Bluebird, Bluebird – Attica Locke

It’s 2016 and in Lark, Texas two bodies have been found within a week. The first, a black male, a visitor to the town. The second, a local white woman. It’s the talk of Geneva Sweet’s cafe:

“And ain’t nobody done a damn thing about that black man got killed up the road just last week,” Huxley said.

“They ain’t thinking about that man,” Tim said, tossing a grease-stained napkin on his plate. “Not when a white girl come up dead.”

“Mark my words,” Huxley said, looking gravely at each and every black face in the cafe. “Somebody is going down for this.”

Locke introduces Texas Ranger, Darren Mathews into the equation. Mathews is suspended from duty and his marriage is on the rocks over an ultimatum issued by his wife who wants him to quit his job. His suspension is due to him being called out late at night by a friend, Rutherford McMillan, over an incident with Ronnie Malvo. Two days later, Malvo was found dead. The bullet wounds matched McMillan’s gun, a gun which he’d reported missing the previous day.

Ronnie “Redrum” Malvo was a tatted-up cracker with ties to the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a criminal organization that made money off meth production and the sale of illegal guns – a gang whose only initiation rite was to kill a nigger. Ronnie had been harassing Mack’s granddaughter, Breanna, a part-time student at Sam Houston State, for weeks – following her in his car as she walked to and from town, calling out words she didn’t want to repeat, driving back and forth in front of her house when he knew she was home, cussing her color, her body, the way she wore her “nappy” hair.

When Mathews gets a call from his friend Greg Heglund, an agent within the Houston field office of the FBI, telling him about the case in Lark and suggesting he go and find out why the local sheriff’s refusing outside help, Mathews can’t help himself.

In Lark, Locke creates a town dominated by the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas and the power and money of Wally Jefferson. A man who lives in a house which is a near perfect replica of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and sits bang opposite Geneva’s cafe. Bluebird, Bluebird is a tale of racial hatred but Locke’s created something much more complex than the initial premise appears. As Mathews uncovers the town’s secrets, Locke shows how the heritage of blacks and whites in America is deeply entwined and suggests that white hatred comes from a more complicated place than they might wish to acknowledge.

Bluebird, Bluebird is a gripping, timely novel. The first in a new series featuring Darren Mathews, I’m already looking forward to the next instalment.

I’m delighted to welcome Attica Locke to the blog to answer some questions about the book.

Bluebird, Bluebird has a contemporary setting; did it feel important to be writing about race in America now?

It’s simply my world view. I’m a person of color and so I frequently write characters who are of color and in portraying the contemporary world they live in, I end up writing about race in America. I will say that I wrote this book before Trump was elected and we’ve seen this ugly cancer of racism metastasize all over the country. So it’s been odd seeing how prescient the book is. Although…. Just the fact that Trump was running for President of the United States so successfully was hint enough as to where we were headed.

A small section of the novel is written from the point of view of a white supremacist; how did it feel to get into the mindset of that character?

Oddly freeing. It wasn’t hard to write at all. I just typed up all my worst nightmares about what white supremacist think of me and let it all out. Somewhere in there too I was trying to understand where all that rage comes from. I have a theory that so much of hate and crime has to do with people’s perceived concept of scarcity—their belief, often false belief, that there isn’t enough for them. I think Keith—that character—believes that black men have taken something from him. It’s really a wounded point of view. It actually, I hope, shows you how small these white supremacists are.

The relationships you portray, particularly the marriages, are complex and often difficult. What interests you about people’s romantic relationships?

I suppose the usual stuff—what draws people together. It’s always interesting to write two people who don’t seem like they should be drawn to each other but they are anyway. And of course romantic conflict can be so irrational and passionate. That’s always fun to write too.

Why did you choose to write crime fiction?

It goes to what I was saying before. It’s a mix of exploring what scares me and also philosophically looking at the way people respond to perceived scarcity—whether scarcity of money of love and affection. I’m so curious about why some people lash out and some people don’t.

You’re a screenwriter as well as a novelist; do you treat them as separate entities or does your work in one form inform your work in the other?

I think they can’t help but inform each other—maybe in ways I can’t even see. But I understand the two mediums very well and I treat them differently when I’m writing.

Are we going to see more of Ranger Darren Matthews?

Yes! This is the beginning of a series of novels along Highway 59 in east Texas, all featuring Darren Mathews.

And, I have to ask, will Jay Porter be back at any point?

I’m sure. But it’s nothing I’d try to force. I’d have to wait for the right story to demand that he return.

My blog focuses on women writers; who are your favourite female writers and have you read anything recently by a woman writer that you’d recommend?

Jane Smiley. Toni Morrison. Francine Prose. Jesmyn Ward. Paula Daly. Liane Moriarty. Curtis Sittenfeld. Tayari Jones. Jami Attenberg.

My favourite books of the last 18 months or so are All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg; Swing Time by Zadie Smith; Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng; Made for LoveMade for Love by Alisa Nutting; Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki; and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

Thanks to Attica Locke for the Q&A and to Serpent’s Tail for the review copy.

Books of the Year 2016, Part One

As usual I’m dividing my Books of the Year into two parts. Part Two, coming tomorrow will be fiction published in 2016. Part One is fiction published pre-2016 and 2016 non-fiction. If you click on the pictures of the books they will take you to my full review.

WL PBK FINALWaking Lions – Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (translated by Sondra Silverston)

Doctor Etian Green finishes a nineteen hour shift at Soroka Hospital, six of which he spent helping to stabilise road traffic accident victims. In the time it takes for him to walk from the hospital ward to his car, he goes from exhausted to adrenaline-fueled. He decides to drive to ‘a particularly challenging SUV track’ he’s read about. Sprinting along, he hits a man and leaves him for dead. The next morning, Sirkit, the man’s wife, appears at his door along with Etian’s wallet which he dropped at the scene. Sirkit offers him a deal but it’s one that will have serious consequences for his home life and his job. Everything in Waking Lions is grey area. Sharp, thoughtful and challenging.

7016625Push – Sapphire

Claireece Precious Jones – Precious to her friends, Claireece to ‘mutherfuckers I hate’ – 16-years-old, five feet nine or ten, two hundred pounds, is pregnant for the second time to her father. Suspended from school, she goes to Each One Teach One, located on the nineteenth floor of a local hotel. Precious tells the story of her time attending the group, in which she learns to read and write, intertwined with that of her family situation. Push could be an unbearable read: every time you think it couldn’t get any darker, it does, but it’s balanced by Precious’ determination and Sapphire’s rendering of Precious’ voice which is pitch perfect and authentic.

getimage239-669x1024.aspxOne Night, Markovitch – Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (translated by Sondra Silverston)

Yaacov Markovitch and Zeev Feinberg go on the run after Feinberg is caught having sex with the wife of Avraham Mandelbaum, the slaughterer. The deputy commander of the Irgun, a friend of Feinberg’s, sends the pair to Europe where they will marry ‘a Jewish girl’ and bring them back to Palestine, thus circumventing the closed gates of Europe. Once the men return, they will divorce and the women will be free to remain. But Markovitch refuses to divorce his wife, the stunning but cold, Bella Zeigerman. The backbone of the story is that of three women: Bella; Feinberg’s wife, Sonya, and Mandelbaum’s wife, Rachel. Gundar-Goshen uses them to explore the ups-and-downs of marriage, parenthood, war, death …basically all of life is here.

51-2bjcqwu2l-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney

Maureen kills Robbie O’Donovan when she finds him in her house. As the mother of Cork’s biggest gangster, Jimmy Phelan, she doesn’t need to worry about clearing up her mess. But the mess is bigger than a body and some blood: Robbie’s girlfriend, Georgie, is looking for him and she has problems of her own; Tara Duane, Georgie’s confidant is keen to know everyone’s business and she lives next door to Jimmy’s alcoholic clearer-upper, Tony Cusak. And then there’s Cusak’s son, fifteen-year-old Ryan, who loses his virginity, starts his first long term relationship and begins to step out from the shadow of his alcoholic, violent, widowed father. A bloody entertaining read.

24902492
Ruby – Cynthia Bond

Ruby’s returned to Liberty Township, Texas from New York City. Everyone knows she’s mad: she pees in the street and has sex with many of the men in Liberty, but Ruby’s caught the attention of one man who wants to treat her differently; Ephram Jennings is planning to bring Ruby one of his sister’s white lay angel cakes. Ruby’s tortured by the ghosts which have attached themselves to her. As she gives herself to them, we learn about her childhood and the long-standing relationship she has with Jennings’ family. Bleak but threaded with hope and beautiful writing.

 

9781444775433The Devil in the Marshalsea – Antonia Hodgson

Tom Hawkins, eldest son of a Suffolk gentleman, Oxford graduate, set to join the clergy and inherit his father’s position, finds himself in the Marshalsea for unpaid rent and other debts. He arrives after the widow of Captain Roberts has taken up residence in the debtor’s  prison after Robert’s murder made to look like suicide. Hawkins gets drawn into solving the murder as he deals with his roommate, the despised Samuel Fleet, and the prison’s regime, divided by rich and poor. Intelligent, packed with period detail and plot, bawdy, has a social conscience and some hilarious lines. Entertaining.

 
9781846689499Pleasantville – Attica Locke

Pleasantville is a neighbourhood in Houston, Texas, built in 1949 “specifically for Negro families of means and class”. As a middle class, politically aware area, it also holds political power, a power which has become legendary over four decades. The story takes place in 1996 in the run-up to Houston’s mayoral election, the results of which might bring Alex Hathorne to office as the city’s first black mayor. As the novel begins the situation is quickly complicated by two events: the first is the abduction of a teenage girl, following a stint distributing campaign leaflets door-to-door in Pleasantville; the second is a break-in at Jay Porter’s office.As the story unravels, all the threads become entwined with the mayoral race at the centre. Locke considers who really runs an election campaign: a matter of business and money – who pays for the campaigns, who dictates strategy – but ultimately, how low people are prepared to go in their desperation for power.

51rxujxkrdl-_sx333_bo1204203200_
Negroland – Margo Jefferson

Margo Jefferson grew up in Chicago in the 1950s and ’60s. Born to a paediatrician father and a socialite mother, she experienced a particular type of privilege: that of the well-off, educated, black family. Personal experience is interwoven with the history of those Jefferson identifies as belonging to Negroland: Frances Jackson Coppin and Joseph Willson, for example; and cultural commentary on film, television and the media, discussing those black men and women who did appear on and in those mediums and what they came to represent for black communities. Negroland is a superb book which consider the intersections of race, class and gender. It’s a fascinating read and an insight into an underexplored area of society.

1000x2000
The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson

The Argonauts charts Nelson’s relationship with the artist Harry Dodge, including the conception and birth of their son, Iggy, and Dodge’s decision to begin taking testosterone and have top surgery. The Argonauts is not straightforward memoir, it is intellectual argument illuminated by personal experience and supported by academic rigour. It explores love – constructing and maintaining a relationship outside of heteronormativity and maternal love as stepmother and mother (the latter from the point of view of adult child and parent as well as the expectant mother/mother of a young child) – and the body – sex, gender fluidity, pregnancy and birth. Rigorous and fascinating.

4624860241_202x323
The Lonely City – Olivia Laing

Laing examines the idea of being lonely in the busiest place on earth – the city, specifically in her case New York City. Part memoir, part mediation on art, Laing looks at a number of artists who’ve dealt with the theme of loneliness – in their work and often in their private lives too – focusing in on Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Henry Darger and David Wojnarowicz. The Lonely City is a fascinating exploration of what loneliness is; how we attempt to stave it off; why some people are consumed by it, and what its relationship to artistic creation might be.

 

Pleasantville – Attica Locke

Pleasantville is a neighbourhood in Houston, Texas, built in 1949 “specifically for Negro families of means and class”. But it became much more than that when the middle-class black families marched:

…they marched on city hall, the school board, even the Department of Public Works, holding out the collective votes of a brand-new bloc as a bargaining chip to politicians previously reluctant to consider the needs of a new Negro middle class, and sealing, in the process, the neighbourhood’s political power, which would become legend over the next four decades.

 9781846689499

The story takes place in 1996 in the run-up to Houston’s mayoral election, the results of which might bring Alex Hathorne to office as the city’s first black mayor. As the novel begins the situation is quickly complicated by two events: the first is the abduction of a teenage girl, following a stint distributing campaign leaflets door-to-door in Pleasantville; the second is a break-in at Jay Porter’s office.

Since we last saw Jay in Black Water Rising, he’s taken on a huge civil case against Cole Oil Industries and bought a dilapidated house to use as an office. When he arrives there having been alerted to the break-in, he waits in his car for the cops to arrive. Locke uses the scene to comment upon police treatment of black men.

The officers pulled to a stop at an angle that brought the front end of their cruiser to rest nearly at Jay’s feet at the curb, its headlights hitting him square in the chest. He instinctively raised his hands.

“Porter,” he said, loud and clear. “This is my place.”

Once the police have searched the building, found it empty, filled out an incident report and left, Jay hears someone upstairs. He finds a nineteen or twenty-year-old male in his conference room. After the kid kicks the remaining pieces of glass from the frame of the window he’s broken, Jay has the opportunity – legally – to shoot him. But he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t shoot this kid in the back.

Currently, Jay’s only case is Pleasantville v. ProFerma Labs, a case which has come from two explosions at ProFerma’s chemical plant that threatened to burn Pleasantville to the ground. Jay assumed it would be over quickly but ProFerma still haven’t made a serious settlement offer. Jay’s down to the one case because of his home-life: Bernie’s dead and he has two children, fifteen-year-old Ellie and ten-year-old Ben, to raise alone. Soon though, Jay’s caught up in trying to discover the whereabouts of the missing girl, Alicia Nowell. Two other girls, Deanne Duchon and Tina Wells, also went missing from Pleasantville, one in 1994, the other in 1995. In both cases, the girls were found dead six days after their abductions. While investigating any links to the earlier cases knowing time is against the girl and the community, Jay discovers there’s someone watching him, someone driving a stolen Nissan Z. As the story unravels, all the threads become entwined with the mayoral race at the centre.

In Pleasantville, Locke considers who really runs an election campaign: a matter of business and money – who pays for the campaigns, who dictates strategy – but ultimately, how low people are prepared to go in their desperation for power. She clearly ties some of the strategies used in Pleasantville to win voters to the campaign for the Bush/Gore election in 2000 when it came down to a handful of votes across the country. It’s a scenario that could be bone dry in a less exciting writer’s hands, but Locke knows how to tie the personal with the political and does so both with the Hathorne family and Jay’s own situation.

The novel has real pace to it, twist and turns every few pages none of which are either predictable or implausible and this alone would mark Locke as an excellent political thriller writer. However, the fact that she writes about black communities; that her characters are almost all black or Hispanic; that while her stories couldn’t be transposed to a white community, her characters are every bit as rounded, human, good, bad and changeable as novels peopled with only white characters, makes her work stand out in a block of pale, stereotyped tales.

Pleasantville is an intelligent, rip-roaring insight into the political process and an astute look at the dynamics of family – blood or created – and how they change following significant life events. Attica Locke is a superb writer and fast becoming one of my personal favourites.

 

Thanks to Serpent’s Tail for the review copy.

The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2016

Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2016 Longlisted Books1

8th March 2016: The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction announces its 2016 longlist, comprised of 20 books that celebrate the best of fiction written by women

Here they are, the 20 books longlisted for this year’s Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. In alphabetical order (of author’s surname):

A God In Ruins – Kate Atkinson

Rush Oh! – Shirley Barrett

Ruby – Cynthia Bond

The Secret Chord – Geraldine Brooks

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding – Jackie Copleton

Whispers Through a Megaphone – Rachel Elliott

The Green Road – Anne Enright

The Book of Memory – Petina Gappah

Gorsky – Vesna Goldsworthy

The Anatomist’s Dream – Clio Gray

At Hawthorn Time – Melissa Harrison

Pleasantville – Attica Locke

The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney

The Portable Veblen – Elizabeth McKenzie

Girl at War – Sara Nović

The House at the Edge of the World – Julia Rochester

The Improbability of Love – Hannah Rothschild

My Name Is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

My initial reaction is that the three books I thought were certs are all on there – A God in Ruins, My Name Is Lucy Barton and A Little Life. Very pleased to see all three.

I predicted six of the titles, which is my highest success rate ever! Very pleased to see Girl at War on the list as well as The Portable Veblen. I’ve enjoyed all those I’ve already read, which includes The Green Road which I haven’t posted my review for yet.

As for the rest of the list, I’m delighted to see Pleasantville – I loved Black Water Rising and have had the latest on my TBR pile for ages. I’ve also heard good things from people I trust about The Book of Memory, At Hawthorn Time and The Glorious Heresies.

As always with The Bailey’s Prize there are some books I hadn’t heard of before I saw the list. My absolute favourite part of this is reading those titles, there’s always one in there that surprises me with its brilliance. On looking through the blurbs, I can’t believe I hadn’t come across Ruby, it’s had so many fantastic reviews, and The Anatomist’s Dream is perfect for my PhD thesis so I’m very pleased it’s come to my attention.

I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the reading and debating the books with the rest of the shadow panel. I’m hoping you’ll join in the discussion on our blogs and Twitter too. Can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks of the chosen titles.

 

 

My Plans for #ReadDiverse2016

ReadDiverse_Avatar

I don’t do New Year resolutions. I learnt some years ago that those vague statements – I’m going to do more exercise/eat less/learn a language – don’t last beyond mid-January. But goals do, at least specific ones you can work towards and extend, if necessary, or not beat yourself up about if you don’t quite fulfil them do.

Last year, I set a goal to read more books by women of colour. I joined Eva Stalker’s #TBR20 project with the caveat that I’d continue to read review copies I was sent as well. I still haven’t completed all the reviews of those books yet but the main effect it had was I paid attention to what I was reading, specifically who the writer was. In 2014 10% of my reading was by writers of colour, in 2015, it was 32%. The unintended consequence of this, however, is that the number of books I read by writers from LGBTQIA communities plummeted from 6% to 0.5% and books in translation from 11% to 0.6%. (The latter was partly a consequence of me not really taking part in #WITMonth due to personal circumstances but still, it’s poor.)

The plan for this year then: more reviews of books by women of colour; more reviews of books by women who identify as LGBT; a proper focus on women in translation in August.

I’m aiming for 50% of my reviews to be of books by women of colour. I’ve changed the focus from the percentage I’m reading with the intention of even coverage on here. What I noticed last year was that although I was reading books from my #TBR20 stack, when I got back to reading and reviewing after my break in the summer, I was focusing on books by white women, the ‘big titles’. As a consequence, I have a stack of review copies by women of colour. These are now at the top of the pile.

FullSizeRender[3]FullSizeRender[2]FullSizeRender[1]

I’ve also created a new #TBR20 pile focusing on writers from the LGBT communities. And here they are…

FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender[4]
IMG_0335Half of the books (those on the left, except Anaïs Nin who appears to be in the wrong pile) are by women of colour. I used several sources to help me compile the list: More than 50 books by Queer People of Color by zarahwithaz; 10 Novels & Memoirs By and About Black Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer Women on Autostraddle;100+ LGBTQ Black Women You Should Know: The Epic Black History Month Megapost also on Autostraddle, and the Wikipedia list of LGBT Writers.

Elsewhere, you might have seen on social media that Media Diversified have created Bare Lit Festival (@BareLit). ‘A literary festival focused entirely on writers of colour’, which will run from the 26th – 28th February 2016.

We want to counteract the trend of equating literary merit with whiteness by highlighting the amazing variety of work currently being produced by BAME writers. That’s why we’ve put together an exciting programme of performances, panels and conversations — such as ‘Second-Generation Poets in Exile’, ‘What Does Liberation in Literature Look Like?, Sci Fi vs. Afrofuturism’ and much more.

I’ve already bought my weekend pass and you can support the festival by buying passes or single event tickets now and helping them to raise the cost of running the event. Find out more on their Indiegogo page.

Mention of Media Diversified brings me to this interesting piece, posted a couple of days ago: Decolonise, not Diversify by Kavita Bhanot. I agree with everything she says.

Speaking only for myself, I didn’t get involved with #diversedecember because I thought it would change the world but I did hope it might lead some people to question their world view or the view the white-dominated world imposes upon us.

During December, Salena Godden (@salenagodden) posted a video of her performing her new poem ‘I Count’. ‘I have become a woman that counts…’ she begins. Yep. I became a woman that counts when I started this blog. I don’t think it’s a solution and it’s certainly not going to bring about one on its own, but while ever white/male/hetero/cis domination exists, I’ll count. For me, #ReadDiverse2016 (@ReadDiverse2016) is about hoping you’ll join in that count too.

In the Media, November 2015, Part One

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

We’re still deep in book awards territory this fortnight with a number of winners and shortlists being announced. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won the Bailey’s Best of the Best for Half of a Yellow Sun. The award prompted pieces from Alice Stride in The Bookseller, an editorial in The Guardian and Anna James on The Pool about why we still need the Bailey’s Prize.

Sarah Waters won Stonewall’s Writer of the Decade; Lydia Davis will receive The Paris Review’s Hadada Award 2016; Kerry Hudson won the Prix Femina for Translated Fiction; Roxane Gay won the PEN Centre USA Freedom to Write Award; Jacqueline Wilson won the JM Barrie Award

The shortlists include the eclectic, female dominates Waterstones’ Book of the Year Award, chosen by Waterstones’ Booksellers; The Guardian First Book Award which Catherine Taylor, one of this years judges, discusses, and The Young Writer of the Year Award (which not only has gender parity, but also an equal split between writers of colour and white writers).

Meanwhile, Arundhati Roy returned her National Award for Best Screenplay, she explains why in The Guardian and Heather Horn investigates why the Prix Goncourt has been awarded to a man 102 times and a woman 11 times on The Atlantic

Irish women have been speaking out about the Abbey Theatre where nine out of ten plays in its 2016 centenary programme are written by men. Emer O’Toole writes about the reaction in The Guardian and Ellen Coyne in The Irish Times while Dr Susan Liddy, academic at the University of Limerick, writes ‘Women and the Irish film industry‘ to The Irish Times.

And if you only read one thing from this fortnight’s list, I highly recommend Jacqueline Rose’s essay, ‘Bantu in the Bathroom: on the trial of Oscar Pistorius‘ in The LRB.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art and Fashion:

The interviews:

The regular columnists:

In the Media: 26th April 2015

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

This week’s been all about friendship. The Cut declared it Friends Forever Week and ran a series of articles including, ‘The Friend Who Showed Me the Life I Could Have Had‘ by Nell Freudenberger; Emily Gould wrote, ‘Envy Nearly Wrecked My Best Friendship‘; Carina Chocano, ‘9 Friends Who Made Me Who I Am‘; Heather Havrilesky, ‘The Friend I’ve Been Fighting With for 20 Years‘; Clique-Stalking: Instagram’s Greatest Social Pleasure‘ by Maureen O’Connor, and ‘25 Famous Women on Female Friendship‘. While Megan O’Grady wrote ‘This Spring’s Literary Subject May Have You Calling Your Pals‘ in Vogue; Lauren Laverne says ‘It’s time to rehabilitate matchmaking‘ in The Pool, Sulagna Misra writes ‘How Captain America Helped Me Make Friends in the Real World‘ on Hello Giggles and Leesa Cross-Smith writes, ‘Broken Friendships & Knowing All Too Well‘ on Real Pants.

If you’re still to discover it, one of my favourite blogs Something Rhymed covers friendships between female writers and is run by two female writers who are also best friends, Emma Claire Sweeney and Emily Midorikawa. On the site this week, ‘Crying Tears of Laughter: Irenosen Okojie and Yvette Edwards‘.

And then there’s the Amy Schumer sketch with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Patricia Arquette and Tina Fey celebrating Louis-Dreyfus’ ‘Last Fuckable Day’. If you haven’t seen it yet, you must watch it RIGHT NOW! And when you’ve done that you can read Eleanor Margolis, ‘This Inside Amy Schumer sketch about the media’s treatment of “older” women is perfect‘ in the New Statesman and/or Lynn Enright, ‘Hollywood actresses skewer sexism and ageism brilliantly‘ in The Pool.

Unfortunately, it’s also been about Twitter trolls: Soraya Chemaly wrote in Time, ‘Twitter’s Safety and Free Speech Tightrope‘; Fiona Martin wrote ‘Women are silenced online, just as in real life. It will take more than Twitter to change that‘ in The Guardian; Sali Hughes wrote, ‘Trolls triumph by shutting down women’s voices‘ in The Pool

Congratulations to Yiyun Li who became the first woman to win the Sunday Times short story award and to Emily Bitto who won The Stella Prize this week.

In this week’s Harper Lee news, ‘Reese Witherspoon set to record Harper Lee’s new novel‘ reports Alison Flood in The Guardian.

And the woman with the most publicity this week is Kate Bolick, author of Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, who writes ‘How Writers Can Grow by Pretending to Be Other People‘ in The Atlantic, and is interviewed on Slate, in Cosmopolitan and on Longreads. While Stephanie Gorton Murphy writes, ‘The Uneasy Woman: Meghan Daum, Kate Bolick, and the Legacy of Ida Tarbell‘ on The Millions.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Music, Film and Television:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction to read:

If you want some poetry to read:

If you want some non-fiction to read:

The lists:

In the Media: 19th April 2015

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist was revealed this week. Sarah Shaffi of The Bookseller reports, ‘Experience tells on Baileys Women’s Prize shortlist‘ while Anna James of We Love This Book introduces us to each of the books and invites us to read along in this video.

Other big news was London Book Fair. For readers, this means announcements about new acquisitions from significant writers. Alison Flood in the Guardian reports, ‘Age shall not weary them: Diana Athill, 97, and Edna O’Brien, 84, are stars of London book fair‘ and ‘London book fair excited by Erica Jong’s new novel‘. The Quietus reports on Viv Albertine’s new book and the cover for Patti Smith’s sequel to Just Kids was released this week, see it in The Pool. If you want a glimpse into what goes on at the fair, Antonia Honeywell wrote on her blog about the panel she was part of, ‘Promoting Debut Authors – London Book Fair 14th April 2015‘.

The woman with the most publicity this week is Evangeline Jennings who’s interviewed on The Indie View, Col’s Criminal Library, Quirky Fiction, Omnimystery News and in character as one of the narrators of her short stories, Helen Wheels on Reflections of Reality.

In this week’s Harper Lee news, ‘PRH reveals Harper Lee title page‘ reports Publishers Weekly.

And in this week’s Elena Ferrante news, if you haven’t read anything by her, she’s this week’s Bedtime Bookclub in The Pool where you can read the first five chapters of My Brilliant Friend. Also in The Pool, Viv Groskop asks, ‘Is being a bestseller all in a name?‘ and Cristina Marconi writes, ‘Elena Ferrante versus Italy‘ on Little Atoms.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Music, Film and Television:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction to read:

If you want some poetry to read:

  • What Did Sriraman Say?‘ by Perundevi (translated by Padma Narayanan and Subashree Krishnaswamy) in Words Without Borders
  • Highway‘ by Malathi Maithri (translated by Lakshmi Holmström) in Words Without Borders
  • Three Dreams‘ by Sharmila Seyyid (translated by Lakshmi Holmström) in Words Without Borders
  • Fear‘ by Krishangini (translated by Padma Narayanan and Subashree Krishnaswamy) in Words Without Borders
  • Shunaka: Blood Count‘ by Karthika Nair in Granta
  • Gone to Pasture/To Speak‘ by Natalie Eilbert in The Offing
  • Compromised Field‘ by Shareen Mansfield on The Honeyed Quill
  • Humbles‘ by Frances Leviston on Poem Today
  • The Handshake‘ by Isabel Rogers on her blog
  • A Psalm for the Scaffolders‘ by Kim Moore on Seren Books’ Blog

If you want some non-fiction to read:

The lists:

In the Media: 12th April 2015

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

The results of the VIDA count was announced on Monday. VIDA: Women in Literary Arts have counted the number of female and male reviewers in the major literary publications. There are some improvements this year, but overall the picture remains grim. For the first time this year, VIDA published a separate count for Women of Colour, it’s as depressing as you might expect. Reaction came from Hannah Ellis Peterson in The Guardian, ‘Male writers continue to dominate literary criticism, Vida study finds‘; Radhika Sanghani in The Telegraph, ‘Men aren’t better writers than women. Literary mags need to close the book on gender bias‘ and on Bustle, Caroline Goldstein declared, ‘The Results of the 2014 Women of Color VIDA Count Are Problematic‘.

VIDA also produced a handout: Things You Can Do Right Now to Advance Women’s Writing. Immediately after the results of the announcement, good things began to happen in Twitterland; Marisa Wikramamanayake created a ‘Women Who Review‘ database. If you’re a reviewer, you can add yourself to it; if you’re an editor at a literary magazine with a gender balance problem, you can have a look at all the women you could approach with review commissions. Judi Sutherland is getting a group of women reviewers together to send reviews to the TLS, contact her on Twitter if you want to get involved, and Amy Mason created Sister Act Theatre (@SisterTheatre): Support + recommendations of/for women working in UK theatre/performance. Worked with a great woman? Need work? Promoting your show? Tell us.

While all that’s been going on, Katy Derbyshire has been collating ‘Some more statistics on translated fiction‘ on Love German Books.

The other big news this week came from an American report that found the number of women choosing to be child-free has increased. The report coincided with the publication of the Meghan Daum edited essay collection Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids and the launch of the film While We’re Young. It’s triggered a number of articles: Emma Gray at the Huffington Post says, ‘A Record Percentage Of Women Don’t Have Kids. Here’s Why That Makes Sense‘; Jane Marie wrote, ‘Why I Stopped Trying to Be a Supermom and Started Being Myself Again‘ on Jezebel’; Hayley Webster wrote, ‘I had an abortion and didn’t talk about it…and I no longer want to live in shame‘ on her website; Hadley Freeman wrote, ‘Why do we still have to justify the choice to be child-free?‘ in The Guardian; Jessica Valenti asked, ‘Why do we never worry about men’s childlessness and infertility?‘ also in The Guardian

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Music and Television:

 

The interviews:

If you want some fiction to read:

If you want some poetry to read:

If you want some non-fiction to read:

The lists:

Black Water Rising – Attica Locke

Texas, 1981. Jay Parker, lawyer, is taking his six months’ pregnant wife, Bernie, on a romantic trip on the river. However, the boat is shabby, the bayou ‘is little more than a narrow, muddy strip of water’ and Jay’s

…feeling a knot tighten in his throat, a familiar cinch at the neck, a feeling of always coming up short where his wife is concerned. He feels a sharp stab of anger. The guy on the phone lied to him. The guy on the phone is a liar. It feels good to outsource it, to put it on somebody else. When the truth is, there are thirty-five open case files on his desk, at least ten or twelve with court time pending; there wasn’t time to plan anything else for Bernie’s birthday, and more important, there hasn’t been any money, not for months.

And you know what? It’s about to get a whole lot worse.

They are about to head back inside when they hear the first scream, what sounds at first like a cat’s cry, shrill and desperate. It’s coming from the north side of the bayou, high above them, from somewhere in the thick of trees and weeds lining the bank. At first Jay thinks of an animal caught in the brush. But then…he hears it again. He looks at his wife. She too is staring through the trees. The old man in the baseball cap suddenly emerges from the captain’s cabin, a narrow slip of a room at the head of the boat, housing the gears and controls.

“What the hell was that?” he asks, looking at Jay and Bernie.

Jay shakes his head even though he already knows. Somewhere deep down, he knows. It wasn’t an animal he heard. It was a woman.

A few minutes later, following gunshots and Bernie pleading with Jay to call the police, a body tumbles down the banking and into the river. Jay dives in and pulls out a woman, ‘white and filthy’ but still alive. Unable to get enough information from her to find out how much danger she is in, Jay and Bernie take her to the police station, dropping her off outside the door.

All of this takes place as Locke begins to introduce us to Jay’s backstory. It feels superfluous at the time but it becomes clear as the novel develops that it’s key to events that take place later on.

Bernie and the baby are all the family Jay’s got. He doesn’t speak to his mother or his sister and his friends abandoned him when he went to trial ‘on a charge of inciting a riot and conspiracy to commit murder of an agent of the federal government – a kid like him and a paid informant’. The only people who came to court everyday were women from the church through which, eventually, he met Bernie.

Jay’s current case involves a prostitute who’s been in an accident while out with a high profile member of the community. It’s clear he’s only taken the case for the money and trying to work out which cases will bring him financial reward has become part of his role. It wasn’t how his law practice began though. He took out a police brutality lawsuit on behalf of ‘a sixteen-year-old black kid who was nervous and fumbling for his licence’, who was dragged from his car and beaten. Jay took on a white attorney with a decade’s experience and won. The case got his name noticed but the people queuing up for help were disenfranchised black people who Jay wants to help but who can’t afford to pay him.

Before long though, he’s involved in two issues, neither of which are bringing in any money. The first is the case involving the woman from the beginning of the novel.

A white male, shot twice, found in an open field in the 400 block of Clinton, near Lockwood Drive in Fifth Ward, not fifty yards from Buffalo Bayou.

Jay can’t help taking an interest himself.

The second is due to Bernie’s father, the Reverend Boykins. He’s supporting a group of longshoremen, The Brotherhood of Longshoremen, a group of black men working on the docks. They’re a branch of the ILA, the International Longshoremen’s Association who are about to vote on whether to strike over pay; ‘…the black workers are routinely paid less than their white brothers…’. One of the young men has been attacked. He claims it was men from the ILA and his family and Reverend Boykins want Jay to represent him.

By now, you’re probably thinking sheesh, there’s a lot going on in this novel. So was I and I wondered how Locke was going to maintain the reader’s interest whilst holding up the threads of each plotline and not confusing the reader along the way. Of course, all these threads become intertwined as the novel progresses and Locke does a good job of keeping the connections both clear and twisty for the reader. She interlinks civil rights concerns from the sixties and seventies with present day concerns both about race and politics and its connection with industry.

Jay Parker’s a great new face to join the tradition of damaged investigators. Locke’s created someone shaped and hurt by his past but who’s trying to do good in his present. Obviously he doesn’t always get it right and there are points in the book where you want to scream at him, but they’re the points that make him human/rounded/flawed.

Black Water Rising is an impressive debut; to hold so many strands and bring them all to a satisfying conclusion is no mean feat. It’s a smart, satisfying read.