Mum had cooked all her favourite foods. The table had almost groaned under the weight of all the dishes and presents, particularly the parcel from Dad. The family hadnt even managed to start eating when the phone had rung. It had been Dad calling from America to wish Jane a happy birthday and ask whether she had received his present. In Janes opinion, the news that he had finished the job and was coming home had been the best birthday present he could possibly have given her. The whole family had been so excited they had forgotten the time and had kept him on the phone until the dinner had gone cold and Mum had had to reheat it.
Now, abruptly realising she was daydreaming when she should be writing letters of thanks to Aunts Judith and Geraldine...
Although the above is deliberately exaggerated (never mind that its boring as well!) its the sort of thing often written by a beginner. Following is a possible rewrite, although I havent fixed the boring factor, which would mean such heavy pruning I would be unable to demonstrate the point.
As you can see, the trick is to start the flashback scene with the pluperfect and slide (almost imperceptibly) back into past tense. The reader shouldnt even notice the time slip. If you find yourself reaching for had had (as I did in the first version of this flashback) you certainly need to revise.
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