Monthly Archives February 2018

#FlashPIC 27 Push Button at Pedestrian Crossing #writingprompt #amwriting

How do you get the reader to turn the next page of your novel or short story? There’s a great quote about this by English author Charles Reade, author of The Cloister and the Hearth, about this: “Make ‘em laugh; make ‘em cry; make ‘em wait.” As part of the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series, here is a FlashPIC writing prompt to help you write a flash fiction story about waiting, either yourself or making someone else wait, and the nature of delay. Decide what happens next. Who pushes the button? What happens? Does that person witness something? Perhaps the person doesn’t stop to push the button, why? Think of your own 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:- Moon Rocks Anonymous People Beach 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
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Book review: The Gustav Sonata

This novel is a remedy. If you have been reading too many fast-moving, cliff-hanging, emotionally-wringing new novels which don’t give you time to breathe, now sink into this. The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain is a sensitive portrayal of the friendship of two boys who meet at kindergarten and form a lifelong on-off friendship. Gustav and Anton are the products of their parents and upbringing, and the baggage they inherit. All of this is complicated by post-war Switzerland. The war seems, to them, irrelevant, but in fact it frames their whole lives. Gustav lives with his widowed mother Emilie in a small town in Switzerland. Money is tight and Emilie juggles jobs to manage. As a lonely toddler who misses a father he barely remembers, Gustav longs for more warmth from an emotionally-distant mother. She encourages him to ‘master himself’, his behaviour, his emotions, his ambitions. He accompanies her to her cleaning job at the local church, he helps by cleaning rubbish from beneath the grating; instead of throwing it away, he keeps it carefully in a tin. The only person with whom he shares these treasures is Anton, his first real friend. Visiting Anton’s home and meeting his parents,
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Birdcage Walk

Birdcage Walk is the last novel by the incomparable Helen Dunmore who moved between subjects and periods with ease, setting the dramatic minutiae of people’s lives against the huge social events of the time. War, spies and, in Birdcage Walk, the French Revolution and how its impacts on a family in Bristol. The novel opens as a walker and his dog discover a hidden grave in the undergrowth of a derelict graveyard. He reads the inscription to Julia Elizabeth Fawkes but subsequent research finds no information about her. This is followed by a short night-time scene in 1789 of a man burying a body in woods. We do not know the location, his identity or that of the body. How are these two things connected? For the first half of the book, I forgot these two short scenes until growing menace made me recall it and read faster. It is 1792. This is the story of young wife Lizzie Fawkes, new wife of Bristol builder John Diner Tredevant and daughter of writer Julia Fawkes. Diner, as he is known, is developing a grand terrace of houses on the cliffs at Clifton Gorge, a development for which he specifies the best,
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Julie Stock

Today I’m delighted to welcome romance author Julie Stock. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. “My ‘Porridge and Cream’ book is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. The first time I read it was at secondary school, when I was about 14 years old, in the late 1970s. I went to a girls’ school and romantic love seemed very elusive and also illusory. What captivated me about the story was that it seemed so real. My school was nothing like Jane’s experience, thank goodness, although I might have felt like it was at the time but I appreciated the truth of the story, like the author was treating the reader with respect by drawing characters to whom life had not been kind, who were quite ordinary in their way, but had the potential to be extraordinary by their actions. It was many years before I picked the book up again but I find myself moved to reread it regularly these days, especially when the real world becomes a bit too superficial and I need an escape to a world where people rose above their suffering and survived despite it because of the power of love. I
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: ‘The Last Day’ by Claire Dyer #BlogTour

‘The Last Day’ book description Every ending starts with a beginning; every beginning, an end. Boyd and Vita have been separated for six years when Boyd asks if he can move back into the house they still own, bringing with him his twenty-seven-year-old girlfriend, Honey. Of course Vita agrees: enough water has travelled under enough bridges since her marriage to Boyd ended and she is totally over him; nothing can touch her now. Boyd and Honey move in and everyone is happy, or so it seems. However, all three are keeping secrets. The book is about love in all its shades and how we can never predict when the last day of one kind of love, or the first day of another, will change everything.  Love is complicated, modern families are complicated, and a line cannot be drawn before and after. Whenever there is a last day, there is a first day too. That’s the theme of The Last Day by Claire Dyer, a deftly managed part-study of grief and mourning, part-teaser about how past events always affect the present. Boyd and Vita were married, now separated; Boyd owns an estate agency, Vita paints portraits of pets. Both have new
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde

A tale of sisters, secrets and the teenage years of confusion and temptations on the brink of adulthood. The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde by Eve Chase is about two groups of sisters, unrelated, who live decades apart in the Cotswold house of Applecote Manor. Overhanging everything is the mysterious disappearance of a twelve-year-old girl, Audrey Wilde, from the same house in the Fifties. Jessie and Will move to Applecote Manor, a rundown doer-upper, with their toddler Romy and Will’s teenage daughter Bella. Jessie is seeking a country life, Will hopes to step back from his logistics business. Almost as soon as they arrive, things change. Will’s business partner leaves and causes the sale of the company so, while he negotiates this, Jessie is left in the run-down house with the two girls. Romy fearlessly explores the potentially dangerous land, including river, pool, woods and well. Bella sullenly resents Jessie for not being her own mother, who was killed in a road accident. And then they learn about the disappearance of Audrey Wilde. Is there something intrinsically wrong with the house and the land surrounding it? Why are the neighbours shunning Jessie and her two daughters? Who is the woman with
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Day

Day, the title of this novel by AL Kennedy, does not refer to a period of twenty-four hours, but to Alfred Francis Day. Alfie. Rear gunner in a Lancaster in World War Two and now extra on the set of a war film. Past and present are mingled together as he starts to remember things he would rather forget. The passages in the bomber are electrifying, in their detail and understanding. The cold, the smell, the fear, how the professionalism of their training kicks in when the action starts. It is totally believable.. The timelines are mixed here as Alfred’s memories are inter-mingled: when Alfred was a member of the bomber crew; his time in a prisoner-of-war camp; and as a film extra in 1949. Where the novel is not so clear, for me, is the intermingling of these three timelines, though after fifty pages everything started to clarify. If you find this, persist and everything will fall into place. Through Alfred’s memories and his conversations with Ivor, his post-war employer at a bookshop, his bomber crew and the other film extras, we start to piece together the story of his life. It is particularly poignant when he falls in
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Girl in the Tower

There is so much to The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden, follow-up to The Bear and the Nightingale. A strong female heroine, magical mystical Russian folklore, fighting, horses and danger. Vasya is an awkward teenage girl in the mythical Middle Ages of old ‘Rus who does not like her traditional choice of marriage or convent; in The Girl in the Tower she is older and more defiant. You just know she is heading for trouble. She leaves home to wander and look at the world, refusing to worry about survival in the winter forest, and in so doing stumbles into banditry and violence that has implications for the power of the throne. I read the second half of this at a pace, wanting to know the outcome, not wanting it to end. A faster-paced book than the first of the series, the two are tightly linked and so I hesitate to give away too much plot. Disguised as a boy, Vasya cannot help but attract attention despite the warnings of her magnificent stallion Solovey. Her exploits bring her to the attention of Dimitri, the Grand Prince of Moscow, and red-haired lord Kasyan Lutovich. Feted for her fearless fighting,
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Categories: Book Love.

How Emma Flint writes

Emma Flint “I was obsessed with her for six years. I thought about her every single day, sometimes for hours every day… She is made up of shades of grey. She has got all these different aspects to her. I wanted to show that there’s no such thing as black and white in a real human being.” [ in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, October 7, 2016] Emma Flint is talking about Ruth, the central character of her debut novel Little Deaths. The story was inspired by a true crime case from the 1960s. Alice Crimmins, a New York mother, was accused of murdering her two children. Flint first read about the case twenty years ago in the weekly Murder Casebook magazine. Ruth and the nosey neighbour are based on real characters, the rest are made-up by Flint. She did most of her research online, including:- reading contemporary press coverage of the double murder; used Google Street View to wander down the streets of Queens; watched YouTube videos to nail the local accent. Crucially though, she used her own experience of growing up on the outskirts of Newcastle to add “that claustrophobia you get in a small suburb where
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Categories: On Writing.

Family history: Was your ancestor a boatman?

During the UK’s Industrial Revolution, raw materials and finished goods were transported around the country by canal. By the mid-19th century though, the new railways were taking away the business of the barges. Working on a canal boat was a tough life. Slow boats could take up to seven days to go from Birmingham to London and boatmen were expected to work up to 20 hours a day. Under threat from the railways, ‘family’ boats became numerous with a wife and children travelling with her husband. Boating became a closed occupation and outsiders, gongoozlers, discouraged. Boat people developed their own dress, language and took great pride in the decoration of their boats. Acts of Parliament were passed in 1877 and 1884 making canal boats subject to inspection to check living conditions, and some of these inspection reports survive in local archives. Considering the itinerant nature of the boatman, there are a number of excellent resources for family history researchers:- The Boat Families website is a resource kept by local enthusiasts, cataloguing life on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal & associated waterways, especially in South-West Lancashire. Names are listed by canal family, with more than 32,000 individuals named. A search for ‘boatmen’ at
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Categories: Family history research.