In the Media, January 2017

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 as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

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Image by Abigail Grey Swartz

Where is there to start other than with articles about the new American regime?

On the Women’s March:

On Melania:

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On American society under Trump:

On Trump:

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The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

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The interviews/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

Dead Babies and Seaside Towns – Alice Jolly

Dead Babies and Seaside Towns is a book from those brilliant people at Unbound. If you haven’t come across this independent publishing house yet, its basic premise is that authors pitch books on the site and if you like the sound of their idea, you pledge to fund the book, buying a copy and possibly other rewards in the process. They’ve had great success in particular with Letters of Note and The Wake by Paul Kingsolver, which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2014.

I was one of the people who pledged to fund Jolly’s Dead Babies and Seaside Towns. You would probably assume I did so because I wanted to read it but actually I had little intention of ever opening the front cover. I helped to fund the book because I have two close friends who, between them, have suffered miscarriages, a stillbirth and an infant death. I’ve seen one of them go through multiple rounds of IVF and the other wrestle with depression. Having never been or ever wanted to be pregnant, with no desire to have children of my own (I’m an accidental step-parent: I fell in love with someone who already had a young son and a stepdaughter), I can see what wanting to be a parent means to other people but I only have a limited understanding of it myself. I contributed to the funding because I could see that Jolly’s story was important even if I couldn’t identify with it.

I ended up reading it because Jolly and I have a mutual friend through whom Jolly contacted me and asked if I’d take part in a blog tour for the book. I agreed and then kept forgetting about it. On remembering I’d think, oh goodness, I’m going to have to read it. I put it off until the latest I knew I could get away with and still manage to read the whole thing and write a review in time for my slot on the tour. That was Saturday lunchtime. By the time I went to bed that evening, I was fifty pages from the end, having done little else other than read the book for the rest of the day. Not because I knew I had to but because it’s absolutely bloody brilliant.

Although I’m a writer by profession, I have always felt sure that I would never write a memoir. I do not trust them, never have. Me-me-me, moi-moi-moi. But now our legal team – one law firm in America, two law firms in England and a barrister – have been in touch to say that I need to write a twenty-page statement explaining everything that happened. They need this in preparation for our hearing in the High Court.

The hearing at the High Court is almost the end of Jolly’s story – or at least the end of the one she’s written. Before we get there, she takes us chronologically from the beginning, when her son, Thomas, is two and she is sixteen weeks pregnant. She’s already bled briefly at eleven weeks but it’s begun again and the hospital in Brussels, two miles from their house, tells her to go in for a scan.

There seems to be some delay with the appointments…Apparently there’s an emergency so some routine appointments will have to wait. Stephen and I nod at each other. We are polite and reasonable people, the kind of people who almost relish an opportunity to stand aside and let some other more needy person take our place. Another doctor emerges, peers at me, disappears.

Then I understand. I am the emergency.

The scan reveals that the placenta is partly detached. It’s possible the baby will survive but Jolly is at serious risk of infection. The only thing they can do is wait and hope they don’t lose the baby at six or seven months. Trying to get as much rest as possible while looking after a two-year-old, Jolly continues to bleed regularly.

One night, lying in bed, I hear a loud and rhythmic banging coming from next door. It echoes through the walls of the house and thumps inside my head. It seems odd that our neighbours should start doing building work late at night – and what are they doing which involves this loud and regular hammering? Stephen comes up to bed and I mention that the noise is keeping me awake. He tells me that there is no noise. And I realise that what I’m hearing is my own fear.

I won’t keep quoting at length although it would be so easy to do so. Jolly writes with her novelist’s eyes and ears. The prose is precise and detailed, the sentences rhythmic and often repetitive, highlighting Jolly’s feelings – So this is it then. Our baby has died – and the mundanity of the everyday churning on while she faces such wrenching moments, days, months: I put the washing machine on, hang clothes on the line, load the dishwasher, write a short story, wipe Thomas’ nose.

The detached placenta is only the beginning of the story. A sudden fever strikes Jolly a few days from the twenty-four weeks along she needs to be for her baby to be delivered prematurely. At the point when she thinks the infection is clearing her waters break and her baby, Laura, is delivered stillborn.

Photograph by Sylvain Guenot

Jolly describes the book as ‘Laura’s story’ and she is ever present in the rest of the book as Jolly begins to read the stories of others who’ve had stillborn babies, as she goes through the trauma of being told they should try for another baby soon because of her age, as she has several more miscarriages, as they go through IVF treatment, as they try to adopt, as she sees friends become pregnant and deliver live, healthy babies.

Listed like that, the events that occur in Jolly’s life (at least those she focuses on in the book) sound relentlessly grim. But the book is not. This results from a combination of Laura being alive throughout the book, Jolly’s discussions regarding faith, the hierarchy of grief, the moral arguments around IVF and adoption, her son, her friends, and Jolly’s tone which I can only describe as straight to the point of bluntness. There is no dressing up the continuous horror of losing babies, of the attempts to find a way to have a second child, and neither is it mawkish. Although on the surface we have little in common, I find myself thinking I’d probably like her a lot.

The reason for Jolly writing the twenty-pages for the High Court mentioned earlier is that she and her husband eventually decide to have a baby via a surrogate. This is illegal in the UK so they go through an American agency. This is complicated and costly as well as coming loaded with preconceptions from others. As with the rest of the book, Jolly is precise as to the steps her and her husband go through as well as how she feels at different stages of the procedure. It’s a fascinating story.

Dead Babies and Seaside Towns is an important book; I suspect it could be seminal for women who’ve been through similar losses to Jolly. It is also beautifully crafted and compelling. I’m so glad I did read it, it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.

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: 9th November 2014

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.

It’s awards time again this week. Congratulations to Helen Macdonald who won the Samuel Johnson Prize with her stunning memoir H is for Hawk. There’s an article about it and an interview, both in The Guardian. You can also listen to interviews with all the shortlisted writers on BBC Radio 4.

While in France, Lydie Salvayre won the Prix Goncourt with Pas Pleurer.

The Green Carnation shortlist was announced this week and there are four women on the shortlist of six – congratulations to Kerry Hudson, Kirsty Logan, Anneliese Mackintosh and Laurie Penny. Prior to the announcement, Antonia Honeywell wrote her thoughts on the longlist.

The National Book Awards (UK) shortlists were also announced this week. Lots of books by women worth a read on there too.

And the Saltaire Society shortlisted a self-published book for their First Book AwardThe Last Pair of Ears by Mary F. McDonough. The first self-published book to be shortlisted for a Scottish Prize.

That might make you think about Paul Kingsnorth’s novel The Wake which was the first crowd funded novel to be longlisted for The Man Booker Prize earlier this year. Well, Unbound, Kingsnorth’s publishers have announced a Women in Print campaign to try to increase the number of female authors published.

This week has also seen The Bookseller’s report on diversity in publishing – still not good enough, is the overriding conclusion.

It wouldn’t be an average week these days without a Lena Dunham story. Accused by a right-wing journalist of sexually molesting her younger sister following a confessional passage in her book, discussion ensued from Emily Gould, Katie McDonough, Mary Elizabeth Williams and Carolyn Edgar on Salon; Sarah Seltzer on Flavorwire; Emma Gannon on The Debrief; Grace Dent in The Independent. To cheer you up after that, here are 37 Funny and Inspired Thoughts from her book tour on Buzzfeed.

In more cheering news about prominent females, Mallory Ortberg, founder of The Toast, had her book Texts for Jane Eyre published in America this week. In the Los Angeles Review of Books, Sarah Mesle wrote a stunning essay/review about the book’s feminist credentials. She’s interviewed on Entertainment Weekly, The Huffington Post and The Guardian. And you can read an extract, 7 Brutal Literary Breakup Texts on Buzzfeed.

And the Amy Poehler stories are still going. The woman herself answers the Proust Questionnaire in Vanity Fair. Here’s 5 Unexpected Things Marie Claire learned from Poehler’s book. Jessica Valenti has (mis?) read the book and declared ‘bitchiness’ the secret to Poehler’s success in The Guardian. Also in The Guardian, Hadley Freeman told us ‘Why Amy Poehler is the Ultimate Role Model for British Women‘.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

In translation:

  • Jenny Erpenbeck (tr. Susan Bernofsky) ‘Homesick for Sadness’ on the fall of the Berlin Wall in The Paris Review
  • Julie Winters Carpenter interviewed about translating Japanese poetry on the Asymptote Blog

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

The lists:

And the 13 (I tried to keep it to 10 but it’s been a very good week) best things I’ve seen this week: