Monthly Archives July 2017

First Edition: An Ice Cream War

Published in 1982 by Hamish Hamilton in the UK, An Ice Cream War by William Boyd is a darkly comic novel set in colonial East Africa during the Great War. It is one of the first novels by Boyd which I read, the others being A Good Man in Africa and Stars and Bars. This first edition hardback is signed by the author and selling [at time of going to print] for £175. It was shortlisted for the 1982 Booker Prize, won that year by Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, and won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. The story An Ice Cream War follows the fortunes of several disparate characters, including an expat farmer and a young English aristocrat, as they are swept up in the fighting in German East Africa during the First World War, their lives converging amid battle, betrayal, love, comedy and tragedy. Temple Smith is an American expat who runs a successful sisal plantation in East Africa, near Mount Kilimanjaro. Before war breaks out in August 1914, Smith is on cordial terms with his German half-English neighbour, Erich von Bishop. These separate strands gradually converge as the complacency of the artificial world of the British expat
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: New Boy

When she arrives at school one day, Dee notices the new boy before anyone else and forsees he will have an impact on the world she lives in. Little does she know. This is Washington DC in the 1970s. A new black boy is starting his first day at an all-white school. New Boy: Othello Retold is not the usual novel you expect from Tracy Chevalier. Part of the Hogarth Shakespeare collection of novels by contemporary writers re-telling Shakespeare’s most famous plays, it is thought-provoking, ambitious, but not totally successful. Modernising such a well-known classic drama is always going to be problematic, with readers who love or hate it. Othello, possibly Shakespeare’s most political of plays, is about love, jealousy, sexual bullying and manipulation. Difficult subjects for a school. Some reviewers think this book should be marketed to adolescents but for me, the novel’s flaw lies in its timeframe. The action takes place over one school day so the arrival of Osei and his relationship with Dee charges from flirting, friendship, commitment to caressing, whispering and hurtful jealousy between the hours of nine in the morning and four-ish in the afternoon. There is simply too much to cram into one
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Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 99… ‘Couples’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“‘What did you make of the new couple?’ The Hanemas, Piet and Angela, were undressing. Their bed-chamber was a low-ceilinged colonial room whose woodwork was painted the shade of off-white commercially called eggshell. A spring midnight pressed on the cold windows.” ‘Couples’ by John Updike  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Queen Camilla’ by Sue Townsend ‘Vanishing Acts’ by Jodi Picoult ‘True Grit’ by Charles Portis And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: COUPLES by John Updike #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2qE
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: The Gift of Rain

If you are searching for another world in which to immerse yourself, then this novel will fit the requirement. The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng will suit anyone interested in the Malay Peninsula and its history in World War Two. It is at times tender, brutal, harsh and uplifting. It is a story of love, family, war, of defeat and acceptance. The story opens as Philip Hutton, an elderly man living in a stately house on Penang, an island off the west coast of Malaysia. To his door comes an elderly, frail Japanese woman. They have never met before, but know one person who made an impact on their lives. Endo-san, a Japanese man, once lived on a tiny island near Istana, the Hutton family home. The Gift of Rain is the story of the relationship between Endo-san, a master, sensei, of aikijutsu, and his teenage pupil Philip immediately preceding the Japanese invasion of Malaya in 1941 and the following years of occupation. There are many subtle layers to this tale which left me moved and thirsty for more facts about this period of history. It poses many difficult questions. Like the best novels dealing with war, it
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Catherine Hokin

Today I’m delighted to welcome historical novelist Catherine Hokin. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Wise Children by Angela Carter. “I am not a great re-reader of books, I have enough trouble keeping up with the growing list of ones I still haven’t got round to, but Wise Children is a wonderful exception. I first encountered Angela Carter when someone gave me a copy of The Magic Toyshop at university and I fell in love with her off-centre way for looking at the world. When Wise Children came out in 1991 I was newly at home with my first child, somewhat in shock and needing an escape route to a world very different from the one I was muddling my way through.The novel focuses on the twin Chance sisters, Dora and Nora, their mad theatrical family and their romp through musical hall, early Hollywood and aging disgracefully. It combines fairy tales, Shakespeare, magical realism and brilliant characters and is funny, sad and wicked in equal measure. I have read it many times, it is so multi-layered there is always something new to find, and am usually drawn back to it when I want to be reminded how good writing can
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Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: The Ice

The Ice by Laline Paull is a climate change thriller which takes place partly in the Arctic and partly in a courtroom in Canterbury. Sean and Tom met as students when Tom attended a meeting of the exclusive Lost Explorers’ Society and Sean was a waiter. They became friends because of their shared fascination for the Arctic. Both go on to forge careers revolving around the Arctic; Tom becomes an environmental campaigner, Sean a businessman. Their friendship, agreements and arguments are key to this novel. When, in chapter one, Tom’s body is revealed by an iceberg calving from a glacier it is the catalyst for all that follows. Tom was known to be dead, having died in an accident in an ice cave on Svalbard three years earlier, an accident which Sean survived. An inquest is called, Sean’s business partners fly in to give evidence and to support Sean who is seeing visions of Tom around every corner. It becomes clear that Sean, now divorced and living with one of his investors, Martine, is not hands-on with his business in Svalbard. Midgard Lodge is an exclusive retreat where businessmen and politicians can meet to do deals. Sean’s upfront motivation is
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Categories: Book Love.

Family history: Using UK newspapers

Marriage, birth and death, sporting events and school performances are some of the everyday events in which almost everyone participates and which may be reported in a local newspaper. So if you are searching for information about a relative, UK newspapers are the place to start. If your relative held a prominent position of job, then national newspapers may yield results, as may a professional newspaper or magazine. If you search is focussed on drawing a picture of the times in which you relative lived, illustrated newspapers and magazines will be most helpful. From the fashions people wore, the books they read, their hobbies and pastimes, magazines are a useful source. Tailor your newspaper research according to the type of information you seek. There are two major newspaper collections available online: the British Newspaper Archive is available by direct subscription and is also included with the membership of Find My Past. Alternatively, try Newspapers.com which is available as part of some Ancestry subscriptions. This is mainly concentrated on American newspapers dating from the 1700s to 2000s but also includes some titles from the UK, Australia and Canada. Useful if you are searching for relatives who emigrated overseas. Access to some
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Categories: Family history research.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘The Boy Tiresias’

You may have heard of Kate Tempest [below], the rapper born in South East London, who has gone on to write poetry and plays and perform at Glastonbury. ‘The Boy Tiresias’ is one poem from Hold Your Own, a collection about youth and experience, sex and love, wealth and poverty. 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. ‘The Boy Tiresias’ Watch him, kicking a tennis ball, keeping it up the boy on the street in his sister’s old jumper. Watch him, Absorbed in the things that he does. Crouched down, Observing the worms and the slugs. He’s shaping their journeys placing his leaves in their paths, playing with fate. Godcub. Sucking on sherbet. Riding his bike in the sunlight. Filmic. Perfect.’ There is a sadness at the heart of Hold Your Own, it is clear that Tempest draws on her own childhood for her poetry which is simple and at the same time rich. For more about Kate Tempest’s poetry and music, visit her website. Read a review of Hold Your Own, published in The Guardian.   ‘Hold Your Own’ by
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Categories: Poetry.

#Book review ‘The Distant Hours’ by Kate Morton #historical #romance #WW2

If ever there was a novel in which a house plays the role of a character, this is it. The Distant Hours by Kate Morton is told in two strands, World War Two and the Nineties, involving the three Blythe sisters in Kent at Milderhurst Castle and a South London mother and daughter, Meredith and Edie. They all are connected by the war, the house, and the truth of what really happened when Juniper Blythe was abandoned by her lover in 1941. This is a brick of a book [678 pages], like Morton’s other novels. A little too long for me, the story meanders at times through past and present until it works towards the final mystery. What a mystery, an ingenious storyline and an unpredictable final twist. The story starts when a letter arrives for Edie’s mother, a letter lost for decades, a letter dating from wartime when Meredith was a schoolgirl evacuated to Kent. Edie is fascinated by her mother’s history, but her mother does not talk of it. They are not close, and Edie feels unable to press for information. So she sets off to investigate on her own. At the centre of the story is the house,
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: How to be Human

Paula Cocozza has written a strange but compelling novel about relationships. In How to Be Human, she questions where the lines lie between sanity and obsession, love and infatuation, delusion and self-awareness. Beneath the surface of our intellect, sophistication and technology, we are still animals. Mary lives alone in a house in East London which backs onto woods, land which other neighbours complain is a unpalatable wilderness of weeds, rubbish and foxes. To Mary, it is the countryside. One day she sees a fox in her garden and believes he has visited her, that the gifts he leaves her are his way of communicating with her. She interprets his movements and snuffles as communication to her, and so validates her belief he understands her as no-one else does. As her relationship with the fox grows, her interactions with other people – her ex-boyfriend Mark, her neighbours Eric and Michelle, her mother, her boss – begin to disintegrate. At the beginning she has some semblance that her friendship with the fox is not usual but she persuades herself that animal specialists do talk to animals so she is not alone in doing this. It is other people who do not understand
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Categories: Book Love.

#FlashPIC 21 Two Empty Glasses #writingprompt #amwriting

Here’s a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series to help you start the day off well… before your mind is stressed with deadlines and ‘not working’, allow your thoughts to slow down. Let your imagination do the work and turn this into a flash fiction piece. 1 Study the photograph for 60 seconds then put it aside. 2 Write down every word or phrase which you can recall about it. These can include descriptions, feelings, dialogue, expectations, presumptions, colours, smells and noise. 3 Work out a beginning, middle and end for a short story. 4 Write 500-800 words. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Plastic Bag Stairs to who knows where Moon rocks 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,
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Book review: The Ghost of Lily Painter

Caitlin Davies blends fact and fiction in The Ghost of Lily Painter, an unusual story sparked from the author’s interest in her own house in Holloway, North London. In 2008, Annie Sweet moves into 43 Stanley Road with her husband and daughter. The house is chilly, the dog won’t stop barking, and her husband leaves her. Is there a bad spirit in the house which is bringing bad luck? Annie begins to explore the house’s history and discovers a music hall performer, Lily Painter, lived there briefly at the beginning of the twentieth century. What happened to her? Why does she disappear? This is a well-researched historical story about turn-of-the-century music hall, the dilemma facing unmarried pregnant women, baby farms and modern-day family history research. It’s a fascinating tangle of three viewpoints across a century: Annie Sweet and her actress daughter Molly, Inspector William George who lived at 43 Stanley Road in 1901; and one of his lodgers, Miss Lily Painter. The baby farms narrative is based on the real lives of Amelia Sach and Annie Walters, the first women to be hanged at Holloway Prison in 1902. They were baby farmers, women offering a lying-in service where women could
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Categories: Book Love.