Tuesday 29 March 2016

A Conversation with Samantha Hunt

Samantha Hunt was born in 1971 in Pound Ridge, New York. Her first novel, The Seas, (2004) a twisted tale of mermaids, won the National Book Foundation's Five under Thirty-five prize. Her second novel about Nikola Tesla, The Invention of Everything Else (2008) was a finalist for the Orange Prize and winner of the Bard Fiction Prize. Hunt’s work as been published in The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, the New York Times, Tin House, A Public Space, Cabinet, Blind Spot, the London Times and in a number of other publications. Her books have been translated into ten languages. She lives in Tivoli, New York, and teaches at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

Her latest book, a contemporary gothic novel, Mr Splitfoot, has been described as ‘literary gold’ (Sunday Express). ‘Her every sentence electrifies’ (Kelly Link).

Mr. Splitfoot is lyrical, echoing, deeply strange, with a quality of sustained hallucination. It is the best book on communicating with the dead since William Lindsay Gresham's Nightmare Alley, but it swaps out that novel's cynicism for a more life-affirming sense of uncertainty’. (Luc Sante, author of Low Life)

Nat and Ruth are young orphans, living in a crowded foster home run by an eccentric religious fanatic. When a traveling con-man comes knocking, they see their chance to escape and join him on the road, proclaiming they can channel the dead - for a price, of course.

Decades later, in a different time and place, Cora is too clever for her office job, too scared of her abysmal lover to cope with her unplanned pregnancy, and she too is looking for a way out. So when her mute Aunt Ruth pays her an unexpected visit, apparently on a mysterious mission, she decides to join her.

Together the two women set out on foot, on a strange and unforgettable odyssey across the state of New York. Where is Ruth taking them? Where has she been? And who - or what - has she hidden in the woods at the end of the road?

Ingenious, infectious, subversive and strange, Mr Splitfoot will take you on a journey you will not regret - and will never forget.

We'd like to thank Samantha for taking part in A Conversation with... and wish her all the very best for her novels and future writing.

1.     Tell us of your journey as a writer
First I wrote a lot of bad stuff. A whole lot of bad stuff, probably ten years of bad writing. I copied people whose work I admired. Then after banging my head against the wall enough, my writing got a little bit better. Now, I work very hard. I revise endlessly.

2.     How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?
I enjoy the extremes of writing: total solitude at one extreme to a wide and deep immersion in the world. I also enjoy having a job that allows me to ask and try to answer questions that pester me. I really enjoy the feeling that there is nothing I am not curious about.

3.     Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?
I empathize with all of my characters. Even the nastiest ones. Evil doesn’t occur without a reason and weakness is general. Creating characters with weaknesses is my specialty.

4.     Last October, GW organised #diverseauthorday. What has been your experience of writing about characters of colour?

In drafting a character, color is not something I usually consider. I’d rather leave that open to the reader. Indeed, a number of readers have told me that they see Ruth from Mr. Splitfoot and her whole family as African-American. Other readers have thought she is white. The characters I create with color in mind — I’m thinking of Colly from Mr. Splitfoot—I do so in order to make a comment on racism in America, a topic no American writer can avoid.

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

It is hard for me to write when I’m away from home. I need to feel alone in order to write which means I need for my kids to be doing something they enjoy enough that they’ll let me be, but if they are doing something too interesting, I’ll want to do it too. Still, I spent last winter in Barcelona with my family and it was a very productive writing time. I finished a piece about One Direction and death that I’d been thinking about for a long time. Read more here

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

As I Lay Dying (1930) by William Faulkner

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

I wrote my first novel by writing 250 short pieces that were all about the ocean and life in small towns. I then spread the pages out on the floor and shaped them into a skeleton for a narrative. Then started to smooth and revise. This is a good way to approach a first book as it is manageable. Write one small piece you like each day.

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

I have multiple projects in the works. It helps me to write this way because when I start to doubt, or tire of one project, I can turn my attention to the next project. So, upcoming I have a collection of stories titled Beast. I’m finishing the last story now. I am also working on a book of non-fiction that examines the way in which people get haunted. I am also working on a new novel, but I am sorry, I find that if I talk about novel projects before they are done, they have a tendency to never get done.

Thanks for your questions!

Mr Splitfoot (2015), is published by Corsair Books
You can follow Samantha on Twitter: @samanthajhunt

Saturday 26 March 2016

The Mother by Yvvette Edwards

Book Review by Greenacre Writer Mumpuni Murni

Ryan Williams is sixteen year old and he’s been stabbed to death by a boy one year senior. The following day police arrest Tyson Manley based on two witness accounts. Nonetheless, another witness provides an alibi for Manley.

This isn’t about a story of victim and perpetrator, neither is the focus on the crime itself nor the aftermath. It opens with Ryan’s mother, Marcia, getting ready for the first day of the trial. Through her thoughts she takes readers to the world of what it means to survive horrific crime and how she manages a semblance of normal life in the aftermath following the heartbreaking death of her only son.

Crime, court and bereaved families; the fragility of the individuals involved is contrasted with the rigidity of the proceedings. It is impossible not to sympathise with the protagonist; her dealing with her husband Lloyd who refuses to go to the court and the way she sits away from the suspect’s mother. This isn't an easy read. The narrative deals with one of the worst possible nightmares of any parent, each tragic detail, facing the reader.

Marcia might be fragile but she is reliable. Her observation on the progress of the court is impressive while recalling a few days prior to Ryan’s death. 

It is little surprise that the denouement is as reliable as Marcia. Nevertheless, I realise I have more questions about her as I turn the last page: what was she like before she was married? Which school did she go? What did she do? Her hobbies? What we do learn is that Marcia isn’t always nice, she has issues, prejudice, and isn’t always reasonable. She is a fully formed character who will make the reader feel a range of emotions.

In the end, the message is clear: expect love, not revenge; responses not reactions. Yvette Edwards does an excellent job of exposing the impact of a murder beyond the families. Not only does this heartbreaking crime alter their life, but also the witnesses, friends and relatives.

The Mother will attract readers who, at some point in their life, have been affected by knife crime. But it also illustrates how the invisible scars of crime affects a community. A roller-coaster narrative, fasten your seat beats before reading the first page.

The Mother - Published by Mantle, Pan Macmillan on 7th Apr 2016 - thank you for the review copy

You can follow Yvvette on Twitter: @YvvetteEdwards

Monday 21 March 2016

A Conversation with Rebecca Mascull

Rebecca Mascull was born in the Cotswolds, she moved all over the country during her younger years, before studying English and Spanish at the University of Exeter. She completed her teacher training at Bristol before working at Huntcliff School, in Kirton-in-Lindsey, and later Doncaster College and Grimsby Institute, where she taught everything from professional writing to English studies.

She left full-time teaching and enlisted on a Masters in writing at Sheffield Hallam University. Her first published novel, The Visitors (2014), follows Adeliza Golding, a deaf-blind girl, born in late Victorian England on her father's hop farm in Kent. It was nominated for the Edinburgh Festival First Book Award.

The Visitors may be Mascull's first novel, but she writes with the fluency and dexterity of a born writer, deftly crafting an engrossing story that imbues her characters with tangible sensitivity, warmth and humanity." (Sydney Morning Herald)

Her second novel Song of the Sea Maid (2015), published by Hodder & Stoughton, follows Dawnay Price, an C18th orphan who becomes a scientist and makes a remarkable discovery. In the 18th century, Dawnay Price is an anomaly. An educated foundling, a woman of science in a time when such things are unheard-of, she overcomes her origins to become a natural philosopher.

Against the conventions of the day, and to the alarm of her male contemporaries, she sets sail to Portugal to develop her theories. There she makes some startling discoveries – not only in an ancient cave whose secrets hint at a previously undiscovered civilisation, but also in her own heart. The siren call of science is powerful, but as war approaches she finds herself pulled in another direction by feelings she cannot control.

‘Rebecca Mascull's second novel continues to showcase her talent for writing intelligent, impeccably researched, absorbing historical fiction. Dawnay Price - foundling, scientist, feminist - is a wondrous character and I was on the edge of my seat following her fortunes.’ (Louise Walters, author of Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase)

Rebecca lives by the sea in the east of England with her partner Simon, their daughter Poppy and cat Tink. She is also a member of The Prime Writers, a support group for those writers who commercially/traditionally published their first novel aged 40+.  She is currently writing her third novel for Hodder, set in the early twentieth century.

We'd like to thank Rebecca for taking part in A Conversation with... and wish her all the very best for novels and future writing.

1. Tell us of your journey as a writer

Like most writers, I’ve been writing since childhood. But I didn’t take it seriously until I left full-time teaching in 2001, started an MA in Writing that year and taught part-time. Over the next eleven years, I wrote four novels and two text books (and had a baby in the middle of it). Each of the first three novels secured an agent, with many rejections. It took a lot of time and money and lot of gumption to file all the rejection letters and carry on. At long last, I wrote The Visitors and my agent submitted it to Hodder and Stoughton and we had a deal in a couple of weeks. One month to the day since the novel was finished and sent off, seven years give or take a month or so since I left full-time teaching to become a novelist and eleven years since I’d gone part-time to do my Masters. A long old journey.

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

My role is simply to write good stories. I don’t see myself as doing anything more important than that and I truly believe that is my duty to the reader. I want readers to enjoy my books, to find some escapism in them from their everyday lives and to be entertained. If they learn a bit about some parts of history or the world they didn’t know about, all the better. What I like most is the first draft. It’s written in a kind of long flurry of joy. Everything else is icing on the cake. But the first draft is where I feel most at home. I also like the fact that I can wear my dressing gown to the office…

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

I empathise with all my characters, even the ones who aren’t so nice. I want to create characters who have flaws and have depth, so there are going to be parts of them we don’t like. But I can see their thoughts and let’s face it, we tend to believe ourselves to be all right, even we are self-critical, we can’t hate ourselves utterly, surely. So, I see how my characters justify their actions and I empathise with their reasons for doing so. In 
The Visitors , I really cared for Caleb, despite that fact that he didn’t always behave well, and the same goes for Dawnay in Song of the Sea Maid. She can be very self-involved, but she’s lost a lot in her life and her dream kept her going, so I forgive her a lot.

4. Last October, GW organised #diverseauthorday. What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

The Visitors , I wrote about a deaf-blind girl in Victorian England, named Adeliza. I did a lot of research with the charity Sense that works with deaf-blind adults and children. I learnt about how deaf-blind children learn to understand their surroundings and communicate, including finger-spelling AKA the manual alphabet. It was utterly fascinating to explore their world, especially children who are still learning to communicate, as one writer described it as a “thin, splintery reality”. One of the most important lessons I took away was that whether one speaks, writes, uses visual sign language or the manual alphabet, each form is just as complex and diverse as the other. And what makes us human is not how we look, how we see the world or how we are, but the fact that we think deeply and we can communicate our thoughts to others. Everything else is just surface.

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

Oh, that’s easy. Cornwall. In my younger days, I travelled a lot through Europe and beyond, to the U.S., to North Africa and even to India. But I never found anywhere as beautiful as Cornwall. I studied at Exeter University and spent quite a bit of time in Cornwall, and I’ve been back there whenever I can ever since. I feel entirely at home there and adore the coves and caves and cliffs and the wild ruggedness of it all. If I could afford it, as much as I love where I live on the east coast, I’d go there tomorrow. My heart is there, that’s for sure.

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

Great Expectations. No question of that. Dickens is my favourite novelist and that is his best and most stunning work, in my opinion. The perfect novel.

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

One word and that is PERSEVERE. It really is a long game, writing, especially if you’re aiming for publication. You have to retain a kernel of self-belief throughout all the people who will say no to you – and keep going. If there are enough signs from the universe that what you’re writing is good – a positive critique, an interested agent who’d like to see your next book, a longlist in a competition, however small – all these signs should keep you on the path. Whatever your aims, try to see it as a journey, with gates and gatekeepers. How are you going to get them to open up that gate? Work harder, improve, read more, improve, never believe your own hype and never listen to your demons. It’s a craft and you’re a craftsperson, so get working. PERSEVERE!

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

To date, I’m about three chapters away from the end of the first draft of Book three for Hodder & Stoughton. Light at the end of the tunnel and all that! It’s set during the Edwardian period and begins in Cleethorpes, which is just down the road from me. I’m always a bit paranoid about sharing the true subject of a book before I’ve finished it, but suffice to say it follows the fortunes of a young woman who wants to do something rather unusual…

Thanks very much for having me, Rosie. 

Song of the Sea Maid (2015), is published by Hodder & Stoughton
You can follow Rebecca on Twitter: @rebeccamascall

Tuesday 8 March 2016

A Conversation with Charles Lambert

Charles Lambert was born in 1953 in Lichfield, England. In 1976 he moved to Milan and, apart from brief spells in Ireland, Portugal and London, has lived and worked in Italy since then. He now lives in Fondi, exactly halfway between Rome and Naples.

In 2007, he won an O. Henry Award for his short story, “The Scent of Cinnamon.” His first novel, Little Monsters, a Good Housekeeping selection and described by John Harding (Daily Mail) as 'beautifully written and crafted, and more compelling than many thrillers', was published in 2008, the same year as his collection of prize-winning stories, The Scent of Cinnamon and Other Stories; the title story won an O. Henry Prize. His memoir, With a Zero at its Heart, was named one of The Guardian’s Ten Best Books of the Year in 2014. He has been shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Lichfield Prize, and the Willesden Short Story Prize.

The Children’s Home, is a novel about a mysterious group of children who appear to a disfigured recluse and his country doctor.

Morgan Fletcher, the disfigured heir to a fortune of mysterious origins, lives on a sprawling estate, cut off from a threatening world. One day, his housekeeper, Engel, discovers a baby left on the doorstep. Soon more children arrive, among them stern, watchful David. With the help of Engel and town physician Doctor Crane, Morgan takes the children in, allowing them to explore the mansion … and to begin to uncover the strange and disturbing secrets it holds.

Cloaked in eerie atmosphere, this distorted fairy tale and the unsettling questions it raises will stay with the reader long after the final page.

"The Children’s Home is a masterpiece – disturbing and beautiful in equal measure – and I cannot wait to share it with the reading public." Scott Pack - Aardvark Bureau

We wish Charles well on his literary journey and look forward to reading more of his work in the future.

1. Tell us of your journey as a writer

I started my writing life as a poet when I was in my early teens, but I was, I think, fairly atypical because I didn’t see it as a vehicle for adolescent angst (which I had in abundance) so much as a technical challenge. I wrote sonnets based on historical figures, I experimented with sestinas, villanelles. I had a platonic crush on the poems of William Empson. I was a writing nerd, essentially. I turned to fiction full-time in my late twenties and wrote three or four novels before finally publishing Little Monsters in 2008. There are two sides to the journey, of course. One is the writing, which goes where it will and is a pretty solitary business and, rather than a journey, would be better described as blindly advancing into the dark, and the other is the publishing of the writing, which requires other people, and energy, and luck, and might more reasonably be seen in terms of a journey. I had two agents before my current agent, friend and poet Isobel Dixon, neither of whom managed to sell a manuscript. Isobel’s dedication to my work, and her professional skills, finally made things happen.

2. How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?
I don’t really see myself as having a role in the sense I understand it, as something socially necessary – I know people who live happily, and well, without reading a novel from one year to the next. I know that some writers do envisage the writer as having a social role beyond the actual business of making stuff up and making it work – Martin Amis springs to mind. But I’m a little bit unhappy about writers – or singers or actors, for that matter - using whatever visibility they may have acquired to pronounce on issues that go beyond the work they do. What interests me as a fiction writer is the exact opposite of what might interest someone whose job is to generalise about the world around them. Some writers are good at both, but what I most like about being a writer is that you can do what the hell you like and you’re responsible to no one. Until your editor gets hold of the work, anyway.

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

It’s hard (although not impossible) to empathise with someone and genuinely dislike them. A lot of my characters are appalling, despicable people, but if I didn’t find something in them worth empathising with I wouldn’t write about them. Mind you, I’ve been told (by a friend!) that I have an imagination other (read ‘normal’) people would find intolerably hard to live with, so maybe I’m secretly drawn to the dark side…

4. Last year, GW organised #diverseauthorday. What has been your experience of writing about characters of colour?

I’ve only written one story, so far unpublished, involving a person with colour, based on a relationship I had with a mixed race teenager in the late 1970s. He’s a source of wonder in the story, but that has as much to do with his age (18), sexuality and physical beauty as it does with his colour. A lot of my work is about what it means to be different, but apart from that story, I’ve never seen that difference in terms of colour, and I’m not sure I’d feel qualified to do so. As a gay economic migrant (I came to Italy originally because I found a job here), I’m more likely to see myself – or someone who shares some of my characteristics - as the other, and to see otherness as cultural and sexual, rather than having to do with race.

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

Anywhere I didn’t have to work for a living as well! Realistically, after fifteen years in a small town in provincial Italy, a proper city would be my first choice and, of all the proper cities in the world, I’d choose Paris. And if I’m going to be really specific, I’d opt for Batignolles in the 17th arrondissement. A third floor window overlooking the square would do me nicely.

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

The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald. It’s perfect.

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

Just keep writing, read other people whose work inspires you and work through the invariably deleterious effects this has on your own work, don’t get bogged down in notions of genre as something to avoid or as something to adhere to slavishly, keep writing, don’t be discouraged when people turn the writing down but don’t think every word you’ve written should be carved in stone, listen to criticism but don’t necessarily take other people’s views on trust, keep writing… hang on, I’ve already said that.

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

I’m working on the final draft of a novel about a midget taxidermist and his young apprentice. Intrigued? You should be!

The Children's Home is published by Aardvark Bureau.

You can follow Charles on Twitter: @charles_lambert

Tuesday 1 March 2016

Bone by Bone by Sanjida Kay

It wasn't until the train went past that she saw the small body lying in the long grass by the side of the wood.

The opening sentence of the prologue of Bone by Bone by Sanjida Kay prepares the reader for a gruesome read and from the text a suspiscion that a child has been murdered.

When Autumn had first started at Ashley Grove in September, Laura had been as nervous as her daughter. She’d been worried about Autumn – if she’d make new friends, if she’d fit in – as well as for herself – would the other mothers like her? 

Laura is making a fresh start. Newly divorced and relocated to Bristol, she is carving a new life for her and her nine-year-old daughter, Autumn. But things aren't going as well as she hoped. Autumn is being bullied.

‘Autumn. What kind of dumb name is that? Who’d call their kid that? It’s like say, “Hey, November, come in for your tea.”’ …As he continued, calling her more random and ridiculous names, the boys in her own class started to laugh too, and some of the girls put their hands over their mouths and smirked.

The action takes place over seven months from October to May. The perspective alternates between Laura and Autumn. Not only does this give the reader an insight into how a mother might deal with a bullying situation or not as in this instance, but also the child perspective.

This is a clever device for a book about bullying as it not only illustrates the mother’s worry and powerlessness, but also the vulnerability of being a child who is bullied. A vulnerability created by not wanting to make a fuss, by hoping that the bullying will stop, by believing in the good of people in general.

When the bullying doesn't stop, Laura makes a mistake with dreadful consequences. Autumn fails to return home from school one day and Laura goes looking for her and happens upon a crowd of bullies taunting her little girl. Rage overcomes Laura and spills into violence.

Something inside her snapped. She wanted to kill him. He was so close to her that it only took a shift in her weight,a slight movement forwards and she was right there, her hands on his chest, and then she pushed, as hard as she could.

In the heat of the moment, Laura makes a terrible mistake. A mistake that will have devastating consequences for her and her daughter. But Laura can not anticipate just what those consequences will be, and just how much worse things can become. Friendships begin to unravel, leaving Laura and Autumn even more isolated and lonely. 

In an age where many people have a lot of personal information online, Sanjida gives an insight into the power of the Internet when used for benign purposes and just how easy it is to sabotage a victim's life. The cyber bullying tactics that spill over into real life, are very topical and will resonate with a lot of parents today.

Autumn was acutely aware of the space that had opened up around her. She was alone. no one spoke to her. it was difficult to breathe. She stared down at her shoes on the cracked Tarmac of the playground, a tree root visible beneath the asphalt.

There is an underlying sense of unease throughout the novel as the reader waits for the anticipated murder. As Laura and Autumn struggle with incident after incident, the inaction of the school, of the bully, of his father and of the other parents, the narrative builds and builds to an unexpected climax.

Bullying is horribly common: the NSPCC says that almost half of all children are bullied. Three-quarters of those bullied were physically attacked and 62 per cent were cyber-bullied in 2015 according to a report carried out forDitch the Label. Nearly half of those children who were bullied, didn’t tell anyone about it, but suffered in silence. Sanjida is donating a percentage of the profits from Bone by Bone to Kidscape, the anti-bullying charity.

A disturbing psychological thriller, here is a writer who knows how to upset a reader's equilibrium. A confident insight into the on and offline consequences of bullying, and the nature of the victim. Sanjida's training as a zoologist (she studied chimpanzees for her PhD) is evident as the narrative evolves into a study of bully and victim. If you enjoy reading on the edge of your seat, you'll enjoy this novel with its twists and turns and things that are never quite as they appear to be. 

Sanjida Kay is a writer and broadcaster. Bone by Bone is her first thriller. She lives in Bristol with her daughter and husband.

You can follow Sanjida on Twitter: @SanjidaOConnell

Psychological thriller, Bone by Bone, by Sanjida Kay, published by Corvus Books. Out 3.3.2016

Thank you to Sanjida and Corvus for the review copy.