Thursday 28 September 2017

A Conversation with Carol Lovekin

Photo courtesy of Janey Stevens
Carol Lovekin has Irish blood and a Welsh heart. She was born in Warwickshire and has lived in Wales since 1979. 

Her books reflect her love of the landscape and mythology of her adopted home. Her first, Ghostbird, was published by Honno (March 2016).

Carol’s second novel Snow Sisters is also published by Honno (September 2017).

Two sisters, their grandmother’s old house and Angharad, the girl who cannot leave…

Verity and Meredith Pryce live with their fragile mother, Allegra, in an old house overlooking the west Wales coast. Gull House is their haven. It also groans with the weight of its dark past. 

When Meredith discovers an old sewing box in a disused attic and a collection of hand-stitched red flannel hearts, she unwittingly wakes up the ghost of Angharad, a Victorian child-woman harbouring a horrific secret. 

As Angharad gradually reveals her story to Meredith, her more pragmatic sister Verity remains sceptical until she sees the ghost for herself on the eve of an unseasonal April snowstorm.

Forced by Allegra to abandon Gull House for London, Meredith struggles.

Still haunted by Angharad and her unfinished story, hurt by what she sees as Verity’s acquiescence to their mother’s selfishness, Meredith drifts into a world of her own. And Verity isn’t sure she will be able to save her…

We would like to thank Carol for taking part in our conversation and wish her lots of success with Snow Sisters.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

Is it too much of a cliché to say, I’ve always written, one way or another? I think most writers say it because by and large it’s true. That said, I’m not one of those who claim to have written her first novel at the age of five. (I wrote mine when I was in my thirties. It’s dreadful – don’t ask.)

I was a good deal older than most writers are when they begin their careers. In my late 50’s I started taking my writing seriously and began Ghostbird, although it took me years to complete. When I submitted the first fifty pages as part of Honno’s ‘Meet the Editor’ scheme, I was fortunate to be mentored by Janet Thomas. I owe a good deal of my small success to Janet’s kindness and professionalism.

In the world of small press traditional publishing you have to be patient. The process unfolds like slow cloud across the moon. Both my patience and hard work were finally rewarded. Honno offered me a deal and in March 2016 Ghostbird was published.

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

This is an unusual question and one I don’t think I’ve ever been asked. Thank you! If I have a role it is to be authentic and write from my heart. Interesting fiction pushes the envelope. I see it as the perfect vehicle for re-telling women’s stories, in particular, myths and legends featuring patriarchal attitudes. I enjoy re-claiming them: giving women from legend and folklore their voice in modern settings, and through the lives of modern-day characters.

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

When I began writing Ghostbird I didn’t like Violet, Cadi’s mother, at all. I found her unremittingly miserable. As she allowed me access to her heart, I began to empathise with her and came to realise how desperate her pain was and more importantly, where it came from. I decided that if I didn’t love her, I couldn’t expect my reader to. In Snow Sisters, I feared I was doing it again and creating another less than likeable mother. This time, in Allegra, I conjured a monster. It took a while for me to understand her too, her motives and her past. This is the thing about authentic characters. They’re like real people: they have a backstory which shapes them and it’s the author’s job to dig around and discover the truth.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

Gay people are as diverse as anyone; putting them in books can be divisive! When I realised Lili, in Ghostbird, was a lesbian, I immediately knew I didn’t want the fact that she was gay to be a thing. It didn’t need explaining – I wanted it to be a seamless aspect of the narrative, the fact of her. Creating a gay character in Snow Sisters was more deliberate. Why not carry on claiming a corner of fiction for lesbians? Mine are intended to be as incidental as they are real and relevant.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Jo March from Little Women. I wanted to be her. She was the Victorian era (albeit in America) equivalent of a tomboy: a rebel and a girl who liked to write. And I fell in love with Jane Eyre too, at a very early age. I still read the book each year. Jane’s character appeals to me because she’s loyal. And like Jo March, she fights her corner.

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

I don’t want to go anywhere else to write! When I moved into my flat, eleven years ago, for the first time in my writing life I was able to have a study. It changed things for me on a fundamental level, coinciding pretty much with my decision to take my writing seriously and write to be published. It's my haven and I love it.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

To Kill a Mockingbird: in my view, an almost perfect novel. I couldn’t have written it though as it isn’t my experience and I don’t have Harper Lee’s skill. Virginia Woolf is my favourite author but I couldn’t have written her books either. They are hers and I think it’s a little presumptuous to image I could write as well as any of my literary idols. (Had I written To the Lighthouse or Mrs Dalloway mind, I would have made sure I used more paragraphs!)

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

Read! Read everything, and do it the way Francine Prose suggests: ‘like a writer…’ in other words, critically. And get on with the writing. No one is going to do it for you. Find the hunger. Without it, you won’t make it. Never use the word ‘aspiring’ about yourself. If you are writing: unpolished, unfinished or unpublished, you are a writer. And most important of all, never give up. I am the living proof that it’s never too late!

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

I have two novels in the pipeline. One is another ghost story with sisters – books about siblings have always fascinated me. Although the other one is also rooted in the Welsh landscape, it’s something of a departure featuring as it does a much older main protagonist. No ghost, no sisters and a sideways take on the selkie myth… 

Follow Carol on Twitter: @carollovekin

Wednesday 27 September 2017

The Story We All Know by Caleb Femi


Young People’s Laureate for London announces new Outer London tour and launches specially commissioned poem for National Poetry Day

Spread the Word’s Young People’s Laureate for London Caleb Femi will launch a specially commissioned poem and announce his 2017 tour of Outer London Boroughs on #NationalPoetryDay [Thursday 28 September].

The poem - The Story We All Know - was inspired and influenced by conversations held with 13 to 25 year olds in libraries in the Outer London Boroughs of Bexley, Croydon, Newham, Merton and Barking and Dagenham. Filmed in black and white, the moving one minute 30 second poem highlights the challenges facing young people such as isolation, crime, depression and disengagement.

Caleb Femi, Spread the Word Young People’s Laureate for London, said: “The poem - #TheStoryWeAllKnow - was inspired by the diverse young people I met in libraries, and maps out some of the issues they felt were affecting them. It calls for a collaborative effort to be made by institutions, like local libraries, to work with young people to help them change the narrative which misrepresents them.”

In response, Spread the Word, Caleb Femi and established poets will tour with The Poetry Takeaway throughout October in the five boroughs to broaden the reach of the programme to engage up to 1000 young people. The mobile ‘takeaway van’ will park in different locations, including schools, youth clubs, town squares and local libraries. Young people will be encouraged to participate in poetry activities and fresh new writing.

They will also have the opportunity to take part in co-creation sessions at participating libraries as well as poetry workshops with the Young People’s Laureate for London and poets Raymond Antrobus, Laurie Bolger, Dan Simpson, Laila Sumpton and Paula Varjak. Workshops on beatboxing with UK Champion Grace Savage and tips on how to set up their own poetry events or collectives with Danny Tsu and Shaniqua Benjamin are also planned. Open mic spots will be hosted by each library, giving young people the chance to perform their poems alongside Caleb Femi. 

Calem added: “I am really looking forward to seeing the creativity and talent that shines forth from the young people during the tour. I hope that through our workshops, events and partnership with local libraries, we are able to encourage young people to see poetry as a viable way of expressing themselves and engaging with the social and even political conversations of our day.”

The Young People’s Laureate for London Tour will run from 24th to 28th October 2017.

The role aims to:
  • Raise the visibility of poetry in the capital nationally and internationally;
  • Engage and inspire London’s young people with poetry (aged 13-25) through the issues that affect them;
  • Support the development of London’s talented young poets (18-25 year olds) in a tangible way.

The Young People’s Laureate for London Tour 2017-2018 is a partnership project between Spread the Word and the Association of London Chief Librarians. A two year programme, it will take place in 10 Outer London library services with a focus on areas of low engagement in the arts by young people. Participating libraries are: Barking and Dagenham, Bexley, Croydon, Merton and Newham in 2017, and Brent, Bromley, Hounslow, Redbridge and Sutton in 2018.

The Young People’s Laureate Tour is supported through funding from Arts Council England.

Young People’s Laureate for London Tour 2017 dates:

Tuesday 24 Oct - Bexley Central Library
Wednesday 25 Oct - Beckton Globe Library
Thursday 26 Oct - Barking Learning Centre
Friday 27 Oct - Croydon Central Library
Saturday 28 Oct - Mitcham Library

Official hashtag: #changethestory

Follow Caleb Femi on Twitter: @CalebFemi5
Follow Spread the Word on Twitter: @STWevents
Follow WordsOfColour on Twitter: @WordsOfColour
Follow Society of Chief Librarians on Twitter: @UKSCL

If you would like to interview Caleb Femi, or any of the participating poets and performers involved in the tour, contact Joy Francis E: T: 0771 382 7372.

Friday 22 September 2017

The Dry by Jane Harper

Review by Greenacre Writer Vasundra Jackison

Three people in the Hadler family are brutally murdered in a drought-ridden town in Australia, and policeman Aaron Falk is forced to return home to find the killer. This is a crime novel that will enthral you from start to finish, leaving you haunted by what you have learnt. The small community is filled with suspicion, resentment and distrust.

'Everyone is so angry……and this heat makes everything worse'

People believe Luke Hadler butchered his own wife and child before committing suicide. But Falk has his doubts, especially as he grew up with Luke and shared too many secrets with him. Ghosts from the past rise up to torment him. He has to face up to his own dubious actions following another traumatic event which took place twenty years previously.

'Luke lied. You lied'

As Falk digs deeper into the tragic deaths, he meets old friends and enemies who lead him to constantly changing possibilities. The reader is kept guessing as the action builds up to a height then drops down suddenly and unexpectedly. Memories of childhood jealousies and petty cruelties come flooding back, and Falk begins to wonder if his friend could have carried out such a heinous crime. But there are others who hated both Luke and Falk.

'The neighbour’s an aggressive old bastard. No love lost for Luke….Not at all keen to assist the police with their inquiries'

All the characters seem to have secrets that slowly unravel as the story unfolds. Falk uncovers many lies and some heart-breaking truths before he realises what really happened on that fateful day.

The heat and dust of the Australian outback is almost palpable. You can sense the vast, empty landscape with open sky and no one around.

'The space was the thing that hit them first. There was so much of it. There was enough to drown in. To look out and see not another soul between you and the horizon can be a disturbing sight.'

This gripping murder mystery will keep you sitting on the edge of your seat. The story moves at a fast pace, with tension mounting as the plot thickens. The author holds the suspense throughout the novel. A thoroughly exciting and compelling read.

Follow Jane Harper on Twitter: @janeharperautho

Thursday 14 September 2017

Eyes Like Mine by Sheena Kamal

Review by  Greenacre Writer Carol Sampson

Although an early riser Nora Watts is still uneasy when the phone rings at 5am.

I am immediately on guard because everyone knows that nothing good ever happens this early. Not with a phone call, anyway. You never get word that a wealthy relative has passed and is leaving you his inheritance before 9 a.m. It’s fortunate, then, that I’m already awake and on my second cup of coffee, so I’m at least moderately prepared.”

The call is from Everett Walsh, who wants to meet with her about a missing girl she may know something about. She has never heard of him and is unsure whether she wishes to meet with him, despite that being part of her job: finding missing people. Unable to fathom what she could possibly know about this missing girl she decides to meet with him.

His desperation is so fresh and raw I can almost taste it.

On meeting with Everett and Lynn Walsh, Nora discovers the missing girl is the one she gave up for adoption fifteen years ago. The Walsh’s have named her Bronwyn. Bonnie. Bonnie has been missing for two weeks and they hoped she had contacted Nora, her birth mother, whose details Bonnie discovered when she saw her original birth certificate along with the amended one issued on adoption.

The police are not seriously looking for Bonnie as she has a recent history of running away. She also stole $1,000 from her parents before she left. Despite this, Everett Walsh does not believe Bonnie has disappeared voluntarily. Nora knows from personal experience the treatment given to those who are deemed troublesome or, like her and Bonnie, of mixed race - “my skin is not light or dark, just something muddy and in between”. She is very aware that the plights of these young women are often overlooked.

As Nora begins to investigate the disappearance of her daughter she learns that it is not just her and the Everetts looking for Bonnie and Nora becomes embroiled in a dangerous web of lies and violence as she begins to uncover the truth. As memories surface she is forced to face events of her harrowing past; events she spent a long time coming to terms with.

The story begins in the seedier side of Vancouver – a place where those who have never visited cannot imagine – and the reader is then taken on a journey through the snow-capped mountains of Kelowna to ski resorts where the wealthy holiday and have their every needs met. The contrast between Nora’s life and those she is involved with could not be starker.

Eyes Like Mine is a gritty and addictive thriller told in first person narrative by Nora Watts. The story is as much about Nora as it is the mystery. Her character is fully developed and engaging and the story explores how Nora deals with life after the fallout of a terrible experience. She is quirky, unconventional, extremely flawed and not always likeable. That said, she is compulsive.

Sheena Kamal’s experiences as a journalist have provided the background for the book and the formation of Nora’s character, resulting in this feisty and compelling thriller. Kamal observed that the crimes against women, such as rape and abuse, were often dismissed by police – sometimes pushing the blame on the victims - and the story raises the moral question of how society treats people who are disadvantaged, different or just do not conform.

As Nora so aptly explains:

There’s a whole highway in the north of the province stained by the tears of indigenous girls and women who aren’t blond enough to matter.

Eyes Like Mine is the first novel in a proposed trilogy and I very much look forward to reading the next book.

Eyes like Mine is published by Bonnier

Follow Sheena on Twitter: @sheena_kamal

Wednesday 6 September 2017

A Conversation with Elizabeth Haynes

Elizabeth Haynes grew up in Seaford, Sussex, and studied English, German and Art History at the University of Leicester. 

Her previous jobs have included selling cars, working as a medical rep and selling printing consumables. A former police intelligence analyst, she now writes full time and lives in Norfolk with her husband and son.

Haynes’s first novel Into the Darkest Corner was Amazon’s Best Book of the Year 2011 and a New York Times bestseller. Now published in 37 countries, it was originally written as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an online challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. 

Her second novel Revenge of the Tide was published by Myriad in 2012 and her third Human Remains was published in 2013. Under a Silent Moon, the first in Haynes’s Detective Inspector Louisa Smith series (Little, Brown), was published in 2014 and the second in the series Behind Closed Doors in 2015. 

Her latest novel Never Alone was published by Myriad in 2016. Elizabeth is currently working on a historical crime novel, based on an unsolved murder in 1843.

We thank Elizabeth for joining us in Conversation and wish her lots of success for the future.

Sarah Carpenter lives with her two dogs in a farmhouse, high on the North Yorkshire moors. Alone for the first time since her husband died and her children left home, she isn’t exactly lonely but welcomes the arrival of an old friend, Aiden Beck, who needs a place to stay.

Aiden clearly has secrets, but then so does Sarah, and that’s no reason not to respond to his warmth and charm. But something doesn’t feel quite right. As the weather closes in, and snowfall blocks the roads, events take a dramatic turn and suddenly Sarah finds herself in terrible danger, unsure of who she can trust.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

Like many of us, I’ve always written. I went from stories serialised and passed around the playground and keeping a diary, to snippets of dialogue and story ideas that never saw the light of day, and ended up being abandoned when I ran out of steam or got stuck. What made the difference for me was being introduced to NaNoWriMo in 2005. It gave me the excuse to take writing seriously, whilst still having fun with it. For the first time, I was able to carry on over that hump of being stuck, and actually finish something.

In 2008 I wrote a complete novel that I thought might be worth editing; that book became Into The Darkest Corner.
I still take part in NaNoWriMo every year and all of my six published books were originally written in November.

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

I think my role is to encourage other people, through NaNoWriMo, and every time I meet anyone who is writing themselves. Writing is seen as a bit self-indulgent and so you have to sneak time into your busy life to do it; almost like you need to ask permission to go and write. If you need an excuse I’ll give it to you. Write, because you can. Write because it’s fun, and it does your soul good. And you never know what might become of it.

Writing my own books is something that still happens in private, for fun, and cannot feel like a job to me or I wouldn’t be able to do it. Writing the first draft of anything, during November, is the best fun of all. It gets a bit serious and work-like after that.

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

I think that’s inevitable. Characters need to be layered. Even the most hideous of villains needs to have a reason for that appalling behaviour, whether it justifies their actions or not. I wrote a female character once who was flighty and gorgeous and self-obsessed; I didn’t like her at all, until I realised that I’d be exactly like her if I was a size 12 and beautiful – after that I treated her with a little more kindness.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

I’m sure others will have said this, but my characters come to life by themselves. I start writing them when they are mere shadows, and they reveal themselves to me over time. It doesn’t always work – sometimes they resolutely refuse to come to life, and then I need to rethink what it is I’m trying to do with them. Sometimes they are real straight away, sometimes it takes a particular scene or challenge to find out who they really are, and then I might have to go back and rework the start.

This is particularly the case for the introverts; a female character I’m writing now was decidedly frosty towards me until I wrote about her from someone else’s point of view. She was completely different to them! She just needed the right person to bring her out of her shell.

In my third book, Human Remains, I wrote from the perspective of two people who were both socially very awkward. The male character, Colin, did not want to behave; it was as if he thought I wasn’t the right person to be writing about him. He wanted me to prove myself as a writer, and he kept challenging me by behaving in the most awful ways. Finally when I persevered he let me in, and I saw that for all his intelligence and his qualifications and his testosterone he was really just very lonely. But all the misbehaving had to stay in the book so that he made sense; even these days, when someone tells me they’re about to read Human Remains, I say to them, ‘sorry about Colin’.

I realise this all sounds a bit weird. I mean, these are my characters – surely they’re entirely under my control? I suppose they must be, but I know my writing is always much better when I let them speak for themselves.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

This is a tough one. Fatty from the Enid Blyton ‘Five Find Outers and Dog’ series, because he was the clever one who always came up with a plan. John Flory from Orwell’s Burmese Days. Simon from Lord of the Flies. I think I always fall for the vulnerable ones.

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

I would quite like a holiday on a tropical island somewhere, without the hassle of getting there, but I don’t think I’d get much work done. I write best in my local tea room, with cake, so if we’re talking about supernatural forces, it would be quite nice to be able to eat unlimited cake without the consequences. Cake is brain food.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

I’ve been thinking about this one for a good ten minutes and I can’t think of just one. I wish I’d written all of the books I’ve loved, but to do that I’d have to be a different person or an expert in different things. I will say that I wish I could write like Jeanette Winterson, or Amy Sackville, or Nikki Gemmell. My aspiration is to write beautifully.

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

My thoughts on it are: if I can do this, you can too. If you’re writing, that makes you a writer, there’s no ‘would be’ about it. Take yourself seriously, work hard at improving, listen to feedback without being discouraged by it. Don’t stand in your own way.

Also, if you struggle with time to write, or if you’ve never managed to write a full-length novel before, try NaNoWriMo. It’s only a month, and it’s great fun.

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

I am working on a fictionalisation of a real unsolved murder from 1843. I have never written anything historical before, so the research is presenting new challenges! Hopefully it might be out late next year.

Follow Elizabeth on Twitter: @Elizjhaynes