My Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016 Wishlist

It’s almost time! The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist will be announced next Tuesday, 8th March. Once again, I’ll be shadowing the prize and for the second year running, I’ll be doing so with a panel. I’ll introduce you to the members of that panel on Friday.

For now though, here are the books I’d like to see appear on Tuesday’s list. They’re a combination of books I’ve loved and those I’m keen to read based on what I’ve heard about them so far. I’ve had to cull this list significantly to keep it to 20 books so, as usual, anything’s possible with the real one!

To be eligible, books have to be written in English and first published in the UK between 1st April 2015 and 31st March 2016. Publishers can enter three full length novels per imprint plus anything eligible by writers who have previously won the prize.

I’ve reviewed the first eleven titles – click on the covers to go to my reviews – and read the next three as well (reviews coming soon).

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My Plans for #ReadDiverse2016

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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.

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

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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.

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: 24th May 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 Cannes Film Festival’s been in the spotlight (haha) this week for turning women away from a screening because they were wearing flat shoes. Heels as compulsory footwear for women may or may not (depending which day it is someone asks) be part of their dress policy. Helen O’Hara writes ‘How the 2015 Cannes Film Festival became all about women‘  while Laura Craik asks, ‘Is the tyranny of high heels finally over?‘ both in The Pool. Hadley Freeman wrote, ‘Can’t do heels? Don’t do Cannes‘ in The Guardian, while Elizabeth Semmelhack wrote, ‘Shoes That Put Women in Their Place‘ in The New York Times

The other big feminist story was about ‘wife bonuses’ after Wednesday Martin wrote a piece for the New York Times called, ‘Poor Little Rich Women‘. Amanda Marcotte asked, ‘What’s Wrong With “Wife Bonuses”?‘ in Slate

Awards this week went to the five 2015 Best Young Australian Novelists, three of whom are women, all of whom are women of colour – hurrah for progress. Also in Australia, the shortlist for the Miles Franklin Award was revealed, four of the five shortlisted writers are women. The O. Henry Prize Stories for 2015 were announced. Of the twenty selected, fifteen were by women. You can read those by Dina Nayeri, Molly Antopol and Lynne Sharon Schwartz by clicking on their names.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music and Fashion:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction to read:

Photograph by Kwesi Abbensetts

If you want some poetry to read:

If you want some non-fiction to read:

The lists:

In the Media: 17th May 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.

Two excellent UK prizes – the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize and the Desmond Elliot Prize announced their longlist and shortlist, respectively this week. The former has eleven women on a longlist of fifteen. Yes, that does say ELEVEN, that’s 75% of the shortlist (well, 73.3 if you’re being pedantic). And the latter is an ALL WOMEN shortlist of three, from a longlist of ten that had gender parity. Excellent news.

You can read interviews with two of the Desmond Elliot shortlisted writers, Cary Bray and Emma Healey, in The Bookseller

Two important pieces about sexual abuse and victim blaming were published this week: Hayley Webster ‘31 years have passed with me thinking I asked for it…but what if I didn’t‘ on her blog and Lizzie Jones, ‘Sexual Assault: Society, Stop With the Slut Shaming‘ on The Huffington Post.

 

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music and Fashion:

The interviews:

 

If you want some fiction to read:

If you want some poetry to read:

The lists:

In the Media: 10th May 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.

It’s Mother’s Day in 80 countries around the world today. Not surprisingly, there has been a whole range of articles, from a whole range of view points, about mothers and motherhood this week. The Hairpin ran a series including  ‘Mommy Queerest‘ by Sarah Liss; ‘Thoroughly Modern Murdering Mothers; or, Women Who Kill for Their Children‘ by Meredith Haggerty; ‘A Joke, A Story‘ by Naomi Skwarna; ‘Going for the Burn: Revisiting Jane Fonda’s Workouts‘ by Alison Hamm’ ‘Mothers and Moms‘ by Haley Mlotek, and Randi Bergman, ‘The Weirdest Beauty Tips I Learned From My Mom‘.

Tameka Cage-Conley wrote, ‘Motherhood, Art, And Police Brutality‘ on VSB; Amy Shouse wrote ‘My mom never wanted kids‘ on Salon; Anne Enright wrote, ‘When Mother Leaves the Room‘ in The New York Times; Cheryl Strayed wrote, ‘The ‘Painful Personal Toll Lung Cancer Has Taken on My Life’‘ on The Huffington Post; Monica Hessler, ‘The long drive to end a pregnancy‘ in The Washington Post; Mary HK Choi, ‘The Dicks Of Our Lives‘ on Buzzfeed; Mary Elizabeth Williams, ‘Sorry about Mother’s Day, my childfree girlfriends: Moms aren’t any more special (or unselfish) than you‘ on Salon; Edwidge Danticat, ‘A Prayer Before Dying‘ on Literary Hub; Brogan Driscoll, ‘I Refuse to Celebrate ‘Dad Bod’, Until We Appreciate the ‘Mum Bod’ Too‘ on the Huffington Post

Catherine Bennett wrote in The Guardian, ‘It’s dehumanising to be ‘an oven’ for someone else’s baby‘; Jessica Roake wrote, ‘An Ode to the “Mom’s Night Out”‘ on Slate; Rebecca Mead wrote, ‘A Woman’s Place Is on the Internet‘ in The New Yorker; Sophie Heawood wrote, ‘I’ve read all the advice, but I still don’t know – am I raising a serial killer?‘ in The Guardian; Laila K wrote, ‘Up with the kids‘ in The Pool; Dahlia Lithwick, ‘“Bye-Bye, Normal Mommy”‘ on Slate; Christie Watson, ‘The Joy and Pain of Trans-Racial Adoption‘ on Literary Hub; Meagan O’Connell, ‘It’s My First Mother’s Day As a Mom. Now What?‘ in The Cut; Kate Spencer, ‘How I Finally Let Go Of Grief For My Dead Mom‘ on Buzzfeed; Domenica Ruta, ‘Can Having a Child Help Me Get Over My Abusive Mom?‘ in The Cut.

Danah Boyd, ‘I Miss Not Being Scared‘ on Medium; Melissa Duclos, ‘To the Doctor Who Reported Me to Child Protective Services‘ on The Offing; Christopher Frizzelle, ‘The Day Virginia Woolf Brought Her Mom Back to Life‘ on Literary Hub; Lauren Laverne, ‘“Mum” as a diss‘ in The Pool.

And if you’d rather read a book instead, Literary Hub suggests, ‘Five Intense Books for Mother’s Day‘ and the Huffington Post recommends, ‘Mother’s Day Reads: Eight Great Mother Characters in Literature‘.

Photograph by Idil Sukan

In the UK, there was a general election. 3AM Magazine ran a whole series of reactions including, Lauren Elkin, ‘an open letter to mark-francis vandelli‘; Juliet Jacques, ‘london – 2015‘; Eley Williams, ‘rosette manufacture: a catalogue and spotters’ guide‘, and Rachel Genn, ‘you wouldn’t like me when i’m disappointed‘. Other reactions included: Laurie Penny, ‘Don’t give in: an angry population is hard to govern; a depressed population is easy‘ in the New Statesman; Joan Smith, ‘Almost a third of all MPs are now women – a milestone has been reached‘ in The Guardian; Janice Turner, ‘Why the north is in revolt against Labour‘ in The Times; Beluah Maud Devaney, ‘Unfriending Tories on Facebook Is Not the Answer‘ on the Huffington Post

And there were a few pieces written prior to the result that I still think are worth reading: Sam Baker, ‘When voting doesn’t make you feel good‘ in The Pool; Suzanne Moore, ‘By Friday we’ll be reduced to bystanders at a revoltingly macho political stare-off‘ in The Guardian; Concepta Cassar, ‘Food For Thought: Hazlitt, Malthus and the Tragedy of Food Banks‘ in Litro; Katy Guest, ‘Sandi Toksvig’s Women’s Equality Party is a movement for which time has come‘ in The Independent; Salena Godden, ‘Colour-blind: What colour are you?‘ on her blog, and Isabel Rogers’ poem ‘The truth about political correctness‘ on her blog.

I promised myself I wouldn’t mention it but there have been a few good pieces written about the birth of THAT baby: Sian Norris, ‘She’s not like other girls…‘ on Sian and Crooked Rib; Heather Havrilesky, ‘Royal Baby Girl Fated to Lead International Mob of Fake Princesses?‘ in The Cut, and Viv Groskop, ‘She’s a tiny baby, not a Kardashian‘ in The Pool.

Congratulations to Gill Lewis who won the Little Rebels children’s book award with Scarlet Ibis this week; to Emily St. John Mandel who won the Authur C Clarke award, and to Alice Notley who won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Foundation Prize. A gender balanced shortlist was announced for the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2015 and a female dominated one for the Branford Boase Award 2015. The ALS Longlist and NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Shortlists were also announced.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction to read:

If you want some poetry to read:

If you want some non-fiction to read:

Photograph by Cybele Knowles

The lists:

In the Media: 3rd May 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.

There’s an election in the UK this week. As you’d expect, there’s been a number of articles about it, policies and where the previous coalition has left us. Huffington Post have been running a ‘Beyond the Ballot’ series. Contributions include: Vivienne Westwood, ‘The Housing Crisis – Politicians Are Criminals‘ and Denise Robertson, ‘Today, There Are No Housing Lifelines for People Who Fall on Hard Times‘. Media Diversified also have a series called ‘Other Voices’. Contributions include, Maya Goodfellow ‘Why aren’t politicians talking about racial discrimination in the job market?‘ and ‘Letting migrants drown in the Mediterranean, is this what the Tories mean by ‘British values’?‘ and ‘The pro-Tory business letter: a reminder that politics shouldn’t be dominated by a privileged few

Elsewhere, Zoe Williams wrote ‘10 big misconceptions politicians have about women‘ in The Pool; Deborah Orr, ‘Scotland is sending a curveball down Westminster way – and it’s not just Labour that will get hit‘ in The Guardian; Gaby Hinsliff, ‘We floating voters may be unenthused but we’re definitely not unprincipled‘ in The Guardian; Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett wrote, ‘Why I’m thinking about spoiling my ballot‘ in the New Statesman; Laura Waddell, ‘Pink Vacuum Politics‘ on Libertine’ Suzanne Moore, ‘Parliament? Over the years I’ve met several powerful men there who have no idea of boundaries‘ in the New Statesman; Hannah Pool asks, ‘Why aren’t black women voting?‘ in The Pool; Suzanne Moore, ‘I’m sick of this estate agent election‘ in The Guardian

Saturday saw the death of crime writer, Ruth Rendell. The Guardian reported her death and ran a series of articles: Val McDermid wrote, ‘No one can equal Ruth Rendell’s range or accomplishment‘; Mark Lawson, ‘Ruth Rendell and PD James: giants of detective fiction‘; Stanley Reynolds wrote her obituary; here she is ‘In Quotes‘ and if you haven’t read anything by her, The Guardian also recommend ‘Five Key Works’ while The Telegraph have, ‘The best of Ruth Rendell: 10 to read, watch and listen to‘.

And then there was that beach body ready advertisement. Responses to which ranged from Gemma Correll, ‘Hilarious Illustrations Show You How to Get “Beach Body Ready”‘ in Stylist; Hadley Freeman, ‘What is a beach body anyway?‘ in The Guardian, and Tara Costello explained, ‘Why I Stripped to Make a Statement‘ on the Huffington Post.

Congratulations to Marion Coutts on winning the Wellcome Prize. Jenny Turner writes in The Guardian as to why Coutts is her hero. The shortlist for the Encore Award was announced and includes Harriet Lane, Amanda Coe, Rebecca Hunt and Deborah Kay Davies. And Gaby Wood was ‘…made Booker’s literary director‘ reports The Bookseller.

And the woman with the most publicity this week is Leesa Cross-Smith who’s the featured writer on Atticus Review. She’s interviewed and has two stories up, ‘My Lolita Experiment‘ and ‘Dandelion Light‘; another in Synaesthesia Magazine, ‘The Darl Inn‘, and her column on Real Pants this week is ‘Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? & Girlfriendships‘.

 

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Music, Film and Television, Personalities:

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:

The Gracekeepers – Kirsty Logan

We’re sometime in the future where the world is split into landlockers and those who live on the sea.

In a world that is almost entirely sea, placing your feet on land was a privilege that must be earned.

We follow two young women – North, who lives with Circus Excalibur, travelling the sea but performing most nights on land, and Callanish, the gracekeeper, performing Restings for the dead. She lives on a tiny island by the graceyard.

‘That’s the choice…Here or there. Dampling or landlocker. Sea or land. Man or woman. But this is something different. Don’t you see? We made our homes on the sea and on the land. We can stay here in the graceyards and be nothing. I mean, be neither.’

This choice over land or sea becomes key for both women. Callanish has chosen the graceyard over land as penance for a mistake. North is tied to the sea and the circus but Red Gold, owner of the circus and father of North’s fiancé, Ainsel, wants to buy them a house on land and restore his family’s former glory as landlockers.

There are two problems with this from North’s point of view: neither North nor Ainsel actually want to marry each other and North hates being on land:

Red Gold carried on a steady stream of exclamations as the three of them followed the gangway up from the port, their leather shoes soft on the wooden slats. The tin-sided towers looked more ramshackle than ever, the waves slapping at their bases. North could not understand why anyone would choose to live there. The crew called the landlockers ‘clams’ for their brainless need to cling to the shore. Was the desire to be near land so overwhelming that people would accept these shoddy homes, hoping that over the years they could creep gradually closer to the centre of the island? Soil was dirty, and it smelled; North wanted nothing more than to be away from it.

There’s also a third problem, Red Gold’s wife, Avalon. Avalon’s pregnant and desperate to bring her child up on land so she’s not exactly pleased when she discovers her husband’s decided to use the money she though he was saving to buy them a house on his elder son and fiancé. And it’s North who’s going to pay.

When people are cruel it’s often said that they have no heart, only a cold space or lump of ice in their chest. This was never true of Avalon. She had no heart, everyone knew, but there was nothing cold about her. In her chest burned an enormous coal, white-hot, brighter than the North Star. North knew the truth about Avalon: she was made of fire, and she would burn them all.

Unfortunately for North, she’s also somewhat of an easy target. This is largely due to her circus act which she performs with her bear. It’s this which makes her – and Circus Excalibur – special: there are many circuses on the sea but only one with a bear-girl. They kiss and dance while Red Gold plays up the bear’s ferociousness, but North sleeps in his arms in her coracle as it floats on the sea at night. North also has something in common with Avalon – she’s pregnant – but as the novel begins only she knows it and only she knows who the father is.

Callanish’s story is a little more straightforward. She lives at the graceyard, tending to the birds and performing Restings. She sometimes rows over to the next gracekeeper, Odell, but mostly her life is dictated by the sea and by death.

Callanish and North’s paths cross when one of the circus members dies and they need a Resting to be performed. Callanish is waiting for a delivery of graces following a lengthy storm, so the circus has to remain by the graceyard overnight. Both North and Callanish are unable to sleep and end up talking under the moonlight. Callanish reveals that she knows about North’s baby and North tells her how the pregnancy occurred, a confession that will bind the two women. But both of them have other things to deal with before they can meet again.

The Gracekeepers is a wonderful novel for several reasons: the world which Logan creates is fully realised. The suggestion that most of us will be living on the sea whilst only the rich can afford to stay on the land chimes with current developments in society. Callanish’s graceyard and the isolation of her job, her state of mind and of her location is convincing and weirdly appealing – is it just me who’d love to live in a cottage on a tiny isolated island? The job’s not so cheery but on balance… And the circus, oh the circus is just magical. (Those of you who read the blog regularly/follow me on Twitter know about my circus obsession so please excuse me while I gush over this one.)

The circus has acrobats – Sometimes they said they were siblings, sometimes a long-married couple. – a maypole – the pole, their hair, their bodies, all wrapped tight so the crowd couldn’t tell which were girls and which were boys, so they were all girlboygirls – a horse show, a fire-breather, glamours and clowns, and, of course, North and her bear.

Slowly, slowly, she used her hidden razor blade to slit the front of her dress…North stood, and she was not a she.

Her body fitted the silhouette of a boy’s. Her small breasts, her growing belly: all wrapped tight, all padded and bound in white. Her body gleamed like a marble statue. The styled tumble of her dark hair, now that the crowd looked more closely , seemed more like the mane of an unkempt boy. Blink and she’s a girl. Blink again and he’s a boy. Once more he turns to a she, right in front of your eyes.

Logan infuses it all with colour and the illusion of decadence. She also uses the circus and its place on the margins of society to explore ideas about gender and identity.

The circus, the exploration of gender and outward appearance and the touches of magic realism allow for easy comparisons with the work of Angela Carter. Ideas about climate change and the hint of dystopia lead to a mention of Margaret Atwood. But The Gracekeepers is more that the sum of those two writers; Kirsty Logan is a talent of her own, a very special writer indeed and I love spending time in the worlds she creates. I can’t wait to see where she’ll take me next.

(If you haven’t read Kirsty Logan’s short story collection The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales, you really should. Click on the title for my review.)

 

Thanks to Harvill Secker for the review copy.

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: 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: