Archives for On Writing

I can’t write without… a cup of Yorkshire tea

… a cup of Taylors’ Yorkshire Tea It gets me started in the morning, gives me a reason for a screen-break mid-morning, after lunch, mid-afternoon screen-break, and various other times throughout the day when I have absolutely no other excuse to leave my computer than to say I WANT a cup of tea. And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: I can’t write without… a cup of Yorkshire tea, lots of cups of tea #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-hm via @SandraDanby
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Categories: On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 19… ‘Catch-22’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.” ‘Catch-22’ by Joseph Heller  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World’ by Haruki Murakami ‘The Philosopher’s Pupil’ by Iris Murdoch ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #FirstPara which makes me want to read more: CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-fc via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Reading for research… The Yellow House

I love doing background research for my novels, I guess that’s the journalist in me. With hindsight, I researched my first novel Ignoring Gravity too much, I didn’t recognise the point at which I knew enough and when to let my imagination take over. I was reading about adoption, something I haven’t experienced myself and know no-one who has. So I turned to books [a typical reaction for me]. As a reader, I hate writers who put all their research onto the page. Needless to say, a lot of the stuff I put in the first draft, was stripped out later. Martin Gayford is an art writer I turn to. My second novel Connectedness is three-quarters written and the researching process was much briefer. It is a sequel to the first book, so still about adoption, but this time I decided to make my new main character an artist. Because… I love art, but what knowledge I have is self-taught and disconnected. So, it was an opportunity to learn. And I have loved the process, going to galleries and exhibitions, trying to paint watercolours, and reading, always reading. The most dramatic art book I have read by far is The
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Categories: On Researching and On Writing.

Reading for research… Young Voices

As research for the next novel, I’m reading a lot about the Second World War. For a while I’ve been working my way through a fascinating book called Young Voices by Lyn Smith, produced with the Imperial War Museum. I picked it up in my local library. It is an account of children’s experiences during the war. I’m particularly interested in children who lived through Occupation and there are children quoted throughout who grew up Guernsey. One woman tells how it became compulsory at school to learn the German language. One day the German kommandant arrived to present a prize, which she as top of the class in German, was to receive. He asked her a simple question in German, ‘how old are you?’ Her brain froze and she couldn’t answer, terrified she was going to be shot. Someone whispered the question again in English, and the girl was able to answer correctly. The prize? A book in German which she was unable to read. Fascinating stuff, don’t know yet how I am going to use any of this. I enjoy researching my next novel while writing the current one. Sometimes it just gives the brain a rest, a new
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Categories: On Researching and On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 18… ‘The Ghost Road’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“In deck-chairs all along the front the bald pink knees of Bradford businessmen nuzzled the sun.” ‘The Ghost Road’ by Pat Barker, #1 Regeneration Trilogy  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier ‘The Murder Room’ by PD James ‘That They May Face the Rising Sun’ by John McGahern And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #FirstPara which makes me want to read more: THE GHOST ROAD by Pat Barker  #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-ev via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

I agree with Antony Gormley…

Antony Gormley “Everybody says ‘what does it mean?’ …but what does life mean? Life is there to be lived, not to mean things, it’s to be experienced. They think… ‘oh we want a label, we want to know what it is, what it’s called, what it’s made of, and what it means.’ Well why not just be it, do it feel it.” [in an interview from ‘Lily Cole: Art Matters’ – Sky Arts] We have a tendency these days to over-analyse, to label, which is constrictive. Gormley [see his ‘Another Place’, left] is talking principally about art, and art as a part of life, but I think his words also apply to books and the publishing industry. The fixation of booksellers and publishers with genre, sequels, celebrity names, with which section a book will sit within, means many authors with non-traditional, non-genre, stand-alone novels are being over-looked. I made the mistake in a letter to a prospective agent of describing my novel ‘Ignoring Gravity’ as being about a ‘detective of identities’ who researches the family history of an adopted girl. The rejection letter said the novel was too long for a detective novel. To say this missed the point is
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Categories: On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 16… ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Spring 1521. I could hear a roll of muffled drums. But I could see nothing but the lacing on the bodice of the lady standing in front of me, blocking my view of the scaffold. I had been at this court for more than a year and attended hundreds of festivities; but never before one like this.” ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ by Philippa Gregory  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Cement Garden’ by Ian McEwan ‘Midnight’s Children’ by Salman Rushdie ‘Herzog’ by Saul Bellow And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #FirstPara which makes me want to read more: THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL by @PhilippaGBooks #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-eI via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

I agree with… Rachel Cusk

Rachel Cusk “It takes a particular kind of courage to write memoir. All writing – all creativity – involves self-exposure, but in memoir the exposure is twofold. The self is both subject and author, and as authors we are duty-bound to treat our subjects with the greatest possible objectivity. Is it possible, or even desirable, to be truly objective about oneself? And what value does that objectivity, if achieved, have for the reader?” [Rachel Cusk, in an interview at ‘Mslexia’ magazine] I’ve always been too intimidated to attempt memoir, though I have used my experiences in my fiction particularly for setting. But I do agree that all creativity must involve self-exposure, or be weaker for the omission. Surely in order to write, we have to be self-aware and with that self-awareness comes objectivity? If you agree with Rachel Cusk, perhaps you will agree with:- Lizzie Enfield – on women’s revenge Antony Gormley – everybody says what does it mean, but what does life mean? Joanne Harris – I’ve always read, and I’ve always written   ‘Outline’ by Rachel Cusk [UK: Thorndike] Read my review of Outline. And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested
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Categories: On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 15… ‘Spies’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The third week of June, and there it is again: the same almost embarrassingly familiar breath of sweetness that comes every year about this time. I catch it on the warm evening air as I walk past the well-ordered gardens in my quiet street, and for a moment I’m a child again and everything’s before me – all the frightening, half-understood promise of life.” ‘Spies’ by Michael Frayn  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Brighton Rock’ by Graham Greene ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’ by Haruki Murakami And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #FirstPara which makes me want to read more: SPIES by Michael Frayn #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-61 via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 14… ‘Rebecca’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.” ‘Rebecca’ Daphne du Maurier  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Sacred Hearts’ by Sarah Dunant ‘The Sea The Sea’ by Iris Murdoch ‘True Grit’ by Charles Portis And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #FirstPara which makes me want to read more: REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-8c via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

A book I love… Any Human Heart

I go back a long way with William Boyd to A Good Man in Africa and An Ice-Cream War. He is a consummate storyteller. But it was Brazzaville Beach that shocked me and made me a fan. I came late to Any Human Heart, I don’t know why. Logan Mountstuart is a fragile everyman who lives through a momentous century who gets involved in history but in off-key ways. I was locked into the story from the beginning with the three boys at school and their challenges to each other: a nifty device of differentiating the three characters. See my review of Sweet Caress. ‘Any Human Heart’ by William Boyd [UK: Penguin] And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: ANY HUMAN HEART by William Boyd #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-gf via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 13… ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Sunday 1 January. 9st 3 [but post-Christmas], alcohol units 14 [but effectively covers 2 days as 4 hours of party was on New Year’s Day], cigarettes 22, calories 5424.” ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ by Helen Fielding Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Moon Tiger’ by Penelope Lively ‘Freedom’ by Jonathan Franzen ‘The Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #FirstPara which makes me want to read more: BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY by Helen Fielding #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-7S via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 12… ‘In Cold Blood’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there’. Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West. The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang, ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes. The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveller reaches them.” ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Fortunes of War’ by Olivia Manning ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ by Thomas Hardy ‘Divisadero’ by Michael Ondaatje And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #FirstPara which makes me want to read more: IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-7C via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

I agree with Lucian Freud…

Lucian Freud “I think half the point of painting a picture is that you don’t know what will happen. Perhaps if painters did know how it was going to turn out they wouldn’t bother actually to do it. Painting is rather like those recipes where you do all manner of elaborate things to a duck, and then end up putting it on one side and using only the skin.” [excerpt from ‘Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud’ by Martin Gayford] It reminds me of a quote I picked up years ago about writing that has stuck with me. I copied it onto a Post-It note and stuck it on the whiteboard behind my computer. ‘If the chapter’s about what you think it’s about, it’s rubbish.’  I may paraphrase so apologies to whoever it was that first said it, but I think I’ve got the meaning about right. Part of the enjoyment of writing, for me, is creating characters then putting them into situations and seeing how they react. I do write a story plan, but it is constantly being revised as my characters take charge of their lives. If the story plan remains
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Categories: On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 11… ‘Brighton Rock’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him. With his inky fingers and his bitten nails, his manner cynical and nervous, anybody could tell he didn’t belong – belong to the early summer sun, the cool Whitsun wind off the sea, the holiday crowd. They came in by train from Victoria every five minutes, rocked down Queen’s Road standing on the tops of the little local trams, stepped off in bewildered multitudes into fresh and glittering air: the new silver paint sparkled on the piers, the cream houses ran away into the west like a pale Victorian water-colour; a race in miniature motors, a band playing, flower gardens in bloom below the front, an aeroplane advertising something for the health in pale vanishing clouds across the sky.” ‘Brighton Rock’ by Graham Greene  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Norwegian Wood’ by Haruki Murakami ‘Enduring Love’ by Ian McEwan ‘True Grit’ by Charles Portis And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A 1st para which makes me want to read more: BRIGHTON ROCK by Graham Greene #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-7M via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

I agree with Dorothea Brande…

Dorothea Brande “The unconscious is shy, elusive, and unwieldy, but it is possible to learn to tap it at will, and even to direct it. The conscious mind is meddlesome, opinionated, and arrogant, but it can be made subservient to the inborn talent through training. By isolating as far as possible the functions of these two sides of the mind, even by considering them not merely as aspects of the same mind but as separate personalities, we can arrive at a kind of working metaphor, impossible to confuse with reality, but infinitely helpful in self-education.” ‘excerpt from ‘Becoming a Writer’ by Dorothea Brande]  I’m still working on isolating the two sides of my mind. Being a journalist by training does have its benefits – writing as a daily routine, working to a deadline etc – but freeing my unconscious mind is still a work in progress. But I have come a long way from that first creative writing class where I struggled to write a description of a bridge [belated thanks to my tutor Nina Rapi for her patience!]. If you agree with Dorothea Brande, perhaps you will agree with:- Janice Galloway – write about the credible now and the implied
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Categories: On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 10… ‘Sacred Hearts’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Before the screaming starts, the night silence of the convent is alive with its own particular sounds.” ‘Sacred Hearts’ by Sarah Dunant  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘A Farewell to Arms’ by Ernest Hemingway ‘Time Will Darken It’ by William Maxwell ‘Nineteen Minutes’ by Jodi Picoult And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A 1st para which makes me want to read more: SACRED HEARTS by Sarah Dunant #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-f0 via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 9… ‘Slaughterhouse 5’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“All this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true. One guy I knew really was shot in Dresden for taking a teapot that wasn’t his. Another guy I knew really did threaten to have his personal enemies killed by hired gunmen after the war. And so on. I’ve changed all the names.” ‘Slaughterhouse 5’ by Kurt Vonnegut Jr Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Spies’ by Michael Frayn ‘Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World’ by Haruki Murakami ‘Bel Canto’ by Ann Patchett And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A 1st para which makes me want to read more: SLAUGHTERHOUSE 5 by Kurt Vonnegut Jr #amwriting http://wp.me/p5gEM4-eX via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

I agree with Lynn Barber…

Lynn Barber “At Vanity Fair I had to ‘pitch ideas’ and then go through layers of editors, all of whom asked what my ‘angle’ was going to be. I have always deeply hated and resented this question. If you have an angle on someone, it means you have already decided what to write before you meet, so you really might as well not bother interviewing them.” [excerpt from ‘An Education’ by Lynn Barber] As a journalist, I hated that question too. And I find the same principle applies to writing fiction. It’s good to have a vague plan at the beginning, but it is good to change that plan as you write as the characters and story develop. Predictable = boring. It’s good when your characters start surprising you. If you agree with Lynn Barber, perhaps you will agree with:- Truman Capote – learn the rules then re-arrange them to suit yourself Roddy Doyle – learn the rules then re-arrange them to suit yourself Sarah Hilary – research can become an obsession – and a distraction   ‘An Education’ by Lynn Barber [UK: Penguin] And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Don’t
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Categories: On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 8… ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“I was born twice. First in a wooden room that jutted out over the black water of the Thames, and then again eight years later in the Highway, when the tiger took me in his mouth and everything truly began.” ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ by Carol Birch  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Guest Cat’ by Takashi Hiraide ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind ‘The Ghost’ by Robert Harris Read my review of Orphans of the Carnival, also by Carol Birch. And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Does this make you want more? JAMRACH’S MENAGERIE by @CarolBirch http://wp.me/p5gEM4-ea via @SandraDanby #amwriting
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.