Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

Review by Greenacre Writer Vasundra Jackison

When Frances is offered the job of surveying the follies and garden buildings of an old English country house, she is keen to see the neo-classical architecture with the possibility of finding an elegant Palladian bridge. Her mother has just died and she is ready to escape the city and take on the challenge. From America, the new owner arranges for her to stay in the crumbling mansion.

The owner has also commissioned someone to report to him on the condition of the house and its fittings. Frances is expecting to see an older man joining her in the house. But when she meets the glamorous Cara and the handsome Peter living in the rooms below her, she is taken aback. This couple are young and full of life; confident, self-indulgent and pleasure loving.

The memory of my first sight of Cara stirs me: a pale, long-legged sprite. I hear her shouting outside on Lyntons’ carriage turn.

Frances is nearly forty years old. All her life she has toed the line and followed a routine.

I knew, of course, right from wrong. My father, Luther Jellico, had instilled it into me before he left and then mother had continued in her way: payment will always be due for any wrongdoing, don’t lie or steal, don’t talk to strange men, don’t speak unless spoken to, don’t look your mother in the eye, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t expect anything from life.

Frances does not have many friends and is used to people walking past her. But to her surprise, the couple wants to befriend her, cook for her and spend every day with her. At first, she shies away from them. But soon, she is pulled in by the eccentric Cara, who fascinates her even as she listens to her strange stories. And by Peter who seems to want to confide in her.

Something is not right, and Frances cannot work it out. When she finds a peep-hole under her bathroom floorboard, she cannot resist spying on them. She knows it is wrong, but she gets swept away by their company; living decadently and dangerously. Not much report writing gets done by any of them.

The weekend passed without us noticing it was the weekend. We ate and we drank and we smoked.

One person does try to pull her back from the brink of disaster. Victor, the local vicar visits her at Lyntons and feels the need to advise her.

As I said yesterday, I don’t think this is a good place for you. I think you should leave. Go back to London, or somewhere else.

Many years later, Victor is still trying to save her.

Victor tenses, hopeful for a net that he can use to save me. A child’s net on a stick that he can thrust into the rushing water where I spin and turn in the eddies. He would scoop me out if he could. But there’s nothing now that will stop me flowing downstream with the current.

Frances is now too involved in the lives of her two companions. She is addicted to them. and cannot extricate herself from her part in the unfolding events. Events that escalate to such a shocking ending that none of them comes away unscathed.

There are detailed descriptions of the house and garden in this book which make the place come alive on the pages. The feelings and thoughts of the characters are also extremely well written. The year is 1969, and there are many references to British life in that period which help the reader picture everything from the clothes, to music to food. The history of old English mansions is well researched, as is the artistry of famous painters and sculptors.

This is a twisting and winding tale of love, self-doubt, desire and danger, all written in a simple, easy-read style. It is a compelling read which will leave the readers wishing for more.

Follow Claire on Twitter: @ClaireFuller2

Follow Vasundra on Twitter: @VasundraJay

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Writers Meet-Up

Greenacre Writers host a Writers Meet-up for writers who want to get together and write.

Come and join us for Writers Meet-Up in Finchley. 1st Saturday of every month.
Next meeting: Sat 4th August 10.15-Midday, Write for 40mins, have tea, write for 40 mins. Refreshments provided. £3.00 RSVP:

Follow us: @GreenacreWriter

Thursday, 19 July 2018

A Conversation With Gail Aldwin

Gail Aldwin is an award-winning writer of short fiction and poetry. As Chair of the Dorset Writers’ Network she supports writers by connecting creative communities. She is a visiting tutor at Arts University Bournemouth and author of Paisley Shirt a collection of short fiction. This collection was long listed in the best short story category of the Saboteur Awards 2018. 

Paisley Shirt is a fascinating collection of twenty-seven stories that reveal the extraordinary nature of people and places. Through a variety of characters and voices, these stories lay bare the human experience and what t is like to live in our world.

"I had my favourites – I thought “Stone” was wonderful, perhaps the shortest but, for someone who reads with the heart as I do, the emotional impact was immense. “Accidental Brother” moved me deeply too – its construction perfect, and a story I’d be happy to see expanded into something a little longer. “Packing” is perhaps the simplest – a list, rather than a ‘story’, but with so much meaning in the content…I’d urge anyone to step outside their comfort zone a little, and take a closer look at short fiction – and if you’re looking for an introduction, I doubt you’ll find much better than this beautiful collection from Gail Aldwin."                - Award-winning book blogger, Being Anne

Thank you to Gail for joining us in conversation. We wish her all good things with the lovely Paisley Shirt and forthcoming novel.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I started as a letter writer. In 1981, l left London to travel overland to Kathmandu on a double decker bus. We were stuck in France for three weeks waiting for visas to be issued so that we could cross Iran and then the adventure began. My mum stored all the letters I wrote in box files and later when I was studying to become a teacher, I used the anecdotes contained in the letters as a basis for short stories. The short stories turned into novels and eventually I began to write about imagined characters and situations. I now write novels, short fiction and poetry. I also co-write comedy sketches.

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

I have important stories to tell about the human qualities of resilience and trust…and I enjoy being in a strong position to share these stories.  

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

I haven’t actively disliked any of my characters but some of their behaviours are appalling. I dig deep to find the vulnerability and frailty that causes my characters to make horrible mistakes. Some of these mistakes can be rectified while others compound to make the character burdened.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

My stories include issues such as domestic violence, alcoholism, homelessness and disability. I aim to create unique characters without stereotyping them.

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

So long as I have a desk, a comfortable chair and a laptop, I’m happy to write anywhere. Sometimes idyllic locations cause more distraction from writing than my little room at home.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

I’d like to write as well as all the authors I admire but keep my own subject matter. There are many influential books so I can’t nail it down to one. My most recently read favourite novel is Out of Africa.

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

Enjoy being part of a writing community through membership of writing groups and links on social media. Share resources and information about competitions and open submission windows. Celebrate your own successes and those of others. Appreciate the intrinsic satisfaction that comes from writing.

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

I’m working on a novel called This Much I Know with a six-year-old narrator called Mikey. He responds to the friendly approaches made by a disabled church member because he is lonely. Mikey’s parents are suspicious of Leonard which leaves Mikey completely confused. The novel explores issues of trust and questions why it is becoming increasing difficult for adults to talk to children without raising concerns.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

At school I was made to read by learning phonics. This became nothing more than hard work and I never saw books as a source of interest. As a result, I didn’t read for pleasure until much later. When I became a teacher, I liked to share books that challenged and engaged children. One of my favourite characters is the protagonist in The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler but I can’t tell you why as that would spoil the surprise.

Follow Gail on Twitter: @gailaldwin

Sunday, 15 July 2018

The Devil's Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch

Book review by Greenacre Writer Mumpuni Murniati

In the aftermath of The Panic 1792, Francis Flanagan was found hung in his home. There could be no doubt he’d committed suicide.

Spring 1799. The New York State’s legislature adopted the measure of gradual abolition; every offspring of a slave born after 4th July 1799 was a free person but only after twenty-eight years of ‘apprenticeship’ for males, and twenty-five for female. Twenty-year-old Justice Flanagan returns to New York after four years’ away. Having qualified as an attorney-in-law, he’s come back for a mission and one mission only: to catch his father's murderer.

In 1800 New York’s population is recorded at just over 66,000. Looking at what has become of the former New Amsterdam, the magnitude of the growth of the once-only a large town at the bank of the Hudson river is extremely remarkable. Much of the city’s expansion was largely due to its having been a refuge for fleeing slaves, the irony of the economy built on the bidding wars of human commodity c. Who couldn’t have missed Wall Street - The Devil’s Half Mile?

Against the backdrop of a well-played plot, the modern-time equivalent of gang culture and collusions, Paddy Hirsch yarns upbeat narratives on the impacts of the first financial crisis in American History. He couldn’t have picked a better setting nor a time; the author of Man vs Markets: Economics Explained (Plain & Simple) is an old hand on Wall Street. In the gripping scenes that flow throughout the novel, the complexities of the abolition of slavery is depicted with ease; no sooner has the young lawyer protagonist disembarked the ship than he begins to ruffle some feathers –albeit the wrong ones and dwells further into the labyrinth of corruptions and betrayals of the people he thought would help. Nonetheless, never has he realised the ripple effects of his dropping a pebble or two in the uncharted waters.

In the orphaned son of a stock trader, Hirsch creates a new breed of Irish identity. ‘I doubt any of them [Irish] would have named their son Justice. The Irish tended to name their children after the saints, and names like Justice, Hope and Charity smack of Protestantism…’ It’s a small wonder that his hero was born after Independence with a strong sense of identity about his heritage. During his time away from home, he took part in the bloody summer of 1798 at Kildare; an intriguing aspect whose relevance still rings true to this day. For had Justy lived three centuries later, he would’ve been branded a terrorist and lived in exile.

What’s exciting about historical crime fiction is the stretch of imagination an author has to use in order to recreate circumstances with all the marks of similar struggles happening in today's society. Hirsch’s colourful interpretations of characters from eighteenth-century New York City, allow Justy to cross paths with famous names: The King Of The Alley William Duer, Isaac Whippo, Jacob Hays the New York Marshall and the former Secretary of Treasure, Alexander Hamilton.

Furthermore, his take on the lives claimed and tangled because of the crash and the law are hard hitting. He’s careful with the bits of history he’s chosen to omit, although sometimes this requires filling in the gaps and further reading for readers. The variations of pace in the book are well balanced, whereby he manages to deploy subplots that do not steer away from the hunt of justice but they still catch the reader off guard.

Following Justy’s viewpoint, the readers observe the revealing of hidden conspiracies - brutal and uncompromising. Hirsh ensures his combatant have flaws in many ways; his only uncle for a start is the fearsome The Bull, a don who controls the port and the water ways. Yet, the greater shame is endured in the discovery of his father's significant part in The Panic, and a pawn in William Duer’s Ponzi scheme. In spite of his trying to separate himself from his uncle, Justy's safety relies on The Bull’s mercy. Besides, his inexperienced moves contribute to his digging a deeper hole in the process and the net is closing on him in the hands of the ingenious Kerry O’Toole – an old friend supposedly. Would his mission be accomplished in time?

In the anti-climax of the penultimate chapters, the shadow of slavery hangs like mildew clinging on one’s foot. Hirsh's focus on The Panic and his imaginary of Duer's Ponzi scheme and ‘the Brazil gold’ stocks are applaudable. Nevertheless, there seems to be hesitations to include the important details on the extent of slave trades that become the foundation of shaping Wall Street to its current status. Also, Alexander Hamilton is still a hero that saves the day, whereas his close relationship with Duer tends to be seen as unsavoury.

Be that as it may, this debut crime fiction is one to watch. At any rate the novel is as entertaining as educating and tips the balance of what New York was and is in the face of Western History. No doubt that Hirsch’s warrior will grow much more in his subsequent cases pairing with his half Norwegian sidekick Lars Hokkanssen.

‘Absorbing as it was to learn how Wall Street changed in the wake of the Panic, discovering how New York changed in the same period was even more so. The city was little more than a large town in 1799, when Justy Flanagan stepped off the Netherleigh. What eventually became the Five Points was still a freshwater lake, and the tiny village of Greenwich was surrounded by open fields. But the city would double in size over the next twenty years, straining its capacity, its tolerance and its way of life.’

1446 slaves were recorded in the city in 1810 and 528 in the following decade. On 4th July 1827, all slaves in New York were freed.

Thank you to Corvus for the review copy.

Follow Paddy Hirsch on Twitter: @paddyhirsch

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae by Stephanie Butland

Review by Greenacre Writer Vasundra Jackison

Ailsa Rae was born with a heart defect and has had to undergo many operations to keep her alive. She knows she is lucky to have lived for 28 years. But now her heart is failing, and she desperately needs a new one. 
It’s only a question of time before I get too weak to survive a transplant, and then it’s a waste of a heart to give it to me.
At the eleventh hour, someone dies, and Ailsa is the fortunate recipient of their heart. Six days after surgery, she opens her eyes to find her mother Hayley at her bedside, smiling through her tears. They have been through a lot together, just the two of them.
I’m here, hen. I’ve been here all the time...You’re safe now. You’ve done it.
Physically, Ailsa recovers well. But emotionally, she finds the day to day “living” like other adults who know what they want, where they want to be and what they plan to do in the future very challenging.
When I was dying I was special and I was protected…When you might be dead the next week, what you’re doing with your life isn’t really an issue.
Now she has to work out what her priorities are, and she has to make decisions. She avoids this by writing a blog and asking her followers to decide for her. She runs a poll regularly, asking her readers to tell her what she should do with her life, which clothes to wear, what words to choose to describe her feelings, and much more.
There are many things that trouble Ailsa. She desperately misses her friend Lennox who died before a new heart could be found for him. She worries about upsetting her mother by moving out and looking for her long-lost biological father. Life shouldn’t be so hard. After all, she is lucky to have “Apple”, the name she has given to her new heart.
I’m alive, thanks to a freak set of circumstances, which includes someone else’s misfortune. And I think of that every day.
Ailsa’s spirits are lifted when she meets Seb Morley, a television star who is recovering from a corneal transplant. He seems to understand her emotional roller coaster rides. Their email exchanges are funny, witty and sweet. However, even their friendship is not without its problems.
There are moments when Ailsa appears to be quite frivolous about the heart that saved her life. And at times she seems too morbid. But these are the ever-changing moods and coping mechanisms that many transplant patients go through. Organ donation saved Ailsa’s life and its importance has not been forgotten. Ailsa reminds us by stating quite simply:
Please when you die, when someone you love dies, help to let someone else live.
Despite all the uncertainties, Ailsa’s story is a happy one filled with hope. The details of her medical treatment are well researched, giving the reader a wonderful insight into the world of transplants in modern day UK. There is humour in this novel, despite the seriousness of the topic, and there is warmth. Overall, this book is enjoyable, engaging and very thought-provoking.

Thanks to Zaffre for the review copy.

Follow Stephanie on Twitter: @under_blue_sky

Follow Vasundra on Twitter: @vasundrajay

Monday, 25 June 2018

A Conversation With Katy Massey

Katy Massey grew up in Leeds in the 1970s and early 1980s before attending boarding school in North Yorkshire. After university, she moved to London and eventually worked as a freelance financial journalist, writing short fiction and memoir in her spare time. In her late 30s she returned to education, a journey which culminated in a self-funded PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Newcastle in 2010. The PhD allowed her write her own family’s complicated story, while researching memoir and discovering why the lives of some groups of people are much less likely to be recorded, and lauded, than others.

So now, alongside her own writing, she organises and raises funding for writing workshops and publishing projects which aim to give marginalised or ignored people a voice. These have included Tangled Roots – a unique anthology of memoir by more than 30 members of mixed race families, which also included a live literature tour and portraiture exhibition. ‘Who are we now? is a collection of memoir responses to the Brexit referendum and a post-European future a free download is available on the website. Recently, a piece of Katy’s autobiographical work has was accepted by Unbound publishers for the Kit De Waal’s edited collection Common People. She is also working on The Cleansing, a novel imagining post-Grenfell London after a large-scale attack.

The phenomenal growth of the the UK’s mixed population is one of the most significant social trends of the 21st century. Yet precisely how this social revolution has occurred remains something of a mystery. So Tangled Roots asked five leading writers – Diana Evans, Bernardine Evaristo MBE, Sarfraz Manzoor, Hannah Lowe and Charlotte Williams -  along with 25 writers from UK mixed families to write about their lives. The result is a shockingly honest, funny and heart-breaking collection of memoirs which reveal the human stories behind the massive success of ‘mixed Britannia’.

Greenacre Writers is very pleased to welcome Jayne Saul Paterson and Katy Massey in converstion. Jayne devised the questions for Katy to answer. We wish Katy every success with this very important and needed text.

What was your primary motive for bringing the stories of mixed raced writers together into the book Tangled Roots?

I had the idea from talking to friends that mixed people (as well as those who grow up in mixed families or have parented one) had many experiences in common, but I couldn’t find a book that described these shared experiences. I then went back to university to study for a PhD in memoir and autobiography, and I found that this is because there are very few accounts of mixed lives published within these genres. So, I decided to bring as many real-life stories together as I could in a single anthology, so that current and future generations can better understand, and gain an historical perspective of, their experiences. The result is Tangled Roots. It is an unusual anthology with its historical pictures and mix of work by both renown authors and amateur writers. This is because I wanted the book to reflect the resilience and diversity of the UK’s mixed population as closely as possible.

The book was published in 2015, what sort of reactions and responses have you had to the book ?

The response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive, with many readers telling me that though they found all the stories interesting, there are one or two that resonated particularly deeply for them. I am always happy to hear this!

One of the mixed race writers, struggles outside of writing to describe herself in racial terms, and this is a theme for many of us, including the need to authenticate or align ourselves with our ‘blackness’; - do you think it is important for mixed race individuals to choose their own ways of describing themselves, rather than accept typical labels given to them and to embrace their individuality and why do you think writing is an important medium for this?

I think it is important for mixed people to do what they want to, and to resist pressure to do, or say, or identify with anything which does not feel authentic to them. One important factor informing Tangled Rootsis the sheer range and diversity of mixed people and how people choose to self-define. For some this is a racial description – they are Nigerian-British, or Anglo-Indian for others it is a metaphor, like Robert Ippolito’s piece where he sees himself as a ‘bridge’ between his various racial, geographical and cultural influences. I think writing could be important because it allows exactly this sort of imaginative leap – but there are visual artists producing mixed race art too. In fact, across the arts there are many writers, performers, and makers who ponder the limits of assigned identity and the possibilities of creating new ones. I see Tangled Rootsas contributing to that stream of thought.  
In your introduction to the book, subtitled ‘Tinting the gene pool’ you talk about how the writers of the book, ‘insist on their notion of here-ness, the situated-ness of their lives’ – why do you think this is important in the current social and political climate of modern day Britain? 

Part of the point of Tangled Roots is to record how well-established mixed people and mixed relationships are within British society. Areas of the UK such as Tiger Bay in Cardiff, or parts of Liverpool and Bristol have been mixed for hundreds of years. We are not a sudden phenomenon. Though we are now the fastest growing ethnic group in the country, this has come from a long history: of resilience on the part of minority populations, and increasing tolerance in the majority population, a combination of factors which have developed over centuries, and demonstrated in political and legal human rights legislation over the past 50 years. This is a proud history that current populist and right-wing strands of political thought seek to erase or ignore. Instead, they favour peddling an anti-immigrant, anti-other narratives of ‘arrival’ and ‘take over’ which is designed to stoke fear and resentment, and is in danger of damaging the carefully woven fabric of British society.

In a previous interview you mention how you are ‘tired of all the angst and stress coming from editors and publishers in the industry as well as the characters in … books. We have a sense of humour too!’ Can you mention a few of the writers in the book who really bring out this sense of humour in writing their own stories.

All of the pieces in Tangled Rootstreat the idea of different races inter-marrying and having intimate relationships as a completely normal, everyday experience, even when the community surrounding the couple or the mixed person disapproves. This is important, as anxieties about racial mixing are still bubbling away under the surface of our society, and mixed characters in fiction are still often portrayed as confused outcasts, leading to the ‘angst’ I refer to above. A sense of humour is a personal, subject thing, but for me, I am always looking for a sideways, ironic way of looking at the world in the writing I enjoy. I would refer readers to Robert’s piece mentioned above, but also ‘American Coat’ and ‘Auntie’. with a lightness of touch which is rare in mainstream publishing. 

Apart from the writers who feature in the book, which other writers from a mixed race background, would you recommend either in the UK or from outside the UK? 

I can only comment on the UK literary scene, I’m afraid, and the renown authors in Tangled Rootswere chosen precisely because there are so few writers of mixed heritage covering this ground. In fact writers of non-mixed heritage writing about mixture would be fantastic too! It is important not to confuse a writer’s biographical information with their work – which may take on quite different subject matter. The story of mixture belongs not only to mixed people but their parents and friends and family too – who may be ‘mono-cultural’.
Outside of the writers featured in Tangled Roots, there is of course, Andrea Levy, much of whose oeuvre explores the experience of Caribbean settlement and integration in the UK. And Dorothy Koomson, another of the few regularly published female novelists of colour in the UK, writes popular novels which feature multi-racial casts of characters (The Ice Cream Girlswas adapted into a TV drama) though she is not mixed-race herself as far as I know. And I am sure your readers know the work of Zadie Smith – and if you have previously stuck to her novels, I recommend her essays, which are particularly acute. 

So, although they are featured in Tangled Roots, I would say the best place for readers to start would be the work of Hannah Lowe (particularly her poetry collections and Long Time No See, her memoir) and Diana Evans’ 26a– a masterful study of a mixed family in London in the 1970s and 1980s. Similarly, if readers are unfamiliar with the books written by Bernardine Evaristo, her novel Blonde Rootshas exactly the quirky sense of humour I refer to in the quote above and which is so rare in this field. 

Thanks to Katy for the review copy.

You can follow Katy on Twitter: @TangledRoots1

You can follow Jayne on Twitter: @doorswillopen

Monday, 18 June 2018

The Ghosts and Jamal by Bridget Blankley

Book review by Greenacre Writer Mumpuni Murniati

Every muscle in Jamal’s body shakes hard. His head spins; the smell of nutmeg wafting in the air amid the taste of blood in his mouth. Shivering on the ground, he’s lying there exhausted and wait until the spirits leave.

The spirits visit him regularly. Every time they do, it makes Jamal ill. And drives people away. Nobody must touch him nor go near him. He has to live in a hut alone, outside the village compound.

There was too much smoke. It didn’t tickle his nose any more, it was grabbing at his throat, squeezing the air into his stomach in wrenching coughs. He was choking, gasping acid breaths till suddenly his ears were bursting with noise. He fell to the ground, his blanket slipping across his twitching body, hiding his face under the heavy cloth. That was when the pick-up drove past.

Until one day after light he hears no sound but the yellow smoke that has caught him off guard. Then the spirits send him unconscious and the people in the pick-up decide to leave him there.

An orphan’s tale with epilepsy is at the heart of Bridget Blankley’s enthralling tale in The Ghosts and Jamal. Set in Nigeria, it follows Blankley’s protagonist’s quest of making sense of the disorder and ‘the ghosts’ that wipe out his entire tribe. A sole survivor of a gas attack, Jamal’s adventure is harrowing from the onset but heart rendering; his courageous voice is wrapped in bitter sweet experiences throughout.

Blankley wastes no time in dwelling into the social stigma and the social exclusion resulted from epilepsy; through Jamal’s eyes she’s encouraging a sensible narrative in the Young Adult genre that challenges the common perceptions to people living with such a treatable condition. Her sensitive elaborations about disability strike the right cord that go beyond words. Moreover, her well-balanced plot ensures that issues surrounding epilepsy remain the main focus towards the end.

Sometimes they put their hands under the tent and wiped him with cold cloths. Sometimes they put a small stick in his mouth and told him not to bite it. He thought that strange. Only babies bite sticks and he wasn’t a baby. They brought him food and water to drink and sometimes a very small drink in a very small cup. He didn’t like the small drink- it made him very sleepy – but he liked the other things they brought him so he took the small drink when they gave it to him and he didn’t complain.

Her flagging support on the matter carries weight possibly from having Asperger’s Syndrome herself. She’s an old hand in the art of expressing very little about oneself for fear of being judged and misunderstood. Her evocative words echo farther than the walls of the hospital that brings a brief respite to Jamal and the minor characters that colour the man-child in him seeking answers. 

Nevertheless, Jamal is unable to stay there for long. The idea that he wouldn’t be able to track ‘the ghosts in the red canister’ once he lives in the confinement of an orphanage sets him up for an escape. Being oblivious to the dangers awaiting him ahead, Jamal plunges himself back to the circumstances he has miraculously escaped from in the first place. 

Blankley’s choice of setting is arguably arresting; a Muslim boy caught up in an ongoing violent conflict reverberate the unfortunate reality of millions of children nowadays being in a similar situation in other countries. Particularly their small voices that are usually forgotten in books of the post-colonial genre.

Having grown up in the sixties in Southern Nigeria, Blankley is apt at capturing the discernible beauty of the country’s landscape. Yet her awareness about the tangled mess concerning the tensions between of the north and the south might not be as extensive as her understanding about disability. On the one hand, she has an outstanding impartiality in tackling terrorism. On the other hand, the so-called terrorism that involve a religious-based ideology with a demand of independence for the north is much more than meets the eye.

The latter point is reflected in Jamal’s little comprehension about the attack; his naivety bears empathy but may cloud the message Blankley has wished to convey to the Young Adult readers. By the same token, whilst it’s palpable that children, regardless their faiths, are unfairly displaced because of acts of terrorism, the imposing issue concerning to which side Jamalshould belong is only being discussed in the penultimate chapters.

‘I need to think about what’s right,’ said Jamal.
‘You can think. But you must think here. You have a choice: accept your destiny or go to jail.’
That wasn’t a choice, Jamal thought. That wasn’t a choice at all. This madman wanted him to die and Jamal didn’t want that at all.

Can he make the right decision for himself? There ought to be more than a cliffhanger ending when Jamal’s life seemed to have turned for the better. Do we have to wait for the next book to find out what happens to Jamal?

Thank you Bridget Blankley and Hope Road Publishing for the review copy.

Follow Bridget on Twitter: @BridgetBlankley

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Setting the Pace

  • What keeps the pace of a novel going? 
  • What drives suspense? 
  • Are there writing techniques and aspects of craft that can be learned to improve these things or add them to a narrative? 
  • What is a successfully paced narrative?
These questions -  and no doubt a few more  - are the starting point  for Greenacre Writers midsummer workshop on 30th June. Led by Josie Pearse of Pearse & Black, we’ll look at ways other writers have approached these issues and do some simple but satisfying writing exercises. We can also attempt some creative problem solving, so come prepared to discuss (not read) a passage you’re struggling with and run it by fellow writers.  

The workshop takes place Sat 30th June, 10.15am-2.00pm in Finchley, N12 0HU. COURSE NOW FULL!!!!!

Josie Pearse runs the day-to-day operations of Pearse & Black. She lives in Barnet.
She gained her PhD from Cardiff University with her thesis, Writing and Not Writing on the Cusp of Life and Fiction.
Josie has taught creative writing for most of her life. She has been a writer in residence and has worked at all levels of skill. She runs a closed group which supports writers working on long projects and runs site-specific one-off workshops.
She bases her approach simply on the principle that you learn to write by writing. And  for a writer at any level of skill, the knowledge of  your process  – including what your block might be trying to tell you –  will help you sustain the writing of a whole book.  Josie helps each writer master his or her process.
She has published two novels under a pseudonym and is working on a TV adaptation.

Follow Josie on Twitter: @jojowasawoman

Friday, 25 May 2018

My Mother's Secret by Sanjida Kay

Review by Greenacre Writer Carol Sampson

My Mother’s Secret is told through three characters: Lizzie, Emma and Stella.

Lizzie fell pregnant and married Paul Bradshaw before she had the opportunity to complete her degree. When their son, Dylan, is six months old Lizzie decides to take a part-time job in Leeds, leaving Paul and Dylan at home in the Lake District for part of the week while she earns money to contribute to their limited finances and studies to complete her degree.

While in Leeds she witnesses a serious crime which ultimately defines her future.

There was a sickening thud, like the sound of a cricket bat hitting a watermelon, and Arjun screamed. The boy gave a cry. She ran to him, her fingers slipping from her phone. But she was too late.

Emma, wife to Jack and mother to eleven year old Ava and fourteen year old Stella is anxious, bordering on neurotic, where the safety of her family is concerned. She has all the family’s daily activities scheduled with everyone notified of each other’s whereabouts. Every day she escorts the children to and from school and any activities they have.

On a family outing at the weekend Emma becomes distracted while taking photos and Jack, Ava and Stella wander off. Suddenly, realising they are no longer there, Emma’s paranoia takes hold.

“I can’t see them…There’s no sign of them, no sign that anyone else even passed this way. I start screaming their names, over and over, the names of my family, my loved ones, the people I cannot live without. My heart is beating so hard it’s painful.”

Stella, a feisty teenager, finds her mother’s behaviour stifling. She is eager to gain independence and cannot understand why she is denied the freedom permitted to her peers.

“It’s embarrassing to have to wait for your mum at my age, and be in charge of an annoying little sister. I keep telling Mum we should get the bus, but she says she likes picking us up.”

When her mother’s time-keeping starts to become erratic - showing up late to collect them from school and arriving home late from work - Stella suspects something is not right.

“I can't remember my unspontaneous mother ever doing anything without notifying us in triplicate.

As she determines to find out why her mother is distracted and behaving out of character Stella uncovers secrets that threaten the stability of their very comfortable family life.

My Mother’s Secret is a well written novel which, although not a page-turner, draws the reader in to the lives of the characters making it difficult to put down. Sanjida Kay has created three very distinct voices in Lizzie, Emma and Stella drawing on their vulnerabilities to enhance empathy. It is through their complex characters that issues of morality, responsibility, identity and loyalty are tested.

Initially the timeline is confusing with respect to Lizzie but as the story unravels, her connection with Emma and Stella becomes clear. Kay has captured the voice of Stella brilliantly: the recalcitrant teenager who is desperate to grow up but becomes unnerved when faced with adult issues requiring responsible decisions. Extremely intelligent she realises when she is out of her depth and struggles to cope with the threat her mother poses to the family.

The short chapters and alternating voices make for easy reading as the story meanders through a minefield of revelations - some of which are predictable; some not quite so. It is certainly a thought-provoking story that poses the question: what would I do in those circumstances?

A very enjoyable read.

Thank you Sanjida Kay and Corvus at Atlantic Books for the review copy.

You can follow Sanjida Kay on Twitter: @SanjidaKay

Friday, 18 May 2018

The Coffin Path by Katherine Clements

Review by Greenacre Writer Vasundra Jackison

This is a story that will grab your attention from the very start.
I was born with blood on my hands. I killed my mother on the 22nd of August, in the year 1642, the day the first King Charles turned traitor and chose a battlefield over a throne.
Immediately, you are pulled in and there is no turning back. This is a historical novel with a deep dark theme of ghosts, evil shadows and a malevolent presence that will keep you on edge.
It is the story of Mercy Booth, a young woman who has grown up in the shadow of this evil presence. It hangs over and around her home, right in the middle of the wild Yorkshire moors. Many in the village are superstitious and afraid of the terrifying tales of death and destruction in the area, passed down through the ages.
But Mercy is not like them. She is strong, determined and hard working. She knows and loves the rough landscape of the moors, despite the rumours and dangers.
There’s a fog gathering, sitting heavy on the hills, sinking into the valley. I know the paths across these moors like I know every stone and slate of Scarcross Hall, but when the fog comes down it’s fast and unforgiving, and even us helfted ones can lose our way.
Her father is ill and very rarely leaves the crumbling walls of Scarcross Hall. Mercy runs the farm, tending to the sheep and working the unforgiving land like any man who comes looking for employment.
When Ellis Ferreby turns up, the tavern keeper directs him.
You can’t mistake the place. Find the church and follow the old coffin path that runs up towards the moor top. You’ll not miss it.
What he is not told is that the coffin path leads to a place where the most horrific events are said to have taken place; a frightening and forbidding place.
Mercy is suspicious of this quiet stranger. She feels uncomfortable around him and senses a disturbing watchfulness from him. There are also increasing episodes of alarming events which are unnatural and inexplicable. She senses something threatening. I sense it like a rabbit sensing a fox: there are eyes on me.
Her faithful dog begins to growl and slinks to her side more often than usual.
I’m not one for superstition and scaremongering and I’ve never before felt truly afraid. This is different: there is harm in it. My hackles rise. I’m a field mouse sensing the hawk, my pursuer invisible to me but every instinct telling me to run.
Despite her misgivings, she employs Ellis for the lambing season. She grows used to him and starts to depend on him. He helps her handle the challenges faced by all farmers during that period in history. It is tough work in the harsh climate on the moors. Against the backdrop of the foreboding mood, the author gives us an interesting insight into life on the Yorkshire moors in the 17th century.
The sense of menace never leaves the pages. It is always there in the background. In spite of the feeling of dread, or perhaps because of it, we are compelled to finish the book. We want to know how Mercy will cope with what we imagine will happen in Scarcross Hall. This book of ghosts, mystery and history is one that the reader will find very difficult to put down.

Thanks to Headline for the review copy.

Follow Katherine on Twitter: @KL_Clements

Thursday, 10 May 2018

A Conversation With Amanda Berriman

Amanda Berriman was born in Germany and grew up in Edinburgh, reading books, playing music, writing stories and climbing hills. She works as a primary school teacher and lives on the edge of the Peak District with her husband, two children and dogs

Meet Jesika, aged four and a half. The most extraordinary narrator of 2018.

She lives in a flat with her mother and baby brother and she knows a lot. She knows their flat is high up and the stairs are smelly. She knows she shouldn't draw on the peeling wallpaper or touch the broken window. And she knows she loves her mummy and baby brother Toby.

She does not know that their landlord is threatening to evict them and that Toby’s cough is going to get much worse. Or that Paige, her new best friend, has a secret that will explode their world.

"Heart-stopping. A need to read novel." Kit de Waal, author of My Name is Leon

Greenacre Writers are delighted to welcome and thank Amanda for taking part in A Conversation. We wish her huge success with 'Home', which is an exceptionally moving debut. 

Tell us of your journey as a writer

It’s been a very long one! At primary school, I was always getting lost in a story but by the end of secondary school exam work took over, and then I went on to study music at university. I didn’t come back to writing until 2003, a few years into my first teaching job, when an idea was sparked in an English lesson. I spent the whole of that October half term writing feverishly and a year and half later, nine chapters into my first novel, I was completely hooked. At this point, I was introduced to the Writers’ Workshop and over the next few years, through them, I had a couple of manuscript critiques, finished the novel, collected many agent rejections, joined the Word Cloud forum, rewrote the novel, collected some more rejections, went to the York Festival of Writing, did Debi Alper and Emma Darwin’s truly excellent, lightbulb-inducing Self-Editing course, rewrote the novel again... Shortly after this, Debi became my mentor, I rewrote the novel again and in 2012 it was shortlisted in the Opening Chapter competition at York. But after many rejections, and despite coming very close with a couple of agents, I wasn’t getting anywhere and I decided to put the novel in a drawer and try something new.

In 2013, Debi invited me to enter a short story on the theme of ‘Home’ for the charity anthology ‘Stories for Homes’ to raise money for Shelter. I had no ideas and no inspiration but I really wanted to be involved, and then I read ‘The Night Rainbow’ by Claire King, an exceptional story about grief told from the point of view of a child. A thought popped into my head: what does homelessness look like to a child? And there was Jesika, jumping up and down in front of me, impatient to start her story. It was selected for the anthology and I returned to other projects but Jesika wasn’t done. She insisted there was more to tell, so I wrote her a novel. That took another three years of writing, rewriting and editing until finally, in August 2016, I had a draft I was ready to submit to agents. Since then everything has happened very fast! Four agents were interested in the full MS, two made me an offer and by September I was represented by Jo Unwin. I worked with Jo on some editing changes and she sent the novel out on submission in late November. Two publishers made an offer before Christmas and by March 2017, I had a signed contract with Transworld! The last year has been a steep learning curve, but fascinating and exciting, and finally seeing ‘Home’ on the shelves in February this year (almost 15 years since that first spark was ignited) was a truly special moment.

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

What I love most about being a writer is when a reader connects with something I’ve written and completely gets what it is I’m trying to say or sees something in it that I didn’t even consider – it’s truly wonderful to think about your novel going out into the world and evolving all by itself in the minds of readers. As to my role as a writer, I found this really hard to answer! I don’t think about my role as a writer when I’m writing. I have a story that insists on being told and I tell it. Perhaps at the rewriting/editing stage I think about it a bit more – What’s the point of what I’m writing? What am I trying to say? – and with ‘Home’ that was about creating a human angle for all the media headlines that never quite get to the heart of the real story of real people living real lives of hardship. I wanted the characters in ‘Home’ to be people that readers could identify with and feeling empathy for, and although Jesika and Paige and their family and friends are fictional, I wanted them to feel authentic enough that people started to think about the real Jesikas and Paiges out there.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?
Empathy is all about understanding or feeling what another person is experiencing from their point of view and I find it impossible to write even the most hideous characters without, for a short while, standing in their shoes. But it can be uncomfortable, painful, depressing... after spending some time in the head of one particular character in ‘Home’, I felt physically sick and wanted to scrub my brain with bleach! But it’s an essential part of getting to know my characters that I listen to them all, good or bad.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

It’s very easy to write about what you know, or people who are the same as you, but that’s not an honest reflection of the communities we all live in and it’s boring. When I was writing ‘Home’, I looked for inspiration in the communities where I live and work and that’s a never-ending source of interesting, diverse people who are all unique. And once you’ve got the basis of your cast, listening to these characters is fascinating because these are people who haven’t had the same life experience as you and they have stories to tell you that send you off on all sorts of interesting research trips. Writing several different versions of me would not be half as interesting!

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

The Coromandel Peninsula, North Island of New Zealand. Follow the coastal road north until it heads inland and begins to wind its way up and down over green hills. Some miles on, there’s a farm at the base of the hills and on its vast acreage there’s a track that climbs up to a summit with views across the bay towards Auckland in one direction and out over the Pacific in the other. There are also trails along a ridge and through the bush, hidden streams and pools and a waterfall, and space and quiet to think and dream. My husband and I spent time there, on and off, in 2004/5 and it’s where I wrote a lot of the first nine chapters of that first novel. We’ve not been back since, but it’s a place I return to in my head a lot.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. It is the most beautiful, devastating, perfectly crafted book, and I still can’t talk about it without crying! No other book has ever done that to me.

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

Writing isn’t all about writing. Give yourself space to dream and brew. Figure out what gets the ideas going – for me it’s getting outdoors, walking or cycling – and do that as much as you can. Find trusted writing friends who will give you honest feedback on what you’ve written, but be open to their ideas and be prepared for it to sting sometimes. Always give feedback time to sink in before addressing it and then ‘accept, adapt, reject’ – you don’t have to agree with everything you’ve been told! Learn as much as you can. Join writing forums, ask around about inspirational courses and festivals and workshops (and if this is beyond your budget, ask about bursaries and funded places – Twitter is really helpful for things like this). Be brave. It’s not easy to submit to agents because rejections hurt but they aren’t the end of the road and sometimes they can lead to valuable learning opportunities. Eat chocolate, drink wine, laugh with friends and then start again, but don’t give up. I lost count of the number of times I was rejected – certainly more than thirty – and it took me almost 15 years, but I made it in the end!

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

I’m working on an idea that involves some of the minor characters in ‘Home’ - not a sequel, but more of a side-step. However it’s early days of first-draft-awfulness so hard to say where it’s going yet!

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Anne of Green Gables! When I was growing up, there were aspects of her that I recognised in myself: a dreamer, a writer, a girl not afraid to fight her own battles and make her opinions known however ‘unladylike’ that was seen to be. Like me, she wasn’t entirely comfortable with herself and sometimes made mortifying mistakes, but her intentions were always good. And as much as she hated her ginger hair, I really coveted it because I thought brown was boring!

Home is published by Doubleday.

Follow Amanda on Twitter: @MandyBerriman

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

A conversation with Mary Lynn Bracht

 Mary Lynn Bracht completed an MA in Creative Writing at Birbeck, University of London. An American author of Korean descent living in London, she grew up in a large expat community of women who came of age in post-war South Korea.

In 2002 Bracht visited her mother’s childhood village, and it was during this trip she first learned of the “comfort women”.

White Chrysanthemum is her first novel and has earned Bracht a place on The Guardian’s list of new faces of fiction 2018.

Bracht has fashioned her own memorial to the comfort women. White Chrysanthemum is a timely and furiously felt book” The Guardian.

White Chrysanthemum is the story of two sisters, Hana and Emi. Hana’s narrative tells of her captivity during 1943 while Korea is still under occupation of the Japanese while Emi’s story is set in 2011 and gives a reflective account of her life and how it has been affected by war and the separation from her sister.

It is a harrowing piece of history told with honesty and passion and provides an emotional and gripping read. A full review is available here.

Thank you Mary for taking part in our conversation and we wish you every success with White Chrysanthemum it is a super novel.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I was twenty-nine years old before I allowed myself to commit to becoming a writer. At the time, I was looking back on my nearly thirty years of life deciding what I wanted to do with the next thirty years, and I thought the one thing I would regret if I never tried was to become a writer. So, I gave myself permission to take the time to write. That meant accepting that my financial life would be difficult (probably forever), that it might take years or decades to succeed, and that it might never happen. I took my first writing class, a novel writing course in Dallas, and after three terms, wrote my first novel. It took many more stories, novels and years before I finally wrote White Chrysanthemum, but it began with giving myself time and permission to write.

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

I see my role as a storyteller. In early human history, storytelling was an oral tradition that passed knowledge from one generation to the next. It was our way of remembering the past and understanding the world around us, while being entertained. Today, this storytelling tradition continues in many forms, but as novelists, the pace of reading allows the human mind to slow down and truly live through the stories written on the page, where a lifetime can feel like a lifetime and a cliff-hanger can keep you up well past bedtime.

I like most that the novel can transcend social and physical boundaries, often reaching far flung places of the world through translation. It is a privilege for me to have this opportunity to share my story with people in my own city, as well as those on the other side of the the world.

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

Yes, definitely. I think every villain, if written well, has a side that we empathise with, whether it’s a tragic childhood, chronic misunderstanding, or simply ill-judged motivations. In White Chrysanthemum, Morimoto is the ultimate villain, but he too has his own story of loss, which gives insight into his motivations.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

Growing up in a military town with a multi-ethnic community of people from all over the world, writing diverse characters comes naturally to me. In my novel, I write about Koreans, Mongolians, Japanese and Soviets.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

When I was a girl, I fell in love with Eeyore because he was beautifully flawed. I think it was his blue point-of-view that made him so loveable.

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

I would want to be on an empty stretch of sandy beach, listening to the waves as they crash upon the shore and feeling the warmth of the sand beneath my bare feet. I live in London, and right now it is cold and wet. I’m desperate for some sun!

What is the one book you wish you had written?

I wish I had written The Power by Naomi Alderman. She successfully flips misogyny on its head to reveal the real-life suffering of women currently happening all over the world through a fresh perspective.

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

If it is your dream to become a writer, then read as much as you can, write as much as you can, and never give up. And join a writing group ASAP! Joining the writing group at my local library helped me find great critics for my work, as well as friends who understand the pursuit of what can often be a lonely dream.

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

I’m currently working on a novel and hope to have it written before the year’s end. It’s about the bond between a mother and her daughter, tested over tragic events

You can follow Mary Lynn Bracht on Twitter: @marylynnbracht