Tuesday 24 April 2018

A conversation with Mary Lynn Bracht

 Mary Lynn Bracht completed an MA in Creative Writing at Birbeck, University of London. An American author of Korean descent living in London, she grew up in a large expat community of women who came of age in post-war South Korea.

In 2002 Bracht visited her mother’s childhood village, and it was during this trip she first learned of the “comfort women”.

White Chrysanthemum is her first novel and has earned Bracht a place on The Guardian’s list of new faces of fiction 2018.

Bracht has fashioned her own memorial to the comfort women. White Chrysanthemum is a timely and furiously felt book” The Guardian.

White Chrysanthemum is the story of two sisters, Hana and Emi. Hana’s narrative tells of her captivity during 1943 while Korea is still under occupation of the Japanese while Emi’s story is set in 2011 and gives a reflective account of her life and how it has been affected by war and the separation from her sister.

It is a harrowing piece of history told with honesty and passion and provides an emotional and gripping read. A full review is available here.

Thank you Mary for taking part in our conversation and we wish you every success with White Chrysanthemum it is a super novel.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I was twenty-nine years old before I allowed myself to commit to becoming a writer. At the time, I was looking back on my nearly thirty years of life deciding what I wanted to do with the next thirty years, and I thought the one thing I would regret if I never tried was to become a writer. So, I gave myself permission to take the time to write. That meant accepting that my financial life would be difficult (probably forever), that it might take years or decades to succeed, and that it might never happen. I took my first writing class, a novel writing course in Dallas, and after three terms, wrote my first novel. It took many more stories, novels and years before I finally wrote White Chrysanthemum, but it began with giving myself time and permission to write.

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

I see my role as a storyteller. In early human history, storytelling was an oral tradition that passed knowledge from one generation to the next. It was our way of remembering the past and understanding the world around us, while being entertained. Today, this storytelling tradition continues in many forms, but as novelists, the pace of reading allows the human mind to slow down and truly live through the stories written on the page, where a lifetime can feel like a lifetime and a cliff-hanger can keep you up well past bedtime.

I like most that the novel can transcend social and physical boundaries, often reaching far flung places of the world through translation. It is a privilege for me to have this opportunity to share my story with people in my own city, as well as those on the other side of the the world.

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

Yes, definitely. I think every villain, if written well, has a side that we empathise with, whether it’s a tragic childhood, chronic misunderstanding, or simply ill-judged motivations. In White Chrysanthemum, Morimoto is the ultimate villain, but he too has his own story of loss, which gives insight into his motivations.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

Growing up in a military town with a multi-ethnic community of people from all over the world, writing diverse characters comes naturally to me. In my novel, I write about Koreans, Mongolians, Japanese and Soviets.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

When I was a girl, I fell in love with Eeyore because he was beautifully flawed. I think it was his blue point-of-view that made him so loveable.

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

I would want to be on an empty stretch of sandy beach, listening to the waves as they crash upon the shore and feeling the warmth of the sand beneath my bare feet. I live in London, and right now it is cold and wet. I’m desperate for some sun!

What is the one book you wish you had written?

I wish I had written The Power by Naomi Alderman. She successfully flips misogyny on its head to reveal the real-life suffering of women currently happening all over the world through a fresh perspective.

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

If it is your dream to become a writer, then read as much as you can, write as much as you can, and never give up. And join a writing group ASAP! Joining the writing group at my local library helped me find great critics for my work, as well as friends who understand the pursuit of what can often be a lonely dream.

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

I’m currently working on a novel and hope to have it written before the year’s end. It’s about the bond between a mother and her daughter, tested over tragic events

You can follow Mary Lynn Bracht on Twitter: @marylynnbracht

Thursday 19 April 2018

Kill Me Twice by Simon Booker

Book review by Greenacre Writer Mumpuni Murniati

From HMP Dungeness Anjelica Fry protests her innocence: she didn’t kill the father of her baby – Karl Savage. Neither did she set his Dalston flat on fire. But all the evidence points at her.

Two years after her daughter Lissa went missing, Morgan Vine takes on a case that is riddled with depravity and vindictiveness. In the wake of her best-selling book on a miscarriage of justice, the kick-ass investigative journalist is in two minds whether to trust Anjelica, but is piqued by minutiae details in her account of events. Little does she realise that the case still has a touch of Lissa in it - but only darker.

In the second instalment of a Morgan Vine Thriller, Kill Me Twice ‘whips’ its readers up from the onset - opening with an attack on a mother and daughter who are having a walk round a cliff. He gets better; having moved on from filling in readers with lengthy prose about his heroine’s background, he instead feeds them with drip-narratives concerning the depth of Lissa’s involvement in her mother’s case.

Meanwhile, Morgan needs to explore all avenues to confirm that Anjelica’s has indeed been framed for murder and Savage is in fact a dead man walking. Although the police found his body and Savage was identified by his dental record. Traces of liquid in the empty petrol canister found in Anjelica’s car is the same as the one retrieved from Savage’s burnt-down flat. And her DNA is on a certain Spaniard brand of matches found at the crime scene.

Booker is curt and furious in depicting Savage 'the demise'; in interspersing chapters Booker paints the making of a sociopath in him. Yet he also portrays the still fragile Morgan living in the long shadow of her teen trauma and her struggle as a single mother.

An old hand in dealing with suspense, Booker’s balancing act for vicious twists and keeping the lid tightly screwed on until the penultimate ending, is outstanding. His adrenaline-pumping narratives follow the topsy-turvy turn of events through Morgan’s viewpoint in another extraordinary cliffhanger encore. Also, despite being a pantser in her investigation, Morgan then emerges as Savage’s Nemesis.

The Whistler is a regular fixture these days. Weekends only. Seemed an OK bloke, at first. Cooked a nice beef stew, brought it down to the cellar. Watched Karl eat every morsel.


-Not bad. Thanks.

A grin.

-You know it was dog food, right?


-Yeah. And stop snivelling. Boys don’t cry. Your dad sounds like a right poof. We’ve got to toughen you up, kiddo. You need to learn to take a joke.

Karl shudders, trying to banish the memory of the dog food.

He’s doing his best to forget the game too. The one The Whistler makes him play when he comes down into the cellar at night, while he’s sleeping.

-Our special game.

Another shudder.

Kill Me Twice can easily tick all boxes for a perfect crime perusal; Booker’s plot is watertight and his plain but striking words are effective. The crisscrossing of characters is smartly done but not over the top; his minor characters fit well like the cogs running smoothly in an engine with their distinguished voices.

One thing.

The risk-calculated Savage, being brought forward gradually, a survivor of systematic child abuse who manages to break free and end the tortures. No doubt his terrible experiences have hardened him added to what Anjelica has recalled to Morgan as his abandonment issues. On the surface nonetheless he’s imbued with an unusual charm that draws women into his trap.

On the one hand, Booker has created a sound killer with an extreme anger about his past that lingers. Savage’s gruesome acts are plausible, enforcing the adage that violence bears greater violence. Besides, the variations of Savage’s characters spread in many crime novels. On the other hand, would every orphan with a cruel mother end as a murderer? If anything, there is Oliver Twist, Anne of Green Gables and Harry Potter, too.

How different would it be had Karl Savage been a spoilt upper-class child like Holden Caufield? How had his interest in older women evolved - like Morgan - and his entrapment for her? Perhaps in crime fiction, however, the pull towards the likes of Hannibal and Lord Voldermort are inevitable. Alas, it’s a disappointment. Once more, the known stereotype -the messed-up orphan- is being reinforced.

Be that as it may, the curtains fall leaving Morgan to ponder over her biggest dilemma of how she can keep Lissa.

Thank you to Simon Booker for the review copy.

Follow Simon on Twitter: @simonbooker

Monday 2 April 2018

How to Measure a Cow by Margaret Forster

Review by Greenacre Writer Vasundra Jackison

Tara Fraser has committed a serious crime and paid the price for it. After eleven years in prison, she is finally free to start all over again. But she has to move away from London.

London was full of weird people. Once, that had been part of the thrill of living here, but not now. Where should she go?

Randomly, she chooses a small town near the sea in Cumbria. The authorities help her find a small terraced house and a factory job where she can hide away from prying eyes. It will be a dreary life, but she is determined to live it quietly and privately; very different from before. She has a new name: Sarah Scott. She will stay in the background, talk to no one and keep to herself.

She was aware that in trying so hard to be anonymous she was presenting herself as odd, a strange, nervous, bland woman.

Her elderly neighbour, Nancy, is extremely curious about her. She watches her every move from behind her curtains. She can see her through the open curtain in the bedroom. She knows exactly what time she leaves for work, how long she is away and how still she is when she lies on her back in bed.

This woman entered her house in the dark and put no lights on for a full ten minutes or more. How did she manage to see her way round?

Tara does not want to make any friends. Even her old school friends are dead to her. They had let her down when she needed them most. But when she receives a letter from one of them inviting her to a reunion, she is tempted to go, just for the “possibility of relishing someone else’s guilt or remorse.”

Tara is under no illusions about her own faults. “I’m full of lies, and I’m sorry,” she tells Nancy on one occasion. She knows she has a temper and can lash out. Her foster parents had tried to give her all the love and attention she needed. But she had been a difficult child and a very problematic adolescent. Her friends’ parents thought she was a bad influence and could not understand why children were drawn to her, wanting to follow her.

She’d had time even before she became Sarah, during all those years of reflection, to realise she had always been a dangerous person.

Tara does not really like Nancy’s company, but she realises there are times when she needs her. This is usually when she wants something from her. She likes the fact that Nancy does not “prod and poke and drag out any history.” But several times, she hurts Nancy’s feelings.

Nancy worried that Sarah had been mocking her. Had she been trying to suppress laughter? But there was nothing funny about measuring a cow.

The two of them develop a strange relationship, though it cannot be called a friendship. Nancy comes to the “conclusion that Sarah had some sort of fence around her. No, she didn’t mean fence, not a real fence obviously, but a barrier of some kind which gave off a Do not approach me signal.”

The time soon comes when Tara realises she need to return to her old life and face the people she has left behind. It is going to be difficult, but she has to try.

It was like trying to leap over a huge crack in the ground, beneath which a stream of memory raged. There was no bridge, the jump had to be made, and once made she would be safe, in new country.

But will she really be safe? And will people around her be safe? This is what the reader will wonder about, because Tara’s character is so complex. She is difficult to befriend and even more difficult to live with. She needs help, but it is not easy to help her. The story is quite disturbing from many points of view. But it is fascinating too. The author keeps us guessing about the crime Tara has committed, and when we find out, it is quite a shock. The book is unsettling, but it is hard to put down. A compelling read, written beautifully by an accomplished author.