In the Media: December 2016

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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Post-election coverage is still top of the tree this fortnight:

The other big story has been the revelation that Maria Schneider was raped in Last Tango in Paris:

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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:

In the Media, April 2016, 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 as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

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There’s been a strong narrative about the abuse of women over the last fortnight. Jessica Knoll wrote a personal and powerful essay about the gang rape which informed the writing of her novel Luckiest Girl Alive. What I Know‘ was published on Lena Dunham’s site Lenny. Daisy Buchanan interviewed Knoll for The Pool. Jia Tolentino looked at the reporting of abuse in ‘Is this the End of the Era of the Important, Inappropriate Literary Man‘ on Jezebel. Helen Walmsley-Johnson wrote ‘The shame of abuse has held me hostage for years‘ on The Pool; Kathryn Joyce wrote ‘Out Here, No One Can Hear You Scream‘ on The Huffington Post; Jade Blair wrote, ‘Women Do What They Need To Do To Survive‘ on Hazlitt, and Louise O’Neill wrote ‘Nothing could prepare me for what happened when I published my book‘ on The Pool and ‘What a privilege it is to think that I might have touched other peoples lives in some small way‘ in The Irish Examiner. (The later is O’Neill’s weekly column which I’ve now added to the regulars section at the bottom of the post.)

The 2015 VIDA count for the number of bylines and reviews for female writers in literary magazines was announced. There’s some good news in some areas but, overall, there’s still a long way to go. Rachel McCarthy James followed this with, ‘Women in Publishing 100 Years Ago: A Historical VIDA Count: Representation and Gender (Im)Balance in 1916‘ on Literary Hub

The longlist for the Desmond Elliott Prize was announced with seven books by female writers in the running.

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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:

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

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The interviews:

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The regular columnists:

In the Media: March 2016, Part Two

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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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

The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist was announced this fortnight. While former winner, Lionel Shriver declared ‘Women’s literary prizes are ‘problematic’‘.

And the Wellcome Book Prize announced their shortlist with four (out of six) female writers on it, as did the YA Book Prize with eight women writers on its ten book shortlist.

Elena Ferrante is hot news in the literary world once again after Corriere della Sera published an article in which Marco Santagata claimed to know her identity. Rachel Donadio wrote, ‘Who Is Elena Ferrante? An Educated Guess Causes a Stir‘ in The New York Times; Jonathan Sturgeon said, ‘We Already Know the Identity of Elena Ferrante‘ on Flavorwire; Lincoln Michel asked, ‘Why Do We Care Who the “Real” Elena Ferrante Is?‘ on Electric Literature; Stassa Edwards asked, ‘What’s Really Behind Our Obsession Over Unmasking Elena Ferrante?‘ on Jezebel; John Dugdale wrote, ‘Will Elena Ferrante outlast Louisa May Alcott’s secret alter ego?‘ in The Guardian, and Jessica Roy declared, ‘Leave Elena Ferrante Alone‘ in The Cut.

Anita Brookner died. Rebecca Hawkes wrote her obituary while Linda Grant wrote, ‘Why Anita Brookner’s funny, sharp novels got under your skin‘ both in The Telegraph.

The best of the rest:

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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:

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

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The interviews:

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The regular columnists:

Antonia Honeywell on The Ship + giveaway

Giveaway now closed.

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It’s paperback publication day for another of my books of 2015 today, The Ship by Antonia Honeywell. I’m delighted to have Antonia on the blog discussing The Ship and her first year as a published writer. I’ve reposted my original review below and W&N have kindly given me a copy for one of you to win. Details of how to enter are at the bottom of the post. But first, it’s over to Antonia.

Antonia Honeywell copyright Chris Honeywell

A number of reviewers have described Lalla as ‘unlikeable’. I’m fascinated by this as I think the idea that characters are unlikeable is inextricably tied to society’s idea of how females should act. Do you think Lalla’s unlikeable?

No, I don’t.

There.

There’s a longer answer, of course which goes something like this: Right up until the day she turns sixteen, Lalla is sheltered to an incredible extent. Her parents make sure that she has food; they try and educate her; most significantly for Lalla, though, they don’t allow her any contact with other people. Other wealthy families have left London; the Pauls have elected to stay and follow another path, and Lalla’s crippling loneliness is part of the price. She’s given no choice. There are other people in London. Lalla’s mother, Anna, often visits the community that’s established itself in the British Museum. Her father, Michael, is often away, doing the deals by which he stocks the ship. He’s worked for the military government. And yet neither of them ever folds Lalla into these interactions. They won’t even take her to the holding centre, where the people of the ship are gathered prior to their departure.

Now I’m not saying that it’s easy to arrange playdates in a post-apocalyptic wilderness. I am saying that Lalla’s never given the chance to form relationships of her own. Every experience she has is moderated by her parents. And her parents go to great lengths to make sure that, once on board the ship, Lalla will be surrounded by people whose world view agrees with theirs.

So when Lalla begins to ask questions, there is no one to help her. Every single person on the ship – however kind they are – has a vested interest in keeping Lalla from growing up. Her developing awareness is constantly held in check. There is only one path laid out for her, and not only must she follow it, but she has to be grateful, too. Because the whole thing was done for her.

Historically, men and women have both been subject to a level of societal expectation. I’d argue that, for men, those expectations have included far more opportunity. To men, the education, the adventure, the pioneering. To women, the domestic and the drudgery. Princes fight dragons; princesses are bestowed as a reward. And gratitude for thrown crumbs is part of the women’s package.

To me, Lalla is heroic for questioning, then standing against, the consequences of a choice she was given no part in making. She has to find the courage to reject a gift that was been procured for her at great trouble and expense. And she has to trust her own instinct when not one single person around her supports or encourages her to do so. To those who find it hard to like her, I’d say only this: I’m doing this for you is the lie abusers have told their victims throughout history.

Who are your favourite female protagonists and did any of them inspire the creation of Lalla?

There are so many. Dorothea Brooke from Middlemarch, forging her own path at huge personal cost. Lucy Snowe from Villette, learning that love lies not in being absorbed by another, but in working alongside them. The heroines of Kate Chopin and Sarah Grand, showing the price of standing against a society that dictates who and what you must be. Emily, the young girl in Doris Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor, rebelling and needing approval all at the same time. And Angela Carter’s women – particularly the twins in Wise Children and the fairytale characters of The Bloody Chamber – laughing and having sex and bleeding and suffering and being shamelessly fabulous. Sometimes all at the same time. They’re all there in Lalla. If it’s anything at all, The Ship is the story of Lalla coming to realise this for herself.

There’s been a change to the cover for the paperback, particularly in terms of the colour scheme. Can you tell us about the process of deciding on a cover?

The hardback cover went through three or four drafts, each very different. The first draft showed the prow of the ship with a tiny figure on the stern, all in greys and yellows. One draft had a series of stylised waves in front of a London skyline; another a sunset. The publisher proposes the images; they then go to agent and author, and a dialogue ensues. The final cover brought together the best features of all the drafts – the figure of Lalla looking back at London brought a real human interest to an already powerful image, particularly once we started taking chunks out of the London landmarks. The paperback design brings out the more lyrical aspects of the novel; I particularly love the flock of birds escaping the constraints of the image of St Paul’s cathedral.

I love both the covers. The hardback is brighter and bolder; the paperback more impressionistic and reflective.

You’re an avid reader and I know you read many books listed for prizes. What impact do you think this has on your writing?

Yes – I’m really looking forward to shadowing the Baileys prize with you and the others again this year. I know there’s at least one book we’re going to have an extremely robust discussion about. The reason I read so many prize listed books is that I don’t feel I can argue strongly for the books I love unless I’ve read all the others. The disadvantage to this, of course, is that it takes a great deal of reading time. Since I’ve been published, I find myself less and less aware of the books that aren’t being pushed by their publishers. I tend to read all the proofs I’m sent (I don’t get sent as many as you!) – and that, of course, means I’m automatically reading books that are getting support. I’m finding that the publishing industry tends to focus lots of attention on just a few new titles – so I end up reading those. Some are wonderful, some less so, but I need to give more time to seeking out the excellent writing that’s happening under the radar. There’s a lot of it.

Reading’s always gone hand in hand with writing for me. I find inspiration, challenge and pure entertainment in the books I read. If I don’t read, I can’t write – it really is as simple as that.

What’s been the best thing about your first year as a published author?

Without a doubt, the people I’ve met as a direct result of publication. People who take the time to organise events. The bloggers – like you – who’ve been kind enough to give The Ship their energy and attention, and with whom I’ve enjoyed brilliant book discussions. Other writers, both published and aspiring. The booksellers. And above all, the readers – anyone who finds themselves lost in a book, whether that’s The Ship or anything else. Readers are the reason that writers are able to do what they do, and I’m grateful to every single one of them.

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I don’t have any answers, Lalla. Only questions. That’s how you learn.

We’re in the future but not so far into the future that the world’s unrecognisable:

I was seven when the collapse hit Britain. Banks crashed, the power failed, flood defences gave way, and my father paced the flat, strangely elated in the face of my mother’s fear…Across the country, people lost their homes, the supermarkets emptied and the population stood, stunned and helpless, in the streets. My father watched the riots and the looting, the disasters and the forced evictions on every possible channel; he had the computer, his phone and his tablet and juggled them constantly, prowling about the flat and never seeming to sleep. The government resigned, and then came the tanks, and the troops with their terrible guns. My father vanished. Oxford Street burned for three weeks, and I watched the orange skies from the circle of my mother’s arms, weeping for him.

Our narrator is Lalage, who turns sixteen in the opening pages of the novel. Her father, Michael Paul, returns soon after his disappearance having sold his invention, the Dove, to the military government. The Dove registers people’s ‘screens’ (tablets) and they’re given an identity card with their screen address encoded, traceable by satellite. Important information is communicated via screen so those registered ‘got the information they needed to survive’.

The Dove makes Michael Paul a very rich man. As the world disintegrates, he uses that money to build a ship; a future for Lalla (as her father calls her), a safe haven.

On Lalage’s birthday, her father brings her a diamond he’s swapped for a tin of peaches. As St. James’ Park is bombed, eradicating those attempting to build an alternative society outside government control, Lalage’s parents argue about whether it’s time to move onto the ship. When Lalage’s mother hears a scream on the street, she moves to the window and is shot. The only place with the equipment and expertise to save her is the ship; they leave immediately.

The ship is a version of paradise, stocked with everything you might need and more. At her first meal, Lalage is served chicken and pineapple cake. She hasn’t tasted chicken in five years and has never seen pineapple before. Her father presents her with a screen and reveals it contains photographs of exhibits from every museum and art gallery. She begins to get to know the people on board and realises that they’ve been chosen by her father to be part of his dream. But Lalage isn’t clear as to exactly what that dream is; where is the ship going and what are her father’s intentions?

The doctor was right; I had never felt pain. I had never felt loss, or hunger, or genuine fear either. My parents protected me so well from what the world had become that I had no means to navigate it. They had surrounded me, made their plans to keep me safe, made sure that my only compass through life was my own experience of it. And it wasn’t enough. How could it have been? A lifetime ago, the sun had set in front of the infirmary door. Soon, it would rise on the other side of the ship. Already the sky was imperceptibly lighter, like a screen that has just been turned off. And as the light grew clearer and brighter, I realised that my parents had been wrong. That, far from being the pivot around which the world turned, I was smaller than a mote of dust, less significant than a gnat.

While Lalage’s mother has tried to show her the realities of the world she’s been living in, both she and Michael Paul have protected her from any real experience of them. It means she’s naïve and initially, unquestioning. It takes the first traumatic event on the ship to make her realise this, after which, she begins to listen to the stories of those around her and slowly begins to wonder what other people want from life and ultimately what she wants.

Although set in the future, The Ship reflects the time we’re living in. It raises questions of wealth and poverty; of governments who fail to protect all their citizens; of the value of art and artefacts. It also prods at religion and asks why people value it despite its failure to deliver any concrete solutions. As Lalage questions her father’s motives, the reader questions what led to them, particularly as the stories of the characters on the ship are revealed.

The novel’s tightly plotted with a number of surprising twists. Occasionally, Lalage’s naivety means the reader realises the twist before Lalla does. When this happens, the dramatic irony serves to heighten the tension as you wonder what her reaction will be when the truth is revealed to her.

The Ship has the language and ideas of a literary novel, combined with the pacing and twists of a thriller. It’s an impressive debut.

 

As I mentioned W&N have kindly provided a copy for one of you to win. All you need to do is leave a comment below saying who your favourite female protagonist is. Entries are open until 5pm (UK) Sunday 12th March. The giveaway is open to readers in the UK and Ireland only. The winner will be drawn at random and notified as soon as possible after the close of entries.

Huge thanks to Antonia Honeywell for the interview and to W&N for the giveaway.

I’ve allocated everyone a number in order of entry:

1 – Janet Emson
2 – Cathy746Books
3 – Elle
4 – Sarah
5 – Laura
6 – Rebecca Foster
7 – CPhillipou123
8 – Sophie Glorita
9 – Sakura
10 – Amy
11 – Matthewclarkleech
12 – Claire Davies

And the random number generator says:

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Congratulations to Sakura – check your email for what to do next – and thanks to everyone else who entered.

 

In the Media, February 2016, part two

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.

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On Friday, the death of Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird was announced. Obituaries followed from Ed Pilkington and Matthew Teague in The Guardian; Eric Hamburger also in The Guardian; Casey N. Cep in The New Yorker, and The Irish Times, and appraisals of her work from Michiko Kakutani, ‘In Harper Lee’s Novels, a Loss of Innocence as Children and Again as Adults‘ in the New York Times; Sarah Churchwell, ‘Harper Lee: author battled to reconcile racial justice with a racially unjust society‘ and Elaine Showalter, ‘Harper Lee: an American novelist deserving of serious attention‘ both in The Guardian; Michelle Dean, ‘Did Go Set a Watchman spoil Harper Lee’s literary legacy?‘ in The Guardian; Katy Waldman, ‘What Is Harper Lee’s Legacy After Go Set a Watchman?‘ on Slate, and Alex Clark, ‘Why Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird endures to tell its tale of radical change‘ in The Observer

You might have heard that a fortnight ago Beyoncé released a new song ‘Formation’ which she went on to perform at the SuperBowl. Lots of people had lots to say about it. LaSha wrote, ‘Kendrick Lamar won’t face backlash like Beyoncé: Socially conscious art, sexual expression and the policing of black women’s politics‘, Priscilla Ward wrote, ‘White Beyoncé haters don’t get it: “Formation” isn’t “race-baiting” — but it is unapologetically about race‘ both on Salon; Banseka Kayembe wrote, ‘Beyonce Gets Political: Here’s Why it Matters‘ on the Huffington Post; Shantrelle Lewis wrote, ‘“Formation” Exploits New Orleans’ Trauma‘ on Slate; Nikita Richardson did ‘A Deep Dive into the Important, Unapologetic Blackness of Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’‘ on Hello Giggles; Suzanne Moore said, ‘Black Pride at the Super Bowl? Beyoncé embodies a new political moment‘ in The Guardian; The Pool asked, ‘Four women on what Beyoncé’s Formation means to them‘, and Anna Leszkiewicz said, ‘Beyoncé and #BlackLivesMatter: why “Formation” is her most radical release to date‘ in the New Statesman.

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Last weekend was Valentine’s Day; there was plenty of writing around that too. Emma Dowling wrote, ‘Love’s Labour’s Cost: The Political Economy of Intimacy‘ on Verso Books; Eleanor Franzén wrote ‘V Daze‘ on Elle Thinks; Eileen Myles, ‘on the Excruciating Pain of Waiting for Love‘ and Heather Haverilesky, ‘What Romance Really Means After 10 Years of Marriage‘ on The Cut; Marie Phillips wrote, ‘What I learnt from a year of being in love‘ and Emer O’Toole shared, ‘The Rules, and how I fell in love‘ both on The Pool; Lauren Duca asked, ‘Is There Such a Thing As a Feminist Marriage Proposal?‘, Laura June revealed, ‘What I Thought Romance Meant, Age 12–Present‘ and Meaghan O’Connell told us, ‘Getting Married in One Week Was the Most Romantic Thing I Ever Did‘ all in The Cut; Emma Flowers wrote, ‘Finding, Nearly Losing and Finally Building Love Across Two Genders‘ on the Huffington Post; Heidi Julavits on ‘My High-School Boyfriend, the Con Artist‘ in The Cut; Tiffany Yannetta wrote, ‘Lights, Camera, Love‘ on the history of dating shows on Racked, and Alana Massey said, ‘Tinder Is the New Meet-Cute‘ in The Cut.

Congratulations to Ríona Judge McCormack who won the inaugural Galley Beggar Press short story competition with ‘Blackburn‘. And The Stella Prize announced its 12 book longlist for 2016.

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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:

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

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The interviews:

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The regular columnists:

Books of the Year, Part Two: 2015 Publications

Here we are then, the books from this year I’ve read and rated most highly. I’m basing my choices on the very unscientific, I thought it was brilliant at the time and I’m still thinking about it. I was concerned this would skew the list towards the end of the year but it hasn’t at all – two thirds of the books are from the first half of 2015. Publication dates are UK (where applicable) and if you click on the cover it will take you to my review.

Citizen – Claudia Rankine 

A superb book. An examination of race and the treatment of black people in present day America. Rankine uses flash fiction, essays and poetry to explore the way people of colour ‘…feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background’ and, by implication, how often, as a white person, you are complicit in creating and maintaining that background. Short, sharp and powerful, I’d like to see a copy of Citizen distributed to every household, taught in schools and university, and added to the canon. If you believe art can change the world, this is a book that should be able to do so.


A Little Life
– Hanya Yanagihara

It’s divided readers and critics but I make no apologies for including this book for several reasons: it’s utterly absorbing, I felt as though I’d been entombed in Yanagihara’s world; it focuses on male friendship which I think is unusual; the friendship group consists of four men of different ethnicities and different sexualities, one of whom is disabled and Yanagihara has written about their lives as though they are, well, people. They are not defined by their ethnicity or sexuality and this feels like a break through. It’s huge and harrowing and clearly not for everyone but I’m still thinking about it six months on.

 

The House in Smyrna – Tatiana Salem Levy (translated by Alison Entrekin)

A short, sharp tale told in fragments. At the centre of the book is the story of the key given to the unnamed narrator by her grandfather: the key to his old house in Turkey, in Smyrna. There are four threads to the book: the narrator’s journey to her grandfather’s house; the grandfather’s journey from the house to the woman who became the narrator’s grandmother; the narrator’s relationship with her dead mother, and the narrator’s passionate affair with an unnamed man. A shocking and beautiful novella about exile in many different forms.

The Private Life of Mrs Sharma – Ratika
Kapur 

Mrs Sharma’s thirty-seven-years-old and married with a fifteen-year-old son, Bobby. They live in a flat in Dehli with her parents-in-law. Her husband, Dheeraj, a physiotherapist, has been working in Dubai for over a year in a bid to raise enough money to cover his parents’ medical bills and send his son to college to do an MBA in business. She works as a receptionist in a gynaecological clinic and dreams of starting her own business. Mrs Sharma’s veneer begins to crack when she meets Vineet Seghal on a station platform. Tightly plotted with precise, often repetitive, language, this is a brilliant book about an unfulfilled woman.

Vigilante – Shelley Harris

Jenny Pepper, 42, manager of a charity bookshop, married to Elliot, graphic designer, with a 14-year-old daughter, Martha, is fed-up of her life. She’s particularly annoyed and frustrated by the way men objectify women and the consequences of this behaviour. Donning a superhero costume for a fancy dress party, she stops a mugging and gets a taste for the vigilante lifestyle. Before long, she’s on the tale of someone who’s attacking teenage girls. A gripping and believable look at the concerns of a middle-aged woman and her life.

 

The Last Act of Love – Cathy Rentzenbrink

When Cathy Rentzenbrink was seventeen, her sixteen-year-old brother, Matty, was hit by a car and left in a persistent vegetative state for eight years. The book is Rentzenbrink’s story of the effect of Matty’s accident on her and her family. Told in an unflinching first person account with a huge amount of love and dollops of humour, Rentzenbrink brings the Matty she loved back to life and pays tribute to her parents without descending into mawkishness. Heartbreaking and heartwarming. Buy tissues before reading, I’m welling up just thinking about it.

 

A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson

A companion piece to Life After LifeA God in Ruins focuses on Ursula’s younger brother, Teddy and those who’ve shared his life – his wife, Nancy; daughter, Viola; grandchildren, Bertie and Sunny, and the men he served alongside in the RAF. The structure’s non-chronological, creating a jigsaw puzzle of Teddy’s life and the lives of his family members for the reader to reconstruct; every chapter capable of standing alone as a story in its own right. The chapters set in the war are some of Atkinson’s best writing but this is more than a character study, it’s a book that explores what fiction is. Superb.

 

The Vegetarian – Han Kang (Translated by Deborah Smith)

Mr Cheong chose his wife, Yeong-Ho, because she’s passive. But then, due to a set of reoccurring dreams, she turns vegetarian; a highly unorthodox act in South Korea. The reactions of Mr Cheong and Yeong-Ho’s family turn dark and sometimes violent quite quickly. But Yeong-Ho’s brother-in-law is fascinated with her and her mongolian mark which leads to him creating a physical work of art with her. A disconcerting story that explores society’s treatment of a woman who defies expectations and how her internalisation of those expectations affects her psyche.

 

The Ship – Antonia Honeywell 

In the not so distant future where banks have collapsed, the homeless population is out of control, food is scarce and the military rule, Lalage is protected by her father, Michael Paul, and his creation, the ship. The ship is a version of paradise, stocked with everything you might need and more. As it sets sail with Michael Paul’s chosen people on it, Lalage begins to question her father’s motives and what she really wants from life. The Ship raises questions of wealth and poverty; of governments who fail to protect all their citizens; of the value of art and artefacts. It’s futuristic setting is misleading, this is really a novel about what’s happening to society now.

The First Bad Man – Miranda July 

Cheryl Glickman, early forties, lives alone and works for a company who make self-defence, fitness DVDs. She has two fascinations: Phillip Bettelheim and babies who might be Kubelko Bondy, the son of her parents’ friends. Cheryl’s bosses ask if their daughter, Clee, can move in with her until she finds a job. First Clee trashes Cheryl’s system for keeping the house clean and tidy, then she’s physically fighting Cheryl for extended periods before Cheryl begins imagining herself as Phillip having sex with Clee. It sounds absurd but it’s a sharp exploration of loneliness which transforms into something emotionally fulfilling.

The Wolf Border – Sarah Hall

Rachel has spent almost a decade in Idaho, monitoring wolves on a reservation but an unplanned pregnancy, the death of her mother and the offer of a job supporting the reintroduction of the Grey Wolf to Great Britain sees her returning to the Lake District. The Wolf Border considers a variety of different intersections that humans come up against – birth, death, addiction, love, political change and, of course, nature. The precision of the language, particularly in the descriptions of the Lake District and the wolves, is superb as is the characterisation of Rachel. One of our best novelists, probably her best book.

Grow a Pair: 9 1/2 Fairytales About Sex 
 – Joanna Walsh

From the very opening sentences of the first story to the end of the afterword of Grow a Pair transformations occur: characters adopt and change their genitalia; a man becomes a woman; a queen becomes a witch; a woman fragments into multiple vaginas. Walsh mixes retellings of traditional fairytales like ‘The Princess and the Penis’ with new pieces. Filled with as many moments of humour as it is ones of magical realism, the collection allows its women to take control of their own sexuality and fulfilment. Entertaining, smart and thoughtful.

The Gracekeepers – Kirsty Logan

A dual narrative following two young women – North, who lives with Circus Excalibur, travelling the sea but performing most nights on land with her bear, and Callanish, the gracekeeper, living on a tiny island by the graveyard and performing Restings for the dead. North has a number of issues to deal with – she’s engaged to Ainsel and his father wants them to live on land, but she doesn’t want either of these things; Ainsel’s mother is jealous, and North is pregnant to someone else. She’s also tied to Callanish in ways that only begin to reveal themselves when the two meet. A beautifully rendered world.

 

An Untamed State – Roxane Gay 

Mirelle is kidnapped in front of her husband, Michael, and their baby, Christophe, directly outside the heavy steel gates at the bottom of the drive to her parents’ house in Haiti. She’s been taken because her father’s rich and the kidnappers believe he will pay a lot of money for her, his youngest and favourite daughter in U.S. dollars. He refuses, assuming they will return her unharmed. She’s repeatedly raped and tortured. The majority of the book deals with the aftermath, looking at whether it’s possible to rebuild a life, a marriage, a familial relationship after such horror. An interesting examination of power and privilege.

Talk of the Toun – Helen MacKinven

Angela’s short-term ambition is for her and her best friend, Lorraine, to lose their virginity over the summer holidays. Long-term, she wants to move away from the council scheme she’s grown up on and attend Glasgow School of Art. Her parents are determined she’s getting a job. Over one summer in the 1980s, Angela and Lorraine’s friendship will deteriorate thanks to Pamela aka Little Miss Brown Nose and Stevie Duffy, just out of borstal and ‘a total ride’. Class, religion, family and friendships are all explored but it’s the perceptive look at women’s sexuality and the use of Scots dialect that really make this a stand out read.

 

Honourable mentions also go to The Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester; The Table of Less Valued Knights by Marie Phillips; Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey; Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum, The Chimes by Anna Smaill and Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller.

In the Media: October 2015, Part Two

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.

Photograph by Nadya Lev

This fortnight has been dominated by trans issues and feminism. This is largely due (in the UK at least) to the no-platforming of Germaine Greer due to her unpalatable comments about trans women. Sarah Seltzer looks at ‘The Disturbing Trend of Second-Wave Feminist Transphobia‘ on Flavorwire. This coincided with YA author, James Dawson, coming out as a transgender woman in this great piece by Patrick Strudwick on Buzzfeed. I look forward to featuring James and his books on the blog under his yet to be revealed new name and pronoun. Elsewhere, Francesca Mari writes, ‘They Found Love, Then They Found Gender‘ on Matter, Corinne Manning writes about ‘In Defence of the New Censorship‘, discussing the use of singular they on Literary Hub while Laurie Penny explores, ‘How To Be A Genderqueer Feminist‘ on Buzzfeed.

Photograph by Chad Batka

The woman with the most publicity this fortnight is Carrie Brownstein. She’s interviewed in Rolling Stone, Slate, Noisey, The New York Times and The Guardian.

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:

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.

Things on the Internet I've Enjoyed Lately

I suppose this is a very mini version of In the Media with not quite so catchy a title. There are a few things that have caught my attention lately that I thought were worth sharing.

Firstly, The Prime Writers, a group of writers who had their debut novels published at 40+, have joined together and launched their website last week. (No surprise that the majority of the group are female.) There you’ll find everything you need to know about each of the writers and their books. There’s also fantastic content being posted regularly, I particularly enjoyed this conversation between Antonia Honeywell and Claire Fuller about their debuts which are both about fathers and daughters.

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Norwich Writers Centre have announced their Brave New Reads for the summer. They include Black Country by Liz Berry, Green Carnation Winner Any Other Mouth by Anneliese Mackintosh and one of my books of the year so far, Jennifer Clement’s Prayers for the Stolen. You can find out more about the authors, read extracts from the books and find out how to join in the discussion on the website.

Other things well worth reading:

One of my favourite writers, Janice Galloway, has a new short story collection, Jellyfish, out this week. You can read a short story from it in Prospect called ‘Romantic‘.

Lauren Laverne’s blog for The Pool is always worth reading (published on Mondays) but this week’s is particularly good, ‘What’s Happened to Social Mobility?

Also on The Pool and worth reading every week is Sali Hughes. Last week she wrote, ‘Let’s hear it for honest celebrities‘.

Eva Wiseman’s column for the Observer is also brilliant every single week. This Sunday’s was particularly fantastic and beautiful: ‘What is the price of heartbreak?

Rufi Thorpe whose debut The Girls from Corona del Mar is well worth a read, wrote a beautiful piece about publishing a first novel on Medium: ‘The Frightening and Wondrous Things That Will Happen to You When You Publish Your First Novel‘.

Also beautiful is Jess Richards’ piece for Scottish Book Trust, ‘Undrowned‘.

Briliant interviews published in The Guardian/Observer this week with my new favourite writer Nell Zink and feminist YA writer Louise O’Neill whose book Only Ever Yours I bought last week as it sounds amazing.

Last week I said I was considering writing a response to Kamila Shamsie’s piece calling for a year of publishing only women but Foyles Assistant Head of Fiction, Marion Rankine, said everything I was going to say in her piece for The Guardian, ‘Battling bias on the shop floor: how bookstores can support diversity‘. I went into Foyles on the Southbank last week and face on to the door, first book you saw as you walked in was Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor. I was impressed (and I bought it).

And if you need a good laugh, there’s an extract from Bridget Christie’s forthcoming A Book for Her in The Guardian, ‘Feminists never have sex and hate men opening doors for them, even into other dimensions‘ and John Crace’s Digested Read of Grey by EL James also in The Guardian is hilarious. Count how many times you can get the phrase ‘enormous cock’ into one article (you’d never get away with that in The Times).

 

An Update

My personal situation is beginning to sort itself out, so I thought I’d give you an update on plans for the blog. First though, I just want to say thank you again to everyone who sent messages. People – some of whom I’ve never met – have been absolutely brilliant. I wouldn’t have got through the last three weeks without everyone’s support and I’m so grateful that I know so many wonderful people.

The outcome of my situation is that we’re going to be moving house over the summer. As well as that, I’m currently doing an intense block of paid work. I also have a substantial amount of PhD work to do – including my confirmation seminar at the beginning of September and next semester (from the end of September/beginning of October) I’m going to be teaching undergraduates for a few hours a week as well. The latter means I’ve some reading and planning to do over the summer too.

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What this means is that I’ll update the blog as and when I can. I have a stack of books I’ve already read waiting to be reviewed so I’ll post them as I manage them.

One of the things that’s happened over the last three weeks is my reading has slowed enormously; I don’t think this is a bad thing. I re-read a book last week, pencil in hand, making notes and it was thoroughly enjoyable. I’d like to do more of that. I’ve also so many books in the house – both review copies and ones I’ve bought – that I really want to read (and in some cases re-read) that I’ve given myself a stern talking to about accepting review copies when I have a stack of books already. It’s not as though I accept them indiscriminately either, there are just so many interesting sounding books about. (If you follow me on Twitter, you will have seen I’ve broken my book-buying ban though. What can I say? I was low and what better pick-me-up? See photos for damage!)

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What that means for the future of the blog is I won’t be posting reviews as frequently as I have in the last six months or so. Partly because I won’t have time, partly because I won’t be reviewing everything I read. I’m going to be kinder to myself, both in terms of reading things I want to read, not finishing things I’m not enjoying and reading books for the sheer pleasure of reading them.

As for In the Media, I’m going to leave it on hiatus until some point in September. I know a lot of people enjoy that post and I love compiling it but it had begun to take a lot of time. When it returns it will be in a slightly different (and reduced) format and will most likely be fortnightly rather than every week. I haven’t quite worked out all the details myself so I’ll write more about it closer to the time.

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Meanwhile, I’m toying with a post about Kamila Shamsie’s call for a year of publishing only books by women – and the responses to it so far, and a list of ‘unlikeable’ heroines spurred by a comment Antonia Honeywell made when I interviewed her last week. Watch this space, as they say.