Saturday 29 April 2017

In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings

Book Review by Greenacre Writer, Carol Sampson

In Her Wake is a mesmerising story about relationships, lost and found. It begins with Bella returning to her childhood home to attend the funeral of her mother, Elaine. Bella says that “a feeling of foreboding gathers inside me as we round the familiar bends in the road” which would be natural for someone returning to bury a loved mother until we learn that the house “is a place of heady memories, memories of intense love, of bolted doors and claustrophobic loneliness.”

The mystery of Bella’s early years at the house are compounded when it is revealed there is a lack of affection between Bella and her father, that “an emotional chasm” exists, and that Bella was home taught and not permitted to mix with other children until the age of twelve.
Shortly after her mother’s funeral Bella receives shattering news that threatens the comfortable life she leads. The devastating secret is so personal that she does not wish to share it, even with her husband David, who is her rock and knows what is best for her.

I’m not telling a soul. Not even David. If I tell David, he’ll want to make it better.”

For a few days she holds this new knowledge close as she fumbles around in a “catatonic daze”. David, believing Bella is broken with grief, attempts to cheer her up and make her feel better.  Bella, feeling stifled and angry with David’s constant attention, sets of on a journey which takes her to the beautiful Cornish coast. Here she unravels a twenty five year old mystery which changes her life.

In Her Wake, narrated by Bella, is gripping from the start. On a quest to uncover family secrets she begins to understand who she really is and the reader is swept along with the tide of her emotions. You feel her anger when she discovers the betrayals that have kept her cocooned during her early life; her frustration and anger at being controlled, first by her parents and then by David. You feel her pain as she slowly learns the truth.

Bella, like many who experience life changing events - where life as it was is no more - no longer feels the need to please others. This allows her the freedom to discover who she really is, her true self rather than the actor that she had been, playing a part to keep those she loved happy.
Amanda Jennings has written a captivating story in beautiful prose including some lovely descriptions of the coastal town of St Ives.  She has injected life and energy into the characters, especially Bella, which gives the story a haunting reality.

The story is a reminder that all relationships are complex and fragile and that sometimes people act out of desperation, believing at the time that their intentions were in the best interests of all concerned even if they do result in devastating consequences.

An enthralling story. A compelling read.

Thank you to Orenda Books for the review copy

You can follow Amanda on Twitter: @mandajjennings
(Apparently she's on a Twitter break)
So check out @orendabooks who tweets 24hours!

And the lovely Carol @carol_sampson55

Wednesday 26 April 2017

A Suitable Lie by Michael J. Malone

Book review by Greenacre Writer Mumpuni Murniati

Michael J.Malone takes a gamble. With three acclaimed crime books under his belt, he decides to breaks away from police business and ventures into domestic violence. From a male perspective.

Quite a departure from his usual kick-ass scenes. Malone has a young single parent Andrew Boyd, as the protagonist, whom is faced with a situation that most people would shake their heads at in disbelief.

Four years after his wife’s passing during childbirth, he meets Anna - the new girl in town. Besotted by her, his hope grows hoping she'll be a perfect mother for little Pat.

Set in Ayr, Malone’s easy and convincing narratives entice readers to embrace Andy’s increasing growing confidence of the second chance of a happiness with Anna. Almost everything about her is perfect. Except for his mother’s reservations.

Anna laughed. ‘She’s a mum. She’ll be judging.’
‘If she does, she’ll keep it to herself.’
‘Yeah. Well.’ Anna looked away from me, out of her window.
‘You’re a man. You guys miss all that stuff.’
‘What stuff?’
‘Reading between the lines.’ She turned back to me (Andy). ‘That’s where women communicate.’
She took another deep breath. Exhaled. ‘Anyway. How do I look?’

The wedding bells toll and Mrs. Boyd’s objections seem like a distance echo. Malone is apt at dropping subtle hints in the scenes that look natural, a touch of insinuation in the dialogue. The ‘shocking accident’ on their wedding night is astonishing and well versed, from which point we begin to unearth the truth about Andy’s new wife.

In so doing Malone exploits the double-edged sword of masculinity from Andy’s viewpoint. His battles with what he has to put up in the home front and what personae he has to show in public are intriguing. On the one hand, he admits he knows little about her. Neither a member of Anna’s family nor her friend has come for the nuptials. She also says nothing about her previous job before or marrying her boss. On the other hand, he wants to give her the benefit of the doubt; give her more time to adjust to married life.

At this point Malone has cast a number of doubts about the seemingly harmless woman. In the face of increasing verbal and physical abuses, Andy’s gallantness doesn’t stop Anna. Meanwhile, who would believe that a woman half his size could hurt so much? Andy’s performance at work plummets and his contact with close-knit family becomes disjointed. Meanwhile, Anna’s control tightens when she becomes pregnant with his child. Or so he thinks.

Malone is fully aware of the delicate issue he has raised in the tug-of-war game between uncompromising lies and unpleasant truths. Andy isn’t a better liar than Anna, although their consciences are distinctive. Despite Malone’s hammering of the destructive impacts of an abusive relationship, he depicts anguish, agony and frustration sensibly, while the reader marvels at the depiction of the browbeaten Andy. The feeling of being trapped in the game, only Anna has a say is apparent, and for the sake of Pat and their child, like some women, Andy stays put.

Be that as it may, Malone has chosen to reveal little about Anna. Whether this is a wise move is an entirely different matter. In sticking with Andy’s voice this is clearly advantageous to bust the myths about domestic violence. Yet without Anna, Andy would be insignificant. Possibly, a minor character or two whom might have given snippets of her past would have been beneficial. At any rate, Malone has achieved great success in arguing his points of abiding chivalry and the gender roles for men that come at a cost.

In a weak attempt to inject some routine into the day, I was dressing the boys for an early bed time when I heard the scream from downstairs.
Panicking, I ran down, taking three steps at a time, my pain forgotten. Anna was screaming insults at someone, but using my name. My steps slowed as I realised what was going on. I walked into the room just as Anna replaced the receiver. Her face was lined with pleasure. Had it been anyone else, I could never have believed the noise that had issued from this room had come from the same woman.
‘The police,’ she smiled, ‘will be here shortly.’ She then walked over to the kitchen door and turning her head to the side and slammed it against the bridge of her nose.
‘What the... are you crazy?’ I sank onto a chair. 
Did you hold your breath? Malone’s riveting characterisation and stupendous plot make the book hard to put down. Another low turning point in Andy’s life is in sight, but is it really?

Malone wins the gamble with A Suitable Lie: a highly recommended reading that depicts the wrong kind of love.

Thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy.

You can follow Michael on Twitter: @michaeljmalone1

Sunday 23 April 2017

A Conversation With Claire Fuller

Claire Fuller didn’t start writing until she was 40. Her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days was published by Penguin in the UK and won the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction. Her second novel, Swimming Lessons, was also published by Penguin earlier this year. She originally trained as a sculptor, and then spent many years running a marketing company. She lives in Hampshire with her husband and has two grown up children.

Swimming Lessons tells the story of Ingrid Coleman who writes letters to her husband, Gil about the truth of their marriage, but decides not to send them. Instead she hides them within the thousands of books her husband collects. After she writes her final letter, Ingrid disappears from an English beach. 

Twelve years later, her adult daughter, Flora comes home after Gil says he has spotted Ingrid through a bookshop window. Flora, who has existed in a limbo of hope and grief, imagination and fact, wants answers, but doesn’t realise that what she’s looking for is hidden in the books that surround her.

Ingrid is a brave but floundering heroine, who puts down “all the things [she hasn’t] been able to say in person” in her letters, resulting in a portrait so intimate, you feel as if you’ve read a novel written on the secret walls of her very mind. A deeply moving read, that keeps you turning pages.”

  • Swimming Lessons was selected by the US subscription book club, Book Of The Month for one of their December 2017 picks.
  • Swimming Lessons was included on many ‘books to look out for lists’ including, Bustle, Nylon, Goodreads, and Elle. 
  • Swimming Lessons was selected by Australian national radio station ABC as their book club book for April, and by women’s fashion brand, Toast as their book club selection for March.
  • Swimming Lessons was staff pick of the month for March at Indigo (the national Canadian bookstore chain), and Powell’s (the US bookstore chain in the pacific northwest).

We would like to thank Claire for taking part in a A Conversation With...and wish her huge success with her accomplished, poignant novel and future writing.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I didn’t start doing any creative writing until I was forty, ten years ago (unless you count the little I did at school). I was looking for a challenge and I started writing short stories and entering them in a spoken word competition in my local library. I entered quite a few times before I won. I then decided to sign up for a part-time MA in Creative Writing at the University of Winchester, near where I live. I continued to write short stories as well as flash fiction, and started a novel in my first year. I finished it a year and a half or so later and submitted it to agents, and was lucky enough to have one offer to represent me. She and I worked together on some edits, and she submitted it to editors in publishing houses, and the novel, Our Endless Numbered Days went to auction, with Fig Tree, an imprint of Penguin winning. The book was published in the UK in 2015, went on to win the Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction and has since been published in a further 13 countries. My second novel, Swimming Lessons was published earlier this year. I still continue to write short stories.

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

I do see it as a job – one I have to be at my desk for at 9am and be disciplined about, but it’s a very creative job, and I’m very lucky that I can now write full time. I think my role has changed now that my books have been published. I do feel some commitment to readers who have read and liked my previous books, but it is really just about trying to write the best book I can, which is what I would want to do whether there were potential readers for it or not. I also believe I have a role to support other writers, whether that’s talking about other author’s books, or encouraging and supporting writers who are hoping to be published.

What I like most about writing is the feeling of having created something. It’s a bit like when I was a sculptor and I would finish a piece of work. There is a huge satisfaction in it.

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

Oh yes, all the time. I empathise with all my characters. I try to write characters that are real for the reader, and I believe it should be possible to empathise with almost everyone, even the worst of people. I know a lot of people don’t like James (from Our Endless Numbered Days) or Gil (from Swimming Lessons). They are difficult people to like, but hopefully readers feel some empathy for them; I certainly do.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?
My novels have included a few diverse characters, but even added together the main character count across both novels only stretches to seven. My short stories and flash fiction however, have included many more diverse characters whether that’s different backgrounds, ethnicity, abilities or sexual orientation. But what I’m most interested in is creating a fully formed character that fits the story I’m writing.

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

I’d like to be transported to the location I’m writing about at the time. Being fully immersed in the sounds, smells and sights of the place would make writing it about it easier. But the house I’m writing about now doesn’t have any central heating, and I like to be warm, so if you could fix that when you teleport me, that would be helpful.

What is the one book you wish you had written?
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I love this book. But, if I had written it that would be a shame because I don’t re-read my books when they’ve been published which would mean that I wouldn’t get to read this wonderful book again.

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

Finish it! Whatever you’re writing now, whether that’s a short story or a novel, get to the end of it. Pushing on through the parts that are difficult is a slog and it can feel like what you’ve got down is rubbish and will never be read, but until you have the complete thing down on paper it’s not possible to see what needs working on. Without some words there is nothing to improve.

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

I’m just coming to the end of re-working my third novel. The first draft was finished just before Swimming Lessons was published, and since then I’ve been rewriting and editing it. This is the part of the process that I like the best, and so it is hard to know when to stop. It’s the story of three people (again a small group of characters) who meet in a derelict English country house in 1969, and bad things happen. Can you tell that I haven’t quite worked out my elevator pitch yet?

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

I think it would be Stig from Stig of the Dump by Clive King. The version I had as a child also had illustrations by Edward Ardizzone, whose work I love. I wanted to live where Stig lived: away from people who said what I should or shouldn’t be doing, and surviving by re-using all the things that people threw away.

Swimming Lessons is published by Penguin

You can follow Claire on Twitter: @ClaireFuller2

Thursday 20 April 2017

A Conversation With Kelcey Parker Ervick

Kelcey Parker Ervick has travelled to Prague regularly since 2003 and currently directs an overseas study program to Prague and Berlin, where students create collage journals inspired by artists such as Hannah Höch, Toyen (Marie Čermínová), and Jiří Kolář. She is the author of the story collection For Sale By Owner (Kore Press) and of Liliane’s Balcony (Rose Metal Press), a novella-in-flash set at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and winner of silver medal awards from the IPPY, Foreword, and Eric Hoffer Book Awards. A recipient of grants from the Indiana Arts Commission and the Sustainable Arts Foundation, she teaches creative writing and literary collage at Indiana University South Bend. Her blog features interviews with contemporary writers and the series, “Letters to Dead Authors”

The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová A Biographical Collage by Kelcey Parker Ervick. Artistic, rebellious, and unapologetically intelligent, Božena Němcová defied every convention for a woman in mid-nineteenth-century Bohemia: she was active in nationalist politics, she smoked cigars, she took a series of lovers, and she laid bare her ideas and emotions in her letters and stories. 

The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová by Kelcey Parker Ervick is one of the least bitter, most loving books I have read in a long time, and it’s beautifully made. Fans of Jenny Boully’s not merely because of the unknown that was stalking toward them and Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts—frankly, anyone interested in fairy tales and in memory and in desire—should read this haunting biographical collage. It’s a terrific work of lyric nonfiction, a form underrepresented on the fairy tale shelves.” 

             —KATE BERNHEIMER, author of How a Mother Weaned Her Girl from Fairy Tales

The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová is a biographical collage of found texts, footnotes, fragments, and images by and about the Czech fairy tale writer, whom Milan Kundera calls the “Mother of Czech Prose.” Kelcey Parker Ervick’s innovative collage form, with its many voices and viewpoints, questions the concept of biographical “truth” while also revealing a nuanced and spellbinding portrait of Němcová. Inspired by Němcová’s letters, the book’s second section, “Postcards to Božena” is Parker Ervick’s epistolary memoir of her own failing marriage and her quest for a Czech typewriter, as well as a meditation on reading, writing, and happy endings. The two sections combine to create a book as defiant, enchanting, and complex as its namesake.

We would like to thank Kelcey for taking part in A Conversation With... and wish her huge success with her latest book and her future writing.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

Growing up, I was an athlete. I played soccer (football to the rest of the world), softball, and basketball. In track and field, I did the high jump, the long jump, the hurdles. In fourth grade I was given a certificate: Best Athlete. My senior class voted me Most Athletic. On my university soccer team, I was the Most Valuable Player. As an athlete, I learned discipline, I learned to practice regularly, and I learned to trust my mind and body. But I did not learn that I could be a writer. In fact, I became wrapped up in that identity and believed it excluded being a writer. I was an athlete, not a writer.

But my competitive athletic career ended was I was twenty-three years old, and I became an English teacher (for I was reading and writing all along). I was no longer an athlete, and I hated being a coach. I began to explore other possibilities, and slowly I gave myself permission to pursue writing. It helped that I could get a degree in it: something to make it seem legitimate rather than a hobby that took me from my young child. The stories I wrote in grad school were the first ones I published, and several of them are in my book, For Sale By Owner. And I haven’t stopped since. 

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

I create counter-narratives. I explore the lives of my characters - both fictional and historical - and imagine alternate possibilities that often contradict received narratives about who they are, who we are. Everything in this world wants to limit and box and stereotype; I want to expand and complicate and imagine. 

What is the one book you wish you had written?

Just one? I’ll pick a contemporary British one: Inglorious by Joanna Kavenna. The prose sweeps you up with its music and rhythm, and the humor is so subtle and smart. Rosa Lane leaves her ridiculous job and loses her long-term boyfriend and spirals into a depression that is at once psychological, financial, and existential.

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

Writing is hard, but it’s not rocket science and it’s not magic. You have to commit to it, and you have to do it. All of IT: the reading, the writing, the revising, the submitting, the self-soothing when you get rejected, and the celebration when you get published.

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

Graphic stories, poetry comics? I’m not sure what to call them exactly. In my new book, The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová, I loved creating visual art as a companion to the story. I’m working on a chapbook of stories told through a combo of image and text. I’m inspired by the work of Maira Kalman, Aiden Koch, and Bianca Stone.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Harriet the Spy. I still have my composition notebooks filled with ridiculous observations I made while spying on family and friends.

Your last two books were fiction. How did the change from fiction to biography/memoir occur?

My first book was composed of short stories based on my life as a young mother. My second book was historical fiction about an unknown female historical figure: Liliane Kaufmann of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house. My third book was a biography of another unknown female historical figure, the nineteenth-century Czech fairy tale writer, Božena Němcová. As I wrote ABOUT her, I decided to also write TO her – a series of postcards – and those postcards became a memoir of my travels, research, and ultimately, my divorce.

The change from fiction to biography/memoir seemed major in that the “I” now represented me in an unfiltered way, but looking back, the fiction and nonfiction were just different ways to explore similar stories about the lives of women in different moments in history.

The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová is published by Rose Metal Press

Follow Rose Metal Press on Twitter: @RoseMetalPress

Stop press:
Congratulations to Kelcey Parker Ervick for her Silver in the European Nonfiction category
2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards for 
Božena Němcová.

Tuesday 11 April 2017

A conversation with Allan Jenkins

Allan Jenkins is the award-winning editor of Observer Food Monthly. He was previously editor of the Observer Magazine, food and drink editor on the Independent newspaper and once lived in an experimental eco-community on Anglesey, growing organic food on the edge of the Irish Sea. He is the co-author of Fish, the J. Sheekey cookbook, and lives in north-west London.

When I am disturbed, even angry, gardening has been a therapy. When I don't want to talk I turn to plot 29, or to a wilder piece of land by a northern sea. There, among seeds and trees, my breathing slows; my heart rate too. My anxieties slip away.’

As a young boy in 1960s Plymouth, Allan Jenkins and his brother, Christopher, were rescued from their care home, fostered by an elderly couple. There, the brothers started to grow flowers in their riverside cottage. They found a new life with their new mum and dad.
Yet as he grows older, Allan feels unsatisfied with the unanswered questions about his past. His foster parents were never quite able to provide the family the brothers needed, but the solace he finds in tending a small London allotment echoes the childhood moments when he grew nasturtiums from seed.

Over the course of a year, Allan digs deeper in to his past, seeking to learn more about his absent parents. Examining the truths and untruths that he’d been told, he discovers the secrets to why the two boys were in care. What emerges is a vivid portrait of the violence and neglect that lay at the heart of his family.

Allan Jenkins blooms. His garden bears fruit. Enter the seasons with him and grow. I love this book.’ Lemm Sissay 

A beautifully written, haunting memoir, Plot 29 is a meditation on seeds and siblings. Yet it’s also a celebration of the joy to be found in sharing flowers and food with someone you love.

We'd like to thank Allan Jenkins for taking part in A Conversation With... and wish him much success with his future writing.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I came to writing late, I have been a professional copy editor of other peoples’ work for more than 30 years (editor of national newspaper magazines for near 20) and have loved the collaborative aspect of this. For the past few years though I have also been travelling and writing, increasingly confident in my voice. This is a story of course I was born to write and I was the only one who could.

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

To bring heart and feeling to my work. It was when I realised my voice isn’t like anyone else’s that I discovered my self-expression. A heady place to be.

Why did you decide to write a memoir? And were you tempted to fictionalise parts of your story?

Not sure I did decide to write this memoir as such, I was writing a journal with personal stuff added in: an old man growing food and flowers because a kindly old man once showed him how as a child. But my dead brother Christopher’s voice edged him out, demanded to be heard. A freedom of information request for care records changed the direction. And a chance discovery in Barnardos office shaded the narrative. I did though “honour’ each stage and made myself as open as possible to the shifting sands of the story. I was not tempted at all to fictionalise though some (few) names were changed to protect the guilty.

You said in a Guardian article that gardening is your therapy. Can you tell us a bit more about this?

It is a place to go to grow, a beautiful semi-wild space but also sometimes, somewhere I can go to try to avoid overspill into my family life. It brings me peace, a non-verbal acceptance. I am good at it. Things grow for me. It is also inherently about nurturing small helpless infant things (of course)… and it comes with flavour, food and colour. 

How important have books been in your life? What is the one book you wish you had written?

When I was lost and had not much hope of making a life, I read, addictively, avidly, twentieth century American mostly: Hammett, Brautigan, Wolfe, Kesey, Roth, Bellow, even Mailer. I am not sure I wish I had written it, but the greatest writer I have worked with (and they include Amis, Barnes and Mamet) was Rian Malan, whose My Traitor’s Heart is still my benchmark. 

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

Write. Write. Write. Anything. Find your voice and stay true to it if you can. 

When you were growing up, did you have a mentor/role model? What motivated you?

My foster father gave me a home and safety, I will always owe him that and am aware of the debt I owe (though more clear-eyed now about the downside). Motivation? I wanted my brother and me to be happy, though later I also wanted to escape the claustrophobia of small village life.

Has becoming successful made a difference and has this affected your self belief/self worth?

I think it mostly affects the way people sometimes treat you. I came to journalism late (I was already well into my 30s) and had an ambition to work for a good paper if possible, to be part of a community, like a doctor, teacher or nurse. I was 45 when I became an editor (ancient, like the Queen mum), so “success” came very late though I have always I think had self-belief even when there wasn’t much evidence it was shared. None of it come close to meeting my wife in a late night cinema but close perhaps was finding out I can write, not sentences like Roth, or books like Malan, but like me. 

How does it feel now that people regard you as a role model, especially care leavers?

I am not sure this is the case. I was born lucky (or at least luckier than my brother) and am acutely aware that my luck isn’t widely shared among people brought up in care. 

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Huckleberry Finn is hard to beat. Though I have a weakness too for Long John Silver. 

Plot 29 is published by Harper Collins

Follow Allan on Twitter: @allanjenkins21

Saturday 8 April 2017

Flash Fiction Workshop with Ingrid Jendrzejewski

Flash Fiction: Writing the Iceberg's Tip

Think of Icebergs. Besides being the title of a flash by Tania Hershman, this is exactly what this workshop is about: through exercises, discussion and examples, we'll explore how we can craft floes of compressed prose that may look tiny on the page but still have the power to sink ships.

This workshop is suitable for writers of all levels and styles, from absolute beginners to seasoned flashers, to novelists and storytellers and poets who enjoy playing with compression, subtext, and constraint in their own work. Bring pen and paper, a laptop, or your favourite method of recording words, and leave your inner editor at home!

The workshop will take place Sat 13th May, 11.30am-2.15pm in Finchley, North London. Click here, to book your place.

Ingrid Jendrzejewski grew up in Vincennes, Indiana, studied creative writing at the University of Evansville, then physics at the University of Cambridge. She started writing flash fiction in 2014 and has since found homes for around 75 of her pieces in places like Passages North, The Los Angeles Review, The Conium Review, Jellyfish Review, and Flash Frontier. She has won twelve flash fiction competitions, including the Bath Flash Fiction Award and the A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Orlando Prize for Flash Fiction. Her short collection Things I Dream About When I'm Not Sleeping was a runner up for BFFA’s first Novella-in-Flash competition and will be published later this summer. 

She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Vestal Review’s VERA Award, and twice for Best Small Fictions, and she has judged several writing contests including this year's National Flash Fiction Day Micro-Fiction Competition. 

Links to Ingrid’s work can be found here and she occasionally tweets @LunchOnTuesday.

Wednesday 5 April 2017

A conversation with Jennie Ensor

Jennie Ensor is a Londoner descended from a long line of Irish folk. She has worked as a freelance journalist, covering topics from forced marriages to the fate of Aboriginal Australians living on land contaminated by British nuclear testing.

Jennie lives in London with her husband and their cuddle-loving, sofa-hogging terrier. When not chasing the dog or dreaming of setting off on a long journey with a Kindleful of books, she can usually be found writing – novels as well as short stories and poetry (published under another name). Her second novel, to be finished soon with any luck, is a dark and unsettling psychological drama. 

Jennie's debut novel Blind Side explores love and friendship, guilt and betrayal, secrets and obsession. An explosive, debate-provoking thriller that confronts urgent issues of our times and contemplates some of our deepest fears. 
Can you ever truly know someone? And what if you suspect the unthinkable?

London, five months before 7/7. Georgie, a young woman wary of relationships after previous heartbreak, gives in and agrees to sleep with close friend Julian. She’s shocked when Julian reveals he’s loved her for a long time.

But Georgie can’t resist her attraction to Nikolai, a Russian former soldier she meets in a pub. While Julian struggles to deal with her rejection, Georgie realises how deeply war-time incidents in Chechnya have affected Nikolai. She begins to suspect that the Russian is hiding something terrible from her. 

"Graceful, poetic, intelligent and captivating. A story about three flawed and fascinating people living in dangerous times." Gail Cleare, author of USA Today bestseller The Taste of Air

Blind Side is an explosive, debate-provoking thriller about terrorism and sexual obsession. It is published by Unbound, publisher of the highly-acclaimed essay collection The Good Immigrant. We'd like to thank Jennie for taking part in A conversation with...and wish her much success with her writing adventures.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

10 years thinking I might write something one day, trying to write and tossing pages in the bin.
10 years writing (3 novels, a few short stories and lots of poetry) and dealing with rejection.
3 months crowdfunding my debut novel Blind Side with the publisher Unbound.
5 months working with editors, a cover designer and the publisher to get the book produced.
8 months getting used to being a published author.

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

Being a writer is an opportunity to share with others what one cares most about. I try to be honest in my writing, to say things that may be difficult (possibly because they confront oneself or sections of society) without worrying about what readers may think. I love the freedom to play and make things up, and having permission to be float off into my own world. Now I’m actually earning some money from writing, I can say ‘I’m off to do some work’ without excessive guilt and the thought that I’m really a deluded, useless idler-cum-hermit :) Most of all, I enjoy knowing that I do not need to get up at 7.15am on a Monday morning... and if I do, it’s my own choice.

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

Julian in Blind Side is not an easy character to like. Despite his apparently easy-going exterior, he has an obsessive side and becomes fixated on a friend of the opposite sex (my main protagonist, Georgie) who doesn’t feel the same way about him. Her rejection triggers a strong reaction... Though I don’t much like Julian, I drew on my experiences of stormy and difficult relationships to get under his skin. He is not a totally bad character and was once a caring friend – and I know very well the pain of unreturned love.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

First off I must say that I’m keen to create more characters who have radically different backgrounds from me. So far my novels have focussed on white middle class people living in the south of England, which admittedly is not particularly diverse! The exception is my character Nikolai in Blind Side, a Russian migrant recently arrived in London with little money who works as a labourer in often dangerous conditions. The novel is partly about society’s perception of the ‘outsider’. It’s a thriller about terrorism and sexual obsession set in 2005, the year of the suicide bomb attacks on London, when attitudes to immigrants in Britain noticeably hardened.

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

Oh dear me, this is hard. Only one place? An island in the Caribbean wouldn’t be so bad especially in the British winter. I’m a beach babe, love outdoor swimming and crave the heat. Possibly it would be too tempting not to write though, so I’d have to live a ten-minute cycle ride from the beach. To be honest most of the time I’m pretty happy living where I am now, in north London. There’s woods, parks and theatres etc nearby and Paris is just a train ride away.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

Hmm, this is a hard one too. There are so many! Although it would have required a considerable injection of literary prowess to say the least, I would have been overjoyed to have written All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, a novel set during the occupation of St Malo in France during WW2. I am in awe of the writing and storytelling. It’s not in a genre I’ve written in (literary historical fiction) but occasionally I ruminate on possibilities.

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

It’s not the destination that’s important, it’s the getting there. (I am doing my best to learn this!) Try to enjoy the writing journey, embrace the uncertainties and don’t compare yourself with others. Also take any opportunities that come your way. Submit to publishers, agents, poetry/prose competitions, whatever... One can’t expect to win all the time 😊 but you definitely won’t if you don’t enter.

Since getting published, I know what an exhausting job it can be getting exposure for one’s book, and how much there is to learn about publishing, publicity and marketing. So don’t expect to get everything perfectly right the first time you publish. Keep calm when things go wrong, don’t angst about what you can’t control and don’t be too hard on yourself.

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

My main project is another psychological novel, a very dark domestic noir. It’s about a paedophile and his family, and reflects on our sexuality-obsessed culture.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mocking Bird – the lawyer who fought racial prejudice despite overwhelming opposition in defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. I was struck by his courage and determination to stand up for what he believed to be right, based on strongly-held principles that all are equally worthy of respect. And my favourite badass heroine has to be Scarlett in Gone With The Wind.

Blind Side is published by Unbound