Tag Archives: writing

Great Opening Paragraph 123… ‘The Ashes of London’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“The noise was the worst. Not the crackling of the flames, not the explosions and the clatter of falling buildings, not the shouting and the endless beating of drums and the groans and cries of the crowd: it was the howling of the fire. It roared its rage. It was the voice of the Great Beast itself.”
‘The Ashes of London’ by Andrew Taylor, #1 Fire of London Andrew TaylorBUY THE BOOK

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
‘Personal’ by Lee Child
Back When We Were Grown Ups’ by Anne Tyler 
The Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE ASHES OF LONDON by Andrew Taylor #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3Jn via @SandraDanby

Great Opening Paragraph 122… ‘The Heart’s Invisible Furies’ #amwriting #FirstPara

‘Long before we discovered that he had fathered two children by two different women, one in Drimoleague and one in Clonakilty, Father James Monroe stood on the altar of the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, in the parish of Goleen, West Cork, and denounced my mother as a whore.’
‘The Heart’s Invisible Furies’ by John Boyne John BoyneBUY THE BOOK

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
‘The Garden of Evening Mists’ by Tan Twan Eng 
‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan
‘Couples’ by John Updike

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES by @john_boyne #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3Jk via @SandraDanby

Great Opening Paragraph 121… ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ #amwriting #FirstPara

Ernest Hemingway“He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees. The mountainside sloped gently where he lay; but below it was steep and he could see the dark of the oiled road winding through the pass. There was a stream alongside the road and far down the pass he saw a mill beside the stream and the falling water of the dam, white in the summer sunlight.”
‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ by Ernest Hemingway

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
Queen Camilla’ by Sue Townsend 90
Sacred Hearts’ by Sarah Dunant 10
Jack Maggs’ by Peter Carey 76

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS by Ernest Hemingway #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3JG via @SandraDanby

My Porridge & Cream read @JuliaThumWrites #writing #childrensfiction

Today I’m delighted to welcome children’s writer Julia Thum. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge.

“The story is about a beautiful valley called Moonacre that is shadowed by the tragic memory of a Moon Princess and a mysterious little white horse. When 13 year old orphan Maria Merryweather is sent to live there she finds herself involved in an ancient feud and is determined to restore peace and happiness to the whole of Moonacre Valley.

Julia Thum

Julia’s copy of ‘The Little White Horse’ by Elizabeth Goudge

“I first read this magical story when I was eleven. My father had just died and we were living on a farm in Somerset. I still remember transposing Moonacre’s fantasy world onto my own life and spending many happy hours wandering around the fields pretending to be Maria and looking for the mysterious little white horse.

“I read and re-read the story all through my teens and tweens, picking it up whenever I needed a safe space. In adult life, I’ve read The Little White Horse to all my children. Now they’re teenagers, and I’m moving from writing adult to ‘middle grade’ children’s fiction, I’m re-visiting the story, looking at the form, the structure, and trying to ‘bottle’ what makes it so enchanting.

Julia Thum

The current edition of ‘The Little White Horse’ by Elizabeth Goudge

“The world of The Little White Horse gave me somewhere to escape when the world was spinning too fast. Now, when I pass it on the bookshelf, I pause, exhale and enjoy the memory of all the magic it has bought to my life.”

Julia’s Bio
Julia visits primary and secondary schools delivering reading and writing workshops to students, reviews books on her website and BBC Berkshire Book Club, and blogs about books and nature on Twitter. Her second novel, a magical realism story for middle grade readers, is due out next year.

Julia’s links

Julia’s latest book Julia Thum
Julia Thum co-authored the cozy mystery Riverside Lane by Ginger Black.
“A lovely, witty slice of middle class English village life a la MC Beaton!” – Sally Hamilton, ‘Mail on Sunday’
A handsome American with a secret, Luca Tempesta, gets off a plane at Heathrow and heads for a quiet village by the Thames, taking time out, it would appear, for a holiday in the tranquil English backwater.
But Luca soon realises that The Village is not such an easy place to hide. A former spy, a gameshow host, a model, a journalist, the vicar and a biker all play a part in making up the village scene, with secrets lurking at every twist and turn of the river.

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:-
Rob V Biggs’s choice is ‘Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame
Susanna Beard chooses ‘Winnie the Pooh’ by AA Milne
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is chosen by Laura Wilkinson

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Why does children’s #author @JuliaThumWrites re-read THE LITTLE WHITE HORSE by Elizabeth Goudge#books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-47M via @SandraDanby

Great Opening Paragraph 120… ‘The Pursuit of Love’ #amwriting #FirstPara

Nancy Mitford“There is a photograph in existence of Aunt Sadie and her six children sitting round the tea-table at Alconleigh. The table is situated, as it was, is now, and ever shall be, in the hall, in front of a huge open fire of logs. Over the chimney-piece plainly visible in the photograph hangs an entrenching tool, with which, in 1915, Uncle Matthew had whacked to death eight Germans one by one as they crawled out of a dug-out. It is still covered with blood and hairs, an object of fascination to us as children. In the photograph Aunt Sadie’s face, always beautiful, appears strangely round, her hair strangely fluffy, and her clothes strangely dowdy, but it is unmistakably she who sits there with Robin, in oceans of lace, lolling in on knee. She seems uncertain what to do with his head, and the presence of Nanny waiting to take him away is felt though not seen. The other children, between Louisa’s eleven and Matt’s two years, sit around the table in party dresses or frilly bibs, holding cups or mugs according to age, all of them gazing at the camera with large eyes opened wide by the flash, and all looking as if butter would not melt in their round pursed-up mouths. There they are, held like flies, in the amber of that moment – click goes the camera and on goes life; the minutes, the days, the years, the decades, taking them further and further from that happiness and promise of youth, from the hopes Aunt Sadie must have had for them, and rom the dreams they dreamed for themselves. I often think there is nothing quite so poignantly sad as old family groups.”
‘The Pursuit of Love’ by Nancy Mitford

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
‘The Long Drop’ by Louisa Mina 
Original Sin’ by PD James 
Lucky You’ by Carl Hiassen 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE PURSUIT OF LOVE by Nancy Mitford #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3JC via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You’ by Louisa Young @rileypurefoy #WW1

Louisa YoungThis is a Great War story of love/war, of duty/self-sacrifice, of denial of the truth and fear of change, of physical/mental scars. At the centre of the story is a lie told to protect. In My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young, Riley Purefoy and Nadine Waveney, children from different classes, meet in a London park. When war is declared, knowing the gulf in their backgrounds prevents them from marrying, Riley volunteers and goes off to war. In the trenches he meets commanding officer, Peter Locke, whose wife Julia and cousin Rose remain at home in Kent throughout the war. This is the story of these five people.

The first half of the book is a long set-up for the second half, when the interesting stuff begins. I made myself continue reading through the first half, and raced through the second. We see Riley and Nadine meeting, Riley’s transition from boy to teenager, his introduction to a new world. Nadine’s father is a famous conductor; their friends include musicians, writers and artists. He is taken under the wing of artist Sir Alfred who introduces him to art and music; good-looking Riley becomes a model for Sir Alfred and, fascinated by drawing and painting, leaves his old world behind. Peter deals with the trauma of the trenches by drinking and whoring, he is tight-lipped and distant with Julia who feels she must be doing something wrong to alienate him so. I found Julia a most unsympathetic character; she has been encouraged to believe in her own prettiness, is unable to break away from her spoiled pre-war life and allows her mother to bully her and remove her baby from her care. Her plain cousin Rose trained as a nurse and, having worked at the front, is now based at the Queen’s Hospital in Sidcup. Rose, in danger of being a stereotype, later in the story faces a dilemma about patient confidentiality that elevates her character. Riley is promoted through the ranks, popular with the men, knowing the right thing to say, when to josh them along. He is fond of his CO, sees him safely home when he is drunk. One leave, he meets Nadine in London and their friendship is rekindled.

The turning point of the story is war injury and damage, and how everyone reacts to it. This is a serious book, not quite the romantic read it is billed. Particularly excellent are the passages about the Queen’s Hospital and the amazing work of surgeon Major Gillies in facial reconstruction. Some of the descriptive passages are clinical and shocking and are a stark contrast to Julia’s worries about beauty treatments. However there is a lot of internal monologue which became repetitive and I also found the constant swapping of viewpoint mid-paragraph a distraction from the fine historical setting.


If you like this, try:-
‘The Lie’ by Helen Dunmore
‘A Long Long Way’ by Sebastian Barry
‘Stay Where You Are and Then Leave’ by John Boyne

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
MY DEAR, I WANTED TO TELL YOU by @rileypurefoy #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-2Zg via @SandraDanby

Great Opening Paragraph 119… ‘Peter Pan’ #amwriting #FirstPara

JM Barrie“All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up. And the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, ‘Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!” This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.”
‘Peter Pan’ by JM Barrie

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
A Month in the Country’ by JL Carr 
These Foolish Things’ by Deborah Moggach 
Far From the Madding Crowd’ by Thomas Hardy 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
PETER PAN by JM Barrie #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3Jw via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Long View’ by Elizabeth Jane Howard #literary #marriage

Elizabeth Jane HowardThe Long View by Elizabeth Jane Howard is not so much a ‘what happens next’ novel as ‘what has happened in the past to lead to this situation’ story. It is a novel about choices and where they can lead. Howard tells the story, backwards from 1950 to 1926, of the marriage of Antonia and Conrad Fleming. As the story starts, the marriage seems doomed and you cannot help but wonder how these two people ever got married in the first place. In fact, once I finished it I was tempted to read it again from back to front.

The first paragraph is a masterful example of scene setting. It opens with a dinner party to celebrate the engagement of Julian Fleming to June, who has secretly spent the afternoon alone at the cinema. As Antonia considers the complicated marital affairs of her son – and her daughter, Deirdre, who is pregnant by a man who does not love her – I wondered how her own marriage must have shaped her children’s handling of relationships and how hers, in turn, was shaped by her parents. I found Conrad an almost totally unsympathetic character, indeed in the first part he is referred to simply as Mr Fleming. ‘One of his secret pleasures was the loading of social dice against himself. He did not seem for one moment to consider the efforts made by kind or sensitive people to even things up; or if such notions ever occurred to him, he would have observed them with detached amusement, and reloaded more dice.’

This is very much a novel of its time in which middle-class women had limited choices. As a young woman, Antonia lacks the strength to break out. She is timid, feeling she has proved unsatisfactory for both her mother and father. ‘She grew up, therefore, feeling, not precisely a failure so much as an unnecessary appendage.’ Her mother bemoans her lack of interests [Antonia does have interests, simply not those of her mother] and her father her lack of intellect [but without stimulus of career or education]. We see the transition from hopeful, eager young girl experiencing first love, to weary, middle age when the ‘trees ahead so horribly resembled the trees behind, and the undergrowth of their past caught and clung and tore at them as they moved on’.

This is Howard’s second novel. I am most familiar with her later ‘Cazalet Chronicles’ series and there are some key comparisons to be made in the writing style. Sentences in The Long View are longer, paragraphs longer, and the style not as simple and nuanced as the later books. Viewpoint also shifts within paragraphs, a technique she changed for the Cazalets. This is not to say this spoiled my enjoyment of The Long View, it is perhaps an observation for writers rather than readers, but it shows an interesting development in the author’s writing style. And I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Antonia’s horse rides in Sussex, countryside in which the Cazalet’s house, Home Place, is set.


Read my reviews of Howard’s ‘Cazalet Chronicles’:- The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion, Casting Off, and All Change.

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE LONG VIEW by Elizabeth Jane Howard #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-2ZS via @SandraDanby

Great Opening Paragraph 118… ‘The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty’ #amwriting #FirstPara

Sebastian Barry“In the middle of the lonesome town, at the back of John Street, in the third house from the end, there is a little room. For this small bracket in the long paragraph of the street’s history, it belongs to Eneas McNulty. All about him the century has just begun, a century some of which he will endure, but none of which will belong to him. There are all the broken continents of the earth, there is the town park named after Father Moran, with its forlorn roses – all equal to Eneas at five, and nothing his own, but that temporary little room. The dark linoleum curls at the edge where it meets the dark wall. There is a pewter jug on the bedside table that likes to hoard the sun and moon on its curve. There is a tall skinny wardrobe with an ancient hatbox on top, dusty, with or without a hat, he does not know. A room perfectly attuned to him, perfectly tempered, with the long spinning of time perfect and patterned in the bright windowframe, the sleeping of sunlight on the dirty leaves of the maple, the wars of the sparrows and the blue tits for the net of suet his mother ties in the tree, the angry rain that puts its narrow fingers in through the putty, the powerful sudden seaside snow that never sits, the lurch of the dark and the utter merriment of mornings.”
The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty’ by Sebastian Barry

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
The Slaves of Solitude’ by Patrick Hamilton
Such a Long Journey’ by Rohinton Mistry
Sea Glass’ by Anita Shreve

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE WHEREABOUTS OF ENEAS MCNULTY by Sebastian Barry #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3Js via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Wonder’ by Emma Donoghue @EDonoghueWriter #Irish #faith

Emma DonoghueWhat a compulsive read this is, starting slowly until its questions had me sneaking a few pages when I should have been working. The premise of The Wonder by Emma Donoghue sounds straightforward: a nurse and a nun are employed to observe and accompany an eleven-year old girl in rural Ireland who is surviving on ‘manna from heaven’. Is she a miracle or a fraud?

This story is very far from straightforward. The task of Nurse Elizabeth Wright, who trained under Miss Nightingale at Scutari during the Crimean War, is to watch and and ensure no food is secretly passing the child’s lips. Strangely, for a nurse, Lib is not responsible for the health of the girl. A local committee, set-up to establish if Anna O’Donnell is secretly eating or if there is a religious wonder living in their village, pays the wages of two nurses, Lib and Sister Michael, for two weeks.

Accepting nothing until she can prove it herself, Lib approaches her task with professional thoroughness, observing, measuring, weighing. Feeling isolated in a cramped home, surrounded by a religion she does not practise or understand, Lib gets little help from local doctor Mr McBrearty or priest Mr Thaddeus. Not knowing who she can trust, she trusts no one; turning away visitors to the O’Donnell home who want to see the holy girl, visitors who donate alms to a collecting box near the door. When a journalist from Dublin says it is clearly a hoax and accuses Lib of speeding Anna’s death – that the all-day watch is denying her the morsels of food she must have been earlier fed – she is horrified and is forced to reassess her role.

The first half is a slow slow build but so worth it for the second half; with an ending I didn’t expect. This story has many layers. Lib, with her scientific approach to religion, is appalled at what she sees as inconsistencies and fantasies of the O’Donnell family’s Catholic beliefs. They accept and do not question. As the story progresses, Lib untangles Anna’s beliefs and in the process re-examines her own.

Not an easy read, The Wonder tackles the emotional subjects of religion and abuse set within the context of rural Ireland in the 1850s. Donoghue is an author who defies description; each novel is so different from its predecessor. With The Wonder, she has again confounded my expectations. Excellent.


Read my review of Donoghue’s Frog Music.

If you like this, try:-
‘Birdcage Walk’ by Helen Dunmore
‘Day’ by AL Kennedy
‘House of Names’ by Colm Tóibín

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE WONDER by @EDonoghueWriter #bookreview http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2Z1 via @SandraDanby