Monthly Archives February 2017

Great Opening Paragraph 94… ‘Tipping the Velvet’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Have you ever tasted a Whitstable oyster? If you have, you will remember it. Some quirk of the Kentish coastline makes Whitstable natives – as they are properly called – the largest and the juiciest, the savouriest yet the subtlest, oysters in the whole of England. Whitstable oysters are, quite rightly, famous. The French, who are known for their sensitive palates, regularly cross the Channel for them; they are shipping, in barrels of ice, to the dining-tables of Hamburg and Berlin. Why, the King himself, I heard, makes special trips to Whitstable with Mrs Keppel, to eat oyster suppers in a private hotel; and as for the old Queen – she dined on a native a day [or so they say] till the day she died.” ‘Tipping the Velvet’ by Sarah Waters Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Mara and Dann’ by Doris Lessing ‘Lucky You’ by Carl Hiasson ‘Middlesex’ by Jeffrey Eugenides And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: TIPPING THE VELVET by Sarah Waters @ViragoBooks #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2lj
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: Afterlight

The setting for Afterlight by Alex Scarrow is the UK, ten years after the oil ran out. It is a sequel to Last Light but can be read as a standalone novel. Like the first, it is a moreish thriller with the touch of frightening reality. After the oil crash there were riots, looting, murder and rape. Beacon communities were established, safe zones which eventually became unsafe. Now, only two remain. This is the story of what happens to them as survival and recovery phases into rebuilding and re-establishment of democratic government. Scarrow recalls some of the main characters from the first novel – Jenny Sutherland and her two children – and introduces new people. There are flashbacks to the oil crisis which shows events from different viewpoints. Ultimately, this is a story of Them and Us which does at times seem stereotyped. Jenny now runs a community of 400+ living on an abandoned oil and gas rig in the North Sea off the Norfolk coast. There are rumblings of discontent with the strict rules, then a mysterious Belgian stranger arrives and a young girl goes missing. This story is interwoven with that of Adam Brooks, a former RAF officer,
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Categories: Book Love.

#FlashPIC 18 Hotel Corridor #writingprompt #amwriting

Every hotel has two version of daily life: that of its guests, and its staff. This hotel corridor could be anywhere, it could be the first floor or the penthouse, in Edinburgh, Paris or Hong Kong. Here is a FlashPIC writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series to help you beat writers’ block today. This exercise examines how two different people can be in the same place, and see something entirely different. Write two personalities, who see this corridor for the first time. One is a hotel guest, the other a maid on her first day at work. What do they think when they get out of the lift and walk down this corridor? Do they actually meet and exchange conversation? Then something happens which brings the two together in a way they could never have forseen – comedy, tragedy, theft, explosion, accident, illness: you decide. Start small, and work up. First of all, write one paragraph sketching the character of each person. Next, put each character into their individual setting. Now, make the two meet. What happens next? © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Cranes on the skyline Arrivals board at Waterloo Station Train Window
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Book review: Blood-Tied

A mysterious beginning with an invalid, threatened by a stranger. Just who is this woman and what is her connection to Esme Quentin? Blood–Tied by Wendy Percival is the first of the Esme Quentin series of genealogical mysteries. Esme’s older sister Elizabeth is attacked and in hospital in a coma. Why was she in a town forty miles from home? Did she fall, or was she pushed? And who are the two people in photographs hidden in Elizabeth’s treasured locket? At the start of this story, Esme knows who her family is but once she starts to dig into Elizabeth’s odd accident/attack she uncovers a complicated family history which had me confused at times. This genealogical mystery involves a long-ago family argument, a derelict canal and a feisty elderly lady in a residential home. Esme is a bit like a dog with a bone, she won’t give up despite getting the jitters in the dark of the night. Two things would have made my reading experience easier. Esme’s history – scar, widow, background as investigative journalist – was thinly drawn so it felt as if I was reading part two of a two-book series. The family twists and turns were
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Categories: Family history research.

Family history: Did your ancestor belong to a trade union?

We all remember learning at school about the Tolpuddle Martyrs [below] and their importance at the beginning of the trade union movement in the UK. They are still remembered today. The history of working life can be exciting and the excitement of researching your family tree is not about filling in spaces on a sheet of paper, it is about discovering real people and understanding their lives. If one of your relatives belonged to a trade union you could find out more about their working life, and also the time in which they lived. Searching however can be time-consuming, but rewarding. Here are some UK-based links to get your started:- The Modern Records Centre – held at the University of Warwick is the UK’s biggest repository of trade union records. Records vary from union to union, and year to year, but includes membership records, records of sickness and unemployment benefits, local branch meetings, social events and even some apprenticeship certificates. Trade Union Ancestors – it is estimated that more than 5000 trade unions have existed at some time or another, this website includes an A-Z guide of unions, union histories and biographies of union figures. Working Class Movement Library –
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Categories: Family history research.

Book review: The Lie

The title implies this story hinges on one big lie, but actually there are a number of lies told. The Lie by CL Taylor is an examination of the group dynamic between four girlfriends who go on holiday together, seeking catharsis and finding horror. Before, during and after the holiday there is friction and bitching but once in Nepal they find betrayal, lies, bullying, intimidation and violence. Then five years later, the past threatens again. The story is told in parallel – now, as Jane, who works at an animal rescue centre, receives a mysterious letter; and five years earlier, when Jane [then called Emma] went to a yoga retreat in Nepal with her friends, Daisy, Al and Leanne. When Emma starts to be suspicious of the retreat and the people who run it, it is too late to escape. Unfortunately I didn’t connect emotionally with Jane or her three friends. I found them unsympathetic at the beginning and inter-changeable, which meant it was longer before I ‘got’ the book. The age of the friends, and their partying, made this feel more like a chick-lit book than CL Taylor’s debut, The Accident. A yoga retreat in Nepal seemed an expensive
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Helen J Christmas

Today I’m delighted to welcome thriller novelist Helen J Christmas. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Camellia by Leslie Pearse. “I started this book in 1998 during a very wet Glastonbury Festival; I remember curling up in my sleeping bag, feeling utterly miserable as the rain splashed around the campsite. Yet from the very first page I was quickly absorbed in the story. Set in my home county of Sussex, the saga begins with a young girl who is orphaned at 15, when her mother is discovered drowned. Camellia is an unhappy, neglected child, yet her security is ripped away when she stumbles across a secret hoard of letters among her mother’s belongings. After realising her entire childhood has been based on lies, she takes off to London to start a new life. Beautifully written with powerful story lines, Camellia is as much a ‘coming of age’ story as a romantic drama. At the start of the book, she is an overweight teenager but blossoms into a glamorous young woman. Caught up in the sizzling 60s of London, her life turns into a roller coaster. She is abandoned by a controlling drug dealer boyfriend, but discovers a loyal friend who becomes
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: The Fate of the Tearling

This is the third of the trilogy by Erika Johansen so do not read this without first reading the other two. It is unpredictable with storylines and time strands which come and go and inter-link, at times incorporating fantasy, sci-fi, time-travel and magic. It is a very different sort of fantasy tale and in that difference lies its awkwardness. There are gaps in the storyline, the timeline, and some thinly sketched characters turn out to be pivotal. Sometimes I had the feeling the author should have written one long book rather than two, or two rather than a trilogy – are authors encouraged to write trilogies with film rights in mind? The first book was the best, the second was intriguing but left me with many questions, the third has left me undecided. I struggled with the first half and would have appreciated a list of characters from the previous two books, but then in the second half the story came alive for me and I finished it one Saturday afternoon. At the end of the second book, Queen Kelsea surrendered herself to the Red Queen in order to save her kingdom. The third book opens as Kelsea is imprisoned
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Categories: Book Love.

First Edition: The French Lieutenant’s Woman

I was a great John Fowles fan in the Eighties. This is my copy of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, dated 1981, a paperback edition by Triad Granada. It is well-thumbed, well-read, as are all my Fowles paperbacks including The Collector and The Magus. I remember being disappointed with the film, disliking the two-strand screenplay. I haven’t read the novel for years, but it remains on my shelf and I will re-read it soon. I find once the details of a story have been forgotten, the pleasure of re-reading increases exponentially. The story Famous for its multiple endings, The French Lieutenant’s Woman received a mixed reception on publication. It explores the relationship of gentleman and amateur naturalist Charles Smithson, and Sarah Woodruff, former governess and independent woman, with whom he falls in love. Set in the mid-19th century, Woodruff is a ‘disgraced’ woman who lives in Lyme Regis where she spends hours walking The Cobb, a stone jetty where she stares out to sea. Smithson arrives in town and, seeing this lonely figure beside the sea, is curious about her. The film  Starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons [above], this film was released in 1981 with a stellar cast, director [Karel Reisz],
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Double Vision

This is different from a lot of the war fiction by Pat Barker in that it deals with the aftermath of war rather than life during war. Double Vision is set in Barker’s NE England, with both countryside and city drawn clearly. War reporter Stephen Sharkey returns to the NE to stay in his brother’s isolated holiday cottage, he has resigned his job and plans to write a book. It seems idyllic, peaceful, but his dreams are full of war memories, particularly the body of a girl discovered in a Sarajevo ruin, raped and murdered. Kate Frobisher, widow of Sharkey’s war photographer colleague Ben, is a sculptor. She is struggling too, with being alone, and with injuries sustained in a car accident. Kate’s progress with the sculpture of a man, with the deadline looming, forms the spine of this novel. This is not a love story in that there is no romance but it is a story about the love of family, of community, of responsibility. And it is also about the opposite of love: hate, as done to the girl in that Sarajevo ruin. The horrors that man does to man, in wartime and ordinary time, and whether forgiveness
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Chosen Child

This is a thriller which starts at a stroll and ends like a train. In Chosen Child, by Linda Huber, the lives of two married women crash together. The story starts starts with a childless couple who are part-way through the adoption procedure. Ella is desperate for a child, any child. Her husband Rick wants a baby boy. The first crack appears at an adoption party – where approved adoptive parents mingle with available children and their carers – when Ella makes an instant connection with a feisty six-year-old girl. Meanwhile Amanda’s pregnancy test shows the blue line but she doesn’t know if the father is her husband or her lover. I worked out the connection between the two women pretty quickly, but there is so much more to the story. The lies get more complicated, decisions are made then regretted, time cannot be turned back. And all the while six-year-old Soraya starts to wonder if Ella and Rick really are her forever family. This is a thoughtful thriller about adoption, promises and the reasons for having children. This is Linda Huber’s fourth novel, now I want to read the others. Read more about Linda Huber’s books here. If you
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Referendum

Scottish politics and policing offer a fertile source for fictional plots, and former journalist Campbell Hart makes the most of it. Referendum is the third in his series about Glasgow Detective Inspector John Arbogast. The heft of this series is developing nicely, as the characters and setting gain depth with each book and the plots are layered with threads from the previous books. Arbogast and his police colleagues are familiar now and Hart chooses his political setting, in the run-up to the Scottish Referendum for Independence, with care. Throw in a bent copper, an Irish thug, a BBC reporter, a family struggling with debt, and a nationalist determined to have his moment of propaganda, and there are many narrative threads to follow. A man dies beneath a bridge, suicide or murder? But then a debt collector calls on his wife, which kickstarts a chain of events involving Arbogast. As well as chasing down a missing teenager, he takes a secret trip to Belfast to research the background of a fellow officer. What he finds there leads straight back to Glasgow and a deadly climax at the partly-constructed new police headquarters building, a sparkling transparent glass and steel building. Is Glasgow’s
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Categories: Book Love.