Devon and Kickstarter

American author Devon Trevarrow Flaherty [below] is not sitting around thinking about getting her next books into print. She’s doing something about it by running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to publish her next three books. Authors are increasingly using crowdfunding as a new route to a published book, so this is a new route to market being carefully watched by the publishing industry. Devon Trevarrow Flaherty 23-10-14The deadline to contribute to Devon’s Kickstarter campaign [below] is November 5. As well as knowing they are supporting an author, each supporter will receive a benefit depending on the amount pledged. For example, a pledge of $25 equals a free e-book. A pledge of $5,000 equals an air hug, plus a character named after you and the three e-books. The minimum pledge is $1. Owl and Zebra Press - the 3 books 23-10-14The Night of One Hundred Thieves, the first of the three books, is ready to print as soon as the target is hit. This slim novel is based on the Northwyth legends found in Benevolent, Flaherty’s first novel. How can 35 thieves all steal the same ring? And who will be the last thief standing? This is the provisional front cover design [below]. the night of the hundred thieves by devon trevarrow flaherty - cover 23-10-14The second title, The Journey of Clement Fancywater, is a fantasy novel, a down-the-hole magical journey full of strange creatures, stranger plants, and Subterreans that will haunt your dreams.

The third book is described by Flaherty as the most literary novel of the three. The Family Elephant’s Jewels was written over a number of years. Gemma, mother of seven, dies unexpectedly and each of her children discovers a different secret about her life. How could they not have known? Who was this woman?

To visit Flaherty’s Kickstarter page, click here.

To read more about Devon Trevarrow Flaherty, click here for her blog ‘The Starving Artist’.  Click the ‘Books’ tab to find a free read of the first chapter of Benevolent.

Book review: The Surfacing

the surfacing by cormac james 9-10-14

This is a consuming book about life on the edge of life, life on the edge of death. When you stand at that edge, there is not much difference between the two.

In the 1850s, the Impetus sets out into the Arctic. It is part of a rescue party to find the missing Franklin expedition. Delays on shore, including parties and flirtation with the local girls on Greenland, mean the ship is late at the muster and is assigned the most difficult sector to search. Part way into their journey, they discover a stowaway. This woman changes the life of everyone on board, particularly second in charge Lieutenant Morgan. At first she is an intruder in their male world, then she is a nuisance, but finally they accept Miss Rink as one of them. And all the time, winter draws in and the ice clamps around their boat. And Miss Rink is pregnant.

They are caught in the ice for the winter. Ice is a character in the novel; it moves, it seems to breath, it thaws and re-freezes. Their lives depend on the ice. The options are endlessly reviewed, always tempered by the thought that they – the rescuers – are in need of rescuing themselves. And if they were, by some miracle this far north, to stumble on Franklin, would they be able to help the stranded crew?

I felt myself drawn into their daily lives, the need for routine and tasks in the long dark freezing cold days when there is nothing to do. The French cook made me smile, he promises them feasts at mealtimes and serves up mush. And all the time, the story is told by Morgan. His difficulties with Captain Myer, his friend Doctor DeHaven, and with Miss Rink.

Will they survive? Will they discover Franklin, or will they in turn be rescued? This is a wonderful novel, a very different read for me. The Arctic has such a presence, James describes the sea, the ice, the barren mountains and the extreme weather, with language at the same time poetic and powerful. Above all, it is a story of fatherhood as Morgan slowly accepts that Miss Rink’s child is his. In the midst of danger, trapped by the ice which pushes their boat so high above the ice’s surface that it must be supported by wooden posts, a new life is born.

For more on Cormac James’ inspiration for The Surfacing, read this interview with the Irish Times.
Click here for Cormac James’ blog.
The lost expedition of Arctic exploration, led by Captain Sir John Franklin, left England in 1845. The ships became ice bound and all on board were lost. A rescue mission was launched from England in 1848 and searches continued throughout much of the 19th century. To read more about Franklin’s expedition, click here.
‘The Surfacing’ by Cormac James [UK: Sandstone Press]

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Winter Song’

I came first to the war poets when I studied English Literature at university in London. We read them all: Owen, Sassoon, Graves, Brooke. I think it’s fair to say that in my early twenties I didn’t ‘get them’, not really. Wilfred Owen [below] composed his war poems between January 1917 when he was first sent to the Western Front, and November 1918 when he was killed. Only four of his poems were published during his lifetime. He is agreed to be the finest of the English poets writing about the First World War.



Instead of his most famous poems, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, I have chosen ‘Winter Song’. Written in October 1917, it immediately conjures up for me a Paul Nash painting [below] called ‘We are Making a New World’, painted in 1918 and on display in London at the Imperial War Museum. Paul Nash - We are Making a New World 19-6-14‘Winter Song’
The browns, the olives, and the yellows died,
And were swept up to heaven; where they glowed
Each dawn and set of sun till Christmastide,
And when the land lay pale for them, pale-snowed,
Fell back, and down the snow-drifts flamed and flowed.

From off your face, into the winds of winter,
The sun-brown and the summer-gold are blowing;
But they shall gleam again with spiritual glinter,
When paler beauty on your brows falls snowing,
And through those snows my looks shall be soft-going.

A quick search on Amazon revealed that a new copy of my edition of The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen would cost me £110, a used one £0.01.

For an interesting review by the BBC of the role poetry plays in our view of the First World War, click here.
To read The Poetry Foundation’s biography of Owen, click here.

the collected poems of wilfred owen 19-6-14a


‘The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen’ [Chatto & Windus]

Writers’ BLOCKbusters: Mum

Here’s a FlashPic from Writers’ BLOCKbusters to get you started writing today. they were her mother's favourite blooms 14-9-13Study the photograph, then use the sentence below as the beginning of a new short story.
“They were her mother’s favourite blooms…”

© ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby

Short story: ‘Whiteout’

It came without warning, the white, as quickly as a sigh. There was a moment of silence as he fell, of disbelief, a moment of loss when he thought, “Oh Jill” and reached for her hand which wasn’t there. Then all went black.




She was cold. A finger of ice wriggled along her spine, through the gap at her waistband where her thermal ski top had worked loose. She tried to straighten her clothes but the effort stole her breath so she rested for a moment, looking around, trying to assess where she’d fallen. She had never known quiet could be so dense.

“Bill?” She reassured herself. He wasn’t answering because he hadn’t fallen, was bringing help.

Not knowing which way was uphill or down, left or right, she cursed the loss of her spectacles. Above her was a structure, ghostly in the blankness which surrounded her like an unsatisfactory cheap duvet. Something dark loomed, it was the only thing she could see through the damp air which brushed her face like grubby cotton wool puffs smudged with mascara and eye shadow. It was tall enough to be the spire of a church; perhaps St Peter’s where they had married. Her dress like a froth of bubbly whipped egg whites, the unseen basic cotton knickers – the lucky bit of blue but her splash of rebellion too, with its circular yellow ABBA badge on the bum – the transparent diamond of her engagement ring like a chip of ice in her mother’s gin and tonic. And her mother’s advice about how to achieve a long-standing marriage – like hers with Dad – involving compromise, giving not taking, and the witchery of getting things done by helping her husband think her good idea was originally his so he would accept it without query.

As she lay in the cold cocoon where her body fell, Jill wondered why it had taken her 30 years to realise her mother had talked about having a long-standing marriage not a happy one. This realisation came to her in a sudden rush of senses and with it the acknowledgement of cold, bloody freezing in fact. Only minutes before she fell, she had searched through her bum bag for the tube of suntan cream and slicked a blob on her sore nose. She could make out the strap of the bag to her left, the black line of one ski. She felt strangely dulled and vividly alive all at the same time, like that Italian dessert which combined hot espresso with cold vanilla ice-cream. Except now the warmth was seeping from her like blood from a cut.

As an experiment she tried to move each of her limbs one at a time, ticking them off a checklist: left foot, right foot, left leg, right leg. Her right arm failed to respond. She could feel its presence as a lump beneath her torso, as if she were laying on top of a branch blown down in a storm. A sharp edge. Her arm itself felt of nothing, not even the dull deep ache of a broken bone. It was if the arm wasn’t there at all, a phantom limb.

She knew what a broken bone felt like, having broken her leg in a tricycle upset when she was six involving her, the gate post, and a downhill slope. A combination of thrilling speed inspired by the Famous Five, the breeze in her hair, and forgetting the brake pedal was on the handlebar.

Her arm now did not feel as her leg had then. She couldn’t see it but it must still be attached to her shoulder, mustn’t it. She remembered lying in bed with her broken leg, a hot water bottle, her head woozy. The whole world was in her bedroom, nothing else existed. If she couldn’t see something, it wasn’t there, which had been exciting and scary at the same time. Until she realised she couldn’t see Daddy who was at work and so must be dead, and that frightened her.

Jill didn’t want to think about death. She peered into the grey cotton wool puffs and shivered.



When the moment of disbelief passed, he opened his eyes again. It was a dull February day, when winter seems everlasting and the promise of spring a malicious lie. A bus passed by in a rush of red and a splash of grubby London rainwater, and he took a hasty step back from the edge of the kerb. He rubbed his eyes like a tired toddler, hoping to prove what he had just seen had not been real.

Where had she gone? Jill. Jill kissing. Jill kissing a man, in the street, for everyone to see. It was definitely her, not some lookalike wearing her coat and carrying her blue cotton bag, the only bag big enough to carry War and Peace. It was such untypical Jill-like behaviour that he questioned his sleep-deprived brain. He had come out of the library after another all-nighter and was finding it more natural now to sleep at mid-day, the light filtering through the ill-fitting curtains of his bedsit. Only three weeks until the deadline for his dissertation, more all-nighters to come. The only thing he minded was not seeing Jill.

He hadn’t seen since last week. She was an under-grad, hardly ever in college. He swore she’d take a book to bed if he didn’t complain. She would read anywhere, while eating, in the bath, any spare minute and her nose was in a book. And she often talked about the characters in her book-of-the-moment as if they were real. Gabriel Oak did this, and Ursula said this but Gudrun thought that. Bill didn’t know who she was talking about but he liked the light in her eyes. He remembered one poem she quoted because it was rather filthy; something about a debt to pleasure. She had blushed and argued it was poetry, not filth. He could still feel the warmth in her cheeks.

Then he remembered he’d just witnessed Jill kissing a stranger and felt cold from the tips of his toes to the lobes of his rather fleshy ears. Earlobes which Jill had professed to like nibbling. Bill wasn’t sure whether to believe her, or whether she was just saying that because she thought it was what he wanted to hear. He’d rather she said she enjoyed nibbling his cock, perhaps more nuzzling than nibbling. He imagined kissing Jill, every kiss starting with the fence of tightly-closed lips which he recognised as modesty and which turned him on more than if her mouth had instantly been open and warm. He liked the winning-over of Jill, each time a small victory: his room or hers (his; because he lived alone while she shared with a fat girl from Hull who ate only saver-size packets of cheese and onion crisps and whose farts smelt of cheese and onion too), curry or Chinese (always curry; beansprouts ugh), missionary or doggy (obvious).

Who was this man in the dark suit, with a briefcase. The latter worried him; a man with the money to take her out, who would pay for a taxi home in the snow and not suggest they walk home to keep warm as they had on New Year’s Eve because Bill’s student grant had run out. His fears suffocated him, as if a cool hand was placed over his mouth and nose, as if his dreams of graduating, of qualifying as an architect, of building a house for Jill, had been buried by his inability to understand the mysteries of women. Of one woman. He thought of the small ring with its delicate diamond which lay hidden in its red box beneath his pillow. He didn’t want to wait until he had a salary, didn’t think Jill would mind a ring with a small diamond, more like a chip off an ice cube than a real gem, didn’t think she would want to wait for the architect’s salary.

He felt like an ice cube now, shivering, as a blanket of fog fell over London and draped his world in grey.


She studied the spire, trying to remember what Bill had told her about church architecture. He’d written a paper about it once, long ago. He’d been so enthralled by it that she’d tried hard to be enthralled too. Norman churches had rounded arches, she remembered, the pointy ones were gothic but most churches were added to and repaired over the centuries so they were all mongrels.

She remembered a weekend in Kent. They’d taken the train to Tunbridge Wells and trundled between villages on old buses, church to church. She read the verses on moss-covered tombstones, still remembered one: “My dearest Agnes, from the first day to our last together, every day I loved you more.” In 30 years time, she thought, that could be us. She watched Bill sketching architectural details, following the line of his pencil as he described each feature. His words wouldn’t stay in her brain, her head was full of 1805, St Petersburg and fear of war with Napoleon.

The finger of ice touched her neck. Ignoring it, she focussed on the ghostly spire; it was straight, the top flat. Didn’t all church spires point upwards to God, to heaven? The gargoyles hung downwards like stalactites, or stalagmites. These gargoyles looked more like swords or spears than animals, growling, scowling animals. Something was roaring though, a hungry lion. The only lion she’d seen was a sad one at Chessington when it was still a zoo and not a place for frightening rides.

After the kiss she had waited all that night with the door of the flat wedged open so she could hear the telephone downstairs ring. She’d hated herself for being weak, wished she’d gone to the pub with Ann. She wanted Bill to shout. She hated shouting but needed to know he cared. That’s why she’d done it. The kiss. She needed to know it was more than sex.

Ann said she was a romantic, that real men didn’t buy roses. The phone had not rung and Ann had come home drunk at 11.30 smelling of beer and crisps. The next day, unable to listen to the silence of the phone, unable to concentrate on nineteenth-century Russia, Jill ran away from the silence and Ann’s knowing eyes to Chessington. The sad lion was on its own in a bare concrete pit, pacing along the fence, its eyes dull, its throat roar-less.

This must be a different lion, roaring and whistling, the sound high in the air was ghostly now. Whoo…rrrr. Coming to get her. Cradled by cold, Jill’s thoughts came less frequently now, interspersed with emptiness like the pause in Morse code.

Dot dot dot. Dash dash dash. Dot dot dot.

The pauses grew longer… until the last dash,

… then the last dot.


Bill heard the wind rise and knew it meant the sky would clear and the temperature plummet. He didn’t know how much longer he could stand the icy biting and stabbing in his leg but knew he must get to Jill. Jill, who came skiing with him because she knew he loved it. Jill, whose lovely athletic bottom was slightly squishier these days but all the more cuddlable in its softness. Jill, who loved him despite all his idiocies, who gave him every drop of her love, who had waited months for him to call her after that daft stunt with the kiss. Stubborn, he thought, that’s what I was. Months I wasted sulking, months I could have spent with Jill.

And he remembered the words of his father, the night before the wedding. They’d strolled to the village pub, opposite the lovely Romanesque church with its particularly nice South Door. “Three things will keep you married, lad. Listening to her, accepting what she says and expecting nothing back.” Bill had tried to live up to his father’s words which had, after all, kept his parents’ marriage alive for almost 50 years.

“And it worked, we’re happy” Bill said aloud, except his throat was as dry as if he’d swallowed a piece schoolmaster’s chalk. He lay back against the pillow of snow and made an effort to see into the white. He’d never appreciated before just how many shades of white there were, many more than a paint chart. Above, reaching up to the sky was a pylon, grey metal furred with frost and hung with icicles, like the decorative lights their neighbour hung from his roof every December.

Bill lay in the snow, feeling the burning in his limbs fade to be replaced by numbness. He longed for one last look at Jill’s left ankle where a freckle emerged whenever she was suntanned, just beneath the knob of the bone, in the exact shape of Greenland. She insisted it was the shape of Sweden, but that was just her ABBA thing.

Accepting he would never see in colour again, Bill relaxed as it started to snow.
© Sandra Danby

New books coming soon

Jax Miller 
Debut author Jax Miller has signed a two-book deal with HarperFiction. The first, Freedom’s Child, will be published in summer 2015. It tells the story of Freedom, a woman who has spent 18 years living under the Witness Protection programme after murdering her husband. When the daughter she gave birth to in prison, and gave up for adoption, goes missing, Freedom is determined to find her child. The deal also includes a second un-named title.



Miller was born and grew up in New York but now lives in Ireland. Under her real name, Aine O’ Domhnaill, she was shortlisted for the CWA debut dagger for unpublished writers in 2013.
Follow Jax Miller on Twitter at @JaxMillerAuthor

Kirsty Logan 
The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan will be published by Harvill Secker in Spring 2015. Described as a combination of Angela Carter and Michael Faber, Logan writes in the magical realism tradition. In The Gracekeepers, North and her bear live on a circus boat, floating between the scattered archipelagoes that are all that remains of the land. To survive, the circus must perform for the few fortunate islanders in return for food and supplies. Meanwhile, in the middle of the ocean, Callanish tends the watery graves along the equator, as penance for a long-ago mistake.

[photo: Colin Templeton]

[photo: Colin Templeton]

The Gracekeepers is Logan’s debut novel. Her short story collection The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales is published by Salt.
the rental heart and other fairytales by kirsty logan 7-8-14For Kirsty Logan’s website, click here.
To read an interview with Logan in Herald Scotland, click here.

Jenny Blackhurst
How I Lost You is the story of Susan Webster, released from Oakdale Psychiatric Unit where she was put after being convicted of killing her son. She sets up house alone, under an alias, but soon receives a photo which suggests her son is still alive. So, she searches for the truth. Who was betraying who? This is Jenny Blackhurst’s debut thriller, to be published by Headline as an e-book at the end of 2014 and paperback in spring 2015. how i lost you by jenny blackhurst 7-8-14Follow Jenny Blackhurst on Twitter at @JennyBlackhurst

AD Miller
The Faithful Couple is the new novel by AD Miller, author of the 2011 Man Booker Prize-shortlisted Snowdrops. It will be published by Little, Brown as hardback in the spring of 2015, and Abacus paperback in 2016. snowdrops by AD Miller -cover 7-8-14In The Faithful Couple, two young British men Neil Collins and Adam Tayler meet at a hostel in San Diego. It is the Nineties. On a camping trip to Yosemite National Park, they behave in ways that, years later, they regret.

Click here to read The Guardian’s review of Moscow-set thriller, Snowdrops.
Like AD Miller’s Facebook page, here.

Lori Lansens
Lori Lansens’ next two novels will be published by Simon & Schuster. A Mountain Story, to be published in 2015, is narrated by Wolf Truly who got lost on his 18th birthday with three women for five days in the mountain wilderness just outside Palm Springs. Now an adult, Wolf writes an account of what happened for his son Danny because he owes him the truth.



Lansens’ previous titles Rush Home RoadThe Girls, and The Wife’s Tale were published by Virago. The second title was selected by the Richard Judy Book Club, the third is currently in film development.

For Lori Lansens’ website, click here.

Eve Chase
Michael Joseph is to publish two books by Eve Chase. The first, published next year, is Black Rabbit Hall, so called because of the house at the centre of the novel, Black Rabbit Hall. “When the sun sets over its vast green lawn the rabbits are silhouetted on the horizon”. The Alton family joke is that a Black Rabbit hour lasts twice as long as a London one, but you don’t get a quarter of the things done. And then one day, something happens and life is never the same again.

Book review: The Goldfinch

the goldfinch by donna tartt 7-8-14I knew it from the first page, this was the rare sort of book that you want to go on forever and when you finish it you want to start reading all over again for the first time. My only problem? It’s size: difficult balancing the hardback on my chest as I tried to read in bed while gently falling asleep. This is a book I will keep and re-read and re-read. Buy the book, not the e-book.

Three main reasons why I loved it. I liked Theo, it is his story and Tartt lets him tell it all the way through. No other viewpoint. It is about art and antiques, or specifically one painting and the effect it has on Theo’s life. The possession of it, the responsibility, the guilt, the value. The meaning of the painting itself, the tiny bird shackled by a chain at its ankle. And the painter, Carel Fabritius, student of Rembrandt, died too young in the Delft gunpowder explosion of 1654 when he was 32. And lastly, it’s one of those wide-ranging American novels – New York to Las Vegas to Amsterdam – that the Americans seem to do so well and the English are rubbish at [if you can think of a modern English novel that does do it, please let me know because I’d love to read it]. the goldfinch by Carel Fabritius 7-8-14Tartt says she carries a notebook everywhere and is always jotting down ideas and facts. It shows. Each page is crammed with information. I have to admit early on I was wondering if 13-year old Theo would really remember details of a painter called Egbert van de Poel, but it is the adult Theo telling the child’s story so I cut her some slack.

It is about art, fate, the things life throws at us, love and friendship. It takes in alcoholism, drug addiction, art fraud, post-traumatic stress disorder, grief, unrequited love. At the heart of it is a mystery. As Theo’s feckless father, who gambles according to astrology, says: “sometimes you have to lose to win”. And it is chock full with popular references, from Boris referring to reading the ‘Dragon Tattoo’ books to Pippa’s Hunter wellies.

Of the peripheral characters, I loved Hobie, loved Boris. Pippa remains enigmatic to the end. Tartt’s characters are alive, her places are real. She makes you smell the dust. I’ve been to Las Vegas and have ventured beyond the Strip, but not to the outer edges where the desert reclaims the streets and where the teenage Theo and Boris meet. And I’ve been to New York, walked the streets Theo walks, been to the Met [thank goodness, un-bombed], and been to Amsterdam too with its circular canals. And that brings me to the first chapter, and the ending. I was so intrigued by that first chapter, why is Theo in the hotel room, anxiously scanning the Dutch television news. What has he done? What I imagined it to be… I was wrong, but I had to read almost to the end before I realised I was wrong. That’s really good going for a book that is 771 pages long. There is anticipation, numerous twists in the tale, and there is a little over-intellectualising [often the over-serious way of ‘the big American novel’] but nothing that stopped me reading on. For me, the book went on slightly too long, past its natural finishing point. I would have stopped at the end of the chapter where Theo and Hobie meet post-Christmas, post-Amsterdam.

It is a literary success, and a page-turner. A deserved winner of the Pulitzer, for me.

[photo: Beowulf Sheehan-Corbis]

[photo: Beowulf Sheehan-Corbis]

But not everyone thinks The Goldfinch is a classic, according to this article from Vanity Fair magazine.
Click here to read a review in The Guardian which examines Tartt, the enigma.
Kirsty Wark interviews Donna Tartt about The Goldfinch on BBC’s Newsnight, click here to watch on You Tube. On writing, and working in New York’s Public Library, watching people walk by and inventing characters.
If you are in Den Haag, the Netherlands, be sure to see ‘The Goldfinch’ by Carel Fabritius at the Maritshuis. Click here for details.

Other books about paintings? The obvious one is Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring inspired by Johannes Vermeer’s painting of the same name. My mind goes blank after that – do you know any others?

‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt [Little, Brown]