Archives for writing

#BookReview ‘The Invitation’ by Lucy Foley @lucyfoleytweets #romance #historical

A romance, almost an anti-romance, The Invitation by Lucy Foley is a poignant novel with two parallel stories of dangerous obsession and fantasy. Hal, who has drifted to Rome after serving in the Royal Navy in World War Two, leads a cheap life, surviving on writing assignments, living in a cheap area, Trastevere. One day he accepts from a friend an invitation to a party, an invitation the friend is unable to use. Arriving in his dusty suit, Hal feels apart from the glamour and wealth on show, the jewels, the gowns, the dinner suits. There he sees an enchanting, puzzling young woman who appears icy, untouchable, out of reach. They meet again when Hal is invited by the hostess of the Rome party, the Contessa, to be attached as journalist to the forthcoming promotional tour for her film, The Sea Captain. They are to sail along the coast to Cannes where the film will be premiered at the film festival. Invitations, accepted and refused, feature frequently throughout the novel, forcing decisions to be made, plans changed, opportunities grasped. The close proximity of the group of disparate passengers begins to unveil secrets, cracks in carefully-controlled behaviour, shameful secrets and lies.
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Categories: Book Love.

#FlashPIC 39 Parking Suspension #writingprompt #amwriting

Imagine arriving home to find access to your home is blocked. Parking suspended. Entry forbidden. A cordon closes the street. A police presence. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series. Try this picture to kickstart a short story or a flash fiction exercise about dealing with an unexpected situation. How do you feel? Irritated. Angry. Guilty. Fearful for your family, your home, your possessions. Consider the surroundings. Is there a crowd of onlookers or are you alone? Does a helicopter hover, perhaps police or news. Perhaps a fire engine or ambulance. What is your priority? What do you do? And what are the consequences of your actions? © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Freddie Mercury Wordstorm Bronze Waiting beneath the clock 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,
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Categories: On Writing and Writers' BLOCKbusters.

Great Opening Paragraph 117… ‘Personal’ #amwriting #FirstPara

‘Eight days ago my life was an up and down affair. Some of it good. Some of it not so good. Most of it uneventful. Long slow periods of nothing much, with occasional bursts of something. Like the army itself. Which is how they found me. You can leave the army, but the army doesn’t leave you. Not always. Not completely.’ ‘Personal’ by Lee Child BUY Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Sea Glass’ by Anita Shreve ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ by Mark Haddon ‘American Psycho’ by Brett Easton Ellis And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: PERSONAL by @LeeChildReacher #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3gI via @SandraDanby SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave
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Categories: Book Love.

I agree with… Pat Barker #amwriting #writerslife #writetip

Pat Barker “I do think that sometimes the seed that sets you off on the process of writing a novel can have been around for many years, even decades, before it actually – for some mysterious reason – comes to fruition… I think it’s almost a good sign if an idea has been fermenting for quite a long time in a sort of semi-conscious way. I’ve learnt to distrust the staggeringly brilliant new idea that was triggered by something that happened quite recently. Ha Ha! You need the dog-eared thing that’s been around for a long time, quietly nagging away at you.”  [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, May 25 2018]  This is so true. It is easy to be carried away by the bright new idea that seems to tap into the zeitgeist, but in my experience these don’t have the legs and can turn out to be superficial. Better nurture the idea that rumbles away in your sub-conscious, allowing it to unfold and multiply, to make connections with other reflections. Barker was talking ahead of the release of her latest novel The Silence of the Girls, a retelling of The Iliad, the story of the Trojan war,
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Categories: On Writing.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Woods etc.’ by Alice Oswald #poetry

The first time I read a poem by Alice Oswald I was deep in the countryside; in my imagination. She took me away from the bookshop where I stood in front of the poetry shelf, running my fingers along the slim spines, waiting to be tempted, to stand in a woodland deserted of people. It says something about my own need for nature that her words drew me in so effortlessly. 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. ‘Footfall, which is a means so steady And in small sections wanders through the mind Unnoticed, because it beats constantly, Sweeping together the loose tacks of sound I remember walking once into increasing Woods, my hearing like a widening wound. First your voice and then the rustling ceasing. The last glow of rain dead in the ground’ BUY Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘After a row’ by Tom Pickard ‘Poems’ by Ruth Stone ‘Digging’ by Seamus Heaney And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read
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Categories: Poetry.

How Diane Setterfield writes #writerslife #amwriting

Diane Setterfield “I think of the scenes as beads. There are lots of beads, and you can line them up next to each other and it looks just like a necklace. But until you’ve got that invisible thread you can’t pick it up and wear it, because if you pick it up [the beads] will just scatter and go everywhere. You’ve got to have that thread, even though no one can see it.” [an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ Magazine’ September 14, 2018]  I love this analogy, though what she doesn’t mention is the process of swapping the beads around. Eliminating some, adding others not originally planned. The necklace idea works for linear stories as well as time slip, as long as the invisible thread is strong. Setterfield’s first novel, gothic mystery The Thirteenth Tale, was published in 2011 and made into a BBC film starring Olivia Coleman and Vanessa Redgrave. It sold 239,368 copies [Nielsen BookScan UK]. It was followed by in 2014 by Victoria ghost story Bellman & Black.Once Upon A River was published on January 24, 2019. Read more about Diane Setterfield’s novels here. BUY See how these other authors write:- George Saunders Mary Gaitskill Jeffrey Archer And if
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 38 Laburnum #writingprompt #amwriting

This is a photograph of a laburnum tree and it is going to inspire you to write a scary story today. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this picture to kickstart a short story or a flash fiction exercise about fear. First, seven facts about the laburnum tree:- The common nickname for the laburnum tree is the ‘golden chain’ or ‘golden shower’ tree. All parts of it are poisonous. The yellow flowers are pea-shaped, resembling but unrelated to the pea family. The fruit develops as a pod that is extremely poisonous. The wood is highly prized for making musical instruments. The heartwood of the laburnum is hard, chocolate brown-coloured, and often used as a substitute for ebony or rosewood. The outer, or sapwood, is a pale butter-yellow shade. Now consider each of these facts in turn, and write one paragraph about each in a fictional setting. Consider how each fact could be threatening. Review your paragraphs and look for links between them. Discard any that don’t fit. Now turn your remaining paragraphs into a flash fiction story including one of the following:- A poisoning; A miraculous healing; An unexpected musical triumph; A piece of furniture made from
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

My Porridge & Cream read… Ivy Logan #books #YA #supernatural

Today I’m delighted to welcome Young Adult supernatural author Ivy Logan. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Reckless by Cornelia Funke. “The book I enjoy reading is Reckless by Cornelia Funke. It’s a part of the Reckless series but the book is pretty special to me. I first discovered Cornelia Funke because of the Inkworld series but it was Jacob Reckless who went on to become the person with the power to draw me back again and again. “Jacob is a human who has found his way to a magical world called the Mirrorworld. He keeps coming back to it and moves between two worlds. Despite his nomadic life Jacob always puts family first and he is willing to do anything, sacrifice anything to save his brother who is slowly turning into stone. The characters that flow from Cornelia’s imagination are so very real and they draw you and hold your attention.” BUY                   Ivy’s Bio Ivy Logan has a lifetime of stories in her head. She has always loved reading and watching movies. And she sees stories in everything and in everyone. She was already a storyteller before she actually sat down and decided
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Great Opening Paragraph 116… ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs, held there for a number of hours, and then, in the evening, exhaled violently through the same channels.” ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ by Patrick Hamilton BUY Read my review of The Slaves of Solitude. Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Reading Turgenev/Two Lives’ by William Trevor ‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan ‘The Ghost Road’ by Pat Barker And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: THE SLAVES OF SOLITUDE by Patrick Hamilton #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2AD
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#BookReview ‘Amy Snow’ by Tracy Rees @AuthorTracyRees #historical

When eight-year old Aurelia Vennaway runs outside to play in the snow on a January day in 1831, she finds a baby, blue, abandoned and barely alive. She takes the baby home and, despite opposition from her parents, demands they keep the baby. Aurelia really is that precocious. She names the baby Amy. Amy Snow by Tracy Rees is about two lost girls, each lost in different ways who through their friendship find strength to face the lot given to them by life at a time when women had few individual rights. This is the story of a secret, well-hidden and unveiled by a series of letters. The two girls grow up together. Aurelia lives a privileged life and Amy stays on in the large house, first as a servant and then companion to her friend. She is treated harshly by Aurelia’s parents, but is looked after by Cook and under-gardener Robin. The two girls support each other as they grow up. Amy gains an education and learns how to be a lady, but when Aurelia faints, a weak heart is diagnosed. When Aurelia dies in her early twenties, Amy is thrown out of the house where she was discovered
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Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Serious’ by James Fenton #poetry

I picked up Selected Poems by James Fenton [below] in 2015] in my local library, drawn by the cover illustration; the colours, the corn cobs. I flicked through, and this was the poem that caught my eye. It is about love and hope and the fear of future regret.  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. ‘Awake, alert, Suddenly serious in love, You’re a surprise. I’ve known you long enough – Now I can hardly meet your eyes. It’s not that I’m Embarrassed or ashamed. You’ve changed the rules The way I’d hoped they’d change Before I thought: hopes are for fools.’ BUY Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘Because I could not stop for Death’ by Emily Dickinson ‘Name’ by Carol Ann Duffy ‘Not Waving but Drowning’ by Stevie Smith And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read in the bath: ‘Serious’ by James Fenton https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3g2 via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Poetry.

#FlashPIC 37 Departures Board #writingprompt #amwriting

Imagine the following then start to write. You are eight years old. You are trying to find your way home to your parents. Reading is not one of your strong points. You look at this Departures Board and wonder which train to take. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this picture to kickstart a short story or a series of flash fiction exercises about narrative. Put yourself in the mind of an eight-year old. Alone at a large noisy railway station. You becomes he or she. He has run away from the place he had been taken to live. He wants to be with his parents. Take each of the above sentences one at a time and write your way into the scenario. This may take five paragraphs or five pages, the length doesn’t matter. Give your character a name. Decide where he has come from, and what happened there. Where is his home? What matters to him in his life? What is his favourite meal? Has he been on a train before? How does the station make him feel? Now write each individual part of the story in linear order: why he left his parents and his home;
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

How Philip Pullman writes #amwriting #writerslife #BookofDust

Philip Pullman ‘When you’re writing, you have to please yourself because there’s no one else there initially. But the book doesn’t fully exist until it’s been read. The reader is a very important part of the transaction – and people have to read things they want to read. I’m writing for me – I write for all the ‘me’s’ that have been. From the first me I can remember, the me who first got interested in stories and loved listening to them; to the me who was here at Oxford fifty years ago; to the me who was a school teacher, telling stories to the class. All of these. I’m writing for me. And I am lucky to have found such a wide audience and an audience which contains both adults and children is the best of all.’ [in an interview with the BBC on October 19, 2017]  Pullman was speaking a day prior to publication of La Belle Sauvage, first volume of the long-awaited The Book of Dust. The interview is a fascinating account of how such a successful author – commercially and critically – goes about his day job. Three things stand out for me. He sits and
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Categories: On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 115… ‘The Garden of Evening Mists’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“On a mountain above the clouds once lived a man who had been the gardener of the Emperor of Japan. Not many people would have known of him before the war, but I did. He had left his home on the rim of the sunrise to come to the central highlands of Malaya. I was seventeen years old when my sister first told me about him. A decade would pass before I travelled up to the mountains to see him.” ‘The Garden of Evening Mists’ by Tan Twan Eng Amazon Read my review of The Garden of Evening Mists. Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Armadillo’ by William Boyd ‘To Have and Have Not’ by Ernest Hemingway ‘Super-Cannes’ by JG Ballard And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS by Tan Twan Eng #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2AL
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘May-Day Song for North Oxford’

John Betjeman is an English poet so identified with his times and interests. Born in 1906, his family ran a firm in the East End of London making furniture and household items distinctive to Victorians. Betjeman remained fascinated by Victoriana, its architecture, English nature and society, and this is evident in his poetry. He was a founding member of the Victorian Society, and became Poet Laureate in 1972. In his introduction to his collection Slick But Not Streamlined, published in 1947, he wrote of himself ‘so at home with the provincial gaslit towns, the seaside lodgings, the bicycle, the harmonium.’ I read ‘May-Day Song for North Oxford’ on a freezing cold February morning, in a public library in West London. It was the sort of day on which you doubt you will ever be warm again. In a few words, I forgot my surroundings and was with Betjeman on a spring day. 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. ‘Belbroughton Road is bonny, and pinkly bursts the spray Of prunus and forsythia across the public way, For a full spring-tide of blossom
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Categories: Poetry.

#GuestPost ‘Short Story Talk’ by Amanda Huggins @troutiemcfish #shortstories #amwriting

A warm Yorkshire welcome today to my blog to short story writer Amanda Huggins, a 2018 Costa Short Story Award runner-up, who has clear ideas about writing the short form. Welcome Amanda! “There’s been talk in recent years of a short story renaissance. In January 2018The Bookseller magazine reported that sales of short story collections were up 50%, reaching their highest level in seven years. However, this turned out to be largely due to a single book — Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks. This January the news was all about poetry — sales were up 12% in 2018, for the second year in a row. “It’s great to see a renewed interest in both forms — certainly a couple of independent bookshops I’ve talked to this week have confirmed that short story sales are up — and more collections are being featured in review columns. There was also the buzz around Kristen Roupenian’s short story, ‘Cat Person’, published in the New Yorker at the end of 2017, which really resonated with a younger audience. Whatever you thought of that story, it was all good publicity for the short form.” “As a writer, I know that crafting a two thousand word story requires a different
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 36 Lion Gatepost #writingprompt #amwriting

A lion sits atop a gatepost. Is it a guardian? A shapeshifter? An enemy? An ornament made of stone? This is a writing tip from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Beat writers’ block today with this picture. Put down your pen and set aside your laptop. Study this photograph for one minute and memorise as many details as you can. Now, in one minute, write a list of what you remember. Choose a minimum of three and a maximum of five things from your list. Write a further paragraph about each. Remember to include emotions, descriptions, sensations, anticipations. Choose one of these three paragraphs, and write it the opposite way round. If it is happy make it sad, if it is threatening make it friendly. Now make the lion come alive and walk into your story. What happens next? Start writing. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Moon rocks Arrivals Board Is it red or is it orange 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
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

A #poem to read in the bath… ‘I loved her like the leaves’

The sense of loss in this Japanese poem is unquenchable. Written by Kakinonoto Hitomaro in 7th century Japan, it speaks of emptiness so great there is no hope or comfort. Hitomaro was a poet of the Asuka period [538-710], serving as court poet to the Empress Jitō, and is considered to be one of the four greatest poets in Japanese history along with Fujiwara no Teika, Sōgi and Bashō. ‘I loved her like the leaves, The lush green leaves of spring That pulled down the willows on the bank’s edge where we walked while she was of this world. I built my life on her. But man cannot flout the laws of this world. To the shimmering wide fields hidden by the white cloud, white as white silk scarf she soared away like the morning bird, hid from our world like the setting sun. The child, the gift she left behind – he cries for food; but always finding nothing that I might give him, I pick him up and hold him in my arms. On the pillow where we lay, My wife and I, as one, I pass the daylight lonely till the dusk, the black night sighing till the dawn. I
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Categories: Poetry.

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.

#BookReview ‘La Belle Sauvage’ by @PhilipPullman #BookofDust

I’m a great Philip Pullman fan so when word of his new series The Book of Dust was first announced, I was excited. La Belle Sauvage is volume one in the series and tells the story of eleven-year old Malcolm who lives beside the River Thames at The Trout pub at Godstow, near Oxford. One day, a baby arrives at the priory on the other side of the river. Called Lyra, mystery surrounds the child, her parentage, and why she is cared for by the nuns. This of course is Lyra Belacqua, so familiar and beloved of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. La Belle Sauvage is the story of Malcolm’s fascination with the baby Lyra, his relationship with scholar Hannah Relf and his suspicions about a mysterious stranger who visits The Trout. Everyone dislikes this man, despite his ready smiles and chat, because of his daemon, a three-legged hyena. Common with the first book of every series, there is a certain amount of scene setting, the laying-down of foundations for the forthcoming books. Pullman takes time and care to develop the character of Malcolm, the love he has for his canoe La Belle Sauvage, his relationships with his parents, the
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Categories: Book Love.