Archives for creative 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.

My Porridge & Cream read: Toni Jenkins

Today I’m delighted to welcome novelist Toni Jenkins. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. “My sister-in-law heard about a book in early 2008 she thought I might like and gave me a copy of Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. It has become a precious companion and the book that I turn to most. It always spurs me on to make courageous decisions in my life. It’s about an American woman in her thirties who decides her perfectly normal life is unfulfilling and leaves her husband and home to find herself abroad, travelling to Italy to find love in food, to India for enlightenment, and to Bali for love and peace. I re-read it, or at least parts of it, at least once a year. It’s one of those books where you feel as if you’re reading your own thoughts. There’s a real comfort in reading again how Elizabeth overcame her challenges. I also love the way she uses language so I get a double-whammy of the feel-good factor every time I delve back in. I particularly enjoy the first third of the book as it’s based in Italy, my favourite country. It’s also
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Great Opening Paragraph 102… ‘The Cement Garden’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“I did not kill my father, but I sometimes felt I had helped him on his way. And but for the fact that it coincided with a landmark in my own physical growth, his death seemed insignificant compared with what followed. My sisters and I talked about him the week after he died, and Sue certainly cried when the ambulance men tucked him up in a bright-red blanket and carried him away. He was a frail, irascible, obsessive man with yellowish hands and face. I am only including the little story of his death to explain how my sisters and I came to have such a large quantity of cement at our disposal.” ‘The Cement Garden’ by Ian McEwan  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ by Philippa Gregory ‘Freedom’ by Jonathan Franzen And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: THE CEMENT GARDEN by Ian McEwan #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2se
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Irish author Sebastian Barry writes

Sebastian Barry said, “Wonderfully, out of that private box of miracles that is a writer’s life, I just wrote that sentence [that now opens the book]: ‘The method of laying out a corpse in Missouri sure took the proverbial cake.’” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, August 12, 2016] Barry’s latest book, Days Without End, had mixed beginnings. He spent nine months writing a long chapter about the famine in Ireland, and expected the book to be ‘very, very dark.’ But then he cut this chapter down to a page and a half, and then wrote the sentence about the corpse. ‘The whole damn book was just lying in behind that sentence.’ After that it was easier, there were ‘four or five joyous months where, for once in a decade, you are going down to your work room like a 22-year-old instead of a 61-year-old, and being very surprised.’ My first novel Ignoring Gravity had its origins with one sentence which flowed from my pen, so I understand where Barry is coming from. However he used his sentence to start his novel, whereas mine became the keynote of my protagonist’s personality. Barry’s novel is about America’s Indian wars in
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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.

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.

#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.

#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.

#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.

#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.