Monday, 8 February 2016

What A Way To Go by Julia Forster

When Harper was five her parents split up. Dad kept Ivy Cottage in the sleepy village of Hardingstone where ‘people walk without aim, as if the footpaths are covered in treacle’. Mum got Harper and the Mini.

Harper is now on the brink of becoming a teenager. She lives with her mum and spends alternate weekends with her dad.  The two worlds she inhabits are very different. The highlight of a weekend with Dad is attending the village fete and winning some of Mrs Curtis’ gooseberry jam or attending the Lone Rangers Disco for one parent families. At Ivy Cottage there is no TV, very little food in the fridge and Harper is encouraged to read interesting books. The friends that she had when she lived there have dropped off the radar over time.

In contrast, life with Mum is much freer. Harper watches as much TV as she wants, reads teenage fiction, speaks her mind and vets prospective stepdads. She spends time with her good friend Cassie and the neighbour’s son Derek, who occasionally ‘babysits’ her when Mum goes out on a date. Meanwhile, Mum’s latest boyfriend, Kit, moves in. The novel follows Harper as she tackles the challenges of growing up and the prospect of boyfriends, while having to fit in with her parents as they expand their own lives and relationships.

Julia Forster has captured the voice of Harper brilliantly. As an only child, dealing not only with her own issues from the divorce, but those of her parents too, Harper has been forced to grow up very quickly, resulting in a level of maturity absent in most twelve year olds. However, there are subtle references that reinforce her true age: After vetting one of her mum’s boyfriends she tells us that she liked Alfonso “because he could make thick pancakes in the shape of gerbils'. Her vulnerability is also apparent when dealing with adult issues. When she discovers her mum’s boyfriend, Kit, has a secret she is unsure whether she should tell her mum and recruits the help of a friend for a second opinion.

Harper is very likeable and not at all the stereotypical whinging, recalcitrant, soon-to-be-teenager. She is well balanced, despite the very different parenting approaches, as both parents make it clear that she is loved – and she knows this.

For most parents there comes a time when they discover their children have interesting conversation and find it a pleasure to sit around the dinner table and listen to their views of the world. This is the case with Harper. She is amusing and engaging. I enjoyed her company.

What A Way To Go is a character driven novel which moves at a good, steady pace. It tells Harper’s story in a moving and sensitive way, packed with humour, wit and insight. References to polka dot clothes, music magazines such as Smash Hits and UCCA forms immerse you in the 1980’s. Julia has done a fantastic job at providing a very entertaining read.

What A Way To Go: Published by Atlantic Books and reviewed by Carol Sampson

You can follow Julia on Twitter: @WriterForster

Thank you to Diana Morgan at Ruth Killick Publicity for providing a review copy

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

A Conversation with Sanjida Kay

Sanjida Kay is a writer and TV presenter. She has had eight books published and written under her own name of Sanjida O’Connell. Her first four novels are Theory of Mind, Angel Bird (published by Black Swan), The Naked Name of Love and Sugar Island (published by Random House). Sanjida has been shortlisted for the Betty Trask Award for Romantic Fiction, the Asian Literary Award, the Daily Telegraph Young Science Writer’s Award, BBC Magazine’s Poetry competition and Asian Woman of the Year.

Sanjida presents wildlife programmes and used to direct science documentaries for the BBC, including BBC2s flagship science strand, Horizon. She trained as a zoologist and studied chimpanzees for her PhD.

Like many authors, Sanjida like’s to research her novels and particularly the locations where they are set. This has meant she’s had some escapades. Like the time when she was writing The Naked Name of Love and lived in a converted potato shed near Cork; whilst out running she got lost! This was nothing though compared to turning up in Outer Mongolia with no luggage (it had gone to Russia!).

Her latest book is Bone by Bone, under the thriller-writing name of Sanjida Kay is published by Corvus Books.

Laura is making a fresh start. Newly divorced and relocated to Bristol, she is carving a new life for herself and her nine-year-old daughter, Autumn. But things aren't going as well as she hoped. Autumn’s sweet nature and artistic bent are making her a target for bullies. 

When Autumn fails to return home from school one day Laura goes looking for her and happens upon a crowd of older children taunting her little girl. In the heat of the moment, Laura is overcome with rage and makes one terrible mistake. A mistake that will have devastating consequences for her and her daughter.

Selected by Jake Kerridge, Sunday Express, as a Thriller you won’t want to miss in 2016. We’d like to thank Sanjida for her conversation with Greenacre Writers and wish her every success with her debut thriller.

1. Tell us of your journey as a writer

When I was five years old I decided I wanted to be a writer and a zoologist! I had my first poem published when I was 11 and my first novel, Theory of Mind, came out when I was in my early twenties, just after I finished my PhD in zoology. Those achievements were a lot harder than I’ve made it sound since a) I had to pass ‘A’ Level chemistry, b) learn how to spell, and c) write books without any training other than ‘O’ Level English. I went on to publish four novels and four works of non-fiction. My last two novels, The Naked Name of Love, and Sugar Island, were literary and historical. And my spelling improved.
Then I had a baby and a re-think. Having a break from writing allowed me to reassess my craft and the way that the publishing industry had changed. I couldn’t travel much further than my local park, much less Outer Mongolia, and I didn’t have the time or energy to spend months researching the 1800s. So I changed my surname to Kay and wrote a thriller called, Bone by Bone, which is set in Bristol where I live.

2. How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

What I love most about being a writer is getting inside someone else’s head and imagining the world the way they experience it. I relish trying to create the perfect description too - sense of place and how things look and smell is important to me as I hope to transport the reader to another space and time. Now that I’m writing thrillers, I’m conscious of how I’d like the reader to feel. I’m interested in issues - race, the environment and the natural world - but although there’s normally a theme going on in my work, I don’t want the message to leap up and hit you on the head.

3. Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

In Bone by Bone, I wouldn’t want any of the characters as a friend. I empathise with all of them though, including the boy who bullies my protagonist, nine-year-old Autumn Wild. I like my main character, Laura, who’s Autumn’s mother, but she’s lonely, vulnerable, isolated and lacks confidence. I think we’ve all felt like that from time to time and it’s both sad and hard to see someone who is struggling with life because they’re unconfident.

4. Last year, GW organised #diverseauthorday: do you think literature accurately reflects the diversity of culture we have today?

It’s great that Greenacre Writers and writers like Nikesh Shukla @nikeshukla, support diversity in literature. I think it’s lacking. I’m mixed race and I rarely see my experience portrayed in the books I’m reading. In psychological thrillers, which are very middle-class, the majority of authors and characters within them are white. I include racial diversity and prejudice in my novels as standard - rather than writing stories that are solely about race.

5. If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

I wish I was somewhere hot right now, with glorious, white sandy beaches! I think Ireland would suit me much better though. I’m half Irish and I love the wild, windswept landscape and the tall tales of faeries and giants, not to mention the culture of spinning yarns in the pub! It would be the perfect place to write another dark thriller.

6. What is the one book you wish you had written?

I wish I’d written Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. Obviously, I dream about being a rich and famous author, but the plot is incredible, the characters Machiavellian and the prose is pitch-perfect for this kind of thriller. Flynn’s previous novel, Sharp Objects, doesn’t have such a rollercoaster plot, but it’s much edgier with a searing twist; perfect Southern gothic-noir.

7. What advice do you have for would be novelists?

Writing is like any skill, you need to practise. No one believes you can be a virtuoso pianist without putting in the hours, and writing is no different. If you can, aim to write every day, even if it’s only for half an hour. Read widely and all the time and find people you trust to give you constructive feedback.

8. What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I’m writing a second psychological thriller for Corvus Books. It’s provisionally called, ‘The Stolen Child.’ It’s about a couple, Zoe and Ollie, who are desperate to have a child. They adopt a little girl called Evie. When Evie turns seven, she gets a letter from a man claiming to be her father. And now he says he wants her back.
It’s set in West Yorkshire, on Ilkley moor. I spent a large portion of my childhood living on either side of this moor, wandering across the heath and dreaming of the Brontës, so there’s a Wuthering Heights, theme too.

You can follow Sanjida on Twitter: @SanjidaOConnell

Psychological thriller, Bone by Bone, by Sanjida Kay, published by Corvus Books. Out 3.3.2016.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Taking it Further

Taking it Further - a workshop with Josie Pearse, of Pearse & Black

A one-off taster workshop for writers who are working, or thinking of working, on a longer project.

Do you have a book idea and wonder if it would work? Have you stopped writing a book/script/memoir that you began with energy? Are you procrastinating? Or is it just taking so long that you wonder whether you really are a writer? Perhaps you’re just blocked and can’t see a way through.

If any of this rings a bell, you might like to come to ‘Taking it Further’ which is designed for writers wanting to produce a longer piece that they can eventually send out or self-publish.

Dr. Josie Pearse holds a PhD in creative writing. She has taught for 30 years and has written 3 novels. Two of them were published under a pseudonym, one is doing the rounds of agents. She’s now working on a series of novellas set in the 18th century. She once had a drawer full of projects that inexplicably ran out of steam, or never got off the ground…

Writing is never the straightforward process we feel it should be. The workshop will get you thinking about what you’re doing and examine the themes of your story in some depth. The cost will be £20 for two hours and include a private coaching call as a follow-up.

The workshop will be in High Barnet, Saturday 19th March, 11-1pm at Chipping Barnet Library. It will give you a taste of the kind of work we’ll be doing in an 8 week course in March/April/May this year.

For details/booking and/or a chat please email Josie: 

You can follow Josie on Twitter: @jojowasawoman

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

A Conversation with Julia Forster

Image courtesy of  Alice Hendy
Julia Forster was born in the east Midlands in 1978. Although she says she regrets never becoming a pop star – her early days were quite music obsessed – she has achieved success in the literary world.

Receiving the Derek Walcott Prize for Creative Writing, while studying Philosophy and Literature at Warwick University, gave an indication of Julia’s passion and potential for the written word. She also holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of St Andrews, Scotland.

Julia has been in the publishing industry for many years and has received valuable experience in many fields.  She spent time ploughing through manuscripts at a literary agency in London and was involved in marketing and publicity for the literary magazine New Welsh Review.                                               
In a journalistic capacity Julia has written for many prestigious publications including Agenda, Resurgence and the Western Mail. Now working for Literature Wales she is involved in awarding bursaries to established and emerging authors allowing them the luxury of time to write their novels. Julia was fortunate, in 2011, to receive such a bursary enabling her to begin her debut novel What a Way to Go. Although her first novel, Julia published a book called Muses: Revealing the Nature of Inspiration in 2007.

What a Way to Go follows twelve year old Harper Richardson as she seeks her identity growing up as a child of divorced parents. It is 1988, a time of great experimentation with clothes, hair and just about everything else. Harper, as she moves between the homes and lives of her parents just gets on with life as best she can.
Julia has captured, with great observation, the emotional journey of a teenager whose parents are caught up in their own traumatic circumstances after the divorce. They leave their daughter without many of the boundaries they would normally have set. It is a moving story told with humour and wit and we wish Julia every success with her debut novel.

1. Tell us of your journey as a writer

I began writing in 1998 when I was nineteen and at the University of Warwick. I chose a module in my second year called composition and creative writing. The author who was leading our very first session, Russell Celyn Jones, asked us to write about something traumatic; nearly twenty years later, I’m still responding to that brief in What a Way to Go.

The Warwick Writing Programme had only been running since 1996, and as such office hours weren’t well attended. I would sign up for a ten-minute session on the tutors’ doors, but I’d wind up getting a full hour of one-to-one tutorials because the other students hadn’t yet cottoned on to how useful they were. My office hours were mostly with the poet David Morley, who still runs the course at Warwick. I credit David with putting me on a poetic escalator; by the end of the first ten-week term, I had written a poem about the death of someone close to me. Not long after that, I walked past his office door, which was wide open, and he called out ‘Julia Forster! Poet!’ That anecdote still makes me giggle today. My husband calls me JFP for short now.

Funnily enough, although I went straight on to study creative writing at St Andrews after graduating, I never studied how to write novels, so I’ve learnt how to write longer pieces of fiction by picking up tips from all kinds of different text books, including books on screen-writing such as Story by Robert McKee, but mainly from reading widely. I read a lot of contemporary novels, but also plenty of classics.

2. How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I think it differs depending what I’m writing. In the case of What a Way to Go, I had a strong conviction to write from a pure, emotional place about what it feels like when your parents divorce. The story took me to places that I couldn’t have anticipated. I most enjoy that I get to follow my intuition with writing. Although I have done many other jobs in the past, mainly in publishing but also in the environmental sector, this is the job which I think both stretches and surprises me the most.

3. Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

That question about the act of empathy is an interesting one. In What a Way to Go there is an elderly lady who is prejudiced and narrow-minded about her son’s sexuality (he’s gay), and there’s also a mobile librarian who patronises young Harper when she goes to borrow Forever by Judy Blume. I see it as my job to inhabit all the characters’ psyches while I write them, and to see the world from their unique perspectives; even if it’s just for one or two scenes, and even if I’m writing from a different point of view (in What a Way to Go, all the action is seen from the perspective of twelve year-old Harper). As such, I think it’s vital that I can empathise with the characters’ world views while I write them so that they feel authentic, but it doesn’t mean I share their outlook – in both cases that I mention above, I don’t whatsoever.

4. GW recently organised #diverseauthorday: do you think literature accurately reflects the diversity of culture we have today?

No, I don’t. We live in a richly diverse country and I don’t see that reflected on the bookshelves in shops. One of the characters in my book, Cassie, is adopted. She’s also black. However, I don’t make a big thing of this in the book because the story is seen from Harper’s point of view and Harper doesn’t notice skin colour until it is pointed out to her. That was exactly how it was for me, living in a diverse suburb of an east Midlands town: it was my experience that you didn’t question or even notice people’s skin colour. I take my hat off to initiatives like #diverseauthorday and bloggers like Naomi @Frizbot and Dan @Utterbiblio who are spreading the word about books by authors from different backgrounds.

5. If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

Twice in my twenties, I saved up my pay checks and then booked a week’s writing retreat on my own. Both times, I chose cities: the first time, Paris; the second, New York. In the latter case I stayed one cold January in a beautifully bohemian apartment which was just off 42nd Street, and it was run by artists. The cost of accommodation was kept artificially low so that artists and writers could afford to stay; I got an awful lot of writing done (I was working on a book which is still under my bed), but I also had a lot of fun.

It snowed so heavily that on the very last day of my retreat, a Sunday, my flight was cancelled. About five feet of snow had fallen in just a few hours. Instead of flying back to London, I went out for a beer with another artist who was staying there along with the son of the man who owned the apartment. We walked down the centre of the snow-filled Fifth Avenue. The whole city was choked by snow. Driving was impossible. We had a snowball fight and our laughter was muffled, as if we were playing in a sound-proof city.

If I could be transported instantly to anywhere in the world to write, I would go back there. But, sadly, I think I would also have to go back in time, as I am pretty sure the little bohemian slice of paradise in the centre of Manhattan no longer exists…

6. What is the one book you wish you had written?

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

7. What advice do you have for would be novelists?

1. Silence your inner critic; there will be enough of these in the outside world.

2. Enjoy all your attempts at writing your novel – whether you fail or succeed.

3. Surround yourself with ‘can do’ positive people from all walks of life.*

*One of the people who inspired me to give this novel a go was a good friend who works for a forestry organisation. She had three children under 18 months at one stage, and yet despite spinning so many plates, she always has a positive attitude. She leaps over physical and emotional hurdles with the grace of an athlete and with an infectious joie de vivre. Novel writing is about solving one knotty problem after another; if you can get into the right mind set for that kind of challenge, then I really believe you’re half way there.

8. What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I have just finished a full-length radio drama which is on submission at the moment, and I am limbering up for a second novel. I’m not sure yet what it will be about, and I’m looking forward to finding out.

Thank you so much for having me to visit your blog!

What a Way to Go is published by Atlantic Books (January 2016)

You can follow Julia on Twitter: @WriterForster

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Book reviewer: Brown Books & Green Tea

As part of our #diverseauthorday Greenacre Writers want to continue the trend and will be posting interesting books and linking to book reviewers. This one is perfect for #ReadDiverse2016 a new initiative via Twitter.
Han Kang was born in Gwangju in 1970 and moved to Seoul at the age of ten, later studying Korean literature at Yonsei University. She made her literary debut as a poet in 1993 and has since published collections of short stories including Love in YeosuA Yellow Patterned Eternity, and The Fruits of My Woman as well as novels including Your Cold HandBlack DeerGreek Lessons and The Vegetarian. Her writing has won the Yi Sang Literary Prize, the Today’s Young Artist Award, and the Korean Literature Novel Award. She currently teaches creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts. The Vegetarian is published by Portobello Books.
Deborah Smith translated The Vegetarian and the latest novel by Han Kang, Human Acts. published by Portobello Books. She is currently finishing a PhD in Korean Literature at SOAS, and has recently founded Tilted Axis, a not-for-profit press which will publish translations from non-European languages. 

The following quote is from a review written by Whitney, for her blog Brown Books & Green Tea:

“The Vegetarian is a book that requires a bit of thought after reading it. You physically put the book (or in my case, my Kindle app) away, but your mind still tries to make sense of what you just read. It was something very different from what I’d been reading recently....A book in three acts, The Vegetarian’s first chapter begins with Yeong-Hye’s decision not to eat meat. The decision, resulting from a series of graphic dreams, has a surprising affect on her family. Her husband, for example, is livid that she has interrupted an otherwise average lifestyle when she says she will no longer cook meat or allow it in their house. Similarly, her father is irate that she refuses to eat meat at his behest. As they continue to provide unsolicited direction, she becomes less and less responsive to her family’s interventions, which climaxes in abuse and self harm (I think at this point, its appropriate to provide a warning for spousal rape). She is unfazed as she loses everything. This is just the beginning of Yeong-Hye’s decent into madness.”

Whitney, is a 25 year old, with a love for multicultural literature and hot tea. She has bachelor degrees in Philosophy and International Studies, and an MA in International Security. Since graduation, she has been struggling to regain her adolescent love for reading. And thus, BB&GT was born! Her hope is that the blog will be a place for her to read with friends and family. many of whom have also expressed an interest in reading more. Visit the blog for book reviews, critical analysis, and deeply steeped tea!

Once you've read The Vegetarian, try Human Acts (2014) Han Kang, has said they are like a pair. Tr. Deborah Smith (2016), Portobello Books paperback

You can follow Deborah Smith on Twitter: @londonkoreanist
You can follow Whitney on Twitter: @BBandGT

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Seriously though … you really want to write a memoir?

Have you got a story that needs to be told? A big event from your life? Do you want to explore how to plan it, write it, print it and sell it? Do you want to know how to become an author, with a book for sale?

Anna Meryt is running a Life writing/memoir course: 

Starts: 6:30 pm on Thursday, February 11th 2016. There’ll be 7 one hour sessions, the venue will be in North London.
Venue: The Penguin Music School (ground floor - easy access), 584 Green Lanes , N8 0RP
Nearest tube Turnpike Lane (Piccadilly line), buses from there 29/141 - 3 stops or walk 7-8 mins. On street parking free after 6.30 pm.

Each week Anna will cover a different aspect of memoir writing – topics will be:

1.     What’s your story about? Anna will give you an exercise to write it out in 500 words. Then you'll look at how to plan it. Chapter by chapter.  We’ll examine how to create a framework.

2.     This week you’ll bring your plot framework and we’ll look at who are the main characters.  What part of the story do we need to keep, what part to discard in the interest of the story.

3.     Let’s look at genre this week. Yes its memoir, but what’s the time frame?  Is it set in the past?  The distant past?  Is it a tear jerker or an adventure or a comedy? Is memoir writing therapy (you will be asked that frequently, so let’s deconstruct that).

4.     Character and description
How do you describe your main characters – what they look like and what are their main characteristics – bringing them to life. We’ll do some exercises and get feedback.

5.     Timeline.  Where is your story placed in time?  eg.  who was prime minister, what world events were happening, when did someone die, give birth, have that terrible accident etc?

6.     It’s not just libel.  If there are living characters in your story, what will they think?  How will they receive your story and what will they feel about it being published? How will you deal with these challenges … and then there’s copyright.

7.     Getting published.  Becoming an Indie (self-published author).  Will you get someone you know to edit, self edit or pay someone? Publishing options. 

Do you really want to face the challenges of writing a memoir? Seriously?  You’ll find out by the end of this course, you really will.

Anna is a poet and an author and used to teach undergraduates at London Metropolitan University and at Birkbeck University of London. She has an MA in Professional Writing.

Anna Meryt
Highgate Poets:
Email: (Make sure you Put Memoir course in Subject line)
Mob: 07852229655
Twitter: @ameryt 

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Book Reviewer: Mahsuda Snaith

As part of our #diverseauthorday Greenacre Writers want to continue the trend and will be posting interesting books and linking to book reviewers. This one is just in time for #DiverseDecember.

Susmita Bhattacharya was born in Bombay, India in 1974. Addicted to writing from a young age she has published short stories in magazines such as Blue Tattoo and Planet and Poetry in Roundyhouse and Anterliwt. Her novel The Normal State of Mind deals with difficult subject matter of life in contemporary India. Susmita also has a blog on Her Writing Life.

The following quote is from a review written by Mahsuda Snaith for Jaggery Lit.

“Susmita Bhattacharya’s debut, The Normal State of Mind, is not your typical novel. Here is a book dealing with big subject matters—the limitations placed upon widowed women, the illegality of homosexuality in contemporary India, for example— that is also written with a lightness and fluidity that would rival any bestselling chick lit.

This is a book that deals with, what some might find, shocking subjects but does not aim to shock itself. It is a depiction of the ordinary lives of women dealing with an abnormal hostility for the lives they should be free to lead.”

Mahsuda Snaith, as well as an avid reader, is also an enthusiastic writer of short stories and plays and has written a novel called Ravine.  A winner of various competitions such as the Bristol Short Story Prize 2014 and the Mslexia Novel Competition 2013, Mahsuda also finds time to review books for magazines such as Jaggery Lit.

You can follow Susmita Bhattacharya on Twitter: @Susmitatweets

You can follow Mahsuda Snaith on Twitter: @mahsudasnaith