Archives for On Writing

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.

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 #writingprompt #amwriting

Two pairs of feet, and knees, and legs. Unidentified. Anonymous. Gender undetermined. What is happening here? This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series. Use 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… ‘Reading Turgenev’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“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 Amazon 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 #writingprompt #amwriting

During the Second World War the Tiergarten, Berlin’s popular inner city park, was made unrecognisable as the trees were chopped down and used for firewood. Here is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this picture to kickstart a flash fiction story about wartime or a decision faced by a character in your novel. Imagine three things:- 1 It is winter. There is no fuel to heat your house. You can go cold, steal, or chop down trees in a local woodland. 2 What are the consequences be? How will your family survive? 3 How does your choice affect your household? How do your neighbours react to your actions? Take these three elements and write a flash fiction story, or a character exercise. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- These feet were made for walking St James Park, polite notice Between the train seats What are ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to help you put words on the page. Those words won’t necessarily be the first line of your novel, or indeed anything to do with your novel, but they will be words to fill that intimidating blank space. And it couldn’t be quicker. Writers’
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

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

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

#FlashPIC 31 Clock at Waterloo Station #writingprompt #amwriting

Time marches onwards. What if you could stop it… for a minute, for an hour? Here is a writing prompt 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  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
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 109… ‘Sea Glass’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“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 Amazon 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 #writingprompt #writetip

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 prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this #writetip 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
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 108… ‘The Corrections’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“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 Amazon 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 Jonathan Franzen
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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 #writingprompt #amwriting

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’ BLOCKbusterseries. 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.