Archives for On Writing

How Jacqueline Wilson writes #amwriting #writetip

Jacqueline Wilson on writers’ block: “I don’t often feel blocked, though I often worry that I’m writing rubbish.” [from ‘The Author’ magazine, Winter 2018]  Dame Jacqueline Wilson has written more than 100 books for children, which have been translated into 34 languages. It is not surprising, given her output, that she doesn’t often feel blocked. She credits this to her background as a journalist, “I worked as a magazine journalist in my late teens and had to write my allotted thousand words within an hour or I’d be in serious trouble! It was very good training. The rare times I haven’t got a clue what to write next I go for a walk or a swim.” Sound advice. What is more interesting though, is her worry that she is writing rubbish. Writers, new and experienced, face this dilemma on an almost daily basis. I don’t know if it’s reassuring that she feels this way, or depressing that it’s not a feeling you shed as you publish more books. BUY THE BOOK See how these other authors write:- AJ Pearce, on immersing herself in the 1940s  Philippa Gregory, on putting the reader into the historical moment Sebastian Barry, on writing the
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Categories: On Writing.

#BookReview ‘Howards End is on the Landing’ by Susan Hill #amreading

I selected this book off my to-read shelf where it has sat for at least two years and, on reading the first paragraph, knew I must read on. Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill is a gem of a memoir, a year in the life of a crime novelist who decides to read only the books on her bookshelves. But this is more than a review of books – it can be dipped in and out of, the chapters are conveniently short which makes you want to read ‘just another’ – because Hill attaches a personal story to each book, each author. I have always felt an affinity with Susan Hill; she was born eight miles from my own Yorkshire birthplace, and I was intrigued to learn about why she writes. I learned so much more; how her first novel was published when she was only eighteen, how she lives an ordinary life but mixes with some breath-stopping names. She met and/or knew TS Eliot, EM Forster, Cecil Day Lewis, Penelope Fitzgerald, Ian Fleming, Iris Murdoch, Elizabeth Bowen; it is a mirror image of my reading list at university, except for the Bond. Above everything though, the book
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Famous #writers, writing… Jodi Picoult @jodipicoult #amwriting

You’ve read every word, every line, every page and yet there is still room for improvement. Every writer knows the stage when the book feels as if it should be finished but isn’t, not quite. Jodi Picoult has sold 14 million print books worldwide in 34 languages but the scene shown here is familiar to every writer – Jodi is editing surrounded by Post-It notes, the latest draft from her editor with tracking changes, a sheaf of papers held together by a bulldog clip. Picoult’s most recent book, A Spark of Light, was published in 2018 and was a New York Times and Sunday Times number one bestseller. It is her twenty-fifth book. BUY THE BOOK Read the opening paragraphs of Nineteen Minutes and Vanishing Acts, and here’s my review of Vanishing Acts. See these other famous people, reading & writing:- Gregory Peck JK Rowling John Updike And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Famous writers, writing… @jodipicoult #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-49E via @SandraDanby
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Categories: On Writing.

How AL Kennedy writes @Writerer #amwriting #writetip

AL Kennedy on spending time with a Harris hawk; thanks to the man who decorated her mother’s bathroom who was also a falconer: “I have no idea if or when I will make use of Mr Hawk, but he will have rattled something somewhere which will eventually rattle something else and meanwhile it was a blast to meet him.”  [from ‘On Writing’ by AL Kennedy]  I love this story from On Writing, AL Kennedy’s book about her life as a writer and based on the blog she writes for the Guardian newspaper. I love it because it demonstrates how authors collect ideas like squirrels store nuts and that the process can, perhaps should, be enjoyable. Given an unexpected opportunity [the decorator/falconer] Kennedy grabbed it and stored away the observations, the experience, the emotions, for another time. It may appear in her writing in any number of ways but on the day she saw Mr Hawk she had no plans. She goes on to protest, mildly, that the day spent with Mr Hawk was for purely professional reasons. ‘It’s not fun with Mr Hawk – it’s work’. Researching becomes enjoyable; a treat, even. Surely this is reflected on the page when the
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Categories: On Researching and On Writing.

How Penny Vincenzi wrote #writerslife #amwriting #bestseller

Penny Vincenzi “I haven’t the faintest idea what is going to happen, ever. I just get the kernel of the idea, which in this case was supposing a company was about to go under, and then the characters wander in. I never have any idea what is going to happen at the end, I truly don’t, which is why they are so long.” [on writing ‘A Question of Trust’, in an interview with ‘The Telegraph’ on June 16, 2014]  Penny Vincenzi didn’t get writer’s block. And she didn’t plot. The first I understand and I think that is due to her journalistic background. But the second; no plotting? At all? It didn’t stopped her selling 7 million big books, her novels came in at around 300,000 words. Her first, Old Sins, was published in 1989. She died in 2018. On writer’s block, she said, “I don’t agonise. I do have terrible days when I realise I have gone down a completely blind alley and I’ve got to come back. The only cure is to press the delete button, I’m afraid. I once deleted 20,000 words, and I felt much better after that.” Read the full article at The Telegraph. BUY
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Categories: On Writing.

My Porridge & Cream read Clare Rhoden @ClareER #books #Regency

Today I’m delighted to welcome dystopian sci-fi author Clare Rhoden. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer. “I’m now onto my third copy of The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer. What’s that? There’s a copy in your local charity shop?! Let me at it! “I first read this book as a teenager, home from school with a bad case of something or other. My big sister assured me I’d love it. As usual, she was right. I have since read all Heyer’s Regency romances, and own most of them. My little library of happy, witty, female-centred adventure books followed me through several house moves. Then, after a somewhat uneventful decade, I was stuck at home for a long recovery after surgery. Time for The Talisman Ring again! “Imagine my surprise to discover that the book had changed. Well, of course it hadn’t changed, but I had. I recalled a dashing young couple diving headlong into adventure, assisted by an older cousin and a clever spinster. But no! Instead, thirty-year-old Sir Tristram and Sally Thane – unmarried in her late twenties – were actually the heroes in the story. I enjoyed it all the more. “The
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Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Porridge & Cream.

How Holly Bourne writes #writerslife #amwriting

Holly Bourne “People think that world-building is something you only need to do in fantasy novels. But [with the character of Tori] I had to think: what’s the name of her book? What’s her brand? How does she write to her readers? How do they respond? I had to work on this imaginary career trajectory that she has.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, March 9, 2018]  I reacted to this remark by young adult author Holly Bourne, who is now writing adult novels too, with familiarity and and a degree of puzzlement. Familiarity because I understand what she means, how she places her character into a world and sees what happens, how she makes decisions about the framework of that world in order for the story to progress. Puzzlement about the reference to world-building as being limited to fantasy novels; really? Isn’t that what all novelists do, whatever the genre? Imagine a world, create characters, let the two combine and see what happens. Isn’t that part of writing? Or am I missing something? How Do You Like Me Now? is Bourne’s first adult novel. She is a successful YA writer, her YA novels include It Only Happens in
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Categories: On Writing.

My Porridge & Cream read @JuliaThumWrites #writing #childrensfiction

Today I’m delighted to welcome children’s writer Julia Thum. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. “The story is about a beautiful valley called Moonacre that is shadowed by the tragic memory of a Moon Princess and a mysterious little white horse. When 13 year old orphan Maria Merryweather is sent to live there she finds herself involved in an ancient feud and is determined to restore peace and happiness to the whole of Moonacre Valley. “I first read this magical story when I was eleven. My father had just died and we were living on a farm in Somerset. I still remember transposing Moonacre’s fantasy world onto my own life and spending many happy hours wandering around the fields pretending to be Maria and looking for the mysterious little white horse. “I read and re-read the story all through my teens and tweens, picking it up whenever I needed a safe space. In adult life, I’ve read The Little White Horse to all my children. Now they’re teenagers, and I’m moving from writing adult to ‘middle grade’ children’s fiction, I’m re-visiting the story, looking at the form, the structure, and trying to ‘bottle’
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Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Porridge & Cream.

#Bookreview ‘The Writing of Fiction’ by Edith Wharton #amwriting

Edith Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. She won for The Age of Innocence in 1920; it was her twelfth novel. First published in 1925, her advice is still current today and will interest readers as well as writers of fiction. Part literary analysis, part writing recommendations, this is not an indexed guide on how to write but more Wharton’s thoughts on writing fiction. At the beginning she reviews the development of ‘modern fiction’ that she says began when the action of the novel was ‘transferred from the street to the soul’; moving through the trend for providing a ‘slice of life’ via the French realists to the early twentieth century ‘stream of consciousness’. The early chapter is a little dry but the meat of this book is in three chapters: ‘Telling a Short Story’, ‘Constructing a Novel’, and ‘Character and Situation in the Novel’. Wharton’s main points have lasted the test of time. Dialogue should be used sparingly. Originality is about vision, not about technique. Minor characters should all serve a purpose, or be cut. All novelists will to a degree write the autobiographical, Wharton says, but to be a truly creative novelist one
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 42 Ethereal Rubbish #writingprompt #amwriting

A plastic bag is blown along a pavement by the breeze. Use this moody scene as your trigger to start writing today. An inanimate object like this is a useful tool to use in a short story or novel. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series. This plastic bag can:- Illustrate a particular theme. For example, perhaps your character is a rolling stone, always drifting, never settling in one place. Or your theme could be climate change; Reinforce a character trait. Perhaps you want to hint to the reader that a character is transparent, flimsy, without foundation. Or if your bag is paper, perhaps they are vulnerable, easily damaged and never repaired. You get the idea; Be a linking device to introduce two characters to each other. Imagine watching a film where a lonely man drops a plastic bag which is picked up by the wind. He runs to pick it up and put it in the rubbish bin, and collides with a woman who is part of a charitable litter collection scheme. If it helps, visualise this scene as if you are watching it on television; Demonstrate atmosphere. Perhaps your scene is described in black and white. The
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Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.

#WritersLife Jane Davis @janedavisauthor #writingcompetitions

The last time I saw Jane Davis was at the London Book Fair 2019 at 9am in the morning when she was standing on a stage talking about her eighth novel, a finalist in The Selfies. Later the same day, Smash all the Windows won the inaugural award. The Selfies is unusual in that while only novels by indie authors are eligible, the announcement took places at the UK’s major traditional publishing event. So Jane is a trailblazer. I asked her to share with us her journey with Smash all the Windows and her experience of writing competitions. “London Book Fair 2018 provided an excellent venue for the launch of Smash all the Windows. It was a high-concept (and potentially high-risk) novel, in which I created a fictional disaster to explore my outrage at the reaction of the press to the verdict of the Hillsborough second inquest. “It has taken conviction to right the wrongs. It will take courage to learn how to live again. For the families of the victims of the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice should be a cause for rejoicing. For more than thirteen years, the search for truth has eaten
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How AJ Pearce writes #writerslife #amwriting

AJ Pearce immersed herself in the music of the 1940s and watched air raids on You Tube “with the volume turned up as loud as possible, trying to get some idea of what on earth it was like.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, January 12, 2018]   Any novelist who has set a story in the recent past knows the joys, and pitfalls, of online research. Such is depth of digitised records now that there is almost nothing from the 20th century that is not accessible online. Author AJ Pearce, whose debut novel Dear Mrs Bird, is set in World War Two, turned to contemporary novels and You Tube. In Dear Mrs Bird, Emmy Lake becomes an agony aunt on a magazine, offering advice, or not, to letter writers. Obviously Pearce immersed herself in magazines of the period. But she also read novels of the time, particularly Cheerfulness Breaks In by Angela Thirkell, published in 1940, and Henrietta’s War by Joyce Denys. “It’s funny and light but every now and then there’s a line that takes your breath away because it is so sad,” she explains. In The Bookseller interview, Pearce is asked why she chose the World
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 41 Over-Exposed People #writingprompt #amwriting

These over-exposed people are simply a photographic trick but for today’s writing exercise, imagine this is what you see. Everything is blurred, fuzzy, indistinct. Create a character starting from this fact. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series. First concentrate on the practicalities. Decide what your character can and cannot see. How much definition is visible and how this affects their daily life. What they can and cannot do, what they would push themselves to do in an emergency. Next decide if this condition is new, perhaps temporary. Due to accident or illness? Or perhaps try a sci-fi spin; is this a side effect of a chemical attack? Whatever the reason, you must consider the character’s emotional reaction of reduced vision. Put yourself in their place. Or perhaps your character has only ever known this degree of vision. How has their life unfolded and what would have been different with full vision. Now it is time to put your visually-impaired character into a dramatic situation. Choose one of the following:- An argument with a loved one; A disagreement on public transport with a stranger; A disciplinary meeting with the boss; An emergency where your character must run to the
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Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.

Famous #writers, writing… @jk_rowling

This is a typical writer’s scene. Laptop. Coffee. Intense concentration. Notebooks. Stack of reference books. JK Rowling appears to be writing in a hotel room [my assessment based on the hotel-style lamp and glossy table top]. Is she writing about wizards, or a private detective? I have a feeling she may be writing about Harry, rather than in her later guise as Robert Galbraith.   ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ by Robert Galbraith BUY See these other writers, writing:- Rose Tremain Zadie Smith John Updike And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Famous #writers, writing… is @jk_rowling writing about a wizard or a private detective? #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3B1 via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#HistoryIdeas: #Circus #amwriting #researching

Welcome to a new series! A side effect of researching genealogy for my ‘Identity Detective’ series of novels is a rediscovered fascination with history. As a result I am reading more historical novels – perhaps you’ve noticed this in my book reviews – and am re-discovering different periods of history. This new series on my blog will consider historical settings for novelists and will feature ideas, places to start researching, useful archives, inspirational photographs, and novels to read. First, Circus. Circus is an ancient tradition crossing boundaries, continents, cultures and disciplines from dance to comedy to trick riding, animals and narrative. The primary origin is Rome where the ancient Roman amphitheatres were called ‘circuses’ after the Latin word for ‘circle’. These performances included gladiatorial combats, chariot races, the slaughter of animals, mock battles and other blood sports. For a novelist, the circus setting is infinitely switchable between genres. There are novels about circuses and vampires, circuses and spies, and of course horror. Pennywise in It by Stephen King has to be one of the most horrifying fictional clowns. The research resources are endless, too numerous to list here. Traditions vary by country – Russian, American, French, British, Chinese and African.
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Categories: On Researching and On Writing.

#Bookreview ‘On Writers and Writing’ by @MargaretAtwood #amwriting

At times a glimpse into the writing life of the author of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin, On Writers and Writing by Margaret Atwood is a curious mixture of literary study of what it means to be a writer, and funny personal recollections. If you want a glimpse into how Atwood writes, this is not the book. If you want to understand more about the role of being a writer, the responsibility, the tricks, the two faces, the ego, then read on. This book evolved from a series of six Empson Lectures given at the University of Cambridge in 2000, aimed at scholars, students and the general reading public. That explains, I think, the eclectic subject mix which fluctuates between laugh-out-loud anecdotes and literary analysis. She is good on the state of the writer. “All writers are double, for the simple reason that you can never actually meet the author of the book you have just read. Too much time has elapsed between composition and publication, and the person who wrote the book is now a different person. Or so goes the alibi. On the other hand, this is a convenient way for a writer to wriggle out of responsibility, and
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 40 Rocks, as if Split by an Axe #writingprompt #amwriting

Some huge force is at work here. Imagine the scenario… a huge rockfall in the middle of a city street. Where have the rocks come from? How did they get here? And how were they split? Is this strength mechanical, human or alien? This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series. Try creating a new character for this scene, rather than one of your familiar creations, and write a short story or a flash fiction exercise. Today try writing out of your familiar genre. If you usually write historical, try sci-fi or horror. If you write horror, try comedy or romance. You get the idea. Study the photograph and decide what split the rocks. Place them in a location and add your character, one or two people only. What is the conflict in the scene – perhaps an external threat to their safety, or an unexpected meeting that brings excitement, panic or stress? © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Hotel Corridor The Meaning of Purple Wordstorm Lament 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
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Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.

Famous #writers, writing… Zadie Smith

Not your normal shot of a writer, writing. This looks like a stylised photograph of Zadie Smith, beautifully lit and posed, unrealistic. I certainly don’t look like this when I’m writing. I’m sure it’s not a normal part of Zadie’s writing routine to be naked, but it did make me wonder if any other authors write naked? If you’re a writer, have you ever written while unclothed, and what did it feel like?   ‘White Teeth’ by Zadie Smith BUY See these other famous people, reading & writing:- Bella Lugosi Iris Murdoch Madonna And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Famous #writers, writing… Zadie Smith writing, naked? #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3AW via @SandraDanby
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 39 Parking Suspension #writingprompt #amwriting

Imagine arriving home to find access to your home is blocked. Parking suspended. Entry forbidden. A cordon closes the street. A police presence. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series. Try this picture to kickstart a short story or a flash fiction exercise about dealing with an unexpected situation. How do you feel? Irritated. Angry. Guilty. Fearful for your family, your home, your possessions. Consider the surroundings. Is there a crowd of onlookers or are you alone? Does a helicopter hover, perhaps police or news. Perhaps a fire engine or ambulance. What is your priority? What do you do? And what are the consequences of your actions? © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Freddie Mercury Wordstorm Bronze Waiting beneath the clock 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,
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Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.

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.