Archives for creative writing

Great Opening Paragraph 114… ‘Agnes Grey’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“All true histories contain instruction; though, in some, the treasure may be hard to find, and when found, so trivial in quantity, that the dry shrivelled kernel scarcely compensates for the trouble of cracking the nut. Whether this be the case with my history or not, I am hardly competent to judge. I sometimes think it might prove useful to some, and entertaining to others; but the world may judge for itself. Shielded by my own obscurity, and by the lapse of years, and a few fictitious names, I do not fear to venture; and will candidly lay before the public what I would not disclose to the most intimate friend.” ‘Agnes Grey’ by Anne Bronte  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Affinity’ by Sarah Waters ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote ‘Family Album’ by Penelope Lively And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: AGNES GREY by Anne Bronte #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xM
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Famous writers, writing… Rose Tremain

When I first saw this photo I spent a little while trying to read the spines of the books on the shelves behind Rose Tremain. Pictured here at home in Norwich, her shelves look reassuringly normal: A4 ring binders, stacks of magazines, family photos fitted into gaps. But I couldn’t read one book title. Disappointing. And I also envy her floor-to-ceiling shelves. Tremain is one of those novelists I seek to emulate. Now 72, she firmly believes that writers get better as they age. “So long as I can keep setting up these journeys it is likely that I can keep going — provided I keep my marbles. I feel I have greater intellectual strength now than 20 years ago.” Variety is the key for her, it seems, and the subject matter of her novels has varied widely. A Restoration rake in the time of Charles II in Restoration; the 1860s gold rush in New Zealand in The Colour; a lute player in the court of Christian IV of Denmark in Music & Silence; and an eastern European migrant in Britain in The Road Home. Read the article at The Times. Here’s my review of her latest novel, The Gustav
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Categories: On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 113… ‘A Good Man in Africa’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“‘Good man,’ said Dalmire, gratefully accepting the gin Morgan Leafy offered him. ‘Oh good man.’ He presents his eager male friendship life a gift, thought Morgan; he’s like a dog who wants me to throw him a stick for him to chase. If he had a tail he’d be wagging it.” ‘A Good Man in Africa’ by William Boyd  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ by Helen Fielding ‘Super-Cannes’ by JG Ballard ‘Middlesex’ by Jeffrey Eugenides And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A GOOD MAN IN AFRICA by William Boyd #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2si
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 35 Leaves on the Footpath #writingprompt #amwriting

Imagine being an alien, a foreigner in a strange land. Forget what you know. Open your mind to the new. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series, designed for all writers of fiction, novels, short stories and flash fiction. Try this picture to kickstart an exercise about observation. Study this photograph and consider where you are standing. Survey your surroundings. Smell the air. Listen. Compare your observations with your own world. Write one paragraph describing your own world for each of the following. Temperature. Climate. Surroundings. Scents. Seasons. Sounds. Repeat this exercise for where you stand now on this footpath. Now choose three details from the photograph and describe them in the language of a person from your alien world. Consider their purpose in this world. For example, consider the loose green shapes at your feet. How are they different from the small pale shapes beside them? And why is one part of the footpath darker than the other? Are you seeing in colour, or black and white? Now you have built a small world for this alien footpath, consider turning it into a flash fiction story. For that, you need action. Choose one of these three actions:- A
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters, and Writing exercises.

#FlashPIC 34 Is It Red Or Is It Orange #writingprompt #amwriting

Two people. Two opposing views. Consider a pair of lovers, a marriage, or two lifelong friends. Each has one strong conviction, which the other hates. So far apart are their views on this subject that they would disagree simply on a point of principle. Unblock your writers’ block with this writing tip from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Write a short story or an exercise about contextual layers. Consider your couple. How could their polarisation affect a mundane squabble? For example, is this geranium red, or is it orange? Choose your two characters and their existing relationship. Decide on the conviction of each, and the opposing argument of the other partner. Establish whether they still love each other, or is their relationship fracturing? Now consider their domestic daily life. Choose an everyday irritation and make them argue. Start writing the dialogue, multi-layered; the spoken disagreement concerns the everyday irritation, the unspoken text is about their polarised opinions. Wind up the tension until one, or both of them, explodes. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Cable Anonymous people Cutting down the trees for firewood What are‘ Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to help you put words on the
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters, and Writing exercises.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘A thousand years, you said’

Written in 8th century Japan, this poem speaks of the longing of love shadowed by impending death, and it is as relevant today as it was then. I discovered this poem in The Picador Book of Funeral Poems, and then stumbled on it again in an old paperback on my bookshelf, The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse. It was written by Lady Heguri in mid-late eighth century. No details are known of her, except that her poems are addressed to Yakamochi. ‘A thousand years, you said, As our two hearts melted. I look at the hand you held And the ache is too hard to bear.’   ‘The Picador Book of Funeral Poems’ ed. by Don Paterson Amazon UK Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘Runaways’ by Daniela Nunnari ‘Winter Song’ by Wilfred Owen ‘The Cinnamon Peeler’ by Michael Ondaatje And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read in the bath: ‘A thousand years, you said’ by Lady Heguri https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3dS via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Poetry.

Famous writers, reading… William Faulkner

Double-Pulitzer prizewinner William Faulkner looks comfortable, reading The Silver Treasury of Light Verse. This book was published in 1957 in America by New American Library and the photograph of Faulkner [below] looks to date from this time. He died in 1962 aged 64. I studied American Literature at university and read Faulkner. His books still sit on my bookshelf, slim Penguin Classics editions. The one that stayed with me is As I Lay Dying, about the death and burial of Addie Brunden. Her family takes her coffin by cart to be buried amongst her folk in Jefferson, Mississippi.   ‘As I Lay Dying’ by William Faulkner [UK: Vintage] See these other famous people, reading & writing:- Ernest Hemingway William Golding Bella Lugosi And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Famous writers, reading… William Faulkner reads THE SILVER TREASURY OF LIGHT VERSE #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3cV via @SandraDanby
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 32 Cutting Down Trees for Firewood #writingprompt #amwriting

During the Second World War the Tiergarten, Berlin’s popular inner city park, was made unrecognisable as the trees were chopped down and used for firewood. Here is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this picture to kickstart a flash fiction story about wartime or a decision faced by a character in your novel. Imagine three things:- 1 It is winter. There is no fuel to heat your house. You can go cold, steal, or chop down trees in a local woodland. 2 What are the consequences be? How will your family survive? 3 How does your choice affect your household? How do your neighbours react to your actions? Take these three elements and write a flash fiction story, or a character exercise. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- These feet were made for walking St James Park, polite notice Between the train seats 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’
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters, and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 109… ‘Sea Glass’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Honora sets the cardboard suitcase on the slab of granite. The door is mackereled, paint-chipped – green or black, it is hard to tell. Above the knocker. There are panes of glass, some broken and others opaque with age. Overhead is a portico of weathered shingles and beyond that a milk-and-water sky. Honora pinches the lapels of her suit together and holds her hat against the wind. She peers at the letter B carved into the knocker and thinks, This is the place where it all begins.” ‘Sea Glass’ by Anita Shreve Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Long Drop’ by Denise Mina ‘Lucky You’ by Carl Hiasson ‘American Psycho’ by Brett Easton Ellis Read my review of The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve. And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: SEA GLASS by Anita Shreve #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xC
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 30 How Thirsty Are You #writingprompt #writetip

Do you know how it feels to be thirsty? Really thirsty? Your mouth is dry so your lips are gummed together, the insides of your cheeks cling to your teeth. Your sharp-edged teeth cut into your tongue. You cannot count from one to five. Here is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this #writetip to kickstart a flash fiction story or a decision faced by a character in your novel. First create a world for your character. Where is he/she? Stranded on a mountain peak surrounded by rock? Adrift in a boat on the sea? On an unknown planet without a water source? In a drought when the taps run dry? Or is water available, but with-held or poisoned? Imagine severe thirst. If it helps, go without a drink for a few hours and note how you feel. Not just the physical changes, but how does it make you feel mentally? Are your thoughts as clear as usual? What is happening to your vision and your pulse rate? Now take a stressful situation, and put your thirsty character into it. What happens next? If there is a questionable water source available, what would your character do? Would he
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters, and Writing exercises.

How Elizabeth Strout writes

Elizabeth Strout: ‘I learnt a long time ago to just sit down and take whatever emotion was most pressing in me and transpose it into a character. Then the scene would have life to it, as opposed to feeling wooden.” [in an interview with ‘Culture’ magazine, part of ‘The Sunday Times’ newspaper, April 30, 2017] Pulitzer Prize winner for Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout works at a dining room table covered in scraps of paper, with four different chairs. She always starts with a character then a scene. She writes in longhand. She never writes from beginning to end. Read my reviews of My Name is Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible, both by Elizabeth Strout. Read more about Strout at her website.   ‘Anything is Possible’ by Elizabeth Strout [UK: Viking] See how these other authors write:- Mary Gaitskill Hanya Yanagihara Bill Clegg And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: How #author @LizStrout writes via @SandraDanby #writing http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2yW
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 29 At This Mark on the Pavement #writingprompt #amwriting

It began here… at this mark on the pavement. Where the grey pavement meets the brown pavement, just inches from the kerb. It was here that… what? Here is a writing tip from the Writers’ BLOCKbusterseries. Try this picture to kickstart a flash fiction story or a confrontation in your novel. First, set the scene. Imagine the street, is it quiet or full of traffic. Is the pavement packed with pedestrians, or is this a side street, secluded, isolated. Have you walked here before? Are you rushing, hurrying to get to a destination? Are you lost? Are you wandering, filling in time before a dentist appointment? Did you take a short cut which led somewhere you didn’t expect? What is the time of day, the month, the season? Is it sunny or raining? What is the loudest noise you can hear, and how does this make you feel? What can you smell… diesel fumes, the heady perfume of jasmine from a nearby plant, a waft of Obsession from a passing girl? What colour fills your vision… blue sky, a passing red bus, red brick buildings, grey and glass office blocks, a circle of green in the centre of a roundabout.
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Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.

Great Opening Paragraph 107… ‘Such a Long Journey’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The first light of morning barely illuminated the sky as Gustad Noble faced eastwards to offer his orisons to Ahura Mazda. The hour was approaching six, and up in the compound’s solitary tree the sparrows began to call. Gustad listened to their chirping every morning while reciting his kusti prayers. There was something reassuring about it. Always, the sparrows were first; the cawing of the crows came later.” ‘Such a Long Journey’ by Rohinton Mistry  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain ‘Illywhacker’ by Peter Carey ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: SUCH A LONG JOURNEY by Rohinton Mistry #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xt
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Family history: Was your ancestor a doctor?

The medical profession has changed out of all recognition since the 18th century and if you are searching for a relative who was once a doctor or medical professional, there are a number of useful sources to check which may lead you in an intriguing direction. In the 18th century, only physicians were called MD, doctor, with the status of being a gentleman. They charged for their advice and remedies but did not dispense medicines. They were university educated in contrast to surgeons and apothecaries who were trained via apprenticeships. Surgeons did not give medicines to patients, instead they specialised in pulling teeth, lancing boils, blood-letting, and amputations. Apothecaries dispensed and sold medicines from a shop, charging for their medicines not their advice. There was ample opportunity for quacks. The turning point came with the passing of the Medical Act in 1858. This meant that in able to practise medicine, all qualified medical professions had to be listed in the new Medical Register, and also licensed by one of 19 licensing bodies. If you are tracing a relative in the 19th century who you suspect worked in the medical professions in the UK, the two places to check are the
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Categories: Family history research.

How Tessa Hadley writes

Tessa Hadley ‘When I started I thought I wasn’t a person with a good memory but you tap into uncanny places where you have things saved up that you didn’t know you did until you got to that level. You don’t know until you have to, that the sandwiches were wrapped in greaseproof paper, not clingfilm.’ [in an interview with ‘The Times’ newspaper, January 17, 2017] Writing, for Tessa Hadley, is inextricably connected to memory. ‘Not precise memory but memory as a hunch and a feeling and an atmosphere.’ Like me, she had a shy childhood, one spent on the edge, watching, looking in, absorbing everything. She concentrates on getting the details right. ‘The whole texture of the work is the details of that world and no other. What was it like being a teacher living in a skinny dilapidated Georgian house in 1967? What colour did they paint the walls? What words would they have used when they were speaking to each other?’ She is wary of writing about things she doesn’t know. Hadley writes about domestic life and families. Her latest book is a collection of short stories, Bad Dreams and Other Stories. It was through writing short
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 27 Push Button at Pedestrian Crossing #writingprompt #amwriting

How do you get the reader to turn the next page of your novel or short story? There’s a great quote about this by English author Charles Reade, author of The Cloister and the Hearth, about this: “Make ‘em laugh; make ‘em cry; make ‘em wait.” As part of the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series, here is a FlashPIC writing prompt to help you write a flash fiction story about waiting, either yourself or making someone else wait, and the nature of delay. Decide what happens next. Who pushes the button? What happens? Does that person witness something? Perhaps the person doesn’t stop to push the button, why? Think of your own five possibilities. Now work each idea into a paragraph outline for a short story. Choose one idea and calculate your beginning, middle and end. Write a short story of your chosen length. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Moon Rocks Anonymous People Beach 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
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters, and Writing exercises.

How Emma Flint writes

Emma Flint “I was obsessed with her for six years. I thought about her every single day, sometimes for hours every day… She is made up of shades of grey. She has got all these different aspects to her. I wanted to show that there’s no such thing as black and white in a real human being.” [ in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, October 7, 2016] Emma Flint is talking about Ruth, the central character of her debut novel Little Deaths. The story was inspired by a true crime case from the 1960s. Alice Crimmins, a New York mother, was accused of murdering her two children. Flint first read about the case twenty years ago in the weekly Murder Casebook magazine. Ruth and the nosey neighbour are based on real characters, the rest are made-up by Flint. She did most of her research online, including:- reading contemporary press coverage of the double murder; used Google Street View to wander down the streets of Queens; watched YouTube videos to nail the local accent. Crucially though, she used her own experience of growing up on the outskirts of Newcastle to add “that claustrophobia you get in a small suburb where
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 26 Beware Danger From High Tides Beyond #writingprompt #amwriting

This photograph is a short story waiting to be written. A woman and a child collect shells on a beach. Beside them, a sign warns of the dangers of high tides. From the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series, here is a FlashPIC writing prompt to help you write a short story, a brief flash fiction piece of only a few words, or something longer. You choose. Consider what might happen next. Write a list of five possibilities. Now work each idea into a paragraph outline for a short story. Choose one idea and calculate your beginning, middle and end. Write a short story of your chosen length. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Two Empty Glasses Feet Train Window 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
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters, and Writing exercises.

How Nicole Krauss writes

Nicole Krauss: “The only way I could write about these things was projecting them into the character of this old, isolated, charming but difficult man. I could express things that I simply couldn’t in my own skin, in my own life… I think that is what one is always doing as a writer. Not just self-expression, but something bigger than that, which is self-invention. In that process of self-invention you are expanding a portion of yourself… Writers are kind of like mockingbirds, in that they take what is interesting and shiny and useful from their own lives and they weave it into this tapestry that they’re making.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, May 19, 2017] I understand the mockingbird image, I prefer to think of myself as a magpie. I collect the glittering things, a word, an idea, an emotion, a photograph, and store them away. Perhaps more of a squirrel than a magpie, actually. Every now and then I turn out the contents of the tin – which is full of folded newspaper and magazine cuttings – and my old-fashioned index file – full of cards with sometimes a sentence or only one word written on them
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Jilly Cooper writes

Jilly Cooper: “You have to be very careful not to use real people’s names by mistake, as they might sue you if they behave badly in the story… I find it safer to use towns and villages for surnames.” [in an interview with ‘The Times’ newspaper, May 15, 2017] Like Jilly, I like to use a road atlas to choose character names. Other useful sources are books of baby names, plants, trees, astrology, astronomy, and a world atlas. To avoid misunderstandings, it is wise to avoiding using a name which belongs to family or friends. Here are some quick rules:- Use alliterative initials: Bilbo Baggins, Severus Snape. If you are writing a historical novel, make sure your chosen name is correct for the era. Check your cast of characters to avoid the repetitive use of first initials, and vary the number of syllables. Say the name aloud, remember your book may become an audio book. Check the origins of the name and root meanings. If necessary, change the name or amend character traits and background appropriately. Adapt a name by combining two elements, for example Burton [village] and colour [green] to make Greenburton. Keep your names realistic, add a John
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Categories: On Writing.