Archives for Sandra Danby

Book review: Christmas Pudding

Christmas Pudding is another between-the-wars comedy of manners by Nancy Mitford. With scathing observation at times as sharp as Jane Austen, Mitford introduces a new character, Lord Lewes: ‘He was tall, very correctly dressed in a style indicating the presence of money rather than of imagination, and had a mournful, thin, eighteenth-century face.’ This is her second novel and features some of the personalities featured in her first, Highland Fling, though familiarity with the first is not essential for enjoyment. The action takes place over one month around Christmas, the pudding of the title refers to Mitford’s mixture of personalities in two house parties in the Cotswold countryside. Paul Fotheringay, whose debut literary novel has been heralded as a comic farce, is desperate to escape London and find inspiration for his next book. Wanting to be taken seriously as an author, he settles on a biography of Victorian poet, Lady Maria Bobbin. When he is refused access to the diaries by the current Lady Bobbin he conjures a plot with her teenage son Bobby to masquerade as Bobby’s tutor over the Christmas holidays and so gain secret access to the diaries. And so Paul becomes part of a love triangle
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Categories: Book Love.

‘Home’, a short story

Demerara was Joey’s favourite. She wasn’t the colour of sugar but her nature was just as sweet, the sweetest pigeon in the loft. The least sweet was Darth who was almost completely black except for a flash of green on his left shoulder. He was the fattest pigeon, he ate the most and flew the least. Actually Darth was a pigeon version of Joey, a fact that neither recognised. Joey would spend every moment in the pigeon loft at his allotment if he could but he worked in the other direction, near enough home to walk or cycle. Two miles northbound, a straight road but a bit uphill. Two miles southbound at night, downhill, straight as an arrow, no map required. Every morning Joey pulled on his old fleece and got into his rusty blue Escort, carrying a pack-up made by Gill. It was because of Gill’s baking that Demerara was called Demerara. And Bakewell, Muffin, Drizzle, Battie [for Battenberg] and Simnel. Even Darth had originally been named Parkin but the name never stuck. It was the beginning of Spring and change was afoot. The pigeons were restless, strange birds were appearing at the bird table from the south, finding
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Categories: My Short Stories.

Book review: Fred’s Funeral

None of us have the luxury of hearing what is said about us after we are dead. In Fred’s Funeral, Canadian author Sandy Day tells the story of one soldier, returned from the First World War, who felt misunderstood and sidelined by his family. Only when he dies in 1986, seventy years after he went to war, does he observe his own funeral and find out what they really think of him. Fred Sadler has lived his post-fighting years in one institution or another. Clearly he is suffering from some form of shell shock or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but this goes undiagnosed. There are periods of living in boarding houses, his family is unwilling to have him live with them, until his behaviour deteriorates and he is sent back to hospital. Now dead and trapped as an unwilling ghost, Fred observes his funeral presided over by Viola, the sister-in-law he always disliked. As the mourners sit around and share memories of Fred, he watches, frustration mounting, as he is unable to correct their observations. They portray a ‘Fred Sadler’ which he does not recognise. I kept expecting something to happen; a true memory of the war, an event, which would
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Vanishing Acts

This is the first book by Jodi Picoult which I have read, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I would describe Vanishing Acts as long, intriguing, multi-layered. Is it the greatest? No, but it makes me want to read more of her books. Her multiple-perspectives mean you get a 360° view of a situation and see how different people view the same thing, something we are not always privy to in real life. Delia Hopkins lives in New Hampshire with her widowed father Andrew and her daughter Sophie. She works with her own search-and-rescue bloodhound to find missing people. She is about to marry Eric, a friend since childhood. Everything seems happy, except for strange dreams which she cannot explain. ‘I am little, and he has just finished planting a lemon tree in our backyard. I am dancing around it. I want to make lemonade, but there isn’t any fruit because the tree is just a baby. How long will it take to grow one? I ask. A while, he tells me. I sit myself down in front of it to watch. He comes over and takes my hand. Come on, grilla, he says. If we’re going to sit
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Beneath an Indian Sky

Women’s ambition, women’s capability to lie and manipulate, and women’s ability to love, cherish and recover. Beneath an Indian Sky by Renita D’Silva is the cautionary tale of Sita and Mary and how their lives, from childhood to old age, are entwined in India. It is a symmetrical story, but the permutations of its angles and consequences are not clear until the end. Be patient, relax into the story, because the ending is worth it. 1925, India. Sita’s parents despair of her acting like a girl so, to encourage more restrained behavior, they arrange for her to become friends with Mary. Mary’s parents encourage individuality, freedom and learning, but Mary secretly envies the rules and ordered life of Sita’s home. And so the two girls become friends. Until in 1926 something happens which splits them apart. This is a tale of opposites; two little girls who, despite being different, become friends. What happens when they grow up turns into a darker more difficult story about friendship, honesty, betrayal, loss, anguish and regret. Renita D’Silva takes you to another world, India pre- and post-partition, with all its scents, colours, flavours, wealth and poverty. She is a magical writer of the setting
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Categories: Book Love.

How Gail Honeyman writes

Gail Honeyman “I thought it was important that Eleanor was never self-pitying, because I think as a reader that is when you lose sympathy for a character. Even if [a character] has been through horrendous experiences, if they are seen as self-pitying, it’s a very distancing thing. She’s broken but she’s not destroyed. She’s a survivor of it all.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, March 10, 2017] I read this quote by Gail Honeyman in The Bookseller, not knowing either her or her debut novel. But the quote chimed with me. I was making slow progress with the book I was reading at the time and couldn’t pin down why. It was well-written, not overdone or wordy, not rushed, but I wasn’t connecting with the main character. Gail’s comment made me realize I wanted to shout: ‘If things are so bad, do something.’ This is a fine line to tread as an author. You want your characters to be tested, challenged, to face difficulties, and you want to explore their emotions, but the last thing you want to do is turn off the reader. Gail Honeyman again: “I guess what you want is not to notice the plot
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

‘Movies’, a short story

‘Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.’ Jarek locked the doors, engaged first gear and nudged the nose of his black cab into the stream of traffic. His passenger didn’t acknowledge the stab at conversation. A pick-up on Regents Street at 6pm, the week before Christmas, it was going to be one long crawl, a back-double, then baby steps over the bridge to Waterloo. He sneaked a look at the passenger. A man. Dark business suit, smiling to himself, teeth as white as his shirt. Jarek studied him; no not a smile, more of a grimace. He tried his usual banter. Football. Stock market. State of the roads. Cyclists. Skyscrapers ruining London’s skyline. Whether Boris should be PM. No answer from the back seat. ‘What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate,’ Jarek muttered to himself. He didn’t like driving in silence. He paused, then waved at the silver and gold flashing lights, the red and gold streamers, people carrying bursting carrier bags. ‘If you build it he will come.’ No answer. Was he asleep? ‘I mean the shops.’ He hated that his voice sounded apologetic, hated the need to explain himself. ‘You build the
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Categories: My Short Stories.

First Edition: The Hundred and One Dalmations

My first memory of the iconic children’s book The Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith, is actually the Disney animated film. This was quickly followed by a Puffin edition, which I sadly no longer have. That films are still being made of the story, and there is demand for old copies of the novel at rare booksellers, is, I think, testamount to the longevity of the book. Long may it continue, even if it includes no fight scenes, no dragons, no magic, no vampires or spaceships. First editions At bookseller Peter Harrington, there are three first editions available [at time of going to press].   A special edition by Heinemann 1956, £1,500, bound in white morocco with black onlay patches to resemble the coat of a Dalmation dog [above left]. The second example for sale is also a 1956 Heinemann first edition, £975, including black and white illustrations by Janet and Ann Grahame-Johnstone [above top right]. The third book, a pink leather first edition by Heinemann, 1956, £2,000, features an onlaid Dalmation on the front cover plus paw prints above lower right]. The story Pongo and Missis are a pair of spotty Dalmation dogs which live with Mr and Mrs
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Believers

The Believers by Zoe Heller is the story of a New York family and how serious illness challenges each person to consider in what they believe. The Litvinoffs are a Jewish family used by Heller as a prism to question our beliefs, not just religious but also motherhood, fidelity and politics. The story starts with the meeting of English student Audrey and American lawyer Joel, at a party in London in the Sixties. The action then shifts swiftly to 2002. Audrey and Joel live in New York, he is a prominent and outspoken radical lawyer, she does good works. They have two daughters, Rose and Karla, and adopted son Lenny. On the day he is due to appear in court representing a controversial defendant, Joel has a stroke. As he lays in a coma, Heller shows each of the family confronting the situation, its impact on their own lives, or not as the case may be. None of the characters are particularly likeable, and the storyline can be difficult in places, but I found the pages turned quickly as I wanted to know the ending. Of course, like life, there is no neat finale only more life to follow as
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Western Wind

In 15th century Somerset, a village is isolated between high ground and a river. Various attempts to find funding and the skills to build a bridge have foundered, and with it the village’s hopes of prosperity. Then in the early hours of Shrove Saturday, the body of a villager is swept away by the river and everyone looks to the priest for answers. The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey is a contemplative, slow burn about John Reve, the priest, his care for the villagers of Oakham, and the persistent questions of his visiting rural dean about the death of Thomas Newman. The story timeline is chopped up and told backwards, which adds to the mystery. The novel starts with the sighting of the body and the finding of a green shirt in the bulrushes. This is a sign, Reve says, that Newman’s soul has crossed into heaven. Only at the end, do we find out the truth of what really happened. The dean is a threat; we never know his name, and only at the end are we given a physical description of him. He suggests to Reve that as this is the season of confession, a pardon be issued
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Categories: Book Love.

‘Celebration’, a short story

The floor wasn’t big enough for all three girls to lay out their paper patterns so Jenny went first. Her dress would be full-length pale blue satin, spaghetti straps. Anne and Liz sat and watched. Jenny had sewn things before, the short tartan wool skirt she was wearing now was home-made, fully lined and everything. Jenny knelt on the floor, pins between her lips, smoothing fabric and smoothing paper, pinning along the lines. Her treasured scissors were in her sewing box. Satin was horribly slippery fabric to sew and Jenny wished Anne and Liz would do something rather than just sit there like wet weekends. All she could see was their feet. Anne’s white tennis shoes were muddy around the rubber sole. Liz was in bare feet, the red polish peeling off her toenails. The Rag Ball was on Saturday. She had no idea how Anne and Liz intended to sew their dresses. She got the feeling they only bought patterns and fabric because she had. This happened a lot. If she’d said she was going to bleach her hair blonde, they probably would too. It had been like this for almost three years. At first it had been giggly,
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Categories: My Short Stories.

Connectedness: published today

Today is the day… Connectedness my second novel, book two in the ‘Identity Detective’ series is published. Here’s what some of the early reviewers have said: 5* “Although this is a follow-on novel from the first, Ignoring Gravity, it could equally be read as a standalone. Sandra Danby does not rely just on the story of the search carried out by her identity detective, Rose Haldane, but builds up a detailed and believable picture of the life of her main character Justine. Well written with realistic characters and the setting out of the story in a carefully and balanced way, I would highly recommend this novel.”  4* “There are deep thoughts on life and surroundings that are recognizable to all of us. Eventually all comes together in a heartfelt ending. Connectedness is a gripping story of love, loss and the human struggle to be your one true self. An amazing read.” To celebrate the arrival of Connectedness, Ignoring Gravity is free to download here. TODAY only. So what’s ‘Connectedness’ about? TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD, ARTIST JUSTINE TREE HAS IT ALL… BUT SHE ALSO HAS A SECRET THAT THREATENS TO DESTROY EVERYTHING Justine’s art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Connectedness'.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘After a Row’ by Tom Pickard #poetry #nature

Winter Migrants by poet Tom Pickard is a collection of poetry and prose, starting with the prize-winning sequence ‘Lark & Merlin’, an erotic pursuit over the hills and fells of the poet’s Northern-English homeland. In truth, I could have selected anything from this slim volume, but ‘After a Row’ just caught my mood today. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘After a Row’ A lapwing somersaults spring, Flips over winter and back. After a fast walk – my limbs The engine of thought – up long hills Where burn bubbles into beck and clough to gill BUY THE BOOK Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘Sometimes and After’ by Hilda Doolittle ‘Cloughton Wyke 1’ by John Wedgwood Clarke ‘Forgetfulness’ by Hart Crane And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read in the bath: ‘After a Row’ by @tompickardpoet http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2UD via @SandraDanby SaveSave SaveSave
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Categories: Poetry.

Book review: Love Me Not

Every book in the Helen Grace series by MJ Arlidge is fast-moving, but Love Me Not is the fastest of them all. The action happens, almost exclusively, in one day. It starts in the early morning when a commuter is shot on a rural road. Why kill a respectable wife and mother who has a socially-responsible job? As the day progresses there are more shootings around Southampton, each victim seems completely different from the others. Where is the pattern? This story is different in that the action is not focussed so much on Helen Grace and, with the exception of a few references to previous books, can be read as a standalone story. There is a gunman on the loose, shooting people at random. Or is it two gunmen? As the victims start to pile-up, a pattern begins to emerge. Will the police identify the shooters in time to stop another murder? Why are the killers staying so close to Southampton? The point-blank callousness of the murders is chilling. When the answers are found, they are unfortunately all too believable. The reader, unlike the police, knows the who but not the why and that’s what keeps the pages turning. As
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Heat of the Day

As writers we are used to being told ‘trust the reader’. As a reader, this novel is a definite case for remembering to ‘trust the author’. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen, published in 1949, is now recognised as a classic novel about the Second World War. It tells the story of Stella Rodney and her relationship with two men, her lover Robert and Harrison, the man who suspects Robert of selling secrets to the enemy and sees this as a way of winning Stella’s love. This is not a spy novel, rather its threads and tentacles of story are woven as intricately as the lives of the three principal characters overlap with the bigger-scale events of war. War is at the centre of it all, brooding over every minute, every decision, every pause. London, emptied of evacuees and people fleeing for safety, becomes a smaller place where strangers wish each other good luck in anticipation of that night’s bombing, where you awake in the morning and realize you are still alive. ‘Out of mists of morning charred by the smoke from ruins each day rose to a height of unmisty glitter; between the last sunset and first
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Offshore

This is a slim, powerful novel about a small community of people living on houseboats on the River Thames at Battersea Reach in 1960s London. Anchored on the southern shore, next to the warehouses, brewery and rubbish disposal centre, they long to be positioned on the prosperous Chelsea shore opposite. In Offshore, Penelope Fitzgerald draws you into the world of Dreadnought, Grace, Maurice, Lord Jim and Rochester – those are the boats – and their occupants. They live in close, intimate proximity as the boats are tied to each other, only one is fastened to the wharf. Despite this, each person lives in an individual island of loneliness caused by marriage, poverty, sexuality, or just being different. Their lives are governed by tidal movement. ‘On every barge on the Reach a very faint ominous tap, no louder than the door of a cupboard shutting, would be followed by louder ones from every strake, timber and weatherboard, a fusillade of thunderous creaking, and even groans that seemed human. The crazy old vessels, riding high in the water without cargo, awaited their owner’s return.’ The people are inter-dependent but don’t know it until a crisis happens. The catalyst is Nenna, a young
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Categories: Book Love.

‘Revenge’, a short story

They are bought with a purpose. Not cheap, but worth it. June prepares carefully. Works out the best place from which to spy, disguised, far enough away to be unsuspected. The binoculars take a bit of fiddling with until she gets the hang of them. Simple really, she doesn’t need her reading glasses. On the chosen day she dresses in brown, the better to disappear into the natural surroundings. The caramel cable cardigan she knitted herself when Jim was ill, the khaki trousers bought from the bargain bin at the supermarket, her comfortable gardening shoes and a clever sunhat which folds flat and fits in her pocket. She settles into position, her back against a tree, sitting on a picnic rug. See and not be seen, that is the plan. It will be impossible to miss the guilty party from here. Beside her she lays out provisions: cheese and pickle sandwich on granary bread, flask of black coffee, fingers of buttery shortbread. Nothing that will rattle or crunch, no plastic wrapping or greaseproof paper. Only cling film. She misses her daily lunch apple but it too involves crunching, perhaps she will eat it for supper instead. And so she waits. A
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Categories: My Short Stories.

Book review: The Hoarder

Part crime-mystery, part mystical ghost story, The Hoarder, the second novel by Jess Kidd, is difficult to define. Maud Drennan is an irreverent Irish carer who has been assigned the unholy task of bringing order to the life of Cathal Flood, a cantankerous old man who lives with his cats in a decrepit house surrounded by piles of rubbish. The previous carer who did Maud’s job, was run off the scene. Amongst the piles of junk, though, are ghosts of Cathal’s past, clues to the disappearance of one maybe two women, and traps for Maud to fall into. This is at times a bewildering smorgasbord of imagery and description, there were times when I wanted to shout ‘give me a breather’ but the humour of Maud kept me reading. There are some giant character arcs to work through, both Maud and Cathal change and change again, not to mention Maud’s glorious cross-dressing neighbour Renata. To add to the merry-go-round of confusion, Maud is followed around in her daily life by a collection of ghosts, Irish saints that she learned about in a childhood book. Each saint passes comment on Maud’s actions adding a hilarious Greek Chorus effect to the story.
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Categories: Book Love.

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.

Book review: The Wicked Cometh

In the dark alleyways of London, in 1831, people are disappearing; the vulnerable poor, children, elderly, homeless. Missing posters line the streets. But none are found. The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin is a 19th century crime thriller with two women, divided by class and background, who are determined to find the truth but who never once suspect the depth of wickedness they will uncover. When 18-year old Hester White is hit by a carriage, physician Calder Brock takes her to his London home. Cared for by his servants, he questions Hester about her birth. Ashamed of her bad luck – growing up at a country parsonage, she was orphaned and taken in by her parents’ servants whose own income declined so now they live in an East End slum – Hester hides her education with a deftly-adopted London accent. Brock rescues her as an experiment in educating the poor. He takes Hester to Waterford, his childhood home in the country, where he lives with his sister Rebekah and their Uncle Septimus. Rebekah is to be Hester’s tutor. What follows is a story of lies laid upon more lies, murder, theft, friendship and love. As the women set out to
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Categories: Book Love.