Wednesday 22 June 2016

Finchley Literary Festival

We are happy for you to RSVP via Meet-up - BUT, you are also very welcome to come along to any event on the day.
Most events are FREE

Only workshops must be booked in advanced either email or Tel 020 8346 9449 

Friday 24th June:

Writers’ Workshop.   11.00-12.30pm North Finchley Library, N12 9HP
Memoir writing workshop led by Anna Meryt, author of A Hippopotamus at the Table
Booking required: RSVP here.

Harry Parker      and      A.L. Bird
Author Event.   2.00-300pm Church End Library, N3 1TR
Meet Harry Parker when he discusses his debut novel, The Anatomy of a Soldier, based on his army experiences which reached The Times top 5 bestseller list. No booking required. 

Author Event.   3.15-4.15pm Church End Library, N3 1TR
Local author, A.L. Bird, reads from and talks about her fourth novel The Good Mother, a psychological thriller. No booking required.

Writers’ Workshop.   6.30-8.30pm Trinity Church Centre, N12 7NN
Adaptation Workshop with Josie Pearse has been CANCELLED
Allen Ashley

Book Launch.  7.00-8.30pm Trinity Church Centre, N12 7NN
Allen Ashley, poet and author, welcomes you to the launch of his latest book The Planet Suite. Following an interview, Allen will take questions about science fiction and writing in general. No booking required.

Saturday 25th June 

A Trio of Authors.  11.00-12.30pm   Trinity Church Centre, N12 7NN
Three exciting authors discuss their latest works and their writing process. Yvette Edwards, author of A Cupboard Full of Coats and The Mother, will be joined by Irenoson Okojie, author of Butterfly Fish and a short story collection, Speak Gigantular, and Catriona Ward, author of Rawblood. The session will end with a panel discussion with questions from the audience.
Free but please RSVP here.

Trio of Authors
Yvvette Edwards  and  Irenosen Okojie  and  Catriona Ward

Dragons’ Pen.  11.30-12.45pm Trinity Church Centre, N12 7NN
Pitch your novel or story in five minutes to literary dragons for instant feedback from award winning writers and editors. Plus small prizes for the top pitches. 

Dragon's Pen
Gillian Stern  and  Antonia Honeywell  and  Cari Rosen

Literary Delights.  1.30-5.30pm Trinity Church Centre, N12 7NN

Joanna Campbell, Antonia Honeywell, Sunny Singh, Vaseem Khan
Short Story Competition results.  1.30-2.30pm  
Joanna Campbell, judge of the FLF and Greenacre Writers short story competition, will announce the winners. Joanna will then read from her latest collection of short stories When Planets Slip Their Tracks and will also talk about her first novel Tying Down the Lion.

Orphans in Fiction.  2.30-3.30pm  
Antonia Honeywell, author of the highly regarded novel, The Ship, and Rosie Canning discuss the literary representations of orphans through the ages with readings from classic and contemporary texts.

Tea Break with book signings.  3.30-4.00pm

Author Interview.  4.00-4.45pm
Sunny Singh, author of three novels including her latest, Hotel Arcadia,
Will be interviewed by Lindsay Bamfield, talking about her extensive writing career and her influences. 

Meet the Author.  4.45-5.30pm
Vaseem Khan reads from his bestseller debut novel The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra.
Free but please RSVP here.

Katharine Norbury
Sunday 26th June

Meet the Author.  11.00-12.00pm Waterstones, N12 9QR
Katharine Norbury presents her acclaimed book The Fish Ladder, a memoir, incorporating travelogue, mythology and nature writing.
Free but please RSVP here.

Finchley in Fiction  – Guided Walk. 12.00-4.30pm  
Meet Waterstones, N12 9QR
Mike Gee and Rosie Canning lead us on a literary walk with a lunch stop at Redwood Café (one of our sponsors) in Swan Lane Open Space, and a tea stop at Finchley Golf Club.
£3.00 pay on the day, please RSVP here.

Music and Poetry Palooza.  6.00-8.30pm Café Buzz, N12 8JY
Join Anna Meryt and guests for an evening of lively performance poetry and music. 
No booking required.

Stop Press: We are delighted to announce that The BIG GREEN BOOKSHOP will be the festival's book sellers at Trinity Church Centre on Saturday 25th June.

Friday 17 June 2016

In Conversation with Sunny Singh

Sunny Singh will be appearing at the Finchley Literary Festival

Literary Delights: 
Saturday 25th June - 1.30-5.30pm
Trinity Church Centre, 15 Nether Street, N12 7NN.

See more here.

Sunny Singh was born in Varanasi, India. Her father’s work required the family to move regularly to various locations all over the globe giving Sunny the opportunity to experience many diverse and interesting cultures.

Sunny holds a degree in English and American Literature from Brandeis University, USA and a Masters in Spanish Language, Literature and Culture from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Sunny also obtained a PhD from the University of Barcelona, Spain.

Her first novel Nani’s Book of Suicides (2000) was described by Goodreads as ‘a first novel of exceptional talent’ while her second novel With Krishna’s Eyes (2006) was praised for its ‘profound insight’. Although an outstanding novelist, Sunny does not restrict her writing to fiction. Author of Single In The City: The Independent Woman’s Handbook (2001) Sunny documents her personal experiences and that of other single women in present day India.

As well as having short stories published by distinguished magazines such as World Literature Today and Drawbridge, Sunny has also written academic papers which have been published worldwide.

Currently living in London, Sunny is Lecturer in Creative Writing at the London Metropolitan University, blogs about her passion in politics, and is actively involved with the Jhalak Foundation of which she is the founder. The Jhalak Foundation funds and organises paediatric cardiac surgery for disadvantaged children in India.

Hotel Arcadia is Sunny’s third novel, published March 2015.

A terrorist attack at the Hotel Arcadia leaves photographer Sam, famous for her war pictures, holed up and unable to leave. Abhi, the Hotel manager and unlikely hero, tries to keep some of the guests safe while his lover, Dieter, is among the hostages held by the terrorists. Billy, a small child, is found alive and Sam looks after him. Inevitably, bonds form between Sam and Abhi and Sam and Billy as their situation becomes desperate.

Hotel Arcadia is a gripping thriller which combines the fear and terror of a hostage situation with the strong bonds that form between people when experiencing such a traumatic event. Among the many excellent reviews the book has received The Independent says it is ‘powerful and absorbing’.

View the book's trailer 

We thank Sunny for answering our questions and wish her every success for Hotel Arcadia and her future writing career.

1. Tell us of your journey as a writer

I always wanted to write stories. One of our neighbours was an acclaimed Hindi writer and I used to be in awe of his library. I was fortunate to grow up in a house full of stories. We had lots of books but the adults – my grandmothers, my parents, uncles and aunts – constantly told stories. From history, from daily life, politics, mythology. Moreover telling stories – real and made-up – was encouraged in my family. This also meant that when I reached my teenage years, I was encouraged to send out work for publication. My first work – a poem – was published when I was fifteen in a newspaper. It was after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. I still remember feeling thrilled to see it in print and simultaneously furious that the editor had ‘changed’ the final stanza to be more hopeful. It was an early lesson in how editing and publishing function.

I have continued writing and publishing regularly since. Over the years, I have worked as a journalist, as a freelancer, a translator, and editor. At university, a friend’s mum was a refusenik writer and she told me that ‘there is writing for the soul and there is writing for the stomach. Writing for the stomach sharpens the pen.’ I have always held that lesson dear and used all sorts of writing related activity as a way of honing my craft, of sharpening my pen.

This means that in addition to my fiction (three novels and a clutch of short stories so far), I also have over ten years of journalistic experience. I have written a non-fiction book on single women in India, the first and only one of its kind so far. I also publish academic research, mostly on film and culture and have just finalised a book for BFI/Palgrave’s film stars series on the Bollywood superstar, Amitabh Bachchan.

I don’t see myself as a writer necessarily, but as someone who writes as a craft and profession. So anything that catches my interest – fiction or nonfiction – gets written up.

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

Because of the way I grew up and because of political engagement from a very young age, I have always seen the role of a writer as that of bearing witness, of raising ethical and moral questions, speaking truth to power, and of attempting to lead deep structural change. At different times and in different ways, I like to think my writing does some and all of these. I was raised to believe that writing was an exercise of power and therefore, as with all forms of power, needed to be wielded carefully, thoughtfully and with great restraint. I am still learning how to do it well.

As a writer, I love creating narratives that can make a reader think, and hopefully just begin to rethink and even alter their own imaginary and lived worlds a tiny bit.

3. Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?
Oh constantly. I write a great deal about armed conflict as well as structural inequities and injustices. I think my first novel – Nani’s Book of Suicides - was written entirely from a standpoint of hating everyone who populated that story world. I understood and empathised, but didn’t like any of them. Even in my latest novel, Hotel Arcadia, I am not fond of Sam. She is not a likeable character in a traditional sense but as I wrote her, I understood her more and found myself mourning on her behalf.

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

I have been quite fortunate as I grew up reading Indian literature, primarily in Hindi. This means I am used to women who look like me or have similar backgrounds, experiences, worldviews, ambitions within the pages. On the other hand, as I started reading in English, I also grew more alienated. Except for specific writers of colour there are even today few attempts at engaging with the full range of diversity. It is also important to note that writers of colour are still generally put into that specific category rather than seen as writing 'universal' works.

My writing came from this lack. As I moved out of India, I found few stories of women like me. Actually, let's be honest, there are still all too few stories for any women that defy cultural norms and narrative tropes anywhere. So I started writing the women I knew and loved, the women I admired, and also the woman I wanted to become. Increasingly - as my skill and understanding have grown - I have started writing not only women of colour, but also other characters of colour who can be complex, complete and not serve as stand-ins for their race, culture, ethnicity, but exist as full beings.

5. Do you think literature accurately reflects the diversity of society we have today?

I would have to say no. And this is not just about going down a checklist of 'types' but trying to reflect the full complexity of our social, lived experience. So there aren't enough non-typical women characters. But there are also not enough queer characters who aren't condemned to tragedy by all too many writers. Or men of colour who can go past the cliches. This is lazy writing at best, and outright damaging at its worst. How will those of us who are not at the elite heart of society learn to value ourselves, or even begin to hold dreams, when we are so comprehensively excluded from narrative.

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

I don’t know. I am terrible at this because I write best in my own home. I have lived in so many different countries that the geographical location makes little difference to me. But I want my own room, with my books and laptop, my music, and my thoughts. The rest is really immaterial. Having said that, I do like swimming regularly when I am working on something complicated and long so anywhere with a pool nearby is extra lovely.

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

Is it completely terrible that I can’t think of one? There are many books I love and writers that I admire but I can’t think of one that I wish I had written. Perhaps this is because I had access to a very wide range of books. I began reading Indian (in Hindi, Sanskrit, Prakrit) books but also a lot of book translated into Hindi. This meant that I read Russian literature – translated into Hindi – before I read western works. By the time I was eight, I could read in English which means I read a lot of European, north American, Latin American and African works. Often I would rewrite them in my head, reworking the characters and storylines in ways that I preferred, but I have yet to come across a book that I would wish to write entirely.

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

Gosh! This is something I say to my students, don’t I? I would say read. Read as much as you can, and not only fiction. Critical theory, analysis, academic work, all of it. Read as widely and fully as possible. And then read some more. And alongside, keep writing. Keep practising that craft. And I would repeat the advice from my friend’s mum: don’t have contempt for writing for the stomach. It is all practice of the craft and all of it nourishes the writing.

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

I am currently finalising a collection of short stories around the theme of contemporary warfare. It covers some of the ideas and themes that are closest to me : gender, human rights, injustice. The stories are set and drawn from conflicts across the globe and deliberately focus on people who are often left out of the conventional ‘war stories. ‘ I hope however they manage to convey our shared humanity

You can follow Sunny on Twitter: @sunnysingh_nw3

Hotel Arcadia is published by Quartet Books Limited

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Book Spine Poetry

 My first attempt at Book Spine Poetry

An Unquiet Mind
Once in a house on fire,
when we were orphans,
the girl with all the gifts,
the sea house.

And my second attempt, you can see the book pile has grown as has my obsession...

The Gap of Time

The hundred year old man
borrowed body.
A second life;
shadow baby.

Hidden lives,
hideous kinky,

The girl with the dragon tattoo,
the child that books built.
Emotionally weird,
troubling love,
nobody's child.

Marianne dreams -
I know why the caged bird sings:
Why be happy when you could be normal.
Dancing on the outskirts,
not the end of the world.

If nobody speaks of remarkable things...
But we all shine on:
the brightness of stars.

Inspired by Poppy Peacock Pens #BookBlogger I have messed up my book shelves and have a huge pile of books on the floor having a go at this meme Book Spine Poetry. 

I think mine could be linked to the PhD novel, Hiraeth about a sixteen year old care leaver weaving her way through the hurricane of life. 

Do let me know if you have a go either in the comments below or via Twitter: @rosie_canning

Monday 13 June 2016

A Conversation with Anna Meryt

Anna Meryt is a member of Greenacre Writers 'Finish That Novel' group. She has published two collections of poetry, Dolly Mix: A Take Your Pick Poetry Collection poetry and Heartbroke described as a collection " inspire hope through experience and identification...Meryt does her motivation proud with titles like 'Hurling Bricks', 'A Shell Explodes' and 'Give Me A Break'."

Anna has had numerous poems published in magazines and anthologies and is part of Highgate Poets. In 2011 she won 1st prize in the Lupus International Poetry Competition with her poem ‘Bulawayo’ which is about her birth place.

Anna has published her memoir, A Hippopotamus at the Table, the story of a journey to a new life in Cape Town, South Africa in 1975.

We hope you can join Anna at the Finchley Literary Festival.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I was a sporadic poet, but nothing I ever showed anyone.  My ex-husband was an actor/writer and I never thought I’d match up to him. We moved to South Africa in the 1970s really because we both had African connections from childhood. When we came back I missed it so badly, so much had happened there, I wanted to write the story.  One day, I was sick in bed and started to write it all. It took 20 years of writers groups, workshops, an MA before I could think about it being published.  Meanwhile I was getting poems published, every time I sent one off, in a variety of anthologies. Eventually I produced two poetry collections and I was given a big push to finish my book by one of my daughters – she got me a TV interview for an online news channel she worked for.  I realised I had to have a book in my hand for the interview.

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

I’ve had an interesting life.  The South African story was an important one to tell as not much has been written about living with apartheid from a white observer’s perspective. But I have more stories to tell about things in my life that happened, things people might find hard to believe that have happened to me. I’ve started writing my next memoir, getting good feedback from the Greenacre Writers group I’m in.  The problem is that everyone else in the group writes fiction and although there are aspects of memoir that cross over with fiction writing, it really is such a different medium. I do see myself as chiefly a memoir writer, although I also write articles for my blog and sometimes a short story. Stephen King says ‘If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.’ He’s talking about fiction writing, but it is particularly true for writers of memoir.  I love being able to put myself back into a different part of my life from the past and immerse myself, recreate what happened, bring the story to life.  Essentially I just like telling the story I think.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?
As a memoir writer, I don’t ‘create’ any characters.  In my life and work (I used to be in Criminal Justice) I never met anyone I couldn’t empathise with, I’ve always had an ability to strongly empathise with anyone.  I  had to teach myself to maintain a boundary between me and others. I cannot hear about someone’s life without seeing the suffering underneath and empathising –that has shaped my experiences and probably the stories I have to tell.  There’s only been one person whom I had to deal with in Indonesia who I felt had made choices in his life which led to him slipping over into evil. Once I realised who he really was I cut myself off from him, even though it meant not achieving a very important goal at the time.  I’ve known, through my work, plenty of people who’ve done bad things, including committing murder. Somehow though I always saw their deeds or actions as separate from who they were as human beings. This is bound to be reflected in my writing.

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

My memoir was set in South Africa under apartheid so there’s a considerable focus on the racial differences and the way different groups were treated there. I think white people are often very nervous of talking about racial issues and diversity because they’re so afraid (rightly so) of saying the wrong thing due to their lack of knowledge or experience. I have mixed so widely amongst black and mixed race Africans (plus two African partners and current partner is Afro-Caribbean) and also because I have this facility for talking to any person as one human being to another, I don’t have such a fear response about dealing with the topic head on. I’ve also, both in family and Criminal justice contexts had lots of experience of all kinds of personality disorders and mental health problems, so I can write about all these issues with some knowledge and experience and empathy. In my memoir, For example, I wrote about a black hunchback friend of mine plus another dear friend who was (he’s dead now) a brilliant poet but also schizophrenic.

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

All my best places for writing have been warm and sunny with a view of the ocean. The sound and the smell of the sea – usually sitting in a comfy chair in a café – staring out an open window at the sea. But once I go into writing mode, my surroundings fade out and I hear and see nothing around me for hours sometimes. Some people like total silence and being alone to write in.  Not me, I like a quiet hum of voices (like in a café) or lots of people around like in a library.  I don’t like silence and aloneness, I came from a big family, I like people and sounds (not too loud) and a comfy chair and my laptop. A specific place would be Cape Town, the most beautiful city in the world.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

Well several authors write so beautifully that as I read I feel envy, I feel totally inadequate beside their beautiful prose.  Firstly Dylan Thomas will always be my absolute poetry hero, Secondly for prose fiction that brings characters to life in an almost magical way – Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall  and then Ryzard Kapucinski who writes such beautiful travel memoirs of Africa in the 1960s.

What advice do you have for would be novelists?
Read, read, read and learn your craft.  Keep true to your own voice, listen to it and your own drive to write.  People will tell you a heap of crap about your writing.  They are often putting their own projections onto you and can often BE WRONG about your writing.  I think you’re best getting feedback from people who can be neutral and unsubjective – NOT friends and mostly not family either.

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

My next memoir starts off in London, then shifts to Indonesia and finally back to London. It’s about getting someone out of an Indonesian police cell, overrun with cockroaches and rats. .It’s about all that that took including bribery with large sums of money and dealing with someone evil, but also finding the wonderful goodness in unexpected people.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

I always liked George – the tomboy in the Famous Five adventures.  Because she didn’t have to behave like some cissy girl. She could be herself.

You can follow Anna on twitter: @ameryt

Sunday 12 June 2016

A Conversation with Irenosen Okojie

Irenosen Okojie was born in Nigeria and sent to England at the age of eight to attend a boarding school in Norfolk. The difference between the rich and diverse culture of Nigeria to her new life in England took some adjusting to and Irenosen wrote diaries to put her feelings into words.

This appears to be a thread in her life as Irenosen expresses her thoughts and emotions through writing. When her mother was in hospital for an eye operation, Irenosen passed the time in the waiting room penning a poem. During bouts of insomnia in her younger days the natural remedy was to pick up her pen and write.

Irenosen gave up her study in law to pursue a career in the arts. She has had articles published in many magazines and newspapers, including the Guardian and the Observer. Her short stories - no doubt influenced by the custom of storytelling at social gatherings in her early years - have been published in the UK, the USA and Africa.

Now Irenosen has written her first novel Butterfly Fish released on 8th July 2015.
The novel links contemporary London with 19th century Benin, Nigeria through Joy. When her mother dies, Joy is heartbroken and is pulled towards an artefact which she inherits from her mother: the cast of a warrior's head of a 19th century king in Nigeria. Her interest in the artefact results in Joy dreaming of a mysterious woman of the past which leads to revelations of family secrets. Butterfly Fish is a powerful novel of love, hope and loss written in Irenosen's unique and compelling style.

The following questions and answers allow us to get to know Irenosen more personally. We wish Irenosen all the success she deserves with the novel and her future writing.

Tell us of your journey as a writer.
I've always been obsessed with books from a young age. I carried them everywhere. I always wrote poetry and kept diaries. Even then, there was something about documenting my interactions and experiences that was intriguing. Not because of me but because of what I could glean about other people and their lives through these encounters no matter how trivial. I did different types of writing in my twenties; essays, articles etc. I wrote for a film maker's magazine and for a couple of women's magazines. Then, I penned a short story which morphed into a novel when I joined a writing development programme. I just kept writing, till it grew into this animal that felt urgent, pressing and necessary.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?
It's funny; initially it feels like quite a selfish endeavour. It still does! It requires a huge amount of focus and concentration. Writing my novel almost made me anti-social, I just didn't have as much time for friends as I would have liked. Sometimes it felt like coming out from an underground space only within yourself. Irenosen meet sunlight! And try not to reveal these odd tics you've suddenly inherited. I enjoy holding an imperfect lens up to the world and re-interpreting what I see.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?
Here's the thing, I never dislike any of my characters even the ones that do terrible things. I find characters I know other people will dislike more interesting to write because you have to find the humanness in them and there's so much complexity there to explore. A good example of this is from one of my favourite actresses Samantha Morton in the film Morvern Callar. The book is written by Alan Warner. Here's a woman whose boyfriend commits suicide. Instead of grieving in a way most people would expect, she chops up his body, gets rid of it, invents stories to explain his disappearance and pretends to have written the novel he wrote. It's just an astonishing performance, there's such flatness to it you can almost project a series of motives onto the character but they all sit uncomfortably and you're never quite sure and I love that ambiguity.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing?
Ooh, some time in Machu Picchu and Zanzibar.

What is the one book you wish you had written?
Oh God, I really can't just say one, impossible! A few are Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achibe, Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed, Tar Baby by Toni Morrison, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Secret History by Donna Tartt and Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Patel.

What advice do you have for would be novelists?

Write loads, read voraciously, go out and live. Things will emerge in the spaces in between and you might be surprised by what does.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?
My debut novel Butterfly Fish has just come out! I have a collection of weird, dark, surprising short stories out next year that'll hopefully take you to Irenosen's planet so look out for that.

Butterfly Fish (2015) is published by Jacaranda Books.
You can follow Irenosen on Twitter: @IrenosenOkojie

Saturday 11 June 2016

GW/FLF Competition Shortlist

The Finchley Literary Festival & Greenacre Writers Short Story Competition: 

The shortlist is announced!

Congratulations to all those who made it through to our short-list.

If long-listing is a serious business, then short-listing is even more so. We had to select the top third and ensure that the chosen stories fulfilled all the criteria that a good short story should have. We chose stories that were well written; original and, perhaps most of all, memorable. We aimed to pick ten, but in the end we had to pick two extra because - we just had to! Let Joanna, our judge, have the really tricky task of selecting the top three. Good reading, Joanna.

The stories she will be reading - several times - are:

The Sender of Last Chances 
The Sovereign 
Three Words and a Chocolate Bar 
So Many Questions 
A Man of Means by No Means 
The Wondwossi Hotel Bar 
The Lonely Path 
The Prize 
Now I'm a Fish 
Tilly's Account 

Thursday 9 June 2016

A Conversation with Catriona Ward

Catriona Ward will be appearing at the Finchley Literary Festival. 

A Trio of Writers: 

Sat 25th June 11.00am-12.30pm
Trinity Church Centre, 15 Nether Street, N12 7NN.

See more here.

Born in Washington DC, Catriona Ward spent most of her childhood and adolescence in various locations around the world: Kenya, Madagascar, Yemen and Morocco. She studied English at Oxford and obtained a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. 

Alongside her love of books and writing she trained as an actor in New York. Catriona now lives in London and works for Bianca Jagger’s human rights foundation. 

Rawblood is Catriona's first novel and was inspired by the summer holidays she spent in a 17th Century stone cottage on Dartmoor. During her time there she experienced a ghostly presence in the bedroom and this fuelled her imagination, providing the background for the story.

These experiences also raised the question in her mind of what the ghost wanted; of what any ghost wants from those it haunts. She says that, “Traditionally there is some revenge to be enacted, some mortal task left undone, some corpse unburied. But perhaps ghosts are driven by something entirely other.” (Weidenfeld & Nicolson). Catriona has given the ghost in Rawblood an exceptionally good reason for its actions and finds storytelling a good way to express the fear she experienced at the cottage.

For a debut novel, Rawblood reads as though written by a much more experienced writer. It is well plotted and beautifully scripted. 

Intravenous Magazine says it "utilises all the expected conventions of the genre but remains an original and compelling read".

We wish Catriona the best of luck with the book and look forward to reading her next novel which she is currently writing.

1. Tell us of your journey as a writer

My parents tell me that my first sentence was a demand that they ‘Read, read, read this! During my childhood my family lived in some fairly remote places – Madagascar, Kenya and Yemen, among others, and books were constant companions. Later, my English degree at Oxford opened the door onto different kinds of literature. It was a revelation. I then trained as an actor in New York, but found my stride when I began writing and researching for a human rights foundation. It was satisfying work, and the act of writing every day started the synapses firing in my head…

About six years ago I started writing Rawblood. I don’t have a cupboard full of discarded novels – I was possessed by one idea, by this world and its characters, and I worked furiously and probably quite obsessively during evening and weekends. Later, I decided that I had to commit to it seriously, and I enrolled on the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia. Much of the novel was completed over the course of that year.

Rawblood was inspired by uncanny events in my childhood, at a cottage we went to every summer on Dartmoor. I was haunted by a furious, malign presence, which would push me out of bed each night. I have described it in more detail here. These encounters produced a deep irresistible fear, a unique calibre of feeling that only occurs when one brushes lightly against the unknown, the dark. There is nothing quite like it – except the feeling you get when you read horror, or ghost stories.

The experiences left me with more questions than anything else. I could find no meaning in them. Rawblood began as a way of exploring those questions. What was the presence I felt so strongly in the night, and what did it want, from me or from the world? What order of being was it?

I found that as I wrote, the novel transcended its origins and grew. Six years later, Rawblood is about much, much more than my experiences in that house.

It was very hard to let the novel go when I finished! But it was also immensely cathartic. And I was lucky to find a wonderful agent, and editor who I trust, which helped me feel confident in releasing it.

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

I love the solitary process of creation. You really can lose yourself in imagined worlds for days and weeks at a time. It’s wonderful, as a writer, to take readers to these strange places.

As for the role of a writer… Both writing and reading are powerful acts of empathy. Rawblood is a historical novel, set between 1839 and 1919, but I hope that the concerns of the characters, what drives them and the injustices visited upon them feel very present, and immediate. The ghost story genre and the historical setting are conduits for describing particular human problems. Horror, and ghost stories in particular, are really about human action. Grief, suffering, guilt. Memory. How we process these things, and how we transcend them – or not.

Novels should show us back the world, but in unfamiliar patterns of light and shade. I think that’s a good way to see the role of the writer – as a portal to empathy and understanding. And entertainment!

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

The unlikable ones are my favourites. Fiction gives free rein to some very undesirable parts of the imagination! I am very fond of a character called Meg in Rawblood. She is a witch and commits some dreadful acts, including murder. But she’s not motivated by evil. She thinks she’s doing her best for her family.

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

I wrote a lot of Rawblood at my parents’ house on Dartmoor so that has a symbolic importance for me. I’m quite superstitious about it. If I’m stuck, sometimes I go there to free up the imagination. So, there.

If I was feeling more adventurous, I would choose a cabin, deep in the plains of Wyoming, under a starry sky.

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

The Sea, the Sea, by Iris Murdoch.

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

Read avidly, write compulsively. Then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. It’s worth getting the novel into a really good shape before approaching agents. They’re busy people and a fantastic premise or great character can be obscured by sloppy prose or plot holes.  

Identify friends who are great readers of your work, or a join a group to workshop your writing. It’s impossible for the author to see the text with absolute clarity. Reader’s feedback is invaluable. If ten out of twelve people don’t understand something you’ve written, it’s probably not working.

Enjoy it! Writing is such a great pleasure.

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

I have a two novel deal with Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 2017, so I’m working hard on the second one... It’s about a woman who may or may not have killed all her family, in a famous massacre at a remote Scottish castle, on New Year’s Eve, 1928.
If Rawblood is a hymn to the Gothic novel, this one has its ancestry in the golden age of the murder mystery. I love the subtlety and agility of murder plotting. The 1920’s is such an exciting time to write about, too – full of change and rapidly shifting morals. I’m finding it all very exciting!

You can follow Catriona on Twitter: @Catrionaward

Rawblood is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, (Orion Books) September 2015

Wednesday 8 June 2016

A Conversation with Yvette Edwards

Yvvette Edwards was born in Barnet and grew up in the London Borough of Hackney. She continues to live in East London with her family. In an interview with Words of Colour, Yvette told how she first started writing after the death of Elvis Presley when she was 10 years old. Her mother and relatives at the time wailed as if a family member had died, so it was a way of working through the grief and trauma. She is a lover of stories of all kinds, and can sometimes be spotted frequenting the cinema and theatre, or wearing sunglasses and crouched low in shady corners suited to eavesdropping.

Yvvette only started to take her career seriously at 40 years old. Her first book, A Cupboard Full of Coats – the story of Jinx whose mother was stabbed to death in their East London home – made a big literary impact and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. It went on to garner numerous other nominations, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Writers’ Guild Awards, the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award and the Waverton Good Read, and won the Kirkus Best Book of the Year Award.

Yvvette Edwards' second novel, The Mother, tells Marcia's story.

Marcia is heading to the Old Bailey. She's going there to do something no mother should ever have to do: to attend the trial of the boy accused of her son's murder. She's not meant to be that woman; Ryan, her son, wasn't that kind of boy. But Tyson Manley is that kind of a boy and, as his trial unfolds, it becomes clear that it's his girlfriend Sweetie who has the answers Marcia so badly needs and who can - perhaps - offer Marcia some kind of hope for the future. But Sweetie is as scared of Tyson as Ryan should have been and, as Marcia's learned the hard way, nothing's certain. Not anymore.

The novel is about a 16 year old boy who is stabbed and killed by another 16 year old boy. The book follows the trial of the boy accused of his murder and the narrator is the victim’s mum. Yvvette said that ‘A couple of things happened in 2011 that made me interested in young people and violence with the continual stabbings and shootings in the media, week in and week out. I wanted to have a better understanding of where that propensity for violence comes from in young people, and why a 16 year old can so easily write off someone’s life and, in the process, write off their own…What was his upbringing? What shaped him? How did he come with the value system that he has? The mother in my novel has a lot of those questions and throughout the novel and court case she gets to explore them.’

The Mother has been described as 'stunning' and 'masterful' by author Irenosen Okojie (Butterfly Fish) for its depiction of the harsh realities facing families who have lost children to knife crime. You can hear Yvvette Edwards as she is interviewed by Joy Francis, journalist and executive director of Words of Colour Productions, Thur 31 March 2016, 7pm-9pm Waterstones Piccadilly, about her unconventional writing journey, why it took 40 years for her to commit to a career as a novelist, the challenges of writing authentic female characters of colour and her love of editing. Book here.

We thank Yvvette for participating in our Conversation and wish her every success with her new novel and look forward to seeing more of The Mother in the future.

1. Tell us of your journey as a writer

I never seriously believed I could make a living from writing. I never met anyone who did till after my first novel was published. Yet reading and writing have been my favourite hobbies from as far back as I can remember. I wrote because I enjoyed it and I found the process to be cathartic. It was my refuge throughout my formative years and into my adulthood. I wrote about whatever caught my attention in that instant and I didn’t edit when I got to the end. Occasionally I sent these bits of unedited work out into the world, and when they came back with rejection letters attached, I wept, put them to one side, and started work on something else.

Then, in the run-up to my 40th birthday, I found myself really thinking about my life. I hadn’t particularly carved out a career for myself, and I had no ambitions to. The only thing I really wanted to do was write. I decided it was time to either focus on building a practical and realistic career, or do the writing properly so that maybe I could earn a living from it. I reduced my hours at work and wrote A Cupboard Full of Coats. When I finished the first draft, I edited it. The rest is history.

2. How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?
I write because I love reading and stories of all kinds. I want to write the kinds of novels that I enjoy most, the ones that take the reader on an emotional journey. I want to be so deeply immersed when I read that I experience the journey and understand the characters enough to empathise with them, even if I don’t agree with what they do. I am particularly interested in strong and fully-fleshed female and Afro-Caribbean characters, perhaps because I am a woman and my family are from the Caribbean, and too often they are presented as caricatures and stereotypes. If I have a role as a writer, maybe it is stripping that back to reveal the real people beneath, giving true voice to people we do not hear enough from - if at all - in modern literature.

3. Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?
I don’t think I dislike any of my characters and that may be because I always empathise with them. To be able to write about them, I have to understand where they have come from and what’s shaped them and once I know that, I’m empathising. I don’t generally see things in terms of black and white. My mind inhabits the grey areas between. Most people are not simply good or bad, but degrees of both. I don’t always support the choices my characters make, but that’s what people are like in real life; they don’t always do what you want them to do or act the way you’d like them to.

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

I may be about to run away with First Prize on this question! A Cupboard Full of Coats, although it’s based in Hackney in East London, doesn’t have a single white character in it. I didn’t plan it that way. I created characters I identified with, and because there are not that many characters in the novel, it just happened they were all Caribbean or of Caribbean descent. My newest novel, The Mother, which is also London based, has a wider cast of characters from all walks of life and is, I think, very representative of London’s diversity. Again, that wasn’t a result of conscious intent, but I like to think that one of my strengths as a writer is realism. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that London is an incredible social mixing pot, and The Mother reflects this.

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

I would have to be comfortable, so a house with a large veranda, comfy chair and footstool. I’d want access to lots of good local wine and natural produce. It would need to be close enough for my family and friends to pop by for a visit, and so I could travel back and forth to London easily. It would have to be somewhere hot and breezy, so on a coast somewhere. I would need there to be movement in the ocean, not stillness, lots of crashing waves that I could see and hear all the time. Somewhere along Portugal’s Silver Coast, where the winds are high and the waves perfect for surfing would be ideal.

I have an affinity with water, I don’t know why, maybe because I am Piscean. I have difficultly quieting my mind sometimes, but it would be possible in that setting. In my dream writing place, the writing would flow, and if it didn’t, I’d simply doze.

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

Toni Morrison’s Beloved. It is such a complex, profound, lyrical, heartbreakingly beautiful novel, a book for re-reading. Every time I re-read Beloved, my understanding of the novel increases and I discover in the writing something else to admire. It is a magnificent achievement that will forever stand the test of time. If I had written Beloved, I would probably have spent the rest of my life laughing aloud and patting myself on the back.

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

Read! Read a lot and widely. Read novels you love and ones you don’t. Learn what works for you as a reader and what doesn’t. It’s important to be as specific with yourself about what you admire in the writing as what you don’t. Experiment widely with your reading and your writing. Try different styles and genres. Write regularly. Approach writing passionately and recklessly. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. And finally, enjoy the process. If it feels like a slog for you, it’s possible it may feel like a slog for your readers.

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

I have a few ideas I am mulling over and refining in my mind, but it’s too early to discuss them at the moment. In the interim, my newest novel, The Mother, is being published on 7th April in the UK (and 5th May in the US). It is the story of a sixteen-year-old boy, Ryan, who is a stabbing fatality victim. The story is told by Ryan’s mother, Marcia, as she attempts to understand why her son is dead, hold the remainder of her life together, and attend the trial of the young boy accused of his murder. It’s my attempt to explore some of the issues around young people and crime in society today, and I like to think it’s both timely and relevant.

The Mother - Published by Mantle, Pan Macmillan on 7th April 2016

You can follow Yvvette on Twitter: @YvvetteEdwards