Archives for On Writing

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.

Great Opening Paragraph 107… ‘Such a Long Journey’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The first light of morning barely illuminated the sky as Gustad Noble faced eastwards to offer his orisons to Ahura Mazda. The hour was approaching six, and up in the compound’s solitary tree the sparrows began to call. Gustad listened to their chirping every morning while reciting his kusti prayers. There was something reassuring about it. Always, the sparrows were first; the cawing of the crows came later.” ‘Such a Long Journey’ by Rohinton Mistry  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain ‘Illywhacker’ by Peter Carey ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: SUCH A LONG JOURNEY by Rohinton Mistry #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xt
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Some Points of View about Points of View… by author Claire Dyer

Welcome to novelist Claire Dyer whose third novel The Last Day juggles the viewpoints of three characters. Here she reveals how a change of viewpoint, between drafts, liberated the characters and energised the story.  “Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog. It is a huge treat to be able to talk about points of view. One very kind reviewer recently said about The Last Day that ‘creating one authentic character is hard enough but to create three is remarkable …’ And I must admit that I loved every minute I spent in the company of all three people in the book, but I have to confess I didn’t plan the novel the way it turned out. “As I wrote, each person’s story evolved and, when I finished the second draft, my agent and I agreed that I should switch viewpoints so that Honey, who was in the first person, should be in the third, and Vita, who was in the third, should switch to the first person. This was a real labour of love! It almost sent me boggle-eyed as I changed every pronoun and every verb of their narratives. But it was worth it because, by
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 28 These Feet Were Made for Walking #writingprompt #amwriting

There are no two identical pairs of feet in the world. Picture someone’s feet and work out what they say about that person. Their age, their sex, their position in life, barefoot or shod, high heels or flat, boots or sandals, plain or embellished, plastic or leather, polished toenails or horny protrusions? Here is a FlashPIC writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series to help your daily writing process. These are the feet of commuters in London. They are rushing, impatient, purposeful, late. If you have an existing character, simply think of their feet. If not, consider the circumstances of the photo and put a new character into the jostle and impatience of the morning commute to work. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Stairs to Who Knows Where Deckchairs Orange Railings 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
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 106… ‘A Month in the Country’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“When the train stopped I stumbled out, nudging and kicking the kitbag before me. Back down the platform someone was calling despairingly, ‘Oxgodby… Oxgodby.’ No-one offered a hand, so I climbed back into the compartment, stumbling over ankles and feet to get at the fish-bass (on the rack) and my folding camp-bed (under the seat). If this was a fair sample of northerners, then this was enemy country so I wasn’t too careful where I put my boots. I heard one chap draw in his breath and another grunt: neither spoke.’ ‘A Month in the Country’ by JL Carr Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ by SJ Watson ‘Spies’ by Michael Frayn ‘Midnight’s Children’ by Salman Rushdie And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY by JL Carr #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xo SaveSave
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Famous writers, writing… James Patterson

James Patterson is not an author I’m really familiar with, apart from knowing he writes hugely successful crime thrillers and mysteries. And then I heard that he is one of those authors who gives back… with grants to independent bookshops in the USA and UK, and also in literary programmes to encourage adults and children to read. In the UK he formed a partnership with the National Literacy Trust, an independent charity that aims to change lives through literacy.  If, like me, you are unfamiliar with James Patterson, here are a few facts:- By January 2016, he had sold 350 million books worldwide; He doesn’t just write thrillers, but also children’s, middle-grade and young adult fiction; His first novel The Thomas Berryman Number was published in 1976 while he worked for advertising agency J Walter Thompson. It was turned down by 31 publishers, and finally won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. And so here’s a photo of Patterson at work… judging by the palm trees outside the window, he must be at home in Palm Beach, Florida.   ‘The Thomas Berryman Number’ by James Patterson [UK: Arrow] See these other famous people, reading & writing:- John Updike Peter
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Categories: On Writing.

How Tessa Hadley writes

Tessa Hadley ‘When I started I thought I wasn’t a person with a good memory but you tap into uncanny places where you have things saved up that you didn’t know you did until you got to that level. You don’t know until you have to, that the sandwiches were wrapped in greaseproof paper, not clingfilm.’ [in an interview with ‘The Times’ newspaper, January 17, 2017] Writing, for Tessa Hadley, is inextricably connected to memory. ‘Not precise memory but memory as a hunch and a feeling and an atmosphere.’ Like me, she had a shy childhood, one spent on the edge, watching, looking in, absorbing everything. She concentrates on getting the details right. ‘The whole texture of the work is the details of that world and no other. What was it like being a teacher living in a skinny dilapidated Georgian house in 1967? What colour did they paint the walls? What words would they have used when they were speaking to each other?’ She is wary of writing about things she doesn’t know. Hadley writes about domestic life and families. Her latest book is a collection of short stories, Bad Dreams and Other Stories. It was through writing short
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Categories: On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 105… ‘The Long Drop’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Monday 2 December. He knows too much to be an honest man but says he wants to help. He says he can get the gun for them. William Watt is keen to meet him. Laurence Dowdall has already met Peter Manuel several times. He never wants to see him again.” ‘The Long Drop’ by Denise Mina Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Divisadero’ by Michael Ondaatje ‘American Psycho’ by Brett Easton Ellis ‘Dance Dance Dance’ by Haruki Murakami And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: THE LONG DROP by Denise Mina #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2pN SaveSave
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 27 Push Button at Pedestrian Crossing #writingprompt #amwriting

How do you get the reader to turn the next page of your novel or short story? There’s a great quote about this by English author Charles Reade, author of The Cloister and the Hearth, about this: “Make ‘em laugh; make ‘em cry; make ‘em wait.” As part of the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series, here is a FlashPIC writing prompt to help you write a flash fiction story about waiting, either yourself or making someone else wait, and the nature of delay. Decide what happens next. Who pushes the button? What happens? Does that person witness something? Perhaps the person doesn’t stop to push the button, why? Think of your own five possibilities. Now work each idea into a paragraph outline for a short story. Choose one idea and calculate your beginning, middle and end. Write a short story of your chosen length. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Moon Rocks Anonymous People Beach 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
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

How Emma Flint writes

Emma Flint “I was obsessed with her for six years. I thought about her every single day, sometimes for hours every day… She is made up of shades of grey. She has got all these different aspects to her. I wanted to show that there’s no such thing as black and white in a real human being.” [ in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, October 7, 2016] Emma Flint is talking about Ruth, the central character of her debut novel Little Deaths. The story was inspired by a true crime case from the 1960s. Alice Crimmins, a New York mother, was accused of murdering her two children. Flint first read about the case twenty years ago in the weekly Murder Casebook magazine. Ruth and the nosey neighbour are based on real characters, the rest are made-up by Flint. She did most of her research online, including:- reading contemporary press coverage of the double murder; used Google Street View to wander down the streets of Queens; watched YouTube videos to nail the local accent. Crucially though, she used her own experience of growing up on the outskirts of Newcastle to add “that claustrophobia you get in a small suburb where
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 26 Beware Danger From High Tides Beyond #writingprompt #amwriting

This photograph is a short story waiting to be written. A woman and a child collect shells on a beach. Beside them, a sign warns of the dangers of high tides. From the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series, here is a FlashPIC writing prompt to help you write a short story, a brief flash fiction piece of only a few words, or something longer. You choose. Consider what might happen next. Write a list of five possibilities. Now work each idea into a paragraph outline for a short story. Choose one idea and calculate your beginning, middle and end. Write a short story of your chosen length. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Two Empty Glasses Feet Train Window 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, and flexible. Designed for writers
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

How Nicole Krauss writes

Nicole Krauss: “The only way I could write about these things was projecting them into the character of this old, isolated, charming but difficult man. I could express things that I simply couldn’t in my own skin, in my own life… I think that is what one is always doing as a writer. Not just self-expression, but something bigger than that, which is self-invention. In that process of self-invention you are expanding a portion of yourself… Writers are kind of like mockingbirds, in that they take what is interesting and shiny and useful from their own lives and they weave it into this tapestry that they’re making.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, May 19, 2017] I understand the mockingbird image, I prefer to think of myself as a magpie. I collect the glittering things, a word, an idea, an emotion, a photograph, and store them away. Perhaps more of a squirrel than a magpie, actually. Every now and then I turn out the contents of the tin – which is full of folded newspaper and magazine cuttings – and my old-fashioned index file – full of cards with sometimes a sentence or only one word written on them
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 104… ‘The Rainmaker’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“My decision to become a lawyer was irrevocably sealed when I realized by father hated the legal profession. I was a young teenager, clumsy, embarrassed by my awkwardness, frustrated with life, horrified of puberty, about to be shipped off to a military school by my father for insubordination. He was an ex-Marine who believed boys should live by the crack of the whip. I’d developed a quick tongue and an aversion to discipline, and his solution was simply to send me away. It was years before I forgave him.” ‘The Rainmaker’ by John Grisham  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Death in Summer’ by William Trevor ‘Lord Jim’ by Joseph Conrad ‘A Severed Head’ by Iris Murdoch And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: THE RAINMAKER by @JohnGrisham http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Vd #books via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Jilly Cooper writes

Jilly Cooper: “You have to be very careful not to use real people’s names by mistake, as they might sue you if they behave badly in the story… I find it safer to use towns and villages for surnames.” [in an interview with ‘The Times’ newspaper, May 15, 2017] Like Jilly, I like to use a road atlas to choose character names. Other useful sources are books of baby names, plants, trees, astrology, astronomy, and a world atlas. To avoid misunderstandings, it is wise to avoiding using a name which belongs to family or friends. Here are some quick rules:- Use alliterative initials: Bilbo Baggins, Severus Snape. If you are writing a historical novel, make sure your chosen name is correct for the era. Check your cast of characters to avoid the repetitive use of first initials, and vary the number of syllables. Say the name aloud, remember your book may become an audio book. Check the origins of the name and root meanings. If necessary, change the name or amend character traits and background appropriately. Adapt a name by combining two elements, for example Burton [village] and colour [green] to make Greenburton. Keep your names realistic, add a John
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Categories: On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 103… ‘The Guest Cat’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“At first it looked like low-lying ribbons of clouds just floating there, but then the clouds would be blown a little bit to the right and next to the left.” ‘The Guest Cat’ by Takashi Hiraide  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Couples’ by John Updike ‘Queen Camilla’ by Sue Townsend ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ by Carol Birch And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: THE GUEST CAT by Takashi Hiraide #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xk
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.