Archives for books

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....

I agree with Lucian Freud…

Lucian Freud “I think half the point of painting a picture is that you don’t know what will happen. Perhaps if painters did know how it was going to turn out they wouldn’t bother actually to do it. Painting is rather like those recipes where you do all manner of elaborate things to a duck, and then end up putting it on one side and using only the skin.” [excerpt from ‘Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud’ by Martin Gayford] It reminds me of a quote I picked up years ago about writing that has stuck with me. I copied it onto a Post-It note and stuck it on the whiteboard behind my computer. ‘If the chapter’s about what you think it’s about, it’s rubbish.’  I may paraphrase so apologies to whoever it was that first said it, but I think I’ve got the meaning about right. Part of the enjoyment of writing, for me, is creating characters then putting them into situations and seeing how they react. I do write a story plan, but it is constantly being revised as my characters take charge of their lives. If the story plan remains
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Categories: On Writing.

Love books? Carry a handbag book

Check out designer these clutch bags by Olympia Le-Tan, for every book-loving girl. My favourites are:- The Catcher in the Rye Love Story… ah, Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw, that takes me back to my teenage years. I’m not sure about the purple and pink colour scheme for Jane Eyre though. The list of titles at her website is endless, lots of French novels, plus Moby Dick, Dracula, and A Streetcar Named Desire.   ‘The Story of O.L.T.’ by Olympia Le-Tan [UK: Rizzoli] And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: If you love #books you’ll love these bags by @olympialetan http://wp.me/p5gEM4-cc via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love.

I agree with Dorothea Brande…

Dorothea Brande “The unconscious is shy, elusive, and unwieldy, but it is possible to learn to tap it at will, and even to direct it. The conscious mind is meddlesome, opinionated, and arrogant, but it can be made subservient to the inborn talent through training. By isolating as far as possible the functions of these two sides of the mind, even by considering them not merely as aspects of the same mind but as separate personalities, we can arrive at a kind of working metaphor, impossible to confuse with reality, but infinitely helpful in self-education.” ‘excerpt from ‘Becoming a Writer’ by Dorothea Brande]  I’m still working on isolating the two sides of my mind. Being a journalist by training does have its benefits – writing as a daily routine, working to a deadline etc – but freeing my unconscious mind is still a work in progress. But I have come a long way from that first creative writing class where I struggled to write a description of a bridge [belated thanks to my tutor Nina Rapi for her patience!]. If you agree with Dorothea Brande, perhaps you will agree with:- Janice Galloway – write about the credible now and the implied
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Categories: On Writing.

If books were real, Mattie Ross…

Mattie Ross …would be a women’s rights lawyer with a secret Stella McCartney habit.   How would other fictional characters behave, if they were real? Torak in ‘Wolf Brother’ Bella Swan, vampire, in ‘Breaking Dawn’ Jackson Brodie in ‘Case Histories’ To read the first paragraph of True Grit, click here.   ‘True Grit’ by Charles Portis [UK: Bloomsbury] And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: If #books were real, Mattie Ross would become a lawyer: TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-az
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Categories: Book Love and If books were real....

A book I love… The Wind in the Willows

One of the reasons I still love my copy of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, is the actual edition: a green cloth-covered hardback with a green paper cover.  I can remember the excitement at being given a hardback book which in 1969 was expensive. I was more used to devouring as many Famous Five and Secret Seven books as possible that we could pick up secondhand at the school fete: my reading at that age was voracious. The book was a birthday gift from my parents for my ninth birthday, the birthday greeting inside is written in my elder sister’s neat italic script. It never dawned on me that the language was old-fashioned – Oddsboddikins! – I just lapped it up. Today the book sits on my bookshelf between Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, and Stamboul Train by Graham Greene.   ‘The Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame [UK: Wordsworth Editions] And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS by Kenneth Grahame http://wp.me/p5gEM4-cZ #bookreview via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love.

My Top 5… the Booker winners I re-read, and why

All lists are completely subjective, and I am not claiming to have read every Booker winner. So this list is a little like a celebrity’s ‘Desert Island Discs’, it has changed in recent years and will no doubt change again. There are more recent Booker winners which I love, Hilary Mantel for example, but have yet to re-read and so strictly they do not belong here. In no particular order, my current Top 5 are:- ‘Possession’ by AS Byatt [UK: Vintage] The plaiting together of storylines and points of view in two centuries, it showed me how to plot. ‘Life of Pi’ by Yann Martel [UK: Canongate] The sheer magical ambition of it, a tiger in a boat. ‘Midnight’s Children’ by Salman Rushdie [UK: Vintage] The scope, the exotic setting, what a way of recounting the birth of a new country. ‘Moon Tiger’ by Penelope Lively [UK: Penguin] Perhaps my all-time favourite, for its gentle romance, its clever manipulation of point of view, the handling of death and grief. And she gets the dialogue spot-on too. ‘Oscar and Lucinda’ by Peter Carey [UK: Faber] The first Peter Carey I read, the first of many, and picked up on impulse because it had won
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Categories: Book Love and My Top 5....