Archives for 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.

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.