Monthly Archives March 2016

Book review: Death in Holy Orders

A sandy cliff collapses, a theology student dies and his father suspects foul play. And so Adam Dalgliesh returns to St Anselm’s, the theological college which he visited as a boy. And so this murder mystery by PD James is cut through with Dalgiesh’s memories. “When secrets are unspoken and unwritten they are lodged safely in the mind, but writing them down seems to let them loose and give them the power to spread like pollen on the air and enter into other minds.” So writes college housekeeper Margaret Munroe in her diary. She found Ronald’s body and was advised by Father Martin, a priest at St Anselm’s, to write about her experience as a way of coming to terms with what happened. Does she know a secret and write it in her diary? Ronald’s death is declared accidental, a second staff member dies naturally. But then there is a third death and Dalgliesh is put in charge of the case. His familiar team of Kate Miskin and Piers Tarrant are accepted uneasily into this closed community which is secretly worried the building houses a murderer, but outwardly tries to behave as normal. Included in the mix of clergy, teachers
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Freya

When I finished reading Freya I wanted to shout out to everyone around me to read it. Why? It is a story of friendship and love, truth and honesty, loyalty and betrayal. Anthony Quinn captures Freya immaculately – he seems to intuit so much women’s stuff so well – so much better than other male novelists recently writing from a female point of view. It is such a refreshing read, I hope it sells loads and wins loads. It deserves it. If you can, read it next. Freya is the story of Freya Wyley from VE Day to the 1960s via Oxford, Nuremberg, Italy and mostly London. Recently demobbed from the Wrens, at which she achieved a senior position as bomb plotter in a world with few men, she goes up to Oxford unsure if she is too ‘old’ at the age of 21 to return to study. There she finds that pre-war expectations of women re-apply again and with her customary cussedness she fights against it. With the glimmer of an opportunity, she sets out to get a break as a journalist by interviewing a reclusive war reporter who will be attending the Nuremberg war trials. She calls in
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

‘Ignoring Gravity’ and other writings

I’m now re-drafting Connectedness, part two in the ‘Rose Haldane: Identity Detective’ series, with publication scheduled for late 2016. This is the story of Justine Tree who as an art student gives up her baby for adoption. Almost 30 years later, she asks Rose to find her lost daughter. I’m in the middle of fact-checking the manuscript and my next task is to re-visit Malaga, Spain, where Justine was at art college. I need to check details of locations including Plaza de la Merced, where Justine lives… … the Cathedral, where she sells her paintings to tourists… She lives in an apartment in a building like this… She finds Malaga an inspiring place, particularly the influence of the Moors on architecture. She loves the colours, the shapes and derivation of pattern and the texture and use of materials such as brick and tile. But Malaga is also the place where her life takes an unexpected turn… love, poverty, pregnancy. What happens in Malaga influences her life in ways she can never predict. To make sure you don’t miss the publication of Connectedness, sign-up for my newsletter here for advance information. And don’t forget to read Ignoring Gravity first!   ‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra
Read More

Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Connectedness' and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

#FlashPIC 12 Moon Rocks #writingprompt #amwriting

As part of the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series, here is a picture to kickstart a flash fiction short story. Study this photograph. What does it look like: rocks on the moon? A work of art? A space in a community garden? Look a little closer… at the texture, the colours, the shapes. Is it daytime, or night? Is there sign of life… is that a cigarette butt I see? Describe the setting in 1-2 paragraphs. Next, put into it a character you have already created, someone you are familiar with, and see what happens. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Red sign ‘Pedestrians’ Go! Anonymous People Arrivals Board 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
Read More

Categories: Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

My Top 5… novels about paintings

In the course of my research for Connectedness, I have found some wonderful novels and non-fiction about art, artists, paintings, sculpture and creativity. Here are some of my favourites. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt Buy nowNot a novel about artists, but about the power of art over one 13-year old boy. Theo Decker is caught in a bombing at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art during which his mother is killed, he sees a red-haired girl and becomes obsessed by her, and he steals a painting. The Goldfinch is the story of what happens to Theo and how his triple obsessions dominate his life. Won the Pulitzer in 2014. One of my all-time favourites. Currently in development as a film. Read my review here. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier  Buy nowMore than two million copies sold worldwide, a film starring Colin Firth and a translucent Scarlett Johansson, do not detract from the brilliance of this novel. Tracy Chevalier says she now feels like a totally different writer from the one who wrote this novel. A story of a painter, his household, a maid and 17th century Holland. I was most captivated by the details of Vermeer’s painting
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 83… ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream, and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week. It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.” ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ by Ernest Hemingway Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘I’ll Take You There’ by Joyce Carol Oates ‘The Impressionist’ by Hari Kunzru ‘That They May Face the Rising Sun’ by John McGahern And if you’d like to tweet a link to
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: Pretty Baby

Don’t be fooled by the cover photograph, this is not a thriller about trains. Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica is a psychological tale of parenting, grief, abuse, and husbands and wives who stop communicating and stop interacting. At times I had to take a gulp and accept some situations which seemed unrealistic to me, it was either that or put the book down. Heidi and Chris live with their daughter Zoe in Chicago. One freezing wintery day, running for a train, Heidi spots a homeless girl with a baby. She hesitates, wondering whether to say something, and then the girl is gone. Wishing she had helped, Heidi looks out for the girl the next day… and takes her home. Zoe sees it as an invasion of her space, Chris worries about who the girl – Willow, with baby Ruby – really is, and whether she poses a threat to his family and property. Both are right to be worried. At times I grew impatient with Heidi for indulging herself and impatient for Chris to show some intuition and see what was really going on. Unfortunately Chris is a bit of a stereotype, the hard-working banker husband who spends more time
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Brooklyn

I absolutely love this book and give it 5*, which I rarely do. For me, 5* means true excellence. There is a spareness to the writing of Colm Tóibín which includes essential detail and excludes extraneous. I would not wish a single word to be changed or paragraph to be deleted, no passages seem surplus to requirement or confusing, no characters’ names are forgotten. There is no dramatic action, no mystery, no cliffhanger, simply the story of a young Irish girl who goes to Brooklyn and what happens to her there. Yes there is romance, but not in the commercial fiction sense of the term. Romance is just one element of the story. It is 1950s rural Ireland. It is arranged by her elder sister and a family priest, that Eilish should go to America. It is deemed she has few prospects in Ireland. Brooklyn is a wonderful portrayal of 1950s Ireland and America, the attitudes, the social mores, the prejudices. The drama comes from observing Eilish’s every step, her every thought, wondering what she will do next. The drama is in the small things. She feels so real. I wanted to say, ‘take a risk’ and ‘don’t’ and ‘go for
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Happiness’

Happiness is a state we all aspire to but today there are heightened expectations of happiness, more children are said to be unhappy, depressed, disappointed, disaffected. This poem by the American Stephen Dunn [below] suggests a pragmatic approach to life. 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. ‘Happiness’ A state you must dare not enter                   With hopes of staying, Quicksand in the marshes, and all   The roads leading to a castle That doesn’t exist. For more about Stephen Dunn and his other poetry, click here for his website. His collection Different Hours won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2001.   ‘Different Hours’ by Stephen Dunn [WW Norton & Company]  Read these other excerpts and find a new poet to love:- ‘Oxfam’ by Carol Ann Duffy ‘Digging’ by Seamus Heaney ‘The Cinnamon Peeler’ by Michael Ondaatje And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read in the bath: ‘Happiness’ by Stephen Dunn http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Mf via @SandraDanby SaveSave
Read More

Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

Book review: A Death in the Dales

This was a book picked at random purely because of the beautiful cover design and the title. Frances Brody is a new author for me, I had never heard of her Kate Shackleton series. Inadvertently, I chose her latest, A Death in the Dales, the seventh Shackleton book. Now I plan to go back to the beginning. I didn’t struggle for lack of backstory, so I don’t think this is a series which must be read in order. It is 1926, Leeds, and Kate Shackleton’s niece is recovering from diptheria. Aunt and niece arrive in the Yorkshire Dales village of Langcliffe in the middle of the May Day celebrations, both in need of a holiday. There they are greeted by two men – the local doctor who has offered the loan of his recently deceased Aunt Freda’s house to Kate, and an elderly local man who presses into Kate’s hands a mysterious box. And so starts the unravelling of a murder, 10 years previously, of which Freda was a witness. Freda believed the wrong man was convicted and sentenced to death. There is a lot going on in this story: the wrongly convicted murderer, the disappearance of a young farm
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Rush Oh!

I didn’t know what to expect from Rush Oh! Whaling is frowned on these days and somewhat gory. But I am so pleased I read it. Shirley Barrett has drawn a setting which comes alive. Australia, New South Wales, 1908. It is the story of Mary Davidson, the daughter of a whaler, it is her memoir of one year in her family’s rural life at Eden. It is not simply a story about whaling. The historical context is so rich, so believable. The first page introduces the vivid setting: Mary’s home with its scent of boiling blubber for five months of the year, the rib cage of a 90ft blue whale sits in the front garden surrounded by jonquils, and a footpath laid with the pulverised vertebrae of whales. In this house in Eden lives Mary with siblings and their widowed father, the famous whaler George Davidson. During the whaling season her father’s whaling crew also live with the family and Mary and her sister cook meals and do the laundry. It is a hard life, harder when the whales do not appear in the bay and the general store will not further extend the credit line. Into this scene
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Ballroom

It is 1911 at the end of the Edwardian era. At an asylum on the edge of the Yorkshire moors, a new patient sees an opportunity to run and takes it. As Ella runs across a field, she sees men digging a deep hole in the earth. She stumbles and one of the men reaches to help her. This is her first sight of John, and The Ballroom by Anna Hope is their story. Ella is admitted to the asylum because she broke a window at the mill where she works. It is a mystery why John is there. Their story is told slowly as they get glimpses of each other, rare, as the men and women are kept separate apart from the Friday night dance in the ballroom. The asylum is a magnificent Victorian building and the ballroom is designed to inspire its inhabitants, to improve their spirits, with its stained glass pictures of birds and brambles, painted walls and stage for musicians. Their story is also told by Dr Charles Fuller, his interest in eugenics sets their plight into context with the times. At first he enthusiastically organises a musical programme designed to lift the spirits of the imprisoned men
Read More

Categories: Book Love.