Tag Archives: how to write

#BookReview ‘Jane Austen A Life’ by Claire Tomalin #books #writerslife

As a lifelong Jane Austen fan, how I wish I had read this biography years ago. So many details from Jane’s life, her observations in letters to sister Cassandra and comments about Jane by her own relatives shed a spotlight on characterisations and situations portrayed in her novels. Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin was first published in 1997. Claire Tomalin

Limited by the destruction of so many of Jane’s own letters, Tomalin builds a picture of Jane’s life from the accounts of her family and acquaintances, and of life at that time in Georgian England. The amount of research done must be formidable but Tomalin sets her story of Jane Austen’s daily life against her literary progress, including the times when she was unable to write. She is revealed as having a sparkling and at times dry wit, perhaps more Lizzie Bennet than Emma Woodhouse.  Also interesting is the account of first her father then her brother Henry at getting her books published. On Jane’s death, Cassandra was sole proprietor of Jane’s copyright though Henry continued to negotiate with publishers.

Any writer will be familiar with the reactions of one’s closest relatives to the publication of a new book. The excitement from some quarters, the bemusement from others, and Jane Austen experienced exactly the same. Mrs Austen described Fanny in Mansfield Park as ‘inspid’. It also made me pause to realise that by the age of twenty five, Austen had already written Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. But this was followed by a ten year pause in which she wrote nothing. Only in 1809 did she return to her former pattern of working. What happened to cause this creative halt? Jane’s father retired and so the family were forced to leave the rectory at Steventon; Jane and Cassandra moved with their parents to Bath. Many letters from this difficult time are missing. Tomalin suggests Jane became depressed. She also lacked the physical space and time to write; their lodgings in Bath, frequent outings to the Devon and Dorset coast, and attendance expected at social events, all prevented Jane from writing.

Such is the detail in this wonderful biography that it is difficult to choose highlights. It has made me determined to re-read Austen’s novels now, in the order in which they were written.

Read the #FirstPara of Pride and Prejudice and about the first edition.

If you like this, try:-
On Writing’ by AL Kennedy
Howard’s End is on the Landing’ by Susan Hill
An Education’ by Lynn Barber

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
JANE AUSTEN A LIFE by Claire Tomalin #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4k9 via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Time to be in Earnest’ by PD James #writerslife #diary

Time to be in Earnest by PD James is not a conventional writer’s autobiography. Instead it is the year in her life between her 77th and 78th birthdays during which A Certain Justice, the tenth Adam Dalgliesh book was published, and in which dates, places and events trigger memories from her life. She died in 2014 at the age of 94 and was prolific to the end. Her final book Death Comes to Pemberley was published in 2011 and two editions of short stories were published after her death. PD James

James sets the tone of the autobiography in the Prologue, “There is much that I remember but which is painful to dwell upon. I see no need to write about these things. They are over and must be accepted, made sense of and forgiven, afforded no more than their proper place in a long life in which I have always known that happiness is a gift, not a right.” Her diary entries, some brief, some long, make this an ideal book to dip in and out of. She is a pragmatic, factual commentator who is at times forthright, other times secretive.

Like all good autobiographies, familiar names are scattered throughout – Dick Francis, Ruth Rendell, Frances Fyfield, Salman Rushdie – and we are shown glimpses of her writing methods, particularly interesting is her discussion of the setting in Devices and Desires, eighth in the Dalgliesh series. She writes about the origins of detective fiction, its evolution and techniques, the development of forensic science as well as her favourite authors and books. Just as entertaining though are the glimpses into James’ private life, her family, her cat Polly-Hodge, her assistant Joyce McLennan.

It is impossible to read James’ memories of childhood, the war, motherhood and marriage, without making connections with her books. Her fascination with history, nature and architecture, and her faith, all add depth to her writing.

If nothing else read it for Appendix Two. ‘Emma Considered as a Detective Story: Jane Austen Society AGM, Chawton, Saturday 18th July 1998’ is a fascinating take on Emma. But if you love reading PD James’ books or detective fiction in general – or you are a writer curious about how a great did it – read this book. This is not a how-to book, more a snapshot of a year in the life of a great writer.

If you like this, try:-
Charlotte Bronte: A Life’ by Claire Harman 
All Points North’ by Simon Armitage
Howard’s End is on the Landing’ by Susan Hill

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
TIME TO BE IN EARNEST by PD James #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4FN via @SandraDanby

Great Opening Paragraph 132 ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. Dr Juvenal Urbino noticed it as soon as he entered the still darkened house where he had hurried on an urgent call to attend a case that for him had lost all urgency many years before. The Antillean refugee Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, disabled war veteran, photographer of children, and his most sympathetic opponent in chess, had escaped the torments of memory with the aromatic fumes of gold cyanide.”
‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez Gabriel Garcia Marquez BUY THE BOOK

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
The Pursuit of Love’ by Nancy Mitford
A Good Man in Africa‘ by William Boyd
Gilead’ by Marilynne Robinson 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
#FirstPara LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA by Gabriel Garcia Marquez #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4eK via @SandraDanby

Great Opening Paragraph 131 ‘The Go-Between’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”
‘The Go-Between’ by LP Hartley LP HartleyBUY THE BOOK

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
Peter Pan’ by JM Barrie
A Month in the Country’ by JL Carr
To Have and Have Not’ by Ernest Hemingway

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
#FirstPara THE GO-BETWEEN  by LP Hartley #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4eG via @SandraDanby

Great Opening Paragraph 130 ‘Gilead’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old. And you put your hand in my hand and you said, You aren’t very old, as if that settled it. I told you you might have a very different life from mine, and from the life you’ve had with me, and that would be a wonderful thing, there are many ways to life a good life. And you said, Mama already told me that. And then you said, Don’t laugh! Because you thought I was laughing at you. You reached up and put your fingers on my lips and gave me that look I never in my life saw on any other face besides your mother’s. It’s a kind of furious pride, very passionate and stern. I’m always a little surprised to find my eyebrows singed after I’ve suffered one of those looks. I will miss them.”
‘Gilead’ by Marilynne Robinson Marilynne RobinsonBUY THE BOOK

Read my reviews of Gilead, Housekeeping and Home by Marilynne Robinson.

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
Agnes Grey’ by Anne Bronte
The Big Sleep’ by Raymond Chandler
The Collector’ by John Fowles 22

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
#FirstPara GILEAD  by Marilynne Robinson #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4eD via @SandraDanby

Great Opening Paragraph 129 ‘The Paying Guests’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The Barbers had said they would arrive by three. It was like waiting to begin a journey, Frances thought. She and her mother had spent the morning watching the clock, unable to relax. At half past two she had gone wistfully over the rooms for what she’d supposed was the final time; after that there had been a nerving-up, giving way to a steady deflation, and now, at almost five, here she was again, listening to the echo of her own footsteps, feeling so sort of fondness for the sparsely furnished spaces, impatient simply for the couple to arrive, move in, get it over with.”
‘The Paying Guests’ by Sarah Waters Sarah WatersBUY THE BOOK

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte
Personal’ by Lee Child
Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
#FirstPara THE PAYING GUESTS  by Sarah Waters #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4eA via @SandraDanby

Great Opening Paragraph 128 ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.”
‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by JD Salinger JD SalingerBUY THE BOOK

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty’ by Sebastian Barry
The Slaves of Solitude’ by Patrick Hamilton
The Rainmaker’ by John Grisham 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
#FirstPara THE CATCHER IN THE RYE  by JD Salinger #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4ev via @SandraDanby

Great Opening Paragraph 127… ‘The Road’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none.”
‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy Cormac McCarthy

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
Affinity’ by Sarah Waters
The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt
Enduring Love’ by Ian McEwan

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
#FirstPara THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4er via @SandraDanby

My Porridge & Cream read… @SueJohnson9 #books #duMaurier

Today I’m delighted to welcome novelist, poet and short story writer Sue Johnson. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier.

“My Porridge & Cream read is Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier (first published in 1936). I can remember finding it in the school library one wet Friday afternoon when I was thirteen. (We’d made ginger cake in our cookery class that morning and I still associate the book with the smell and taste of ginger and spices.) Our English teacher liked us to read at least two books a month of our choice that were nothing to do with our school work. We also had to write book reviews saying what we liked – or didn’t like – about the books we’d read.

Sue Johnson

Sue’s copy of Jamaica Inn

From the first page of Jamaica Inn I was hooked. My friends had to prise it out of my hands when the bell went for the end of school. I then went on to devour everything else that Daphne du Maurier had written. My other favourites are Rebecca and Frenchman’s Creek.  We used to spend family holidays in Cornwall and I still love the county. I never tire of Jamaica Inn no matter how many times I re-read it. I’ve returned to it countless times – particularly when I was ill as a teenager, when I went through a traumatic divorce and when my Dad died. I’ve also enjoyed seeing the film versions – but none of them have been as good as the book.”

Sue Johnson is published as a poet, short story writer and novelist. She also creates books aimed at helping and encouraging other writers. Her work is inspired by fairytales, the natural world and eavesdropping in cafes. Sue runs her own brand of writing workshops and critique service. She is also a creative writing tutor on five of the courses offered by Writing Magazine.


Sue JohnsonWhen Gemma Lawrence inherits a share of her Great Aunt’s restaurant she is dismayed to find she has to share it with Stefano Andrea, a moody Italian chef. Gemma and Stefano have broken relationships behind them and dislike each other on sight as much as Stefano hates the cold English weather. Under the terms of the will, they have to work together for six months to turn the dilapidated building into a successful restaurant. If either of them leaves or a profit has not been made, then they will lose their inheritance. The challenge is on and neither of them are prepared to give up. As they work together they begin to unravel the story behind the inheritance and find out what links the English apple orchard to the Italian lemon grove. Apple Orchard, Lemon Grove is a fast-paced novel with intriguing characters, atmospheric locations and mouth-watering food.

What is a ‘Porridge & Cream’ book? It’s the book you turn to when you need a familiar read, when you are tired, ill, or out-of-sorts, where you know the story and love it. Where reading it is like slipping on your oldest, scruffiest slippers after walking for miles. Where does the name ‘Porridge & Cream’ come from? Cat Deerborn is a character in Susan Hill’s ‘Simon Serrailler’ detective series. Cat is a hard-worked GP, a widow with two children and she struggles from day-to-day. One night, after a particularly difficult day, she needs something familiar to read. From her bookshelf she selects ‘Love in A Cold Climate’ by Nancy Mitford. Do you have a favourite read which you return to again and again? If so, please send me a message.

Discover the ‘Porridge & Cream’ books of these authors:-
Julia Thum’s choice is ‘The Little White Horse’ by Elizabeth Goudge
Amanda Huggins chooses ‘The Little Prince’ by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer is chosen by Clare Rhoden

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Why does novelist, poet and short story writer @SueJohnson9 re-read JAMAICA INN by Daphne du Maurier? #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4IU via @SandraDanby

Great Opening Paragraph 126… ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
‘A Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens Charles Dickens

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
The Heart’s Invisible Furies’ by John Boyne 
Beloved’ by Toni Morrison 
‘1984’ by George Orwell 

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#FirstPara A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4ej via @SandraDanby