Monthly Archives January 2018

Book review: No Time for Goodbye

This thriller by Linwood Barclay had me sitting up late at night, reading just one more chapter, and one more. When Cynthia Bigge is fourteen, her parents and older brother disappear from the house, never to be seen again. No bodies are found, no signs of foul play. It is as if they just walked away. But if they weren’t murdered, why did they leave? Did they hate her so, to abandon her? Twenty five years later, Cynthia takes part in a television programme to publicize cold cases. She could never have imagined what would happen next. First, there is a mysterious letter. Then a phone call, an e-mail. Suggesting something is going to happen, hinting her family is still alive. Cynthia questions her own sanity, her husband [and the main part of the story is told from his point of view] questions it too, and their daughter Grace is seemingly untroubled except she looks through her telescope every night before bedtime to check there is no asteroid heading for earth to destroy their world. This is a classic thriller. Who to believe? Is Cynthia’s family dead or alive? Who is contacting her now, the murderer? Is Cynthia so stressed
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Slaves of Solitude

Patrick Hamilton is a new author for me. The Slaves of Solitude, published in 1947, is a novel about wartime in which war is deep background. The setting is Thames Lockden, a small town in the Home Counties, which Hamilton based on Henley-upon-Thames. It tells the story of Miss Roach – Enid, though hardly anyone knows this is her first name – and her life at a boarding house, The Rosamund Tea Rooms. This is a war novel with a difference, focussing on the people at home, not fighting but getting on with their lives in a world turned upside down, managing on a day-to-day basis, life is dreary and bare. Miss Roach, former schoolmistress, is single, 39, and fiercely independent. She has been bombed out of her London flat and has fled from the bombing. Life is dark. ‘The earth was muffled from the stars; the river and the pretty eighteenth-century bridge were muffled from the people; the people were muffled from each other. This was war late in 1943.’ Hamilton is a wonderful observer of human behaviour, he shows the nasty politeness between the residents at The Rosamund Tea Rooms, the bullying, the toadying, the power struggles and
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Categories: Book Love.

‘Sally’s List’, a short story

Sally lies in bed in the early-morning limbo of darkness. Unable to snatch more sleep before the alarm rings, her mind drifts and she wonders how life brought her here to this bed. This house. This husband. This life. The me I am now. Her husband snores and rolls over so his face rests inches from hers, the rush of breath on his out-snore brushes her fringe into her eyes. How did I get here? She remembers the list of ‘When I Am Married’ she’d compiled when she was 19. I will always paint my toenails. My bra and knickers will always match. I will wash and blow-dry my hair every morning. I will never go anywhere in the car with a coat over my pyjamas. I will never do something my husband wants to do, just for an easy life. I will never fake a headache. Ditto a period pain. I will not squeeze myself into tight black lingerie, just because he bought it for me. I will keep my own friends, and not adopt his friends as mine. I will not pretend to understand the rules of Formula One. I will not expect him to watch the boxset of
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Categories: My Short Stories.

Book review: Anything is Possible

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout is an extraordinary book about normal people living normal lives. On the outside, people live private, God-fearing lives, they get by, they smile, they work. Inside, they hide secrets, horror, misgivings, sadness and love. With the same vision and delicacy she displayed in My Name is Lucy Barton, Strout tells us about the people of Amgash, Illinois, the small rural town where Lucy Barton grew up. In Anything is Possible, as in real life, threads of small town life are tangled together, generation after generation, each seemingly isolated but all connected by invisible tendrils of family, neighbourhood, school, farming. The shared history of living together through the years in close proximity, a community where everyone knows everyone else, their shame, their success, their failure, their betrayal and loyalty, is a community it is impossible to escape. Where adolescent misdemeanours, which may or may not have happened, are remembered as fact and decades of distrust attached. But as well as secrets and shame, there is redemption and love for those who face change and find a way to the other side. This is more a collection of inter-connecting stories rather than a novel with a
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Graeme Cumming

Today I’m delighted to welcome thriller writer Graeme Cumming. His ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Eagle in the Sky by Wilbur Smith. “My Porridge & Cream book is Eagle in the Sky by Wilbur Smith. I can’t remember exactly when I first read it, but suspect around 1977. I’d started reading him after seeing Shout at the Devil at the cinema. A week later, I spotted the book in my local library (remember those?), picked it up and became hooked on Smith for years after. Eagle in the Sky was just another I picked up to read, but it’s the one that stayed with me. “I don’t read it often, probably once every five or six years, the last time about three years ago. I remember being surprised at how dated some of the dialogue came across, but it was written in the early ‘70s! Even so, I still enjoyed it. There are no particular circumstances that prompt me to read it, but, unusually for me, once in a while I like to go back to it: I know I’m going to love it, and I’ve usually forgotten enough to be surprised. I have bought this book as a present
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Categories: Porridge & Cream.

#FlashPIC 26 Beware Danger From High Tides Beyond #writingprompt #amwriting

This photograph is a short story waiting to be written. A woman and a child collect shells on a beach. Beside them, a sign warns of the dangers of high tides. From the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series, here is a FlashPIC writing prompt to help you write a short story, a brief flash fiction piece of only a few words, or something longer. You choose. Consider what might happen next. Write a list of five possibilities. Now work each idea into a paragraph outline for a short story. Choose one idea and calculate your beginning, middle and end. Write a short story of your chosen length. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Two Empty Glasses Feet Train Window 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
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Book review: Nightfall

The first page was really intriguing and locked me into the character of Jack Nightingale, a police negotiator turned private detective. He is a troubled man, troubled by what he has seen through the course of his job though nowadays he earns his living from following unfaithful spouses. Nightfall by Stephen Leather is the first of the Jack Nightingale series, described as a ‘supernatural thriller’. This is a different kind of detective story, which begins when Jack is told he has inherited a mansion from a man who claimed to be Jack’s natural father. That’s not all, his ‘father’ leaves a warning: at Jack’s birth his soul was sold to the devil and a devil will come to claim it on his thirty-third birthday. That’s only three weeks away. So Jack is in a race against time to find out the truth. Was he really adopted? Who is Ainsley Gosling? What is going on? Is he suffering from stress? Hearing things? Imagining things? Is he going to lose his soul? Or is it one big con? When people around him start to die, Jack begins to lose his sense of perspective. ‘You are going to hell, Jack Nightingale’ are the
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Categories: Book Love.

Family history: Did your ancestor train as an apprentice?

If you know your ancestor’s trade, there is a good chance he or she may have trained through an apprenticeship scheme. In 1563, the Statute of Artificers and Apprentices forbade anyone from practising a craft without first serving as an apprentice. And from 1710, a duty was levied. These records form a central register of apprentices by the Inland Revenue and held at The National Archives. As well as trade apprenticeships, there were also apprenticeships which were arranged specifically by parish overseers of the poor and were intended to prevent the child being a burden on the parish. As pauper apprenticeships were liable for duty the records are kept separately, often found in local record offices and parish chests. If your research is based on London, start with London Lives where pauper apprenticeship records range from 1690-1800. It has a useful guide ‘Researching Apprenticeships’. Some of the apprentice records held at The National Archives have been digitised and are now available at Find My Past, including the London Apprenticeship Abstracts [1440-1850] which list all those apprenticed to livery companies in London. It also includes regional records from Manchester and Lincolnshire. The Board of Stamps apprenticeship books record payments on the
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Categories: Family history research.

How Nicole Krauss writes

Nicole Krauss: “The only way I could write about these things was projecting them into the character of this old, isolated, charming but difficult man. I could express things that I simply couldn’t in my own skin, in my own life… I think that is what one is always doing as a writer. Not just self-expression, but something bigger than that, which is self-invention. In that process of self-invention you are expanding a portion of yourself… Writers are kind of like mockingbirds, in that they take what is interesting and shiny and useful from their own lives and they weave it into this tapestry that they’re making.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, May 19, 2017] I understand the mockingbird image, I prefer to think of myself as a magpie. I collect the glittering things, a word, an idea, an emotion, a photograph, and store them away. Perhaps more of a squirrel than a magpie, actually. Every now and then I turn out the contents of the tin – which is full of folded newspaper and magazine cuttings – and my old-fashioned index file – full of cards with sometimes a sentence or only one word written on them
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: Skin Deep

Skin Deep by Laura Wilkinson is a thoughtful, difficult book to read about modern-day notions of beauty, ugliness and society’s fascination with appearance. At times it made me feel uncomfortable. It is the sort of book which you find yourself thinking about long after you have finished reading it. It will make you think about your own attitudes to others, do you unconsciously leap to judgement based on their outward appearance, and how much do you worry about your own looks? Hulme, Manchester, 1984. Students Diana and Linda start university, Diana is studying art, Linda art history. Diana is keen to make her mark for something she can do with her hands, rather than how she looks. A former child model, people stare at her in the street such is her beauty. Via Jim, Linda’s boyfriend, Diana meets Cal, a four-year old boy neglected by his drug addict parents. He has a severe facial disfigurement and is kept from sight. He does not know a normal life. ‘Normal’ is a word which crops up often. In the child, Diana finds someone dealing with a mirror image of her own challenge: as Cal hides his face from strangers, Claire tried to
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Categories: Book Love.