Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Snapshots from... Zürich

In our regular series, we go exploring, finding out about the writing life around the world. Today, D.B. Miller gives us a tour of Zürich, Switzerland. 
Images by SL Nickerson.

What's so great about Zürich?

Things work. Zürich consistently ranks at or near the top of global surveys that measure quality of life – in case five minutes on the lakeside weren’t convincing enough. It also operates at a lower frequency than the whirling inside my head, or for that matter on the page. While the picturesque alleys, cafés and proximity to nature make for some soothing moments, they are not necessarily an invitation to while away the hours. From what I’ve gathered, any loafing around is the sole responsibility of the loafer.

By SL Nickerson

Admittedly, when I first moved here in 2003, I didn’t know what to make of it. I only embraced Zürich after deciding that work and the so-called economic machine lay at its heart. To feel local is to be productive. For that reason, I think the city is ideal for tackling creative projects as long as you have the discipline. You need to be alert, attuned to what’s subtle and hidden. Every day, the color and texture of the lake change. Depending on the weather, the perceived distance and contours of the Alps shift. If you want to find a story here, you have to earn it.

Tell us a bit about the cultural life of the place.

For a city this size, and one surrounded by stretches of green, hills and villages, the cultural offer is rich and getting richer. The first time I approached Zürich from the mountains, with the staggering peaks and turquoise lakes just out of reach, I realized what a miracle it really is. On the literary front, big-name writers often come to town for readings at the Kaufleuten and Literaturhaus. Their presence alone is inspiring, to say nothing of the exchanges I’ve had at the signing table with, for example, Lydia Davis, Amélie Nothomb, Michael Ondaatje and Jonathan Safran Foer. The city hosts a number of festivals, including Openair Literatur and Zürich Liest, while smaller, edgier outfits, such as index and Theater Neumarkt, organize events throughout the year.

By SL Nickerson

Of all the other cultural goings-on, it’s worth mentioning the vibrant live music scene. I enjoy the small, quirky venues, ranging from a velvet-clad dance hall to a stuffy pit near the river. On any given night, someone great, maybe just on the verge of a breakthrough, is probably playing less than 30 minutes from home.

What's hot? What are people reading?

By SL Nickerson
In my experience, “hot” does not seem to register here, but I have noticed a steady, lukewarm affection for a good Krimi (thriller). Because bestsellers cross borders, people in this multi-lingual city tend to read what everyone else does, and maybe not even wait for the German translation. The homegrown literary scene is thriving as well. In any case, it used to be easier to spot public literary tastes. As smart phones and e-readers have mostly replaced dog-eared paperbacks, I can’t easily draw my own conclusions.

Can you recommend any books set in Zürich?

While only some of his books take place in Zürich, I associate most of Martin Suter’s stories with the city’s discreet social constructs and small-scale absurdities. Not all of his work has been translated into English, which has meant some slow going for me, but the invested time and teeth-gnashing are always worth it (Lila, Lila is a favorite, especially because the anti-hero is a writer). I’m looking forward to wrestling with Jens Nielsen’s Flusspferd im Frauenbad, based on a recent performance/reading I was lucky enough to catch. A few friends have also recommended Peter Stamm’s work.

As far as English books go, writers tend to explore the traditions, secrets and wealth linked to the city – some much better than others. I have yet to read a book that does for Zürich what Salman Rushdie and Andrei Bely did for New York and St. Petersburg, respectively: blow it out to an extreme, and a funny one at that. Recommendations are welcome.

By SL Nickerson

Who are the best-known local writers?

I’m not sure who can be considered “local” in a relatively small, internationally minded country with four official languages. If I stick to living German-language writers who were born, have once lived or are now settled in and around Zurich: Lukas Bärfuss, Franz Hohler and Charles Lewinsky come to mind (in addition to Nielsen, Stamm and Suter). Hazel Brugger, better known for her slam poetry and comedy, does not neatly fit into the lit scene, though my neighbor swears by her book. I suppose I have a soft spot for creative rule-breakers since the city thrives on rules and regulations. Then again, Zürich was the birthplace of Dada.

On another historical note, plenty of famous non-Swiss writers have passed through the country and stayed long enough to create. Byron, Fitzgerald, Highsmith, Le Carré, Nabokov, Twain – there are just too many to mention. Closer to home, James Joyce and Thomas Mann are buried in or just outside of Zürich. And Thornton Wilder is rumored to have finished Our Town in my town.

By SL Nickerson

Is the location an inspiration or distraction for you?

Neither: it is a challenge. Whether due to my own priorities, procrastination or something in the alpine water, I’ve found that I need more energy to seek out inspiration and not get distracted by (or complacent in) such a prim, orderly place. At a Colum McCann reading, after the author speculated how incredible Zürich must be for writers, I gently pressed him at the signing table. Did he mean it would be inspiring to start something new (and if so, could I learn from him) or conducive to finishing a work in progress (and if so, could I learn from him)? He had to stop and think about it, and then said he wasn’t sure.

The fact is, I’ve lived in cities bursting with stories and characters. But they’re here, too, popping up now and then to remind me to try harder. Here’s that world-weary balding guy in lady’s dress pumps again. There’s that gentleman with the Hungarian pointer who once, unprompted, told me what he thinks of bankers (scum). And I will never forget my first summer when, lounging at a pristine lakeside beach, I watched as a girl of about 12 waded straight into a submerged corpse. In between the shrieks and Baywatch-grade scene that unfolded, I thought: That’s not supposed to happen here, and it just did. (From the little I could glean from the local papers and tight-lipped lifeguards the next day, the elderly man had expired during a routine swim a few days earlier.)

What are you writing?

I’m working on a batch of short stories and some creative nonfiction, all of which are directly or indirectly inspired by live music. I’m also toying with the idea of picking up an abandoned novel set in Zürich. In retrospect, I found it hard to sustain momentum because I kept trying to describe exactly what I saw. To ramp up the tension, I think I need to experiment with a more surrealistic take on the city – and not quit until I’ve blown it out to the extreme.

By SL Nickerson

Sum up life in Zürich in three words.

Get to work.

D.B. Miller is an American writer who has been living in Europe since 1995. With dark humor and a slight edge, she writes about the themes that move her most: disenchantment, alienation and the obliterating power of live music.

Her essays, short stories and offbeat profiles have appeared in The Weeklings, The Woolf and Split Lip Magazine. She also writes for hire but, as the expression goes, that's another story.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Twenty-four Stories for Grenfell Tower

By Catriona Troth

On the night of Friday 24th June, I was watching The Last Leg with my family when Kathy Burke came on to talk about a remarkable project - an invitation to submit a short story for an anthology to raise money for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. In particular, the project aimed to provide ongoing psychological support to survivors suffering from PTSD.

That night, I contacted the project, and I have been lucky enough to be granted an interview with its two founders, Paul and Rho.

There can scarcely be anyone in the country unaware of the appalling tragedy that has unfolded at Grenfell Tower, and the history of neglect and negligence behind it. So I don’t need to ask why you are doing this. But how did you two get involved personally?

PAUL: Rho and I are friends on Twitter. We were just chatting by DM about Grenfell. Rho was really keen on wanting to do something specifically for the PTSD care of those people affected by it - I know a couple of writers, I contacted them to see if anyone would be interested in putting together a collection of short stories. Next thing we were snowballed by offers of support. From a private chat between a couple of nobodies on Twitter to being mentioned on national television took 72 hours.

Why the idea of a short story anthology?

PAUL: I just liked the idea of something that would instantly remind people of the cause we were raising money for. Short stories seemed an obvious and striking metaphor for the tragedy - that the form would reflect the lives cut short. Also we thought that it offered the best option for writing that wasn't explicitly political, that just by putting this together it would speak for itself in terms of addressing some of the issues that led to this disaster.

Why choose to focus specifically on the issue of PTSD among survivors? And what kind of help do you hope that this will enable?

RHO: Suffering from PTSD and having been in treatment for several years now I immediately knew that survivors and all those directly involved with the rescue operation would be traumatised beyond anything any of us wish to imagine.

As someone who has been treated by leading doctors in the field of PTSD treatment I know just how incredibly effective treatments including EMDR and Sensori-motor Therapy are.

I don’t want this to be another case of cutting corners for the sake of saving money, where people end up having a short course of CBT and medication to smother things; trauma eventually rises to the surface better recognised and helped now than years down the line.

We hope our project and funds raised will make the public more informed about PTSD. We hope the proceeds will in some way help bolster funds to enable survivors to receive the expert psychiatric support they need.

Who can submit stories for the anthology? And what kind of stories are you looking for?

PAUL: Anyone. As long as they're positive, optimistic tales on the themes of community, unity and hope.We want this collection to be a platform for new voices as much as anything else. One of the many issues that Grenfell has illuminated is the great social divide that stretches way beyond Kensington and Chelsea. We want this book to reach out to, and be written by, a true reflection of our community.

What can often be overlooked in these situations are the voices of those most closely affected. Will you be encouraging people from North Kensington and similar communities (such as those now being evacuated from other tower blocks at risk) to submit their stories?

PAUL: Definitely. We're really keen to hear their stories. We've held off contacting community groups in the area for now for obvious reasons but will definitely be working to ensure stories from Grenfell and other affected communities are heard and read.

Following the fantastic response to Kathy Burke’s appearance on The Last Leg, where she talked about Twenty-four Stories, it doesn’t sound as if you will be short of entries! How will the selection process work?

PAUL: It's been an astonishing response. Kathy is going to be part of our editorial team, we've got a duty to identify those as yet undiscovered writers who we think will leave a lasting impression on the reader. We've had dozens of submissions already and have some really exciting big names who have pledged work.

Thank you very much, Paul and Rho. We wish you every success. Can't wait to see the finished anthology!

You can follow Twenty-four Stories on Facebook or on Twitter @Twenty4stories. Look out for an announcement very soon about some big names who have pledged stories for the anthology!

If you would like to submit a story, here's how:
Short story 750-3000 words max OR flash fiction OR fiction based poem.
Themes: Positivity/Unity/Community/Hope.
Deadline: 31/07/17
Submit by email to:

It is very important that you understand how flashbacks and triggers work for PTSD sufferers.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Writing Characters over a Series

Writing books in a series comes with its own highs and lows. Attracting readers along for the ride has to be one of the biggest joys, but that in itself comes with its own perils. Readers connect with characters, and with a series of books in particular, those characters are totally the main reason people will stick with the journey. Getting them right is a must. So, how does an author go about the task?

Here are three people who should know ....



To develop characters over a series, you need to know them far better than the reader ever will.

You need to know all about their past, what shaped them, why they developed certain patterns of behaviour and how they reached this point. Crime writer Sheila Bugler and I developed a questionnaire to get this in-depth knowledge of our protagonists.

From the first book, I knew my MC had a shelf life. I planned six in The Beatrice Stubbs Series and no more. With that in mind, not only could I plan each novel in terms of plot, but also conceive a character arc spanning six individual stories.

Repetition is a delicate balance. If Beatrice follows the same psychological pattern in every book, it becomes tedious and predictable. DI Stubbs changes and matures and sometimes falters but most of all, she learns from her mistakes.

Regular readers want enough familiarity with her personal life and allusions to previous events to feel they recognise her world. But I don't stuff in too much back story for newcomers those who pick up one as a standalone and might feel excluded.

The surroundings need to change and adapt with her. Certain relationships will wither or flourish within each book; others thrive or die over the series. If a character returns from a previous book, changes must have occurred offstage.

Finally, readers form their own picture of this personality. Unless she behaves in character, my story must provide a very good reason why not. Or I’ll get angry emails. Thankfully the only feedback so far is “I’ll miss her”.

You know what? Me too.

To be honest, writing characters over the course of a single book - let alone a whole series - once terrified me. I was paranoid someone with blue eyes in chapter one, would have chocolate brown ones by the end of the novel. Without the eagle eyes of a proof reader, I doubt I would ever have had the confidence to publish my first book!

However, knowing The Gold Detectives was going to be a series from its conception, helped me organise from an early stage, how to deal with characters who were each going to go on their own individual journey through the course of the novels. In an effort to avoid repetition (one issue I have found with reading crime series from other authors) my plan was to have a central character - DI Amanda Gold - who would be a major player throughout the series, but then for each member of her team to take the lead protagonist role in each new book. And so far it's worked a treat.

In the early days, I kept a diary on each of my characters. I jotted down descriptions, fashions, hobbies, likes and dislikes, personality traits, emotional status. I kept detailed notes on their family history, religious beliefs, prior jobs, school and exam results - and a multitude of information I knew would never get into the books. But if I knew all this useless information about them, then I felt confident answering a question from their point of view, even if the reader never got to find out the background.

In the writing of book one - Crimson Shore - there was a lot of checking and cross-checking to make sure I kept the characters consistent. But I have to be honest and say that in books two and three, there has been less need. If I write something new about character, perhaps the name of an ex-lover or ex-boss, I will note it down in my diary for them.

But I also feel I now have a much closer bond with my characters, to the point that I feel about them much as I would a good friend. For example, I know my friend Zoe has a brother called Pete, husband called Mark and two children called Jacob and Joshua. Because I've spent so much time with my characters, I know pretty much all of the same information about them too, and I'm much more confident in my relationship with my characters than ever before. I know how they think, I know how they speak, I know how they would react and I understand their humour and sarcasm. I can find myself inside their heads responding as they would without even realising it.

For a writer, there's nothing better than a reader telling you how much they love one of your characters or how upset they were when such-and-such happened to a character they've bonded with over the course of your series. It makes the hard work getting the characters to that point all worthwhile!


I think the main emphasis on writing characters over a series is to have them grow, otherwise they become stagnant. They need to learn from past experience and use that knowledge in future books to strengthen their character and to evolve. None of this I found hugely difficult for the Overlord series as I've always had the advantage of time and major events which are recorded in history. The books span 30 years, so there's maturing in years as well as growth through experience to explore for my characters. 

Also, there's the actions and decisions recorded in history, such as Zenobia's ambition and decisions to go to war, to manipulate other characters and so on which have to be influenced by something. This was interesting to explore, because in order to come to a certain event and a character decision you have to investigate what historically might have driven those decisions and influenced certain emotions. 

Some might say Zenobia's growth is the most interesting, and it is, because she grows from strength to strength with each book, amassing power as the years go by and influencing and creating alliances, but she doesn't actually grow that much as a character. She doesn't learn, which is one of her flaws and certainly part of her character. For me Zabdas is the more intriguing, for he learns rapidly, both from emotions he feels, events which unfold, and his reflection on the decisions of others. He understands more as the years go by and doesn't so much amass strength and knowledge but finds it and nurtures it.

JJ Marsh, Gillian E Hamer and JJ Marsh are all members of the Triskele Books author collective.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Researching Regency England

How Mary Wollstonecraft, an about-to-be-demolished shop and an aircraft inspired a Regency time-slip novel.

by Bradley Bernarde.

I had always wanted to write a novel set in the Regency period, mainly because my admiration for Jane Austen, and her remarkable talent, was combined with an intense interest in the late eighteen and early nineteenth centuries, when women were, very slowly, becoming more prominent, especially in the world of literature.

As early as 1750, Hannah More, Elizabeth Montagu and Elizabeth Carter, were holding literary discussions, while later in the century Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women, championed educational equality for women. I have always believed that these efforts, combined with those of other equally talented women, would have helped us achieve advancement, had the Prince Regent’s daughter, Princess Charlotte succeeded to the throne, rather than his niece Victoria. Many of the books written by these determined women, often under pseudonyms, can now be viewed at Chawton House, which has an expansive library of Women’s Fiction up to 1830. The house is, of course, situated not far from the Jane Austen Museum, in the village of Chawton, a building I have visited many times.

I had a vague idea for my plot, and the stirrings of inspiration intensified during an afternoon stroll near Gray’s Inn, when I encountered some workmen widening part of a side road. Seeing my interest, one of the men explained that they had dismantled a very narrow passage running alongside, in order to make a wider thoroughfare. Any shops in the street had fallen into disrepair, and been pulled down, but one of them had, apparently, been very old because, my informant told me, it had had bow windows. As I watched the men working, I imagined the small, squat shop, its bulging windows full of goods unrecognisable to the modern eye, and realised that my story was beginning to take shape.

When, at last, I continued walking, I found myself in Gray’s Inn, just as the occupants of the various offices were leaving at the end of a working day. There were a number of men and women, all carrying the obligatory laptop, and I noticed one girl in particular, as she appeared younger than the others. Although immaculately dressed and groomed, there was a certain element of vulnerability about her; especially when, instead of joining her companions, she appeared to excuse herself and hurry away. With that strange perception that sometimes hit fiction novelists mentally, I knew I had found my heroine but, despite her vulnerability, she still exuded too much self-possession for a Regency girl.

Jane Austen's final dwelling in Winchester
So it took some time for the plot to reach maturity, and in the hope of acquiring more inspiration, I went to Winchester Cathedral and read the words on Jane Austen’s tomb; then I wandered down the street and past the house reputed to have been her last residence. As I strolled an airplane flew overhead, and for a moment I was mentally suspended between the past and the present, and knew exactly how I was going to deal with my heroine. She was going to be a secret (because being a solicitor such an obsession would have been farcical) admirer of Austen, and have a longing to return to her times in order to meet her heroine. Her journey back into the past would be accomplished with the help of whoever had owned the shop with bow windows, and she would have to learn how to adapt her twenty-first century persona in an early nineteenth century world. This meant I would not be writing a straightforward historical novel, but a fantasy, which would have to sound as logical as possible.

Having decided on the plot I launched into the research, which was fascinating. Guildhall Library displayed numerous charts and maps of Regency London; not to mention numerous copies of The Times circa 1816, while Chelsea Library’s many books on period costumes were invaluable in dressing my characters. I enjoyed writing the book immensely because, in a vicarious sort of way, I joined my heroine in her travels and experiences and enjoyed them as much, I hope, as she did.

Bradley Bernade is a member of The Society of Authors, the SWWJ and the Emile Zola Society. Her novel,
Twelve Days to Dream, will be released later this year, published by SCRIPTORA.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

60 Seconds with Gill Paul

By Gillian Hamer

Gill Paul has had six historical novels published, with the seventh coming out in August. The Secret Wife, published last September, made number 4 in the USA Today bestseller list and topped the kindle charts in the UK and US. It’s a love story about one of the daughters of Tsar Nicholas, of the ill-fated Russian royal family, and a cavalry officer named Dmitri Malama. Dinah Jefferies called it “A cleverly crafted novel and an enthralling story… A triumph.”
Gill lives in London with her artist partner, who has not read any of her novels.

Tell us a little about you and your writing.
I write historical fiction about some of the (to me) most dramatic events and fascinating characters of the last 150 years – among them the sinking of the Titanic, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton meeting on the set of Cleopatra, and the fate of the Romanov royal family. I am Scottish-born but now live and work in North London, where I swim year round in an outdoor pond.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?
There’s a feeling when the writing is going well, when the story is just flowing out of your head and onto the page, that is almost better than sex. And I also love the unstructured hours: being able to slip out to swim at the sunniest part of the day without needing permission from anyone but myself is pretty cool.

And the worst?
The rampant insecurity, the lonely terror of watching your Amazon rankings, and the abject fear after you have written a successful book that you will never be able to pull it off again.

Why did you choose your genre?
I inherited a love of history from my late mum. We watched all the historical dramas on TV together and read Jean Plaidy and Georgette Heyer. I studied History at uni (among other subjects – I was a student for ages) and still love reading historical fiction. It’s a great way to learn about a period without feeling as though you’re back at school. The best historical authors write about ageless human dramas and the setting is incidental.

Do you have a special writing place?
I have an office with bookshelves up to the ceiling and a scary ladder to reach the top ones. There’s a window beside me with a view of trees and overgrown climbing plants and lots of different kinds of birds stop by to distract me.

Which writers do you most admire and why?
I am in awe of literary writers like Maggie O’Farrell, Barbara Kingsolver, Rose Tremain and Paula McLain who conjure up glorious images that take root in my head and create unforgettable characters with a flick of their metaphorical fountain pens. And I love Dinah Jefferies, Lucinda Riley, Iona Grey and Kate Riordan for their great historical page-turners.

If you could choose a different genre to write in for just one book – what would it be?

Contemporary, possibly with a bit of a crime thrown in. But it would be a mystery rather than a police procedural or a gore-fest.

What was your inspiration behind The Secret Wife?
One day I was pootling round on YouTube when I came across a clip of the young James Taylor singing “Fire and Rain” and I was transfixed, because it took me right back to my first love, a seventeen-year-old boy who looked like him and used to play that song for me. Then I heard about the love story between Dmitri Malama and Grand Duchess Tatiana and I decided to try and capture the seismic, all-consuming power of first love that I suspect they felt for each other. And that’s where The Secret Wife came from.

What three tips would you offer up-and-coming authors? 

• Force yourself to keep writing even when you are getting rejections from agents and/or publishers. Don’t give up, because you’ll get better with every single page you write.

• Show your work to a few well-selected readers before sending it out: people who will be constructive but not harsh.

 • Try to pitch your novel idea in one sentence. Is it compelling enough to have readers who don’t know you rushing to buy it? If not, find one that is.

What are your future writing plans?
I’ve got a new novel called Another Woman’s Husband coming out in August (hardback and ebook) then November (paperback) and there’s a contract for another one to come out in 2018 which I have to admit is still in early stages (i.e. still in my head rather than on the page).

See our Bookmuse review of The Secret Wife HERE


Twitter: @GillPaulAuthor

Facebook: gill.paul.16

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Snapshots from... The Dominican Republic

In our regular series, we go exploring, finding out about the writing life around the world. Today, Rita Gardner shows us around The Dominican Republic.

Images by Rita Gardner.

What’s so great about the Dominican Republic?

For me, the top four “greats” are: the people, the culture, the land, and the climate. That was true when my family settled there in the mid-1900s, and it is true today. All I have to do is step off an airplane and into the heady scent of the Dominican tropics to feel at home again. It may sound cliché, but there is a friendliness and warmth to the people that I’ve rarely experienced elsewhere. The nation is rich in history, dating back to before Christopher Columbus landed in 1492. It has survived colonialism and dictatorships, but has never lost its soul. A stable democracy for decades now, the D.R. has become a major tourist destination.

It is really a feast for the senses. Nature flourishes and turquoise waters lap against crystal sand beaches. Waterfalls cascade down the mountains, and verdant fields stretch for hundreds of kilometers across the island. The island’s bounty includes coconuts, sugarcane, mangos, pineapples, papayas, and bananas, to name just a few of its crops. I’m happiest with my toes in the sand, drinking from a green coconut, and munching on fried platanos (plantains.)

Tell us a bit about the cultural life.

I think music is the thread that unites past and present and is woven into the heart of the country. It is just a part of the fabric of D.R. life.

I grew up dancing to the beat of merengue, which remains the most popular music today. I’m pleased to see that another old form of folk music, bachata, is more popular than ever.
Family gatherings are important and frequent.

I recently attended a birthday there to celebrate a friend’s mother’s 100th birthday. It included everything that I’d describe as typical of the cultural life – great local food, mingling of generations, music, and of course, dancing.

And then there’s baseball – the most popular sport in the country. 

Can you recommend any books set in the Dominican Republic?

Absolutely! The novels How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, and In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. Also: any of her non-fiction works as well – I think I’ve read them all. Books by Junot Diaz: Drown, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and This is How You Lose Her.

Another favorite is The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian Nobel Prize winner in Literature. His novel is a fictional account of life after the assassination of the dictator Trujillo. Having lived there during and after the dictatorship myself, the book was an eye-opening revelation of the brutality of the dictator’s power and the cost to the country. Thankfully that was a very long time ago!

Who are the best known local writers?

Julia Alvarez, who also has become known internationally for her novels, along with other autobiographical works. I’m grateful she endorsed my memoir, The Coconut Latitudes: Secrets, Storms, and Survival in the Caribbean. Another Dominican writer is the Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz, who has written about young Dominican-Americans who live in the United States and struggle to claim their dual identity.

Is the location an inspiration or distraction for you?

When I’m in the Dominican Republic, I’m absorbing all the time – taking notes, taking pictures, snatching bits of conversations I might use later in my writing. So, it is an inspiration. But I do most of the actual writing after I’m back in the States.

What are you writing?

I recently wrote several essays to two nonfiction collections, The Magic of Memoir, and Wandering in Andalusia. A novel set in the Caribbean is still in the percolating stages.

Sum up life in the Dominican Republic in three words:

Music, family, beaches.

Rita M. Gardner grew up in the Dominican Republic during a repressive dictatorship, and wrote The Coconut Latitudes, an award-winning Gardner’s memoir of that experience. 
Gardner is also a contributor to two other recently published nonfiction books: The Magic of Memoir is a collection of stories, tips, and interviews by memoirists to inspire other writers. Wandering in Andalusia: The Soul of Southern Spain, is a tasty travel anthology about the southern region of Spain. 
Gardner loves to travel, and still considers the Dominican Republic to be her home. Naturally, her favorite color is Caribbean blue.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

The Baileys Prize

Tonight, the winner of the 2017 Baileys Womens Prize for Fiction will be announced.

Words with JAM contributors and Bookmuse reviewers Catriona Troth and JJ Marsh read every book on the shortlist. Here are some extracts from their reviews and their own tips for the winner. Click on the title to read the full review.

The Power by Naomi Alderman
There is a joy and a terror in imagining irresistible might, accompanied by all the unavoidable decisions as how to use it. Terrifying, fascinating and one to ponder for many, many years.
And then read it again. You might change your mind.

Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀̀
“Just wait until her breasts are sweet orange and all the men that see her start standing still like soldiers. Small time, pregnancy will come.”
A universal story set in a richly realised world. A welcome new African voice and a writer to watch.

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant
Thematically, Grant’s tale could act as a commentary on current governmental manifestos. Healthcare and the fallout from military conflict, prejudice towards class and race, alliances under pressure and who appeals most to the fearful – entertainer or reformer, faith or science?

The Sport of Kings by CE Morgan
It's not an easy read, often harrowing and dark, disturbing and shocking, leavened with excitement and suspense of the races and some wonderfully entertaining characters; a jockey, a preacher, a chain-smoking neighbour. It's also huge not only in number of pages but scope. That said, it's a book that will stay with you a long, long time and very likely lure you back again.

First Love by Gwendoline Riley
It's precise, bleak and demonstrates the writer's skill at evoking the imaginary but no less restrictive bars of a cage. In one exchange, a character explains that the expression “I fell in love at first sight” translates in Russian as “I fell down”.
At the end of this book, there's a sense of "I fell in and will never get out."

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
A deeply personal story of love, friendship and dedication that nevertheless reveals, in breathtaking panorama, a segment of 20th C history too little understood in the West.
As the author reminds us: “Throughout the world, for thousands of years, those whom we call good men, righteous men, have been accustomed to the sight of such things ... have not demanded justice for the victims or offered to help them.”

So which book do our reviewers tip as the winner?

JJ Marsh:
Incredibly tough to pick from such a varied crop but the book that had the most impact on me, and the one I have already purchased for friends, would be Naomi Alderman's The Power.

Catriona Troth:
The books I read were wonderful, but the way that Madeleine Thien wrapped the whole of China's 20th C history within the intimate story of two families was a literary sleight of hand that took my breath away.