Monthly Archives October 2016

Great Opening Paragraph 90… ‘Queen Camilla’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, stood smoking a cheap cigarette on the back doorstep of Number Sixteen Hell Close. It was a cold afternoon in late summer. Occasionally she turned to watch her husband, Charles, the Prince of Wales, clattering the luncheon pots in the red washing-up bowl he’d bought on impulse that morning from the ‘Everything A Pound’ shop. He had borne the bowl home and presented it to her as though it were a precious religious artefact plundered from a sacked city.” ‘Queen Camilla’ by Sue Townsend  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote  ‘The Collector’ by John Fowles  ‘Lolita’ by Vladimir Nabokov  And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Does this make you want more? QUEEN CAMILLA by Sue Townsend #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Vr via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Robin Stevens writes

Robin Stevens “I do a massive spreadsheet of the murder, with the time of the murder and where everyone was in five-minute chunks leading up to it. It helps me get into the heads of the different characters, understand their motives and make sure their alibis work. Everybody has to be in the right place at the right time and all the clues have to be seeded.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, July 22, 2016] I wish Robin Stevens had been writing books when I was a child, I would have devoured them. My bookcase was full of Mallory Towers. The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, Arthur Ransome’s The Big Six and Agatha Christie. Apparently Stevens grew up reading the same books. Her detective series is very popular with eight to 12-year old girls. Her use of spreadsheets is interesting and I will try it out for my third novel, Sweet Joy. My novels are not crime stories, but they are about secrets and lies and it is essential to manage the twists and turns of the plot. Read more about Robin Stevens’ books at her website.   See how these other novelists write:- Rose Tremain Bill Clegg Tracy
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: The Nationalist

An explosion, on Remembrance Sunday. The culprit: an elderly man, a veteran, wearing a suicide vest. Scottish nationalism, the treatment of veterans and policing in Scotland are the drivers of this narrative. This story hits the ground running and doesn’t stop. It’s a while since I read Wilderness, the first in Campbell Hart’s series about Glasgow detective John Arbogast. The Nationalist was just the tonic after a tiring week, I needed to relax into a book which moved fast and didn’t demand much from me. This took me for a ride and finishes at a sprint as the end game approaches. Right up until the end, I didn’t know how it would finish. Arbogast is at times an unsympathetic character, his relationship with Rose, DCI Rosalind Ying, gets complicated and he retreats to alcohol. This gets him into trouble, trouble he cannot have foreseen would link him to the Remembrance Sunday terrorist attack. As pieces are pulled together, Hart keeps the mystery going until the end whilst weaving in the complicated politics in Scottish policing, resentments, ambition and dislike. Visit Campbell Hart’s website. Read my review of Wilderness, the first Arbogast book. 3rd in the Arbogast series, Referendum, will be
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Early Warning

It opens with a funeral, Frank Langdon, the patriarch. A funeral is a great introduction to the characters, a reminder of Some Luck, the first part of this trilogy. This, the second instalment by Jane Smiley of the life of Frank and Rosanna Langdon’s family, focuses on their children and grandchildren. And it is a sprawling family. Not just who they are but WHO they are, their relationships, their quirks, their oddities. Jane Smiley is an excellent observer of human behaviour, she reminds me of Jane Austen’s interpretation of family connections, secrets, tensions and disguised emotions. And it is all written in such an unassuming, subtle way. The death of a parent is a landmark in anyone’s life, a reminder of mortality, and in this book we see the maturing of the five Langdon children – ambitious, tricksy Frank; farmer Joe; home-maker Lilian; academic Henry; and youngest Claire. Smiley has a way of writing these characters from birth to maturity, through changing times, the social and political upheavals of Sixties and Seventies America, without losing the essence of personality. And what a cast it is to handle. Not once did I lose the thread of who was who, except with
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Claire Dyer

Today I’m delighted to welcome poet and romance novelist Claire Dyer. “My Porridge & Cream book is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows. I read this book when it was first published and return to it for a multitude of reasons. I guess the main one, however, is that it’s essentially about good people and reading it reminds me that there’s more goodness in the world than sometimes is apparent. The novel is set in 1946 and tells the story of author Juliet Ashton who stumbles into a correspondence with Dawsey Adams of Guersney. In this respect it reminds me of 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (another favourite). Dawsey is a member of The Guersney Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and, as letters fly back and forward between them, other members of the Society and Juliet’s friends and admirers in England, much is revealed about these good-hearted people and the lives of those who lived in Guernsey under German Occupation. On the surface it’s a light-hearted and easy read. The letters are jaunty, wry and funny and the correspondents nearly always put a positive spin on their hardships and
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Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: A Mother’s Secret

What a tangled web some families weave. A Mother’s Secret by Renita D’Silva is a fragrant tale of mothers and daughters stretching from England to India. Gaddehalli is a tiny village in Goa but I could smell the spices, hear the wind in the trees, and see the buffalos in the fields as if I was there. This novel about identity starts with a young girl, Durga, who must stay with her grandmother in Gaddehalli after an accident to her parents. The ruined mansion where she lives, which is avoided by the locals as haunted and full of bad luck, is the centre of this story. The modern-day strand follows Jaya, a young mother in England mourning the loss of her baby son and whose mother Sudha has recently died. Sudha was an emotionally-withdrawn mother, but when Jaya discovers some of her mother’s hidden possessions, including diaries, she pieces together the story of Sudha’s early life. Jaya is looking for the identity of her own father; she finds so much more. From the beginning, it is a guessing game: how is the story of Durga connected to Kali, Jaya and Sudha? Halfway through, all my ideas of the twist had
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Blood Atonement

A fascinating mixture of modern crime novel and family history research, Blood Atonement takes Nigel Barnes from London to the USA as he races against time to find answers for Detective Chief Inspector Grant Foster. Foster’s first case after returning to work following injuries sustained in The Blood Detective [first in this genealogical crime series] is a dead actress and her missing daughter. Links to the actress’s past, mystery about her family and unanswered questions, lead Foster to call in the help of genealogist Nigel Barnes. Both men are strong characters who walk off the page, both loners of a kind, both lonely in love. This is a fast-moving mystery revolving around what happened to Horton and Sarah Rowley, who we know from flashbacks were teenage sweethearts planning to run away, but who only appear in records in the UK from 1891. Before that, they cease to exist. Where did they come from, and why were they running? Simply because their parents disapproved of the marriage, or something more sinister? And what has this to do with the dead actress found lying face down on her lawn in London? As he searches for the missing 14-year old, Foster finds chilling
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Categories: Book Love and Family history research.

Family history: the paternity question

People have been having affairs – and illegitimate children – since the world began. For me, this means hundreds of story ideas for the ‘Rose Haldane: Identity Detective’ series. For family history researchers, paternity fraud presents a big dilemma: whether to believe what the records say. Adultery is notoriously difficult to trace through the records, with many women giving birth to babies whose father is not her husband. How do you spot a problem? Look out for:- Family rumours. Is it spiteful gossip, or is the rumour confirmed from different sources? Where was the father nine months before the birth? Did the birth take place a suspiciously short time after the wedding? Why is the paternity questioned? Physical likeness, does a child look like its father? Not a reliable measure, as often children are genetic throwbacks and resemble neither of their parents. Is it known that the mother had affairs? Check the divorce records for evidence of adultery. Are the parents living apart, so suggesting a marriage separation. Check the Census. A marriage breakdown is often evident in a person’s will, an estrangement may be mentioned. Or there may be a bequest to someone not in the immediate family. Was the
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Categories: Family history research.

Book review: Nutshell

I can see Nutshell by Ian McEwan occupying many inches of column space this autumn. Where to start? You must have heard by now that this is the one about the foetus who overhears his mother Trudy and her lover, her brother-in-law Claude, planning to murder Trudy’s husband and father of the narrator. It is both ingenious and awkward. At one moment I would chuckle at the audacity of the unborn narrator and his take on life, the next I was hit by a brick wall – how would a foetus know that? He is an incredibly sophisticated, philosophical, well-educated foetus. I’m sure I missed loads of literary references. McEwan covers this off very early by saying his mother, Trudy, listens to Radio 4 documentaries by day and mind-improving podcasts by night. I know the reader is expected to suspend disbelief, as we do in the theatre, the fourth wall and all that; but in Nutshell the fourth wall is more a flimsy partition. Is it too clever? Perhaps. But the author is Ian McEwan whose books I love, so I was prepared to indulge him. At the back of my mind all the way through was, in this foetus
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Categories: Book Love.

#FlashPIC 15 Beach #writingprompt #amwriting

This photograph was taken in India but this beach could be anywhere. This FlashPIC writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series challenges the concept that things are not always as they seem. Empty your mind of preconceptions about beautiful beaches, your local beach, the beach you played on as a child. Without over-thinking, consider this beach to be a good place and write down 10-12 words. Now repeat the exercise, but look at the beach as bad. In what way it is bad is totally up to you: a bad memory, an accident, toxic water, an aggressive confrontation. Now write a short story using both views of the same beach. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Nothing of Value Left Overnight Red sign ‘Pedestrians’ Go! Anonymous People 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
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Book review: Himself

I loved this book from the first page. It defies pigeonholing: at once a literary crime thriller, a fond comic tale of an Irish village, an investigation of long-buried secrets of murder and illegitimacy. Jess Kidd is a refreshing new voice, I don’t remember enjoying a debut novel this much since Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites though the two books are completely different. In 1976 Mahony walks into the village of Mulderrig, seeking the truth of his birth twenty-six years earlier. From the forest around the village, and the houses within it, the dead walk out to greet him. They are a silent cast throughout the book, do they hold the answer to the mystery? Kidd has created a village which feels alive, filled by a cast of characters so clearly drawn, and which swirls between the horrific beating of a nurse, downright nastiness, belly laughs and hallucinogenic drugs. The cast includes a pinched, controlling priest; a wizened old actress who organizes the village play from her wheelchair; a bogeyman who reputedly lives in the forest; and a pub landlord who tries to court the Widow Farelly, a nurse who has the sourest disposition visible to everyone except him. Mahony grew
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Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Japanese Maple’

Most of us came to Australian broadcaster Clive James via his witty television programmes and writings. In recent years he has turned again to poetry. It is four years now since he was diagnosed with ‘the lot’: with leukaemia, emphysema and kidney failure. Now his poetry is full of dying – reflections on life and death – and the poems are beautiful and incredibly moving. ‘Japanese Maple’ is about a tree, given to him by his daughter, and how witnessing the tree change through autumn signals a change for him. I defy you to listen to this, and not have moist eyes. 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. ‘Japanese Maple’ Your death, near now, is of an easy sort. So slow a fading out brings no real pain. Breath growing short Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain Of energy, but thought and sight remain: Click here to listen to Clive James read ‘Japanese Maple’ for the BBC. For recent poems by Clive James, visit his website here. Listen here to Clive James talk about ‘taking life slowly’ [Interview: Radio
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Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Poetry.