Tuesday 27 September 2016

A Conversation with Maggie Wadey

Maggie Wadey is a playwright, novelist and screenwriter. Her childhood was spent in England, Egypt, Cyprus and a Sussex boarding school. After a brief time as a model, she read Philosophy at University College London. Maggie is married to actor John Castle and has one daughter and two grandchildren. She divides her time between London and Devon.

As an established screenwriter, Maggie Wadey is known for bringing stories to life on screen – her credits include Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, The Yellow Wallpaper, and Stig of the Dump. But it was only later in life that she discovered an equally compelling story closer to home – that of her own mother. 

‘Maggie Wadey has created a portrait that is both a rich and touching tribute to the heroism of daily survival, and a remarkable, nuanced and powerful work of social history about rural Ireland and wartime England, about precariousness and stability’. - Marina Warner

As a child, Maggie was aware that her mother, Agnes, was different from her father and his family, who were very English. But she knew little of her mother’s Irish background, her family’s experience of famine and civil war – nor the secrets her mother never told her. In The English DaughterMaggie Wadey tells the enthralling story of her search to find the truth. 

Maggie knew Agnes was from Ireland, but beyond that information was sketchy: ‘I know my mother had come from Ireland, alone, on a ferry boat with only a hat-box (though it contained no hats), having left home in a hurry after poisoning her mother’s geese.’

Then, before she died, her mother finally started talking about her past, and Maggie could begin to piece together details of her early life in Ireland. The first part of the book is based on these memories, of family gatherings, the family home and flower garden, and of growing up and playing in the fields.

Grieving after her mother’s death, with whom she had a close but sometimes difficult relationship, Maggie then travelled to Ireland to find out more. There she gradually began to uncover much more about the truth behind the stories, and discovered an explosive secret known only to the women of the family. 
The English Daughter is a powerful family story told in an original way, through layers of discovery which invite discussion around the power of memory and the nature of truth. Lost worlds, events, and people, 'fallen women', adoption, all come to life through the extraordinary vividness of the writing, ultimately bringing a sense of closure that helps the author come to terms with her mother’s death - and with a troubling incident in her own youth.

Here is a 7-year detective story and an enthralling unput-downable saga of an ordinary family living through extraordinary and tumultuous times. We'd like to thank Maggie for taking part in A Conversation... 

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I began writing as a child, stories in which I tried to imitate my literary hero, Enid Blyton, and complicated ballet scenarios I fancied would fit the few pieces of classical music I knew. As a young adult living in a rented basement room in Earls Court I wrote many stories in imitation of Nathalie Sarraute and Doris Lessing. I collected enough rejection notes to paper the walls of my room. As a young mother I finally made time to concentrate on a novel and I was lucky enough to have it quickly accepted and published. But this wasn’t the way to make a living, let alone a fortune. My husband was an actor. Reading the TV scripts he was working on made me think: I could do that. After a few failed attempts I began to have my work accepted and, though no fortune came my way, I continued in television, writing original dramas and adaptations, for thirty years. In between times I wrote several novels, only to abandon them at first draft: laziness, lack of focus, the need to earn my living. But TV changed, and so did I.

I had work and life scores to settle with myself: I needed to get back to writing for the page. Which is how, after many years of research - and several drafts – I came to write ‘The English Daughter’, a memoir of my mother and Ireland.

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

Hunting something down – a mood, a landscape, a person – catching and arranging to make a shape, a story. What I like most about it is: freedom, solitude, words.

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

The closest I’ve come to disliking a character is creating a woman who kills her child - but she’s seen only through the eyes of her own mother, so fear, anger and guilt are mixed with pity.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

Some of my adaptations involved characters living in earlier times and that offers its own challenges. In my own work, I’ve written about people of different sexuality and very different backgrounds. My memoir of Ireland starts in 1845, at the height of the potato famine, and follows a poor, rural Catholic family (my own) through poverty, the War with England, the Civil War, and emigration. Very different from my own experience.

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

That’s easy. I spent seven winters writing in a barn in Devon, at a big table in a bedroom overlooking the lovely gentle hillside that slopes down to a pond and then to the river estuary. Perfect mix of diversion without distraction.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

Difficult, but I’ve settled on ‘The Beginning of Spring’ by Penelope Fitzgerald for its intensity, economy and strangeness, like a spontaneous leap of powerful, unmediated imagination.

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

Just keep doing it. Read lots, be alive to experience, keep a notebook. Write and re-write.

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

I’m working on a collection of connected short stories – they move in a roughly chronological order through the lives of two very different women and of those associated with them. They’re about sex, death and infanticide. And I’m not entirely joking.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Now we’re going back a bit. I was born in 1942 so my childhood was the forties and fifties. I adored Rupert Bear, for his familiarity and innocence, I suppose, but also for the wild imagination of those stories. But a good part of my childhood was spent in the Middle East. One of my favourite books was the ‘Tanglewood Tales’ versions of Greek myths, and it was Theseus on his search for the golden fleece that most fired up my sun-soaked imagination. 

The English Daughter is published by Sandstone Press

Thank you to Sandstone for the review copy

Wednesday 14 September 2016

Speak Gigantular by Irenosen Okojie

The new book from Betty Trask Award Winner 2016


Speak Gigantular is a startling short story collection from one of Britain’s rising literary stars. The stories are captivating, erotic, enigmatic and disturbing. Irenosen Okojie’s gift is in her understated humour, her light touch, her razor-sharp assessment of the best and worst of humankind, and her unflinching gaze into the darkest corners of the human experience.

In this collection Okojie creates worlds where lovelorn aliens abduct innocent coffee shop waitresses, where the London Underground is inhabited by the ghosts of errant Londoners caught between here and the hereafter, where insensitive men cheat on their mistresses and where brave young women attempt to be erotically empowered at their own peril.

Sexy, serious and at times downright disturbing, this brilliant collection sizzles with originality. 

"Okojie has a sharp eye for the twisting stories of the city, and a turn of phrase that switches from elegance to brutality in a single line. Lovely stuff."
Stella Duffy, author of Calendar Girl & The Room of Lost Things

"An original and highly unpredictable imagination...Prepare to be startled." 
Rupert Thomson, author of The Insult

Irenosen Okojie is a Nigerian-British writer and Arts Project Manager. Her debut novel Butterfly Fish won a Betty Trask Award in 2016 and she was selected by Ben Okri as an emerging writer to watch during the London Short Story Festival 2015. Her writing has been featured in the Guardian and the Observer and her short stories have been published internationally, including Kwani 07 and Phatitude.

Irenosen has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Southbank Centre and the Caine Prize. She was a selected writer by Theatre Royal Stratford East and Writer in Residence for TEDx East End. She is the Prize Advocate for the SI Leeds Literary Prize and was a mentor for the Pen to Print project supported by publisher Constable & Robinson. She lives in east London.

Published by: Jacaranda Books | September 2016 

Follow Irenosen on Twitter: @irenosenokojie

Monday 12 September 2016

Butterfly fish by Irenosen Okojie

It's funny how the very things that once irritated you about a person were the things you missed most when they were gone. Like phone calls held together by an invisible current, or rummaging through markets because we were two creased people who needed steam ironing. Lately I tried to fill the silences with... anything.

When Butterfly Fish begins, London photographer, Joy struggles to pull the threads of her life back together after the sudden death of Queenie, her mother. She has never known her father.

She receives some support from her kind but mysterious neighbor, Mrs Harris who is more than a little odd.

The first time I met Mrs Harris, she’d told me she was certain that Buddy, her garden statue Buddha, had been eating her roses.

But it is Mrs Harris, who saves Joy’s life when she tries to commit suicide and ends up in hospital. Soon after, Joy receives an unexpected inheritance from her mother: a huge sum of money she knew nothing about, her grandfather’s diary and a unique brass warrior’s head from the nineteenth century kingdom of Benin. Joy doesn’t take much interest in the artefacts, she's grieving.

The bus finally arrived in Whitechapel. I pressed the stop button and hopped off, relieved at making it through a plethora of sweaty bodies. The streets were bursting, people swarming this way and that. I wondered who of them had lost their mothers, whose chests were now holes filled with the fragments of memories. There are certain lies you tell yourself to stumble blindly through the bereavement. After the reality cracks you in two, you tell yourself that things will be okay. That time will erode the numbness away...

Joy will eventually search for the origins of the head which moves the narrative backwards and forwards in time; from contemporary London to 19th century Benin and the story of Adeusa, who is forced into becoming a wife of the king. Back again to 1970s London, for Queenie’s story and further back to 1950s Lagos, through the diary of Peter Lowon, Queenie’s father, who is in the Nigerian army.

In 19th century Benin, a special event is being held at the palace, where all the young women have to bring a dish they have prepared, and the king will make his choice of a new bride from the maker of the best dish. Adesua, still young, persuades Emeka, the local tailor, to give her some special material so she has something to wear to the palace. Suddenly, she sees a monkey that jumps on her back, grabbing her hair, scratching her face and neck and drawing blood.

She raised her palm in defence but it shot its head forward and bit her finger. By the time Emeka and a few others reached her, she lay in a heap; there was no hair on the ground, no marks on her body, and no blood…It was a sign of things to come.

Back in modern-day London, Joy is haunted by a woman, who at first appears in the street or in photographs and signally the slow deterioration of Joy's mental health and descent into madness. When she goes swimming, a silver and purple fish appears in the water.

The fish stared at me; inside its filmy eye shuttered a mini camera lens. A crowd gathered around us. The fish's mouth opened repeatedly. it trembled, then heaved and a worn, brass key slick with gut slime fell out of its mouth into my hand.

Although dead, Queenie’s life is skillfully interwoven into the narrative. How she moved to London in the 1960s is pivotal to the story: the life she left in Nigeria and eventually the story of Joy’s conception.

Dark family secrets come to light as Joy unearths the ties between her mother, grandfather, the wife of the king, and the brass head’s pivotal connection to them all.

A spiritual successor to the tales of Marquez, Butterfly Fish masterfully combines elements of traditional Nigerian storytelling and magical realism with the London immigrant and black British multigenerational take of the legacy of inheritance.

At times I found it difficult to know what was real and what was not. This was because of the magical realism and stream of consciousness descent into madness, but that is not to say it isn’t enjoyable. It is. It's extremely well done and more a case of the reader letting go and going with the flow of the narrative. Haunting and compelling, Butterfly Fish is a powerfully told story of love and hope, of family secrets, power, political upheaval, loss and coming undone. The Benin scenes are particularly breathtaking. It is a story of epic proportions, skillfully held together by Irenosen Okojie, an author to watch out for in the future.

Irenosen Okojie is a Nigerian-British writer and Arts Project Manager. Her debut novel Butterfly Fish won a Betty Trask Award in 2016 and she was selected by Ben Okri as an emerging writer to watch during the London Short Story Festival 2015. Her writing has been featured in the Guardian and the Observer and her short stories have been published internationally, including Kwani 07 and Phatitude. Speak Gigantular is her new collection of short stories due for publication 15th September.

Butterfly Fish (2015) is published by Jacaranda Books

You can follow Irenosen on Twitter: @IrenosenOkojie

Sunday 11 September 2016

Finchley Remembered

Congratulations to Lindsay, who, as well as working on her own novel 'Do Not Exceed Sixty'has spent quite a lot of her time editing other people's memories for the second book of local recollections Finchley Remembered Part II.

This book, like its predecessor Finchley Remembered (Ed. Lynn Bresler), brims over with memories from people living and working in Finchley. Contributors recall Finchley life during the war, their schooldays and leisure-time.  They remember the shops that lined the high streets, the items they bought and the transport they used. 

They reminisce about friends, teachers and neighbours as well as residents who the entire nation remembers. Some of the stories will have been echoed across Britain while others are unique to Finchley.

Finchley Remembered II comprises personal accounts evoking a rich social history during the middle decades of the twentieth century.

Follow Lindsay on Twitter: @lindsaybamfield

Lindsay was a founding member of the Greenacre Writers and is an organiser of the Finchley Literary Festival. She has written several non fiction pieces for an on-line magazine and articles for a local community magazine. Lindsay has written one novel 'Do Not Exceed Sixty' which she is reworking and part way through a second: 'The Place Between'. Several of her short stories and flash fiction pieces have won prizes and she has been published in magazines, anthologies and on-line. Lindsay lives in Finchley.

Friday 2 September 2016

The Jane Austen Writers' Club by Rebecca Smith

The Jane Austen Writers' Club

Inspiration and Advice from the World’s Best-Loved Novelist 

By Rebecca Smith 

Published by Bloomsbury,
8th September 2016 Hardback £16.99,
eBook £14.99
Also available as an audiobook from Audible

A delightful and informative guide to writing the Jane Austen way, by the five-times-great niece of Austen herself. 

Whether you’re a creative writing enthusiast looking to publish your first novel, a teacher searching for further inspiration for students, or fan seeking insight into Austen’s daily rituals, this is an essential companion, guaranteed to satisfy, inform and delight.

Jane Austen is one of the most beloved writers in the English literary canon. Her novels changed the landscape of fiction forever, and her writing remains as fresh, entertaining and witty as the day her books were first published.

Bursting with useful exercises, beautiful illustrations and enlightening quotations from the classic author’s novels and letters – and written by none other than Austen’s five-times-great-niece – this book will teach you her methods, tips and tricks, from techniques of plotting and characterisation through to dialogue and suspense. Pre-order here for £13.99.

“Winning and beguiling ... Smith shares Jane Austen’s clarity and gentle irony” 
Independent, on ‘Bluebird Café’ 

Rebecca Smith teaches creative writing at the University of Southampton, and is the author of three novels: The Bluebird Café, Happy Birthday and All That and A Bit of Earth as well as a work of nonfiction, Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas. Her first novel for children, Shadow Eyes, was shortlisted for the 2012 Kelpies Prize. From 2009–2010 she was the Writer in Residence at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton. She lives in Southampton.

Stop Press:
Rebecca had her book launch at the Jane Austen House Museum, Saturday 10th September. Rebecca's links with the museum go back to when she was Writer in Residence and she continues to work closely with the Museum. You can read the lovely speech from the launch here.

Follow Rebecca on Twitter: @RMSmithAuthor