Archives for On Writing

I agree with… Pat Barker #amwriting #writerslife #writetip

Pat Barker “I do think that sometimes the seed that sets you off on the process of writing a novel can have been around for many years, even decades, before it actually – for some mysterious reason – comes to fruition… I think it’s almost a good sign if an idea has been fermenting for quite a long time in a sort of semi-conscious way. I’ve learnt to distrust the staggeringly brilliant new idea that was triggered by something that happened quite recently. Ha Ha! You need the dog-eared thing that’s been around for a long time, quietly nagging away at you.”  [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, May 25 2018]  This is so true. It is easy to be carried away by the bright new idea that seems to tap into the zeitgeist, but in my experience these don’t have the legs and can turn out to be superficial. Better nurture the idea that rumbles away in your sub-conscious, allowing it to unfold and multiply, to make connections with other reflections. Barker was talking ahead of the release of her latest novel The Silence of the Girls, a retelling of The Iliad, the story of the Trojan war,
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Categories: On Writing.

How Diane Setterfield writes #writerslife #amwriting

Diane Setterfield “I think of the scenes as beads. There are lots of beads, and you can line them up next to each other and it looks just like a necklace. But until you’ve got that invisible thread you can’t pick it up and wear it, because if you pick it up [the beads] will just scatter and go everywhere. You’ve got to have that thread, even though no one can see it.” [an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ Magazine’ September 14, 2018]  I love this analogy, though what she doesn’t mention is the process of swapping the beads around. Eliminating some, adding others not originally planned. The necklace idea works for linear stories as well as time slip, as long as the invisible thread is strong. Setterfield’s first novel, gothic mystery The Thirteenth Tale, was published in 2011 and made into a BBC film starring Olivia Coleman and Vanessa Redgrave. It sold 239,368 copies [Nielsen BookScan UK]. It was followed by in 2014 by Victoria ghost story Bellman & Black.Once Upon A River was published on January 24, 2019. Read more about Diane Setterfield’s novels here. BUY See how these other authors write:- George Saunders Mary Gaitskill Jeffrey Archer And if
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 38 Laburnum #writingprompt #amwriting

This is a photograph of a laburnum tree and it is going to inspire you to write a scary story today. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this picture to kickstart a short story or a flash fiction exercise about fear. First, seven facts about the laburnum tree:- The common nickname for the laburnum tree is the ‘golden chain’ or ‘golden shower’ tree. All parts of it are poisonous. The yellow flowers are pea-shaped, resembling but unrelated to the pea family. The fruit develops as a pod that is extremely poisonous. The wood is highly prized for making musical instruments. The heartwood of the laburnum is hard, chocolate brown-coloured, and often used as a substitute for ebony or rosewood. The outer, or sapwood, is a pale butter-yellow shade. Now consider each of these facts in turn, and write one paragraph about each in a fictional setting. Consider how each fact could be threatening. Review your paragraphs and look for links between them. Discard any that don’t fit. Now turn your remaining paragraphs into a flash fiction story including one of the following:- A poisoning; A miraculous healing; An unexpected musical triumph; A piece of furniture made from
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 116… ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs, held there for a number of hours, and then, in the evening, exhaled violently through the same channels.” ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ by Patrick Hamilton BUY Read my review of The Slaves of Solitude. Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Reading Turgenev/Two Lives’ by William Trevor ‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan ‘The Ghost Road’ by Pat Barker And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: THE SLAVES OF SOLITUDE by Patrick Hamilton #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2AD
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 37 Departures Board #writingprompt #amwriting

Imagine the following then start to write. You are eight years old. You are trying to find your way home to your parents. Reading is not one of your strong points. You look at this Departures Board and wonder which train to take. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this picture to kickstart a short story or a series of flash fiction exercises about narrative. Put yourself in the mind of an eight-year old. Alone at a large noisy railway station. You becomes he or she. He has run away from the place he had been taken to live. He wants to be with his parents. Take each of the above sentences one at a time and write your way into the scenario. This may take five paragraphs or five pages, the length doesn’t matter. Give your character a name. Decide where he has come from, and what happened there. Where is his home? What matters to him in his life? What is his favourite meal? Has he been on a train before? How does the station make him feel? Now write each individual part of the story in linear order: why he left his parents and his home;
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

How Philip Pullman writes #amwriting #writerslife #BookofDust

Philip Pullman ‘When you’re writing, you have to please yourself because there’s no one else there initially. But the book doesn’t fully exist until it’s been read. The reader is a very important part of the transaction – and people have to read things they want to read. I’m writing for me – I write for all the ‘me’s’ that have been. From the first me I can remember, the me who first got interested in stories and loved listening to them; to the me who was here at Oxford fifty years ago; to the me who was a school teacher, telling stories to the class. All of these. I’m writing for me. And I am lucky to have found such a wide audience and an audience which contains both adults and children is the best of all.’ [in an interview with the BBC on October 19, 2017]  Pullman was speaking a day prior to publication of La Belle Sauvage, first volume of the long-awaited The Book of Dust. The interview is a fascinating account of how such a successful author – commercially and critically – goes about his day job. Three things stand out for me. He sits and
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Categories: On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 115… ‘The Garden of Evening Mists’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“On a mountain above the clouds once lived a man who had been the gardener of the Emperor of Japan. Not many people would have known of him before the war, but I did. He had left his home on the rim of the sunrise to come to the central highlands of Malaya. I was seventeen years old when my sister first told me about him. A decade would pass before I travelled up to the mountains to see him.” ‘The Garden of Evening Mists’ by Tan Twan Eng Amazon Read my review of The Garden of Evening Mists. Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Armadillo’ by William Boyd ‘To Have and Have Not’ by Ernest Hemingway ‘Super-Cannes’ by JG Ballard And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS by Tan Twan Eng #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2AL
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Famous #writers, reading… @StephenKing

Tripwire, Lee Child’s third book in the Jack Reacher series, is keeping Stephen King’s attention from whatever game he’s watching. Perhaps basketball? As any true reader knows, it is torture to put down a book to go out when really you just want to read to the end. And Stephen is very near the end. There are 23 books to date in the Jack Reacher series, I wonder how many Stephen has read now? Stephen is reading an American Penguin edition [above] with a distinctive cover.   ‘Tripwire’ by Lee Child Amazon UK See these other famous people, reading & writing:- Grace Kelly  Charles Dickens Gregory Peck And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Famous writers, reading… @StephenKing picks up a @LeeChildReacher novel #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3AI via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#GuestPost ‘Short Story Talk’ by Amanda Huggins @troutiemcfish #shortstories #amwriting

A warm Yorkshire welcome today to my blog to short story writer Amanda Huggins, a 2018 Costa Short Story Award runner-up, who has clear ideas about writing the short form. Welcome Amanda! “There’s been talk in recent years of a short story renaissance. In January 2018The Bookseller magazine reported that sales of short story collections were up 50%, reaching their highest level in seven years. However, this turned out to be largely due to a single book — Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks. This January the news was all about poetry — sales were up 12% in 2018, for the second year in a row. “It’s great to see a renewed interest in both forms — certainly a couple of independent bookshops I’ve talked to this week have confirmed that short story sales are up — and more collections are being featured in review columns. There was also the buzz around Kristen Roupenian’s short story, ‘Cat Person’, published in the New Yorker at the end of 2017, which really resonated with a younger audience. Whatever you thought of that story, it was all good publicity for the short form.” “As a writer, I know that crafting a two thousand word story requires a different
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 114… ‘Agnes Grey’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“All true histories contain instruction; though, in some, the treasure may be hard to find, and when found, so trivial in quantity, that the dry shrivelled kernel scarcely compensates for the trouble of cracking the nut. Whether this be the case with my history or not, I am hardly competent to judge. I sometimes think it might prove useful to some, and entertaining to others; but the world may judge for itself. Shielded by my own obscurity, and by the lapse of years, and a few fictitious names, I do not fear to venture; and will candidly lay before the public what I would not disclose to the most intimate friend.” ‘Agnes Grey’ by Anne Bronte  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Affinity’ by Sarah Waters ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote ‘Family Album’ by Penelope Lively And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: AGNES GREY by Anne Bronte #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xM
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 36 Lion Gatepost #writingprompt #amwriting

A lion sits atop a gatepost. Is it a guardian? A shapeshifter? An enemy? An ornament made of stone? This is a writing tip from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Beat writers’ block today with this picture. Put down your pen and set aside your laptop. Study this photograph for one minute and memorise as many details as you can. Now, in one minute, write a list of what you remember. Choose a minimum of three and a maximum of five things from your list. Write a further paragraph about each. Remember to include emotions, descriptions, sensations, anticipations. Choose one of these three paragraphs, and write it the opposite way round. If it is happy make it sad, if it is threatening make it friendly. Now make the lion come alive and walk into your story. What happens next? Start writing. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Moon rocks Arrivals Board Is it red or is it orange 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
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Famous writers, writing… Rose Tremain

When I first saw this photo I spent a little while trying to read the spines of the books on the shelves behind Rose Tremain. Pictured here at home in Norwich, her shelves look reassuringly normal: A4 ring binders, stacks of magazines, family photos fitted into gaps. But I couldn’t read one book title. Disappointing. And I also envy her floor-to-ceiling shelves. Tremain is one of those novelists I seek to emulate. Now 72, she firmly believes that writers get better as they age. “So long as I can keep setting up these journeys it is likely that I can keep going — provided I keep my marbles. I feel I have greater intellectual strength now than 20 years ago.” Variety is the key for her, it seems, and the subject matter of her novels has varied widely. A Restoration rake in the time of Charles II in Restoration; the 1860s gold rush in New Zealand in The Colour; a lute player in the court of Christian IV of Denmark in Music & Silence; and an eastern European migrant in Britain in The Road Home. Read the article at The Times. Here’s my review of her latest novel, The Gustav
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Categories: On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 113… ‘A Good Man in Africa’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“‘Good man,’ said Dalmire, gratefully accepting the gin Morgan Leafy offered him. ‘Oh good man.’ He presents his eager male friendship life a gift, thought Morgan; he’s like a dog who wants me to throw him a stick for him to chase. If he had a tail he’d be wagging it.” ‘A Good Man in Africa’ by William Boyd  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ by Helen Fielding ‘Super-Cannes’ by JG Ballard ‘Middlesex’ by Jeffrey Eugenides And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A GOOD MAN IN AFRICA by William Boyd #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2si
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 35 Leaves on the Footpath #writingprompt #amwriting

Imagine being an alien, a foreigner in a strange land. Forget what you know. Open your mind to the new. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series, designed for all writers of fiction, novels, short stories and flash fiction. Try this picture to kickstart an exercise about observation. Study this photograph and consider where you are standing. Survey your surroundings. Smell the air. Listen. Compare your observations with your own world. Write one paragraph describing your own world for each of the following. Temperature. Climate. Surroundings. Scents. Seasons. Sounds. Repeat this exercise for where you stand now on this footpath. Now choose three details from the photograph and describe them in the language of a person from your alien world. Consider their purpose in this world. For example, consider the loose green shapes at your feet. How are they different from the small pale shapes beside them? And why is one part of the footpath darker than the other? Are you seeing in colour, or black and white? Now you have built a small world for this alien footpath, consider turning it into a flash fiction story. For that, you need action. Choose one of these three actions:- A
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

How Lee Child writes #amwriting #writetip @LeeChildReacher

Lee Child “I love beginnings… Everything I do, I base on what I love as a reader,” he says when asked about his approach to writing. “I write one book a year, but read about 300. I’m more of a reader than a writer. Over 20 years I’ve learnt that writing and reading is an amazing thing. We have a transaction – the reader, in their heads, creates the book as much as I do. It’s an emotional contract. “I love beginnings,” he claims. “I love starting a book. The first sentence is unique in that it’s the only one that doesn’t follow another. It has to capture the mood, to give a sense of what’s to come. I’m very happy if I get a good start, and then it grows. Reacher has no idea what he’s going to do when he starts, just like in real life.” [in an interview with ‘on: Yorkshire’ magazine on October 19, 2017] I know what he means about first sentences, first paragraphs. When I’m idly browsing in a bookshop, the first thing I read is the first sentence. Not the book blurb, not the last page, not the author bio. And when I’m
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Categories: On Writing.

How George Saunders writes

George Saunders “My room is flooded with family photos, there’s a desk, a printer and two guitars that I play when I’m stuck in a paragraph. I work with an obsessive quality, but I’m wary of the blandness that routine creates and my best work is only summoned by irregular habits. Part of me wants to go through life on autopilot. I have to lure out the crazy person in me who’s honest and intense.” [an interview with ‘The Sunday Times Magazine’ April 1, 2018]  The idea of stopping to play the guitar, to free the moment, to throw off predictability, really appeals to me. I don’t have a guitar but I do have a Yamaha keyboard in my study [below], its daily presence reminding me of my adult vow to rekindle my childhood piano playing. Later in the same interview, Saunders says: “I do a lot of semi-physical things to break up the day, like service the hot tub or record a riff on the guitar to restore my writing focus.” This made me laugh out loud. I achieve the same effect with a trip to the supermarket, loading the washing machine or going to yoga. But when I stopped
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 34 Is It Red Or Is It Orange #writingprompt #amwriting

Two people. Two opposing views. Consider a pair of lovers, a marriage, or two lifelong friends. Each has one strong conviction, which the other hates. So far apart are their views on this subject that they would disagree simply on a point of principle. Unblock your writers’ block with this writing tip from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Write a short story or an exercise about contextual layers. Consider your couple. How could their polarisation affect a mundane squabble? For example, is this geranium red, or is it orange? Choose your two characters and their existing relationship. Decide on the conviction of each, and the opposing argument of the other partner. Establish whether they still love each other, or is their relationship fracturing? Now consider their domestic daily life. Choose an everyday irritation and make them argue. Start writing the dialogue, multi-layered; the spoken disagreement concerns the everyday irritation, the unspoken text is about their polarised opinions. Wind up the tension until one, or both of them, explodes. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Cable Anonymous people Cutting down the trees for firewood What are‘ Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to help you put words on the
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

My Porridge & Cream read: @janedavisauthor #books #literaryfiction

Today I’m delighted to welcome novelist Jane Davis. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. “My list of favourite novels may change, but it is always topped by Pat Conroy’s, The Prince of Tides. Ignore the terrible film version – the book has everything. Family secrets, flawed characters, a doomed love affair. “I read it for the first time many years before I contemplated writing, but it was books like this (and here I include the novels of John Irving and Michael Chabon) that must have sowed the seed. “The first thing to say is that my choice is not your typical comfort read. The quote ‘We read to know that we are not alone’ is attributed to at least three different people. Perhaps that’s because it’s a universal truth. I find myself drawn to books about misfits and underdogs. (My latest ‘new favourite book’, Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession, considers how gentle people survive in a world that is fast-paced and competitive.) “The Prince of Tides has the power to transport the reader from the very first line. My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my point of call. “We know immediately that
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Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Porridge & Cream.

I agree with… Allison Pearson

With ‘How Hard Can It Be?’ the follow-up to bestseller ‘I Don’t Know How She Does it’ about to be published in 2017, novelist Allison Pearson said: “I gave the first book the wrong ending. She goes and lives in the country and raises pigs. I gave her a get-out-of-jail-free card. I had thousands of letters and e-mails from readers. Quite a lot of them said, oh I can’t give up. Now I think she should have stayed where she was.”  [in an interview with ‘Good Housekeeping’ magazine, October 2017] How many authors look back at their books and wish they could change something? It is good to hear Allison Pearson admit this about her bestseller I Don’t Know How She Does It. It is difficult to resist the tidiness of a neat ending, and to read the subsequent reader reviews saying ‘I didn’t get it’, but life doesn’t always have answers. ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’ by Allison Pearson [UK: Vintage] This ‘leaving things a bit loose’ is a trend which has come to fiction via television series, I think. Not everything is explained, ends are not neatly tied. I am thinking particularly of the Fargo series by Noah
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 112… ‘Affinity’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“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.