Archives for On Writing

Great Opening Paragraph…112

“3 August 1873. I was never so frightened as I am now. They have left me sitting in the dark, with only the light from the window to write by. They have put me in my own room, they have locked the door on me. They wanted Ruth to do it, but she would not. She said ‘What, do you want me to lock up my own mistress, who has done nothing?’ In the end the doctor took the key from her & locked the door himself, then made her leave me. Now the house is full of voices, all saying my name. If I close my eyes & listen it might be any ordinary night. I might be waiting for Mrs Brink to come & take me down to a dark circle, & Madeleine or any girl might be there, blushing, thinking of Peter, of Peter’s great dark whiskers & shining hands.’ ‘Affinity’ by Sarah Waters [UK: Virago] Amazon Click here to read my review of The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Illywhacker’ by Peter Carey ‘Sophie’s World’ by Jostein Gaarder ‘Goldfinger’ by Ian Fleming And if you’d like
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Philippa Gregory writes

Philippa Gregory “What is so wonderful about fiction, especially if you write it as I do, in the first person, is that you are there. In a sense it’s not as though I’ve taken the history and given it to the reader. It’s as if I’ve taken the reader and put them into the history… If a historical novel is successful then the reader isn’t saying ‘Hang on a minute, I know this,’ or ‘I’ll look this up’, they are caught up in the narrative.’” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, May 5, 2017] All great novels take the reader and put them into a world, a world they come to care about. Writing tension into a novel about any historical event is a challenge, when the ending of the event is well known. Philippa Gregory has made an art of this but she also chooses her history cleverly. Many of her main characters are women whose history is not so well known to non-history buffs, even if the larger political events of the day are. So the tension does remain. Her remark about viewpoint is spot-on. The author’s choice about third person or first person is key to
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Categories: On Writing.

FlashPIC #33: feet beneath the table

Two pairs of feet, and knees, and legs. Unidentified. Anonymous. Gender undetermined. What is happening here? This is a writing tip from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this picture to kickstart a flash fiction story about a meeting between two people. Or use it as a dialogue exercise for your novel. They could be strangers, or lovers having an argument, or husband and wife splitting up. Or are they planning a murder? Decide on the gender of each person. Give them a name and sketch out an identity. Imagine how their voices sound when they speak. Next write some sample dialogue for each person, conducted with a stranger. The subject matter is unimportant. You should concentrate on the character’s speech pattern; is there something distinguishable about this person’s voice? An accent, a mannerism or verbal tic, foreign pronunciations? Decide on the general subject area to be discussed at the table in the photograph then make your two characters polarised in their opinions, taking opposite positions on the subject in hand. Now give them a problem to solve or a confrontation. Start writing the dialogue. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- How thirsty are you? Hotel corridor
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters, and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph…111

“A woman, not yet fifty-seven, slight and seeming frail, eats carefully at a table in a corner. Her slices of buttered bread have been halved for her, her fried egg mashed, her bacon cut. ‘Well, this is happiness!’ she murmurs aloud, but none of the other women in the dining room replies because none of them is near enough to hear. She’s privileged, the others say, being permitted to occupy on her own the bare-topped table in the corner. She has her own salt and pepper.” ‘Reading Turgenev’ from ‘Two Lives’ by William Trevor [UK: Penguin] Amazon UK Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen ‘Dance Dance Dance’ by Haruki Murakami And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: TWO LIVES by William Trevor #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2qN
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Jeffrey Archer writes

Jeffrey Archer “I am not a writer, I am a storyteller.” [address to students in India, in November 2016]  Archer’s writing regime is ruthless. “I rise at 05.30 every morning and I write from six until eight. I take a two hour break and write from ten until twelve. I take a two hour break and I write from two until four. I take a two hour break and write from six until eight. The first draft usually takes about seven weeks, eight weeks. Every word handwritten.” By the time the book is finished it has gone through 14 drafts and he has spent around 1000 hours on it. “I wish there was a shortcut but there isn’t.” He has sold around 330 million books. His first book, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, published in 1976, is said to be based on his own near-bankruptcy. I find his writing routine both reassuring and intimidating. Reassuring because I have always been a worker, a doer. I like routine. And the fact that Archer’s books go through 14 drafts is not dissimilar to my re-drafting, though I don’t consciously number them. It is more a matter of them evolving.
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Categories: On Writing.

Famous writers, reading… William Faulkner

Double-Pulitzer prizewinner William Faulkner looks comfortable, reading The Silver Treasury of Light Verse. This book was published in 1957 in America by New American Library and the photograph of Faulkner [below] looks to date from this time. He died in 1962 aged 64. I studied American Literature at university and read Faulkner. His books still sit on my bookshelf, slim Penguin Classics editions. The one that stayed with me is As I Lay Dying, about the death and burial of Addie Brunden. Her family takes her coffin by cart to be buried amongst her folk in Jefferson, Mississippi.   ‘As I Lay Dying’ by William Faulkner [UK: Vintage] See these other famous people, reading & writing:- Ernest Hemingway William Golding Bella Lugosi And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Famous writers, reading… William Faulkner reads THE SILVER TREASURY OF LIGHT VERSE #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3cV via @SandraDanby
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Categories: On Writing.

FlashPIC #32: cutting down trees for firewood

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 tip 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 And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: It is winter… what would you do to keep warm? Get inspired to write #writingtip https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3cf via @SandraDanby 
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters, and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph…110

“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 [UK: Penguin Classics]  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.

FlashPIC #31: clock at Waterloo station

Time marches onwards. What if you could stop it… for a minute, for an hour? Here is a writing tip from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this picture to kickstart a flash fiction story or a decision faced by a character in your novel.  Imagine three things. What might happen if time were to stop, to pause… for a moment, a minute, an hour, a day? What would the consequences be? How would this affect one person? Where does it happen? Does time stop just for this person, or for everyone? 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:- Beware danger from high tides beyond Moon rocks These feet were made for walking  And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: What would happen if time stopped for a moment? Get inspired to write #writingtip https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3bK via @SandraDanby 
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Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.

Great Opening Paragraph…109

“Honora sets the cardboard suitcase on the slab of granite. The door is mackereled, paint-chipped – green or black, it is hard to tell. Above the knocker. There are panes of glass, some broken and others opaque with age. Overhead is a portico of weathered shingles and beyond that a milk-and-water sky. Honora pinches the lapels of her suit together and holds her hat against the wind. She peers at the letter B carved into the knocker and thinks, This is the place where it all begins.” ‘Sea Glass’ by Anita Shreve [UK: Abacus]  Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Long Drop’ by Denise Mina ‘Lucky You’ by Carl Hiasson ‘American Psycho’ by Brett Easton Ellis Read my review of The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve. And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: SEA GLASS by Anita Shreve #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xC
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Gail Honeyman writes

Gail Honeyman “I thought it was important that Eleanor was never self-pitying, because I think as a reader that is when you lose sympathy for a character. Even if [a character] has been through horrendous experiences, if they are seen as self-pitying, it’s a very distancing thing. She’s broken but she’s not destroyed. She’s a survivor of it all.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, March 10, 2017] I read this quote by Gail Honeyman in The Bookseller, not knowing either her or her debut novel. But the quote chimed with me. I was making slow progress with the book I was reading at the time and couldn’t pin down why. It was well-written, not overdone or wordy, not rushed, but I wasn’t connecting with the main character. Gail’s comment made me realize I wanted to shout: ‘If things are so bad, do something.’ This is a fine line to tread as an author. You want your characters to be tested, challenged, to face difficulties, and you want to explore their emotions, but the last thing you want to do is turn off the reader. Gail Honeyman again: “I guess what you want is not to notice the plot
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

FlashPIC #30: How thirsty are you

Do you know how it feels to be thirsty? Really thirsty? Your mouth is dry so your lips are gummed together, the insides of your cheeks cling to your teeth. Your sharp-edged teeth cut into your tongue. You cannot count from one to five. Here is a writing tip from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this picture to kickstart a flash fiction story or a decision faced by a character in your novel.First create a world for your character. Where is he/she? Stranded on a mountain peak surrounded by rock? Adrift in a boat on the sea? On an unknown planet without a water source? In a drought when the taps run dry? Or is water available, but with-held or poisoned? Imagine severe thirst. If it helps, go without a drink for a few hours and note how you feel. Not just the physical changes, but how does it make you feel mentally? Are your thoughts as clear as usual? What is happening to your vision and your pulse rate? Now take a stressful situation, and put your thirsty character into it. What happens next? If there is a questionable water source available, what would your character do? Would he or
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Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.

Great Opening Paragraph…108

“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 [UK: Fourth Estate]  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
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

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.

FlashPIC #29: At this mark on the pavement

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’ BLOCKbuster series. 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.

Great Opening Paragraph…107

“The first light of morning barely illuminated the sky as Gustad Noble faced eastwards to offer his orisons to Ahura Mazda. The hour was approaching six, and up in the compound’s solitary tree the sparrows began to call. Gustad listened to their chirping every morning while reciting his kusti prayers. There was something reassuring about it. Always, the sparrows were first; the cawing of the crows came later.” ‘Such a Long Journey’ by Rohinton Mistry [UK: Faber] Buy at Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain ‘Illywhacker’ by Peter Carey ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: SUCH A LONG JOURNEY by Rohinton Mistry #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xt
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Some Points of View about Points of View… by author Claire Dyer

Welcome to novelist Claire Dyer whose third novel The Last Day juggles the viewpoints of three characters. Here she reveals how a change of viewpoint, between drafts, liberated the characters and energised the story.  “Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog. It is a huge treat to be able to talk about points of view. One very kind reviewer recently said about The Last Day that ‘creating one authentic character is hard enough but to create three is remarkable …’ And I must admit that I loved every minute I spent in the company of all three people in the book, but I have to confess I didn’t plan the novel the way it turned out. “As I wrote, each person’s story evolved and, when I finished the second draft, my agent and I agreed that I should switch viewpoints so that Honey, who was in the first person, should be in the third, and Vita, who was in the third, should switch to the first person. This was a real labour of love! It almost sent me boggle-eyed as I changed every pronoun and every verb of their narratives. But it was worth it because, by
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Categories: On Writing.

FlashPIC #28: These feet were made for walking

There are no two identical pairs of feet in the world. Picture someone’s feet and work out what they say about that person. Their age, their sex, their position in life, barefoot or shod, high heels or flat, boots or sandals, plain or embellished, plastic or leather, polished toenails or horny protrusions? Here is a writing tip from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this picture to kickstart a flash fiction story. These are the feet of commuters in London. They are rushing, impatient, purposeful, late. If you have an existing character, simply think of their feet. If not, consider the circumstances of the photo and put a new character into the jostle and impatience of the morning commute to work. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Stairs to Who Knows Where Deckchairs Orange Railings And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Get inspired to write… feet, toes, footprints #amwriting via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2Aq
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Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.

Great Opening Paragraph…106

“When the train stopped I stumbled out, nudging and kicking the kitbag before me. Back down the platform someone was calling despairingly, ‘Oxgodby… Oxgodby.’ No-one offered a hand, so I climbed back into the compartment, stumbling over ankles and feet to get at the fish-bass (on the rack) and my folding camp-bed (under the seat). If this was a fair sample of northerners, then this was enemy country so I wasn’t too careful where I put my boots. I heard one chap draw in his breath and another grunt: neither spoke.’ ‘A Month in the Country’ by JL Carr [UK: Penguin Modern Classics] Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ by SJ Watson ‘Spies’ by Michael Frayn ‘Midnight’s Children’ by Salman Rushdie And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY by JL Carr #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xo SaveSave
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

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.