Monthly Archives June 2018

Great Opening Paragraph 108… ‘The Corrections’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The madness of an autumn prairie cold front coming through. You could feel it: something terrible was going to happen. The sun low in the sky, a minor light, a cooling star. Gust after guest of disorder. Trees restless, temperatures falling, the whole northern religion of things coming to an end. No children in the yards here. Shadows lengthened on yellowing zoysia. Red oaks and pin oaks and swamp white oaks rained acorns on houses with no mortgage. Storm windows shuddered in the empty bedrooms. And the drone and hiccup of a clothes dryer, the nasal contention of a leaf blower, the ripening of local apples in a paper bag, the smell of the gasoline with which Alfred Lambert had cleaned the paintbrush from his morning painting of the wicker love seat.” ‘The Corrections’ by Jonathan Franzen Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Collector’ by John Fowles ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue ‘The Crying of Lot 49’ by Thomas Pynchon Also by Jonathan Franzen:- Read the opening paragraph to Freedom and my review of Purity. And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: THE CORRECTIONS by Jonathan Franzen
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: The Last of the Greenwoods

Clare Morrall is so good at writing about people on the margins. In The Last of the Greenwoods, Johnny and Nick Greenwood are estranged brothers who live separately in two abandoned, adjacent railway carriages; with shared kitchen and bathroom. They are adept at avoiding each other. Nick lives in Aphrodite on the right, Johnny in Demeter on the left. Aphrodite has horizontal blinds at the windows, open at a slant so someone inside can look out but no-one outside can see in. Demeter’s windows are unknowable with permanently drawn curtains. The carriages sit amidst trees and shrubs, hidden from the main road in Bromsgrove, West Midlands. They have been the brother’s world since they were boys. Until one day, into the lives of these emotionally separated but geographically close brothers comes a letter which reignites haunted memories. “The floor is vibrating under his feet, there’s a sensation of motion, as if the train has started to move. What’s happening? Is he slipping backwards, losing his place in the present and tumbling back to the past? How can this be?” The letter is from their older sister, Debs; the sister who was murdered when the boys were children. As the brothers
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Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Along the field as we came by’

Best known for A Shropshire Lad, the poems of AE Housman reflect the dooms and disappointments of youth in the English countryside. Popular throughout the Victorian and Edwardian periods running up to the Great War, this two stanza poem by Housman transitions from first romantic love to death and grief, followed by hope and new love. It was his simplicity of style that appealed, and his nostalgic nature settings. Here is the first verse. ‘Along the field as we came by A year ago, my love and I, The aspen over stile and stone Was talking to itself alone. ‘Oh, who are these that kiss and pass? A country lover and his lass; Two lovers looking to be wed; And time shall put them both to bed, But she shall lie with earth above, And he beside another love.’   ‘The Picador Book of Funeral Poems’ ed. by Don Paterson [UK: Picador] Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘Cloughton Wyke I’ by John Wedgwood Clarke ‘Elegy’ by Carol Ann Duffy ‘Sometimes and After’ by Hilda Doolittle And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to
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Categories: Poetry.

Book review: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

Quite a few things in The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar are not as they seem. The mermaid, which may or not be real, is actually dead and quite gruesome. And the story starts with shipping merchant Mr Hancock, not Mrs. He is a widower. This story about London in 1785 is a full-on feast for the senses and at first is a bit overwhelming: wind ‘sings’, raindrops ‘burst’, skin is ‘scuffed and stained’, a face is ‘meaty’. But then I fell into the life of Jonah Hancock and wondered when the mermaid, and Mrs Hancock, would appear. Soon the captain of the Calliope, one of Jonah’s ships, returns homes without the ship but with a mermaid. The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock overflows with contrasts: Deptford and Mary-le-Bone are villages outside London, whales are dismembered and rendered beside the river but in nearby Blackheath the air is to be treasured. It seems unlikely that the path of Jonah, conservative, hard-working, will intersect with Angelica Neal, a former upper class prostitute. But thanks to the mermaid, they meet and their lives take different turns as a result. Gowar juxtaposes sumptuous silks, satins and pearls of the girls at Mrs
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Simon Fairfax

Today I’m delighted to welcome spy novelist Simon Fairfax. His ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Heller with a Gun by Louis L’Amour. “The book is called Heller with a Gun by Louis L’Amour. His books number 192 and 46 were made into films. “I first read it when I was about fifteen. I have always loved westerns, but this is probably the best western I have ever read. I bought it because I like the author’s style and stories. He is above all a great storyteller. I bought it in the winter and thoroughly enjoyed it. It has a great sense of ‘place’ with writing truly evocative of a cold, frozen climate. I read it every winter and never tire of it. It would in reality be strange to read it in the summer. “The lead is a great character and typifies a dying breed, with strong values, pitting himself against the wilderness and evil. Living by a code of honour that will one day fade as he inevitably will. The writing style is perfect and you can imagine exactly all the circumstances and places that the book takes you to. Everything he writes about exists and he inspired me to adopt the same
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: Separated from the Sea

About love, loss, partings and freedom. About yearning for a connection with another person but sometimes recognising it is better to walk away. Separated from the Sea by Amanda Huggins is a collection of poignant stories that cannot fail to touch you. Some of the stories spoke to me personally because of the Yorkshire settings, but locations range from Japan to America and Europe. Huggins has mastered the form; just enough detail, just enough emotion to pull you in and a well-disguised twist at the end. I have chosen three stories to focus on. In ‘Whatever Speed She Dared’ a woman drives on an empty motorway across the Pennines in the dark of night. She is tempted by what lies ahead, a new future. But an encounter with a skittish rabbit gives her pause for thought. In ‘Sea Glass’ two children walk on the beach. Alife tells Cathy that pieces of blue sea glass are the souls of fishermen lost at sea. Another two pieces, he says, are the eyes of ships’ cats swept overboard. ‘If you match a pair of eyes, and sleep with them under your pillow, then the cat’ll find his way back to land.’ A melancholic longing
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Believers

The Believers by Zoe Heller is the story of a New York family and how serious illness challenges each person to consider in what they believe. The Litvinoffs are a Jewish family used by Heller as a prism to question our beliefs, not just religious but also motherhood, fidelity and politics. The story starts with the meeting of English student Audrey and American lawyer Joel, at a party in London in the Sixties. The action then shifts swiftly to 2002. Audrey and Joel live in New York, he is a prominent and outspoken radical lawyer, she does good works. They have two daughters, Rose and Karla, and adopted son Lenny. On the day he is due to appear in court representing a controversial defendant, Joel has a stroke. As he lays in a coma, Heller shows each of the family confronting the situation, its impact on their own lives, or not as the case may be. None of the characters are particularly likeable, and the storyline can be difficult in places, but I found the pages turned quickly as I wanted to know the ending. Of course, like life, there is no neat finale only more life to follow as
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: White Chrysanthemum

It’s not often that I find myself using the words ‘delightful’ and ‘harrowing’ in the same book review, but here they are. White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht is the harrowing story of two Korean sisters separated during World War Two; one snatched to become a ‘comfort woman’ for Japanese soldiers, the other saved by her older sister’s actions. It is difficult to read of the violence, the arrogance, the misuse of power and the humiliation of this piece of war history – still being publicised and discussed – but this is leavened by the magical water sequences. Sixteen-year old Hana is a haenyeo, a female diver of the sea, she is taught by her mother, in the family tradition, to dive deep, hold her breath and withstand the cold. When she is abused, she retreats to her memories. She is a tough cookie. One day, she and her mother are diving, their father is away fishing, and her younger sister Emiko sits on the beach, guarding the buckets that contain their day’s catch from interested seagulls; then Japanese soldiers arrive. Desperate to stop them taking her sister to a life of captivity, Hana races out of the water and
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Categories: Book Love.

How Elizabeth Strout writes

Elizabeth Strout: ‘I learnt a long time ago to just sit down and take whatever emotion was most pressing in me and transpose it into a character. Then the scene would have life to it, as opposed to feeling wooden.” [in an interview with ‘Culture’ magazine, part of ‘The Sunday Times’ newspaper, April 30, 2017] Pulitzer Prize winner for Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout works at a dining room table covered in scraps of paper, with four different chairs. She always starts with a character then a scene. She writes in longhand. She never writes from beginning to end. Read my reviews of My Name is Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible, both by Elizabeth Strout. Read more about Strout at her website.   ‘Anything is Possible’ by Elizabeth Strout [UK: Viking] See how these other authors write:- Mary Gaitskill Hanya Yanagihara Bill Clegg And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: How #author @LizStrout writes via @SandraDanby #writing http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2yW
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Categories: On Writing.

Book review: The Last Hours

I cannot remember when I last read a novel by Minette Walters although her psychological crime thrillers occupy a considerable section of my bookshelf. As soon as I read the blurb for The Last Hours, I was fascinated. What could  Walters do with a historical drama based on the Black Death of 14th century England? I wasn’t disappointed. The Last Hours tells the story of the Develish demesne in Devon in 1348 when infectious illness spread rapidly and threatened to wipe out the 200 bonded serfs, servants and family. What did take me by surprise is that The Last Hours is only the first instalment of the story, so there is the unexpected anticipation of the next book now to enjoy. The first character we meet, pre-infection, is Eleanor. The only daughter of Sir Richard and Lady Anne of Develish, she watches preparations for the departure of her father and his retinue as they travel to meet the neighbouring lord to whose son Eleanor is promised. Eleanor seems at once fascinated by and repelled by a serf, Thaddeus Thurkell, who she distains for his illegitimacy. As a first chapter it sets up the relationships and future action in such a
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth

Partly good and partly disappointing: The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth, the latest collection of short stories by William Boyd, is a bit of a curate’s egg. The shorter the stories, the more satisfying. Organised in three parts, the first comprises seven short stories. If asked for my favourite from Part 1, I would say the first, ‘The Man Who Liked Kissing Women’. Ludo Abernathy is an art dealer who has foresworn affairs, his previous dalliances having finished three marriages. Now, he sticks to kissing women. Except when he can’t resist the temptation of making a killing on a Lucien Freud painting. The title story, the longest in the anthology, makes up Part 2. It is more novella than short story, and I almost wish Boyd had developed it as such with a full plotline rather than letting Bethany Mellmoth drift from scene to scene. Bethany is a naïve twenty-something who drifts from boyfriend to boyfriend, dreaming of what she can do with her life but failing to make it happen. Each time it goes wrong, she gives up and moves back with her mother. It was a pleasant read but I’m unclear of Boyd’s central message – perhaps, the over-reliance
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Categories: Book Love.

#FlashPIC 29 At This Mark on the Pavement #writingprompt #amwriting

It began here… at this mark on the pavement. Where the grey pavement meets the brown pavement, just inches from the kerb. It was here that… what? Here is a writing tip from the Writers’ BLOCKbusterseries. Try this picture to kickstart a flash fiction story or a confrontation in your novel. First, set the scene. Imagine the street, is it quiet or full of traffic. Is the pavement packed with pedestrians, or is this a side street, secluded, isolated. Have you walked here before? Are you rushing, hurrying to get to a destination? Are you lost? Are you wandering, filling in time before a dentist appointment? Did you take a short cut which led somewhere you didn’t expect? What is the time of day, the month, the season? Is it sunny or raining? What is the loudest noise you can hear, and how does this make you feel? What can you smell… diesel fumes, the heady perfume of jasmine from a nearby plant, a waft of Obsession from a passing girl? What colour fills your vision… blue sky, a passing red bus, red brick buildings, grey and glass office blocks, a circle of green in the centre of a roundabout.
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Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.