In the Media, February 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.

I’ve been a bit lax at compiling these while I’ve focused on my own work. It means this month’s is huge and I haven’t honed in on any topic in particular as the news moves so fast at that moment it feels like an impossible task. Back to fortnightly after this which hopefully will make it slightly easier to digest.

 

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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/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

Watch Her Disappear – Eva Dolan

Watch Her Disappear is the fourth book in Eva Dolan’s Zigic and Ferreira series. I’ve loved all three previous books and found Dolan to explore sensitive, politically charged subjects in interesting and, ultimately, sensitive ways. Watch Her Disappear is no different in that Dolan’s starting point is the murder of a trans woman. The number of trans women murdered each year has increased significantly in the last five years, a disproportionate number of these women are women of colour, and many are then misgendered in media reports following their death.

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At the beginning of Watch Her Disappear, Corrine Sawyer is out for her morning run when she’s pushed from behind into the ground, dragged into the trees and strangled with the cord of her headphones.

‘You get why this needs to be in Hate Crimes, right?’ Adams said, slightly less aggressively now. ‘A murdered trans woman, we can’t have any mistakes. Someone makes a stupid slip of the tongue and we’re going to be accused of prejudice against the LGBTQ community. How’s that going to look?’

When the body’s first discovered, the police don’t know whether the murder is connected to a series of sexual attacks on joggers. The attacks have all taken place on cis women but the police can’t rule out the possibility that this is the same perpetrator. Equally, they could be looking for someone who’s targeting trans women who either hasn’t been active in their area previously or has carried out attacks that have gone unreported. These possibilities mean that while the investigation is given to Zigic and Ferreira, a member of CID, Colleen Murray, is assigned to work with them.

While potential suspects stack up and tensions between the Hate Crimes Unit and CID run high, Dolan explores a number of issues effecting trans women: unreported attacks; the support – or lack of – from family and friends, particularly spouses and children; passing and the cost of doing so or not doing so, both financially and psychologically, and treatment by the police. The latter forms a significant part of the novel, as you might expect, but Dolan also uses it to explore societal attitudes to trans women, confronting some unpalatable transphobic views.

‘Right, your man down at Ferry Meadows,’ Riggott said, taking an e-cigarette from his shirt pocket. ‘What’s the story?’

‘It was a woman. Didn’t Adams brief you already?’

Riggott rolls his eyes. ‘I know how he was dressed and I realise you’re a stickler for notions of political correctness but unless he was legally declared female – which I gather he’d not been – then you’re dealing with a man who happened to be wearing ladies’ clothing.’

‘Corinne Sawyer was transitioning,’ Zigic said firmly, knowing better than to give ground at this early stage. ‘She was living as a woman full-time. Her friends and family knew her as a woman and her killer attacked her as a woman. I think that’s more significant than the state of her genitalia.’

While this repeatedly makes for uncomfortable reading, Dolan seamlessly incorporates education around trans issues into a page-turning plot. (There is, however, an inconsistency in the writing where on at least one occasion the words trans woman have been run together as one.)

The nature of the case also forces Zigic and Ferreira to step up. CID are on their territory; Zigic’s superior DCS Riggott is a bigot (now I’m wondering whether that name choice was a deliberate bit of rhyming), and the trans community are – quite rightly – wary of the police. An incident during the investigation leads to Ferreira having a Jack Bauer moment and going rogue. If you’ve read any of the previous books in the series, you’ll know that Ferreria going rogue can only be spectacular. She’s also got other issues stemming from the fact she’s sleeping with her superior, DCI Adams, on the quiet. It’s in this book that Ferreria becomes more forceful than ever before; she’s moved out of her family’s pub and it’s not just her living situation that’s become more independent.

Watch Her Disappear is a well-considered look at the violence and societal stigma trans women face. More than ever in this book, Dolan sets out to educate her audience while maintaining a gripping plot throughout. Her brand of social issues crime is timely and well-researched. Another Zigic and Ferreira success.

 

Thanks to Harvill Secker for the review copy.

 

 

Book Lists for All Humans #2

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I didn’t expect it to be so soon but here we are, courtesy of this list of Top 10 Books to Make You a Better Person in The Guardian. Four white men (sounding good so far, right?), three men of colour, three white women. Verdict = could do better (the pun wasn’t intended but I’ll take it).

There’s a problem with this list because I don’t know what making someone a ‘better’ person means. Who decides the criteria?

I’ve gone for books that made me think about the world differently (and avoided any I included in list #1 although they’re all relevant too); feel free to interpret it in your own way and leave your suggestions in the comments.

An Untamed State – Roxane Gay
Haiti, kidnapping, rape, privilege, poverty

The Country of Ice Cream Star – Sandra Newman
Dystopia, AAVE, disease, love, war, religion

Under the Udala Trees – Chinelo Okparanta
Love, religion, ‘cures’ for homosexuality, Nigeria, women

Just Call Me Superhero – Alina Bronsky (translated by Tim Mohr)
Disability, friendship, love, sexuality

Blonde Roots – Bernadine Evaristo
Counterfactual slave narrative, race reversal

The Repercussions – Catherine Hall
War photography, Afghanistan, love, women, history

Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged – Ayisha Malik
Hijab, dating, religion, family, writing

Tell No Tales – Eva Dolan
Far right, immigration, politics, crime, corruption

The Book of Memory – Petina Gappah
Race, class, albino, women in prison, perspective

The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney
Working class, feminism, religion, crime, coming of age

(Links to my reviews.)

 

In the Media: February 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 traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

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This fortnight, Frances Hardinge became the first children’s author to win the Costa Book of the Year Award since Philip Pullman in 2001. Hardinge’s interviewed in The Guardian. Aria Akbar in The Independent used Hardinge’s win to remind us that adults can and do read children’s books too, ‘Here’s hoping this ‘moment’ for children’s fiction leads to a golden age‘ while Caroline O’Donoghue asked, ‘Why is it so easy to fall in love with children’s books?‘ on The Pool.

The other bookish talking point has been around those titles Marion Keyes named ‘Grip-Lit’ i.e. so gripping you don’t want to stop turning the pages. Alexandra Heminsley writes, ‘Grip-lit, and how the women in crime fiction got interesting‘ on The Pool, while Sophie Hannah says, ‘Grip-lit? Psychological thrillers were around long before Gone Girl‘ in The Guardian.

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The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art and Fashion:

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The interviews:

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The regular columnists:

After You Die – Eva Dolan

After You Die is a departure from Dolan’s previous Zigic and Ferreira novels, Long Way Home and Tell No Tales, in three senses: one, for the first time, the dead bodies belong to two females; two, the women aren’t immigrants; three, there’s more of a focus on Zigic and Ferreira themselves and a sense that their stories are as much a part of the text as those potentially involved in the case.

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The dead bodies are Dawn Prentice, brutally stabbed in her own kitchen, and her disabled daughter, Holly, who’s been left to die in an upstairs bedroom, incapable of leaving her bed to raise the call for help. The case has gone to the Hate Crimes Department because Dawn had previously reported some harassment after Holly returned from hospital following a climbing accident that left her spinal cord severed. Initially the harassment consisted of silent ’phone calls and vandalism in the garden.

‘Then what?’

‘She got a modified people carrier to take Holly out in. It was on the drive for a day before the tyres were slashed.’ Ferreira frowned. ‘Someone sprayed the word “cripple” across the side of it.’

Initially, there seems to be two main suspects – Dawn’s estranged husband and Holly’s father, Warren, who, unable to cope with the consequences of Holly’s accident has moved in with Sally, the woman who owns the local kennels and her teenage son, Benjamin, who’s a complete charmer. When Sally tells him Dawn and Holly are dead his response is:

‘Shit.’

‘Murdered, ‘ Zigic said.

‘Fuck.’

Sally frowned at him. ‘There’s no need for that sort of language.’

He shrugged, attention on Zigic now, curious rather than shocked, and Zigic wondered if his lack of emotional response was the usual adolescent attempt at worldliness or something darker.

‘Were they raped?’

‘Benjamin!’ Sally turned to Zigic and apologised. Back to her son. ‘What a disgusting thing to say.’

He held his hand up. ‘I was only asking. Jesus. It’s what happens, isn’t it? That’s why women usually get killed.’

Dolan uses Dawn’s death partly to expose misogynistic attitudes to women. This is foregrounded when Zigic and Ferreira discover that she’s been using dating sites to meet men for sex and they need to interview all those she’s seen recently. Dolan avoids slut-shaming Dawn by writing about her sexual encounters without judgement.

The other key suspect is ten-year-old, Nathan. He’s being fostered by Dawn’s best friend, Julia, but disappeared not long before the bodies were found. Julia and her husband, Matthew, disagree about whether to inform the police of Nathan’s disappearance:

‘He was round there all the time, we’ve no idea what was going on between them.’

Julia scowled at him. ‘You read his case file, there’s nothing to suggest that he’s dangerous or violent. My God, Matthew, do you think I wouldn’t see it if he was?’

She knew Nathan was a good, kind boy and she’d promised to look after him. She’d failed him once, she wouldn’t do it again.

When Zigic and Ferreira do find out about Nathan’s disappearance, Zigic comes up against a section of the police force he’s not had reason to deal with before. It’s one he’s not so keen on either.

After You Die is another gripping crime novel from Eva Dolan, but more than that, it’s an examination of attitudes towards women and to children in care. Dolan is sympathetic towards both, using not only Dawn and Holly’s deaths to show real women and people’s attitudes towards them – including internet harassment – but also Ferreira dealing with her injuries from the end of Tell No Tales. The shrapnel still embedded in her legs has curbed her sex life due to her awareness of how society will view her now – ‘she was flawed now and women weren’t allowed to be’. And then there’s Zigic’s wife, Anna, pregnant with their third child and Julia, Dawn’s best friend, 28 weeks’ preganant. Again, Dolan doesn’t treat these women as though they should be wrapped in gossamer, but to comment on attitudes towards them.

The children in care – Nathan and Julia and Matthew’s long term foster child, Caitlin – are shown to be more than their case files and a level of understanding of how challenging life can be for people in a variety of circumstances is given.

After You Die is my favourite of Dolan’s novels so far. Bring on the next one!

 

Thanks to Harvill Secker for the review copy.

 

 

 

Tell No Tales – Eva Dolan

The world became smaller and yet less intimate, homogenised on a superficial level only, and it seemed to him that the further people moved from home the more aggressively they defended the perceived uniqueness of their own culture.

Sisters Sofia and Jelena wake early and get ready for work at Boxwood Farm, making their way to the bus stop which doubles as a pick-up point.

In the distance car horns blared above the traffic noise and an engine revved, a deep, throaty rattle as a white Volvo shot erratically around a cyclist. Sofia froze as its headlights washed the pavement, silhouetting Jelena’s figure, her back to the car, phone to her ear. Sofia opened her mouth to scream but no sound came out. Then she heard a bang and something slammed into her and the world turned black as her head hit the ground.

Because the women are migrant workers, the case is referred to the Hate Crimes Department at Peterborough and Dolan’s regular detective team of DI Dushan Zigic and DS Mel Ferreira.

Jelena dies but Sofia survives. When Zigic goes to visit Sofia in hospital, she makes it clear she suspects one particular person: Anthony Gilbert, Jelena’s ex-boyfriend. Gilbert, they discover, has form for stalking and harassment. With no lead on the car – it was sold to someone who called himself ‘John Smith’ and said he had no address – Zigic and Ferreira go to see Gilbert and find him on the floor of his kitchen having taken an overdose.

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This isn’t the only case troubling the Hate Crimes Department at the moment though:

Two murders three weeks apart, the victims both men of foreign origin. If they were women, or English, people would already be hinting darkly at a serial killer, but these were closing-time kickings dished out on rough side streets where violence was routine and those on the receiving end rarely reported it.

The victims are Didi, a 17/18-year-old Somalian:

When his body was found his head was completely ruined, kicked and stamped on so many times that every bone in his face was broken…

and Ali Manouf, ‘another face caved in under heavy boots’.

When Zigic tells his boss DCS Riggott they need more coverage to help them with their lack of leads, he points out that the Chief Constable’s playing golf with a group who want to invest in the city, creating 1500 jobs. What does surface though is a ten second CCTV clip in which a man dressed in black and wearing a balaclava with fine gauze across the eyes, emerges from the alley where Ali Manouf was kicked to death, turns to the camera, draws himself up ‘and raised his gloved hand in a stiff-armed Nazi salute’.

In the background to all this is English Patriot Party leader, Richard Shotton. Elected to parliament via a November by-election, his well-oiled publicity machine’s doing overtime to try and ensure he keeps his seat in the next General Election.

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In the three years I’ve been running this blog, there’s only one book I regret not reviewing and that’s the first in Dolan’s Zigic/Ferreira series, Long Way Home. I didn’t review it because I bought it on Kindle and read it in a sporadic and disjointed manner – not the way I would’ve approached it had I been intending to review it – on a city break, as a ‘holiday read’ (albeit a very grim one, although it was December and I was in Berlin). I still vividly remember chunks of the plot and can picture sections of it because the writing is so precise and, let’s face it, brutal. Dolan has also created a great team in Zigic and Ferreira. Him the softer of the two who prefers to coax witnesses and suspects into revealing information; her harsher and more likely to storm into something without considering the consequences. She’s also very funny (intentionally on Dolan’s part but unintentionally on Ferreira’s were she real). Here’s a couple of moments from Tell No Tales to give you a flavour:

‘Good man. Press conference at five,’ Riggott said, heading for the door. He stopped to click his fingers at Ferreira. ‘Mel, make sure he’s wearing a suit.’

She watched him leave, eyebrows drawn together in a scowl. ‘What, I’m the fucking wardrobe mistress now?’

*

‘Have you seen this?’ Ferreira was brandishing the newspaper Gilraye had left behind on her desk. ‘Richard Shotton. They’re going to Nick Griffin’s prettier little sister for quotes now.’

She slapped the paper down and stomped over to the open window, lit her cigarette and took a furious drag which hollowed her cheeks.

‘I would love to be one of his people,’ she said.

‘I think Shotton’s a little bit more careful than that,’ Zigic pointed out.

Tell No Tales is a tightly plotted novel. There are more twists and turns than Spaghetti Junction but they never feel as though Dolan’s hand is on them, more that they’re exactly the barriers and connections a team investigating this type of crime might come up against. The characters are well drawn: Zigic and Ferreira in particular feel like real people, and Dolan’s imagery and descriptions, while often brutal, are incredibly effective (and affective on many occasions).

There are two things I really love about Tell No Tales (and Long Way Home): the first is how Dolan uses the crime genre to tell stories about the migrant population, allowing them and the British characters to be a mixture of people – victims, villains and everything on the spectrum between. There’s a brilliant scene where the local Asian population protecting the streets on which they live and led by their community leader, Mr Shahzad, stand off against a group of white fascists. It raises questions about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in the eyes of the law and in terms of morals. If I were still teaching, I’d be using it in school.

The second is the lack of young women grotesquely murdered. Crime statistics show that far more men are murdered than women (78.7% of murder victims are male according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), yet this is rarely reflected in crime fiction. It’s great to see a crime writer addressing this in their work.

Tell No Tales is a fantastic crime novel and the team of Zigic and Ferreira are a delight to follow. It’s been a long time since I was hooked on a crime series but Dolan’s books are an absolute treat. (So much so that I’ll be reviewing the third book in the series, After You Die on Friday.)

 

Thanks to Harvill Secker for the review copy.

In the Media: 29th March 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.

News this week from ABC that a Tasmanian writer, Marjorie Davey, has published her first novel at the age of 95. She might be the oldest but she’s not the only woman to be published later in life; Abby Ellin’s article, ‘Finding Success, Well Past the Age of Wunderkind‘ in the New York Times includes Lucille Gang Shulklapper, first published at 60, and Cathy writes about Leland Bardwell: The forgotten woman of Irish literature, first published at 48, on 746Books.

At the opposite end of the age spectrum (give or take) the big news this week was that Zayn Malik left pop band One Direction. Before the news broke, Leesa Cross-Smith wrote ‘One Direction & Other Boy Bands‘ on Real Pants (which had me watching more 1D videos than I’d ever seen before (which was none)) while advertisements for Granta popped up). Anna Leszkiewicz wrote ‘I’m an adult woman with a real boyfriend – and I’m absolutely heartbroken about Zayn Malik quitting One Direction‘ in The Independent, Mackenzie Kruvant wrote, ‘How One Direction Helped Me Find My Girls‘ on Buzzfeed, and Huma Munshi wrote, ‘The Courage of Zayn Malik and Why Strong Men Cry‘ on Media Diversified.

Media Diversified also published an open letter ‘To the organisers of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction‘ regarding Cathy Newman and Grace Dent being members of the judging panel.

Granta, in celebration of their new website, opened up some of their archive, including these letters from Iris Murdoch to Raymond Queneau; ‘Night‘ by Alice Munroe; Sayaka Murata’s ‘A Clean Marriage‘ (tr. Ginny Tapley Takemori), and ‘Hardy Animal‘ by M.J. Hyland

It was the anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s death this week. Daniel Swift wrote ‘Virginia Woolf in the Bomb-scarred City‘ in Five Dials and Louise Brearley read Virginia Woolf’s final letter to her husband in The Telegraph.

And in commemoration of the third anniversary of Adrienne Rich’s death, The Critical Flame have devoted a whole issue to her and her work. The table of contents is here.

Angelina Jolie Pitt turned to writing this week with her ‘Diary of a Surgery‘ in The New York Times. Fay Schopen responded with ‘Angelina Jolie says the decision to deal with her cancer was simple. Mine is not‘ in The Guardian, while Caroline Corcoran wrote about her own experience, ‘I never felt like I’m less of a woman because I don’t have breasts or ovaries‘ in The Independent.

But the woman with the most publicity this week seems to be JK Rowling. ‘JK Rowling says she received ‘loads’ of rejections before Harry Potter success‘ wrote Alison Flood in The Guardian; Stylist ran ‘JK Rowling’s Brilliant Response to Fan Who ‘Can’t See’ Dumbledore as Gay, Plus 9 Times She Owned Twitter‘; Matilda Battersby wrote, ‘JK Rowling defends Dumbledore on Twitter: Seven Things You Might Not Know About the Hogwarts’ Headmaster‘ in The Independent; Chris Mandle wrote, ‘Why we need more fictional gay role models like Albus Dumbledore‘ in The Telegraph and Stylist ran a piece titled, ‘JK Rowling Describes Hitting ‘Rock Bottom’ In a New Book About The Benefits Of Failure

In Harper Lee news, the cover of Go Set a Watchman was revealed this week. The Guardian are inviting people to design their own.

Finally, if you want a good reading list of books by women, the Edge Hill Short Story Prize announced its longlist this week, including Anneliese Mackintosh, Stella Duffy, Kirsty Logan, May-Lan Tan, Hilary Mantel and A.L. Kennedy.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

 

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

The lists:

In the Media: 18th January 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.

It’s been another grim week for news. There’s been some insightful commentary from a number of female writers on the big stories though:

Charlie Hebdo and terrorism was written about by Caitlin Moran in The Times; while in The Guardian, Natasha Lehrer wrote ‘The Threat to France’s Jews‘; Hadley Freeman covered the same issue alongside the UK’s antisemitism survey, and Suzanne Moore declared ‘Add faithophobia to my crimes: I have no respect for religions that have little respect for me‘. On Reimagining My Reality, Steph wrote ‘Charlie Hebdo, freedom of speech, and male privilege‘ whilst on Media Diversified, Cristine Edusi wrote, ‘Ongoing terrorism in Nigeria is not a novel, the use of children as human bombs is #WeAreAllNigeria‘.

The Stuart Kerner case was commented on by Janice Turner in The Times; Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian, and Antonia Honeywell on her blog.

The lack of diversity in the Oscar nominees was written about by Roxane Gay in The Butter

And if that’s all made you thoroughly miserable/angry, here’s Sophie Heawood on Clooney’s Golden Globes speech and her daughter’s first day at nursery and Hadley Freeman on ‘How Amy Poehler and Tina Fey made the Golden Globes the first feminist awards ceremony‘ both in The Guardian.

Speaking of award winners, Hilary Mantel’s having another moment with the BBC television adaptation of Wolf Hall beginning this week. She’s in The Guardian, writing about the TV version; while John Mullan, also in The Guardian, profiles her ‘strange and brilliant fiction‘, while Kirstie McCrum tells us ‘What TV series like Wolf Hall can teach us about history‘ on Wales Online.

Joan Didion’s stint as a model for Celine has also been big news again this week. Adrienne LaFrance writes about fashion and loss in Didion’s work for The Atlantic; Molly Fischer tells us ‘Why Loving Joan Didion Is a Trap‘ on The Cut; Lynne Segal talks about ‘Invisible Women‘ in the LRB; Haley Mlotek declared ‘Free Joan Didion‘ in The Awl and Rachel Cooke says ‘That’s so smart‘ in The Observer, while Brainpickings revealed ‘Joan Didion’s Favorite Books of All Time, in a Handwritten Reading List‘.

 

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

The lists:

And the best things I’ve read this week: