Friday 7 December 2018

Channelling Your Emotions Positively While Writing by David L. Jackson

I have occasionally been asked about channelling emotions into my writings, and how I manage to do that, in the context of not becoming completely wrapped in the thought and distracted from the process of writing. My answer is very simple. It all depends on whether you are writing of emotion as being 'in the moment', or describing the emotion to someone else.

When you are simply describing the emotion (ie: not what you are feeling), the task is significantly easier. You are restricted, only by the extent of your own vocabulary, and the point you seek to make, at that given point in the text. It's not about you, so you can be a little more blunt, a little more brutal, than you might otherwise have been with yourself and your own feelings.

In the moment emotion (when it is about you) requires you to relive the experience, to sit back, close your eyes, and imagine, as if you were actually there in that moment, at the point of writing. You need to be sensory aware, in that you can feel the air on your face, as it happened at the time, the smells as they were, touch the scene, interact and inhale the experience, as if it really was in the here and now. This can be an extremely difficult endeavour, as inevitably, as you sink into that emotional abyss, you become consumed by the cognitive and physical reactions to the emotion itself, at the detriment of writing down what you are actually feeling. In essence, it can be debilitating.

To overcome this issue, I voice record this part of the process as I travel through the scene, until I have extricated myself from it at the far end. I then, inevitably almost, take a short break (always take care of yourself) to re-balance myself, especially if the emotional recollections involve an element of personal pain. Then and perhaps, most importantly, while it is still fresh in my mind, I replay the recording, and wrap it in appropriate words into the book.

It may also be appropriate to visit that routine several times on any singular issue. Some issues are emotionally damaging, painful, hard to condense even after the rub of time, and I take a 'time chunked' approach to revisiting them. I will take the memory so far one day, and then leave it, returning the next to potentially complete the job. It might also be prudent, as I have found, to bundle emotions within a chapter, prior to the point that you start writing, and map out how you are going to inter-mingle the writing and the emotional exploration, because after-all, we are seeking not only to control the emotional output, but to use it constructively within the chosen text.

The presumption here is that a chapter of text, may in fact be endowed with a wide range of emotional ties, and many of those emotions may be competing. They can involve pain, death, happiness, birth, success and failures. During the writing process, I found that I needed to manage how I permitted myself to interface with those emotions, in such a way as to reap, maximum benefit from minimal disruption to the writing process. Again, 'chunking' or 'bundling' will help. Bundle the harmful from the pleasurable, successes from the failures, or link them in small but connected bundles, that represent the specific chronology in which they occurred (ie: The elation of having a parent at your graduation, followed by the despair of that parent dying shortly afterwards). Two very conflicting emotions, that are chronologically linked to a small timeframe within the context of your writings.

In my personal opinion, the absolute key to channelling emotion into your writing, above all else, is to start from an emotionally cold disposition. If the thoughts are truly emotive, truly heart-wrenching, truly awe-inspiring and the rest, then they should be capable of bringing you to that state from cold. 

You all know what I mean. We have all been in the position of happily watching a film, only for a particular scene to suddenly leave us with a lump in the throat, trickle of water in the corner of an eye, etc. We move from a state of happiness and contentment, to raw emotion almost in the blink of a tear-stained eye. That’s the impact you are looking for in the words that you eventually write.

Dave knows all about channelling your emotions positively while writing about trauma. He's just finished his first book about growing up in institutions. 
This is a harrowing personal voyage into the 1960-80s childcare system as experienced first-hand by the author and many like him. It was a brutally horrific system, that made countless victims of the very children it was designed to protect. These brutally horrific regimes, founded upon extraordinary levels of inhumanity, cruelty, violence, fear, and intimidation, brought children to their knees, brutalised, cowed and often in fear for their very existence.It was a stark, depressive, and oppressively dysfunctional system, that imposed perpetual physical suffering and mental hardship, upon its most vulnerable charges. It was a pernicious cycle of ritualised systematic abuse, inflicted on some of the most vulnerable children society could offer up.This was the environment that the ‘Unfortunates’ found themselves embedded in during the 1960s. It was a system that lacked care, thought, and all things humane. A system where the imposition of brutal physical and sexual abuse had become normalised, legitimised, embraced and ultimately, forcefully accepted. This was life in a local authority home. These were the homes of ‘the Damned’, where a catalogue of daily horrors were inflicted for the personal pleasure of those charged with the care of this hidden, and often forgotten, sub-culture of children who, through no fault of their own, were forced to embrace these traumas, and endure a fight for their very survival.

Follow Dave on Twitter @OYFthebook

Friday 23 November 2018

Creative Writing Workshops

Greenacre Writers is organising a community workshop to be held at Friern Barnet Community Library*

Saturday December 8th, 3pm. 
Novel Planning Workshop 
with Katie Alford 

Cost: £10 with all proceeds going towards Friern Barnet Library (£3 for those out of work/sick/retired)

A beginner’s guide to novel planning. For those who enjoy creative writing and want to venture out into the world of novel writing. Moving from short stories to novels is a big step which can feel daunting to many writers. This workshop will help you develop a novel plan starting from a single sentence summary and developing it into full novel outline from which you can then build your novel.

To book your place, email:

Katie is author of Atlantis and the Game of Time (2014), Katie writes mainly speculative fiction and is also the Video Games Editor for the Sci-fi and Fantasy Network. She has written many novels over the years and won many short story competitions.

*Friern Barnet Library is a community library set up after The Occupy Movement re-opened the library when it was closed by local council.

Monday 5 November 2018

A Conversation With Jackie Buxton

Jackie Buxton is a writer, editor and teacher of creative writing, living in Yorkshire with her husband and two teenage daughters. Jackie is the author of self-help memoir, Tea & Chemo, voted Live Better With's 'Best Cancer Book, 2017', and her first novel, a 'domestic 'noir' and popular book group read, Glass Houses(both Urbane Publications, November 2015, July 2016). Her short stories can also be found in three anthologies, as well as in Chase Magazine and on-line. 
When not writing or reading, involved in domesticity or teenage taxi driving, Jackie can often be found running, cycling or tripping up though the beautiful Yorkshire countryside. Jackie's ambitions range from drinking more coffee with friends, to film deals to secret twenty-eight hour days.
Glass Housesby Jackie Buxton
'When she sent that text, all our lives changed for ever...' 51 year old Tori Williams' life implodes when she sends a text while driving on the M62 motorway and allegedly causes the horrific crash in which three people die. Public and press are baying for her blood, but Tori is no wallflower and refuses to buckle under their pressure or be a pariah in society. Instead, she sets about saving the nation. But can she save Etta, the woman who saved her life? Or will Etta's secret be her downfall? This incredibly topical and contemporary morality tale appeals across generations and will find favour with fans of authors such as Liane Moriarty, Marian Keyes and Kathryn Croft.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I was your classic diary scribbling teen, chronicling the ups and downs of love and life, until my diary took on a more serious tone when my first love was tragically killed as he fell from Ben Nevis at the tiny age of 17. I was devastated but my diary played a big part in eventually getting me back on track. I think this is when I first appreciated the power of words, not least in the writing of them. Add to this my English Language O-level curriculum, specifically, the go-ahead to write twelve assignments, or, rather, stories – a qualification just for spending an evening indulging your creative juices? Well, it was studying Utopia – and the writing itch had been planted.
However, it was to be years before I considered writing as a potential career choice as opposed to a hobby, and a few more before I could find the time, and funds, to do this writing thing. Redundancy from my career in charity PR and fundraising shortly before getting married gave me that opportunity, or the push, to set myself up in freelance copywriting: time between projects being when I would write fiction. I scribbled down an idea for my first novel on serviettes (back then I didn't carry a notebook) on the flight back from honeymoon when everybody, including the new hubbie, was asleep. I was hooked and so began a new phase in my life of constantly searching for pockets of time to scribble a few hundred words.
Fast forward to 2013, the first novel was stashed in the ‘back of a drawer’ – great learning experience - I’d had some success in short story competitions, was having fun with my blog and more often than not, was receiving requests for the final manuscript of my second novel, Glass Houses, from publishers and agents. Even when rejected I was receiving fantastically useful feedback which filled me with enthusiasm for a re-write. However, the euphoria at being asked for the full manuscript waned when I’d reached double figures of requests but still hadn’t made that leap to an agent or publishing deal. Something needed to change. I signed up to the most wonderful online course in 'Self-Editing', run by the fabulous Debi Alper and Emma Darwin (formally of The Writers' Workshop, now relaunched as Jericho Writers) which gave me the tools and confidence to turn around the latest re-write. The next time I submitted, Glass Houseswas picked up by Urbane Publications as well as a second book, Tea & Chemo, a self-help memoir, which was still very much in the embryonic stage.
Meanwhile, in 2012, one of those, ‘right place, right time’ opportunities had presented itself to me when the local adult education network was looking for a teacher of creative writing. Even though I was terrifically insecure about my lack of experience, I so desperately wanted to teach that I pushed myself forward and got the post. It was the start of a new career which spilled over into editing and now I’m lucky enough to be totally immersed in all things writing, where I enjoy the teaching and editing almost as much as I love writing itself.

How do you see your role as a writer?

I guess I see myself as a storyteller. I’m dreadful at remembering facts and names – you’ll only ever invite me to be on your quiz team once – but I can always remember a story in glorious detail and I love to share it. If something dreadful, amazing and, most usually, excruciatingly embarrassing happens, I can’t resist the urge to tell someone. 
And, even more than telling a story, I like to write it down because then I get the opportunity to edit myself. Brevity is not in my make-up.
My aim with fiction is to entertain and provoke discussion in equal measure. I’ve always been fascinated by what it is to be human, by our foibles and our inconsistencies, but the very loveliness of being human, too. My favourite stories to tell are those of people in dark places who through enormous personal endeavour, climb up to a better place, even if only metaphorically. If in the process my readers question, laugh and cry in equal measure, then I’ll have achieved what I set out to do.

What do you like most about it?

Please may I have two? (I told you brevity wasn’t my forte…) I like every aspect of the process of writing, from the first splurge of the idea, to re-writing and more re-writing and on to the final edit. I know some people feel the writing process loses its excitement beyond the first draft but I see it differently. I see the re-writes as the process of transforming the words that have spilled on to the page all in a rush, into the picture you have in your head, and I find that really exciting and fulfilling. 
Secondly, there's a moment when you're sitting at your desk, minding your own business, wading through emails and admin, praying your pc doesn't crash AGAIN, and an email pops up, or a review, which is basically thanking you for writing your book and explaining just what the book has meant to this particular reader. That's the second thing I love about being a writer. It makes every minute of all those hours cooped away absolutely worthwhile.

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

Hmmm. Empathise, perhaps not so much but sympathise, certainly. I love an unlikely hero and I’m as fascinated in life as much as fiction by the stuff and nonsense behind our less than perfect behaviour. I believe that there are very few people who, underneath it all, aren’t fundamentally decent but our environment, the rough edges of life, can play havoc with our relationships and actions. Even with Gerald, a deeply dislikable, narcissistic character in Glass Houses, I still wanted to grab him, shake him, tell him to let go whatever it was that had happened to him to make him so intent on ruining other people’s lives. The trouble is, he can't bear not to be the centre of attention and he'd rather be despised than ignored: narcissism at its core. Why is Gerald a narcissist? Why is anybody a narcissist? Did they choose to be? I don't think so… so yes, I sympathise with Gerald but please shoot me if I ever behave in that way.
If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

Apart from any cafĂ© anywhere – I write prolifically when in cafes, when I switch off wifi and the rest of the world, take out my hearing aids (oh yes, it's a great silver lining) knowing that I'm unable to stop what I’m doing to ‘just’: just put the washing on, pay some bills or tidy my desk - my writing paradise would be Hanson Island, off Vancouver island, Canada.  
I was lucky enough to have the family trip of a lifetime last year when we travelled by boat to this remote island and from there kayaked every day to be amongst sea creatures, including orcas and sea lions. The experience on the water was pretty amazing in itself but I also remember sitting on the edge of the island, looking out to sea, sharing the sunset with my family and the rest of our group of holiday makers, as we listened to the sound and sight of dolphins, orcas and humpback whales, travelling past our island, only a few metres away. And I had an over-whelming desire to write. I mused about returning and spending all day, every day, on that island, the calls of the sea creatures, and the waves they created, the only sound - apart from my pen scratching madly on the paper, of course.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

There are so many! Anything by Maggie O’Farrell or Rachel Joyce would be the short answer as I think they are masterful at what they do: creating a multi-layered concept or observation in minimal words. I am also in awe of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, in fact, many writers of a future dystopia, where they predict a damaged world in breath-taking clarity – and yet we refuse to heed it. 
But one book I remember more vividly than all others, is the Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. It has everything. It's evocatively and poetically written with hugely engaging and appealing characters and a fast moving, heart-aching plot where from the depths of despair, people are constantly saved by the kindness of others. It’s based around a tormented boy who finds sanctuary in boxing. I hate boxing. That’s how good it is.

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

I'm going to steal this from R.J. Ellory when he was speaking at the York Festival of Writers in 2013. In his key note speech he asked what the difference was between a published writer and an un-published writer, with the answer that the un-published writer gave up. In short: stick with it! There's nothing easy about writing a book or getting a book published but the joy, not to mention the life satisfaction in achieving this, is huge. Hard work and tenacity with a thick skin to shield the blows of rejection and yet a sensitive hyde to take on board the feedback which will ultimately make your book a better read, will propel you towards that publishing deal.

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

I'm currently working on a story about four strangers (and their driver) who are forced to share a long taxi ride home when all trains from Birmingham station are cancelled. The passengers’ lives and pasts unfurl and connect and each one of them is changed by the most unexpected on the journey.
My next deadline is for the completed manuscript to go to my early draft readers at the end of October, with re-writes and further beta reads to follow, and the aim of submitting, 'This Remarkable of Days' to the publisher in spring. I'm on schedule so far…
Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

It’s Kizzy in the Diddakoi. I was fascinated by the nomadic life when I was a child, still am really, and I remember aching, physically aching for Kizzy as her beloved grandma died and before she could begin to come to terms with this, her home, her caravan, burnt down. Kizzy was forced to go and live a more traditional life with a new family and the painful trials of this were vividly described. I was fixated with Kizzy and her terrible plight in this awful village. Really, I think I wanted her to come and live with us. 

Follow Jackie on Twitter: @jaxbees

Wednesday 31 October 2018

Table Manners and Other Stories by Susmita Bhattacharya

Book review by Greenacre Writer Mumpuni Murniati

To many Van Gogh is famous for his five sunflowers paintings, each a masterpiece in its own right. Few hear about his water colour ones. He admitted they weren’t great.

In a short story it’s all about getting its message across; the details a writer has chosen can be likened to the palette of colours for the lighting in painting. Table Manners and Other Stories is eighteen exciting tales offered by Susmita Bhattacharya, the author of the highly-acclaimed The Normal State of Mind. She gives dapple grey depictions to her protagonists; her narratives flow in such a way that each piece entices different sensations in its denouement. Her observations on the intricacies of customs of different cultures are endearing. Time and place are like the crisscrossing lines over the troposphere on a clear day.

Some of the stories in the collection have appeared in various publications. ‘The Taste of Onion on His Tongue’, captures a blade of loneliness glinting in the moonlight. Bhattacharya marvels at discussing why a widow whose windows face a couple across the street is doing what she’s done; her succinct telling is without a hint of judgment. In ‘Good Morning Miss Molly’, the lighter mood displayed in the absence of tears conceals little of the pains in the aftermath of a loss.

In her vibrant settings her endeavours to embrace British multiculturalism is refreshing; the distinctive voices she favours move with ease from the Taj Mahal to Venice; from Singapore to Cardiff whereby a physical location is a mere element of their actions. The dynamics in her prose allows clashing viewpoints, unconventional thoughts and darker blobs blend on her ‘canvas.’

Her experiment with various lightings in her blend of contrast is stupendous. In ‘Comfort Food’, the scene of a business dinner in a high-end restaurant attests her main character’s relationship with food; the awareness of what’s coming to Li Xian is unexpected, wrapped in her physical presence in an ambience she feels connected in the least. By the same token, ‘The Summer of Learning’, which depicts a Welsh girl’s lifetime’ holiday in an Indian town explores a deep-seated memory that leaves an indelible mark from the onset: ‘when Lali stole Dad’s money, she stole my childhood‘. In a similar nuance, ‘That Face’, Like a Harvest Moon recollects an uncommunicated matter, a no-go subject in Indian society, highlighting those who suffer in silence and carry on nonetheless. 

She has little intention to distance herself from the current political atmosphere. ‘Letters Home’, bites on 7/7 bombings to whom which is perceived to share the same identity with the perpetrators.  ‘Marked’, brings forward the taboo of an interfaith marriage with Brexit gloom as the icing of the cake. Likewise, ‘A Holiday To Remember’, seems like a People’s Friend’s story at first with a twist. Yet halfway through a freezing caravan holiday for an Indian couple and their baby the cracks in the couple’s viewpoints are opening and hoovering in the pleasant air of their fresh start in Britain.
Van Gogh regards his water colour piece as a study; his learning as to which light works. For many painters understand the cost of a slightest doubt in stippling marks using water colour. Bhattacharya’s way of penning her thoughts is bold but not overpowering and her plots work well. Yet, just as what the Dutch man learnt, a change in a shade of colour could alter the feeling of a piece.

Some jarring facts wouldn’t alter the whole picture but do leave a slight snag. For instance, it’s arguable whether a man who lives by his ready-meal supplies would recognise the difference in smell between lemon grass and garlic in Chinese cooking. Is a Bengali man who comes to Cardiff to work in a restaurant able to write in fluent English about his new life to his pregnant wife? Would a daughter’s arrival really be a cause of celebration in Pakistani culture? Besides, it seems there is more to reveal in some stories that would suit a longer story or even a novella.

Van Gogh’s sunflowers wouldn’t have materialised without the hundred-and-fifty studies he did. Table Manners and Other Stories perhaps can be seen in this way too. Bhattacharya’s contemporary issues are very relevant; an outlet for more conversations on issues that have been simmering in the midst of life. 

Wednesday 1 August 2018

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

Review by Greenacre Writer Vasundra Jackison

When Frances is offered the job of surveying the follies and garden buildings of an old English country house, she is keen to see the neo-classical architecture with the possibility of finding an elegant Palladian bridge. Her mother has just died and she is ready to escape the city and take on the challenge. From America, the new owner arranges for her to stay in the crumbling mansion.

The owner has also commissioned someone to report to him on the condition of the house and its fittings. Frances is expecting to see an older man joining her in the house. But when she meets the glamorous Cara and the handsome Peter living in the rooms below her, she is taken aback. This couple are young and full of life; confident, self-indulgent and pleasure loving.

The memory of my first sight of Cara stirs me: a pale, long-legged sprite. I hear her shouting outside on Lyntons’ carriage turn.

Frances is nearly forty years old. All her life she has toed the line and followed a routine.

I knew, of course, right from wrong. My father, Luther Jellico, had instilled it into me before he left and then mother had continued in her way: payment will always be due for any wrongdoing, don’t lie or steal, don’t talk to strange men, don’t speak unless spoken to, don’t look your mother in the eye, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t expect anything from life.

Frances does not have many friends and is used to people walking past her. But to her surprise, the couple wants to befriend her, cook for her and spend every day with her. At first, she shies away from them. But soon, she is pulled in by the eccentric Cara, who fascinates her even as she listens to her strange stories. And by Peter who seems to want to confide in her.

Something is not right, and Frances cannot work it out. When she finds a peep-hole under her bathroom floorboard, she cannot resist spying on them. She knows it is wrong, but she gets swept away by their company; living decadently and dangerously. Not much report writing gets done by any of them.

The weekend passed without us noticing it was the weekend. We ate and we drank and we smoked.

One person does try to pull her back from the brink of disaster. Victor, the local vicar visits her at Lyntons and feels the need to advise her.

As I said yesterday, I don’t think this is a good place for you. I think you should leave. Go back to London, or somewhere else.

Many years later, Victor is still trying to save her.

Victor tenses, hopeful for a net that he can use to save me. A child’s net on a stick that he can thrust into the rushing water where I spin and turn in the eddies. He would scoop me out if he could. But there’s nothing now that will stop me flowing downstream with the current.

Frances is now too involved in the lives of her two companions. She is addicted to them. and cannot extricate herself from her part in the unfolding events. Events that escalate to such a shocking ending that none of them comes away unscathed.

There are detailed descriptions of the house and garden in this book which make the place come alive on the pages. The feelings and thoughts of the characters are also extremely well written. The year is 1969, and there are many references to British life in that period which help the reader picture everything from the clothes, to music to food. The history of old English mansions is well researched, as is the artistry of famous painters and sculptors.

This is a twisting and winding tale of love, self-doubt, desire and danger, all written in a simple, easy-read style. It is a compelling read which will leave the readers wishing for more.

Follow Claire on Twitter: @ClaireFuller2

Follow Vasundra on Twitter: @VasundraJay

Saturday 28 July 2018

Writers Meet-Up

Greenacre Writers host a Writers Meet-up for writers who want to get together and write.

Come and join us for Writers Meet-Up in Finchley. 1st Saturday of every month.
Next meeting: Sat 4th August 10.15-Midday, Write for 40mins, have tea, write for 40 mins. Refreshments provided. £3.00 RSVP:

Follow us: @GreenacreWriter

Thursday 19 July 2018

A Conversation With Gail Aldwin

Gail Aldwin is an award-winning writer of short fiction and poetry. As Chair of the Dorset Writers’ Network she supports writers by connecting creative communities. She is a visiting tutor at Arts University Bournemouth and author of Paisley Shirt a collection of short fiction. This collection was long listed in the best short story category of the Saboteur Awards 2018. 

Paisley Shirt is a fascinating collection of twenty-seven stories that reveal the extraordinary nature of people and places. Through a variety of characters and voices, these stories lay bare the human experience and what t is like to live in our world.

"I had my favourites – I thought “Stone” was wonderful, perhaps the shortest but, for someone who reads with the heart as I do, the emotional impact was immense. “Accidental Brother” moved me deeply too – its construction perfect, and a story I’d be happy to see expanded into something a little longer. “Packing” is perhaps the simplest – a list, rather than a ‘story’, but with so much meaning in the content…I’d urge anyone to step outside their comfort zone a little, and take a closer look at short fiction – and if you’re looking for an introduction, I doubt you’ll find much better than this beautiful collection from Gail Aldwin."                - Award-winning book blogger, Being Anne

Thank you to Gail for joining us in conversation. We wish her all good things with the lovely Paisley Shirt and forthcoming novel.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I started as a letter writer. In 1981, l left London to travel overland to Kathmandu on a double decker bus. We were stuck in France for three weeks waiting for visas to be issued so that we could cross Iran and then the adventure began. My mum stored all the letters I wrote in box files and later when I was studying to become a teacher, I used the anecdotes contained in the letters as a basis for short stories. The short stories turned into novels and eventually I began to write about imagined characters and situations. I now write novels, short fiction and poetry. I also co-write comedy sketches.

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

I have important stories to tell about the human qualities of resilience and trust…and I enjoy being in a strong position to share these stories.  

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

I haven’t actively disliked any of my characters but some of their behaviours are appalling. I dig deep to find the vulnerability and frailty that causes my characters to make horrible mistakes. Some of these mistakes can be rectified while others compound to make the character burdened.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

My stories include issues such as domestic violence, alcoholism, homelessness and disability. I aim to create unique characters without stereotyping them.

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

So long as I have a desk, a comfortable chair and a laptop, I’m happy to write anywhere. Sometimes idyllic locations cause more distraction from writing than my little room at home.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

I’d like to write as well as all the authors I admire but keep my own subject matter. There are many influential books so I can’t nail it down to one. My most recently read favourite novel is Out of Africa.

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

Enjoy being part of a writing community through membership of writing groups and links on social media. Share resources and information about competitions and open submission windows. Celebrate your own successes and those of others. Appreciate the intrinsic satisfaction that comes from writing.

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

I’m working on a novel called This Much I Know with a six-year-old narrator called Mikey. He responds to the friendly approaches made by a disabled church member because he is lonely. Mikey’s parents are suspicious of Leonard which leaves Mikey completely confused. The novel explores issues of trust and questions why it is becoming increasing difficult for adults to talk to children without raising concerns.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

At school I was made to read by learning phonics. This became nothing more than hard work and I never saw books as a source of interest. As a result, I didn’t read for pleasure until much later. When I became a teacher, I liked to share books that challenged and engaged children. One of my favourite characters is the protagonist in The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler but I can’t tell you why as that would spoil the surprise.

Follow Gail on Twitter: @gailaldwin

Sunday 15 July 2018

The Devil's Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch

Book review by Greenacre Writer Mumpuni Murniati

In the aftermath of The Panic 1792, Francis Flanagan was found hung in his home. There could be no doubt he’d committed suicide.

Spring 1799. The New York State’s legislature adopted the measure of gradual abolition; every offspring of a slave born after 4th July 1799 was a free person but only after twenty-eight years of ‘apprenticeship’ for males, and twenty-five for female. Twenty-year-old Justice Flanagan returns to New York after four years’ away. Having qualified as an attorney-in-law, he’s come back for a mission and one mission only: to catch his father's murderer.

In 1800 New York’s population is recorded at just over 66,000. Looking at what has become of the former New Amsterdam, the magnitude of the growth of the once-only a large town at the bank of the Hudson river is extremely remarkable. Much of the city’s expansion was largely due to its having been a refuge for fleeing slaves, the irony of the economy built on the bidding wars of human commodity c. Who couldn’t have missed Wall Street - The Devil’s Half Mile?

Against the backdrop of a well-played plot, the modern-time equivalent of gang culture and collusions, Paddy Hirsch yarns upbeat narratives on the impacts of the first financial crisis in American History. He couldn’t have picked a better setting nor a time; the author of Man vs Markets: Economics Explained (Plain & Simple) is an old hand on Wall Street. In the gripping scenes that flow throughout the novel, the complexities of the abolition of slavery is depicted with ease; no sooner has the young lawyer protagonist disembarked the ship than he begins to ruffle some feathers –albeit the wrong ones and dwells further into the labyrinth of corruptions and betrayals of the people he thought would help. Nonetheless, never has he realised the ripple effects of his dropping a pebble or two in the uncharted waters.

In the orphaned son of a stock trader, Hirsch creates a new breed of Irish identity. ‘I doubt any of them [Irish] would have named their son Justice. The Irish tended to name their children after the saints, and names like Justice, Hope and Charity smack of Protestantism…’ It’s a small wonder that his hero was born after Independence with a strong sense of identity about his heritage. During his time away from home, he took part in the bloody summer of 1798 at Kildare; an intriguing aspect whose relevance still rings true to this day. For had Justy lived three centuries later, he would’ve been branded a terrorist and lived in exile.

What’s exciting about historical crime fiction is the stretch of imagination an author has to use in order to recreate circumstances with all the marks of similar struggles happening in today's society. Hirsch’s colourful interpretations of characters from eighteenth-century New York City, allow Justy to cross paths with famous names: The King Of The Alley William Duer, Isaac Whippo, Jacob Hays the New York Marshall and the former Secretary of Treasure, Alexander Hamilton.

Furthermore, his take on the lives claimed and tangled because of the crash and the law are hard hitting. He’s careful with the bits of history he’s chosen to omit, although sometimes this requires filling in the gaps and further reading for readers. The variations of pace in the book are well balanced, whereby he manages to deploy subplots that do not steer away from the hunt of justice but they still catch the reader off guard.

Following Justy’s viewpoint, the readers observe the revealing of hidden conspiracies - brutal and uncompromising. Hirsh ensures his combatant have flaws in many ways; his only uncle for a start is the fearsome The Bull, a don who controls the port and the water ways. Yet, the greater shame is endured in the discovery of his father's significant part in The Panic, and a pawn in William Duer’s Ponzi scheme. In spite of his trying to separate himself from his uncle, Justy's safety relies on The Bull’s mercy. Besides, his inexperienced moves contribute to his digging a deeper hole in the process and the net is closing on him in the hands of the ingenious Kerry O’Toole – an old friend supposedly. Would his mission be accomplished in time?

In the anti-climax of the penultimate chapters, the shadow of slavery hangs like mildew clinging on one’s foot. Hirsh's focus on The Panic and his imaginary of Duer's Ponzi scheme and ‘the Brazil gold’ stocks are applaudable. Nevertheless, there seems to be hesitations to include the important details on the extent of slave trades that become the foundation of shaping Wall Street to its current status. Also, Alexander Hamilton is still a hero that saves the day, whereas his close relationship with Duer tends to be seen as unsavoury.

Be that as it may, this debut crime fiction is one to watch. At any rate the novel is as entertaining as educating and tips the balance of what New York was and is in the face of Western History. No doubt that Hirsch’s warrior will grow much more in his subsequent cases pairing with his half Norwegian sidekick Lars Hokkanssen.

‘Absorbing as it was to learn how Wall Street changed in the wake of the Panic, discovering how New York changed in the same period was even more so. The city was little more than a large town in 1799, when Justy Flanagan stepped off the Netherleigh. What eventually became the Five Points was still a freshwater lake, and the tiny village of Greenwich was surrounded by open fields. But the city would double in size over the next twenty years, straining its capacity, its tolerance and its way of life.’

1446 slaves were recorded in the city in 1810 and 528 in the following decade. On 4th July 1827, all slaves in New York were freed.

Thank you to Corvus for the review copy.

Follow Paddy Hirsch on Twitter: @paddyhirsch

Sunday 1 July 2018

Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae by Stephanie Butland

Review by Greenacre Writer Vasundra Jackison

Ailsa Rae was born with a heart defect and has had to undergo many operations to keep her alive. She knows she is lucky to have lived for 28 years. But now her heart is failing, and she desperately needs a new one. 
It’s only a question of time before I get too weak to survive a transplant, and then it’s a waste of a heart to give it to me.
At the eleventh hour, someone dies, and Ailsa is the fortunate recipient of their heart. Six days after surgery, she opens her eyes to find her mother Hayley at her bedside, smiling through her tears. They have been through a lot together, just the two of them.
I’m here, hen. I’ve been here all the time...You’re safe now. You’ve done it.
Physically, Ailsa recovers well. But emotionally, she finds the day to day “living” like other adults who know what they want, where they want to be and what they plan to do in the future very challenging.
When I was dying I was special and I was protected…When you might be dead the next week, what you’re doing with your life isn’t really an issue.
Now she has to work out what her priorities are, and she has to make decisions. She avoids this by writing a blog and asking her followers to decide for her. She runs a poll regularly, asking her readers to tell her what she should do with her life, which clothes to wear, what words to choose to describe her feelings, and much more.
There are many things that trouble Ailsa. She desperately misses her friend Lennox who died before a new heart could be found for him. She worries about upsetting her mother by moving out and looking for her long-lost biological father. Life shouldn’t be so hard. After all, she is lucky to have “Apple”, the name she has given to her new heart.
I’m alive, thanks to a freak set of circumstances, which includes someone else’s misfortune. And I think of that every day.
Ailsa’s spirits are lifted when she meets Seb Morley, a television star who is recovering from a corneal transplant. He seems to understand her emotional roller coaster rides. Their email exchanges are funny, witty and sweet. However, even their friendship is not without its problems.
There are moments when Ailsa appears to be quite frivolous about the heart that saved her life. And at times she seems too morbid. But these are the ever-changing moods and coping mechanisms that many transplant patients go through. Organ donation saved Ailsa’s life and its importance has not been forgotten. Ailsa reminds us by stating quite simply:
Please when you die, when someone you love dies, help to let someone else live.
Despite all the uncertainties, Ailsa’s story is a happy one filled with hope. The details of her medical treatment are well researched, giving the reader a wonderful insight into the world of transplants in modern day UK. There is humour in this novel, despite the seriousness of the topic, and there is warmth. Overall, this book is enjoyable, engaging and very thought-provoking.

Thanks to Zaffre for the review copy.

Follow Stephanie on Twitter: @under_blue_sky

Follow Vasundra on Twitter: @vasundrajay

Monday 25 June 2018

A Conversation With Katy Massey

Katy Massey grew up in Leeds in the 1970s and early 1980s before attending boarding school in North Yorkshire. After university, she moved to London and eventually worked as a freelance financial journalist, writing short fiction and memoir in her spare time. In her late 30s she returned to education, a journey which culminated in a self-funded PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Newcastle in 2010. The PhD allowed her write her own family’s complicated story, while researching memoir and discovering why the lives of some groups of people are much less likely to be recorded, and lauded, than others.

So now, alongside her own writing, she organises and raises funding for writing workshops and publishing projects which aim to give marginalised or ignored people a voice. These have included Tangled Roots – a unique anthology of memoir by more than 30 members of mixed race families, which also included a live literature tour and portraiture exhibition. ‘Who are we now? is a collection of memoir responses to the Brexit referendum and a post-European future a free download is available on the website. Recently, a piece of Katy’s autobiographical work has was accepted by Unbound publishers for the Kit De Waal’s edited collection Common People. She is also working on The Cleansing, a novel imagining post-Grenfell London after a large-scale attack.

The phenomenal growth of the the UK’s mixed population is one of the most significant social trends of the 21st century. Yet precisely how this social revolution has occurred remains something of a mystery. So Tangled Roots asked five leading writers – Diana Evans, Bernardine Evaristo MBE, Sarfraz Manzoor, Hannah Lowe and Charlotte Williams -  along with 25 writers from UK mixed families to write about their lives. The result is a shockingly honest, funny and heart-breaking collection of memoirs which reveal the human stories behind the massive success of ‘mixed Britannia’.

Greenacre Writers is very pleased to welcome Jayne Saul Paterson and Katy Massey in converstion. Jayne devised the questions for Katy to answer. We wish Katy every success with this very important and needed text.

What was your primary motive for bringing the stories of mixed raced writers together into the book Tangled Roots?

I had the idea from talking to friends that mixed people (as well as those who grow up in mixed families or have parented one) had many experiences in common, but I couldn’t find a book that described these shared experiences. I then went back to university to study for a PhD in memoir and autobiography, and I found that this is because there are very few accounts of mixed lives published within these genres. So, I decided to bring as many real-life stories together as I could in a single anthology, so that current and future generations can better understand, and gain an historical perspective of, their experiences. The result is Tangled Roots. It is an unusual anthology with its historical pictures and mix of work by both renown authors and amateur writers. This is because I wanted the book to reflect the resilience and diversity of the UK’s mixed population as closely as possible.

The book was published in 2015, what sort of reactions and responses have you had to the book ?

The response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive, with many readers telling me that though they found all the stories interesting, there are one or two that resonated particularly deeply for them. I am always happy to hear this!

One of the mixed race writers, struggles outside of writing to describe herself in racial terms, and this is a theme for many of us, including the need to authenticate or align ourselves with our ‘blackness’; - do you think it is important for mixed race individuals to choose their own ways of describing themselves, rather than accept typical labels given to them and to embrace their individuality and why do you think writing is an important medium for this?

I think it is important for mixed people to do what they want to, and to resist pressure to do, or say, or identify with anything which does not feel authentic to them. One important factor informing Tangled Rootsis the sheer range and diversity of mixed people and how people choose to self-define. For some this is a racial description – they are Nigerian-British, or Anglo-Indian for others it is a metaphor, like Robert Ippolito’s piece where he sees himself as a ‘bridge’ between his various racial, geographical and cultural influences. I think writing could be important because it allows exactly this sort of imaginative leap – but there are visual artists producing mixed race art too. In fact, across the arts there are many writers, performers, and makers who ponder the limits of assigned identity and the possibilities of creating new ones. I see Tangled Rootsas contributing to that stream of thought.  
In your introduction to the book, subtitled ‘Tinting the gene pool’ you talk about how the writers of the book, ‘insist on their notion of here-ness, the situated-ness of their lives’ – why do you think this is important in the current social and political climate of modern day Britain? 

Part of the point of Tangled Roots is to record how well-established mixed people and mixed relationships are within British society. Areas of the UK such as Tiger Bay in Cardiff, or parts of Liverpool and Bristol have been mixed for hundreds of years. We are not a sudden phenomenon. Though we are now the fastest growing ethnic group in the country, this has come from a long history: of resilience on the part of minority populations, and increasing tolerance in the majority population, a combination of factors which have developed over centuries, and demonstrated in political and legal human rights legislation over the past 50 years. This is a proud history that current populist and right-wing strands of political thought seek to erase or ignore. Instead, they favour peddling an anti-immigrant, anti-other narratives of ‘arrival’ and ‘take over’ which is designed to stoke fear and resentment, and is in danger of damaging the carefully woven fabric of British society.

In a previous interview you mention how you are ‘tired of all the angst and stress coming from editors and publishers in the industry as well as the characters in … books. We have a sense of humour too!’ Can you mention a few of the writers in the book who really bring out this sense of humour in writing their own stories.

All of the pieces in Tangled Rootstreat the idea of different races inter-marrying and having intimate relationships as a completely normal, everyday experience, even when the community surrounding the couple or the mixed person disapproves. This is important, as anxieties about racial mixing are still bubbling away under the surface of our society, and mixed characters in fiction are still often portrayed as confused outcasts, leading to the ‘angst’ I refer to above. A sense of humour is a personal, subject thing, but for me, I am always looking for a sideways, ironic way of looking at the world in the writing I enjoy. I would refer readers to Robert’s piece mentioned above, but also ‘American Coat’ and ‘Auntie’. with a lightness of touch which is rare in mainstream publishing. 

Apart from the writers who feature in the book, which other writers from a mixed race background, would you recommend either in the UK or from outside the UK? 

I can only comment on the UK literary scene, I’m afraid, and the renown authors in Tangled Rootswere chosen precisely because there are so few writers of mixed heritage covering this ground. In fact writers of non-mixed heritage writing about mixture would be fantastic too! It is important not to confuse a writer’s biographical information with their work – which may take on quite different subject matter. The story of mixture belongs not only to mixed people but their parents and friends and family too – who may be ‘mono-cultural’.
Outside of the writers featured in Tangled Roots, there is of course, Andrea Levy, much of whose oeuvre explores the experience of Caribbean settlement and integration in the UK. And Dorothy Koomson, another of the few regularly published female novelists of colour in the UK, writes popular novels which feature multi-racial casts of characters (The Ice Cream Girlswas adapted into a TV drama) though she is not mixed-race herself as far as I know. And I am sure your readers know the work of Zadie Smith – and if you have previously stuck to her novels, I recommend her essays, which are particularly acute. 

So, although they are featured in Tangled Roots, I would say the best place for readers to start would be the work of Hannah Lowe (particularly her poetry collections and Long Time No See, her memoir) and Diana Evans’ 26a– a masterful study of a mixed family in London in the 1970s and 1980s. Similarly, if readers are unfamiliar with the books written by Bernardine Evaristo, her novel Blonde Rootshas exactly the quirky sense of humour I refer to in the quote above and which is so rare in this field. 

Thanks to Katy for the review copy.

You can follow Katy on Twitter: @TangledRoots1

You can follow Jayne on Twitter: @doorswillopen