Inter-Media

(Thanks to my dad for the title. Hi, Dad *waves*)

Another mini-In the Media post of things I think are worth reading from (or that I’ve come across in) the last couple of weeks.

On the key topic of diversity, Taiye Selasi, author of Ghana Must Gohas a fantastic piece in The Guardian, ‘Stop pigeonholing African writers‘.

Scarlett Thomas wrote a great piece for The Guardian on writers, sex and how male and female authors writing about sex are seen differently, ‘Forget EL James, let’s have some real dirty fiction‘.

Claire Fuller Colour

Claire Fuller won the Desmond Elliott Prize this week with her brilliant debut, Our Endless Numbered Days. Judge Louise Doughty wrote, ‘The Desmond Elliott prize reminds us that authors need long-term support‘ in The Guardian and prior to the announcement of the winner, ‘The Desmond Elliott Prize 2015: Why an author’s background makes no difference to talent‘ in The Independent.

Sunny Singh, writing on Media Diversified, looks at the reaction to Rihanna’s new video, ‘So We’re All Still Talking About Rihanna’s Bitch Better Have My Money?‘ Which I think is a really interesting piece to read alongside Eva Wiseman’s column in The Observer this week, ‘Why is there always a backlash against feminist stars?

Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen, wrote a very powerful piece for The New York Times last month, ‘The Condition of Black Life Is One of Mourning‘. While Irene Monroe on the Huffington Post looked at the Stonewall riots and asked why brown and black LGBTQ people have been written out of the narrative, ‘Dis-membering Stonewall‘.

Really interesting and grim piece from Michelle Thomas on ‘Tinder Dating‘ on her blog. Prepare to be angry. Which leads me to Laura Bates’ piece in The Guardian, ‘The Kim Kardashian sex-tape flag at Glastonbury was a particularly nasty attack‘.

At which point I have to mention Salena Godden’s brilliant new poem, ‘Flags: Kanye and Kanye‘ on her blog.

Sloane Crosley in The New York Times wrote, ‘Why Women Apologize and Should Stop‘.

On my favourite magazine site, The Pool, there are loads of cracking pieces: Viv Groskop, ‘The one word that undermines women at work‘; Sali Hughes, ‘There is no such thing as a superior mother‘, which goes nicely with Nina Stibbe’s beautiful piece about her mum, ‘People say my mother was awful. But there’s no one I’d rather spend time with‘; I also loved Sali Hughes piece about culling friends, ‘Why culling friends is OK‘, and Lauren Laverne wrote another cracking blog, ‘What’s happened to social mobility?‘. There’s also a fantastic interview with Cathy Rentzenbrink whose brilliant, heart-wrenching memoir The Last Act of Love has just been published. You can listen to the Director’s Cut or the 12 minute edit.

There’s also a fantastic interview with Candace Bushnell in The Cut about her new novel Killing Monica and Rebecca Mascull’s on The History Girls blog talking about her second novel Song of the Sea Maid.

In Nells In the Media, there are cracking interviews with Nell Zink (fast becoming my favourite writer purely on the basis of her candidness in interviews) in Vice and Nell Leyshon, whose last book The Colour of Milk was a Fiction Uncovered winner, in The Independent.

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And in Naomi In the Media, the two discussions I took part in for Fiction Uncovered on Resonance FM are now available to ‘listen again’. The panel on diversity chaired by Nikki Bedi and including Danuta Kean and Nikesh Shukla and the discussion with Simon Savidge, chaired by Matt Thorne on blogging and the changing face of reviewing. There’s a full list of links to all the panels and interviews from the day on Simon’s blog Savidge Reads.

Also, I’m interviewed as part of Hayley Webster’s brilliant literary efestival, ‘All the Words‘. As are Antonia Honeywell, Alice Furse, Claire King, Amanda Jennings, Claire Hynes, Suzie Maguire and Devika Ponnambalam.

I’ve cheekily included a photo of myself so I can mention Helen MacKinven’s cover reveal for her forthcoming book Talk of the Toun and claim my photo was totally inspired by it. Best cover ever.

Books of the Year 2013

Choosing the books that I’ve loved, recommended and bought the most copies of for friends wasn’t difficult, whittling them down was. Because of that, I’ve gone for fifteen books that I enjoyed the most this year. If you click on the title of the book, it will take you to my original review.

Questions of Travel – Michelle de Kretser

Questions of Travel follows Laura and Ravi. Laura chooses to travel, using her inheritance from her aunt to do so; Ravi is forced to travel when the civil war in Sri Lanka visits his doorstep. de Kretser considers the myriad of ways in which we travel in modern society in a novel that’s sublimely written with a perfect ending. Winner of three awards in Australia, I’m astonished it hasn’t had a bigger fanfare in the UK.

 

Love, Nina – Nina Stibbe

Love, Nina contains a series of letters from Nina Stibbe to her sister Vic, written in the 1980s. At the time, Stibbe was a nanny to the sons of Mary Kay Wilmers, editor of the LRB. Alan Bennet frequently pops round for dinner, while the street contains a number of the UK literati. Stibbe’s letters are full of keen observations delivered in the same tone, regardless of the participants, and this makes the book both warm and humorous. It’s one of those books that’s larger than the sum of its parts. A joy.

Apple Tree Yard – Louise Doughty

Apple Tree Yard tells the story of Yvonne Carmichael, a 52-year-old geneticist, who embarks on an affair with a stranger. An affair that will threaten her family, her career and ultimately, her freedom. Told in retrospect beginning with Yvonne standing in the dock at the Old Bailey, Apple Tree Yard had me up late at night, frantically turning pages. It’s a tightly plotted tale with an ending that will leave you gasping.

 

A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki

A Tale for the Time Being is the dual narrative of Ruth, an American novelist living on a Canadian island, and Nao, a Japanese school girl. Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox, washed up on shore, containing Nao’s diary, some letters and a watch. She assumes it is debris from the 2011 tsunami. As Ruth reads Nao’s diary and the store of her family unfolds, we read Ruth’s story and are manipulated by it. A wonderful story of time and quantum physics.

 

 

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride

After almost a decade of rejections, the small, independent Galley Beggar Press published this gem which went on to win The Goldsmith’s Prize. A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is the story of an unnamed female narrator as told to (for?) her brother who is dying of a brain tumour. It is brutal both in its short, staccato prose and in content. (I don’t recommend reading it in the depths of January, it’ll send you over the edge.) This really is ‘a new voice in fiction’.

 

The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

Winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize, The Luminaries is a yarn of a tale set amongst gold diggers during the gold rush in New Zealand. It is a story of murder, theft and love with a with a structure that builds throughout the first half and explodes with revelations in the second. One to indulge in.

 

 

Mr Loverman – Bernadine Evaristo

Barrington Jedidiah Walker, 74, born in the Caribbean but resident in London has kept a secret for fifty years from his wife and two grown-up daughters: the love of his life, his best friend Morris. Barry decides it’s time to come-out but obviously, it’s not going to be that easy. Evaristo has a wonderful ear for dialogue and the rhythms of Barry and Carmel’s speech are a joy.

 

Jacob’s Folly – Rebecca Miller

A story told from the point of view of a fly shouldn’t work but it does and it does so brilliantly. The fly is the reincarnation of Jacob Cerf, an ex-peddler from 18th century France. When Jacob the fly becomes aware that he can influence others, he decides to meddle with the life of Masha Edelman, a 21-year-old Torah Jew and Leslie Senzatimore, a man who lives his life in order to help others. Miller uses their stories to consider whether we really have free will or whether our lives are constrained by other forces.

The Interestings – Meg Wolitzer

Six friends meet at summer camp in the 1970s and their lives become entwined forever despite the huge differences in their statuses. Wolitzer follows them through adult life looking at the choices they make and how these affect the whole group dynamic. It’s a dense novel but one that is driven forward by a non-linear narrative and a thread that you know is going to explode spectacularly.

 

The Engagements – J.Courtney Sullivan

The Engagements opens in 1947 with copywriter, Frances Gerety, creating the line ‘A diamond is forever’. The novel then goes on to intertwine her story – one of a woman who definitely doesn’t want an engagement ring – with those of four others: Evelyn Pearsall, whose son Teddy has just left his wife and children; James McKeen, a medical responder whose wife was recently mugged; Delphine Moreau, whose young lover has betrayed her, and a human rights officer whose helping with the preparations for her cousin Jeff’s wedding to his boyfriend, Toby. An unashamedly feminist look at our society’s values.

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Life After Life is the story of Ursula Todd, bound to relive her life until the changes are made that prevent her previous death. The concept sounds bizarre, the execution is brilliant. Atkinson takes us through the war, affairs and a meeting with Hitler. The section of the novel during The Blitz is particularly well drawn, so much so, you’ll want to hide behind your hands during some passages. This one will leave you wanting to find someone else who’s read it to discuss in detail.

 

The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon

The only book on the list not published this year, however it is one of this year’s Fiction Uncovered titles. Set in 1830, 14-year-old Mary tells us about life on her father’s farm with her four sisters and her elderly grandfather. Offered work at the vicarage, Mary is forced to go and tend for the vicar’s ill wife. When the vicar’s wife dies, she is kept on and the course of her life takes a turn for the worst. A novel about the control of men over women told with a voice that will have you rooting for this young girl.

 

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

The story of Theodore Decker, who’s caught in a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, in which his mother dies. The attack leaves him with the painting ‘The Goldfinch’ in his possession and a ring that he’s to return to James Hobart. These two things will set his life on a dangerous course. Told in immersive detail, this is a wonderful novel which will have you living Theo’s eventful life alongside him.

 

The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls is the book that reignited my love of thrillers. It’s the story of Harper Curtis, time-travelling serial killer (stick with it, it works) and Kirby Mazrachi, who should have been one of his victims but who survives his attack and sets out to track him down. But The Shining Girls is more than that, it’s also the story of all Harper’s victims and those victims tell the story of women through the twentieth century. Shining, indeed.

 

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie – Ayana Mathis

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie was the first book I read to make the list. It’s the story of Hattie, who leaves the segregated south for Philadelphia and a better life. Hattie is already pregnant with twins and with her womanising, gambling, alcoholic husband whom she can’t stay away from, Hattie will have another eight children. These, along with her first grandchild, form the twelve tribes of the title. Each chapter tells one of their stories, stories of homophobia, abuse and mental illness. A beautifully written story of a family and one woman’s quest for survival.

Thanks to all the publishers who’ve sent books for review this year.

The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon

It is 1830 and 14-year-old Mary lives on a farm with her three sisters, her parents and her grandfather. The girls are expected to work and work hard. Their father is disappointed he hasn’t sired a son and the grandfather is too old to help, confined to the apple room in the basement of the house.

Mary, our narrator, has her own problems:

my leg is my leg and i ain’t never known another leg. it’s the way i always been and the way i always walked. mother says it was like that when i come out into the world. i was some scrap of a thing with hair like milk and i was born later than they thought and for that reason i was covered in some hair like i was an animal and my nails was long. and she says i took one look around me and i opened my mouth and I yelled and some say i ain’t never shut it since.

She shares a bed with her sister Beatrice who keeps hold of a bible and prays. Her other sisters Violet and Hope, are very tall and filthily tempered respectively. Violet also has an eye for the boys and early in the novel, Mary sees her having sex with Ralph, the vicar’s son, in the barn. Although it’s Hope who is caught talking to him the following day:

and that’s when they come in. father first, hauling hope behind him, and her squalling and going. he had her by the arm and he shoved her down on the bench. blood fell out her nose and down her face and on the table.

Before long, Mary is made to go and work at the vicarage, looking after Mrs Graham, the vicar’s ill wife. The arrangement is made between the vicar and Mary’s father, who receives the payment for Mary’s work.

The novel highlights the complete lack of control girls and women had over their lives at this time. Their work is dictated by their fathers or their husbands, whom their pay is given to; their bodies are subject to men’s desires and if a pregnancy occurs as a result, it is theirs to worry about, their child which needs to be cared for. If they are to receive any education, it is at the hands of a man who will decide how much they should know. University is not open to them.

As grim as this theme is, The Colour of Milk is actually a joy of a novel. Mary’s voice is largely responsible for this; it is distinctive and engaging and has a rhythm that makes it seem poetic. Mary as a character is also someone who we warm to:

mary, she said. what you doing?
whatsit look like i’m doing? i asked.
looks like you been letting the hens out, she said.
really? i said. that’s strange cos i ain’t been doing that. i been dancing with the cockerel and then we had a feast together and the pig came and he sat on the top chair and he sang us all a song.

So when she tries any way she can to wrestle back some control for herself, you’ll find yourself rooting for her. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Read it!

Thanks to Penguin for the review copy.

The Colour of Milk is one of this year’s Fiction Uncovered titles. From the website:

Fiction Uncovered creates the opportunity for eight British fiction writers (novels, short stories, graphic novels) to be part of a major promotion supported by retailers, and a major publicity and marketing campaign.

This year’s titles are:

All The Beggers Riding – Lucy Caldwell

How I Killed Margaret Thatcher – Anthony Cartwright

Black Bread White Beer – Niven Govinden

The Village – Nikita Lalwani

The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon

The Heart Broke In – James Meek

Orkney – Amy Sackville

Secrecy – Rupert Thomson

I have a review of The Village coming up at the end of the week and All the Beggars Riding within the next couple of weeks.