Monthly Archives September 2018

#Bookreview ‘Love is Blind’ by William Boyd #historical #romance

When a new novel by William Boyd features a male protagonist, my first thought ‘is it another Logan Mountstuart’ with a feeling of anticipation. But Love is Blind is not another version of Any Human Heart. It tells the story of Brodie Moncur, a young Scottish piano tuner who travels Europe as he seeks warmer climes and the love of his life. Boyd is on good form and I raced through Love is Blind, enveloped in Brodie’s end of 19thcentury/early 20thcentury story. Told almost exclusively from Brodie’s viewpoint, plus some of the letters he writes and receives, we see the world and the people he meets through his eyes so, as he falls in with thieves the sense of impending doom increases. He is a likeable, believeable character, son of a fire-and-brimstone alcoholic preacher, living in a time of great change as motor cars appear on the road and the signs of war increase but when consumption kills. The details of Brodie’s piano tuning are fascinating, these skills are the passport to his travels, getting him into and out of trouble, enabling him to earn money wherever he finds himself. When the story starts in 1894 Brodie is a piano tuner
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Categories: Book Love.

#FlashPIC 32 Cutting Down Trees for Firewood #writingprompt #amwriting

During the Second World War the Tiergarten, Berlin’s popular inner city park, was made unrecognisable as the trees were chopped down and used for firewood. Here is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this picture to kickstart a flash fiction story about wartime or a decision faced by a character in your novel. Imagine three things:- 1 It is winter. There is no fuel to heat your house. You can go cold, steal, or chop down trees in a local woodland. 2 What are the consequences be? How will your family survive? 3 How does your choice affect your household? How do your neighbours react to your actions? Take these three elements and write a flash fiction story, or a character exercise. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- These feet were made for walking St James Park, polite notice Between the train seats 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’
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters, and Writing exercises.

Book review: The Ashes of London

1666 and a fire starts in London, soon to devastate the medieval City of London. Watching the flames, a young man notices a boy in a ragged shirt who is standing so close as to risk to his life. When he pulls the boy to safety, he finds it is not a boy but a young woman. She bites him and escapes, though he intends only to help. And so are introduced the two key characters in The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor. But this is not a novel about the Fire of London, rather a political mystery involving murder in the turbulent years following the execution of King Charles I, the English Civil War, the Commonwealth and subsequent Restoration of King Charles II. In the ruins of St Paul’s a body is found, differing from other mortalities for its thumbs tied together behind the man’s back. This is the sign of those who committed Regicide by signing the death warrant of Charles I. Though in hiding, these traitors are still active, lurking in the shadows. The account of London burning is written vividly, so vivid I could imagine myself there, smell the charred timber and smoke. We see
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Our Friends in Berlin

Our Friends in Berlin by Anthony Quinn tells a story of London in World War Two seldom told. It is a spy novel but not a thriller. It focuses on the individuals concerned and has a deceptive pace which means the threats, when they come, are more startling. Jack Hoste is not who he seems to be. He is not a tax inspector; he is not looking for a wife. He is a special agent who tracks down Nazi spies. And at night he is an ARP warden. The juxtaposition of Hoste’s life of secrets is set nicely against that of Amy Strallen who works at the Quartermaine Marriage Bureau. Ordinary life does go on in London during the Luftwaffe bombing and Amy must match clients together, a matter of instinct rather than calculation. In order to be matched with the right person, clients are asked to tell the truth about what they are seeking, truths which may have been disguised or hidden until now. Client requests include ‘a lady with capital preferred’ and ‘not American’. Then one day she meets a new client who seems oddly reluctant to explain what he is looking for. The client is Jack Hoste and
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Categories: Book Love.

My Porridge & Cream read: Paula Harmon

Today I’m delighted to welcome murder mystery author Paula Harmon. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Onions in the Stew by Betty MacDonald. This is the second Betty MacDonald book featured in the series following Anybody can do Anything which was chosen by Judith Field in 2015. Read what Judith said here. “Dad handed me Onions in the Stew by Betty MacDonald when I was an adult saying, ‘you must read this’. Feeling rebellious, I left it on the shelf for a while. Besides, this copy is old and a bit musty, its paper cover long gone. But one day I came across it, remembered how funny (even when poignant) her other books were and took it down. “Now I read it at least once a year. Why? Because although it covers a period of time I didn’t experience and a place I’ve never visited, it is one of those books that describes things that never change, finds humour in the most difficult of situations and makes me laugh. Also, it takes place on an island, and I have a soft spot for islands. “Onions in the Stew starts during WWII as Betty seeks a home in Seattle for herself, her new husband, two pre-teen
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

My Top 5 books about Andalucía

Andalucía is a second home to me, so much so that I set part of my second novel Connectedness there. As some of you will know, I have a second blog at Notes on a Spanish Valley where I write about our life in the Spanish countryside. When fellow Brit in Spain, Alastair Savage, reflected on his favourite books about Barcelona I decided to undertake the same exercise for Andalucía. This is my choice. I have avoided ‘general’ books about Spain such as Giles Tremlett’s excellent Ghosts of Spain, one of Alastair’s picks, and have concentrated on Andalucía. Four of the five are memoirs. If you read them, let me know what you think. Read Alastair’s guide to Barcelona books here. ‘Two Middle-Aged Ladies in Andalucía’ by Penelope Chetwode I love my secondhand copy of this slim book for its pale blue cover. Penelope Chetwode, wife of poet John Betjeman, takes a circular ride on her horse Marquesa, around the countryside between Granada and Úbeda in Andalucía in 1961. Charming, quirky. Read my full review of Two Middle-Aged Ladies in Andalucía here. ‘Two Middle-Aged Ladies in Andalucía’ by Penelope Chetwode [UK: Eland] ‘South from Granada’ by Gerald Brenan Decades before ex-Genesis drummer Chris
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Categories: Book Love and On Researching.

Great Opening Paragraph 110… ‘Jane Eyre’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further outdoor exercise was now out of the question.” ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Last Juror’ by John Grisham ‘A Change of Climate’ by Hilary Mantel ‘Astonishing Splashes of Colour’ by Clare Morrall And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xH
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: Tulip Fever

Amsterdam in the 17th century was a time when commerce was king and the sale of tulip bulbs made some people very rich and others bankrupt. This is the setting for Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach, when Rembrandt and Vermeer painted some of the most-recognised art of our time. Sophia’s husband Cornelis is rich, thanks to tulips, and he celebrates his wealth by commissioning a joint portrait to be painted. It is a decision which changes their lives. The deft switching of viewpoints – and each chapter is a single voice, Sophia, Cornelis, Jan [the painter], Maria [their servant] and Willem [Maria’s lover] – allows for a new take on each situation. The plot moves quickly, things are hinted at and passed over but relevant later. It is the sort of novel which seems simple but has hidden depths. The language can be so sensual. “Jacob van Loos is not painting the old man’s mouth. He is painting Sophia’s lips. He mixes pink on his palette – ochre, grey and carmine – and strokes the paint lovingly on the canvas. She is gazing at him. For a moment, when the old man was talking, her lips curved into a smile
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Categories: Book Love.

‘Space’, a short story

‘Ground Control to Major Tom.’ The thin tune came from his mother’s mouth, not the radio which was spouting some rubbish about cruising down the Nile. ‘Take your protein pill and put your big hat on.’ John stood in the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to boil, his mother was in her wing chair by the picture window in the lounge, a crochet rug over her knees. ‘I’m floating in the most pa-pa-queue-lee-ar way,’ she sang. ‘Rocket ma-an-aan-‘ He poured the boiling water over the teabags, gave it a swirl and a squeeze then poured out two mugs of tea. ‘That’s Elton, Mum. Not Bowie.’ He offered her the fine bone china mug with a pattern of bluebells which was her particular mug ‘Thank you dear… and I think it’s going to be a very long time-‘ ‘That’s Elton. The first bit’s Bowie.’ ‘I know, Jimmy, I know. But it’s what we sang, for fun.’ He worked hard at not smiling, not wanting to upset her. She was always doing this, getting his name wrong. Wrong facts, wrong lyrics, wrong singer. ‘Where?’ ‘Where what, dear?’ ‘Where did you sing?’ ‘Oh, at Mission Control.’ He did smile now, his mother didn’t have
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Categories: My Short Stories.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Because I could not stop for Death’

This lyrical poem by Emily Dickinson sees the poet meet Death who, as a gentleman caller, takes a leisurely carriage drive with her. It was first published posthumously under the title ‘The Chariot’ in Poems: Series 1 in 1890, the edition assembled and edited by her friends Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Here are the first two verses. ‘Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me – The Carriage held but just Ourselves – And Immortality. We slowly drove – He knew no haste And I had put away My labor and my leisure too, For His Civility.’ The poem has since been set to music by Aaron Copland as the twelfth song of his cycle The Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson.    ‘The Picador Book of Funeral Poems’ ed. by Don Paterson [UK: Picador] Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘Happiness’ by Stephen Dunn ‘Lost Acres’ by Robert Graves ‘The Roses’ by Katherine Tempest And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read in the bath: ‘Because I could not stop for Death’ by Emily Dickinson https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3dG via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Poetry.

Book review: The Lost Letters of William Woolf

I admit to loving the premise of this book when I first heard about it. A Dead Letter Depot where researchers reunite lost letters with senders and recipients. The Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen left me wishing for more. It promised to be a novel about letters and mystery and turned into one focussed on a struggling marriage, which was not what I expected. William’s marriage to Clare has gone stale and to avoid confronting what must change, he becomes obsessed by his work at the Dead Letter Depot and in particular the letters from someone called Winter addressed to ‘My Great Love’. In his vulnerable state, William begins to imagine that he may be that person and sets out to find her. Interspersed with this task we see William correctly fulfil his role, taking a lost fossil to the correct museum for example. I switched between liking the character of William with being frustrated at his unrealistic romanticism, and could understand Clare’s frustrations. Ditto, she seemed impatient and too inclined to throw stones in a glasshouse. Clearly they were not communicating, ironic in a book about writing letters, and neither completely held my sympathy. So what
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Categories: Book Love.

‘Ignoring Gravity’ 99¢ #KindleCountdown promotion

Happy Labor Day Weekend to all my American friends! Here’s my #KindleCountdown offer for you, the chance to buy my first novel Ignoring Gravity at Amazon.com for less than the cost of a glass of ice coffee. See, I haven’t forgotten you. Last week my British friends got the chance to buy Ignoring Gravity for 99p. This weekend it’s your turn. Get it now, it won’t be 99¢ for long! DOES YOUR FAMILY HAVE SECRETS? REALLY? ARE YOU SURE? IGNORING GRAVITY, the debut novel by Yorkshire author Sandra Danby, is a compelling story about an ordinary family with a secret. Rose is adopted and doesn’t know it. The day she finds her mother’s hidden diary is the day she starts to search for who she really is. A story about identity, adoption, family mystery and ultimately of love, IGNORING GRAVITY connects two pairs of sisters separated by a generation of secrets. As Rose untangles the truth from the lies, she begins to understand why she has always felt so different from her sister Lily. A family saga of sisterly complications and multiple secrets. If you love Maggie O’Farrell, Lucinda Riley, Tracy Rees and Rachel Hore, this is the novel for you. What readers are
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

Family history: did your ancestor work in a pub?

British pubs, or public houses, can be traced all the way back to Roman taverns. After the departure of the Romans, there came the Anglo-Saxon alehouses based in domestic dwelling. The ‘alewife’ would put a green bush up on a pole to let people know her brew was ready for drinking. These alehouses rapidly developed into popular meeting places for the community so in 965 King Edgar decreed there should be no more than one alehouse per village. In 1393, Richard II made it legal for pubs to have to display a sign outdoors to make them easily identifiable to passers-by. Then in the 19th century came the development of tied houses [when a pub is linked to a particular brewer]. The pub is different from the inn, in that the latter was located along a highway or in the country [above] and provided stabling and fodder for horses, accommodation for travellers, and [if on a mail route] fresh horses for the mail coaches. Inns tended to be larger and grander than pubs. Many pub names date from times when customers were often illiterate and could only recognise pictorial signs. Pub names have a variety of origins, from objects used
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Categories: Family history research.