverell Press, a traditional publishing house located in a Venetian-style house beside the Thames, is a suicide, the body found by a new employee. The same employee has the misfortune to find another dead body later in the book. There are a lot of dead bodies at Peverell Press, and there is also a prankster. Proofs wrongly amended, illustrations disappear, appointments cancelled. When the managing director, Gerard Etienne, is found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning, upstairs in the little archive room, the death is considered suspicious enough to call in the police. This is a complicated
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Categories: Book Love.

Writing tips: know your grammar

Know your grammar. If you don’t, check it. Buy yourself a grammar book, dictionary and thesaurus, and use them. If you don’t, copy-editing will be a long, painful and costly process. Better to get it right yourself in the first place. And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Writers’ BLOCKbusters: know your grammar http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1ut #writingtips via @SandraDanby
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Categories: On Writing.