Archives for On Writing

#BookReview ‘Time to be in Earnest’ by PD James #writerslife #diary

Time to be in Earnest by PD James is not a conventional writer’s autobiography. Instead it is the year in her life between her 77th and 78th birthdays during which A Certain Justice, the tenth Adam Dalgliesh book was published, and in which dates, places and events trigger memories from her life. She died in 2014 at the age of 94 and was prolific to the end. Her final book Death Comes to Pemberley was published in 2011 and two editions of short stories were published after her death. James sets the tone of the autobiography in the Prologue, “There is much that I remember but which is painful to dwell upon. I see no need to write about these things. They are over and must be accepted, made sense of and forgiven, afforded no more than their proper place in a long life in which I have always known that happiness is a gift, not a right.” Her diary entries, some brief, some long, make this an ideal book to dip in and out of. She is a pragmatic, factual commentator who is at times forthright, other times secretive. Like all good autobiographies, familiar names are scattered throughout –
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#BookReview ‘How Novels Work’ by John Mullan #amwriting #writetip

The advice often given to inexperienced writers is to read, read, read. But alongside this reading must go the ability to analyse the novelist’s technique, learn, and apply that to your own writing. Professor John Mullan dissects the craft of the novelist in How Novels Work, based on a series of essays originally written for The Guardian newspaper. From structure to voice, he considers the mechanics of putting a novel together with frequent references to familiar novels from Robinson Crusoe to Brick Lane, The Corrections to From Russia With Love. This book is a toolbox of writing techniques, starting with Beginnings – title, epigraph, prologue – right through Narrating, Genre, Voices, Structure and Style to Endings – epilogue, postscript, false endings. It is a dense read, but each chapter is broken into 2-3 page sections making it easier to digest. I found the Devices section particularly interesting, including the use of fictional documents presented as real in a narrative. Signs, advertisements, maps and timetables in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, letters in Possession by AS Byatt and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, emails in The Human Stain by Philip Roth and I Don’t Know
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 55 Wild Rose #writingprompt #amwriting

Consider the symbolism of a wild rose, growing unchecked in the hedgerow. Red roses traditionally mean passion, true love and romance, but what about other colours? And how is a wild rose different? This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series. Explore the meanings of other coloured roses – for example, white roses mean young love, purity and are often used for bridal bouquets. Ivory roses represent charm, thoughtfulness and grace. In Victorian times, yellow roses meant jealousy. A single wild rose may mean simplicity. Choose one rose and use it as the central motif in a short story or flash fiction piece about misunderstandings. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Parking Suspension  These Feet were made for Walking  Green Chairs  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’ BLOCKbusters is a collection of three ebooks of writing prompts. Why are they different? Precisely because they are short, easy to use,
Read More

Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

#FlashPIC 54 Will It Hurt #writingprompt #amwriting

You are high in the air, looking down. It is a long way to the ground. Why are you there, what are you doing? Write a foot chase sequence for a book or film in which your character has no choice but to go forwards, whatever the risk. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series. For inspiration, analyse chase sequences from these films:- Titanic – Jack and Rose being chased around RMS Titanic by Cal’s manservant, Spicer Lovejoy; The Pelican Brief – Darby Shaw and Gray Grantham being chased around a multi-storey car park by Stump; Police Story – this Jackie Chan film is packed with chase scenes; Bullitt – watch this not only for the car chases, but for the final foot chase as Steve McQueen and Pat Renella’s characters stalk each other across San Francisco airport; There are six steps to writing a great chase scene:- Set-up – build the suspense, tension and risk from the beginning; Build-up – make the goal important, who is chasing who, what is to be gained and lost, what risks are the chased and the chaser prepared to take; Climax – add some emotional pressure; What to leave out – the
Read More

Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

#FlashPIC 53 Wheatfield after Harvest #writingprompt #amwriting

Imagine you are a teenager again, laying in a recently harvested field of wheat. Recreate those lazy hazy days of summer when school was out and days seemed endless. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series. Remember what it was to be a teenager when your life seems on hold, when days seem empty and infinite. Put a teenage character into this wheatfield and write a short piece in real time, minute by minute, dwelling on the slow passing of time. Not a lot may happen, the action is in the character’s thoughts – this moment, remembering something that happened, anticipating something hoped for. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Wet Leaves  Laburnum  Cable  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’ BLOCKbusters is a collection of three ebooks of writing prompts. Why are they different? Precisely because they are short, easy to use, and flexible. Designed for writers of
Read More

Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.

#FlashPIC 52 A Lion on a Tube Train #writingprompt #amwriting

Today’s writing exercise considers a surreal image – the juxtaposition of the mundane and the unexpected, an unconscious expression of fantasy, of the inner world of a character. Let’s explore how the surreal can be used to hint at a character’s conscious and unconscious mind, deepening the reader’s understanding of his motivation, perhaps misleading the reader about what a character is really like. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series. Consider this image of an everyday scene – a train – with a dreamlike image – the lion. Is the lion really there? If it is, write an action scene of what happens next. If the lion is a figment of your character’s imagination, what in his sub-conscious makes him see the lion at this particular point in time? Is this a regular vision? Is the trigger internal or external? What does this vision say to the reader? And how can you use it to convey additional information about this character? © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Ethereal Rubbish  Anonymous People  Waiting Beneath the Clock What are ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to help you put words on the page. Those words won’t
Read More

Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.

Great Opening Paragraph 132 ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. Dr Juvenal Urbino noticed it as soon as he entered the still darkened house where he had hurried on an urgent call to attend a case that for him had lost all urgency many years before. The Antillean refugee Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, disabled war veteran, photographer of children, and his most sympathetic opponent in chess, had escaped the torments of memory with the aromatic fumes of gold cyanide.” ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez BUY THE BOOK Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Pursuit of Love’ by Nancy Mitford ‘A Good Man in Africa‘ by William Boyd ‘Gilead’ by Marilynne Robinson  And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: #FirstPara LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA by Gabriel Garcia Marquez #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4eK via @SandraDanby
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 51 Sky on Fire #writingprompt #amwriting

Changing weather is a useful technique used over and again by writers of fiction, poetry and films. It can convey atmosphere, increasing or decreasing dramatic tension, signal turning points in the story and hint at the inner world of a character. Today’s #FlashPIC is Sky on Fire. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series. This is a brainstorming exercise. Consider each of the following, one at a time, and write a list of what this photograph suggests to you:- Weather, climate or environmental conditions; Atmosphere, the external feelings that come from the environment; Mood, the feeling this Sky on Fire creates in the reader; Man-made actions that could create a sky like this; A person’s instinctive actions and words, suggested by this #FlashPIC – thoughtful, considered, impulsive and rash; A character’s deeper emotions and motivations, hidden to others and perhaps unknown to the person himself – key in suggesting a conflicted character. Can you make connections between items on your different lists, what do they suggest to you? © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Rocks, as if Split by an Axe  Plastic Bag  Lion Gatepost  What are ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to
Read More

Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.

Great Opening Paragraph 131 ‘The Go-Between’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” ‘The Go-Between’ by LP Hartley BUY THE BOOK Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Peter Pan’ by JM Barrie ‘A Month in the Country’ by JL Carr ‘To Have and Have Not’ by Ernest Hemingway And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: #FirstPara THE GO-BETWEEN  by LP Hartley #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4eG via @SandraDanby
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

My Porridge & Cream read… @CarmenRadtke1 #books #cozymysteries

Today I’m delighted to welcome Carmen Radtke, writer of cozy historical mysteries. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett. “Picking my “Porridge & Cream” book made me realise how many writers give me endless comfort and entertainment. In the end, Terry Pratchett prevailed (sorry, Georgette Heyer, Agatha Christie, Joan Hess and Bill Bryson). At least half a dozen of his witches and night watch novels have seen me through richer and poorer, sickness and health. But the one I reread most often is Carpe Jugulum, although The Fifth Elephant, Feet of Clay and Jingo come a close second. “I discovered it aged twenty on my new boyfriend’s bookshelf. Two hours later he complained that I was still reading. Yeah, right … What makes this (and its companions) so irresistible is the sheer fun and inventiveness of the Discworld, its hilarious characters and madcap situations. But underneath the comedy lurks a darker side which itself contains a world of wisdom, a sense of justice and how life could be. In Carpe Jugulum, the witches of Lancre find themselves up against a new breed of vampires who’ve been invited by Lancre’s idealistic king. But once you have vampires
Read More

Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Porridge & Cream.

#FlashPIC 50 Tube Platform #writingprompt #amwriting

One setting, one character on different days. Today’s writing exercise puts you into the mind of a person who is in the same place, same surroundings, on different days. Explore the variations possible as the day and time changes. The scene is a platform, deep underground, on the London Underground. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series. First create the setting. Use the five senses to consider this place in 3D. Sight. Sound. Smell. Touch. Taste. This is an everyday scene, predictable, familiar. Create an outline of a character who visits this place regularly. Why are they there, how do they feel about it? Build up a picture of your character’s interaction with this place on an ordinary day. Now put your character into this place and make one sense dominant above all others. Use it to dramatic effect – perhaps the smell of a commuter’s perfume, the sound of an alarm bell, the sight of something which is a surprise. Concentrate on this one sense until you can write no more. You might write a description piece, an action scene, an inner monologue – whichever seems best to you. Repeat this exercise using a second sense. And
Read More

Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.

#FlashPIC 49 Painted Sky #writingprompt #amwriting

Today you are an artist and you will paint a picture of this sky. First work out the practicals – where are you, time of day, what is your skill level, what are your expectations. Don’t worry about the technical details of painting, your artist can use paints, pencil, crayon, charcoal, iPad apps, felt tip pens, whatever you want. Amateur or professional, it doesn’t matter, you decide. Choose a name. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series. Now put your mind inside your artist. Consider the sky, the shapes, the colours, the contrasts, the images it conjures in your mind, the things it makes you think of – including the odd associations you mind may jump to. Take one of these images or thought associations, and include it in your artist’s day. How does it change the painting – does the artist decide to paint something else, do something else. Perhaps someone arrives and interrupts. The sky changes – a storm approaches, a plane leaves a con trail, a noise nearby interrupts his/her concentration. What happens after this disturbance and how does your artist react? How important is the picture of the painted sky? Why is a picture of
Read More

Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.

#BookReview ‘Charlotte Brontë A Life’ by Claire Harman #books #writerslife

How did Charlotte Brontë create the character of Jane Eyre? Was Villette really based on a doomed love affair in Brussels? How much of the real author is in these novels? If you have read Charlotte Brontë’s books, you will have asked yourself these questions. The biography Charlotte Brontë: A Life by Claire Harman provides some fascinating answers. This is the first biography of Brontë I have read and I wish I had read it sooner. Harman tells the enthralling story of the family whose losses, grief, hardship, isolation and disappointments populate the novels of the three sisters – Charlotte, Emily and Anne. It is impossible to write about Charlotte without writing about the family, and particularly about Emily, Anne and brother Branwell. Everyone knows the headline facts about the Brontës – Haworth parsonage, mother and siblings dying, Branwell’s addiction, and the imaginary kingdoms of Angria and Dondal in which the children lose themselves. But Harman makes the history accessible, telling the life of Charlotte in chronological order starting briefly with her father Patrick. There are clear references to real life appearing in the novels and Harman casts light on the writing process of Charlotte and her sisters. For a novelist, this
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

My Porridge & Cream read… @MaggieCobbett #books #Yorkshire

Today I’m delighted to welcome Yorkshire novelist Maggie Cobbett. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is The Beloved Vagabond by William J Locke. “The Beloved Vagabond by William J Locke has been a favourite of mine since childhood. The now tatty illustrated edition, published in 1922, belonged to my father and we used to read it together. It is that memory that often draws me back to it, together with the fact that Paragot, the main character, (as depicted in the wonderful illustrations by Jean Dulac, see below), bears more than a passing resemblance to Dad as he would have liked to be. An artist, writer and rover at heart, he was trapped for most of his life in mundane occupations that kept him in Yorkshire.” Maggie’s Bio Born in Leeds, Maggie studied modern languages at the University of Manchester and then spent many years teaching in the UK and abroad, taking every opportunity to travel more extensively in the holidays. Since taking early retirement and now based back in Yorkshire with her family, she writes short stories, articles, reviews, ‘fillers’ and even the occasional poem. Until the pandemic struck, she also appeared regularly as a ‘village regular’ on Emmerdale. Maggie’s
Read More

Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Porridge & Cream.

Great Opening Paragraph 130 ‘Gilead’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old. And you put your hand in my hand and you said, You aren’t very old, as if that settled it. I told you you might have a very different life from mine, and from the life you’ve had with me, and that would be a wonderful thing, there are many ways to life a good life. And you said, Mama already told me that. And then you said, Don’t laugh! Because you thought I was laughing at you. You reached up and put your fingers on my lips and gave me that look I never in my life saw on any other face besides your mother’s. It’s a kind of furious pride, very passionate and stern. I’m always a little surprised to find my eyebrows singed after I’ve suffered one of those looks. I will miss them.” ‘Gilead’ by Marilynne Robinson BUY THE BOOK Read my reviews of Gilead, Housekeeping and Home by Marilynne Robinson. Try one of these
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

My Porridge & Cream read… Ian Gouge #books #writerslife

Today I’m delighted to welcome poet and novelist Ian Gouge.  His ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is EM Forster’s A Passage to India. “My ‘Porridge & Cream’ novel is perhaps an unfashionable choice: EM Forster’s A Passage to India. I first read the novel in 1976 when, having dropped out of school two years earlier, I enrolled at a sixth-form college to study A Levels before going on to take English at university. A Passage to India was one of the set texts, and – along with Auden and Yeats – responsible for kindling my love of literature. “I don’t re-read it that often, although I have done so this year – and, to be frank, was a little shocked by how dated it now seems. But for me it’s one of those books (like Heart of Darkness, which ran the Forster a close second!) where it is probably enough to know that it’s there should I ever need it. Perhaps my attachment to it is more about memory than anything. The images of the caves, a fantastic passage about wasps and heaven, the way Forster makes the landscape and environment resonate with the characters’ emotions – yes, it’s all of
Read More

Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Porridge & Cream.

#FlashPic 48 Wet Leaves #writingprompt #amwriting

Today you are going to prepare the place where an action scene will take place. It is a wet day, everything is dripping. It is outside, perhaps in an isolated wood, a city park, a garden. Underfoot, the fallen leaves are drenched, soggy, squelchy. Describe the sensations of the wetness – the sounds, the dripping, the raindrops, is it windy, warm or cold? Consider every point of the physical surroundings that occur to you, develop each one in detail. Think about words that recur, the overlying atmosphere of your day. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series. Introduce your action into this carefully imagined place. Make the place a part of the action. You have spent a lot of energy developing your place, don’t forget about it now. How can the wetness, the squelchy leaves, the dripping raindrops, affect the action? Does someone slip and fall. Are footsteps heard as someone tries to approach by stealth. Write your action scene then edit it – write one version where the place has a strong presence and affects the action lightly; write a second version where the influence of the place has a muted effect. Which do you prefer? ©
Read More

Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.

Great Opening Paragraph 129 ‘The Paying Guests’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The Barbers had said they would arrive by three. It was like waiting to begin a journey, Frances thought. She and her mother had spent the morning watching the clock, unable to relax. At half past two she had gone wistfully over the rooms for what she’d supposed was the final time; after that there had been a nerving-up, giving way to a steady deflation, and now, at almost five, here she was again, listening to the echo of her own footsteps, feeling so sort of fondness for the sparsely furnished spaces, impatient simply for the couple to arrive, move in, get it over with.” ‘The Paying Guests’ by Sarah Waters BUY THE BOOK Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte ’Personal’ by Lee Child ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: #FirstPara THE PAYING GUESTS  by Sarah Waters #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4eA via @SandraDanby
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

My Porridge & Cream read… Linda Jones @LJonesauthor #books #LordoftheRings

Today I’m delighted to welcome children’s writer Linda Jones. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. “In 1979 I lived in Bristol, in a house full of university graduates. For my birthday, they clubbed together and bought me a paperback copy of the full, unabridged edition of The Lord of The Rings by JRR Tolkien. Ecstatic didn’t get close! “I’ve always loved fantasy in all its forms; from science fiction to fairy tales. I remember ‘devouring’ that huge tome in a matter of days, carrying it with me everywhere. Finally published in full in 1954, Tolkien’s rich descriptions of the world he created are peerless. Helped of course by his love of the British countryside and his longing for the peace of pre-war days.  So much of what he writes about is recognisable. All you have to do is transplant Hobbiton or Bywater to a quiet English village and you’re there… minus the hobbit holes of course. “My original copy from 1979 has sadly bitten the dust. It was read frequently. During long, autumnal evenings, crisp spring mornings or just because I could. I clung on to the thumb-worn, taped-together pages for thirty-three
Read More

Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Porridge & Cream.

How Deborah Moggach writes #amwriting #writetip

Deborah Moggach“One of my great tips for writing is not to start too quickly. If you get excited about a book, don’t plunge in and write it too quickly, because until you know the characters pretty well, anything could happen to them. They could do anything, and that’s chaotic. The novel could go in 800,000 different directions and you’re lost!” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine on May 3, 2019] Great advice. Deborah Moggach’s novels are well-loved and sell by the bucket load. Two have been turned into films – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and Tulip Fever – and she writes screenplays, adapting Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate for the BBC, and being BAFTA nominated for her screenplay of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley. And I know what she means. I think all debut authors have made exactly the mistake that she warns against here. It’s a natural thing to do. You have a brilliant idea and just want to get the words down. But time spent preparing, exploring and just thinking, do pay off. My first novel was written over a long period of time, I had my key character Rose nailed but had neglected to give
Read More

Categories: On Writing.