Wednesday, 26 April 2017

A Suitable Lie by Michael J. Malone

Book review by Greenacre Writer Mumpuni Murniati

Michael J.Malone takes a gamble. With three acclaimed crime books under his belt, he decides to breaks away from police business and ventures into domestic violence. From a male perspective.

Quite a departure from his usual kick-ass scenes. Malone has a young single parent Andrew Boyd, as the protagonist, whom is faced with a situation that most people would shake their heads at in disbelief.

Four years after his wife’s passing during childbirth, he meets Anna - the new girl in town. Besotted by her, his hope grows hoping she'll be a perfect mother for little Pat.

Set in Ayr, Malone’s easy and convincing narratives entice readers to embrace Andy’s increasing growing confidence of the second chance of a happiness with Anna. Almost everything about her is perfect. Except for his mother’s reservations.

Anna laughed. ‘She’s a mum. She’ll be judging.’
‘If she does, she’ll keep it to herself.’
‘Yeah. Well.’ Anna looked away from me, out of her window.
‘You’re a man. You guys miss all that stuff.’
‘What stuff?’
‘Reading between the lines.’ She turned back to me (Andy). ‘That’s where women communicate.’
She took another deep breath. Exhaled. ‘Anyway. How do I look?’

The wedding bells toll and Mrs. Boyd’s objections seem like a distance echo. Malone is apt at dropping subtle hints in the scenes that look natural, a touch of insinuation in the dialogue. The ‘shocking accident’ on their wedding night is astonishing and well versed, from which point we begin to unearth the truth about Andy’s new wife.

In so doing Malone exploits the double-edged sword of masculinity from Andy’s viewpoint. His battles with what he has to put up in the home front and what personae he has to show in public are intriguing. On the one hand, he admits he knows little about her. Neither a member of Anna’s family nor her friend has come for the nuptials. She also says nothing about her previous job before or marrying her boss. On the other hand, he wants to give her the benefit of the doubt; give her more time to adjust to married life.

At this point Malone has cast a number of doubts about the seemingly harmless woman. In the face of increasing verbal and physical abuses, Andy’s gallantness doesn’t stop Anna. Meanwhile, who would believe that a woman half his size could hurt so much? Andy’s performance at work plummets and his contact with close-knit family becomes disjointed. Meanwhile, Anna’s control tightens when she becomes pregnant with his child. Or so he thinks.

Malone is fully aware of the delicate issue he has raised in the tug-of-war game between uncompromising lies and unpleasant truths. Andy isn’t a better liar than Anna, although their consciences are distinctive. Despite Malone’s hammering of the destructive impacts of an abusive relationship, he depicts anguish, agony and frustration sensibly, while the reader marvels at the depiction of the browbeaten Andy. The feeling of being trapped in the game, only Anna has a say is apparent, and for the sake of Pat and their child, like some women, Andy stays put.

Be that as it may, Malone has chosen to reveal little about Anna. Whether this is a wise move is an entirely different matter. In sticking with Andy’s voice this is clearly advantageous to bust the myths about domestic violence. Yet without Anna, Andy would be insignificant. Possibly, a minor character or two whom might have given snippets of her past would have been beneficial. At any rate, Malone has achieved great success in arguing his points of abiding chivalry and the gender roles for men that come at a cost.

In a weak attempt to inject some routine into the day, I was dressing the boys for an early bed time when I heard the scream from downstairs.
Panicking, I ran down, taking three steps at a time, my pain forgotten. Anna was screaming insults at someone, but using my name. My steps slowed as I realised what was going on. I walked into the room just as Anna replaced the receiver. Her face was lined with pleasure. Had it been anyone else, I could never have believed the noise that had issued from this room had come from the same woman.
‘The police,’ she smiled, ‘will be here shortly.’ She then walked over to the kitchen door and turning her head to the side and slammed it against the bridge of her nose.
‘What the... are you crazy?’ I sank onto a chair. 
Did you hold your breath? Malone’s riveting characterisation and stupendous plot make the book hard to put down. Another low turning point in Andy’s life is in sight, but is it really?

Malone wins the gamble with A Suitable Lie: a highly recommended reading that depicts the wrong kind of love.

Thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy.

You can follow Michael on Twitter: @michaeljmalone1

Sunday, 23 April 2017

A Conversation With Claire Fuller

Claire Fuller didn’t start writing until she was 40. Her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days was published by Penguin in the UK and won the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction. Her second novel, Swimming Lessons, was also published by Penguin earlier this year. She originally trained as a sculptor, and then spent many years running a marketing company. She lives in Hampshire with her husband and has two grown up children.

Swimming Lessons tells the story of Ingrid Coleman who writes letters to her husband, Gil about the truth of their marriage, but decides not to send them. Instead she hides them within the thousands of books her husband collects. After she writes her final letter, Ingrid disappears from an English beach. 

Twelve years later, her adult daughter, Flora comes home after Gil says he has spotted Ingrid through a bookshop window. Flora, who has existed in a limbo of hope and grief, imagination and fact, wants answers, but doesn’t realise that what she’s looking for is hidden in the books that surround her.

Ingrid is a brave but floundering heroine, who puts down “all the things [she hasn’t] been able to say in person” in her letters, resulting in a portrait so intimate, you feel as if you’ve read a novel written on the secret walls of her very mind. A deeply moving read, that keeps you turning pages.”

  • Swimming Lessons was selected by the US subscription book club, Book Of The Month for one of their December 2017 picks.
  • Swimming Lessons was included on many ‘books to look out for lists’ including, Bustle, Nylon, Goodreads, and Elle. 
  • Swimming Lessons was selected by Australian national radio station ABC as their book club book for April, and by women’s fashion brand, Toast as their book club selection for March.
  • Swimming Lessons was staff pick of the month for March at Indigo (the national Canadian bookstore chain), and Powell’s (the US bookstore chain in the pacific northwest).

We would like to thank Claire for taking part in a A Conversation With...and wish her huge success with her accomplished, poignant novel and future writing.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I didn’t start doing any creative writing until I was forty, ten years ago (unless you count the little I did at school). I was looking for a challenge and I started writing short stories and entering them in a spoken word competition in my local library. I entered quite a few times before I won. I then decided to sign up for a part-time MA in Creative Writing at the University of Winchester, near where I live. I continued to write short stories as well as flash fiction, and started a novel in my first year. I finished it a year and a half or so later and submitted it to agents, and was lucky enough to have one offer to represent me. She and I worked together on some edits, and she submitted it to editors in publishing houses, and the novel, Our Endless Numbered Days went to auction, with Fig Tree, an imprint of Penguin winning. The book was published in the UK in 2015, went on to win the Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction and has since been published in a further 13 countries. My second novel, Swimming Lessons was published earlier this year. I still continue to write short stories.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I do see it as a job – one I have to be at my desk for at 9am and be disciplined about, but it’s a very creative job, and I’m very lucky that I can now write full time. I think my role has changed now that my books have been published. I do feel some commitment to readers who have read and liked my previous books, but it is really just about trying to write the best book I can, which is what I would want to do whether there were potential readers for it or not. I also believe I have a role to support other writers, whether that’s talking about other author’s books, or encouraging and supporting writers who are hoping to be published.

What I like most about writing is the feeling of having created something. It’s a bit like when I was a sculptor and I would finish a piece of work. There is a huge satisfaction in it.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

Oh yes, all the time. I empathise with all my characters. I try to write characters that are real for the reader, and I believe it should be possible to empathise with almost everyone, even the worst of people. I know a lot of people don’t like James (from Our Endless Numbered Days) or Gil (from Swimming Lessons). They are difficult people to like, but hopefully readers feel some empathy for them; I certainly do.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?
My novels have included a few diverse characters, but even added together the main character count across both novels only stretches to seven. My short stories and flash fiction however, have included many more diverse characters whether that’s different backgrounds, ethnicity, abilities or sexual orientation. But what I’m most interested in is creating a fully formed character that fits the story I’m writing.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

I’d like to be transported to the location I’m writing about at the time. Being fully immersed in the sounds, smells and sights of the place would make writing it about it easier. But the house I’m writing about now doesn’t have any central heating, and I like to be warm, so if you could fix that when you teleport me, that would be helpful.

What is the one book you wish you had written?
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I love this book. But, if I had written it that would be a shame because I don’t re-read my books when they’ve been published which would mean that I wouldn’t get to read this wonderful book again.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

Finish it! Whatever you’re writing now, whether that’s a short story or a novel, get to the end of it. Pushing on through the parts that are difficult is a slog and it can feel like what you’ve got down is rubbish and will never be read, but until you have the complete thing down on paper it’s not possible to see what needs working on. Without some words there is nothing to improve.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I’m just coming to the end of re-working my third novel. The first draft was finished just before Swimming Lessons was published, and since then I’ve been rewriting and editing it. This is the part of the process that I like the best, and so it is hard to know when to stop. It’s the story of three people (again a small group of characters) who meet in a derelict English country house in 1969, and bad things happen. Can you tell that I haven’t quite worked out my elevator pitch yet?

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

I think it would be Stig from Stig of the Dump by Clive King. The version I had as a child also had illustrations by Edward Ardizzone, whose work I love. I wanted to live where Stig lived: away from people who said what I should or shouldn’t be doing, and surviving by re-using all the things that people threw away.

Swimming Lessons is published by Penguin

You can follow Claire on Twitter: @ClaireFuller2

Thursday, 20 April 2017

A Conversation With Kelcey Parker Ervick

Kelcey Parker Ervick has travelled to Prague regularly since 2003 and currently directs an overseas study program to Prague and Berlin, where students create collage journals inspired by artists such as Hannah Höch, Toyen (Marie Čermínová), and Jiří Kolář. She is the author of the story collection For Sale By Owner (Kore Press) and of Liliane’s Balcony (Rose Metal Press), a novella-in-flash set at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and winner of silver medal awards from the IPPY, Foreword, and Eric Hoffer Book Awards. A recipient of grants from the Indiana Arts Commission and the Sustainable Arts Foundation, she teaches creative writing and literary collage at Indiana University South Bend. Her blog features interviews with contemporary writers and the series, “Letters to Dead Authors”

The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová A Biographical Collage by Kelcey Parker Ervick. Artistic, rebellious, and unapologetically intelligent, Božena Němcová defied every convention for a woman in mid-nineteenth-century Bohemia: she was active in nationalist politics, she smoked cigars, she took a series of lovers, and she laid bare her ideas and emotions in her letters and stories. 

The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová by Kelcey Parker Ervick is one of the least bitter, most loving books I have read in a long time, and it’s beautifully made. Fans of Jenny Boully’s not merely because of the unknown that was stalking toward them and Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts—frankly, anyone interested in fairy tales and in memory and in desire—should read this haunting biographical collage. It’s a terrific work of lyric nonfiction, a form underrepresented on the fairy tale shelves.” 

             —KATE BERNHEIMER, author of How a Mother Weaned Her Girl from Fairy Tales

The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová is a biographical collage of found texts, footnotes, fragments, and images by and about the Czech fairy tale writer, whom Milan Kundera calls the “Mother of Czech Prose.” Kelcey Parker Ervick’s innovative collage form, with its many voices and viewpoints, questions the concept of biographical “truth” while also revealing a nuanced and spellbinding portrait of Němcová. Inspired by Němcová’s letters, the book’s second section, “Postcards to Božena” is Parker Ervick’s epistolary memoir of her own failing marriage and her quest for a Czech typewriter, as well as a meditation on reading, writing, and happy endings. The two sections combine to create a book as defiant, enchanting, and complex as its namesake.

We would like to thank Kelcey for taking part in A Conversation With... and wish her huge success with her latest book and her future writing.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

Growing up, I was an athlete. I played soccer (football to the rest of the world), softball, and basketball. In track and field, I did the high jump, the long jump, the hurdles. In fourth grade I was given a certificate: Best Athlete. My senior class voted me Most Athletic. On my university soccer team, I was the Most Valuable Player. As an athlete, I learned discipline, I learned to practice regularly, and I learned to trust my mind and body. But I did not learn that I could be a writer. In fact, I became wrapped up in that identity and believed it excluded being a writer. I was an athlete, not a writer.

But my competitive athletic career ended was I was twenty-three years old, and I became an English teacher (for I was reading and writing all along). I was no longer an athlete, and I hated being a coach. I began to explore other possibilities, and slowly I gave myself permission to pursue writing. It helped that I could get a degree in it: something to make it seem legitimate rather than a hobby that took me from my young child. The stories I wrote in grad school were the first ones I published, and several of them are in my book, For Sale By Owner. And I haven’t stopped since. 

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I create counter-narratives. I explore the lives of my characters - both fictional and historical - and imagine alternate possibilities that often contradict received narratives about who they are, who we are. Everything in this world wants to limit and box and stereotype; I want to expand and complicate and imagine. 

What is the one book you wish you had written?

Just one? I’ll pick a contemporary British one: Inglorious by Joanna Kavenna. The prose sweeps you up with its music and rhythm, and the humor is so subtle and smart. Rosa Lane leaves her ridiculous job and loses her long-term boyfriend and spirals into a depression that is at once psychological, financial, and existential.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

Writing is hard, but it’s not rocket science and it’s not magic. You have to commit to it, and you have to do it. All of IT: the reading, the writing, the revising, the submitting, the self-soothing when you get rejected, and the celebration when you get published.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

Graphic stories, poetry comics? I’m not sure what to call them exactly. In my new book, The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová, I loved creating visual art as a companion to the story. I’m working on a chapbook of stories told through a combo of image and text. I’m inspired by the work of Maira Kalman, Aiden Koch, and Bianca Stone.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Harriet the Spy. I still have my composition notebooks filled with ridiculous observations I made while spying on family and friends.

Your last two books were fiction. How did the change from fiction to biography/memoir occur?

My first book was composed of short stories based on my life as a young mother. My second book was historical fiction about an unknown female historical figure: Liliane Kaufmann of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house. My third book was a biography of another unknown female historical figure, the nineteenth-century Czech fairy tale writer, Božena Němcová. As I wrote ABOUT her, I decided to also write TO her – a series of postcards – and those postcards became a memoir of my travels, research, and ultimately, my divorce.

The change from fiction to biography/memoir seemed major in that the “I” now represented me in an unfiltered way, but looking back, the fiction and nonfiction were just different ways to explore similar stories about the lives of women in different moments in history.

The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová is published by Rose Metal Press

Follow Rose Metal Press on Twitter: @RoseMetalPress

Stop press:
Congratulations to Kelcey Parker Ervick for her Silver in the European Nonfiction category
2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards for 
Božena Němcová.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

A conversation with Allan Jenkins

Allan Jenkins is the award-winning editor of Observer Food Monthly. He was previously editor of the Observer Magazine, food and drink editor on the Independent newspaper and once lived in an experimental eco-community on Anglesey, growing organic food on the edge of the Irish Sea. He is the co-author of Fish, the J. Sheekey cookbook, and lives in north-west London.

When I am disturbed, even angry, gardening has been a therapy. When I don't want to talk I turn to plot 29, or to a wilder piece of land by a northern sea. There, among seeds and trees, my breathing slows; my heart rate too. My anxieties slip away.’

As a young boy in 1960s Plymouth, Allan Jenkins and his brother, Christopher, were rescued from their care home, fostered by an elderly couple. There, the brothers started to grow flowers in their riverside cottage. They found a new life with their new mum and dad.
Yet as he grows older, Allan feels unsatisfied with the unanswered questions about his past. His foster parents were never quite able to provide the family the brothers needed, but the solace he finds in tending a small London allotment echoes the childhood moments when he grew nasturtiums from seed.

Over the course of a year, Allan digs deeper in to his past, seeking to learn more about his absent parents. Examining the truths and untruths that he’d been told, he discovers the secrets to why the two boys were in care. What emerges is a vivid portrait of the violence and neglect that lay at the heart of his family.

Allan Jenkins blooms. His garden bears fruit. Enter the seasons with him and grow. I love this book.’ Lemm Sissay 

A beautifully written, haunting memoir, Plot 29 is a meditation on seeds and siblings. Yet it’s also a celebration of the joy to be found in sharing flowers and food with someone you love.

We'd like to thank Allan Jenkins for taking part in A Conversation With... and wish him much success with his future writing.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I came to writing late, I have been a professional copy editor of other peoples’ work for more than 30 years (editor of national newspaper magazines for near 20) and have loved the collaborative aspect of this. For the past few years though I have also been travelling and writing, increasingly confident in my voice. This is a story of course I was born to write and I was the only one who could.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

To bring heart and feeling to my work. It was when I realised my voice isn’t like anyone else’s that I discovered my self-expression. A heady place to be.

Why did you decide to write a memoir? And were you tempted to fictionalise parts of your story?

Not sure I did decide to write this memoir as such, I was writing a journal with personal stuff added in: an old man growing food and flowers because a kindly old man once showed him how as a child. But my dead brother Christopher’s voice edged him out, demanded to be heard. A freedom of information request for care records changed the direction. And a chance discovery in Barnardos office shaded the narrative. I did though “honour’ each stage and made myself as open as possible to the shifting sands of the story. I was not tempted at all to fictionalise though some (few) names were changed to protect the guilty.

You said in a Guardian article that gardening is your therapy. Can you tell us a bit more about this?

It is a place to go to grow, a beautiful semi-wild space but also sometimes, somewhere I can go to try to avoid overspill into my family life. It brings me peace, a non-verbal acceptance. I am good at it. Things grow for me. It is also inherently about nurturing small helpless infant things (of course)… and it comes with flavour, food and colour. 

How important have books been in your life? What is the one book you wish you had written?

When I was lost and had not much hope of making a life, I read, addictively, avidly, twentieth century American mostly: Hammett, Brautigan, Wolfe, Kesey, Roth, Bellow, even Mailer. I am not sure I wish I had written it, but the greatest writer I have worked with (and they include Amis, Barnes and Mamet) was Rian Malan, whose My Traitor’s Heart is still my benchmark. 

What advice do you have for would be memoirists/writers?

Write. Write. Write. Anything. Find your voice and stay true to it if you can. 

When you were growing up, did you have a mentor/role model? What motivated you?

My foster father gave me a home and safety, I will always owe him that and am aware of the debt I owe (though more clear-eyed now about the downside). Motivation? I wanted my brother and me to be happy, though later I also wanted to escape the claustrophobia of small village life.

Has becoming successful made a difference and has this affected your self belief/self worth?

I think it mostly affects the way people sometimes treat you. I came to journalism late (I was already well into my 30s) and had an ambition to work for a good paper if possible, to be part of a community, like a doctor, teacher or nurse. I was 45 when I became an editor (ancient, like the Queen mum), so “success” came very late though I have always I think had self-belief even when there wasn’t much evidence it was shared. None of it come close to meeting my wife in a late night cinema but close perhaps was finding out I can write, not sentences like Roth, or books like Malan, but like me. 

How does it feel now that people regard you as a role model, especially care leavers?

I am not sure this is the case. I was born lucky (or at least luckier than my brother) and am acutely aware that my luck isn’t widely shared among people brought up in care. 

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Huckleberry Finn is hard to beat. Though I have a weakness too for Long John Silver. 

Plot 29 is published by Harper Collins

Follow Allan on Twitter: @allanjenkins21

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Flash Fiction Workshop with Ingrid Jendrzejewski

Flash Fiction: Writing the Iceberg's Tip

Think of Icebergs. Besides being the title of a flash by Tania Hershman, this is exactly what this workshop is about: through exercises, discussion and examples, we'll explore how we can craft floes of compressed prose that may look tiny on the page but still have the power to sink ships.

This workshop is suitable for writers of all levels and styles, from absolute beginners to seasoned flashers, to novelists and storytellers and poets who enjoy playing with compression, subtext, and constraint in their own work. Bring pen and paper, a laptop, or your favourite method of recording words, and leave your inner editor at home!

The workshop will take place Sat 13th May, 11.30am-2.15pm in Finchley, North London. Click here, to book your place.

Ingrid Jendrzejewski grew up in Vincennes, Indiana, studied creative writing at the University of Evansville, then physics at the University of Cambridge. She started writing flash fiction in 2014 and has since found homes for around 75 of her pieces in places like Passages North, The Los Angeles Review, The Conium Review, Jellyfish Review, and Flash Frontier. She has won twelve flash fiction competitions, including the Bath Flash Fiction Award and the A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Orlando Prize for Flash Fiction. Her short collection Things I Dream About When I'm Not Sleeping was a runner up for BFFA’s first Novella-in-Flash competition and will be published later this summer. 

She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Vestal Review’s VERA Award, and twice for Best Small Fictions, and she has judged several writing contests including this year's National Flash Fiction Day Micro-Fiction Competition. 

Links to Ingrid’s work can be found here and she occasionally tweets @LunchOnTuesday.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

A conversation with Jennie Ensor

Jennie Ensor is a Londoner descended from a long line of Irish folk. She has worked as a freelance journalist, covering topics from forced marriages to the fate of Aboriginal Australians living on land contaminated by British nuclear testing.

Jennie lives in London with her husband and their cuddle-loving, sofa-hogging terrier. When not chasing the dog or dreaming of setting off on a long journey with a Kindleful of books, she can usually be found writing – novels as well as short stories and poetry (published under another name). Her second novel, to be finished soon with any luck, is a dark and unsettling psychological drama. 

Jennie's debut novel Blind Side explores love and friendship, guilt and betrayal, secrets and obsession. An explosive, debate-provoking thriller that confronts urgent issues of our times and contemplates some of our deepest fears. 
Can you ever truly know someone? And what if you suspect the unthinkable?

London, five months before 7/7. Georgie, a young woman wary of relationships after previous heartbreak, gives in and agrees to sleep with close friend Julian. She’s shocked when Julian reveals he’s loved her for a long time.

But Georgie can’t resist her attraction to Nikolai, a Russian former soldier she meets in a pub. While Julian struggles to deal with her rejection, Georgie realises how deeply war-time incidents in Chechnya have affected Nikolai. She begins to suspect that the Russian is hiding something terrible from her. 

"Graceful, poetic, intelligent and captivating. A story about three flawed and fascinating people living in dangerous times." Gail Cleare, author of USA Today bestseller The Taste of Air

Blind Side is an explosive, debate-provoking thriller about terrorism and sexual obsession. It is published by Unbound, publisher of the highly-acclaimed essay collection The Good Immigrant. We'd like to thank Jennie for taking part in A conversation with...and wish her much success with her writing adventures.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

10 years thinking I might write something one day, trying to write and tossing pages in the bin.
10 years writing (3 novels, a few short stories and lots of poetry) and dealing with rejection.
3 months crowdfunding my debut novel Blind Side with the publisher Unbound.
5 months working with editors, a cover designer and the publisher to get the book produced.
8 months getting used to being a published author.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

Being a writer is an opportunity to share with others what one cares most about. I try to be honest in my writing, to say things that may be difficult (possibly because they confront oneself or sections of society) without worrying about what readers may think. I love the freedom to play and make things up, and having permission to be float off into my own world. Now I’m actually earning some money from writing, I can say ‘I’m off to do some work’ without excessive guilt and the thought that I’m really a deluded, useless idler-cum-hermit :) Most of all, I enjoy knowing that I do not need to get up at 7.15am on a Monday morning... and if I do, it’s my own choice.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

Julian in Blind Side is not an easy character to like. Despite his apparently easy-going exterior, he has an obsessive side and becomes fixated on a friend of the opposite sex (my main protagonist, Georgie) who doesn’t feel the same way about him. Her rejection triggers a strong reaction... Though I don’t much like Julian, I drew on my experiences of stormy and difficult relationships to get under his skin. He is not a totally bad character and was once a caring friend – and I know very well the pain of unreturned love.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

First off I must say that I’m keen to create more characters who have radically different backgrounds from me. So far my novels have focussed on white middle class people living in the south of England, which admittedly is not particularly diverse! The exception is my character Nikolai in Blind Side, a Russian migrant recently arrived in London with little money who works as a labourer in often dangerous conditions. The novel is partly about society’s perception of the ‘outsider’. It’s a thriller about terrorism and sexual obsession set in 2005, the year of the suicide bomb attacks on London, when attitudes to immigrants in Britain noticeably hardened.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

Oh dear me, this is hard. Only one place? An island in the Caribbean wouldn’t be so bad especially in the British winter. I’m a beach babe, love outdoor swimming and crave the heat. Possibly it would be too tempting not to write though, so I’d have to live a ten-minute cycle ride from the beach. To be honest most of the time I’m pretty happy living where I am now, in north London. There’s woods, parks and theatres etc nearby and Paris is just a train ride away.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

Hmm, this is a hard one too. There are so many! Although it would have required a considerable injection of literary prowess to say the least, I would have been overjoyed to have written All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, a novel set during the occupation of St Malo in France during WW2. I am in awe of the writing and storytelling. It’s not in a genre I’ve written in (literary historical fiction) but occasionally I ruminate on possibilities.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

It’s not the destination that’s important, it’s the getting there. (I am doing my best to learn this!) Try to enjoy the writing journey, embrace the uncertainties and don’t compare yourself with others. Also take any opportunities that come your way. Submit to publishers, agents, poetry/prose competitions, whatever... One can’t expect to win all the time 😊 but you definitely won’t if you don’t enter.

Since getting published, I know what an exhausting job it can be getting exposure for one’s book, and how much there is to learn about publishing, publicity and marketing. So don’t expect to get everything perfectly right the first time you publish. Keep calm when things go wrong, don’t angst about what you can’t control and don’t be too hard on yourself.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

My main project is another psychological novel, a very dark domestic noir. It’s about a paedophile and his family, and reflects on our sexuality-obsessed culture.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mocking Bird – the lawyer who fought racial prejudice despite overwhelming opposition in defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. I was struck by his courage and determination to stand up for what he believed to be right, based on strongly-held principles that all are equally worthy of respect. And my favourite badass heroine has to be Scarlett in Gone With The Wind.

Blind Side is published by Unbound

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Wacky Man by Lynn G Farrell

Book review by Greenacre Writer Mumpuni Murniati

It’s as plain as day that my little life is about to plummet so far down in the gloomy depths of the psyche, there is no way back up without a miracle – and who could believe in any of that miracle bollocks after a decade of Catholic schooling?

Amanda May Duffy decides to lock herself in her room and give up on the world.

She’s a trouble maker, bunks off school and hardly has a friend. She’s attacked every mirror she can see. Little does anyone know that she keeps a piece of jagged glass with her.

Her words are spewing anger and frustration. She’s furious. She mocks at the people who have tried to talk her round; the psychiatrists, her mother and her English teacher, Mr. Kramm. She’s beyond help.

In Wacky Man, Lynn G. Farrell’s protagonist is a battered child. Growing up with a nonchalant mother who battles with her untreated depression and an abusive father, Amanda is a voice only a handful of people would turn round and listen to. Not only is she brutal about what has happened to her childhood, but also she shows her fists.

Amanda takes a momentary bow off the stage when Farrell goes back to where it all begins. Barbara meets her charming fiancé Seamus Duffy on the dance floor. He introduces her to his big family while they go to Dublin for his sister’s wedding.

Before she has had a chance to react she is surrounded by three young women who have come tearing out of  the house. One of them is Might-be-Marie, who says,’Here she is – his fiancée.’ She says the word proudly and the girls crowd round. All of them, like her, are teenagers, though at the younger end to her. They stare at her as if she were a movie star dropped in. She is hugged by each in turn, who fire off their names and then bombard her with questions about ‘Would her dress be from London or would it be from Manchester?’ and ‘What brand is her lipstick?’

Barbara scarcely copes with motherhood. She has a difficult labour with her twins’ Jammie and Tommo. Moreover, she has to deal with a rough husband; Seamus isn’t anything but a brute. Fierce and abusive. The moment he steps into the house his hard-working-family-mask is off.

Until recently, mental health issues among young people were often swept under the carpet. Although according to Young Minds, 1 in 10 suicides in the UK occurs to people between 15 and 24. Among teenagers, rates of depression and anxiety have increased by 70% in the past 25 years, particularly since the mid 1980’s. More importantly, the intertwining with domestic violence is tough to chew.

Yet Farrell ploughs on; her determination to discuss the devastating consequences of a much complicated matter deserves her winning the Luke Bitmead Bursary Award. The Wacky Man may not be an easy read, but the expose on the interdependent factors that affect the children in the book is amazing.
Look who it isn’t. Yes, that was me screaming. Because I felt I like it, that’s why. I feel like I’m going to burst, I scream. Except I don’t really feel like it’s me. It’s like another side of me, inside, that wants to scream and I can’t stop it. I feel like I’m watching the other me doing it, gliding above myself like a plane circling a trapped animal, like I have no control over the me that is screaming. You don’t have to stare at me like that, I know I’m mental. Much more of this solitary confinement and I’ll be eating fucking spiders and pulling out my teeth like Papillon. What? What’s Papillon? It’s a he, not a what. Steve McQueen? Dustin Hoffman? Never mind. Anyway, there you have it – my dad.

In her monologues, Amanda does her best to piece together what she can about herself. About her parents. About her brothers’ untimely fleeing home as soon as they reach sixteen. Above all, about her tyrannical father.

Despite the heart-wrenching portrayals, Farrell marvels at bringing forward her points about the power of an abuser. Throughout the story readers might feel a chill at the back of their nape. As Seamus Duffy looms in the background with a sneer, his children scamper away. The sheer neglect on the part of the authorities and the community giving a cold shoulder to the children’s suffering, is enough to rub salt in the wounds. The fleeting happy moments Amanda has with aunt Pammy, a respite with her granny and little sympathies from a handful of people feel sporadic.

Suffice to say that Farrell’s deep understanding on the matter and her superb but horrifying scenes play a significant part to her solid plot. Nonetheless, in the age of strong female characters, it’s intriguing to realise that Amanda and Barbara seem to lose their battles. In spite of her postpartum psychosis, Barbara believes she’s made her bed and must lie on it. She takes refuges with her ‘magical’ pills. As for Amanda, she becomes more difficult and keeps pushing away the people who genuinely care for her.

On another note, how different would have been if the history of violence had been told from Barbara’s viewpoints? On the one hand, Farrell’s approach of sandwiching Amanda’s voice with the flashback of events from third-person point of views enables readers to follow the building up of the conflicts that morph Amanda into her current state; from a fighter who stands up to her father to the pessimistic, broken girl. On the other hand, the switching from the past to present in the intervening parts gives the impression of two different Amanda's with a touch of Barbara in her and vice versa. Besides, there’s little about Seamus. What had his childhood been like? Or, does he deserve no sympathy at all?

At the penultimate point the quest remains: can Amanda be saved? Will she save herself? Or will the jagged piece of mirror she’s been keeping be her way out?

I know what I am. I am a name typed on a form in a file inside a drawer at the back of an office. I am a document tutted over by people who go home and love their kids. I am a fifteen-year-old smear on the arse of society. I am something not right, something broken down and busted, something to be put away and forgotten.....

Sometimes the uneasiest thing to read is by far the worth reading thing.

Thanks to Legend Press for the review copy.

You can follow Lynn on Twitter: @FarrellWrites

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

A Conversation With Camron Wright

Camron Wright is the award-winning author of Letters for Emily, which was a Readers Choice award winner, as well as a selection of the Doubleday Book Club and the Literary Guild. In addition to North America, Letters for Emily was published in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Korea, the Netherlands, and China.

His most recent book, The Rent Collector, won Book of the Year, Fiction, from ForeWord Reviews; Best Novel of the Year from the Whitney Awards; and was a nominee for the prestigious 2014 International DUBLIN Literary Award.

Wright received a B.S. in Business from Brigham Young University and a master’s degree in Writing & Public Relations from Westminster College. Camron lives with his wife, Alicyn, in Utah. They are the parents of four children.

The Orphan Keeper tells the story of seven-year-old Chellamuthu's life--and his destiny and how it is forever changed when he is kidnapped from his village in Southern India and sold to the Lincoln Home for Homeless Children. His family is desperate to find him, and Chellamuthu anxiously tells the Indian orphanage that he is not an orphan, he has a mother who loves him. But he is told not to worry, he will soon be adopted by a loving family in America.

Chellamuthu is suddenly surrounded by a foreign land and a foreign language. He can't tell people that he already has a family and becomes consumed by a single, impossible question: How do I get home? But after more than a decade, home becomes a much more complicated idea as the Indian boy eventually sheds his past and receives a new name: Taj Khyber Rowland.

It isn't until Taj meets an Indian family who help him rediscover his roots, as well as marrying Priya, his wife, who helps him unveil the secrets of his past, that he begins to discover the truth he has all but forgotten. Taj is determined to return to India and begin the quest to find his birth family. But is it too late? Is it possible that his birth mother is still looking for him? And which family does he belong to now?

Taj Rowland was born as Chellamuthu in Erode, India. At the age of seven, he was kidnapped, driven to a city three hours away and sold to a Christian orphanage. He was adopted by a family in the western United States where he grew up.

He lives with his wife, Priya, and their two daughters, splitting their time between homes in both India and the U.S.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

My background is in business, not English. I found writing (or did it find me?) as I was approaching 40, passing through a midlife crisis of sorts. (It was strictly career related—no girlfriend or sports car involved.) We had just sold our business, and I was struggling to find a new professional direction for my life. I thought it would be easy to jump into corporate America, but I’m the type of person who needs to wake up and feel like I’m making a difference and I was struggling to find that. My wife happened to be in a couple of book clubs at the time, and I remember picking up her books, reading through them, and then exclaiming, “I could write this stuff!”

Weeks later, as I naively attempted to pen my first novel, I learned it was an agonizing, insufferable, forlorn occupation—and yet equally magical. I couldn’t get enough.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

It’s a journey of constant learning. One of my favourite quotes is from Hemingway who said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” That’s pretty humbling. That said, I love the creative process—ending the day and feeling good about a particular sentence, paragraph, page, etc.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

Sure, all the time. If not, I’d be concerned that my characters were flat and stereotypical. It’s often the flaws that make characters flavourful.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

It’s often a struggle to get into a character’s head, being that we all come from such different places. That said, it can also be an adventure. It almost always broadens my appreciation for others and their circumstances.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

I visited Ireland a few months ago for the first time and was enchanted—the scenery, the people, the accent. One night, while having dinner in a traditional Irish pub, the server wandered over and with her adorable accent asked, “May I get you a wee bit more water?” Had she asked for my wallet and firstborn child, I would gladly have handed both over.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Actually anything by Anthony Doerr.)

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

I’ve given this advice before, but it’s worth repeating. While it may sound a bit blunt, it’s often spot on. Spend more time writing your story and less time on social media talking about writing your story. (It turns out many are in love with the idea of being a writer, but they won’t put in the work to get there.)

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

There are always a handful of stories swimming around in my head. That said, I’m one who gets very involved in the marketing side of a project. As such, it’s likely I won’t get too serious for another few months until The Orphan Keeper is well on its way.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Perhaps Wilbur the pig from Charlotte's Web because at one time or another, we all feel like the runt of the litter and just need a friend.
Thanks to Shadow Mountain for the review copy

Follow Camron on Twitter: @AuthorCamronW

Friday, 17 March 2017

A Book for Readers about Writers who Read.

A review by Lindsay Bamfield.

The Book That Made Me. Edited by Judith Ridge. (Walker Books Australia)

Here is a book for readers about writers who read. Comprising thirty two accounts from authors about the books that had a lasting impact them, it embraces a huge range of literature. Many of these memorable book encounters were during the authors’ childhood or their teen years and some chose their stories because, at last, they had found heroes and heroines with whom they could identify. Others chose books that inspired them to write, although I particularly enjoyed the account by Will Kostakis who, while reading a book set in Year 6 at school, was so annoyed by its basic premise that he started to write his own more realistic story.

The contributors are mostly Australian or New Zealanders writing for the Young Adult and children’s market. They encompass a diverse range of backgrounds and reading experiences from those living in homes packed with reading material to others for whom books were scarce. While UK readers may not be too familiar with some the featured authors, don’t let this deter you from picking up this book and diving in. The experiences and  delights of developing as a reader is universal whether reading is conquered effortlessly in the early years or is a struggle requiring persistence.

You will know many of the books the authors discuss and will be inspired to find out about those you don’t. Judith Ridge includes a list of the books and authors cited, ranging from Enid Blyton, Dr Seuss to George Orwell. I found many that I had loved in my early reading years and for that reason enjoyed Fiona Wood’s memories of Anne of Green Gables, which I too loved, although I don’t think I re-read it as frequently as Fiona. While most of the books mentioned are children’s books, adult literature is present too, so readers may be introduced to new books and will hopefully be inspired to read them.

It struck me how readers from diverse backgrounds reading many decades apart and thousands of miles from each other can share universal experiences through the medium of good books. But the accounts also demonstrate that we need more diverse literature in our world. Children’s literature has been, and is still, dominated by western cultures. Catherine Johnson grew up believing only white people lived in books. That is changing but not fast enough. I hope that if Judith Ridge edits a similar volume in another ten or twenty years the new stories will reflect change.

The personal anecdotes definitely demonstrate the necessity of stories in children’s lives. I would like to see a copy on every teacher’s bookshelf. The accounts that resonated the most with me were from those writers who recalled feeling like an outsider, or misunderstood in some way, discovering a character who knew how they felt. The characters validated their lives and feelings which all children need, especially those who feel vulnerable. This is how literature enables us to develop and mature.

This is a book that begs to be picked up again and again, dipped into, enjoyed, and considered. The reading list may well be a source of new books for you to explore and many will be old favourites ripe for a spot of reminiscence.

All royalties from book sales will go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation

Thanks to Walker Books for the review copy.

Follow Judith on Twitter: @msmisrule
Follow Lindsay on Twitter: @LindsayBamfield