Wednesday 31 May 2017

A Conversation With Emily Midorikawa & Emma Claire Sweeney

Emily Midorikawa & Emma Claire Sweeney 
© Rosalind Hobley
Emily Midorikawa lectures at City University and at New York University’s London campus. She has taught at the University of Cambridge and the Open University, as well as writing for the Daily Telegraph, the Independent on Sunday, The Times, Aesthetica and Mslexia. Her memoir The Memory Album appeared in Tangled Roots, an Arts Council-sponsored collection that celebrates the stories of mixed-race families. Emily is the winner of the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize 2015, and was longlisted for the Mslexia Novel Competition. She was a runner-up in the SI Leeds Literary Prize, judged by Margaret Busby, and the Yeovil Literary Prize, judged by Tracy Chevalier.

Emma Claire Sweeney has lectured at City University, New York University in London, the Open University and the University of Cambridge. Her work has won Arts Council, Royal Literary Fund and Escalator Awards, and has been shortlisted for several others, including the Asham, Wasafiri and Fish. She writes for newspapers and magazines such as the Guardian, the Independent on Sunday, The Times, and Mslexia. Her debut novel Owl Song at Dawn was published by Legend Press in July 2016. The novel has been shortlisted for the BookHugger Book of the Year Award, and Emma has been named an Amazon Rising Star and a Hive Rising Writer.

Male literary friendships are the stuff of legend; think Byron and Shelley, Fitzgerald and Hemingway. But the world’s best-loved female authors are usually portrayed as isolated eccentrics. Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney seek to dispel this myth with a wealth of hidden yet startling collaborations.

A Secret Sisterhood looks at Jane Austen’s bond with a family servant, the amateur playwright Anne Sharp; how Charlotte Brontë was inspired by the daring feminist Mary Taylor; the transatlantic relationship between George Eliot and the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe; and the underlying erotic charge that lit the friendship of Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield – a pair too often dismissed as bitter foes.

Through letters and diaries which have never been published before, this fascinating book resurrects these hitherto forgotten stories of female friendships that were sometimes illicit, scandalous and volatile; sometimes supportive, radical or inspiring; but always, until now, tantalisingly consigned to the shadows.

A Secret Sisterhood evolved from the authors’ own friendship. Their blog, Something Rhymed, charts female literary bonds and has been covered in the media and promoted by Margaret Atwood, Sheila Hancock and Kate Mosse, showing that the literary sisterhood is still alive today.

We would like to thank Emily and Emma for taking part in A Conversation...and wish them huge success with their beautiful new book A Secret Sisterhood, published today 1st June 2017, and future writing.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

When we first got to know each other, as young English language teachers in Japan, we were both writing stories in secret. Back then, we were so shy about our ambitions that we didn’t even tell each other about them. But after almost a year of being friends, we finally ‘came out’ as aspiring authors. Since then, we have been beside one another every step of the way: reading work-in-progress, sharing news of publishing opportunities, being there to commiserate when the going got tough. Much less frequently, especially in the early years, we had the opportunity to share in moments of celebration. Highlights include the day Emily won the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, or when Emma’s novel Owl Song at Dawn was picked up by a publisher, and, best of all perhaps, when we were jointly commissioned to write A Secret Sisterhood – our book about the literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlottte Brontё, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf.

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

It’s a role we love (most of the time anyway), and, as with most writers, it’s one we balance with other responsibilities and interests. For instance, we both teach writing at universities. Working on this book has come with its own particular challenges but also pleasures. Writing as part of a team has guarded against the loneliness that often comes with solitary writing. While it has also meant we’ve both had to be willing to make compromises at times, we feel that the book has definitely benefited from our creative wrangling!

How important has reading been in your life?

We’ve always been keen readers. Back in that first year of our friendship in Japan, and long before we admitted to each other that we had literary aspirations, we often used to discuss books we enjoyed. Having moved to a new country, we were discovering many authors (in translation): popular modern writers, such as Haruki Murakami for example. We were also both keen on several medieval authors from Japan’s Heian Era. We enjoyed talking about Murasaki Shikibu’s Tale of Genji and The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon. Over the past few years, writing A Secret Sisterhood together has given us the push we needed to return to many of the classics we read when were younger and look at them through more mature eyes. We’ve both found that the elements of these texts that affect us most deeply now are often very different from the ones we remembered best from our earlier readings.

What led to the creation of A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Brontë, Eliot and Woolf?

The book grew out of our blog, Something Rhymed, which celebrates the literary friendships of female authors. That, in turn, grew out of a series of articles we’d written, inspired by our realisation that – while we had heard of the famous friendships of Wordsworth and Coleridge, Byron and Shelley, Hemingway and Fitzgerald – we knew very little about whom the most celebrated female authors turned to for support. We were encouraged by the enthusiasm of readers of Something Rhymed that some of the many friendships we’ve featured on our blog could be explored much more fully in a book. A Secret Sisterhood devotes one quarter each to the stories of the close bonds between Jane Austen and amateur playwright Anne Sharp, Charlotte Brontё and feminist writer Mary Taylor, George Eliot and author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Virginia Woolf and fellow Modernist Katherine Mansfield.

During your research, we understand you’ve uncovered some new documents, can you tell us how a bit more about that?

Our research has meant looking at many unpublished documents. These include letters from Harriet Beecher Stowe to George Eliot, locked up in an archive in New York, and also some previously unknown Austen family papers that we discovered tucked in the backs of old journals.

How important has your own writing friendship been in the production of the book?

The idea for the book grew out of our personal knowledge of the value of a writing friendship, and our questions about who our literary heroines of the past turned to for this kind of support. If we had not been such close writer friends, we would never have written A Secret Sisterhood.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

It’s so hard to pick just one. In Emily’s case, these two come to mind straight away: Darrell Rivers in Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers books and Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables fame. Strikingly, perhaps, they both had literary ambitions too. Emma was also a huge admirer of Anne of Green Gables, coveting Anne’s puffed sleeves. And she also loved Enid Blyton, so we were destined to become friends! We would love to write about Enid Blyton on our blog but have yet to uncover a friendship she enjoyed with a fellow female writer. If you know of one, please do get in touch via Something Rhymed! Emma’s favourite character was Elizabeth Allen of The Naughtiest Girl series – novels that are all about female friendship.

Thanks to Aurum Press for the review copy.

You can follow Emily on Twitter: @EmilyMidorikawa
You can follow Emma on Twitter: @EmmaCSweeney

Monday 29 May 2017

Paris Mon Amour by Isabel Costello.

A review by Lindsay Bamfield.

Alexandra leads an urbane life in elegant Paris but, beneath the smooth surface, relationships amongst family and close friends are fraught with unspoken disquiet. And emotions are less sophisticated. 

Alexandra is about to launch the latest book published by the exclusive Editions Gallici in the gallery owned by her husband, Philippe, and his old friend Henri. Henri’s wife, Geneviève, the epitome of French society, has invited Philippe, Alexandra and her mother to dinner.

Mom gasped on entering the restaurant Geneviève had chosen. Some of the tables had a spectacular three-tier centrepiece of fruits de mer, and seeing a woman drizzle shallot vinegar onto a plump, glossy oyster made me impatient to dispense with the niceties of introduction – I was hungry after all. This was une bonne adresse, off the tourist circuit and popular with the well-heeled residents of the elegant and conservative 7th arrondissement, which was home to the Malavoines. The only jeans were designer and baseball caps didn’t stand a chance. Mirrors and soft lighting made a large proportion of the diners look ludicrously attractive and I was certain the staff had been chosen on precisely those grounds.

Here, an unexpected meeting leads Alexandra to places she never dreamed she would go.

The first time I caused harm to those I love was an accident. The second is the reason I’m here.

The dramatic opening sentence signals the narrative of Alexandra’s life as she slowly unfolds it, to reveal the stories behind the relationships, the transgressions and the emotions that result. Is there anybody in the tangled web that is woven around the main players who is blameless? Can any of them come through unscathed?

In a skilled and delicately paced narrative with tantalising hints of backstory, Isabel’s Costello’s debut novel is as stylish as its Parisian setting.

I am inhaling Paris as I read, seeing its grand avenues and spacious apartments, the park where Alexandra runs. I hear the language and feel the nuances between the Parisians with whom Alexandra connects. Costello’s writing embraces the panorama of the city just as it focuses on the smallest details to portray each of her characters and the interactions between them. It breathes life into Alexandra, making me understand the motives for her actions even as I silently scream at her to take a different path.

Thank you to Literary Sofa for the review copy.

You can follow Isabel on Twitter here: @isabelcostello

You can follow Lindsay on Twitter here: @LindsayBamfield

Sunday 28 May 2017

A Conversation With Paul E. Hardisty

Canadian Paul E Hardisty has spent 25 years working all over the world as an engineer, hydrologist and environmental scientist. He has roughnecked on oil rigs in Texas, explored for gold in the Arctic, mapped geology in Eastern Turkey (where he was befriended by PKK rebels), and rehabilitated water wells in the wilds of Africa. He was in Ethiopia in 1991 as the Mengistu regime fell, and was bumped from one of the last flights out of Addis Ababa by bureaucrats and their families fleeing the rebels. In 1993 he survived a bomb blast in a café in Sana’a. Paul is a university professor, visiting professor at Imperial College, London, and Director of Australia’s national land, water, ecosystems and climate adaptation research programmes. His debut thriller was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger and Telegraph thriller of the year. He lives in Western Australia. 

A solid, meaty thriller – Hardisty is a fine writer and Straker is a great lead character’ - Lee Child 

Fresh from events in Yemen and Cyprus, vigilante justice-seeker Claymore Straker returns to South Africa, seeking absolution for the sins of his past. Over four days, he testifies to Desmond Tutu’s newly established Truth and Reconciliation Commission, recounting the shattering events that led to his dishonourable discharge and exile, fifteen years earlier. It was 1980. The height of the Cold War. Clay is a young paratrooper in the South African Army, fighting in Angola against the Communist insurgency that threatens to topple the White Apartheid regime. On a patrol deep inside Angola, Clay, and his best friend, Eben Barstow, find themselves enmeshed in a tangled conspiracy that threatens everything they have been taught to believe about war. Witness and unwitting accomplice to an act of shocking brutality, Clay changes allegiance, which sets him on a journey into the dark, twisted heart of institutionalised hatred, from which no one will emerge unscathed. Exploring true events from one of the most hateful chapters in South African history, Reconciliation for the Dead is a shocking, explosive and gripping thriller from one finest writers in contemporary crime fiction. 

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

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I knew I wanted to be a writer very early on, but at 20 I had made up my mind. That year I took some time, and started. I tried hard. But it was a disaster. I hadn’t lived – I had nothing to write about. So, I decided to get out there and live, do something I cared about, and hopefully what I knew would someday come together with my ability to write it. I kept journals, and started to write journal papers, magazine and newspaper articles, and then a couple of textbooks, all connected with my profession (environmental science and engineering). It wasn’t until 2006 that it started coming together. I found an agent (Broo Doherty at DHH), and then, finally a publisher. My first novel, The Abrupt Physics of Dying was published by Orenda Books in 2015, and was shortlisted for the CW Creasy New Blood Dagger award. My latest novel, Reconciliation for the Dead, has just been released, and early reviews have been good.

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

Writing is deadly serious business. The power of words to shape thought and touch people is boundless. We live in perilous times, and we need writers who are willing to take on the big, tough issues. To me, none is more urgent or pressing than the need to protect the planet that feeds and nurtures us all. In my own small way, that’s what I am trying to do.

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

There is no real person with whom one cannot, if one is honest, empathise with to some degree. Writing should be about getting closer to the truth, and in my experience, fiction, done well, can get to the truth more cleanly and more accurately than any other medium.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

So many of the forces at work in modern society, intentional and otherwise, seek to homogenise. They drive the creation and marketing of self-similar products, blur the differences between societies, and elicit predictable, bankable responses. It keeps the global economy chugging along. But people, under the learned veneer of conformity, cannot help but be individuals. Classify someone, anyone, at your peril. They will prove you wrong. Characters must mirror reality. As soon as you think you know someone, they must and will surprise you.

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

I can write pretty much anywhere. Good places are: in the bush near Margaret River, where I camp often on land we own; and the front veranda at my home in Perth, Western Australia, not far from the Indian Ocean. So no transport needed, thanks.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

All The Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy

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

Work hard, trust your voice, and try to be true to yourself.

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

I have just finished a literary novel based around a connected series of short stories. And I am currently working on the 4th Claymore Straker novel, (perhaps the last), The Debased and the Faithful. I hope both will be out next year.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Nick Adams, Hemingway’s fictitious self as a young man. Not really of childhood, but of my teens. His life just seemed so God damned romantic.

Reconciliation for the Dead is published by Orenda Books.

You can follow Paul on Twitter: @Hardisty_Paul

Friday 19 May 2017

A Conversation with Stephanie Butland

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Stephanie Butland is a novelist who fell in love with performance poetry when researching her novel LOST FOR WORDS. Her first two books were about her dance with cancer. She then turned to fiction. Her novels are Letters To My Husband, The Other Half Of My Heart, and Lost For Words. Stephanie lives in Northumberland. She writes in a studio at the bottom of her garden, and when she’s not writing, she trains people to think more creatively.

Lost for Words is a powerful piece of original fiction: smart, compelling, irresistible, with the emotional intensity of Nathan Filer's Shock of The Fall and all the charm of The Little Paris Bookshop.

Spiky, sardonic, and reclusive Loveday Cardew prefers books to people. If you look carefully you might glimpse the first lines of the novels she loves the most tattooed on her skin. But there are secrets that Loveday will never share ...

Fifteen years ago, in one unspeakable, violent moment, Loveday lost all she knew and loved. Now, she finds refuge in the enchanting little book emporium where she works.

But something shifts for Loveday when a performance poet comes in to the shop, looking for something he lost. Between them, there's a spark . . .

Not long after Nathan's arrival, mysterious packages begin arriving for Loveday. Each one contains a seemingly unremarkable book. But each book stirs unsettling memories for her - some bittersweet, some too painful to bear.

It seems someone knows.

Someone is trying to send Loveday a message, and she can't hide any longer.

'Loveday is so spiky and likeable. I so loved Archie, Nathan and the book shop and the unfolding mystery'  -  Carys Bray, author of A Song For Issy Bradley and The Museum of You

It's time for Loveday to take charge of how her story unfolds. She must decide who around her she can truly trust and find the courage to right a heartbreaking wrong. And if she does, she might just find her way home…

We'd like to thank Stephanie for taking part in A Conversation With...and look forward to this moving and poignant novel. We'd also like to wish her all the very best with her writing for the future and particularly the sequel to this as Katie Fforde said, 'Quirky, clever and unputdownable.' book.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

It took a while! I always wanted to write, but it wasn’t until I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 that I found something meaningful to write about. A blog led to a book led to a second book, and then I turned to fiction. Lost For Words is my third published novel (there may be others in drawers).

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

I’m a storyteller, and the stories I tell are meaningful and interesting to me. I think readers have a nose for authenticity and if I was writing anything that my heart wasn’t in, they would know. And as someone once said (I’m going to say Mark Twain, because it’s usually Mark Twain) - ‘if you want to send a message, send a telegram’.

It’s hard to say what I like most, because there’s an element of enjoyment in all writing (even trawling through the final copy edits - if only because it means I’m nearly there!). But, if I had to choose one thing, it’s sitting down in my studio, with nothing to do for the next three hours but write. That’s the best bit. It’s not necessarily easy, but nothing worth doing is.

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

I empathise with all of my characters - that’s how I work. I need to understand where they are coming from, what drives them and why they do what they do - even if I don’t like what they are doing. To me, as a reader, interesting writing is writing that makes me change my allegiance with characters, or both agree with them and dislike them.

In Lost For Words, Rob is not a likeable guy, but I do feel for him: I’m not a huge fan of Melodie either. Without wanting to be spoilerish, there are characters from Loveday’s past who I dislike. But empathy? Yes, I have that for all of them, in spades.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

Characters (like people) are, I think, a product of background and experience. I can impose their experience, but I still need to understand their background, and the context in which their experience occurs. I find people from those backgrounds or who have had those experiences; I talk to them; I ask them about my preconceptions and assumptions; sometimes I ask them to read a draft and tell me if I’ve got it right.

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

I love my little writing studio and it’s the place where I’m happiest. Sometimes I find myself writing in hotel rooms or airports and if I could whizz myself to my studio and work there for a couple of hours, I’d be a happy writer indeed.

Or, if that’s cheating, I’d say Gladstone’s Library in Wales. It has everything a writer needs: quiet, the lovely smell of books, warm, nourishing food, like-minded people, and a sort of concentrated wisdom in the air that always seems to make me cleverer than I really am.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

I think, somewhere in the ether around every book I have written, there hang the ghosts of the books that might have been - writing, for me, is a whittling-down of possibility until I find the story that most wants to be told. But I also think it would be fun to write the parallel-universe books. I don’t think anyone else would be remotely interested, though!

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

- Read. Read widely and voraciously. Read things you think you won’t like. Ask booksellers which books they’ve loved, and read those books.

Write. Write a lot. Write to the end of things, even if the ending is terrible: anyone can start a story - the writer’s art is in having the patience and perseverance to make something work. That’s where you learn.

Be honest. Is what you’re writing the best that it can be? If not, keep working on it. Don’t send it off to anyone until you’ve made it the best that you can make it. And then be open to the idea that others can show you how to make it better still.

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

I’m about to start on my editor’s notes for the follow-up to Lost For Words. It doesn’t have a title yet. (Or rather, it is working its way through many titles. This is completely normal for my books.) Expect to see it out in the world in the first half of 2018.

I’m also gently, tentatively exploring the world of my next novel. I’m reading books about photography, and mulling a concept that doesn’t have a story attached to it yet.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Lorna Doone! I admired her bravery and steadfastness. And the fact that (spoiler alert) she got her happy ending. 

Thank you to Zaffre for the review copy.

You can Follow Stephanie on Twitter: @under_blue_sky

Tuesday 16 May 2017

A Conversation With Abi Oliver

Abi Oliver is the daughter of an Antiques Dealer and has spent much of her life in the Thames Valley. She studied at Oxford and London Universities, has worked for a charity, as a nurse, on Indian Railways and as a writer. She has also raised four children and lives in Purley-on-Thames. This is her first novel as Abi Oliver.

Every few years characters come along who you feel you’ve known all your life.

Ernest Pettigrew never gave up on love, and Jack Rosenblum wrote a list in his quest to become an English gentleman. Harold Fry covered the length of the county in search for answers, and a man called Ove proved that there was life in the old dog yet.

Now it’s George Baxter’s turn, and he’s going to discover A New Map of Love.

George Baxter has settled for a comfortable life, content as the years unfold predictably – until Win, his wife of twenty-six years, dies.

With his loyal dog Monty by his side, George throws himself into his work as an antiques dealer. His business is at the heart of the village and all sorts pass through the doors, each person in search of their own little piece of history.

When George meets local widow Sylvia Newsome, he imagines a different kind of future. But life has more revelations to offer him. Over the course of an English summer George uncovers some unexpected mysteries from his past, which could shape his tomorrows…

We'd like to thank Abi for taking part in A Conversation With... and look forward to reading A New Map of Love, as well as wishing her much luck with her future writing.

Tell us of your journey as a writer.

I wrote my first ‘novel’ when I was seven on the typewriter in my father’s office. My childhood was rather solitary – only child and we travelled a lot - so there was plenty lot of time for reading and dreaming. At eleven I was sent away to boarding school and writing stories was a refuge there. It’s always seemed the most important and meaningful thing to do for me. I studied English at Oxford University and trained as a journalist – purely because at the time I couldn’t think what else to do. In fact I pretty much loathed it (and wrote stories in my lonely lodgings in Portsmouth!) So afterwards I got a job with a charity in Birmingham instead of working on a newspaper as I had been trained to do.

In Birmingham I joined a writers’ workshop almost as soon as I arrived, and later, Birmingham’s Tindal Street Fiction Group – really my ‘university’ of writing. We wrote short stories and some of us then embarked on novels. Later, I won a competition sponsored by SHE Magazine and Richard and Judy’s ‘This Morning’ and through that, was taken on by my excellent agent, Darley Anderson. That was in 1991. I already had three of our four children then, all under three at the time. I also had a novel, which was auctioned, but failed to find a buyer.

It was Darley who enquired as to whether I had ever thought of writing a saga? I had not, but I found the social history very interesting and no one was writing stories of that kind about Birmingham. So for many years now I have been writing novels as Annie Murray, about Birmingham, such as Chocolate Girls, My Daughter, My Mother and War Babies. It’s been a wonderful way of learning a huge number of things, as well as having a relationship with the city and some lovely people.

In the middle of all this, we, as a family, had to move back south for my husband’s job, to the Thames Valley where I come from originally. Over time the place has worked on me and I have found myself wanting to write about my own area – and to write in a slightly different way. Also, because of all the pressures of raising a family and writing, I found I had become very isolated from other writers. I took myself off to Oxford Brookes University in 2011 to do an MA in Creative Writing. Through that I have met a great team of other talented writers, so that we run workshops and can give each other support. And on that course was born George Baxter, the main character of my first novel as Abi Oliver- A New Map of Love, published, as are my other books, by Pan Macmillan.

It's been a lot of fun, both the writing and meeting so many new people. And Abi is full of ideas now as well!

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

I suppose I see it as giving people somewhere to go. Stories, even if not ‘escapism’ – something they are at times accused of being - give us ways of amplifying our experience. We are taken to another place, we learn things, we experience emotion and also the kind of shaping of experiences that we all seem to require but which does not always happen in daily life. What I especially like about it, as someone who does not find it easy to plan every detail before I begin, is that each novel is a journey. It’s like starting off with a rough sketch map and filling in all your discoveries as you go along. A lot of what happens depends on how the individual brain works in terms of integrating – or not – the material. Because of that, there is something really satisfying about reaching a point where you can finally feel that you have done that and can say right, this is THE END.

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

Yes – several times. In fact the novel I am working on now, is about one of them. I enjoy writing stories about a long trajectory of the life of a person or family. My character, Eleanora, is 65 in this story, though much of it is about her younger life. I want to know how she became who she is. No one starts off their life as such a crusty, iron-clad old trout!

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

Over time I have written about a great many characters. In general I would say that it is a case of feeling your way into them. This involves knowing quite a lot about where they have come from, details of their early life, what are their wounds, what do they long for, what has been hardened in them or been brought to the fore? With some characters it can take several runs through before you think, oh yes – I think I know you now.

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

India. I would say Kolkata, though it would be quite hard to find a quiet spot there and I don’t think I would want to spend all my time in any city now. In my fantasy I would divide my time – spend some time in this fascinating city and then go to somewhere in the hills, like Assam or Mussoorie, where you can walk and get some space and a little peace. For all its challenges, I have come to love India – there is an energy and ingenuity there which inspires me and there is always, always something going on. Life is still more textured than it is here. As my research is also currently involved with it, it would be the best place to be.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

The four volumes of The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott – not that I’d be capable of it. It’s got everything – history, deep human interest and insight, complex, sympathetic, truly memorable characters, layers of understanding and great story lines – and volume one, ‘The Jewel in the Crown’ has one of the most beautiful opening pages of any novel I can think of.

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

Persevere, find your thing – and please, please remember that you started doing this because you enjoy it!

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

As Abi Oliver I am working on a novel about the crusty woman I mentioned above, in which she is invited by her newly married nephew to stay on the tea garden in Assam where he is working. This is 1965, quite some time after Indian independence, but when some Brits (such as one member of my family) were still going out there to work in the tea gardens, which seems extraordinary now.

Eleanora’s early life was spent in India and the book is one of secrets, the recovered emotion of someone who has had emotion schooled out of her, surprises – and I hope redemption. But I am only just beginning the journey…

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

My reading was not guided very much when I was young so I read shedloads of Enid Blyton (though other things too!). I tried reading some of this to my own kids, but they found it hard to get past their bemusement at the way everyone talked to each other – ‘I say, shall we have some of that spiffing tomato soup? - Let alone that there were characters called Dick and Fanny!

But I did have an especial sympathy with George in the Famous Five – a girl who did not get stuck with the domestic stuff, got into adventures and had a dog. She had it all.

A New Map of Love is published by Macmillan.

You can follow Abi on twitter: @AbiWriterOliver

Monday 15 May 2017

A Conversation With Johana Gustawsson

Johana Gustawsson was born in 1978 in Marseille and has a degree in political science. Johana Gustawsson has worked as a journalist for the French press and television. She married a Swede and now lives in London. She was the co-author of a bestseller, On se retrouvera, published by Fayard Noir in France, whose television adaptation drew over 7 million viewers in June 2015. WINNER of Balai de la Découverte 2016 AND Nouvelle Plume d’Argent 2016 he is working on the third book in the Roy & Castells series.

BLOCK 46 by Johana Gustawsson is translated by Maxim Jakubowski and is the first in the Roy & Castell series.

"A real page-turner... I loved it!" -- Martina Cole

Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnéa Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina.

Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds. Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust,

Erich Ebner will do anything to see himself as a human again.

Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald?

Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnéa's friend, French true-crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light. Plumbing the darkness and the horrific evidence of the nature of evil, Block 46 is a multi- layered, sweeping and evocative thriller that heralds a stunning new voice in French Noir. 

"Viscerally brutal yet delicately beautiful, like blood spatter on fresh snow. An unbelievable debut." -- Matt Wesolowski

We'd like to thank Johana, a fellow Agatha Christie fan, for taking part in A Conversation With... and wish her huge success with Block 46, an important book, and her future writing.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I used to be a journalist for press and television in France. In 2010, I wrote the biography of a French actress, which became a bestseller. We decided to continue our collaboration, and a few years later I wrote a psychological drama, which was adapted into a TV movie that drew more than 7 million viewers. Our editor at Fayard Noir then told me that she wanted to launch my “solo carrier” as she put it. If I wouldn’t have been heavily pregnant with my first born at the time, I would have jumped out of joy and enjoy a glass of divine Barolo! Block 46 was published in France a year and a half later and the foreign rights were sold within a few months to thirteen countries.

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

I see myself as an entertainer. When someone opens my book, I want to hold their hand and make them travel with me. Scare them, make them laugh and cry and make them regret to have to turn the last page, wondering when they will be able to see Roy and Castells again.

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

I never dislike my characters. I love them and empathise with them. It’s the only way for me to make them exist in the flesh. In a way, it’s similar to what actors do when they have to embody a terrifying character: like Ralph Fiennes who was Amon Göth in Shindler’s list or Bruno Ganz in Downfall who embodied Hitler. To become those men, they had to understand them, without judging them.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

I feel completely schizophrenic! And I am definitely hearing voices! But how wonderful. I am a social “animal” as we say in French, and when I stopped working as a journalist and worked full time as a writer, I felt extremely lonely at home: no constant noise, no chatter, no laughs, no phones ringing. But all these characters certainly appeased my loneliness!

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

Falkenberg, on the Swedish west coast, seated at my wooden desk, my eyes diving into the sea, wrapped into a woollen blanket and warming up with a fresh brew. My grand father, who used to guide the divers in Marseille, taught me how to look at the sea. He used to say that by looking at this Lady in blue you could see your better self.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

The Silence of the Lambs. Thomas Harris was the first one who explored the by then new profiling behavioural science, and he spent time with John Douglas: lucky him!

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

Write away! And when you are not writing, read, read and read.

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

I am working on the third novel in the Roy & Castells series, which will be partly set during the Franco years and will explore the scandal of the stolen children. I am now doing the research, and diving into the female and children jails: it’s absolutely terrifying…

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

A Belgian detective that I met when I was 7: the distinguished Hercule Poirot. I am a great admirer of his little grey cells and his well-manicured moustache! By making him Belgian (and not French, how brilliant and unexpected!) Agatha Christie gave herself the possibility of criticizing openly the British society, creating some anthological scenes.

Thank you to Orenda Books for the review copy. 

You can follow Johana on Twitter: @JoGustawsson

Sunday 14 May 2017

A Conversation With Judith Ridge

Judith Ridge is internationally recognised as one of Australia’s leading experts on literature for children and young adults. In a career spanning more than 20 years, she has worked as a teacher, writer, critic and editor. Judith has taught children’s literature at several universities and has been invited on numerous occasions to speak at conferences, festivals and seminars in Australia, Ireland, the UK and the USA. She has been a judge on the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, is a Churchill Fellow and has an MA in children’s literature. Judith is currently writing her PhD on Australian children's and young adult fantasy fiction.

The Book That Made Me is a celebration of the books that influenced some of the most acclaimed authors from Australia and the world.

Featuring a collection of 32 personal stories by authors including Markus Zusak, Benjamin Law and Jaclyn Moriarty, illustrated with black and white cartoons by Shaun Tan, this is a perfect collection of personal stories for book lovers!

  • ·  Benjamin Law reveals his love-affair with Roald Dahl’s books, from The Twits, to Georges Marvellous Medicine and The BFG – and his early encounters with his sister’s copies of Dolly magazine and Flowers in the Attic.

  • ·  Markus Zusak gives 12 reasons for why The Outsiders shaped his future reading and why he’s always wanted to be Ponyboy.

  • ·  Randa Abdel-Fattah recalls the exciting teenage discovery of a heroine like herself in Looking for Alibrandi.

  • ·  Jaclyn Moriarty remembers her relief at finding a model for her own childhood rage in The Magic Finger.
These and many other stories will resonate with all book lovers and the role that books have played in their lives and the people they have become.

All royalties from the sale of the book will go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

Our thanks to Judith for taking part in A Conversation With...we really enjoyed this wonderful book about the power of books and reading. Good luck with the future writing.

Tell us of your journey as a writer.

As a child, I thought I’d grow up and write novels and poetry—instead, I’ve mostly written reviews and criticism, author interviews and opinion pieces. One of my first articles was published was an interview with Diana Wynne Jones, who made only one visit to Australia in the early 90s. I've written for journals, newspapers and online publications in Australia and the US. I have also written some short non-fiction for children, in The School Magazine, a 101-year-old literary magazine for children published by the NSW Department of Education, where I worked as an on-staff editor and occasional writer in the 90s and 2000s. I have started work on a children's novel and have a few rough picture book drafts lurking in the bowels of my computer!

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

My writing has always been a form of advocacy for children’s and youth literature, and with a few projects I have in the works, I hope will also be a form of record-keeping, of both marking and commenting on significant Australian children’s and YA books, and genres, and the overall importance of books for young people.

What I like most about writing is having written—writing is, for me, hard work, but sometimes, when the ideas are full and complete in my head, and the writing comes easily (more or less!), there’s a real buzz from seeing those ideas flow out onto the page. There’s such satisfaction to be had in making your thoughts tangible in words. What I like about the qualities of my writing depends on what kind of writing it is; in my personal writing, I enjoy marrying personal experience with a wider idea or issue. In critical writing, I am happiest when I feel as if I have captured what the book, or author, is trying to do. I feel very satisfied when i feel as if I have captured the essence of a person I am interviewing, or have shed light on a topic I am either (or both) passionate and opinionated on. But I’m never completely satisfied—there’s always a word, or phrase, or tone, you wish you could tweak, even years after publication.

How important has reading been in your life?

It was the single most important think in my life for the first 18 years (apart from family). As an adult, life, study and work commitments means I have maybe less than a tenth of the time available to reading for pleasure than I did as a child, but finding the right book to fit my mood is still the thing that brings me the deepest pleasure, intellectually and emotionally, of anything.

What led to the creation of The Book That Made Me?

I read a lot of books and articles and so on about reading and writing, and a decade or so ago there was a spate of essay anthologies and lists and so on by writers for adults on books and authors that were important to them. I thought this might be something that young readers would be interested in, and would also be an opportunity to expose dedicated young readers to writers and books they might not otherwise come across, via recommendations from writers they read and admired. I know from experience that when readers get together, these are the kinds of conversations they have, and I really felt a book that gathered the youthful reading experiences and influences of writers for young people would find a welcoming audience. Thankfully, Walker Books agreed!  

How important was it to include diverse authors in your book?

It was both essential and non-negotiable. Fortunately, my publisher was completely on board with that.

Royalties are to be donated to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF), tell us more about this organisation.

The ILF is a foundation dedicated to improving literacy rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. There is a massive gap in life outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians; Indigenous Australians die on an average of ten years before non-Indigenous Australians; they have higher rates of infant mortality, poorer overall health, and are massively over-represented in detention. And their educational outcomes are much, much poorer. The ILF acknowledges the role literacy can play in improving all of these inequalities, and delivers a range of programs to children and families. They were my first (and only) choice as the charity to receive The Book That Made Me’s royalties. Again, happily, my publisher agreed! I would urge people to read more about their work here.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones

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

My PhD! But I do have some other book projects under way as well, but too soon to name them.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

If I had to choose just one, it would have to be Judy Woolcot from the Australian classic novel, Seven Little Australians. I took my website and social media name (Misrule) from this book, and I adored Judy. It helped that we had the same name! (Kind of—her real name is actually Helen, and Judy is a nickname.) If I can have two, I’d also claim Harriet M. Welch, from Harriet the Spy.

Thanks to Walker Books Australia for the review copy of The Book That Made Me.

Follow Judith on Twitter: @msmisrule

Thursday 4 May 2017

Wild Air by Rebecca Mascull

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

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

Her second novel, Song of the Sea Maid, is set in the 18th century. Dawnay Price is an anomaly. An educated foundling, a woman of science in a time when such things are unheard-of, she overcomes her origins to become a natural philosopher.

Rebecca lives by the sea in the east of England with her family and works in education. She is also a member of The Prime Writers, a support group for those writers who commercially/traditionally published their first novel aged 40+.  Her third novel for Hodder, set in the early twentieth century, is Wild Air and published today! 4th May 2017.

In Edwardian England, aeroplanes are a new, magical invention, while female pilots are rare indeed. 

A window opened in Della's mind, dozen windows flung open. All this time, she'd crept through her life shamed by her uselessness. And now, to discover she had had a talent, born in her, handed down like a precious heirloom. She could be special. She could shine.

When shy Della Dobbs meets her mother's aunt, her life changes forever. Great Auntie Betty has come home from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, across whose windswept dunes the Wright Brothers tested their historic flying machines. Della develops a burning ambition to fly and Betty is determined to help her. 

'It's a mystery.' Auntie Betty's voice grew fainter, sliding into sleep. 'Something spoke to me, said Go Home. Maybe it was just to meet you, Della. Maybe that was it.'

But the Great War is coming and it threatens to destroy everything - and everyone - Della loves.

Uplifting and page-turning, THE WILD AIR is a story about love, loss and following your dreams against all odds.
What a stunning book . . . beautifully written, impeccably researched, and utterly addictive. — Louise Beech, author of How to Be Brave

Della Dobbs is a wonderfully feisty and ambitious heroine and I cheered her all the way. Although the novel is packed with adventure and peril, at its heart there is a quiet tenderness which I found very poignant. — Juliet West, author of Before The Fall

The writing flies off the page and into the heart. — Louise Walters, author of Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase

Congratulations Rebecca on the publication of your third novel Wild Air.

Wild Air (2017), is published by Hodder & Stoughton
You can follow Rebecca on Twitter: @rebeccamascall

Tuesday 2 May 2017

A Conversation With Jane Rogers

Photo by Larent Denimal
Jane Rogers has written nine novels, including Mr Wroe's Virgins (which she dramatized as an award-winning BBC drama serial), Her Living Image (which won the Somerset Maugham Award), Island and Promised Lands (which won the Writers' Guild Best Fiction Award). Her most recent novel, The Testament of Jessie Lamb, was longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, and won the 2012 Arthur C. Clarke Award. Her short story collection, Hitting Trees with Sticks, was shortlisted for the 2013 Edgehill Short Story Prize.

Jane also writes radio drama and adaptations, and has taught writing to a wide range of students. She held fellowships for the Royal Literary Fund (Warwick), at Paris Sorbonne IV, at Cambridge (Judith E Wilson), Hawthornden, and the University of Adelaide. She currently mentors for Gold Dust and will be running a Short Story course for Faber Academy in autumn 2016. She is currently adapting R L Stevenson for radio.

Rogers recognises the coincidences of opposites, of irreconcilable drives, at the quick of human experience. It is this that powers CONRAD & ELEANOR and keeps the reader engrossed... The sequence is a microcosm of the novel's structure, the roiling tempest in Conrad's mind coming to rest in exhausted affirmation. It's brilliantly done - a sustained exploration of the polarities at the enduring heart of love. - Guardian

When Conrad fails to return home from a science conference, Eleanor guesses he may at last be reacting to her infidelity. Or has he finally tired of his stagnating job in transplant research? Eleanor’s own scientific career has forged ahead, while Conrad played main carer to their children. The four children, now adult, fear for their father but seem to have little sympathy for their tough ambitious mother.

Meanwhile, a long way from home, Conrad is alone, scared and on the run.

Her observation of our species is tender, precise, illuminating
                                                                              - Hilary Mantel

It's a huge honour to have A Conversation With...Jane Rogers. We thoroughly recommend CONRAD & ELEANOR, a novel that ruthlessly explores, a long marriage. How do they do it? And do they have the answers to a successful loving partnership? Read it and find out. We wish Jane much success with her future writing and look forward to reading more of her stories.
Tell us of your journey as a writer

I've been writing stories since I was a child at primary school. At university I wrote for a regular live performance evening, so although fiction is my preferred form, I was writing monologues, because they are more dramatic to perform. That interest in first person voice has stayed with me, and several of my novels are written from the perspectives of intercut, differing, first person voices. In Mr Wroe's Virgins I used four such voices, to tell rather different versions of the same series of events. I finished my first novel while I was pregnant, aged 29, and was lucky enough to have it accepted immediately by Robert McCrumb at Faber. Since then I've published 9 novels, one volume of short stories, and written original drama and adaptations for Radio 4. I also wrote the TV scripts for Mr Wroe's Virgins, which was broadcast back in 1993 but which should finally become available as a DVD this year. My novels vary hugely in subject matter and setting, for example Promised Lands is an historically accurate novel about the First Fleet arriving in Australia in 1788, whereas The Testament of Jessie Lamb is science fiction, telling the story of a young girl at an unspecified date in the future.

Like many writers, I have also had a career as a teacher of writing. I taught on the MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam for many years, and am currently teaching for Faber Academy.

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

I like writing because it forces me to think very hard. Sometimes I believe I only know how to really think, deeply and honestly, through writing. I write in order to understand things better, to explore ideas for myself. And for the pleasure of constructing a story.

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

A number of my characters are dislikeable, but I don’t dislike them! If you are writing from a character's point of view, or in their voice, you have to be able to empathise with them and understand why they behave as they do. All characters are varying shades of grey, if a character was purely evil and hateful, I think it would be a caricature. Nikki Black, in Island, is regarded by some readers as unpleasant. I made her aggressive and prickly, because I wanted to avoid any hint of self pity in the character. I find self-pity, or victimhood, a rather dislikeable characteristic. In fact I have just published an article about this very topic in the March issue of MSLEXIA, talking about stock women characters which writers often fall back on, and examining the way a really good writer, like Elizabeth Strout, avoids such stereotypes.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

I have enjoyed it. The one time when I did agonise about this was when I was writing a section in Promised Lands from the point of view of an Aboriginal girl. What right do I have to inhabit someone from not only a different time and place, but an utterly different culture? How can I represent her fairly?

But then I realised that in my writing I have inhabited the characters of men, boys, old women, young girls, differing classes and social backgrounds – why suddenly draw the line at an Aboriginal girl? And the thing which finally really persuaded me, was that all of her tribe were wiped out, so there is no-one with a better claim than me, left to speak for her. She should be heard, her story is an important one. So I told it.

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

To be honest, I like writing at home – my desk is in the light and it is the right height, and the house is usually quiet. Those are the only things I require! Having said that, I once had a residency in a beautiful cabin in snowy Banff, Canada, and started writing Jessie Lamb there, under more-or-less perfect writing conditions. I wouldn’t mind going back there!

What is the one book you wish you had written?

Very hard to say. It probably changes depending on what I am reading. Most recently I really admired, and envied, My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

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

Write every day. Don't wait for inspiration or a great idea to come along. Just write something every day, and create a habit.

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

I'm struggling with a short story about a Jesuit which won't come right. And I'm working on a new science fiction novel which has been in my head for a long time and which I really should crack on and finish as soon as possible.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Alice (in Wonderland) is a strong contender. First because she has such amazing adventures, and second because she is quite outspoken and bossy and argumentative; she is good at standing up for herself, even with the Red Queen.

Conrad and Eleanor will be published in paperback on May 4, by Atlantic.