Saturday 17 October 2015

A conversation with Lucy Cruickshanks

Lucy Cruickshanks was born in 1984 and raised in Cornwall, UK. She holds a BA in Politics and Philosophy from the University of Warwick and an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. She lives on the south coast of England and divides her time between writing and caring for her two young sons.

Lucys’ love of travel inspires her writing. A great fan of the underdog, she’s drawn to countries with troubled recent histories, writing about periods of time when societies are at their most precarious and fraught with risk. She’s fascinated by their uniqueness and moral ambiguity, and in capturing the people who must navigate them.

Her debut novel, The Trader of Saigon, began life after she sat beside a man on a flight who made his fortune selling women. It was shortlisted for the Authors' Club Best First Novel Award and the Guardian Not The Booker Prize, longlisted for the Waverton Goodread Award and named a Top Ten Book of 2013 by The Bookbag. If you want to learn more about Lucy's first book, Simon Savidge, the man behind Savidge Reads, reviews it here.

Patricia Highsmith, Amitav Ghosh and George Orwell have all influenced Lucy’s writing, but her favourite books are Empire of the Sun by JG Ballard and Life of Pi by Yann Martel. In an article for Writers and Artists, Lucy talks about the importance of setting in novels, and what it can tell readers about your characters too: Creating a Memorable Sense of Place in Your Writing

We wish Lucy oodles of good fortune with her new book The Road to Ragoon. Described by the South China Morning Post as “Exotic, dangerous, slippery, enjoyable, well-written…” This emotional thriller takes place in the heart of Burma's exotic Rubyland. Three lives are thrown together by the desperate choices they make to survive in a country gripped by civil war.

1. Tell us of your journey as a writer

My husband persuaded me to write my first novel, The Trader of Saigon. Like a lot of people, I suspect, I had been saying ‘I want to write a book for as long as I could remember, but without ever picking up a pen. I’d been bouncing between jobs that I struggled to get excited about, and travelling as far and as frequently as I could to try to escape them. He encouraged me to think about writing and travelling differently, and to see that I could make these things my career if I stopped procrastinating, took a risk and actually wrote something. I left my job, enrolled on the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University in the UK, and gave myself a year to write a novel and get a publishing deal. Of course, this was wildly optimistic, but at the end of the year I had a first draft, and real drive to see just how far I could go.

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

I think of being a writer as a job. It’s a wonderful job, though maddening at times, but calling it a role implies some sort of higher responsibility, which I’m not sure I feel. I write the stories I’m excited and inspired by and hope others will be interested to read them too. That said, I love the sense of adventure at the start of a new novel, where anything you can imagine is possible. I love research. I love the detail of language, of choosing words to build sentences, paragraphs and chapters along the way as I try to create the most evocative places and people that I can, and provoke emotions in the reader, be they horror or joy. I love the sense of accomplishment when you look at the finished beast and think: YES.

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

Absolutely. If anything, it’s what I strive to do. My novels are set in morally ambiguous worlds – post-war societies riven by poverty, corruption and violence – where it’s far too simplistic to pitch ‘good’ against ‘bad’. Living in the West, it can become easy to see the world as very black and white – to filter what is right and wrong through a privileged viewpoint as we generally live such comfortable lives. My protagonists don’t ever have this comfort, and their decisions of morality are rarely clear cut. They have been described as ‘slippery’, but really they’re caught between opposing sides, stretching the boundaries of ‘acceptable’ behaviour and doing what they must in order to survive. It may not always make them most conventionally likeable, but I hope it makes them authentic too.

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

I have two sons – a toddler and a newborn – so in truth I’d be happy with anywhere tidy and quiet. A sea view would be a bonus, though.

5. What is the one book you wish you had written?

There isn’t a single book I wish I had written, but there are certainly several authors I would like to emulate. One of my favourite novelists is Patricia Highsmith. I love the darkness of her wit, and the way she creates genuine anti-heroes and somehow leaves you rooting for characters that are utterly deplorable. Amitav Ghosh’s mastery of language is a joy. The way he can capture the essence of a time and place continually astounds me. I admire George Orwell for how he champions the underdog and his caustic judgments on the nature of power. Yann Martel’s Life of Pi is a triumph too. How he manages to make three hundred pages of a boy alone on a boat so captivating is a wonder to behold.

6. What advice do you have for would be novelists?

Don’t romanticise it. Writing is a skill as much as it is natural ability, so the more you practice, the better you’ll get. Read lots. Research thoroughly. Seek feedback, but learn to separate subjective criticism from the things you really need to have a hard look at. Make sure you understand your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t be precious. Draft and redraft. Persevere.

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

The novel I’m currently working on is set in Cambodia, against the backdrop of the trial of Comrade Duch, the first senior ranking Khmer Rouge official to be charged with atrocities committed under the Pol Pot regime. It’s early days and a long road ahead of me, but I’m excited to be working on something new.

You can follow Lucy on Twitter: @LJCruickshanks

The Road to Ragoon is published by Heron Books, an imprint of Quercus.

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Five Crucial Things You Need to Know about writing a book

Greenacre Writers Guest Blog by Lisa Cherry

About two years ago I was standing in front of a small group giving a talk about the book I had just written when someone asked the question “how many books do you think you will write?” Without a thought, I replied “12”. I almost had to turn around to see who this person was that was answering questions on my behalf like that.
So there we have it. I am to write 12 books it seems and as I am just about publish book number 3 I thought a reflection on how I’ve made this happen to so far would be useful for anyone out there thinking about embarking on this journey of writing!
1.       It’s a project. If writing a book were only about the writing, I might attempt one every six months. You need a robust and tolerant team and the skill to pull it all together. As a guide, if you’re self-publishing, at the very least you need:

·         A proof reader (you can’t do this yourself even if you proof read)
·         An editor (you also can’t do this even if you’re an editor, you’re too close)
·         An isbn number or publisher
·         A designer (are you a graphic designer?)
·         A book cover creator (are you an artist)
·         A printer (do you have the machinery?)

2.      You’re not shit. It’s important that you know that the little voice in your ear telling you that no-one would want to read your stuff anyway, isn’t real. Give it a name and tell it to go away please, as you’re busy.

3.      Your book is now your business. Unless one of the big 6 publishers has published you, you’re going to be marketing your own books whether you self-publish or are published by a small firm. They are likely to want to see what sort of a ‘platform’ you have before they even look at your work and the developing of your platform needs to start long before the book is published.

4.      You need to able to set clear boundaries in your personal life.  Writing a book means people have to understand that you’re not available in the same way as you might have been before. Chances are that you’re doing this alongside the rest of your other life/work so ‘leave me alone, I’m writing’ needs to be understood for what it is and not taken personally.

5.      Writing a book will take you on an emotional journey, a professional self-styled degree in all things book writing, marketing and publishing and a personal learning opportunity you could never have imagined possible. Put it this way; it’s not for the feint hearted but if you want to be part of something that is a game-changer, then writing a book might be just what you’re looking for!

Friday 9 October 2015

Book Reviewer - A Life in Books

As part of our #diverseauthorday Greenacre Writers want to continue the trend and will be posting interesting books and linking to book reviewers.

Nellallitea "Nella" Larsen, born Nellie Walker (April 13, 1891 – March 30, 1964), was an American novelist of theHarlem Renaissance. First working as a nurse and a librarian, she published two novels—Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929)—and a few short stories.

As part of #diverseauthorday, A Life in Books posted details of Nella Larsen's writing and novellas:

"Recently published in a single volume, Quicksand and Passing are the only two novels – well novellas, really – written by Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen. They each deserve to be treated separately so I’ll start with Quicksand and save Passing for later. Written in 1928, it’s widely considered to be an autobiographical novel – like the book’s main protagonist, Larsen was the daughter of a Danish mother and a West Indian father – knowledge that makes reading it all the more chilling."

Find out more about Quicksand and Passing from A Life in Books here.

A Life in Books picks out snippets of book news that interest her and hopefully others, She discusses some of the books and alert readers to titles that might not find themselves in the glare of the publicity spotlight. She tends to tweet about literary fiction and interesting debuts.

You can follow A Life in Books on Twitter: @alifeinbooks 

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Sun, Moon, Planets and Stars Spoken Word Celebration

“Sun, Moon, Planets and Stars Spoken Word Celebration”. Hosted by Allen Ashley. At Alexandra Park Library, London N22. 1pm to 3pm on Sunday 18 October 2015.

Allen Ashley is hosting a themed reading at Alexandra Park Library, N22. Sarah Doyle is the featured reader. Free entry. Featured reader: Sarah will be reading from “Dreaming Spheres: Poems of the Solar System” (PS Publishing). Readers are invited to read one or two poems or a short piece of writing up to 250 words on the Sun, Moon, Stars and Planets theme. Your own or someone famous.

To book a reading space, email: 
with the subject line: “Sun, Moon, Planets, Stars Reading”.

The venue is on the 102, 299 and 184 bus routes. The 102 runs from East Finchley. The library is close to Muswell Hill and walkable from Bounds Green tube station. The 221 runs from North Finchley to Bounds Green. On road parking is available on Sundays. So, I would be grateful if you could let Greenacre Writers know and ask them to get in touch with me if they would like to read. If they just want to turn up and listen, that would be great as well.

Sunday 4 October 2015

Shame and Scandal

Albany Theatre London SE8 4AG
Friday 9th and Saturday 10th October 2015

Shame and Scandal is a dark comedy written by Alex Wheatle MBE and directed by Lunga Yeni. The inspiration for the play comes from a calypso/reggae song performed by The Wailers in the 60's.

The setting is Jamaica in the 1960’s. Milton and Diana are affluent Jamaicans who find themselves embroiled in a struggle to hold onto the family wealth when their son, Michael, returns home with his determined wife-to-be Sophia.

 As family conflict ensues damning secrets are revealed and lies are uncovered which threaten the stability of the family, altering their lives immeasurably. Full of twists and turns the play promises a very entertaining evening

Alex is a well-known writer of young adult fiction with eight books published. His latest, Liccle Bit, was released in March 2015 to excellent reviews. Alex was awarded an MBE for services to literature in 2008.

You can follow Alex on Twitter: @brixtonbard

Thursday 1 October 2015

Reflections from #diverseauthorday

A week ago today, something quite amazing happened. A small group of writers and readers got together and began tweeting about diversity, mainly authors and books. #diverseauthorday began trending on Twitter and this continued throughout the day. According to the stats, there were over 5,000 tweets that reached over 3,000,000 million people throughout the world.

The main engagement was from the UK and the USA, but we also reached Canada, Colombia, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Jamaica, The Bahamas, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabe, Botwana, Ghana, The Gambia, Uganda, Egypt, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Cambodia, India, Bangladesh, Philippines, China (Yes!), Japan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Greece, Bosnia, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, France, Germany, Poland, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, Estonia, Latvia, Russia, Spain, and Portugal. This is pretty amazing and means that #diverseauthorday pretty much impacted all over the world. This is significant because the key message of the day was that the literature of the world should reflect the people of the world. And in the UK, what we particularly wanted, was for publishers to recognise the public's demand for diverse literature.

Jodi Picault tweeted that every day should be #diverseauthorday. Most people were in agreement that this was one of the key messages. Greenacre Writers will continue to include writers of the world on our website. It has been a huge learning curve for us, not only by initiating such a popular concept but also taking part in promoting diversity in literature. We are more aware than ever of supporting authors of the world, experimenting with our reading and trying new genres.

Mary Okon Ononokpono, writer and illustrator, ‏@iammissmary
"We won't see more representation of diverse authors until diversity is fully embraced within publishing. That means more non white agents, editors and publishers. That's where the real problem lies. As Viola Davis so eloquently put it, it's lack of opportunity. The lack of availability of diverse books isn't down to a lack of diverse authors, or indeed a lack of talent. I long for the day I enter waterstones and see my children's books displayed or see a central children's display featuring a non White protagonist. I think we're still quite a way from that."

A disabled schoolboy, Frankie, 14, asked Bloomsbury head why book villains ‘are usually deformed’, and says ‘society would get better’ if disabled characters were naturally included. And he's right. A scar or a limp for the baddy or some other disfigurement and it gives the wrong impression of disability.

Megan Winchester, YA Book Blogger and Vlogger, @BookAddictdGirl
" so many of us, I am desperate to see more diversity in YA books. But whilst I want to see all diversity (sexuality, ethnicity, etc), seeing more characters with disabilities is really important to me. Why? Well, some of you might know I'm a wheelchair user – I have been since the age of about twelve. And therefore I am desperate for more characters in wheelchairs or with missing limbs or who have non-terminal medical conditions – anything. But I want books where these disabilities aren't 'The Issue' and where there are all kinds of other diversities too."

Unfortunately, like many of the big UK publishing houses, Bloomsbury did not take part in #diverseauthorday even though it was trending most of the day. We were astounded and disappointed that more publishing houses did not take part.

However, one of the largest UK publishing houses did. Harper Collins @HarperCollinsUK tweeted that they were "proud to publish some remarkable voices from across the cultural spectrum".

The whole day started because of the lack of diversity in the publishing industry following the Spread the Word, Writing the Future: Black and Asian Authors and Publishers in the UK Market Place report, so it seems almost ironic that the majority didn't take part.

It would be interesting to find out why this is and it would be good if collectively, we ask them via Twitter, why this is the case. GW asked this question and are waiting to hear from Bloomsbury and Penguin. It's so important to continue the dialogue. Please do contact us via Twitter or by email if you hear from any of the major British publishers re diversity in literature.

#diverseauthorday writers and readers helped to make the event the fantastic global success that it was. Here are some of their reflective thoughts:

Alan Wylie, Librarian and campaigner, @wylie_alan
"The portrayal of disability in children’s books has important implications for everyone, disabled or not. Disabled people in books are almost always heroes or villains, almost never real ‑ never whole people with varied lifestyles and personalities."

Miriam Halahmy, Writer, @MiriamHalahmy
"Diverse author day worked for me because it stimulated a huge range of responses from the downright critical to the wildly enthusiastic. The debate has been thrown wide open by this invigorating Twitter day and has made an important contribution to the shift towards diversity which is needed across the industry."

Sunny Singh, Writer, @sunnysingh_nw3
"One measure of social media success is the alacrity with which structurally privileged voices chip in on a hashtag to undermine and attempt to hijack the discussion. #diverseauthorday attracted such naysayers early in the morning, even before it had begun trending. However the few naysayers were drowned out by an overwhelmingly positive response to the hashtag. While it is sad that such an initiative is needed in 2015, it is also important to note that the response also indicates immense hunger (and market) for diverse books that Britain's publishers and agents should take into account. On a personal note, I am delighted to have an even longer list of recommended reads brought to my attention by #diverseauthorday."

Irenosen Okojie, Writer, @IrenosenOkojie
"It was a great launch and platform. Lots of writers I know got involved and it was even trending on twitter at one point. Good to have Harper Collins involved. My recommendations for the next one is to have more focused and strategic marketing in the lead up to the day which would result in even greater awareness. Things like the call to arms of mobilizing people to buy a book on that day. Concrete actions that will make a difference and really help ensure some headway is achieved. There should also be a call to arms to publishers, challenging them to contribute to the day. Perhaps one could run a micro fiction competition which suits twitter as a medium or run an open forum about what they can do better as publishers to ensure the industry reflects the capital more. I also think we should get bookshops tweeting about it and maybe encourage them to display a diverse range of books on the day in their windows / on tables etcetera. Finally, target a big celebrity from the wider world who really loves book and has an interest in diversity. Get them to champion it and spread the word on twitter, to their mates."

Naomi Frisby, PhD Studen and Blogger, @Frizbot
"It was brilliant to see #diverseauthorday trending on twitter. So many people discussing a wide range of authors who don't often, if at all, get their time in the spotlight. Quite rightly some people used the hashtag to remind us that every day should be diverse author day, that people don't disappear just because the focus isn't on them. What I'd like to see come out of this is an equivalent to #readwomen where people can share books they've loved by writers of colour/LGBT writers/differently abled writers/working class writers until it becomes the norm and we read, recommend and discuss books by these groups as though they were simply part of our culture, just as they should be."

Danuta Kean, Books Editor of Mslexia, publishing expert and journalist, @danoosha
"It was fantastic to see so many BAME authors getting highlighted on Twitter. It showed the breath and diversity of writers out there. The fact that the hashtag was trending at number two also shows that claims that writers of colour are 'niche' and that there isn't a wide audience for their work is utter rubbish. I wish more big publishers would realise this. You have to wonder about their care or commitment to having lists that truly appeal to modern society when, of the top five publishers, only HarperCollins UK joined in the campaign. I found that not just depressing but inexcusable when they are all signed up to Equip - the Publishers' Association's diversity charter - and have made open declarations about it since the publication of Writing The Future was published in April.
There was some concern, I know, about the label 'diverse authors', but my hope is that days like this will act to banish the need for such campaigns and focus minds on having a literary culture that reflects our diverse society and not something from the 1950s."

Savita Kalhan, Writer, @savitakalhan
"The success of #diverseauthorday was best illustrated by the fact that the hashtag was trending on Twitter. It was a clear indication of the number of people who felt that there was something missing in the books they find in bookshops and in libraries. That something is the absence of 'otherness', or the underrepresentation of black, asian, minority ethnic, (BAME), LGBT, and disabled characters in contemporary fiction. There is clearly an overwhelming need and desire for greater inclusiveness, and I'm not talking about the type of books which simply nod in the direction of diversity with all its outdated racial stereo-typing. That kind of box-ticking is not what diversity means.
But is anyone listening?
The publishing industry is 97% white. Who's looking into the mirror they're holding up?"

Nikesh Shukla, Writer, @nikeshshukla
"#diverseauthorday was an excellent way to make noise for a subject that's close to my heart - making the universal less straight white male middle class etc. Calling it diverse author day did make me think a lot about the word diversity and what it implies. The focal point was race, which is important, but it did overshadow other elements of the intersectional spectrum. What we learned is, a group of disgruntled writers can make noise, and if more publishers, agents, publicists, got involved to recognise the problem and do something about it, rather than assume they are not the problem, maybe we'd have more than a day. And I can get on with the business of normalising my experience rather than celebrating my diversity."

Joy Francis, Executive Director, Words of Colour Productions, @WordsofColour
"Why should we be surprised that #diverseauthorday was so successful? It is indicative of the persistent disconnect between mainstream publishers, writers of colour and, more importantly readers. The prevailing idea that if you are non-white you will be unlikely to buy books by writers of colour is continually disproved, yet many mainstream publishers continue to dance around the reality that their job is to give readers choice. People want stories - good ones, great ones, unusual ones, shocking ones, ones that move them and ones that inform them. Many of the trending tweets during the day contained details of books and authors who were under many people’s radars. It also served as a timely reminder that if publishers still struggle to get their heads around race and ethnicity, what about intersectionality as a whole? As shown by Spread the Word's Writing the Future report, writers of colour are no longer waiting for publishers to wake up and and smell the proverbial coffee. HarperCollins's contribution to the debate isn't a surprise as it is one of the few publishers to have publicly taken on the report’s findings. Digital platforms are giving writers greater freedom and, as shown by the global engagement with the #diverseauthorday hashtag, they are also allowing writers to connect with readers directly. As well as Spread the Word we are working with Arvon and the Arts Council England to identify, support and help writers of colour shape and sustain their careers. We are also championing the independents, such as Jacaranda Books. There are other exciting developments being hatched behind the scenes, which I cannot divulge for now. What is clear is that change is afoot - and about time."

Rosie Canning, PhD Student, Blogger and Campaigner, @rosie_canning
"When I read the Spread the Word report, I felt the same way I do whenever I hear about injustice and discrimination. What I didn't realise was that September 24th, was to be significant and not just for #diverseauthorday. It was also my PhD induction day at the University of Southampton! Somehow I managed both events. I was absolutely delighted by the interest and engagement from the Twitter world. As with other campaigns I've been involved in Save Friern Barnet Library and Every Child leaving Care Matters, it demonstrates yet again what a small group of committed individuals can achieve when they come together and blast the world with their positivity."

Greenacre Writers would like to thank all the writers and readers ^above^ as well as:
Alex Wheatle,Writer, @brixtonbard, 
Emma Hutson, Writer and PhD Student, @Emma_S_Hutson, 
Susan Osborne, Book Reviewer and Blogger, @alifeinbooks, 
Lindsay Bamfield, Writer and Blogger, @LindsayBamfield 
and everyone throughout the world who took part in #diverseauthorday. We look forward to reading and learning more and more about authors and literature of the world. 

If you have any questions, contact us via email: