Sandra Danby is an author, blogger, avid reader and book reviewer. Her first two novels, Ignoring Gravity and Connectedness explore the delicate subject of adoption reunion through the eyes of her central character, Rose Haldane, a journalist and identity detective. The third book in the series, Sweet Joy, will follow the story of a baby abandoned during the blitz.
As well as writing novels, Sandra’s short stories and flash fiction have been published online and in anthologies. She also writes an award-winning blog, Notes on a Spanish Valley about the time she spends at her home in Spain. At heart, however, Sandra is a proud Yorkshire woman, a self-confessed tennis nut and tea drinker and she believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills. I couldn’t agree more.
Big thanks to Sandra for taking the time to answer this week’s three burning questions. Here is her Power of Three:
1. As a writer, what is your greatest fear?
Time, I think. Not having enough time to write all the ideas I have.
I’m a magpie. I collect ideas, references, images, quotes, newspaper and magazines articles, television documentaries. I have folders and folders stuffed with Word documents and PDF files. Some are stand-alone ideas; others, I will no doubt realise at some point in the future actually belong together and should be merged. I can’t remember the exact quote in On Writing by Stephen King but he describes driving along the freeway and seeing an advertisement that triggers an idea and connects neatly with something else he filed away years earlier and never used. Nothing is wasted. That’s how I work. So I will probably be writing novels on my 100th birthday. I would hate to not finish them all.
2. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Not advice as such, but a practical lesson. When I started out as a journalist I was painfully shy – odd, given my career choice. That, however, was my pragmatic way of becoming a writer. Ultimately I always wanted to write stories. I ended up writing about beds, sofas, managing directors and annual results. Anyway, it was an excellent grounding in getting words on the page. Very quickly the daily experience of working on a news desk knocked out of me the ‘being precious about my writing’ thing that all writers start with. Even my one paragraph stories about So-and-So getting a new job at Such-and-Such company were dismantled and rewritten by my news editor, then the sub editor, the editor, and finally once a week by my training editor. Everything was shredded. I learnt that there is more than one way to tell a story and that my way was not always the right way. As I became more experienced, my stories were shredded less and I went on to shred the stories of others. I remember that now when I’m editing; I have a tendency to over-write by about forty thousand words.
Stephen King was right: kill your darlings.
3. What are your three favourite books and why?
MOON TIGER by Penelope Lively
The first paragraph of Moon Tiger is my absolute favourite and, re-reading it again, I can see how it has subliminally influenced my own writing. If can emulate an inch of Penelope Lively’s skill I will be happy. It sets up a micro picture of her protagonist using everyday unglamorous detail,
‘Upsy a bit, dear, that’s a good girl – then we’ll get a cup of tea’,
with the macro ‘I’m writing a history of the world’. Her flexibility with viewpoint in scenes of high tension is one I adopted for Connectedness, alternating paragraphs from one person to another to create an almost three-dimensional view of a critical event.
POSSESSION by AS Byatt
I fell in love with this novel because of its opening scene in which research assistant Roland Michell discovers two folded sheets of writing paper, letters written by the poet Randolph Henry Ash to an unknown woman. Love letters. It taught me the need to establish a complete world in which to set my novel; not a quick piece of research, the mention of a contemporary pop song or television show is insufficient. It also taught me the dual-timeline structure; one I use for my own novels after, it must be admitted, analysing Possession. Before I read a ‘how to write a novel’ book about journeys and character arcs, Possession taught
me that my characters must seek something, they must risk something and ultimately might lose as well as gain. It also gave me a longing to go to the London Library. I have since been, and fell in love with the place. It’s how I imagined libraries would be when I was a child.
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
Woodstein were a key reason I became a journalist. Published in 1974 and quickly followed by the film in 1976, this book showed me skills of research, digging, persistence, gut instinct and bravery needed. I used it many times with my journalism students to illustrate how news stories don’t arrive in press releases (or nowadays, direct into your inbox). The lessons in persistence and
polishing a story apply to fiction too.
Thank you so much, Sandra, for this insight. Love your practical advice – it all goes back to resilience again. Doesn’t matter how experienced a writer you are, it’s so true that resilience is needed at every step. And your book choices highlight the power and importance of that first impression, that strong opening that hooks the reader and compels them to read on.
Thanks for stopping by and reading. To find out more about Sandra or to get hold of her books, click on the links in the text.