Monthly Archives March 2018

Famous writers, writing… James Patterson

James Patterson is not an author I’m really familiar with, apart from knowing he writes hugely successful crime thrillers and mysteries. And then I heard that he is one of those authors who gives back… with grants to independent bookshops in the USA and UK, and also in literary programmes to encourage adults and children to read. In the UK he formed a partnership with the National Literacy Trust, an independent charity that aims to change lives through literacy.  If, like me, you are unfamiliar with James Patterson, here are a few facts:- By January 2016, he had sold 350 million books worldwide; He doesn’t just write thrillers, but also children’s, middle-grade and young adult fiction; His first novel The Thomas Berryman Number was published in 1976 while he worked for advertising agency J Walter Thompson. It was turned down by 31 publishers, and finally won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. And so here’s a photo of Patterson at work… judging by the palm trees outside the window, he must be at home in Palm Beach, Florida.   ‘The Thomas Berryman Number’ by James Patterson [UK: Arrow] See these other famous people, reading & writing:- John Updike Peter
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Categories: On Writing.

Book review: The Hoarder

Part crime-mystery, part mystical ghost story, The Hoarder, the second novel by Jess Kidd, is difficult to define. Maud Drennan is an irreverent Irish carer who has been assigned the unholy task of bringing order to the life of Cathal Flood, a cantankerous old man who lives with his cats in a decrepit house surrounded by piles of rubbish. The previous carer who did Maud’s job, was run off the scene. Amongst the piles of junk, though, are ghosts of Cathal’s past, clues to the disappearance of one maybe two women, and traps for Maud to fall into. This is at times a bewildering smorgasbord of imagery and description, there were times when I wanted to shout ‘give me a breather’ but the humour of Maud kept me reading. There are some giant character arcs to work through, both Maud and Cathal change and change again, not to mention Maud’s glorious cross-dressing neighbour Renata. To add to the merry-go-round of confusion, Maud is followed around in her daily life by a collection of ghosts, Irish saints that she learned about in a childhood book. Each saint passes comment on Maud’s actions adding a hilarious Greek Chorus effect to the story.
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Categories: Book Love.

How Tessa Hadley writes

Tessa Hadley ‘When I started I thought I wasn’t a person with a good memory but you tap into uncanny places where you have things saved up that you didn’t know you did until you got to that level. You don’t know until you have to, that the sandwiches were wrapped in greaseproof paper, not clingfilm.’ [in an interview with ‘The Times’ newspaper, January 17, 2017] Writing, for Tessa Hadley, is inextricably connected to memory. ‘Not precise memory but memory as a hunch and a feeling and an atmosphere.’ Like me, she had a shy childhood, one spent on the edge, watching, looking in, absorbing everything. She concentrates on getting the details right. ‘The whole texture of the work is the details of that world and no other. What was it like being a teacher living in a skinny dilapidated Georgian house in 1967? What colour did they paint the walls? What words would they have used when they were speaking to each other?’ She is wary of writing about things she doesn’t know. Hadley writes about domestic life and families. Her latest book is a collection of short stories, Bad Dreams and Other Stories. It was through writing short
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Categories: On Writing.

#Bookreview ‘The Tea Planter’s Wife’ by @DinahJefferies #romance #historical

In Ceylon, between the First and Second World Wars, pre-Independence, a young wife arrives from England to join her new husband on his tea plantation. The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jeffries is a portrayal of an island riven by racial differences, a marriage riven by an inability to be honest, concluding that in the end skin colour should not matter. As her ship from England docks in Colombo, Gwen Hooper feels faint and is helped by a charming dark-skinned man. This is our introduction to Savi Ravasinghe, a pivotal character, a Sinhalese portrait painter who paints the rich in Ceylon, England and America. At this first meeting, Gwen demonstrates her naivety of racial tensions between Ceylon’s native Sinhalese population and the Tamil workers brought to the island by the British tea planters to work on the plantations. Soon after, trying to help an injured worker, she tramples over old sensitivities and the Raj way of doing things. I found Gwen both fascinating and a little irritating. The story is told totally from her viewpoint and, for me, her husband Laurence is rather remote. When Gwen gives birth to twins, the first, a boy, is christened Hugh. The second is
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Categories: Book Love.

First Edition: Jurassic Park

First published in the USA on November 20, 1990, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton would, like HG Wells and Jules Verne, bring science fiction to the masses and to the movie screen. The book actually started life as a screenplay written in 1983 in which a graduate student creates a dinosaur. Then, given the fact that genetic research is expensive and there was no need to create a dinosaur, Crichton changed the story so the dinosaurs were made to put into an entertaining wildlife park. Another thing changed from first to final draft was the point of view: originally it was told from a child’s viewpoint, but Crichton changed it when everyone who read the draft felt it would be better told by an adult. A signed US 1st edition [above] is for sale [at time of going to press] on eBay for $225. Read more about the first edition of the 1991 UK hardback edition [below] published by Century at Biblio.  The story Following strange animal attacks in Costa Rica and nearby island Isla Nublar, one of the animals involved is identified as an extinct dinosaur. Palaeontologist Alan Grant and paleobotanist Ellie Satler are asked to confirm this, but are
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Julie Christine Johnson

Today I’m delighted to welcome novelist Julie Christine Johnson. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. “Several years ago I created an annual tradition for myself: in December, as the light fades earlier each day and I retreat from the expectations and demands of modern commercial holidays, longing only for the renewal of Solstice, I soothe my tired and cold spirit with a reread of a work by one of my most treasured authors, Jane Austen. Her six completed novels — Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion — form a canon of comfort and delight on my bookshelves. Among all these timeless treasures, it is that charming and soulful comedy of manners, Pride and Prejudice, I most anticipate. Truthfully, I rotate it in every couple of years. Each time I read the opening line, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” my entire being relaxes into a smile of familiarity and joy. Pride and Prejudice is the story of intelligent, independent Elizabeth Bennet, the eldest daughter of five in a family of modest
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Famous people, reading… Alexa Chung

So why is British television host/model/fashion designer Alexa Chung reading Just Kids by Patti Smith? It is the memoir, published in 2010, of Smith’s relationship with the artist and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. In 1967, a chance meeting between two young people led to a romance and a lifelong friendship that would carry each to international success never dreamed of. The backdrop is Brooklyn, Chelsea Hotel, Max’s Kansas City, Scribner’s Bookstore, Coney Island, Warhol’s Factory and the whole city resplendent. Among their friends, literary lights, musicians and artists such as Harry Smith, Bobby Neuwirth, Allen Ginsberg, Sandy Daley, Sam Shepherd, William Burroughs, etc. It was a heightened time politically and culturally; the art and music worlds exploding and colliding. In the midst of all this two kids made a pact to always care for one another. Scrappy, romantic, committed to making art, they prodded and provided each other with faith and confidence during the hungry years–the days of cous-cous and lettuce soup. See these other famous people, reading & writing:- Benedict Cumberbatch Madonna Jerry Lewis   ‘Just Kids’ by Patti Smith [UK: Bloomsbury] And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: What is @alexa_chung reading?
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Wicked Cometh

In the dark alleyways of London, in 1831, people are disappearing; the vulnerable poor, children, elderly, homeless. Missing posters line the streets. But none are found. The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin is a 19th century crime thriller with two women, divided by class and background, who are determined to find the truth but who never once suspect the depth of wickedness they will uncover. When 18-year old Hester White is hit by a carriage, physician Calder Brock takes her to his London home. Cared for by his servants, he questions Hester about her birth. Ashamed of her bad luck – growing up at a country parsonage, she was orphaned and taken in by her parents’ servants whose own income declined so now they live in an East End slum – Hester hides her education with a deftly-adopted London accent. Brock rescues her as an experiment in educating the poor. He takes Hester to Waterford, his childhood home in the country, where he lives with his sister Rebekah and their Uncle Septimus. Rebekah is to be Hester’s tutor. What follows is a story of lies laid upon more lies, murder, theft, friendship and love. As the women set out to
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Highland Fling

First published in 1931, Highland Fling is the first novel by Nancy Mitford and the first I have read, determined to read them in order. What a breath of fresh air it was after reading two detailed historical novels, this light frothy concoction made me chuckle. An amusing observer of manners, Mitford excels at that peculiar type of incomplete conversation between two people gossiping about mutual acquaintances in which each completes the other’s sentences. This is a novel of its time, upperclass wealth, upperclass lack of wealth, centuries of families and traditions the roots of which have been forgotten, and the juxtaposition of bluff country old-timers with Bright Young Things from London. Highland Fling is set in a Scottish castle, a closed-room setting, loved by crime writers, which Mitford uses mercilessly to compare and contrast. It is a world with which the author knows well and at which she gently pokes fun. Young artist Alfred Gates returns from Paris to London and visits his newly-married friends Walter and Sally. Sally’s parents are called away and the three friends go to Scotland to host the parent’s shooting party. As well as the shooting guests, including stodgy old-fashioned military and aristocratic types,
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Silent Companions

How to describe this novel? Spooky, mysterious? A tale of witchcraft and trickery or malicious exploitation and fraud? The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell starts with a woman in an asylum. Mute, she is given chalk and a slate with which to communicate. What follows is her account of the Bainbridge family and their country home, The Bridge. From the beginning until the end, we do not know who to believe. The story is told in three strands – a woman in an asylum, accused of murder; a young widow who arrives at her husband’s family home, pregnant and vulnerable; and a couple excitedly prepare for a royal visit by Charles I. What unfolds is a complicated story. Purcell handles the many threads well although I would have preferred a clear delineation with each new section marked by date. Elsie, the daughter of a match factory owner in London, is a survivor. She supported her mother after her father was killed in a ghastly workplace accident, she supported her younger brother Jolyon as their mother also fell ill. And when Jolyon brings a new investor for the factory the siblings, now jointly own, Elise marries Rupert Bainbridge. Odd things start
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Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 105… ‘The Long Drop’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Monday 2 December. He knows too much to be an honest man but says he wants to help. He says he can get the gun for them. William Watt is keen to meet him. Laurence Dowdall has already met Peter Manuel several times. He never wants to see him again.” ‘The Long Drop’ by Denise Mina Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Divisadero’ by Michael Ondaatje ‘American Psycho’ by Brett Easton Ellis ‘Dance Dance Dance’ by Haruki Murakami And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: THE LONG DROP by Denise Mina #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2pN SaveSave
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

‘Beginnings’, a short story

Eliza Tavernier set aside her sketchpad and rubbed her aching neck, her hand cupping the curls of bobbed hair which brushed the tips of her ears. Winter darkness had fallen and the dark panelling of her office intensified the gloom. She sat at her desk, once her father’s, and wondered if he would ever have been proud of her achievements. Leon Tavernier had only one ambition for his youngest child. Marriage. Eliza considered her greatest achievement to be the Relámpago sapphire necklace, featured in La Moda magazine, and now Miss Fitz was taking trunk calls from Rome and Vienna from gentlemen and ladies wishing to place orders. Atop of a pile of unread magazines sat a jewellery box. Her fingers lingered over the gold embossed lettering ‘Atelier Tavernier, Fitzroy Square, London’. This was the first piece of Atelier Tavernier jewellery she had owned, her father had proclaimed her too young for precious gems and to this day she simply opened the display case every morning and chose something to suit her dress. She had paid for this tiara with her own money. She remembered the first sketch, how her sharpened pencil had flown across the paper knowing what it would
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Categories: My Short Stories.