Archives for On Writing

Great Opening Paragraph 93… ‘Death in Summer’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“After the funeral the hiatus that tragedy brought takes a different form. The suddenness of the death has gone, irrelevant now. Thaddeus has stood and knelt in the church of St Nicholas, has heard his wife called good, the word he himself gave to a clergyman he has known all his life. People were present in the church who were strangers to him, who afterwards, in the house, introduced themselves as a few of Letitia’s friends from the time before he knew her. ‘And where is Letitia now?’ an undertaker a week ago inquired, confusing Thaddeus, who for a moment wondered if the man knew why he had been summoned. ‘It’s Letitia who has died,’ he said, and answered, when the man explained, that Letitia was in the mortuary, where she’d been taken.” ‘Death in Summer’ by William Trevor Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’ by Carson McCullers  ‘Astonishing Splashes of Colour’ by Clare Morrall  ‘The Crying of Lot 49’ by Thomas Pynchon  And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: DEATH IN SUMMER by William Trevor #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Vz
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Rose Tremain writes

Rose Tremain “The people who dismiss the idea of plot and character, who think you can dispense with them, I’d really suggest they find out how difficult it is. It just doesn’t happen. One of the seductive things of the novel is that you are borne along by it. What bears you along is the ‘what happens?’ Is the character going to be lost or saved? Happy or unhappy? All those human things we think about in our lives. If you’re not setting up jeopardy, if you’re not setting up conflict, love, humour you [will not] be borne along.” [in an interview with ‘The Times’, May 23, 2016] I agree wholeheartedly with Rose Tremain about the necessity of plot and character and have no love of experimental novels. A novel without plot and character is like a skeleton without a spine. A novel is, presumably, written to be read, to be enjoyed, to be re-read and recommended eagerly to friends. For this to happen the readers must care about your protagonist. If the reader doesn’t care, isn’t interested in the person – why he or she is as they are, what happens to them, why they take the decisions they
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Categories: On Writing.

Author Interview: Caroline James

The inspiration for So You Think You’re A Celebrity…Chef? by Caroline James was food, food and the television chef Keith Floyd. But having the inspiration is all well and good, turning ideas and research into a novel is a different. Here Caroline James explains how her research became the book. “I’ve spent my working life in the hospitality industry and have visited many food festivals both at home and abroad. One event that always stood out is the Annual Gourmet Food Festival in Kinsale, Southern Ireland. The TV chef Keith Floyd was a great inspiration to me and I knew that having been invited to the four-day gathering he made his home in this pretty little town and spent many years there. A period that he describes in his autobiography as the happiest of his life. I wanted to find out why Floyd took Kinsale to his heart and I was so taken with the charm of this pretty fishing port that the idea for my novel, So You Think You’re A Celebrity…Chef? was born. Located only sixteen miles south of Cork, on the south-east coast of Ireland, Kinsale is a picturesque and historic town. Hailed as the Gourmet Capital of
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Categories: On Researching and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 17 Stairs to Who Knows Where #writingprompt #amwriting

A spiral sweeping upwards to the sky, a slope to stride up and run down, flushed by the heat of the sun and blinded by reflections. As part of the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series, here is a FlashPIC photo to beat writers’ block – it could be used for a historical, timeslip or science fiction short story. Imagine… You are walking up the walkway at the Reichstag in Berlin, a guidebook is in your right hand, your right hand is pressed to the earphone in your ear as you listen to the audio guide; You imagine the craftsmen who built the original building, and the men who built the modern extension. The building was finished in 1894 after 10 years of construction. In 1994, architect Sir Norman Foster re-designed the damaged building and added the glass dome. As you stand and look at the view across Berlin, a Tall Man brushes past you, hurrying upstairs. Beneath his arm he carries large rolls of parchment. He is in a rush, his brow is sweaty. Outside, the Tiergarten is full of summer visitors. Overhead, you hear the drone of an airplane. It is a loud, guttural noise, unlike a modern airliner. The engine stutters,
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 92… ‘Back When we were Grown-Ups’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. She was fifty-three years old by then – a grandmother. Wide and soft and dimpled, with two short wings of dry, fair hair flaring almost horizontally from a center part. Laugh lines at the corners of her eyes. A loose and colourful style of dress edging dangerously close to Bag Lady. Give her credit: most people her age would say it was too late to make any changes. What’s done is done, they would say. No use trying to alter things at this late date. It did occur to Rebecca to say that. But she didn’t.” ‘Back When We Were Grown-Ups’ by Anne Tyler Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Couples’ by John Updike  ‘Jack Maggs’ by Peter Carey  ‘Norwegian Wood’ by Haruki Murakami    This is my old Chatto & Windus paperback edition, 2001 Read my reviews of Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread and Vinegar Girl. And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: BACK WHEN WE WERE GROWN-UPS by Anne Tyler #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Tg
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 91… ‘Before I Go to Sleep’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The bedroom is strange. Unfamiliar. I don’t know where I am, how I came to be here. I don’t know how I’m going to get home.” ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ by SJ Watson Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘True Grit’ by Charles Portis  ‘Sea Glass’ by Anita Shreve  ‘I’ll Take You There’ by Joyce Carol Oates  And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Does this make you want more? BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by @SJ_Watson #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Vw via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 16 St James Park, polite notice #writingprompt #amwriting

When you live in a place, you cease to see things. We all become victims of subjective vision. Try looking around you, at your everyday scene, as if you were a stranger. Take an ordinary object and start writing. Here’s a FlashPIC writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series. This is a sign from London’s St James Park, discouraging cyclists from leaving their bicycles. Try this scenario:- You are a student on holiday in London, this is your first visit; Choose a nationality, and decide how much English you can a) speak and b) read; You have your own bike and need to leave it unattended in the park, outside a park building for some reason [you decide what]; Do you ask for help? Ignore the sign? Walk away? Perhaps a passer-by stops to help? And what happens as a result of your actions? Are you arrested? Is your bike stolen? Write 500 words based on this photograph. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Beach Plastic bag Anonymous People 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,
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 90… ‘Queen Camilla’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, stood smoking a cheap cigarette on the back doorstep of Number Sixteen Hell Close. It was a cold afternoon in late summer. Occasionally she turned to watch her husband, Charles, the Prince of Wales, clattering the luncheon pots in the red washing-up bowl he’d bought on impulse that morning from the ‘Everything A Pound’ shop. He had borne the bowl home and presented it to her as though it were a precious religious artefact plundered from a sacked city.” ‘Queen Camilla’ by Sue Townsend  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote  ‘The Collector’ by John Fowles  ‘Lolita’ by Vladimir Nabokov  And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Does this make you want more? QUEEN CAMILLA by Sue Townsend #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Vr via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Robin Stevens writes

Robin Stevens “I do a massive spreadsheet of the murder, with the time of the murder and where everyone was in five-minute chunks leading up to it. It helps me get into the heads of the different characters, understand their motives and make sure their alibis work. Everybody has to be in the right place at the right time and all the clues have to be seeded.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, July 22, 2016] I wish Robin Stevens had been writing books when I was a child, I would have devoured them. My bookcase was full of Mallory Towers. The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, Arthur Ransome’s The Big Six and Agatha Christie. Apparently Stevens grew up reading the same books. Her detective series is very popular with eight to 12-year old girls. Her use of spreadsheets is interesting and I will try it out for my third novel, Sweet Joy. My novels are not crime stories, but they are about secrets and lies and it is essential to manage the twists and turns of the plot. Read more about Robin Stevens’ books at her website.   See how these other novelists write:- Rose Tremain Bill Clegg Tracy
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

My Porridge & Cream read: Claire Dyer

Today I’m delighted to welcome poet and romance novelist Claire Dyer. “My Porridge & Cream book is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows. I read this book when it was first published and return to it for a multitude of reasons. I guess the main one, however, is that it’s essentially about good people and reading it reminds me that there’s more goodness in the world than sometimes is apparent. The novel is set in 1946 and tells the story of author Juliet Ashton who stumbles into a correspondence with Dawsey Adams of Guersney. In this respect it reminds me of 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (another favourite). Dawsey is a member of The Guersney Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and, as letters fly back and forward between them, other members of the Society and Juliet’s friends and admirers in England, much is revealed about these good-hearted people and the lives of those who lived in Guernsey under German Occupation. On the surface it’s a light-hearted and easy read. The letters are jaunty, wry and funny and the correspondents nearly always put a positive spin on their hardships and
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Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Porridge & Cream.

#FlashPIC 15 Beach #writingprompt #amwriting

This photograph was taken in India but this beach could be anywhere. This FlashPIC writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series challenges the concept that things are not always as they seem. Empty your mind of preconceptions about beautiful beaches, your local beach, the beach you played on as a child. Without over-thinking, consider this beach to be a good place and write down 10-12 words. Now repeat the exercise, but look at the beach as bad. In what way it is bad is totally up to you: a bad memory, an accident, toxic water, an aggressive confrontation. Now write a short story using both views of the same beach. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Nothing of Value Left Overnight Red sign ‘Pedestrians’ Go! Anonymous People 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
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Japanese Maple’

Most of us came to Australian broadcaster Clive James via his witty television programmes and writings. In recent years he has turned again to poetry. It is four years now since he was diagnosed with ‘the lot’: with leukaemia, emphysema and kidney failure. Now his poetry is full of dying – reflections on life and death – and the poems are beautiful and incredibly moving. ‘Japanese Maple’ is about a tree, given to him by his daughter, and how witnessing the tree change through autumn signals a change for him. I defy you to listen to this, and not have moist eyes. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘Japanese Maple’ Your death, near now, is of an easy sort. So slow a fading out brings no real pain. Breath growing short Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain Of energy, but thought and sight remain: Click here to listen to Clive James read ‘Japanese Maple’ for the BBC. For recent poems by Clive James, visit his website here. Listen here to Clive James talk about ‘taking life slowly’ [Interview: Radio
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Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Poetry.

Great Opening Paragraph 89… ‘The Children Act’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“London. Trinity term one week old. Implacable June weather. Fiona Maye, a High Court judge, at home on Sunday evening, supine on a chaise longue, staring past her stockinged feet towards the end of the room, towards a partial view of recessed bookshelves by the fireplace and, to one side, by a tall window, a tiny Renoir lithograph of a bather, bought by her thirty years ago for fifty pounds. Probably a fake. Below it, centred on a round walnut table, a blue vase. No memory of how she came by it. Nor when she last put flowers in it. The fireplace not lit in a year. Blackened raindrops falling irregularly into the grate with a ticking sound against balled-up yellowing newsprint. A Bokhara rug spread on wide polished floorboards. Looming at the edge of vision, a baby grand piano bearing silver-framed family photos on its deep black whine. On the floor by the chaise lounge, within her reach, the draft of a judgment. And Fiona was on her back, wishing all this stuff at the bottom of the sea.” ‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan  Amazon Read my reviews of The Children Act and Nutshell. Try one of these 1st paras
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 14 Plastic Bag #writingprompt #amwriting

Here’s an everyday scene from any city. Use this FlashPIC writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series to kickstart a flash fiction story. Study this photograph. Describe the colour tones, the textures, the movement and the feeling of the breeze which is blowing the bag. Now use this situation either by putting yourself into the action, or by creating a storyline based on the photograph. Are you running after the bag, did it slip from your grasp and you must catch it, no matter what? What would it mean to you to lose the bag? Who are the people, the two dark shadows on left and right? While your eye is caught by the bag, are they closing in on you? Is their intention helpful, sinister, threatening? © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Feet Looking Over the Parapet Cranes on the Skyline 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
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Cover design: a new look for ‘Ignoring Gravity’

As the two-year anniversary of Ignoring Gravity’s publication approaches, it seemed timely to give it a fresh look. Connectedness, second in the ‘Rose Haldane: Identity Detective’ series will be published next year and I was keen for both books to have a co-ordinated image. That meant finding a new designer for both books and also third in the series, Sweet Joy [currently evolving]. Below is the existing cover which has been an important part of my branding as a debut author. Enter cover designer Jessica Bell, who sent me a long and very detailed questionnaire. This was an instructive process and made me re-consider my own vision of the book, no doubt evolved now since publication in November 2014. Jessica says her questionnaire enables her to construct the ‘perfect cover without having to read the book.’ In particular she highlighted my phrase: Trees/leaves/roots/growth are a constant metaphor throughout the series for family history/family tree. I would like the covers for each of the books to have a common theme. Something simple. Jessica explains: ‘This really sparked my ideas for this cover as I very much like ‘simple’ as well. I find that the less a reader’s eye has to focus on
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Categories: Book design, Book Love and On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 88… ‘To Have and Have Not’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“You know how it is there early in the morning in Havana with the bums still asleep against the walls of the buildings; before even the ice wagons come by with ice for the bars? Well, we came across the square from the dock to the Pearl of San Francisco Café to get coffee and there was only one beggar awake in the square and he was getting a drink out of the fountain. But when we got inside the café and sat down, there were three of them waiting for us.” ‘To Have and Have Not’ by Ernest Hemingway Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell  ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding  ‘Possession’ by AS Byatt  And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Does this make you want more? Hemingway’s TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Vm via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 87… ‘Time Will Darken It’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“In order to pay off an old debt that someone else had contracted, Austin King had said yes when he knew that he ought to have said no, and now at five o’clock of a July afternoon he saw the grinning face of trouble everywhere he turned. The house was full of strangers from Mississippi; within an hour, friends and neighbours invited to an evening party would begin ringing the doorbell; and his wife (whom he loved) was not speaking to him.” ‘Time Will Darken It’ by William Maxwell Amazon Click here to read my review of Time Will Darken It Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Such a Long Journey’ by Rohinton Mistry  ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ by Mark Haddon  ‘Death in Summer’ by William Trevor  And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A 1st para which makes you want more: TIME WILL DARKEN IT by William Maxwell http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Vh Chosen by @SandraDanby #novels
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 13 Train Window #writingprompt #amwriting

This is the view from a fast-moving train. Here is a FlashPIC writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters  series to inspire you today. Study this photograph. How does it make you feel? The blurring gives a strong sense of motion. Close your eyes and concentrate on how you feel, are your senses heightened, or does dizziness dominate? Describe how you feel in one paragraph. From that paragraph, pull out three key words, and write 1-2 sentences about each. Using the sensations you experienced, give them to a character caught on the edge of speed – standing on a motorway bridge, balancing on rocks beside a fast-flowing river, waiting at the kerb to cross the road as racing cyclists fly by. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Coffee Shop Death Valley Looking Over the Parapet 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
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

How Tracy Chevalier writes

Tracy Chevalier “My husband, Jonathan, is a trustee of the Woodland Trust; he’s been going on about them [trees] for years. Slowly, it’s sunk in.” [in an interview with the ‘Sunday Times Magazine’, March 6, 2016] Sometimes, as a novelist, true life ends up creeping into the story without you realizing it. Tracy Chevalier is a go-to author for me. She has always written from life and has been described as a ‘method writer’ as a reflection of the depths to which she will research a subject. Famously she explored Victorian attitudes to death for her novel Fallen Angels by becoming a tour guide in Highgate Cemetery in London, and studied weaving for The Lady and the Unicorn. So I wasn’t surprised to read her quote about trees. She is referring to her latest novel, At the Edge of the Orchard. In 1830s Ohio, James Goodenough and his wife Sadie argue about which type of apple trees to plan. He wants sweet apples for eating, she wants sour for cider. Read my reviews of Tracy Chevalier’s other novels:- The Last Runaway At the Edge of the Orchard Read more about Tracy Chevalier’s novels at her website. See how these other
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 86… ‘The Ghost’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The moment I heard how McAra died I should have walked away. I can see that now. I should have said, ‘Rick, I’m sorry, this isn’t for me, I don’t like the sound of it,’ finished my drink and left. But he was such a good storyteller, Rick – I often thought he should have been the writer and I the literary agent – that once he’d started talking there was never any question I wouldn’t listen, and by the time he had finished, I was hooked. ‘The Ghost’ by Robert Harris Amazon Read my review of An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris. Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ by Thomas Hardy  ‘That They May Face the Rising Sun’ by John McGahern  ‘Bel Canto’ by Ann Patchett  And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Does this make you want more? THE GHOST by Robert Harris #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1V9
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.