Archives for On Writing

#FlashPIC 24 Cable #writingprompt #amwriting #writetip

Plotting is often the nuts and bolts part of writing a novel which a writer may be tempted to ‘allow to sort itself out’. But without plot, the reader will not want to turn the page. There are two key questions which keep the reader reading: Suspense [where the answer lies in the future], and Mystery [looking backwards into the past for the answer]. As part of the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series, here is a FlashPIC prompt to kickstart your plotting for a novel, short story or flash fiction story. This is the fixing of an industrial cable, a common type used in construction of a biggest buildings. It carries a heavy load. It is designed by engineers, specified by architects and installed by construction workers. As a plot device, the cable can supply the reason for a crucial turning point in the storyline. Imagine a setting which features a construction project or a famous building. Add characters [maximum three]. Assume that the cable in the photograph is faulty. Work out a plot in which the faulty cable causes something to happen. Now write your plot in no more than five bullet points. For example, here’s a rather simple idea: Architect designs
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

My Porridge & Cream read: Caroline James

Today I’m delighted to welcome romance novelist Caroline James. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett. “First published in 1908 and set in the fictional town of Bursley in the Potteries, it traces the lives of two sisters, shy Constance and romantic Sophia, who are born into a secure world, supported by their parent’s drapery business. “I first discovered this book when I was a young girl working in London. My flat mates were into Jilly Cooper novels and couldn’t understand why I was reading such ‘an old book’. I was born close to the area where the narrative takes place and grew up on the borders of the five towns that comprise Stoke-on-Trent. As I read, I remember feeling that I was in a time warp, fantasising that I had walked the same streets as the sisters. “I have always been in awe of Bennett’s writing. A male author who writes with such knowledge and clarity from a female perspective. The prose is exquisite and he makes every word count. Over the years, when far away from home, I re-read The Old Wives’ Tale. Despite being a period setting, written over a century
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 101… ‘A Farewell to Arms’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swifly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterwards the road bare and white except for the leaves.” ‘A Farewell to Arms’ by Ernest Hemingway  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ by Carol Birch ‘Slaughterhouse 5’ by Kurt Vonnegut Jr ‘Sacred Hearts’ by Sarah Dunant And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2s3
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Sara Baume writes

Sara Baume ‘… something like, it’s a girl-going-mad novel, structured around roadkill and interspersed with descriptions of contemporary art.” [when asked what her next novel was about, in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, November 11, 2016] Every novelist will recognize this panic when put on the spot. The brain empties and your carefully thought-through second novel becomes a blur. At the time she was asked this question, Sara Baume was in Ireland talking to an audience about her 2015 debut and Costa First Novel shortlisted Spill Simmer Falter Wither. The ‘girl-going-mad’ novel, titled A Line Made by Walking, was published earlier this year. Perhaps without realizing, Baume may have been confusing herself as the girl-going-mad with the character of Frankie. It is an autobiographical novel based on a difficult time in Baume’s life; she had graduated from art school in Dublin into a climate with no jobs. The novel is ‘true and not true,’ she explains. ‘It’s based in truth but then there was a point at which I realized that Frankie had become her own person…. She’s an art graduate and she’s trying to be an artist. It beings as an exercise to try and remember the things
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 23 Deckchairs #writingprompt #amwriting

Dialogue is a writing technique which rewards practice, patience and observation. Reading aloud helps too. So today’s writing tip is a two-hander, two characters only, pure dialogue. From the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series, here is a FlashPIC writing prompt to inspire a conversation for a piece of flash fiction. There are two alternative ways to start this exercise:- 1 Choose your two characters. They could be based on someone you know, a character you have already created, a character you are working on, or celebrities. Mis-matched personalities yield the most conflict and liveliest dialogue. Do not pre-judge whether their conversation will be funny, quickfire, sparse or argumentative. Or 2 Choose the location of your deckchairs and work out why your two characters are there. Do they know each other, have they arranged to meet, or are they strangers? Now, seat your characters in their deckchairs. Each character should, in turn, introduce himself. Find something for them to agree about… And something for them to disagree about. And let the conversation develop naturally. Do not worry about punctuation, simply start a new line to indicate change of voice. Finally, incorporate these characters and their dialogue into a flash fiction story. © ‘Writers’
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 100… ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly – Tom’s Aunt Polly , she is – and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.” ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Diary of an Ordinary Woman’ by Margaret Forster ‘A Passage to India’ by EM Forster ‘Astonishing Splashes of Colour’ by Clare Morrall And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2qJ
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 99… ‘Couples’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“‘What did you make of the new couple?’ The Hanemas, Piet and Angela, were undressing. Their bed-chamber was a low-ceilinged colonial room whose woodwork was painted the shade of off-white commercially called eggshell. A spring midnight pressed on the cold windows.” ‘Couples’ by John Updike  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Queen Camilla’ by Sue Townsend ‘Vanishing Acts’ by Jodi Picoult ‘True Grit’ by Charles Portis And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: COUPLES by John Updike #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2qE
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

My Porridge & Cream read: Catherine Hokin

Today I’m delighted to welcome historical novelist Catherine Hokin. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Wise Children by Angela Carter. “I am not a great re-reader of books, I have enough trouble keeping up with the growing list of ones I still haven’t got round to, but Wise Children is a wonderful exception. I first encountered Angela Carter when someone gave me a copy of The Magic Toyshop at university and I fell in love with her off-centre way for looking at the world. When Wise Children came out in 1991 I was newly at home with my first child, somewhat in shock and needing an escape route to a world very different from the one I was muddling my way through.The novel focuses on the twin Chance sisters, Dora and Nora, their mad theatrical family and their romp through musical hall, early Hollywood and aging disgracefully. It combines fairy tales, Shakespeare, magical realism and brilliant characters and is funny, sad and wicked in equal measure. I have read it many times, it is so multi-layered there is always something new to find, and am usually drawn back to it when I want to be reminded how good writing can
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Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Porridge & Cream.

#FlashPIC 21 Two Empty Glasses #writingprompt #amwriting

Here’s a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series to help you start the day off well… before your mind is stressed with deadlines and ‘not working’, allow your thoughts to slow down. Let your imagination do the work and turn this into a flash fiction piece. 1 Study the photograph for 60 seconds then put it aside. 2 Write down every word or phrase which you can recall about it. These can include descriptions, feelings, dialogue, expectations, presumptions, colours, smells and noise. 3 Work out a beginning, middle and end for a short story. 4 Write 500-800 words. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Plastic Bag Stairs to who knows where Moon rocks 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 of fiction, any genre, novels,
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 98… ‘Armadillo’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“In these times of ours – and we don’t need to be precise about the exact date – but, anyway, very early in the year, a young man not much over thirty, tall – six feet plus an inch or two – with ink-dark hair and a serious-looking, fine-featured but pallid face, went to keep a business appointment and discovered a hanged man.” ‘Armadillo’ by William Boyd  Amazon Read my reviews of these other books by William Boyd – Any Human Heart, Sweet Caress, The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth, and Love is Blind. Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘A Change of Climate’ by Hilary Mantel ‘Jack Maggs’ by Peter Carey ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: ARMADILLO by William Boyd #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2qA
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 20 Rubbish Bin #writingprompt #amwriting

One rubbish bin is much like another rubbish bin, isn’t it? Yes… except for its location, the time of day, the weather, the people passing by. Consider writing a short story which takes place around a rubbish bin or in which a rubbish bin plays an important part. Here’s a FlashPIC writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series to start writing now. Choose three of the situations below, and write a paragraph for each. Then concentrate on one, and write 500 words:- An argument takes place beside the rubbish bin; A crime happens nearby; A homeless person meets someone he didn’t expect beside the bin; A passer-by finds something strange in the bin; Two strangers agree to meet on a street corner, near the bin; A spy uses this rubbish bin as a dead-drop, but someone else finds his package first; A bird nests in the bin; An uncared-for, un-emptied bin is adopted by a schoolgirl who lives nearby. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Coffee Shop Belisha Beacon Death Valley 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
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 97… ‘The Curious Incident…’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears’ house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead. There was a garden fork sticking out of the dog. The points of the fork must have gone all the way through the dog and into the ground because the fork had not fallen over. I decided that the dog was probably killed with the fork because I could not see any other wounds in the dog and I do not think you would stick a garden fork into a dog after it had died for some other reason, like cancer for example, or a road accident. But I could not be certain about this.” ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ by Mark Haddon  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Brighton Rock’ by Graham Greene ‘Spies’ by Michael Frayn ‘Bel Canto’ by Anne Patchett And if
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Follow me at Pinterest… Twiggy, the Sixties, fashions & music

Above my desk I have a large whiteboard, stuck to it with Blu-Tak is an assortment of photos, postcards and magazine clippings. Some are faces of people I have adopted as one of my characters, others are of a place or a specific time – music, fashions such as Twiggy, cars, shopping – some are faces of adoptees. Now I also collect all these visual references on Pinterest. You can see my Pinterest board for Ignoring Gravity here.  The board for Connectedness will go online later this year. ‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Buy the paperback and ebook of Ignoring Gravity  at Amazon UK and Amazon US. And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Using Pinterest as a visual resource when #writing via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2zb
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 19 The Meaning of Purple #writingprompt #amwriting

It is said that every person, at least once in their life, experiences a life-changing moment. An epiphany. Fight writers’ block with the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series; here is a FlashPIC writing prompt to kickstart a character study or flash fiction story. You choose the person’s gender, age, name, background, personality, the place, the time of day. Until today, your character has only been able to see in black and white. And then, he/she sees a flower, a glorious purple flower. A rhododendron. And he/she knows it is purple. Write a paragraph about each of the following, either first person or third:- The instant emotion when he/she realizes the flower is coloured; The secondary reaction, will it last, did I really see it? The character’s life before today; What he/she thinks the colour purple looks like – before and after; The significance of purple; What will my future be like? How will my mother/father/wife/closest relative/best friend react? And then look for conflict in the situation. Once you add conflict, it gets interesting. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Feet Cranes on the skyline Beach What are ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to help you put words
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 96… ‘The Secret History’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Does such a thing as ‘the fatal flaw,’ that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.” ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt  Amazon Read my review of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Herzog’ by Saul Bellow ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote ‘The Murder Room’ by PD James And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: THE SECRET HISTORY by @DonnaTartt #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2qp
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 95… ‘Perfume’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages. His story will be told here. His name was Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, and if his name – in contrast to the names of other gifted abominations, de Sade’s, for instance, or Stain-Just’s, Fouché’s, Bonaparte’s, etc. – has been forgotten today, it is certainly not because Grenouille fell short of those more famous blackguards when it came to arrogance, misanthropy, immortality, or, more succinctly, wickedness, but because his gifts and his sole ambition were restricted to a domain that leaves no traces in history: to the fleeting realm of smell.” ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Süskind  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Mara and Dann’ by Doris Lessing ‘A Bouquet of Barbed Wire’ by Andrea Newman ‘The Last Tycoon’ by F Scott Fitzgerald And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: PERFUME by Patrick Süskind #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2ql
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Mary Gaitskill writes

Mary Gaitskill “It wasn’t fast, partly because I had to learn to ride horses in order to write it.” [on writing ‘The Mare’, in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine] American writer Mary Gaitskill is well-known in her native land, but has passed under the radar in the UK. Her third novel, The Mare, may change things. Velvet is a streetwise 11-year old Dominican girl living with her single mother and younger brother in a tiny apartment in a deprived part of Brooklyn. Eligible for the Fresh Air Fund, Velvet takes a free summer holiday with Ginger and Paul and discovers the stables next door. There she is entranced by a mare, a rescue horse called Fiery Girl. As Velvet is besotted with the horse, so Ginger becomes besotted by the child. Gaitskill’s original idea was for a film, not a novel. She wrote a 30-page treatment in 2007 and sent it to her agent who said it wouldn’t work because it didn’t know if it was either a dark, gritty story or a Walt Disney story. Gaitskill said she wanted it to be both. She tried to forget about it, but couldn’t, wrote 50 pages and kept writing. She
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Categories: On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 94… ‘Tipping the Velvet’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Have you ever tasted a Whitstable oyster? If you have, you will remember it. Some quirk of the Kentish coastline makes Whitstable natives – as they are properly called – the largest and the juiciest, the savouriest yet the subtlest, oysters in the whole of England. Whitstable oysters are, quite rightly, famous. The French, who are known for their sensitive palates, regularly cross the Channel for them; they are shipping, in barrels of ice, to the dining-tables of Hamburg and Berlin. Why, the King himself, I heard, makes special trips to Whitstable with Mrs Keppel, to eat oyster suppers in a private hotel; and as for the old Queen – she dined on a native a day [or so they say] till the day she died.” ‘Tipping the Velvet’ by Sarah Waters Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Mara and Dann’ by Doris Lessing ‘Lucky You’ by Carl Hiasson ‘Middlesex’ by Jeffrey Eugenides And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: TIPPING THE VELVET by Sarah Waters @ViragoBooks #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2lj
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 18 Hotel Corridor #writingprompt #amwriting

Every hotel has two version of daily life: that of its guests, and its staff. This hotel corridor could be anywhere, it could be the first floor or the penthouse, in Edinburgh, Paris or Hong Kong. Here is a FlashPIC writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series to help you beat writers’ block today. This exercise examines how two different people can be in the same place, and see something entirely different. Write two personalities, who see this corridor for the first time. One is a hotel guest, the other a maid on her first day at work. What do they think when they get out of the lift and walk down this corridor? Do they actually meet and exchange conversation? Then something happens which brings the two together in a way they could never have forseen – comedy, tragedy, theft, explosion, accident, illness: you decide. Start small, and work up. First of all, write one paragraph sketching the character of each person. Next, put each character into their individual setting. Now, make the two meet. What happens next? © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Cranes on the skyline Arrivals board at Waterloo Station Train Window
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

My Porridge & Cream read: Tracey Sinclair

Today I’m delighted to welcome vampire novelist Tracey Sinclair. “First, a disclaimer: my usual comfort read is generally Terry Pratchett, whose novels I regularly turn to if I’m feeling low or just want a bit of a ‘palette cleanse’ between reads – I’m a big fan of the humanity, humour and decency in his books and they invariably boost my mood. But Rhoda Baxter beat me to that! So I’m going with another choice: Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos – a book I love so much I named one of my characters after the author. I studied it at university in the 90s (it’s one of the few books I’ve read in French and English, back when I was capable of reading more than a menu in French!). The edition I prefer is the Penguin Classic, translated by PWK Stone. I probably go back to it every couple of years, more if I’m prompted by seeing the film on TV. I usually give myself long enough to forget the intricacies of the plot (which is far more complicated and satisfying than the movie) so I can enjoy its richness again. It’s a book to read when I want to be amused and
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Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Porridge & Cream.