Archives for 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.

I agree with… Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel “I remember the first time I read Jane Eyre: probably every woman writer does, because you recognise, when you have hardly begun it, that you are reading a story about yourself.” [excerpt from Giving up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel] I remember the first time I read Jane Eyre too. I must have been about 12 or 13, and I still retain a clear picture in my mind of Jane and Helen cuddled together in a hard wooden bunk. I’m not sure I thought it was a story about me, though. If you agree with Hilary Mantel, perhaps you will agree with:- Frederick Forsyth – all authors are separate, taking notes, watching Antony Gormley – everybody says what does it mean, but what does life mean? Deborah McKinley – the lean years focussed me on what I really wanted   ‘Giving up the Ghost’ by Hilary Mantel [UK: Fourth Estate] And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Do you remember the 1st time you read JANE EYRE? Hilary Mantel does #writing via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-cQ
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 7… ‘The Big Sleep’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.” ‘The Big Sleep’ by Raymond Chandler  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Jack Maggs’ by Peter Carey ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell ‘The Secret Agent’ by Joseph Conrad And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Does this make you want more? THE BIG SLEEP by Raymond Chandler https://wp.me/p5gEM4-8B via @SandraDanby #amwriting
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Ideas at dawn

Like most writers, I keep a notepad and pen beside my bed. Sometimes an idea comes to me in the middle of the night, so I try silently to slide the drawer open, extract the book, and scribble in it in the dark without waking my husband. It’s interesting, the effect complete darkness has on your writing skill. Often when I read my notes, the next morning, my handwriting is double its normal size and slants alarmingly across the page. Ideas often come to me in that phase between dream and wakefulness, when the brain mixes up elements of memory, dreams and imagination and comes up with plot solutions. Some of my big plot decisions originate from notes taken on waking. It can be frustrating trying to stay in the zone, when your body is waking up. Sometimes I will try to extend the moment, screwing up my eyes to exclude light, and going deaf like a teenager ignoring the alarm ringing at 7am for school. In Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande advocates getting up an hour earlier than usual and writing before doing anything else, and particularly before reading anything. Write about whatever is in your head, she says.
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Categories: On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 6… ‘Goldfinger’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“James Bond, with two double bourbons inside him, sat in the final departure lounge of Miami Airport and thought about life and death.” ‘Goldfinger’ by Ian Fleming Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Murder Room’ by PD James ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche ‘Couples’ by John Updike And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Does this make you want more? GOLDFINGER by Ian Fleming http://wp.me/p5gEM4-7F via @SandraDanby #amwriting
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 5… ‘Moon Tiger’ #amwriting #FirstPara

” ‘I’m writing a history of the world,’ she says. And the hands of the nurse are arrested for a moment; she looks down at this old woman, this old ill woman. ‘Well, my goodness,’ the nurse says. ‘That’s quite a thing to be doing, isn’t it?’ And then she becomes busy again, she heaves and tucks and smooths – ‘Upsy a bit, dear, that’s a good girl – then we’ll get you a cup of tea.’ ” ‘Moon Tiger’ by Penelope Lively  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Spies’ by Michael Frayn ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue ‘After You’d Gone’ by Maggie O’Farrell       Here is my old copy of Moon Tiger, well-read and much-loved. And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: MOON TIGER by Penelope Lively via @SandraDanby #amreading http://wp.me/p5gEM4-7w
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Reading for research: Man with a Blue Scarf

I am writing this in Spain where our internet connection has been intermittent for the last few days. We live in such a rural place that our telephone and internet are by satellite not land line and both are unpredictable. So, unable to blog, there should be no feasible distractions from the process of writing. The weather here is foul – cold and wet, yes in Andalucía! – so I hunker down in front of the fire with a book that’s been sitting on my bookshelf here for a while. I’m reading about art and artists, as on-going research for my current novel, Connectedness. Having read last summer The Yellow House by Martin Gayford, the story of Van Gogh’s stay at Arles in the South of France when he painted the Sunflowers series, I would read anything he writes. Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud is a diary kept by Gayford as he sat for a portrait in Freud’s studio from 2003-2005. The book made headlines when published in 2010 because Freud was initially dissatisfied with the portrait. He couldn’t get the blue of the scarf right. Gayford finally admitted there were two scarves he
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Categories: Book Love, On Researching and On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 4… ‘Sophie’s World’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Sophie Amundsen was on her way home from school. She had walked the first part of the way with Joanna. They had been discussing robots. Joanna thought the human brain was like an advanced computer. Sophie was not certain she agreed. Surely a person was more than a piece of hardware?” ‘Sophie’s World’ by Jostein Gaarder Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’ by Carson McCullers ‘The Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes ‘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: SOPHIE’S WORLD by Jostein Gaarder http://wp.me/p5gEM4-4S via @SandraDanby #amreading
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

I agree with Stephen King…

Stephen King “Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognise them when they show up.” [excerpt from ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King]  He’s right. Ideas come at me all the time, doing the most prosaic things. Doing the washing-up, queuing to park at the supermarket, wandering around an art gallery, sitting in a traffic jam. The fun starts when I realize two [or three] bits belong together. It doesn’t work if I force things to fit, so I’ve had to learn to be patient and let things be for a while. Some of my ideas have been kept for years until they find the right home. When a character finds a setting, a setting finds a story, a name in the newspaper fits a so far unnamed character, the resulting buzz is incredible.   ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King [UK: Hodder] If you
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Categories: On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 3… ‘Herzog’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.” ‘Herzog’ by Saul Bellow Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Enduring Love’ by Ian McKewan ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: HERZOG by Saul Bellow http://wp.me/p5gEM4-4G via @SandraDanby #books
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: The Last Runaway

Tracy Chevalier is so skilled at getting under the skin of the protagonist in a specific period whether it’s a 19th century fossil collector or a 15th century Belgian weaver, you always believe her. Honor Bright is a real person from page 1 of The Last Runaway and you are rooting for her. The book tackles a difficult subject: the rights and wrongs of helping escaping slaves, and the moral issue this poses for Ohio’s Quakers. Honor struggles to understand this sometimes frightening new country with its huge skies and geometrical roads, forthright people and different social rules. Even the air seems strange. “I feel when I am in it as if the air around me has shifted and is not the same air I breathed and moved in back in England, but is some other substance,” she writes to her parents. Chevalier does her research thoroughly, but feels no need to wave the depth of her research in her reader’s face. Instead it informs every simple description. Woven throughout the book is Honor’s sewing of quilts. Even this is different in Ohio where Honor’s calm nature and precise sewing is admired by the local hat-wearing ladies, but her needle
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.