In between celebrating my book’s first birthday – and finding the clichéd book-as-baby metaphor more apt than ever – I’ve had the pleasure of reading three novels about the begetting of real human babies: a debut scientific thriller from England; a second gritty comedy from Scotland; a third novel in the literary genre from the USA. As if the authors have responded to a writing prompt to bring a novel angle to “having” a baby, there should be something for everyone in this selection. If you’d like to recommend any others, you can do so via the comments.
Busy with my birthday blog tour, my reviews have been somewhat neglected this month. So good to find a theme to link a couple of books together. Set in Britain, My Name Is Leon is about a boy’s struggle to adapt to being too black for adoption; set in the USA, The Lauras is about a woman revisiting the places she was fostered through the eyes of her own child.
What does the working-class child aspire to? In my case, I couldn’t dream of joining a middle-class profession I’d never heard of. Nor, even though I was addicted to writing from the start, did I believe that someone like me could become an author. Books never seemed to be based in the places with which I was familiar: they were set in boarding schools rather than comprehensives; in country houses rather than a small semi-detached; in cities rather than small industrial towns. So how could I resist a novel set in my birthplace, the small northern town from which my odd accent derives? As if that weren’t enough, I’m offered a novel set where my parents grew up, a similar down-at-heel out-of-the-way place where I had my first restaurant meal. Sixty miles separates these two towns, as well as some breath-taking countryside, as depicted in The Wolf Border, one of my favourite reads from last year. But Workington and Barrow don’t have the beauty of the Lake District. Thanks to Vintage Books and Legend Press, I had the chance to discover whether they could nevertheless shine on the page. I’d be interested in your thoughts on using real places as fictional settings.
Today’s focus is on plot, with reviews of a psychological thriller about identity and a sophisticated crime novel against a backdrop of African-American politics.
I’m delighted to showcase two second novels published this week (although Song of the Sea Maid has been out for a while in hardback) featuring feisty female characters. Both take a sideways look at history, with a focus on scientific thought either side of Darwin, and celebrate love against the odds. Both stories begin in an asylum (the first a psychiatric hospital, the second an orphanage) and take the reader on an engaging journey beyond its walls.
In her declining years, as her memory for the past overtakes her connection to the present, Meggie Tulloch sets out to write her life story. Addressed (in the mid-1970s) to her hippyish granddaughter, and kept secret from her daughter, Kathryn, the girl’s mother (although, as time goes on, Meggie increasingly confuses the two), it’s a story of migration from north-east Scotland and the Shetlands to Fremantle, Australia, a journey through the elements of water, air and earth, and finally (in a contemporary strand picked up by the daughter herself) fire.
I hadn’t been reviewing for very long, when I was invited to contribute to the book recommendation site, Shiny New Books. Honoured as I was, I didn’t feel ready back then, but kept it in mind. After Victoria posted a lovely early review of Sugar and Snails on the site and hosted my guest post on writing about secrets, I resolved to keep an eye out for suitable books to review. I’m pleased to announce that my reviews of The Social Brain and Playthings were accepted for the latest edition so if you’re satisfied with the easy answer to my question you can go straight to the reviews by clicking on the images. But if you’d like to discover another connection, then read on.
I was a little surprised to find that Marvellous Ways is a character, rather than a method, in Sarah Winman’s second novel but, as she reviews her long life in the company of a bereft young soldier, it turns out that a life lived according to her own ways is rather marvellous after all. Aged eighty-nine when we first meet her in 1947, her years have passed mostly alone in a remote Cornish creek. Her mother, she’s been told, was a mermaid and her father found a place “between God and medicine” in administering to the dying in their final hours, perhaps a precursor to the hospice movement featured in a couple of other novels. Marvellous finds a role for herself at the other end of life, as a very different kind of midwife to Gugu in Mo Yan’s Frog.
After proving such a generous host on my own long-distance blog tour, I’m delighted to welcome Kate to Annecdotal as she launches her second novel. Here she describes how she links creative writing and emotional healing. Read on and enjoy!
I had been writing for over twenty years when the depression (which is a part of my make-up) overwhelmed me. Up until that point, I had been very focused on publication, writing feature articles and non-fiction copy for magazines, newsletters, annual reports and newspapers. I also had several unpublished novels.
When the emotional and psychological crash came, I stopped writing. Life became an endless succession of treacherous puzzles and traps which I somehow had to work my way round. Picking up a hairbrush became an enormous act of will, never mind picking up a pen and doing something worthwhile with it. I felt very bleak and hopeless. I became inarticulate. When I went into therapy I would cry but I could not speak coherently. After several sessions, my therapist, probably out of exasperation, said, ‘You’re a writer, write and we can look at that.’
As one of those who nagged Geoff LePard to give his second novel a proper launch, I’m delighted to be a calling-off point on his blog tour. By a strange quirk of fate, I find myself opening proceedings on the very day I’m over on Terry Tyler’s Zodiac Files explaining how I lack the leadership qualities said to typify a Leo. Whatever the ironies of that, I’m honoured to be able to return the favour of when Geoff welcomed me to his blog last month with an introduction that made me laugh. I can’t match Geoff’s talent for comedy, but I can give another side to the story of our original meeting at an Arvon course six years ago.
Although the course was on second drafts, he and I were in the minority in having actually completed our first. Lugging my box-file of assorted papers down to the classroom/diningroom on the first morning, I found Geoff thumbing through a spiral-bound A5 book, I gormlessly asked if that was his novel, trying to keep the envy out of my voice. One of them, he quipped. I’m not sure how I coped with the discovery that he had four first drafts completed at that point, but I did get to read each of them in those early stages, so it’s wonderful to witness their gradual emergence into the world as bone fide books.
Given my own interest in fictional research, I was curious to learn more about Geoff’s experience of writing a thriller about the controversial issue of embryo research. I hope you enjoy his account as much as I do.
Following the birth of their twins three years ago, Nick and Maya have grown apart. Having given up her job as a highflying divorce lawyer to devote herself to the children, Maya is becoming increasingly insecure, looking to her therapist, the children’s nanny, her personal trainer and self-help books for “the answer”, when what she really wants is her husband’s attention. But Nick, an advertising director, has come to the conclusion it’s time to leave. Confiding in the couple’s mutual friend, Adam Gray, he realises that, with Maya now a stay-at-home mum, he’ll be heavily penalised financially in the divorce settlement. Unless he can play at being a better man, spending more time with his children and encouraging his wife back to work.
Pilgrim Jones has done something shameful: crashed her car into a bus stop and killed three young children, although she has no memory of doing so. Did she swerve to avoid the dog and lose control of the vehicle or, consumed by anger and self-pity after being dumped by her human-rights lawyer husband, was she reckless? Certainly her neighbours in the small Swiss town of Arnau consider her a child murderer and, despite the sympathy of the police, she realises she has to get away. With no particular plan, she flies to Tanzania and, dropping out of a safari, pitches up in Magulu, a shabby village on the road to nowhere, with one bus out a week. Here she finds herself a world away from her former travels with her ex-husband, from her role as a diplomatic wife. Here, where the doctor has no medicine, the policeman no power to uphold the law, violence or the threat of it is ever presence at the periphery of her vision (p82/83):
For my third post in this series, I’m delighted to welcome Barbara Speake to Annecdotal. After an accomplished career as a research and clinical psychologist, Barbara is well on the way to publishing her fifth novel. Here’s Barbara in her own words:
How did you come to writing fiction?
I came to fiction writing through the discipline of writing non-fiction. I was very fortunate to have had two major psychology careers spanning nearly four decades, firstly as a research psychologist and then, after further training, as a clinical psychologist and NHS manager. During my academic career, I authored or co-authored numerous journal articles, book chapters, government reports, a PhD thesis and two books for parents and staff, both published by Souvenir Press. When I later qualified as a clinical psychologist, my writing was mainly of a clinical nature, service reports, and court reports, firstly in primary care, then in learning disability services, autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and forensic services.
Of course, like many authors, who have written non-fiction, I always wondered if I had a fiction book in me.
She knows it’s futile to try to explain what’s going on inside her – she can’t even explain it to herself – so she makes no more reference to it, focusing instead on giving the best impression of herself she can.
One of the most painful aspects of mental distress and disorder can be the inability of other people to acknowledge the lived experience, the need to cover up for their sake an additional strain on an already fragile psyche. So no wonder Grace is relieved when her husband, Gordon, leaves her alone on their narrow-boat home to go on a fishing trip with a friend. A couple of days earlier Grace saw what she took to be the ghost of her deceased first husband, Pete, her deepest and most disturbing love. Gordon, fearing a repeat of the breakdown that had her hospitalised following the death of her teenage daughter, Hannah, wants her to go to the doctor. Grace herself just wants time to revisit the memories of the handsome man who used to beat her, and the daughter who withdrew into the solace of illegal highs.
I’m delighted to host a post from my Inspired Quill stablemate. Tracey’s second novel was published earlier this month.
Enduring love. Loss. The eternal struggle for life’s meaning. The hand that first held mine. Atonement. Yes, there are book titles mixed up in there, but these are also the themes of my writing.
My influences probably started with Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, maybe that’s the first memory I have of a deep feeling of poignancy: an understanding of irretrievable loss. Peter wants to fly free for a while, as all babies (according to J.M. Barrie) are capable of, but he leaves it too late to return to his mother. The window is barred and she has another baby; there is no place now for him. He spends his life as an eternal boy, living in Neverland, regretting his loss of ‘Mother’.
A book that impacted deeply on me as an older child was A Dream in The House. Every generation of a family has a set of twins named Ann and Jane, and the Ann always disappears and the Jane tries to get her back. Once the final Jane manages to retrieve her twin, every other Ann is also restored in retrospect. Loss of ‘Self’, perhaps, in the symbolisation of the twin.
Ivo lies in bed in a hospice, part of him, at only forty, unable to accept that he’s there. His favourite nurse, Sheila, suggests he play a game to keep his mind occupied: composing an A-Z of body parts, each linked to a tale about his life. He addresses these to an initially unnamed other – using as a form of the second-person point of view I’ve discussed in a previous post – who turns out to be his girlfriend, Mia, now sorely missed.
Ivo was born into a loving family but, after his father died when he was only six, he’s always had difficulty avoiding the influence of the wrong kind of friends. An insulin-dependent diabetic from his late teens, like some other young people with the condition, he doesn’t always attend sufficiently to his self-care. On top of this, there’s Malachy, his best friend from school and his elder sister’s partner, tempting him to sample a cornucopia of drug-fuelled highs. As Ivo’s condition worsens, and the hospice staff recommend morphine for the management of this pain, he becomes increasingly anxious about the prospect of a visit from Malachy from whom he’s become estranged.
finding truth through fiction
Annecdotal is where real life brushes up against the fictional.
Annecdotist is the blogging persona of Anne Goodwin:
slug-slayer, tramper of moors,
author of two novels.
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