Archives for 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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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.
Read More

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
Read More

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’
Read More

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
Read More

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
Read More

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