Archives for books

Book review: Life after Life

It’s a while since I read a book I didn’t want to put down, a book that made me continue reading in bed gone midnight. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is that book. Kate Atkinson manages the macro settings and the micro details with ease, from the petty sibling squabbles at Fox Corner to the camaraderie of the ARP wardens in the Blitz. Before I started reading ‘Life after Life’ I read the phrase ‘Groundhog Day’ a few times in reviews, which belittles the intricate weaving of Ursula Todd’s lives. In the way that Logan Mountstuart’s life runs parallel to the great historical moments of the last century, Ursula’s life stories are book-ended by the approach and aftermath of the First and Second World Wars. Ursula, little bear, is an engaging character we see born and die, again and again through her own personal déjà vu.  I wasn’t sure how this was going to work but once I stopped worrying about it and surrendered myself to Ursula, I was transfixed. This is another work of art, as mesmerising as her first Behind the Scenes at the Museum. It is such an ambitious novel, that I can only guess at
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Categories: Book Love.

If books were food, ‘Sense & Sensibility’ would be…

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen… would be a French macaroon. Both smell sweet, they are pretty, girly, full of sugar and spice and all things nice. S&S is a coming of age story, Marianne is led by the heart, by sensation, by immediacy. I read it at different ages and got completely different things out of it. I admit to being irritated by Marianne when I first read the book as a teenager, I thought her rather silly and vapid. Re-read when I was older and bruised by love, I felt sad for her loss of youthful energy. Her final understanding is that the true nature of love is nothing to do with fleeting romantic gestures and fine words, but everything to do with dedication and constancy and two souls chiming as one as the years go by.   ‘Sense & Sensibility’ by Jane Austen [UK: Vintage Classics] And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Imagine, if books were food: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY by Jane Austen #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-j5 via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love, If books were food... and On Writing.

I agree with… Tom Penn

Tom Penn “When someone picks up a book, they ask first, “why should I care? Why should I read it? Why should I stick with it, when there are so many other things to do and so many other things to read?” A biographer has to get into the mind of the subject, “has to find the subject so compelling you can’t push the subject away… you’re the person who has to bring this person, this subject to the reader – you’re the person who has to live with this subject for years, decades, as long as it takes to write.” [Tom Penn, editorial director, Penguin Books, speaking to a meeting of the NUJ’s London Freelance Branch in February 2013] Tom Penn commissions biographies, but his words apply just as well to fiction. It reminds me of the airport test, which someone told me about years ago. Imagine you are at the airport, looking for a book to read on the plane, and you are faced with a selection of books by unfamiliar authors. Unable to choose a familiar name, you turn to page one and start reading. It’s my job as author to bring the story to life, to draw the
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 22… ‘The Collector’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“When she was home from her boarding-school I used to see her almost every day sometimes, because their house was right opposite the Town Hall Annexe. She and her younger sister used to go in and out a lot, often with young men, which of course I didn’t like. When I had a free moment from the files and ledgers I stood by the window and used to look down over the road over the frosting and sometimes I’d see her. In the evening I marked it in my observations diary, at first with X, and then when I knew her name with M. I saw her several times outside too. I stood right behind her once in a queue at the public library down Crossfield Street. She didn’t look once at me, but I watched the back of her head and her hair in a long pigtail. It was very pale, silky, like burnet cocoons. All in one pigtail coming down almost to her waist, sometimes in front, sometimes at the back. Sometimes she wore it up. Only once, before she came to be my guest here, did I have the privilege to see her with it loose, and
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great opening paragraph 21 ‘Freedom’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The news about Walter Berglund wasn’t picked up locally – he and Patty had moved away to Washington two years earlier and meant nothing to St Paul now – but the urban gentry of Ramsey Hill were not so loyal to their city as not to read The New York Times. According to a long and very unflattering story in the Times, Walter had made quite a mess of his professional life out there in the nation’s capital. His old neighbours had some difficulty reconciling the quotes about him in the Times [“arrogant,” “high-handed,” “ethically compromised”] with the generous, smiling, red-faced 3M employee they remembered pedalling his commuter bicycle up Summit Avenue in February snow; it seemed strange that Walter, who was greener than Greenpeace and whose own roots were rural, should be in trouble now for conniving with the coal industry and mistreating country people. Then again, there had always been something not quite right about the Berglunds.” ‘Freedom’ by Jonathan Franzen Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Dance Dance Dance’ by Haruki Murakami ‘A Bouquet of Barbed Wire’ by Andrea Newman ‘After You’d Gone’ by Maggie O’Farrell And if you’d like to tweet
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

I agree with Jeanette Winterson…

Jeanette Winterson “I never think: ‘I’m not at work now, so I’ll relax.’ For me, there’s no distinction. Work is the most absorbing thing in my life. Why would I want to switch off?” [excerpt ‘A Life in the Day: Sunday Times Magazine’ May 5, 2013] I’m with her there. I have always earned my living by writing, but writing is who I am not what I do. Stories have been the centre of my life since I first was able to read, the magical moment was when I realised I could make-up my own. Now the writing switch is hard-wired in my brain and cannot be turned off.  And I don’t want to turn it off. I stop when I am tired, not because I have run out of ideas. And I have never suffered from writer’s block, though this may be another benefit of my journalism background where there isn’t time for writer’s block to exist. If you agree with Jeanette Winterson, perhaps you will agree with:- SJ Watson – write every day, even if it’s rubbish Celia Brayfield – fiction without its darker side is like a Miss Marple mystery without its murder Chris Cleave – more
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Reading for research – Forgotten Voices

Coffee at Costa today, not tea. A medium soya wet latte with an extra shot. My regular morning drink which the staff know by heart. Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon.  I picked up a great book in the British Heart Foundation shop. Forgotten Voices of the Blitz and the Battle of Britain by Joshua Levine, in association with the Imperial War Museum. It is a compilation of oral and written memories and, like the other book I’ve just finished reading Young Voices: British Children Remember the Second World War by Lyn Smith, the voices of real people vividly bring their stories to life. I’m particularly interested in the Auxiliary Units which were set up throughout England in case of invasion. I’d love to visit one of the underground bunkers. It sounds like a Boy’s Own story, a secret hideout hidden in a field, bunks and a stove, going out in the dark to sabotage the Germans. It’s the sort of story I grew up with, raised during the Sixties on a diet of Alistair Maclean books, The Dambusters film and the TV series The World at War.   ‘Forgotten Voices of The Blitz and the Battle for Britain’ by
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Categories: On Researching.

I agree with… Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin “Today my studio is calling me. The paintings are all really happy and the paint wants to be used. It’s all spangly and exciting. There’s almost nothing that I hate, or nothing that depresses me. This is a state of mind that is created by what I make, not the other way around. To know that I will be spending the rest of my life being controlled by my own creative output is exhausting. It’s not a job, and if it were a job I would just do it, I would just get up and do it.” [excerpt from ‘My Life in a Column’ by Tracey Emin] There are days when writing feels like this, when the words flow and I’ve written 2000 words and drunk no cups of tea apart from the first one I carried upstairs with me after breakfast. Oh that every day were like this, when I finish in the evening with an ache in my shoulders, a good ache that won’t turn into a crippling headache, a good ache that will succumb to a bath scented with Aromatherapy Associates De-Stress bath oil. If you agree with Tracey Emin, perhaps you will agree with:-
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Categories: On Writing.

If books were real, Jamie Fraser…

Jamie Fraser …would be First Minster of an independent Scotland and still be happily married to Claire into their 80s [and he might look like Gerard Butler].     ‘Outlander’ by Diana Gabaldon, #1 Outlander [UK: Arrow] How would other fictional characters behave, if they were real? Torak in ‘Wolf Brother’ Bilbo Baggins in ‘The Hobbit’ Sarah Burton in ‘South Riding’ And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: If #books were real, Jamie Fraser be Scottish First Minister: CROSS STITCH by @Writer_DG via @SandraDanby  http://wp.me/p5gEM4-hX    
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Categories: Book Love and If books were real....

Reading for research… The Yellow House

I love doing background research for my novels, I guess that’s the journalist in me. With hindsight, I researched my first novel Ignoring Gravity too much, I didn’t recognise the point at which I knew enough and when to let my imagination take over. I was reading about adoption, something I haven’t experienced myself and know no-one who has. So I turned to books [a typical reaction for me]. As a reader, I hate writers who put all their research onto the page. Needless to say, a lot of the stuff I put in the first draft, was stripped out later. Martin Gayford is an art writer I turn to. My second novel Connectedness is three-quarters written and the researching process was much briefer. It is a sequel to the first book, so still about adoption, but this time I decided to make my new main character an artist. Because… I love art, but what knowledge I have is self-taught and disconnected. So, it was an opportunity to learn. And I have loved the process, going to galleries and exhibitions, trying to paint watercolours, and reading, always reading. The most dramatic art book I have read by far is The
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Categories: On Researching and On Writing.

Reading for research… Young Voices

As research for the next novel, I’m reading a lot about the Second World War. For a while I’ve been working my way through a fascinating book called Young Voices by Lyn Smith, produced with the Imperial War Museum. I picked it up in my local library. It is an account of children’s experiences during the war. I’m particularly interested in children who lived through Occupation and there are children quoted throughout who grew up Guernsey. One woman tells how it became compulsory at school to learn the German language. One day the German kommandant arrived to present a prize, which she as top of the class in German, was to receive. He asked her a simple question in German, ‘how old are you?’ Her brain froze and she couldn’t answer, terrified she was going to be shot. Someone whispered the question again in English, and the girl was able to answer correctly. The prize? A book in German which she was unable to read. Fascinating stuff, don’t know yet how I am going to use any of this. I enjoy researching my next novel while writing the current one. Sometimes it just gives the brain a rest, a new
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Categories: On Researching and On Writing.

If books were real, Hermione Granger…

Hermione Granger… would secretly eat wasabi peas while reading Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’ series, book after book.     ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ by JK Rowling [UK: Bloomsbury] How would other fictional characters behave, if they were real? Mikael Blomkvist in ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo’ Elizabeth Bennet in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Katniss Everdeen in ‘The Hunger Games’ And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: If #books were real, Hermione Granger: HP AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS by @jk_rowling via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-bC
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Categories: Book Love and If books were real....

I agree with Antony Gormley…

Antony Gormley “Everybody says ‘what does it mean?’ …but what does life mean? Life is there to be lived, not to mean things, it’s to be experienced. They think… ‘oh we want a label, we want to know what it is, what it’s called, what it’s made of, and what it means.’ Well why not just be it, do it feel it.” [in an interview from ‘Lily Cole: Art Matters’ – Sky Arts] We have a tendency these days to over-analyse, to label, which is constrictive. Gormley [see his ‘Another Place’, left] is talking principally about art, and art as a part of life, but I think his words also apply to books and the publishing industry. The fixation of booksellers and publishers with genre, sequels, celebrity names, with which section a book will sit within, means many authors with non-traditional, non-genre, stand-alone novels are being over-looked. I made the mistake in a letter to a prospective agent of describing my novel ‘Ignoring Gravity’ as being about a ‘detective of identities’ who researches the family history of an adopted girl. The rejection letter said the novel was too long for a detective novel. To say this missed the point is
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Categories: On Writing.

Writing Exercise – using photographs

Using memory as a trigger for a story idea can work on a small or large scale. This story was written in 2002 and started as a writing exercise. I used an old photo-booth photograph of me one summer in the 1960s, aged about seven, wearing a heavy-knit Aran sweater. FRECKLES “Congratulations,” said the judge, the doctor’s wife, as she pinned the red rosette on the bridle. Red was for first. The horse hadn’t won the prize, its rider had. A skinny black-haired girl with very red lips wore a thin smile and an Annie Oakley costume complete with Stetson and chaps. She perched on top of the horse, too big to be hers, as if she were balancing on top of a barbed-wire fence. The stereo sound of sniffing emerged from fancy dress contestants to Annie’s left and right. The doctor’s wife walked quicker along the line of ponies, her thighs rubbing together. It was a hot, static sort of sound. “Well done.” The green rosette, green for second, was awarded to a chimney sweep whose father swept  chimneys. He was carrying his father’s brushes and wearing his father’s work trousers, rolled up at the ankles, black with coal
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Categories: Writing exercises.

If books were real, Jack Ryan…

Jack Ryan… would watch the car advertisements on TV and buy his daughter Sally a brand new VW Polo to go away to university.   ‘Patriot Games’ by Robert Ludlum [UK: Harper Collins] How would other fictional characters behave, if they were real? Hercule Poirot in ‘Death on the Nile Mr Wickham in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Jackson Brodie in ‘Case Histories’ And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: If #books were real, Jack Ryan would buy a #VW Polo: PATRIOT GAMES by Tom Clancy via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-bu
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Categories: Book Love and If books were real....

I agree with… Rachel Cusk

Rachel Cusk “It takes a particular kind of courage to write memoir. All writing – all creativity – involves self-exposure, but in memoir the exposure is twofold. The self is both subject and author, and as authors we are duty-bound to treat our subjects with the greatest possible objectivity. Is it possible, or even desirable, to be truly objective about oneself? And what value does that objectivity, if achieved, have for the reader?” [Rachel Cusk, in an interview at ‘Mslexia’ magazine] I’ve always been too intimidated to attempt memoir, though I have used my experiences in my fiction particularly for setting. But I do agree that all creativity must involve self-exposure, or be weaker for the omission. Surely in order to write, we have to be self-aware and with that self-awareness comes objectivity? If you agree with Rachel Cusk, perhaps you will agree with:- Lizzie Enfield – on women’s revenge Antony Gormley – everybody says what does it mean, but what does life mean? Joanne Harris – I’ve always read, and I’ve always written   ‘Outline’ by Rachel Cusk [UK: Thorndike] Read my review of Outline. And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested
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Categories: On Writing.

If books were real, Jackson Brodie…

Jackson Brodie …would drink Taylor’s Yorkshire Gold tea with full-fat milk and two sugars.   ‘Case Histories’ by Kate Atkinson [UK: Black Swan] How would other fictional characters behave, if they were real? Mattie Ross in ‘True Grit’ Sarah Burton in ‘South Riding’ Mikael Blomkvist in ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo’ And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: If #books were real, Jackson Brodie would drink tea with sugar: CASE HISTORIES by Kate Atkinson via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-aJ
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Categories: Book Love and If books were real....

If books were real, Sarah Burton…

Sarah Burton …would spend a quiet evening in watching The Killing box set, averaging two episodes per night.     ‘South Riding’ by Winifred Holtby [UK: BBC Books] How would other fictional characters behave, if they were real? Jo March in ‘Little Women’ Katniss Everdeen in ‘The Hunger Games’ Agatha Raisin in ‘Something Borrowed, Someone Dead’ And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: If #books were real, Sarah Burton would watch a boxset of ‘The Killing’: SOUTH RIDING by Winifred Holtby via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-an
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Categories: Book Love and If books were real....

Writing exercise: getting to know a new character

When I’m trying to get to know a new character, nothing works better for me than a writing exercise. If I’ve already got some plot ideas I will put them into a scene which may come in useful later, otherwise I think of my character exercises as investment pieces. If I don’t know where to start, I choose a day-to-day situation and begin there. Often I will give myself 20 minutes, sitting in a busy coffee shop and write longhand in my Muji notebook. The routine seems to help. Here are two I wrote earlier. I’m not sure what the future holds for Malcolm and Doreen. Doreen looped the pinny over her head and tied the strings at her back in a floppy bow, the edges of the apron stretched across her ample bosom. She glanced at her watch as she took it off and put it in a dry spot on the windowsill. 4.36pm. She only had 54 minutes before Malcolm would be home, 54 minutes to tidy up and cook his tea. She turned on the hot tap and tested the water with her fingers before squeezing in a 1p-sized blob of Fairy into the washing up bowl.
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Categories: Writing exercises.

If books were real, Torak…

Torak …would not worry about eating Toad in the Hole, no matter what the sausages were made of.   ‘Wolf Brother’ by Michelle Paver [UK: Orion] How would other fictional characters behave, if they were real? Agatha Raisin in ‘Something Borrowed, Someone Dead’ Mikael Blomkvist in ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo’ Hermione Granger ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: If #books were real, Torak would not eat veggie sausages: WOLF BROTHER by @MichellePaver via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-b9
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Categories: Book Love and If books were real....