Archives for writing

#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.

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.

How George Saunders writes

George Saunders “My room is flooded with family photos, there’s a desk, a printer and two guitars that I play when I’m stuck in a paragraph. I work with an obsessive quality, but I’m wary of the blandness that routine creates and my best work is only summoned by irregular habits. Part of me wants to go through life on autopilot. I have to lure out the crazy person in me who’s honest and intense.” [an interview with ‘The Sunday Times Magazine’ April 1, 2018]  The idea of stopping to play the guitar, to free the moment, to throw off predictability, really appeals to me. I don’t have a guitar but I do have a Yamaha keyboard in my study [below], its daily presence reminding me of my adult vow to rekindle my childhood piano playing. Later in the same interview, Saunders says: “I do a lot of semi-physical things to break up the day, like service the hot tub or record a riff on the guitar to restore my writing focus.” This made me laugh out loud. I achieve the same effect with a trip to the supermarket, loading the washing machine or going to yoga. But when I stopped
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Categories: On Writing.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘My Mother’

I was hooked from the first line here, I think because of the familiarity of the cornflake cake. So what came next was a surprise, not something my mother said to me when I made her a cake! This is My Mother by Ruby Robinson [below] from Every Little Sound. Published in 2016, Robinson’s first collection of poems was shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Forward Prize for ‘Best First Collection’, and the TS Eliot Prize for ‘Best Collection’.  Here is the first stanza of My Mother. 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. ‘She said the cornflake cake made her day, she said a man cannot be blamed for being unfaithful: his heart is not in tune with his extremities and it’s just the way his body chemistry is. She said all sorts of things.’ Source: Poetry (October 2014) Read more about Ruby Robinson here.   ‘Every Little Sound’ by Ruby Robinson [UK: Pavilion Poetry] Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘Runaways’ by Daniela Nunnari ‘Tulips’ by Wendy Cope ‘Cloughton Wyke I’ by John Wedgwood Clarke And
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Categories: Poetry.

First Edition: Ulysses

In 2009, a well-preserved first edition of Ulysses by James Joyce, first published in 1922, was sold for £275,000. It had hardly been read, except for the racy bits. The book had previously been lost, having originally been bought surreptitiously in a Manhattan bookshop despite it being banned in the USA. The book was banned throughout the 1920s in the UK and USA. Another first edition [below right] was defaced by a reader who condemned the book as pornographic; the book was still valued at €13,500. The novel was banned in the UK until 1936.  Ulysses was first serialised in parts in the American journal The Little Review between March 1918 and December 1920, before being published in its entirety by Syliva Beach [above left] in Paris on February 2, 1922 [Joyce’s 40th birthday]. Ulysses is the Latinised name of Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s epic poem Odyssey. The novel has a number of parallels with the poem including structure, characters. Leopold Bloom echoes Odysseus; Molly Bloom/Penelope; Stephen Dedalus/Telemachus; taking place in the 20th century.  A first edition dated 1922 [above] by Shakespeare & Company in Paris is for sale [at time of going to press] at Peter Harrington for
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Categories: Book Love.

I agree with… Allison Pearson

With ‘How Hard Can It Be?’ the follow-up to bestseller ‘I Don’t Know How She Does it’ about to be published in 2017, novelist Allison Pearson said: “I gave the first book the wrong ending. She goes and lives in the country and raises pigs. I gave her a get-out-of-jail-free card. I had thousands of letters and e-mails from readers. Quite a lot of them said, oh I can’t give up. Now I think she should have stayed where she was.”  [in an interview with ‘Good Housekeeping’ magazine, October 2017] How many authors look back at their books and wish they could change something? It is good to hear Allison Pearson admit this about her bestseller I Don’t Know How She Does It. It is difficult to resist the tidiness of a neat ending, and to read the subsequent reader reviews saying ‘I didn’t get it’, but life doesn’t always have answers. ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’ by Allison Pearson [UK: Vintage] This ‘leaving things a bit loose’ is a trend which has come to fiction via television series, I think. Not everything is explained, ends are not neatly tied. I am thinking particularly of the Fargo series by Noah
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘The Unthinkable’

This poem grabbed me from the first line. It has action, it has colour, it has place. I could see the purple door, I could see the beach. And I wanted to write my own story about it. This is ‘The Unthinkable’ by Simon Armitage [below], included in his latest anthology The Unaccompanied.  Here is the first stanza of The Unthinkable. 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. ‘A huge purple door washed up in the bay overnight, its paintwork blistered and peeled from weeks at sea. The town storyteller wasted no time in getting to work: the beguiling, eldest girl of a proud, bankrupt farmer had slammed that door in the face of a Freemason’s son, who in turn had bulldozed both farm and family over the cliff, except for the girl, who lived now by the light and heat of a driftwood fire on a beach.’ Source: Poetry (May 2013)   ‘The Unaccompanied’ by Simon Armitage [UK: Faber] Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘Digging’ by Seamus Heaney ‘Alone’ by Dea Parkin ‘A thousand years,
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Categories: Poetry.

‘Endings’, a short story

The woman in the red coat stood beside her on the northbound platform, it was a feminine coat, cut tight at the waist and flaring out like an ice skating skirt. Just as Sue was framing the words, ‘Ooh, is that from Next,’ the 10.23 to Manchester Piccadilly arrived and something red flew past her. It was so quick she thought she might have imagined it. But then she saw the white staring eyes of the driver and heard the desperate squealing of brakes on rails. Footsteps behind her, people running, jostling, pushing. ‘What happened? Oh…’ ‘Is she? How…’ ‘I’ll go and find…’ Sentences unfinished. Sue knelt at the platform edge and looked down to the rails, the crushed Coke cans, crinkly crisp packets and dark stains, red fabric. The front of the engine loomed over her like a tall cliff. Death smelled like the diesel Sue put in the car. ‘Hello.’ Not even a whisper, smaller than a sigh. Sue pulled the red coat aside and two eyes looked up, black, like pieces of coal in a snowman’s face. ‘Help.’ Sue’s voice wasn’t working, it sounded nothing like the noise she usually heard in her head. She tried again.
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Categories: My Short Stories.

Famous people, reading… Grace Kelly

Not a photo of Grace Kelly, reading, on a day off. This is a scene towards the end of Rear Window and Kelly’s character Lisa Fremont is reading Beyond the High Himalayas. When her boyfriend falls asleep, she abandons her book and picks up a fashion magazine. The original edition of Beyond the High Himalayas was published in by Doubleday in 1952. William O Douglas [below] was nominated by Franklin D Roosevelt as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Rear Window, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, was released in 1954. It is based on Cornell Woolrich’s 1942 short story It Had To Be Murder. Jeff Jeffries [James Stewart] has broken his leg and is confined to a wheelchair in his apartment. His rear window looks out onto a courtyard and other apartments and, during a heatwave, he watches his neighbours. He becomes convinced he has seen a murder and his girlfriend Lisa investigates. Watch the trailer here.   ‘Beyond the High Himalayas’ by William O Douglas [UK: Pickard Press] See these other famous people, reading & writing:- Jerry Lewis Johnny Depp Alexa Chung And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
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Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 112… ‘Affinity’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“3 August 1873. I was never so frightened as I am now. They have left me sitting in the dark, with only the light from the window to write by. They have put me in my own room, they have locked the door on me. They wanted Ruth to do it, but she would not. She said ‘What, do you want me to lock up my own mistress, who has done nothing?’ In the end the doctor took the key from her & locked the door himself, then made her leave me. Now the house is full of voices, all saying my name. If I close my eyes & listen it might be any ordinary night. I might be waiting for Mrs Brink to come & take me down to a dark circle, & Madeleine or any girl might be there, blushing, thinking of Peter, of Peter’s great dark whiskers & shining hands.’ ‘Affinity’ by Sarah Waters [UK: Virago] Amazon Click here to read my review of The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Illywhacker’ by Peter Carey ‘Sophie’s World’ by Jostein Gaarder ‘Goldfinger’ by Ian Fleming And if you’d like
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

My Porridge & Cream read: @authormaryg #books #womensfiction

Today I’m delighted to welcome contemporary women’s novelist Mary Grand. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet by James Herriot. “My mum introduced me to James Herriot’s books in my early twenties. Fresh out of college I was living in a bedsit in Bethnal Green in London, cycling to work each day through heavy traffic to the school where I was teaching. These books were my escape into a different world, a different time. This was the world of 1930’s rural Yorkshire that was disappearing even as James Herriot wrote about it, although thankfully the hills and dales he describes with such love remain. He tells his stories with humour, charm and honesty; he is not frightened to talk about his mistakes and laugh at himself. When I was taking a picture of my copy of this book I realised this is quite an up to date cover…my early paperbacks have sadly collapsed! “I have read and re read these books throughout my life. In particular, when life has been difficult; after weeks of sleepless nights with babies; when my parents were very ill; when I had to stop work because life temporarily overwhelmed me. Gosh, as
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Categories: Porridge & Cream.

Book review: Gilead

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson is a read like no other. A slow, contemplative journey through the memories of one man’s life, as he waits to die. In 1956, the Reverend John Ames writes a letter to his young son. It tugs the heartstrings. Robinson writes with a clear unadorned style drawing heavily on biblical texts but it is not a religious tract, it is the story of a man’s life, his memories, his regrets and loves. The first few lines grabbed me and didn’t let me go. Do not start reading this book if you are feeling impatient. Some passages are easy and quick to read, others deserve more thought. It unwinds slowly like a length of thread, telling us the story of John Ames, his father and grandfather, the legacy of the Ames family which has been inherited by the Reverend’s seven-year old son. I am not religious and some of the references will have passed me by. In the first half of the novel, I would think ‘oh no not another section about religion’, but as I read deeper into the book I became drawn into the stories of John Ames and his forebears and how their beliefs shaped
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Categories: Book Love.

How Philippa Gregory writes

Philippa Gregory “What is so wonderful about fiction, especially if you write it as I do, in the first person, is that you are there. In a sense it’s not as though I’ve taken the history and given it to the reader. It’s as if I’ve taken the reader and put them into the history… If a historical novel is successful then the reader isn’t saying ‘Hang on a minute, I know this,’ or ‘I’ll look this up’, they are caught up in the narrative.’” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, May 5, 2017] All great novels take the reader and put them into a world, a world they come to care about. Writing tension into a novel about any historical event is a challenge, when the ending of the event is well known. Philippa Gregory has made an art of this but she also chooses her history cleverly. Many of her main characters are women whose history is not so well known to non-history buffs, even if the larger political events of the day are. So the tension does remain. Her remark about viewpoint is spot-on. The author’s choice about third person or first person is key to
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Categories: On Writing.

#Bookreview ‘A Ladder to the Sky’ by @john_boyne #Ambition #Plagiarism

Maurice Swift is one of life’s takers. A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne is the story of his life, told mostly by a series of people he meets, spends time with, has relationships with. Note that I don’t say ‘and who he loves’, because Maurice Swift loves only himself. He is single-minded and does what he needs to do to get on and get what he wants; he wants to be a major novelist and, oddly for such a self-obsessed person, a father. I read the book in a strange state of tension wondering to what lows he would next sink, waiting for him to get his just desserts. Boyne’s novels are always thought-provoking and this is no different. But I found it a difficult novel to read in that Maurice is not the sort of person you want to know. He lies, dissembles, steals, discriminates, copies, exploits and basically sucks dry a person until, when he has got all he needs, he moves on. We first encounter Maurice in West Berlin in 1988. The sixth novel of sixty six year old Erich Ackermann has won a prize and, on the subsequent publicity tour, he notices a young
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Categories: Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘Three Sisters, Three Queens’ by @PhilippaGBooks #Tudor

‘What is the point of love if it does not make us kind?’ Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory is a story of three women, princesses all, who marry for duty, for their country but who long to marry for love. It is a not a tale of sisterly love, more of sisterly rivalry, envy and spitefulness. The three women become sisters of England, Scotland and France but each knows despair and great unhappiness, they are alternately supportive to each other and shamelessly selfish. The three women are Margaret, older sister of Henry VIII; Mary, his younger sister; and Katherine of Aragon, his first wife. All women have been raised to do their duty, to behave correctly, to smile when in pain, to nod to their husband when they disagree, and to always put themselves second. It is a story of English and Scottish politics, the switching of allegiances, the lies and flattery, the convenient silences. The story is told by Margaret, married young to James IV of Scotland, who is horrified after their wedding to be presented with a mob of children, his illegitimate sons and daughters. She appeals to Katherine for advice who tells her to swallow
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Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 111… ‘Reading Turgenev’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“A woman, not yet fifty-seven, slight and seeming frail, eats carefully at a table in a corner. Her slices of buttered bread have been halved for her, her fried egg mashed, her bacon cut. ‘Well, this is happiness!’ she murmurs aloud, but none of the other women in the dining room replies because none of them is near enough to hear. She’s privileged, the others say, being permitted to occupy on her own the bare-topped table in the corner. She has her own salt and pepper.” ‘Reading Turgenev’ from ‘Two Lives’ by William Trevor Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen ‘Dance Dance Dance’ by Haruki Murakami And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: TWO LIVES by William Trevor #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2qN
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.