Friday, 30 September 2011

My daughter and I have read 'The Way We Were' by Elizabeth Noble

My daughter (aged 18) read this on holiday, and I've only just got my hands on it. Like with my other favourite authors, I've collected all Elizabeth Noble's books. I've loved them all, except for perhaps, Alphabet Weekends, where I felt that the idea of 26 weekends doing activities from A to Z was a bit forced. But, all the others were great.
This one is a bitter sweet tale of Susannah and Rob, childhood sweethearts, who meet again and try, despite a partnership with quasi-step-children and a marriage, to get back together again. Her relationship with her best friend, Amelia, is beautifully described too. I won't tell you the ending which is only revealed in the final 10 pages or so, but enough to say that my daughter and I did not agree with each other that the outcome was right.
Just one quibble, RAF Cranwell, the officer training college is in Lincolnshire, not Leicestershire. I know, because I've written about it in my novel!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Pointless Ways of Writing a Short Story for a Competition

This broken pencil is pointless, and, not very useful for writing a story, but have you seen the new television teatime quiz show, Pointless, with Alexander Armstrong?
Each day the contestants have to guess the least likely answer given by 'one hundred people in one hundred seconds' on such various topics as countries ending in 'a', or the films of Doris Day, or the periodic table of elements (not my favourite!). If they're right then the counter goes down to zero, and they win the jackpot in the final round.
What am I getting at? Well, my point is that we're often told in books and magazines when considering a competition entry, write a list of all possible scenarios and then write some more. In similar way to the Pointless programme, you have to try and think of something that no one else has thought of so your story is unique. It's not easy, but give it a try!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Why I enjoyed The House of the Hanged by Mark Mills

I don't usually read thrillers or murder mysteries, but I've loved all the books by Mark Mills, starting with The Savage Garden which I read after reading A Villa in Italy by Elizabeth Edmondson. They had very similar storylines, but I liked Mark's best because of the local detail and characterization.
So again, these aspects stood out for me in The House of The Hanged which is set in a bright 1930s summer in the South of France, close to the area of Deborah Lawrenson's The Lantern that I blogged about recently.
As I've mentioned before, I like to link up the books I read if I can, and this one begins in Petrograd (St Petersburg), just after the Russian Revolution which I read about in The Jewel of St Petersburg by Kate Furnivall.
Tom Nash of the British Secret Intelligence Service escapes from Russia after the execution of his girlfriend, Irina. Sixteen years later, having made a new start on the French Riviera, his life is threatened, and he has to discover from the gathering of friends around him who has betrayed him.
It's a great story, and makes me want to read Mark Mill's books again. If only someone would invent a way of reading books more quickly!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

I enjoyed The Jewel of St Petersburg by Kate Furnivall on my Baltic Cruise.

I love choosing books set in the country that I'm visiting, so when I saw The Jewel of St Petersburg by Kate Furnivall, earlier this year, I couldn't resist taking it on my Baltic cruise. I was also delighted to find that I had gone up the staircase on the cover, or one very similar to it in The Hermitage museum. Wow!
The only other book I'd read about the Russian Revolution was Sashenka by Simon Sebag Montifiore, the husband of one of my favourite novelists, Santa Montifiore. Simon, being an historian, painted a grim, but truthful picture of a young woman from a ruling family caught up in the violence and ruthlessness of the workers determined to change Russia for a new world which they believed in.
Kate's story, too, focuses on a similar young woman, Valentina, her family and Jens, a Danish engineer who wants to make the city a better place. Although it doesn't go as far into the twentieth century as Sashenka, it nevertheless graphically describes the violence and murder fanned by the desires of fanatics. Other characters represent people caught up in the struggle are Arkin, their chauffeur, but a secret revolutionary, and Popov, a Kossak who is loyal to Valentina.
The ending is full of suspense, and I loved it far better than Sashenka's dreadful fate.
Just having visited St Petersburg, I could place some of the events at The Winter Palace, the Nevsky Prospekt, and The Aurora, the ship which sounded its horn to start the Revolution. Peter the Great built this city to surpass those in Europe with its gold statues, and pastel coloured buildings. What a setting for a novel.
I wondered why Kate Furnivall chose it for her story and visited her website which told me that her mother spent her childhood in Russia, China and India, and Kate used her experiences in another novel, The Russian Concubine. Well, I enjoyed this one so much, I'll certainly be reading the other one too!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Writer's News Success Again, This Time With First World War Story

Great News! I was shortlisted to the final judging stage in the Writer's News Short Story Competition on the theme of Optimism. I know that I haven't actually won but, as I said before, it really boosts my confidence which is important because another magazine submission boomeranged its way back to me yesterday, and I was all for giving up.
The First World War soldier in the middle of the photo is my father, and I based my story on the actual events of the day he was shot in October 1918. Of course, he survived, or I wouldn't be here, or I would be nearly 100 years old . . .
He 'plays' Will Walker in the story which I also based on the nicknames that soldiers gave each other at that time, so therefore, he's called 'Johnnie' for Johnnie Walker whisky. The name I like best is 'Smudger' Smith ( I think that this comes from the smudges that blacksmiths would get on their faces from the coals and ash). Anyway, Smudger is my optimist in the story called Toot Sweet. Perhaps that's him peering over my dad's shoulder, he looks a bit of a likely lad.