Antonia Honeywell on The Ship + giveaway

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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.

The Ship PB

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:

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 17.14.05
Congratulations to Sakura – check your email for what to do next – and thanks to everyone else who entered.

 

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.

Antonia Honeywell at Urmston Bookshop

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Just a quick post to say that I will be interviewing the fantastic Antonia Honeywell at Urmston Bookshop, on the outskirts of Manchester a week today – Thursday 11th June. It should be a great event, The Ship is a brilliant book and Antonia has lots of interesting things to say both about the book and her journey as a writer. If you can make it, we’d both be delighted to see you there. Information and tickets here. (I also hear a filthy rumour that there will be edible goodies courtesy of my good friend Cath and they’re definitely worth coming for. Have a look at the top photo on this post!)

The Ship – Antonia Honeywell + Q&A

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.

The Ship Carey coverOn 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.

527printI’m delighted to welcome Antonia Honeywell to the blog to talk more about The Ship.

The Ship is set in a version of the world which seems to be a logical conclusion of the position we’re in now; where did the idea come from?

I don’t see the world of The Ship as very far removed from where we are now. The rich are rewarded with tax breaks; the poor are hit with bedroom tax. People come out of the theatre and, on their way to dinner, step over someone who has nowhere to sleep. Public services are privatised and a very few people become very, very rich on the back of it. Our financial systems make it possible for people to become stratospherically wealthy. There’s a new kind of fear abroad in the world now, too, and I’m frightened of what it may do to people. And on a quieter level, so much everyday life takes place on the Internet – from supermarket shopping to booking holidays to disseminating information – that those who aren’t online are genuinely disenfranchised. That’s all reflected in the London of the opening chapters.

But the idea – the actual notion of a man buying a cruise ship and populating it with genuinely kind, well-motivated people – was crystallised when I married and had children. I had this little unit of love and happiness that I wanted to protect; how could it be done? (I’m not about to buy a cruise ship, by the way.)

The narration is first person from Lalla’s point-of-view. Did her naivety help with plotting the novel – deciding what to withhold from the reader, for example?

Yes, that was a deliberate decision. When I experimented with third person, I found myself writing huge chunks of explanation. ‘Because food was scarce, Lalla and her mother had to keep a constant eye on the screen to find out when the next distribution was to take place…’ It just didn’t work. But because Lalla is educated and literate, she’s able to explain the workings of the world (as she sees it) as she narrates the events of the novel. And her naivete, I hope, is an indication to the reader of how sheltered her life is – of how much worse things are for people without her privileges.

There are a number of references to Christianity in the novel – The Exodus Act; The Nazareth Act; the apple given to Lalla – and Michael Paul seems to see himself as some sort of leader of men, giving the people a version of Eden. Are you suggesting that religion works as a comfort to some rather than a solution for all?

Now that is a fascinating question. The Biblical references are deliberate, and Michael definitely becomes a quasi-religious figure to the people of the ship. It’s a way of showing how ready the ship people are to resign responsibility for the big questions that need answering. They have absolute trust in him – and that absolute trust has worked out pretty well for them, so where’s their motivation for questioning him? And yet, power without interrogation is a dangerous thing.

I’m aware that doesn’t quite answer the question…for me, religion is both a power for extraordinary good and an excuse for the most mindboggling horror. The trouble comes when religious faith ceases to be intellectually active, or becomes so intellectually active that it forgets it’s dealing with human beings. I don’t understand, for example, how someone professing faith in the teachings of Jesus Christ can object to equal marriage, or the ordination of women. Discrimination is so lazy and yet, as a race, we’re revoltingly good at it.

As for the apple – we owe Eve, big time.

Each chapter begins with a sub-heading summarising events in that chapter, it’s something you often see in novels from the Romantic period but the only modern novel I can think of that uses it is The Luminaries; why did you decide to begin the chapters this way?

In earlier drafts, each chapter was headed with a headline of recent news, intended to highlight the connection between the society I was describing and the one I was living in. But I realised that the story shouldn’t be bolted to a particular period (and I’m glad I didn’t take that route, because recent events in the news are even more pertinent than the ones I’d have used). So I replaced those quotations with ones from a broad spectrum of history, but that felt wrong too, although for a long time I couldn’t work out why. Eventually I realised that the quotations, whether they were from the current edition of a daily newspaper of from Plato, took the reader away from Lalla’s personal story, albeit momentarily. The Ship isn’t a political lecture, it’s the story of a girl trying to make sense of the world she lives in. Readers can make the parallels with their own world or not; the story works without them, and there was certainly no need to shove them in the reader’s face. So each chapter heading became a signpost, if you like, as Lalla makes her way forwards. Chapter summaries are also a feature of some children’s books – The Land of Green Ginger and Winnie the Pooh, for example – and although The Ship is not a children’s book, Lalla is still very much a child.

My blog focuses on female writers; who are your favourite female writers?

Oh, Naomi, how long have you got? That’s harder than the religion question. George Eliot. Charlotte Bronte. Katherine Mansfield. Elizabeth Bowen. Jean Rhys. Margaret Atwood. Helen Dunmore. Jane Smiley. Maggie Gee. Salley Vickers… and the number of incredible new writers I’ve come across since my own book deal came through makes me feel that the future is very bright indeed.

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

Ones to Read in 2015

There are a number of preview lists in the media at the moment. Rather than tell you what’s coming up, I’ve been reading 2015 titles since October so I can recommend books I think you should watch out for in the first half of 2015. Bar the bottom three titles – which are by three of my favourite writers and therefore, highly anticipated by me – I’ve read everything included on here; all of these books are very good and some are superb.

Full reviews will follow on the week of publication. All publication dates are UK and subject to change.

An Untamed State – Roxane Gay

On a visit to her parents in Haiti, Mireille is kidnapped in front of her husband and baby son. When her father holds out on paying the ransom, she’s subjected to brutal attacks. Her family will have to come to terms with the consequences but Gay clearly makes the personal political and An Untamed State is also about the treatment of women by men; the relationship between Haiti and America, and poverty versus wealth. This is an incredible book, if I read many better this year, I’ll be surprised.

Published 8th January by Corsair Books

Hausfrau – Jill Alexander Essbaum

Anna, an American, has lived in Dietlikon, a quiet suburb of Zurich for nine years but she’s never felt as though she belongs despite being married to a Swiss man and having had three children there. When her therapist suggests she attend a German language class, she meets Archie and begins an affair. Essbaum interweaves lessons about language and passivity with Anna’s thoughts and behaviour and adds her work to a line of women going against society’s expectations.

Published 26th March by Mantle

A Spool of Blue Thread – Anne Tyler

The Whitshank family could be any family on the surface – Abby and Red and their four children, son Denny causing problems and disappearing for long periods until someone needs him. The novel begins with Abby’s story and her descent into forgetting things before moving to how her and Red met and then to his parents and their story. A number of family secrets are revealed along the way and Tyler writes families as only she can – with a keen eye and an acute understanding of how the bonds between family members work.

Published 10th February by Chatto & Windus

The Gracekeepers – Kirsty Logan

Callanish is a gracekeeper, someone who performs the burial of the dead. North and her bear are part of the Circus Excalibur, a circus that sails around performing – there is no place on what’s left of the land for them. But North is betrothed to the son of Red Gold, the circus owner, who wants them to have a house on land and restore his family line to the earth. Not everyone likes his plan though and North and Callanish’s paths are going to cross and set them on a different course. Logan builds upon the promise she showed in her short story collection, The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales. The Gracekeepers places her somewhere between Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood.

Published 7th May by Harvill Secker

The Ship – Antonia Honeywell

London is burning. The British Museum is occupied. The Nazareth Act is in force and if you can’t produce your identity card in seconds you’re going to be shot. Lalla’s mother has tried to show her some of the reality but she’s sheltered by her wealthy father, Michael Paul, who’s been building a boat and selecting the people who will travel on it. When her mother’s shot, the boat sets sail but where are they going and what will Lalla discover along the way? A thoughtful, genre crossing, page turner.

Published 19th February by W&N

Vigilante – Shelley Harris

Jenny Pepper’s fed up of tidying up after her graphic designer husband, Elliot and teenage daughter, Martha. When she’s on her way to her friend’s fancy dress party as a superhero and prevents a mugging, she gets a buzz from acting as a vigilante protecting other women. Add to this the graphic novel designed by Elliot, containing a female victim with an unrealistic body; the graffiti picture of a girl in the uniform of the school Martha attends, and a man who’s attacking girls in Martha’s year and Jenny has a purpose in life. Hard to put down.

Published 8th January by W&N

Our Endless Numbered Days – Claire Fuller

Peggy’s father is a member of the North London Retreaters, discussing strategies for surviving the end of the world. While her mother, professional pianist, Ute, is on a tour of Germany, Peggy’s father tells her Ute is dead and takes her to live in die Hütte somewhere in Europe. The structure of the novel moves between Peggy’s present when she has returned to London and her mother and her time in die Hütte and how she and her father survived. Fascinating and terrifying.

Published 26th February by Fig Tree.

 

The Vegetarian – Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith)

When Yeong-hye begins to have nightmares about meat and murder she decides to turn vegetarian, something highly unusual in South Korean society. It strains her relationship with her husband and her father but makes her highly attractive to her brother-in-law. Told in three linked novellas, each from a different point of view, The Vegetarian becomes odder and more unnerving as Yeong-hye deteriorates mentally and physically.

Published 1st January by Portobello Books.

The Chimes – Anna Smaill

Simon goes to London with his bag of objectmemories, and the name and tune of a woman his mother told him to find. Lives are run by The Order who tell them Onestory every day and erase their memory with Chimes every evening. There is no writing, no shared stories and communities are difficult to forge; music rules everything. But Simon has a purpose, he just needs to remember what it is. An extraordinary story told in a brave and unusual way.

Published 12th February by Sceptre.

 

Before the Fire – Sarah Butler

Stick and Mac are leaving Manchester for Spain. Stick’s had enough of the memories of his sister, dead in a fire; his father who left him and his mother after his sister’s death and now has a posh house with his new wife and kids, and his mum’s OCD which is giving them both sleepless nights. But the night before they’re due to leave, Mac’s attacked and now Stick’s going nowhere and life looks a whole lot worse, especially as the 2011 riots are about to take place. A great addition to working class literature.

Published 12th March by Picador.

 

The Shore – Sara Taylor

Some families just don’t work out. The Shore is a collection of three islands off the coast of Virginia. There live a group of people related to each other. The book begins by introducing Chloe and Renee, daughters of Ellie and Bo. There’s been a murder and people in the local store are gossiping about it. By the end of the first chapter, there will have been three. The book then goes on to tell the stories – past and future – of those related to this central family. The reader travels back to 1876 and Medora and forward to 2143 and Simian. Ambitious with plenty to say about the treatment of women.

Published 26th March by William Heinemann.

The Hourglass Factory – Lucy Ribchester

Frankie George, reporter for the London Evening Gazette, is sent to write a profile of Ebony Diamond, trapeze artist and suffragette, but that evening, Ebony disappears and a woman mistakenly identified as her is murdered. Weaving a murder investigation with the activities of the suffragettes, The Hourglass Factory is a satisfying, multi-strand story with some serious points to make about women and gender roles.

Published 15th January by Simon & Schuster

 

All This Has Nothing to Do With Me – Monica Sabolo (translated by Georgina Collins)

When MS interviews XX she hires him because he’s quirky, tall, young and a mess. MS falls into an obsessive, largely unrequited love which she fuels by keeping notes about XX and taking ‘mementos’ from their after-work drinks. These are documented in diary entries, emails and photographs. The book then moves to tell the story of MS’s childhood and her parents. Sabolo interweaves her own photographs and uses her own initials in this novel which seems to blur the boundaries of fiction and autobiography in a similar way to Sheila Heti and Leanne Shapton.

Published 9th April by Picador.

And the three I haven’t read but am very much looking forward to:

A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson

In A God in Ruins, Atkinson turns her focus on Ursula’s beloved younger brother Teddy – would-be poet, RAF bomber pilot, husband and father – as he navigates the perils and progress of the 20th century. For all Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge will be to face living in a future he never expected to have.

I’ve been reading Kate Atkinson’s novels since Behind the Scenes at the Museum won the Whitbread Award (now the Costa) in 1995 and she’s never disappointed.

Published 5th May by Doubleday.

The Wolf Border – Sarah Hall

For almost a decade Rachel Caine has turned her back on home, kept distant by family disputes and her work monitoring wolves on an Idaho reservation. But now, summoned by the eccentric Earl of Annerdale and his controversial scheme to reintroduce the Grey Wolf to the English countryside, she is back in the peat and wet light of the Lake District.

The earl’s project harks back to an ancient idyll of untamed British wilderness – though Rachel must contend with modern-day concessions to health and safety, public outrage and political gain – and the return of the Grey after hundreds of years coincides with her own regeneration: impending motherhood, and reconciliation with her estranged family.

The Wolf Border investigates the fundamental nature of wilderness and wildness, both animal and human. It seeks to understand the most obsessive aspects of humanity: sex, love, and conflict; the desire to find answers to the question of our existence; those complex systems that govern the most superior creature on earth.

Hall’s been my favourite female novelist since I read The Electric Michelangelo; I think she’s one of the UK’s greatest.

Published 26th March by Faber & Faber

The Story of My Teeth – Valeria Luiselli (translated by Christina MacSweeney)

Gustavo ‘Turnpike’ Sanchez is a man with a mission: he is planning to replace every last one of his unsightly teeth. He has a few skills that might help him on his way: he can imitate Janis Joplin after two rums, he can interpret Chinese fortune cookies, he can stand an egg upright on a table, and he can float on his back. And, of course, he is the world’s best auction caller – although other people might not realise this, because he is, by nature, very discreet.Studying auctioneering under Grandmaster Oklahoma and the famous country singer Leroy Van Dyke, Highway travels the world, amassing his collection of ‘Collectibles’ and perfecting his own specialty: the allegoric auction. In his quest for a perfect set of pearly whites, he finds unusual ways to raise the funds, culminating in the sale of the jewels of his collection: the teeth of the ‘notorious infamous’ – Plato, Petrarch, Chesterton, Virginia Woolf et al.Written with elegance, wit and exhilarating boldness, Valeria Luiselli takes us on an idiosyncratic and hugely enjoyable journey that offers an insightful meditation on value, worth and creation, and the points at which they overlap.

I reviewed Luiselli’s debut novel, Faces in the Crowd, back in 2012 and it was one of my books of the year. I’m looking forward to entering her strange, clever world again.

Published 2nd April by Granta.

 

Thanks to Mantle, Chatto & Windus, Harvill Secker, W&N, Fig Tree, Portobello Books, Sceptre, Picador, William Heinemann and Simon & Schuster for the review copies.