Thursday, 17 November 2016

Writing Friendships

Writing Friendships took place at City University, last night and was introduced by Novel Studio tutors Emily Midorikawa and Emma Sweeney. As long-time friends who have supported each other's careers from the beginning, authors Emily and Emma know just how important building strong links with other writers can be.

They were joined by novelist Susan Barker, novelist and non-fiction writer Ann Morgan, and poet Denise Saul.

From LtoR: Emily Midorikawa, Emma Sweeney, Susan Baker, Denise Saul and
Ann Morgan  

The evening started with Ann Morgan who spoke about the ideas behind writing A Year of Reading the World. This started when Ann decided to read a book from every country in the world within a year and recorded this journey on the blog. The problems were many and and when she got to Burundi, the chances of finding a book that had been translated into to English were looking remotely slim. She turned to the refugee community and sent out some emails. She had an email from Edouard. He told of his old classmate from Burundi who had published two novels in English. Her name was Marie-Thérèse Toyi. She had lived through the Burundi genocide and relayed this through her fictional characters in Weep Not, Refugee. Ann also told us about the novelist Hamid Ismailov, Uzbek journalist, who was put on a watch hit list and whose books were burnt in the street. He and his family fled Uzbekistan to Switzerland. He explained after he fled he was removed from his audience. He had no one to write for and had to deal with the pain of being exiled from his language. Marie-Thérèse and Hamid were two of the big writing relationships from the book and Ann is still in touch with them today. She also said that whatever challenges we have, we all have barriers - confronting those barriers is very important and at the moment we still have freedom of speech and that we must fight to preserve that.

Next up was Susan Barker who told us about her non-writer writing friendship with Liang Junhong, in Shanghai. Susan had gone there to do research for a novel. She met Arts Officer, Liang at the British Council in 2007. She helped Susan find somewhere to live and also with the everyday things like joining a library, or speaking to electricians - though she couldn't help with the smog, Susan had gone to Shanghai to immerse herself in the culture and history but more often than not found herself locked in her room searching Shanghai on the Internet. Liang dragged her out and she learnt a lot through her. Susan found the transition from the UK to China difficult, the language in particular and without Liang's support she wondered if she would have coped. The research eventually became her third novel The Incarnations (Doubleday, July 2014) about a taxi driver in contemporary Beijing and interwoven with tales from the Tang Dynasty, the invasion of Genghis Khan, the Ming Dynasty, the Opium War, and the Cultural Revolution.

Poet Denise Saul spoke about her writing relationship with the charity Connect and how through her personal experience of aphasia, her late mother had a stroke, she created the videopoem: The Aphasic Mind. She went on to found the project Silent Room: A Journey of Language. This was a collaboration between Denise and film-maker, Helmie Stil. Aphasia is a communication disability which occurs when the language centres of the brain are damaged. The video poem focuses on language from the perspective of ‘the outsider’ or those who engage with an aphasic individual. Denise wanted to break down barriers in her writing and enter into new spaces, the carer's narrative and the disabled black body to bridge the gap and settle in those spaces. Denise said that everyone should be able to communicate and that it is important to explore other spaces as well as other disciplines. She added that she didn't really know what friendship was, it was slippery to her. She spoke more about the friendship of pleasure, of utility and virtue and that for her it was often about utility. Her top five tips for friendship included: creating and occupying new spaces; networking; accountability - she liked it when friends asked if she had finished a poem or collection, it kept her on her toes; collaboration - don't be afraid to cross boundaries; and sharing space.

Finally Emily Midorikawa  spoke about how she and Emily Sweeney had met in 2001 in a remote part of Japan. It was quite sometime after they met that they finally admitted they were both writing. They then began to post each other letters of writing and anxiously wait for feedback. Emily spoke of how literary friendships are important for writers. They began to discuss other writing relationships and realised the well-known writers were often about men Shelley and Byron, Wordsworth and Coleridge for example. They wondered if Charlotte Bronte had a writer friend apart from family members or Virginia Woolf in the male dominated Bloomsbury Set. They discovered there were female friendships but they hadn't been mythologised in the same way as the men. Emma and Emily went from friends who had something in common to actively working together both as tutors, and collaborators on a project. They created the blog Something Rhymed. This celebration of female literary friendship includes past authors as well as contemporary writers. From the blog came their forthcoming book: A Secret Sisterhood, which will look at the literary bonds between Jane Austen and amateur playwright, Anne Sharp; Charlotte Brontë and feminist author, Mary Taylor; George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe; and Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield.

A Secret Sisterhood will be published, by Aurum Press in the UK and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the USA, in late 2017. The year coincides with the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death.

The panel shared their own experiences of literary friendship and offering practical advice for new and experienced writers on ways in which they can forge and develop meaningful writing relationships of their own.

As the event came to a close and myself and Lindsay, my writing friend made our way home, I reflected on our literary friendship...

Monday, 12 September 2016

Butterfly fish by Irenosen Okojie

It's funny how the very things that once irritated you about a person were the things you missed most when they were gone. Like phone calls held together by an invisible current, or rummaging through markets because we were two creased people who needed steam ironing. Lately I tried to fill the silences with... anything.

When Butterfly Fish begins, London photographer, Joy struggles to pull the threads of her life back together after the sudden death of Queenie, her mother. She has never known her father.

She receives some support from her kind but mysterious neighbor, Mrs Harris who is more than a little odd.

The first time I met Mrs Harris, she’d told me she was certain that Buddy, her garden statue Buddha, had been eating her roses.

But it is Mrs Harris, who saves Joy’s life when she tries to commit suicide and ends up in hospital. Soon after, Joy receives an unexpected inheritance from her mother: a huge sum of money she knew nothing about, her grandfather’s diary and a unique brass warrior’s head from the nineteenth century kingdom of Benin. Joy doesn’t take much interest in the artefacts, she's grieving.

The bus finally arrived in Whitechapel. I pressed the stop button and hopped off, relieved at making it through a plethora of sweaty bodies. The streets were bursting, people swarming this way and that. I wondered who of them had lost their mothers, whose chests were now holes filled with the fragments of memories. There are certain lies you tell yourself to stumble blindly through the bereavement. After the reality cracks you in two, you tell yourself that things will be okay. That time will erode the numbness away...

Joy will eventually search for the origins of the head which moves the narrative backwards and forwards in time; from contemporary London to 19th century Benin and the story of Adeusa, who is forced into becoming a wife of the king. Back again to 1970s London, for Queenie’s story and further back to 1950s Lagos, through the diary of Peter Lowon, Queenie’s father, who is in the Nigerian army.

In 19th century Benin, a special event is being held at the palace, where all the young women have to bring a dish they have prepared, and the king will make his choice of a new bride from the maker of the best dish. Adesua, still young, persuades Emeka, the local tailor, to give her some special material so she has something to wear to the palace. Suddenly, she sees a monkey that jumps on her back, grabbing her hair, scratching her face and neck and drawing blood.

She raised her palm in defence but it shot its head forward and bit her finger. By the time Emeka and a few others reached her, she lay in a heap; there was no hair on the ground, no marks on her body, and no blood…It was a sign of things to come.

Back in modern-day London, Joy is haunted by a woman, who at first appears in the street or in photographs and signally the slow deterioration of Joy's mental health and descent into madness. When she goes swimming, a silver and purple fish appears in the water.

The fish stared at me; inside its filmy eye shuttered a mini camera lens. A crowd gathered around us. The fish's mouth opened repeatedly. it trembled, then heaved and a worn, brass key slick with gut slime fell out of its mouth into my hand.

Although dead, Queenie’s life is skillfully interwoven into the narrative. How she moved to London in the 1960s is pivotal to the story: the life she left in Nigeria and eventually the story of Joy’s conception.

Dark family secrets come to light as Joy unearths the ties between her mother, grandfather, the wife of the king, and the brass head’s pivotal connection to them all.

A spiritual successor to the tales of Marquez, Butterfly Fish masterfully combines elements of traditional Nigerian storytelling and magical realism with the London immigrant and black British multigenerational take of the legacy of inheritance.

At times I found it difficult to know what was real and what was not. This was because of the magical realism and stream of consciousness descent into madness, but that is not to say it isn’t enjoyable. It is. It's extremely well done and more a case of the reader letting go and going with the flow of the narrative. Haunting and compelling, Butterfly Fish is a powerfully told story of love and hope, of family secrets, power, political upheaval, loss and coming undone. The Benin scenes are particularly breathtaking. It is a story of epic proportions, skillfully held together by Irenosen Okojie, an author to watch out for in the future.

Irenosen Okojie is a Nigerian-British writer and Arts Project Manager. Her debut novel Butterfly Fish won a Betty Trask Award in 2016 and she was selected by Ben Okri as an emerging writer to watch during the London Short Story Festival 2015. Her writing has been featured in the Guardian and the Observer and her short stories have been published internationally, including Kwani 07 and Phatitude. Speak Gigantular is her new collection of short stories due for publication 15th September.

Butterfly Fish (2015) is published by Jacaranda Books

You can follow Irenosen on Twitter: @IrenosenOkojie

Monday, 11 July 2016

Truly Scrumptious Joanna Campbell

In 2015, Joanna's story, Upshots, was announced the winner of the London Short Story Prize. It was after we saw this announcement that myself, Lindsay and Carol, all thought Joanna would be perfect as the judge for the Greenacre Writers/FLF short story competition. There followed a hilarious searching of google maps to find out where she lived, and if it was near, enough, to Finchley. Google maps told me Joanna’s home town was near Woking, so not too far then. The reality was somewhat further, much further away! Anyway lucky for us, Joanna agreed to travel to Finchley, with a little bit of help from her husband.

The delightful and friendly Joanna Campbell, was our judge for the FLF & Greenacre Writers short story competition.

James Woolf, 2nd Prize, reading his short story
You can read the winning stories here.

Joanna started off by announcing the first, second and third prizes for the competition. James Woolf who won second prize attended the festival and read his short story, The Wondwossi Hotel.

She also gave a presentation about her writing career, her experiences of living in Germany, which sowed the seeds for her novel and her thoughts about the power of the short story.

'Nothing can be empty of meaning or irrelevant in a short story. It may not always need a plot, but it must have a point.'

Joanna discussed a variety of research methods, which included purchasing communist chocolate bars (all in the interests of thorough research of course), and the stretching of the imagination beyond the usual limits of knowledge and experience. When talking about character she said:

'Often the characters have little to gain, but everything to lose. Any topic, any revelation, any shock or shedding of skin, is fair game for a short story. It’s a raw, intense moment, so make the reader gasp, panic, laugh, weep.'

She cleverly likened the short story to fish:

'Where a novel is a shoal on a mission, the short story is a single fish, close to the surface of the sea. Its appearance is fleeting, a bright flash before it vanishes into deep water. But for that moment, its delicate scales, its streamlined shape, are clearly defined. It doesn’t make waves and it passes in silence, but we have no doubt we have seen it.'

There were some wonderful references to famous writers including:

'According to Frank O'Connor, in a novel the crisis is the destination, the plausible outcome of all the foregoing action. In short fiction, the crisis is the story.'

She spoke about editing:

By the time you have written a story—honed it, then added a word, deleted it, then put it back in (twenty times over), polished the thing, put it away, taken it out, printed it, read it aloud, paced the room declaring it the worst bilge ever to grace a perfectly good piece of paper—you have strayed a long, long way from your own self. And you have done this not to escape from life, but to make it more fathomable, more bearable. You have created other, imperfect people who struggle from minute to minute.

And the whole thing:

'You have made a world detached from you, a world which stands alone, able to exist in isolation. And therefore, although you have made fiction, you have also made truth.'

Joanna spoke about how shyness meant she would lock herself away, perfect for writers to get on with the important stuff of writing but not always so good for the writer. It was good to be reminded that characters must be allowed to take the lead:

Joanna was pleased to meet up with Antonia Honeywell
'Too much confidence can be risky for writers. You must allow yourself to get things wrong. You make progress by recognising mistakes. Your characters should be allowed to take you by surprise and yell, ‘you’re barking up the wrong tree here’.'

And continuing to talk about writing confidence said:

'Perhaps writers possess a different kind of confidence. Not the outward kind, but something entrenched inside, borne perhaps from experience, from childhood, from suffering. The East German novelist, Christa Wolf, talked of how “a deep pain or a deep concentration lights up the landscape within.”'

Joanna read from her collection of short stories, When Planets Slip Their Tracks and an extract from her novel, Tying Down the Lion. We were delighted a few days later to discover that When Planets Slip Their Tracks had been shortlisted for The Rubery Book Award.)

Tying Down the Lion, Joanna's debut novel, is published by Brick Lane and was long-listed for The Guardian's Not the Booker prize 2015. When Planets Slip Their Tracks, published by Ink Tears, is Joanna's collection of prize-winning stories.
Her prizewinning stories have been published in many magazines, Mslexia, The Lampeter Review and The New Writer. She has been shortlisted many times for the Bridport Prize, the Fish Prize and the Flannery O'Connor Award. In 2013 she came second in the William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen International Short Story Competition and won the local prize in the Bath Short Story Award. She has been published in many anthologies, has a novel published and a short story collection which we will hear more about later. It was our great honour to welcome Joanna Campbell and give her our thanks for being our judge and such an excellent speaker. We shan't forget this lovely day.

Follow Joanna on Twitter: @PygmyProse

Saturday, 2 July 2016

A Memorable event - Harry Parker talks about Anatomy of a Soldier

Last Friday, the day of the Finchley Literary Festival, I awoke to a text from my daughter to tell me that the UK had voted to leave the EU. I thought she was joking. I couldn't really take it in as I'd overslept and had to rush up to Finchley High Road, to collect cheques for the short story competition winners. I'm only now beginning to understand the awful consequences of that vote. But on the day, I had no time to think as we had a festival to run.

Having collected the cheques, I ran home, grabbed cat food on the way, and suddenly heard somebody call my name. It was Carol Sampson, on her way to mine. I jumped in the car and was home in two minutes. No sooner had we arrived, than there was a knock on the door, and it was Lindsay Bamfield. We set off and picked up Mr Greenacres, on our way to the library for the FLF second event. We had to get out of the car, empty it of its contents so Mr Greenacres, could re-pack his equipment. Many moons ago, he used to play in a band so is very good at packing and stacking stuff in other people's cars or vans.
Harry Parker with his book
Anatomy of a Soldier

At Church End Library, we were greeted by the new library manager, Richard. And soon our first author for the second event arrived, Harry Parker, to talk to Carol about his novel Anatomy of a Soldier.

To find out more about the first event and the lit fest from Lindsay's perspective, see here.

Harry spoke about the inspiration for the novel, his own experiences in the army in Afghanistan and Iraq. 'Nothing good comes out of war. I came back to a country that looked after me and that gave me hope.' [Our wonderful NHS always deserve a plug]

Anatomy of a Soldier tells the story of Capt Tom Barnes and his near death encounter with a landmine. The story is told from the viewpoints of 45 objects – helmet, bicycle, dog tags, rifle round, rug, medical instruments, handbag, medal, snowflake, drone – before, during and after the explosion.

While writing the book, he was thinking about chapters being blown up in the air and falling in any order, mimicking the disorientation that a soldier goes through. Part of the disorientation for Harry meant working out what each object was. Soldiers can often feel a bit like an object so he tried to make the objects solve problems - joining the army is all about solving problems. Harry loved the way the objects could move in a different way to humans. Move through a country and could even rot and die. His first reading was from the perspective of an infection:

I was inside your leg, deep among flesh that was torn and churned. I lived there for a week and wanted to take root, but it wasn't easy. Some of my spores were washed away with the dirt from your wounds, others were cut out with necrotic tissue, and some were destroyed by a barrage of your white blood cells.
   I struggled to survive.

After recovering, learning how to walk again, and returning to work, he had a desk job filling in spreadsheets, but all the while he was thinking about the book that was a'growing in his imagination. Eventually, he quit his job and the army. When soldiers leave, they are offered some sort of course to help them on their way. Harry asked if he could do a writing course. He was told they had never been asked for that before but they agreed. Harry went to Arvon. When he came back he wrote the Anatomy of a Soldier in twelve weeks, though it was a few years before it was published.

Carol Sampson interviewing
Harry Parker
In writing Anatomy of a Soldier, Harry says, ‘I set myself rules. The objects don’t have emotion, they can’t speak. There were rules along the lines of, they can only know what someone is thinking if they are touching them. The rules don’t really matter for the reader but they mattered for me as a writer to keep a structure.’

Before the book was published, he shared the script with his father, who is a General, he gave his approval and told Harry to go ahead and put it out into the world.

Harry was asked by a member of the audience whether the accident had made him a writer.

Harry said: 'I would have still been in the army and feel lucky to be here,' and he supposed, yes it had contributed to him becoming a writer. However, his background is as a creative, he was an artist, and recently completed a postgraduate course in fine art. So one must presume his army experience would have found its way onto the page in some form or other.

When he was in hospital recovering from the explosion, he was told, when you're better you'll treasure every day. Harry didn't believe the person who told him that at the time. And at that very moment, Harry's baby daughter, Sophie, who was in the audience, started gurgling. It was very apt, because of course his beautiful daughter is all about hope and the future.

Harry Parker grew up in Wiltshire. He was educated at Falmouth College of Art and University College London. He joined the British Army when he was 23 and served in Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan in 2009 as a Captain. He is now a writer and artist and lives in London with his wife and daughter.

Anatomy of a Soldier is published by: Faber and Faber

You can follow Harry on Twitter: @harrybparker

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Book Spine Poetry

 My first attempt at Book Spine Poetry

An Unquiet Mind
Once in a house on fire,
when we were orphans,
the girl with all the gifts,
the sea house.

And my second attempt, you can see the book pile has grown as has my obsession...

The Gap of Time

The hundred year old man
borrowed body.
A second life;
shadow baby.

Hidden lives,
hideous kinky,

The girl with the dragon tattoo,
the child that books built.
Emotionally weird,
troubling love,
nobody's child.

Marianne dreams -
I know why the caged bird sings:
Why be happy when you could be normal.
Dancing on the outskirts,
not the end of the world.

If nobody speaks of remarkable things...
But we all shine on:
the brightness of stars.

Inspired by Poppy Peacock Pens #BookBlogger I have messed up my book shelves and have a huge pile of books on the floor having a go at this meme Book Spine Poetry. 

I think mine could be linked to the PhD novel, Hiraeth about a sixteen year old care leaver weaving her way through the hurricane of life. 

Do let me know if you have a go either in the comments below or via Twitter: @rosie_canning

Friday, 10 June 2016

Finchley in Fiction Part Four

When we started the festival five years ago, we thought there was hardly any literature in Finchley. It was a dry barren place and if you wanted a bit of culture, you had to travel. Now it seems everyone wants to put on literary events in and around Finchley. As Lindsay Bamfield, points out: "Barnet libraries have two weeks of special literary events in February and the Middlesex University lit fest is now held in nearby Hendon during March. But we were the first lit fest in the borough!" And now St Jude's, Hampstead Garden Suburb, also has literary events alongside their Proms.

It's not just literature in Finchley, writers too are including Finchley in their novels. I first wrote about this phenomenon just before last year's festival. Starting with some of our 18th and 19th Century writers such as: Charles Dickens,
and H.G. Wells, in Part I.

Part II saw the 20th Century as well as some of our more contemporary writers: Peter Sellers, John Betjeman, Spike Milligan, Ben Elton, Caitlin Davies, 
Will Self, Mark Billingham, and Kate Atkinson.

By that time, people were starting to contact me about other Finchley mentions and so this saw us going backwards and forwards in time for Part III with Doctor Who, Howard Jacobson, Don Tracy, H.B. Fyfe, Pam Coiley as well as mentions in film and song.

And now a few more:

In John Steinbeck's, Once There Was A War (1958), a wee old English woman, discovered on the Isle of Capri is described, “She was dressed in decent and aging black. She never had made the slightest concession to Italy. Her costume would have done her honor and protected her from scandal in Finchley.”

In Sarah Hilary's, Someone Else's Skin (2014), there are 28 mentions of Finchley!
Someone Else's Skin, is winner of the Theakston's 2015 Crime Novel of the Year, and a 2014 Richard and Judy Book Club pick.
It seems that Finchley is becoming something of a celebrity. West and North Finchley get a mention in Career of Evil (2015), the third novel in the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling.

We'll be choosing excerpts from some of these books for the forthcoming Finchley Literary Festival, Finchley in Fiction Walk, Sunday 26th June. After all who can pass the site of Spike Milligan's former home without a recitation?

Led by Mike Gee and Rosie Canning with a lunch stop at Redwood Cafe (one of our sponsors,) in Swan Lane Open Space, and a tea stop at Finchley Golf Club.

Meet outside Waterstones, Finchley 12.15-4.30pm
782 High Street, North Finchley, London, N12 9QR, London
There is a small charge for this event of £3.00 but please RSVP.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

New Writers Evening at Foyles

Ever on the hunt for new literary voices, Foyles bring together a panel of authors and an audience of readers to explore the road to publication and what lies beyond. I went along for an evening of readings and conversation from three new writers: Jem Lester, Barney Norris, and Kit de Waal.

Former journalist Jem Lester's debut novel Shtum, about three generations of men reluctantly living together under one roof in North London– one of whom can't talk, and two who won't. Inspired by his own experiences raising his profoundly austistic, non-verbal son, Jem is keen to dispel the myth of the gifted autistic child, and does so with warmth and humour in this funny and profound novel about personal identity and family history.

Award-winning playwright Barney Norris's much-anticipated debut novel Five Rivers Met on a Wooden Plain hinges upon one serious car crash that transforms five people's lives in a moment, drawn together by connection and coincidence into a web of love, grief, disenchantment and hope. It's an involving, heartstopping novel that perfectly represents the joys and tragedies of small town life.

Birmingham-based Kit de Waal's My Name is Leon tells the story of Leon, a nine-year-old boy who is threatened with being separated from his family. With a strong narrative voice and a powerful depiction of early-eighties racial tensions in Britain, it announces Kit as a major new voice in fiction.

The evening started with the three authors, Kit de Waal, Jem Lester and Barney Norris, introducing their books and doing readings. Then the fun started with questions from the audience.

Why did you write the novel?

Kit de Waal: It was a compulsion. I had to write it, the story had been with me for some years. i was compelled by Leon. People say the characters are diverse. I don't recognise that word. They are real, real to me.

Jem Lester: I didn't want to writ this book. Came from suggestion from someone. I had personal struggles with my own 16 year old son. I'd just won the tribunal, it had been a year-long struggle. Son started residential school on the Monday and on the Tuesday, I started the Masters degree at City University. I didn't want to deal with the story. Said no at first. Couldn't write it as a memoir and needed characters that would enlighten. I asked myself, how I would feel if someone else writes this. Autistic child at the centre of the novel was something I knew very well. It's realistic but also how hilarious life can be. 

Barney Norris: It started out of a love of books. Huge part of the impulse - loving having grown up reading, wanting to join in and play along. However, that was not quite enough and had to wait a few years. I'm trying to articulate experience of life, be a mouthpiece for the people you are part of. 

Did you have any doubts submitting your first books to publishers?

Barney Norris: Surrender. It's all about surrender.

Kit de Waal: When you think you've got a work of staggering genius, you then give it to someone else. I thought if they said this, I'd say that. But if the agent likes it, it then has to go out again. It's written about people you care about. If someone likes it you'll marry them. People say I cried at P.63 and that's what we want. [It was p.43, Kit! And I howled and howled.]

Jem Lester: If everybody says it's shite I can write something else. It's been a 30 year job. Very lucky that my agent heard it being read, 1500 words in a pub somewhere. She's followed it all the way through. Her hard work. Still can't believe that people like it more than me. Apart from the woman that said it gave her the shits. When it happens it is the most magical thing - [liking the book obviously not the shits].

You can follow the three authors on Twitter: 
Kit de Waal      @KitdeWaal
Jem Lester        @jemlester
Barney Norris   @barnontherun

Thank you to Foyles Bookshop for the free wine and pizza - yum!

Friday, 22 April 2016

World Book Night 2016

World Book Night is celebrated on 23 April and run by The Reading Agency.
Because everything changes when we read.
Today!!! Saturday 23 April, UNESCO International Day of the Book, Shakespeare’s birthday and also the 400th anniversary of his death, 187,500 copies of 15 specially printed World Book Night titles will be given by a network of volunteer reading enthusiasts and institutions around the UK focussing on reaching the 36% of the UK population who don’t read for pleasure. 

This is the sixth World Book Night and my fifth year of volunteering. I work at the North Middlesex University Hospital in the medical library and decided to get them involved last year as an 'institution giver' as well as my usual homeless organisation in Finchley. Plus I'm an advocate of fiction in amongst all those very helpful but occasionally gruesome medical books. 

2016’s list of titles sees a sensational line up designed to bring reading and books into people’s lives. It covers a range of genres including crime, poetry, non-fiction, Quick Reads, historical and contemporary fiction, fantasy and memoir. Appearing on the list are bestselling favourites from the leading lights of the literary scene, designed to reach a wide audience including adults and young people dealing with mental health issues. Books this year include Holly Bourne’s Am I Normal Yet?, Love Poems by Carol Ann Duffy, Matt Haig’s Reasons To Stay Alive, The Rotters’ Club by Jonathan Coe, Treachery by SJ Parris and Ann CleevesToo Good To Be True.
When you become a volunteer you are asked to choose three books with the proviso you may not get any of them. I got my first choice The Rotters Club, by Jonathan Coe

The Rotter's Club is set in the 1970s against a distant backdrop of strikes, terrorist attacks and growing racial tension. A group of young friends inherit the editorship of their school magazine and begin to put their own distinctive spin onto events in the wider world. A zestful comedy of personal and social upheaval, The Rotters’ Club captures a fateful moment in British politics – the collapse of ‘Old Labour’ – and imagines its impact on the topsy-turvy world of the bemused teenager: a world in which a lost pair of swimming trunks can be just as devastating as an IRA bomb.
Jonathan Coesays:
I’m delighted to be part of World Book Night 2016. Reading is the best possible way to foster imagination, empathy and mutual understanding, and never have those qualities been more needed than at the present time.
I personally like to choose Quick Reads because if you're homeless, in all likelihood you won't have access to many books and quite likely will find it difficult to read because concentration levels, due to the trauma of not having a home, are quite simply all over the place. I feel that a Quick Reads book is a perfect way to reintroduce anyone to the wonderful art of reading.
Quick Reads sets out to show that books and reading can be for everyone. Each year they commission big name authors to write short books that are specifically designed to be easy to read. They are the same as mainstream books in every respect but are simply shorter and easier to tackle. The books are then sold through major retailers, online booksellers and are loaned from libraries. They celebrated their 10th anniversary this year, read more about that here.

Since the inaugural World Book Night in 2011, an extraordinary group of 56,000 volunteers has been created, giving books away to over 2.25 million people.
This year’s World Book Night impact report is the first to measure the impact on end-users, the recipients of the books. It reveals that the event prompts recipients to do more than simply read the book they receive: in many cases they go on to re-evaluate their relationship with books. Delight at receiving a book translates into action, especially for those who were previously not frequent readers:
  • 80% of recipients who said they previously never read or read less than once a month said that they have read more since World Book Night
  • 85% of infrequent readers have talked to others about books more since taking part
  • 47% of this group report that they have already bought more books since World Book Night, and 32% have borrowed more from the library
Many recipients said that World Book Night prompted them to re-engage with books and helped them discover new, relevant texts; this in turn gave them increased self-confidence as a reader and increased their awareness of the reading material available to them.
2000 institutions nationwide will be taking part in this year’s World Book Night mass giveaway, including libraries, hospitals, prisons, colleges, schools and homeless shelters.

In a new initiative for 2016 publishers will also giving out copies of their own stock on Friday 22 April within their neighbourhoods. This will increase the number of books being given away as part of the celebrations and highlights the unique opportunity World Book Night presents for givers to become better connected with their local communities.
Penguin Random House UK is donating a copy of Ali Smith’s Public Library and Other Stories to every library in the UK to tie in with World Book Night. In a letter to librarians Ali Smith says:
“This year on 23 April we celebrate World Book Night, an occasion that marks the transformative power of books: to inspire, transport and comfort, to unlock the mind, to nourish the soul. In honour of this moment, please find enclosed a copy of my short story collection Public library and other stories, which I am sending as a gift to every library in the UK.”
As well as the World Book Night volunteers, people are encouraged to give their favourite book to someone in their community and special events are taking place at libraries, community centres, prisons, hospitals and schools around the UK on 23rd April, in this mass celebration of books and reading. So, why not choose a book from your bookshelves and give it away. Read more here about events taking place all over the UK. And it's not too late to buy tickets to the flagship World Book Night event at the British Library.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Words of Colour present Yvvette Edwards

Words of Colour Productions, in association with Waterstones Piccadilly, hosted an evening of conversation with award-winning author Yvvette Edwards at the pre-launch of her second book The Mother, a whole week before it’s official release date. Joy Francis, journalist and executive director of Words of Colour, introduced Yvvette, to a packed audience.

Joy asked Yvvette about her reading influences when she was growing up.

Yvvette spoke of how she first started writing as a child after the death of Elvis. "I did my first big piece of work in 1976 when I was ten years old. It was an autobiography of the life of Elvis Presley after he had died. My mother and relatives wailed as if a family member had died so it was a way of working through my grief and trauma."

She then went on to talk about Rosa Guy's The Friends (1995), and how she was so excited that the text had a black protagonist and that Guy was a black author. She devoured the book and looked for more but couldn't find anything.

She also read Stephen King, though the stress of horror means she doesn't read him nowadays. If she comes across a writer she enjoys, she tends to read everything by that author. Toni Morrison is her star writer and she is always thrilled by the beautiful, lyrical and groundbreaking writing.

In her 40s, Yvvette began thinking about her own mortality and began writing about things that aren't written about. Stories from voices you don't hear very often. Women of colour are often presented as caricatures and stereotypes. Yvvette wants to create 3-D characters.

The inspiration for A Cupboard Full of Coats (2011), was a real life scenario. A friend who had got rid of a violent partner. Some years later, she showed Yvvette a newspaper report. The ex partner had been convicted for murder of his then girlfriend.

Yvvette kept thinking about the what ifs, what if the friend had stayed with him. She found herself troubled by the report and wanted to explore different types of love, possessive love that can result in death. Though she was quick to point out, "It is funny in places too!"

It was her agent that pointed out there were no white characters in the novel. And while the agent was speaking about this, Yvvette was doing a silent inventory in her head, thinking "there must be one somewhere".

Joy asked Yvvette how it wasn't until she was 40 that she decided she was a writer even though she had been writing most of her life.

Yvvette spoke about how for her writing is cathartic, a kind of therapy writing, she was always writing, writing. And then one day, thought, I'll send it to the BBC (un-edited).

They sent it back with suggestions. "I thought that's it, I won't be sending them anything more". She did lots of jobs with "no real ambition". Then when she got to 40, she dragged herself up by the lapels and "gave myself a talking to". She reduced her hours at work and began editing.

Yvvette then read an excerpt from A Cupboard Full of Coats.

How would you describe your writing? Asked Joy.

"That's not really my job," laughed Yvvette. And went on to say "...a strong dose of realism, uncompromising, not especially graphic". She enjoyed Silence of the Lambs - found it terrifying even you don't see anything graphic happen. "I try to make that happen with my writing". She went on to say, she had difficulty defining herself and had a resistance to being pigeonholed.

Joy discussed Yvvette's latest novel, The Mother due to be published 7th April, and how it came to be written, whilst observing that she seems to be obsessed with violence and death. But, in a way to convey the humanity of it, and writing about violence in particular.

Yvvette replied she was interested in the "ripple-effect of trauma". A number of things happened that led to the writing of the novel. She saw another stabbing on the news and a friend said, you've got to write about this. And then Yvette's stepson was stabbed. He went out with his friends to Nandos and was stabbed by a random person. He survived but because of his injuries there was the possibility he would have a colostomy bag for the rest of his life.

Yvvette was in shock and couldn't understand how a young boy could go for something to eat with his friends and come back with a colostomy bag. His life changed forever. This traumatic psychological event left her dwelling on stabbings in the UK and led her to question, like many others, "What's going on with young people in this country? Why are they turning to crime?"

Through a series of events, Yvvette found herself interested and listening to experts. And the seeds of The Mother were sewn.

However, there was a novel before The Mother. A second novel that suffered with Second Book Syndrome. When a writing friend had mentioned this, Yvvette dismissed it. But went on to discover the protagonist was too much like Jinx in A Cupboard Full of Coats, and the writing just wasn't happening. She eventually had to admit her writing friend was absolutely right.

But she felt she had worked through some angst in that discarded second novel, so that when she came to write The Mother, it simply flowed.

© Joy Francis
Yvvette then read an excerpt from The Mother, which had the whole audience enthralled. I had been umming and ahhing about reading the book because, I find young boys being stabbed so heartbreaking and thought I wouldn't be able to read it. At the end of the evening there were questions from the audience and I found myself thinking about how writers sometimes write from a place of trauma, when somebody asked:

Had Yvvette experienced a change within herself by the end of each piece of writing?

She had changed since writing The Mother, that even though she was empathic, she had become more so and she understood so much more about the youth of today. As well as the reading that was so engaging, so well-written, this answer intrigued me. Would I be changed after reading it? I found myself buying a copy. In fact I was first in line. I began reading it on the way home and was so engrossed, I didn't realise I had got on the wrong branch of the Northern Line until I found myself in Hampstead. I live in Finchley.

It was an interesting and inspiring evening and I'm pleased to add that Yvvette will be joining us for this year's Finchley Literary Festival 24th-26th June. Readers and writers are in for an absolute treat.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Bone by Bone by Sanjida Kay

It wasn't until the train went past that she saw the small body lying in the long grass by the side of the wood.

The opening sentence of the prologue of Bone by Bone by Sanjida Kay prepares the reader for a gruesome read and from the text a suspiscion that a child has been murdered.

When Autumn had first started at Ashley Grove in September, Laura had been as nervous as her daughter. She’d been worried about Autumn – if she’d make new friends, if she’d fit in – as well as for herself – would the other mothers like her? 

Laura is making a fresh start. Newly divorced and relocated to Bristol, she is carving a new life for her and her nine-year-old daughter, Autumn. But things aren't going as well as she hoped. Autumn is being bullied.

‘Autumn. What kind of dumb name is that? Who’d call their kid that? It’s like say, “Hey, November, come in for your tea.”’ …As he continued, calling her more random and ridiculous names, the boys in her own class started to laugh too, and some of the girls put their hands over their mouths and smirked.

The action takes place over seven months from October to May. The perspective alternates between Laura and Autumn. Not only does this give the reader an insight into how a mother might deal with a bullying situation or not as in this instance, but also the child perspective.

This is a clever device for a book about bullying as it not only illustrates the mother’s worry and powerlessness, but also the vulnerability of being a child who is bullied. A vulnerability created by not wanting to make a fuss, by hoping that the bullying will stop, by believing in the good of people in general.

When the bullying doesn't stop, Laura makes a mistake with dreadful consequences. Autumn fails to return home from school one day and Laura goes looking for her and happens upon a crowd of bullies taunting her little girl. Rage overcomes Laura and spills into violence.

Something inside her snapped. She wanted to kill him. He was so close to her that it only took a shift in her weight,a slight movement forwards and she was right there, her hands on his chest, and then she pushed, as hard as she could.

In the heat of the moment, Laura makes a terrible mistake. A mistake that will have devastating consequences for her and her daughter. But Laura can not anticipate just what those consequences will be, and just how much worse things can become. Friendships begin to unravel, leaving Laura and Autumn even more isolated and lonely. 

In an age where many people have a lot of personal information online, Sanjida gives an insight into the power of the Internet when used for benign purposes and just how easy it is to sabotage a victim's life. The cyber bullying tactics that spill over into real life, are very topical and will resonate with a lot of parents today.

Autumn was acutely aware of the space that had opened up around her. She was alone. no one spoke to her. it was difficult to breathe. She stared down at her shoes on the cracked Tarmac of the playground, a tree root visible beneath the asphalt.

There is an underlying sense of unease throughout the novel as the reader waits for the anticipated murder. As Laura and Autumn struggle with incident after incident, the inaction of the school, of the bully, of his father and of the other parents, the narrative builds and builds to an unexpected climax.

Bullying is horribly common: the NSPCC says that almost half of all children are bullied. Three-quarters of those bullied were physically attacked and 62 per cent were cyber-bullied in 2015 according to a report carried out forDitch the Label. Nearly half of those children who were bullied, didn’t tell anyone about it, but suffered in silence. Sanjida is donating a percentage of the profits from Bone by Bone to Kidscape, the anti-bullying charity.

A disturbing psychological thriller, here is a writer who knows how to upset a reader's equilibrium. A confident insight into the on and offline consequences of bullying, and the nature of the victim. Sanjida's training as a zoologist (she studied chimpanzees for her PhD) is evident as the narrative evolves into a study of bully and victim. If you enjoy reading on the edge of your seat, you'll enjoy this novel with its twists and turns and things that are never quite as they appear to be. 

Sanjida Kay is a writer and broadcaster. Bone by Bone is her first thriller. She lives in Bristol with her daughter and husband.

You can follow Sanjida on Twitter: @SanjidaOConnell

Psychological thriller, Bone by Bone, by Sanjida Kay, published by Corvus Books. Out 3.3.2016

Thank you to Sanjida and Corvus for the review copy.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Finchley in Fiction Part III

Last May, around about the time of the Finchley Literary Festival, I gathered some literary mentions of Finchley. Finchley in Fiction Part I and Finchley in Fiction Part II. These posts received a lot of interest including some new references. 

David Goldstein who has lived in Finchley all his life sent in the following anecdotes.

"Having just read your blog posts about Finchley in Fiction, I would like to contribute a few more:

A Doctor Who episode from 2009, The Waters of Mars, reveals via a screen readout that one of the characters was born in Finchley. This can be seen here

In the 1990s there was a short-lived BBC TV series called The Ghostbusters of East Finchley. Though not that many of the Finchley scenes were actually filmed here. There are some clips online and synopses of the episodes here

When I went to see the 2005 Narnia film at the cinema and heard Susan's line "We're not heroes. We're from Finchley", I was delighted. I would have cheered but I was in Basingstoke at the time.

Having checked the text of The War of the Worlds, I found references to Hampstead and Highgate but sadly none to Finchley.

One of my favourite references to Finchley in fiction is a musical one. In 1967, The New Vaudeville Band got to Number 11 with Finchley Central, a song about the Tube station. 

Having used East Finchley station throughout my life, I have more than a passing acquaintance with Archie. I was once told that the arrow he is firing into the tunnel was at one point represented by an arrow sculpture at the other end i.e. Morden, until thieves took the arrow. I don't know if this is true.
I've also found a book about Archie: Ned's Big Day, written and illustrated by Pam Coiley, published by the Northern Line in 1990. Ned is a Northern Line train who thinks everyone has forgotten his birthday - including his friend Archie - while all along they have been planning a surprise party for him at Morden Depot (which Archie somehow manages to attend!). Ned visits East Finchley station twice during the story."

What a lovely story, thank you to David, for sending these very interesting references.

Peeping Tom by Man Booker prize winner, Howard Jacobson sees Barney Fugleman's two major preoccupations in life: sex and literature. He is obsessed by the life and work of a man hailed by many as a genius of the nineteenth century - and by Barney as a 'prurient little Victorian ratbag'. This curious propulsion drives him out of Finchley, and out of the life he shares with Sharon and her 'rampant marvellings', to Cornwall. There he offends serious ramblers with his slip-on snakeskin shoes, fur coat and antagonism to all things green and growing as he stomps the wild Atlantic cliffs on long, morbid walks, tampering with the truth, tangling with the imperious Camilla - and telling a riotous tale.

Finchley is not just a place that is mentioned in literature, it is also sometimes a character. ICriss Cross, by Don Tracy, written in 1948. "Johnny Thompson" has a job as guard on an armoured truck. His broken nose, scar on left jaw, and a broken knuckle do not enhance his charms for the fair sex, but this does not keep him from courting Anna, a blonde with lascivious eyes and seductive curves. However, Johnny is not "in the dough" and Anna passes him up for Slim. It is the character, Finchley who has to work out how to pull off a seemingly impossible crime, the successful robbery of an armoured truck. His reward will be a week of credit at the liquor store. There will be fake hold ups, double crosses, murders but in the end it is fate that sorts things out.

Finchley is also a character in 'Protected Species', by H.B. Fyfe. A Science Fiction short story that was first published in Astounding Fiction, March 1951. Since then it has also been published in A Science Fiction Omnibus (2007) by Brian Wilson Aldiss. Humans have arrived on a new world to colonize. A world with ancient ruins of some intelligent species no longer around. A world humans are in a hurry to civilize. Finchley is the coordinator of the colonisers. He and comes up against Jeff Otis, the main character who has come to the planet to check the progress of its colonization. Everything is on schedule but he is perturbed by the worker’s attempts to hunt and kill a primitive ape-like species. He encounters one for himself. There is a startling revelation. This short story is very relevant today re affluent man's greed for money over protection of the planet. 

Mark Billingham mentions Finchley in Bloodline (2010). The past is coming back to haunt the people of London: a murderer is targeting the children of victims of Raymond Garvey, an infamous serial killer from London's past. Emily Walker is found beaten and suffocated with a plastic bag in her Finchley home, she appears to be the victim of a domestic dispute.

And on that cheery note, I'll say adieu. Do contact me if you know of any other mentions of Finchley in Fiction. 

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