My novel Everyday Wendy is now published. It is available online and some bookshops and libraries are stocking it. It is already a prize-winning book in that it made the shortlist for the Pen to Print prize 2022. I find out in a week whether it is the prize winner of the shortlist.
This week I received a stock of complimentary copies from my publisher. It was ridiculously exciting to open the boxes. A friend who is also a published author offered the opinion that I should not give copies away. She said people who care about me or my work will buy the book (which is important for sales data and book chart ranking etc) whilst those who don’t buy it probably won’t be much bothered by receiving a free copy. It was too late. I had already posted at least half of my comp copies out to family and friends far and wide. The rest are being kept for my book launch event. Her advice certainly made me think though and it will definitely inform my future approach because I trust her and it makes sense. I see the wisdom, generosity, and experience in her words.
However, for this book, I was happy to send it out into the universe with love. I wrote the book because it was a story I wanted to tell. Almost all authors imagine the film star who will eventually fill the lead role, and I am no different, (Emma Thompson as Wendy, Peter Mullan as Andy for the record), in all honesty though I never really thought much past writing it.
The book is a work of love. Love of writing, love of my family and love of my sister Andrea who in the most challenging of times for her, nudged me away from the dark of crime writing and tedium of academic writing into lightness and positivity. Love of my wife Cath who went above and beyond in believing in the story and supported me tirelessly to get it down on paper. Lots of love came my way when I was trying to turn this story into a publishable book. It is, at its root a story about love and family and community. It feels entirely right to me to keep the love flowing. So, I have sent it out in the hope that it is enjoyed and that it gathers some momentum and it either will or it won’t. Either way, I am proud of it. It is a good story. I am proud of myself for writing it. If that is where this story halts it’s OK but I believe it will get where it needs to be.
I have no idea what I’m doing post-publishing. Book launch? How do I do one of those? Media and press releases? Social media drench? I will work it out of course because I have to give my book the best shot at becoming visible in a hugely crowded space but rather ridiculously (when I think about it now), I hadn’t thought this far or ‘what next’. I guess this is the post publishing admin required. I am on a learning curve.
In the meantime, according to Amazon sales data combined with my giveaways, at least 100 people this very week are reading my book. I hope they feel the love.
Everyday Wendy is available in both paperback and ebook. There is a direct link to my amazon page on the separate tab up top or click here
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the ‘unreliable narrator’.
I read Catriona Ward’s ‘Last House on Needless Street’ (Viper Press, 2021) which is listed as ‘gothic thriller’, ‘horror’, ‘psychological thriller’ depending on which blurb you read. I am mindful of not giving away any spoilers so I won’t go into too much detail about my response to the book, other than I loved it. It wasn’t what I expected at all. I did not see the ending coming and, upon ‘end of the book review’ I was seriously impressed with the cleverly woven drip and hide of information throughout the story. This is a very well-crafted book with love and kindness at its heart.
There are several POV characters – including a cat! Is everyone telling the truth? What is the truth of any story anyway? I have pondered this a lot because my Mother died on the day I finished Ward’s book.
People often say things about the aftermath of death being challenging and it is on so many levels. Managing the practicalities of death admin whilst experiencing grief which ebbs and floods and fogs is exhausting. In the context of such a challenging path to navigate it is so so easy to fall into preciousness about stories. Perhaps it was already obvious to everyone except me but my stories about Mam, are not the same stories that others share and similarly, theirs have, at times, appeared to be about someone I never even met.
It doesn’t mean they are wrong, or that some stories are more valid than others, though it was interesting to me that I felt solid ground as the ‘reliable narrator’ while considering other stories, somewhat ‘unreliable’ and of course, this is actually nonsense.
Mam was the person who first introduced me to books
She taught me to read before I started school and then stood up to the teacher who demanded I read Janet and John books while, thanks to Mam, I was already relishing The Chronicles of Narnia. She is still sending me lessons from her Heaven (a story she believed but I don’t).
Readers to a large (but not exclusive) extent, need a reliable narrator because that is all they have when they invest their precious time in a story crafted to entertain. But as an author, I am now more consciously mindful that there is no objective truth, everything is subjective and everyone is someone else to everyone else – including themselves. Facts do not speak for themselves and that is perfectly right and fine.
I now understand more clearly that every single story has unreliable narrators. As a writer, I am a better storyteller if I consider how characters in my stories understand and respond to their perception of the ‘truth’ of any other character’s point of view.
Thanks Mam, for everything. Xx
RIP Yvonne Frances Collinson 31st January 1940 – 3rd April 2022
Definition: denoting a trial impression of a page or printed work
Definition: evidence establishing a fact or the truth of a statement.
I received the proof copy of my novel. This established the fact that my novel is soon to be published.
I am stupidly proud of it and of course, there will be the fanfare of a proper launch and endless tweets/social media posts and yada yada yada when the time comes (there are some typesetting errors to correct which is frustrating but part of the process), but for now… just enjoying the feel of it.
How can it be that I haven’t posted since February? No blog posts about writing but I have been writing – more than ever before.
I have finished the first draft of my current novel (120k words) and am now at ‘structural edit’ phase. I must admit this phase of novel construction has stymied me in earlier writing. When I wrote my doctoral thesis I presented what I confidently told my supervisors was my final, final draft. They had different ideas. I nearly exploded when they said it needed a ‘re-jig’ into more chapters. It was the hardest writing task ever – until I tried to do it for my last novel.
My last novel is a story I am proud of and am sure it has merit worthy of a second draft but I didn’t know how to do it. I tried but it was like wrangling cats and I gave up. It is sitting in a file waiting for attention.
Fortunately, I have learned a lot since then. The structural edit on my current work is difficult but exciting and I am confident I will be sending my next draft out to my beta readers at the end of July. Wish me luck.
I don’t usually have more than one WIP on the go at a time but I do try to write short pieces – stories, articles and blog posts – to help to take my mind to a different place. It helps broaden focus and give a breathing space for ideas.
In June I was astounded to win a prize for a short story.
The story had to be under 1k words, be based on a historical event and include content factually accurate. My story ‘Into the Depths’ is a fictionalised account of one of the rescuers of survivors of the Titanic.
The competition was run by The Scarborough Writing Circle who awarded me a marvellous plaque. Many thanks to the SWC for their generous feedback and the award. I am chuffed to bits to have won.
All writers should of course be readers too and I have been doing a lot of that. I have to take the opportunity to spread the word about poet Dean Wilson (@Poetdeanwilson6). I am not a huge fan of Twitter but I first became aware of his work through tweets of the films made by Director/Producer/Filmmaker Dave Lee (@davelee1968) of Dean reading his poetry. The poetry and films are glorious. Funny, poignant, clever and powerful.
Dean also has something of a twitter following for his ‘pebble of the day’ posts which, in partnership with Dr Karen Turner (@k_j_turner) a textile artist who has turned Dean’s pebble photo’s into a wonderfully crafted, detailed, hand stitched quilt, have become a most remarkable art exhibition of talent you could hardly imagine unless seen with your own eyes. The exhibition is currently on display at Withernsea Light House until October 2021 and is well worth a visit.
While I was there, I had the good fortune to be able to buy Dean’s latest book of poetry ‘Take Me Up the Lighthouse’
The poems in this small collection have a quality and integrity which puts them up there, with, in my opinion Roger McGough and Adrian Henri. The poems speak to contemporary experience in all its richness, lend to being read or spoken, are accessible and enjoyable, funny and warm, cheeky and poignant. His work takes poetry in a fresh and beguiling direction.
On Saturday 5th January 2019, alongside many other Guardian readers, I received a copy of the Review section of the paper which included a year calendar of books ‘to look forward to’ and ‘literary dates to note’. It was the Review’s cover story and was sizeable piece of journalism covering a whole eight pages of the Review. I was curious about how the list came about and its purpose. Was it just a fat advertorial, sponsored perhaps by the publishing industry? Was it maybe a filler task handed over to some junior intern or newbie-learning-the-ropes? I pondered the possibility that it was very carefully put together by an incredibly learned bookish person and was indeed filled with terribly important knowledge I really should take note of. No author was ascribed (if I had written it, this would have upset me greatly!)
As I wrote in my first blog post, on 2nd February I decided to Review the ‘Literary Year Ahead’ calendar published in that edition of the paper. As I mentioned in that post, I hoped it was something Guardian editors over at the Review might be interested in. Their failure to respond to a number of approaches on email, twitter and by actual posted letters (yes, I did that) suggested not. So, as a potential article pitch, my efforts failed. Having drawn on the Review for my reading matter during the previous year (for reasons also explained in the first blog post), I found many of their monthly recommendations disappointing reads. Indeed. Some of the positively reviewed books were downright terrible. Was the ‘literary year ahead’ calendar, abundant in recommendations, going to offer richer pickings? I decided to choose one book recommendation and follow up on one ‘event to note’ per month to read, research and write about (see choice methodology below). But first, I wanted to know – why were these books and events to note? What authority did they have? Who said so and why? So I wrote, emailed, tweeted to Sian Cain (the Guardian’s books site editor) and Lisa Allardice (the Guardian’s chief books writer). I asked each:
who is the author of the Literary Calendar (none is attributed)
how was the ‘books to look forward to’ list arrived at – why were those books in particular chosen?
how was the list of ‘dates to note’ arrived at? who put this list together and was there a rationale or inclusion criteria?
Eventually, after a few emails, I had a response to question 2 from a staff member at the Guardian (no role title given) called Hanako who replied:-
“we have a fiction and a non-fiction editor who both read widely and decide which are the most interesting books to include based on catalogues from publishers. Obviously we can’t include everything, but they do their best to make sure a wide range of new and established authors are included in the list”.
(Email correspondence 5 Feb 2019).
I followed this up with Hanako, but unfortunately, no further responses were offered.
It would seem then, the list is drawn up based on the personal choices of the editors. I assume these are the two book editors referred to on the Guardian website – Sian Cain (#siancain) and Lisa Allardice (@LisaAllardice), but I acknowledge this may be an incorrect assumption.
Anyone who follows Sian Cain and Lisa Allardice on Twitter will know these are women who understand the book world and have enviable knowledge about the industry, books, authors and are fine writers themselves. I admire their work tremendously. There is though, a responsibility that comes with creating a list others should ‘note’. The inclusion methodology should be transparent – is this a well thought out list or just a huge book flogging (paid for??) advertorial for some publishing house/s? The trustworthiness of our media is important, and it shouldn’t matter whether this is news about 2019 (UK) election, or a pert but somewhat throwaway little filler magazine insert into the weekend paper.
Analyzing the list: my methodology I decided to spend a little time analyzing the list, and it is just as important to make my methods transparent. ‘Analyzing the list’ turned out to be much more of an effort than I had first imagined. I looked at both the books and the dates to note listed for each month of the year. I used a spreadsheet to do a count.
Books to note list For the book list, specifically, I counted:
whether fiction, non-fiction or poetry
the gender, sexuality and ethnicity of the writers
whether authors identified as disabled
(from May only) the class/educational level of the author
To be completely transparent I need to acknowledge that this count was literally me running my fingers down the monthly list and looking the (first named only in the case of dual authored books) authors up on the web. In May I added a further very loosely framed category of class/educational level of the author after recognizing a pattern of very high academic achievement of listed authors but I did not go back and find this data for the previous five months. By any research standards, it was a roughly hewn methodology and approach. Counting is almost certainly awry and therefore, it should be viewed as a general big picture rather than micro perfect.
I need to add a couple more important caveats:
‘Straight’ sexuality was identified and assumed only by the author being married to someone of the opposite sex in materials I found online. No ‘straight’ author actually self-identified as such in any articles I viewed.
Gay and lesbian authors were identified specifically by biographical material found online where they identified with this naming specifically-
Some authors identified as queer. One author identified as non-binary.
The sexuality of some authors could not be identified through biographical information found online.
Disability information was taken from biographical information found online and language used here reflects how it was presented on-line.
One author self-identified as ‘mixed nationality’. Some identified as dual nationality. International includes Canada, US, Australia, Jamaica, Chile, Argentina, Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, Sudan, New Zealand, Georgia, Russia, Mexico, India. The country with the biggest representation within this group was the US with 25 writers featured.
Ethnicity data proved to be the most challenging to gather from on-line sources due to the broad range of ways people’s ethnicities were described and in some cases, it could not be found and only assumed from images. The term ‘mixed’ is only used where authors have specifically referred to themselves thus in on-line sources. I have used the categories provided by Gov.UK’s ‘List of ethnic groups’ but attributing descriptions as given in on-line information to these groups involved somewhat clumsy decision making and data presented here should be understood in that context and as relatively poor quality data.
The book breakdown
Young adult 1
Not known 35
Mental health issues 1
Physical health issue 1
Not known 121
International 46 (25 US writers within this group).
Mixed/multiple ethnic groups 2
Asian/Asian +other 7
Black/African/Caribbean/Black +other 20
Other ethnic group 1
Not known 12
I intended to have a category called ‘educated or posh. By the time my web based research of the authors on list got to the month of May I came to realize that the majority of authors seemed to be Princetown, Harvard or Oxford educated, were Professors of Literature, University lecturers, held degree’s, MA’s, and doctorates and/or were prize winners from Laureate to other prestigious prizes. There were of course authors who identified as working class (in on-line bio’s), so not everyone was posh. Still, the vast majority were at the very least educated to degree level and most far beyond (and, yes, I do equate access to funds to participate in education at beyond degree level to equate to some level of privilege. Sue me). The Ivy League and Oxbridge had a significant presence in the list of authors.
So what might we make of the ‘books to look forward to’ list?
The list is balanced well between fiction and non-fiction aimed at an adult audience. Poetry appears to be underrepresented in this list but this, of course, depends on the annual number of poetry books published by the major houses. Women were marginally over represented. The majority of authors were straight. Although in number terms UK authors had a good showing, in terms of the geographical size of the potential pool of authors both it and US writers were arguably over represented. As mentioned above, the breakdown of ethnicity is complicated because of the challenge of attributing ethnicity accurately and respectfully. However, even with that caveat, white authors significantly dominate the ‘books to look forward to’ list.
Disability information proved to be the most difficult to gather. Very few authors mentioned any kind of disability. As a person with disabilities myself I have long noted both the absence of characters with disabilities portrayed in books. Conversely where we are portrayed we are often the cripples – physically or mentally lessor as a story telling short-cut to enable the help/pity etc of an able bodied character to be evidenced. While it is not the responsibility of people with disabilities to educate society about the subject, it is true that ‘writing from within’ and telling stories from our point of view has an important place. Still, these stories were largely missing from the Guardian list. I have also been influenced to think about the struggle disabled writers face to be published, experiences of ableism within the industry and the impacts of that upon both writers with disabilities and how we are represented in published works. Is this represented in the Guardian List? I guess it is hard to say.
I highly recommend spending time with Alice Wong (@SFDirewolf) and Nicola Griffith (@nicolaz), their #CripLit twitter chats and the Disability Visability Project to understand why representation is important.
The ‘dates to note’ list. The literary ‘dates to note’ could be separated into book festivals (ie Hay), prize awards (ie Man Booker), historical events (ie Peterloo Massacre), film releases – or dead white men. There were exceptions – for example, the death of the fascinating Sarah Kane – but from whichever viewpoint you look at the list of dates to note featuring people rather than events, is dominated by white, mostly dead, men.
How I used the lists and what I gained from them Each month I chose one book to review and one event to write about. I tried to get a balance across fiction and non-fiction books but only reviewed one poetry book (Simon Armitage – marvellous BTW) because the second possibility (John Cooper Clarke) had a delayed publishing date. I actively tried to choose books from the list I would ordinarily pass by in bookshops – not actively avoid, but not seek out either. I wanted to leave my reading comfort zone.
I was a rather fabulous adventure! I learned a lot from the ‘dates to note’ list. For example, the Peterloo Massacre was new knowledge to me. I am both astounded and a little ashamed that until my research for this blog, I had been woefully ill-informed about such an important historical event (and I ponder on how this could be). Ditto my ignorance of the wonderful Sarah Kane. I rediscovered a joy for Whitman and decided that for the sake of my bank balance, I must never visit the London Book Fair.
From the books to look forward to I read a couple which underwhelmed but I also read books I absolutely loved and yet, would never have chosen were it not for this blogging adventure. – The standouts were:
Invisible Women: Exposing data bias in a world designed for men by Caroline Criado Perez (@CCriadoPerez) which was mind blowing and reignited a long damped feminist call to arms. I am delighted to see how widely her book is being recognised as trailblazing and congratulate her for winning the Financial Times Book of the Year award.
Black, Listed: Black British Culture Explored by Jeffery Boakye (@unseenflirt) which was written beautifully, was funny and had radical and compelling content. I learned so much from this book. As I wrote at the time, ‘Jeffrey Boakye… opens eyes and minds and I wish I could write like that’.
The Guardian Review, Review – the Review!
I still wonder what the list was written for. Was it written to be used as I used it? How many people still have copies, consulted monthly from which a choice is made. Not many I suspect, and that is a shame because with a little attention to the caveats cautioned by the data breakdown, it was a damn fine list which facilitated an enjoyable literary journey across my year. The author – whoever that was – could rightfully be proud of it but may I make a suggestion for next year? Please pay less attention to dead/old/white men and more attention to disability.
The brief description added on the Literary Review Calendar of ‘books to look forward to’ for November 2019 said: ‘Her first adult novel in four years: a tale of power and privilege set in a girls’ boarding school’.
I quite enjoyed this novel, despite it being removed on almost all levels from my own experience.
The central character of the book is Natasha – the daughter of a Russian oligarch who, despite them barely having any kind of relationship, has arranged for her to go to an English boarding school. The story is of her learning to understand and negotiate her privilege, her relationships to and with her peers (another form of oligarchy) and navigate the complex and dangerous territory of female body image. Alongside these elements the mystery of a death of a pupil – murder or suicide? – which the girls explore with somewhat ridiculous and excited energy entirely in keeping with the overblown drama peculiar to teenage girls. There was a further story sprinkled throughout, tied to the conclusion featuring a Princess, a death, a diamond and the school lake but I would need to read the final chapters again to work out what was going on here! This element felt like an ‘add on’ and unclear
There are many funny lines and crisp insights and the writing positively bounces along capturing the fickle attention span of teenagers perfectly. I didn’t get any real sense of cultural or character difference between the girls (I had no ideal what made Natasha Russian for example). Sexuality was also strangely missing – in a girls school with teens in the spotlight I might expect more focus than referring to slight crushes. I did not think the line between humour and cruelty was well drawn in relation to anorexia. Anorexia doesn’t lend itself to comedy and whilst the experience of anorexia/bulimia was well drawn (the carrier bags of sick found after a death, the jutting bones) the girls are not given any sympathy or much positive agency beyond the creation of ever more dangerous food restriction rules.
So, it was a bit of a mixed bag for me. There is a lot to commend in this book – it is fun, there are great lines, good dialogue and Aunt Sonja is a fabulous character who I would like to know more about but there is a level of bleak unkindness about anorexia, and the girls who experience it, that was prickly and pointed and a bit uncomfortable – possibly a writerly technique to reflect a disordered self-hating mind mind that becomes anorexic?
The brief description added on the Literary Review Calendar of ‘books to look forward to’ for October 2019 said: ‘Her first short story collection brings together ten new pieces and ten written over the past two decades’.
Reviews of White Teeth pointed out her talent as a writer, the humour of her stories, her crafted characters and the freedom in-between the words, from doubt either in the story or its crafting. I didn’t get it. When the hype around it began, I was thrilled and greedy to read it, but I found the book to be confusing with so much detail about so many things I found myself forgetting what the story was actually about. Even now, writing this, I had to go back to the cover blurb to remind me. At the time, no doubt drawing on my insecurities, I decided it was me – that I was not literary/learned enough to appreciate it. Her subsequent works (and she has an impressive output) have been very positively received also – including nomination for important literary prizes.
Certainly, Zadie Smith can put words together, so her text reads like lyrics and invoke rippling movement. Her ideas (so many ideas in Grand Union!) are bountiful and wide and a little bit mind-blowing in their breadth.
So many critics and reviewers rave with such bounty about her fabulousness I want to experience their joy, but I found the terrain of this book difficult and frustrating to navigate. The stories as a collection seemed to me to be a hotchpotch of streams of consciousness. It is an incoherent collection and very few of the stories I enjoyed. When I read a story (especially a short story) I expect some outcome, a parablic or allegoric curve, a laugh, a reveal or a satisfying ending but I just didn’t find the majority of the stories in this book to be very good.
The brief description added on the Literary Review Calendar
of ‘books to look forward to’ for September 2019 said:
‘A series of essays that reflect on themes central to Cusk’s fictional writing, including life choices, politics, womanhood and art’.
I am not sure I have ever read a collection of essays before. Of course, I have read essays but never a curated collection from a single author so I was unsure what to expect, and I was unfamiliar with Cusk’s work. It did not begin well. The first couple of essays in section one (which include the title essay ‘Coventry’) had quirky and enjoyable nibbles of acute observation but I found the essays to be a bit over self-aware … trying too hard, too cerebral, too self-indulgent.
The first collection of essays are inward-looking and
somewhat autobiographical. The second a mix of reflection, introspection and
commentary and the third commentary on works from other writers. The last section (Classics and Bestsellers)
was straightforward, and from a review perspective, easy to understand. These
are essays about well-known writers and their work, for example, DH Lawrence’s The Rainbow. These essays evidence an
enviable exactitude and economy of prose alongside astounding clarity and
intelligence. While I was awed by the gifted writing, I was not overawed and learned a great deal. (Even
about Louise Bourgeois of whom I am a fan and despite this particular essay having
something of a dense form). I am in the
process of reading or re-reading all the works she addresses in this section.
I struggle more with the earlier two sections of the book. I felt irritated by them, and the irritation endured after I had finished the book. I had to go back and re-read it to understand why. On second reading, I tuned in to the fluidity of the writing and the clever and finely tuned wit. I particularly relished ‘On Rudeness’ and wish everyone would read it. Cusk has a blisteringly penetrating gaze and unique voice. On second reading I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I think my irritation had root in the unapologetic erudite, self-awareness presented in her work. As a feminist, I applaud and support the lack of apology from any woman for her scholarly sophistication but reflect that I see it so rarely I experienced it as ‘show-offy’. My initial response says more about my academic and scholarly insecurities that it should about the accessibility of Cusk’s book.
I still do not quite understand how this book came to be or
who it is for. It was a bold choice to
publish it. I have no idea if I am the
target market (Guardian reader, educated, woman, feminist, writer) but I am
glad I read it and that it was included in the ‘books to look forward to’
Review calendar for this month.
The brief description added on the Literary Review Calendar of ‘books to look forward to’ for August 2019 said:
‘Suicide at Peterborough railway station: a high-concept thriller from the author of Apple Tree Yard’.
When I ordered this book, I was curious about it having been described as a ‘high concept thriller’. I am fond of an edge-of-the-seat yarn, so the ‘thriller’ element of the description was what called to me while the ‘high concept’ element was anticipated to be Guardian hyperbole.
Even remembering elements of the story as I write this review leads my heart to race a little bit faster. It is not entirely pleasant but then, neither is the story, and the impact is a measure of the exquisite writing and perfect, subtle, nuanced story-telling.
Imagine if an abused and murdered victim had to understand her own story to be able to move on from being a ghost stuck at the place of her death?
Doughty tells the story of a victim of coercive control through the voice of Lisa who dies on Platform Seven – the ghost of the victim.
I was once fortunate enough to supervise a PhD student writing a research thesis on coercive control. It was an extraordinary work which gave structure and meaning to the singular and collective undermining and frequently life-threatening experiences of coercive control. This was especially welcome as it helped me to gain clarity on my own experiences of having been via a toxic and manipulative colleague, a victim of its cousin, gaslighting.
Doughty’s book addresses with needle-point accuracy what I learned from the contributors to my student’s research, and also from my personal experience: How, during the very acts of abuse the abuse is cancelled out, explained away, presented as un-challengeable and as evidence and proof that the victim is herself culpable, histrionic, irrational and deserving of what is happening. She describes the drip drip drip of techniques designed to isolate and marginalize the victim until she is, as Women’s Aid describe it, bound by ‘…invisible chains and a sense of fear that pervades all elements of a victim’s life’. For some, including many contributors to the student’s research, the abuse was literally life-threatening and included violence. My own experience was of mental well being damaging anxiety, confusion and damage to self confidence.
The reader experiences the terrible, dripping tension of the abuse as it unfolds from the early ‘friendly’ manipulation by Lisa’s on-the-face-of-it-charming boyfriend Matty to her descent into self doubt and the doubt of others about her mental health. As a reader, you want to shout to some of the (investigating) characters ‘it wasn’t a suicide on Platform Seven!’ and in that way, you also feel Lisa’s helplessness and loneliness.
Often the story is king in high concept works with less attention given to character development but it is not the case in Platform Seven: Each of the characters have a central role to play as the story unfolds and concludes and each I could readily picture in my head. Similarly the geographical locations are described in just enough detail so one understands the terrain and the story is enhanced. This is a well rounded and evocative text.
Without wanting to give away any story spoilers, I was a little disappointed by the conclusion which was largely achieved by an explanation from Lisa (the ghost) of ‘what happened’ but it did end as a completed story of hope.
It is such an accurate and chilling description of how coercive control develops and manifests it should be a text book and compulsory reading in any of the professional environments which might come into contact with people like Matty and Lisa.
The brief description added on the Literary Review Calendar of ‘books to look forward to’ for MONTH 2019 said:
‘A funny, provocative novel about falling in love at the very end of your life, from the Man Booker winner’.
I hadn’t noticed the ‘very end of your life’ in the Guardian Literary Review description of this book. I expected it to be about people in later life falling in love and for me, I guess, later life equated to 60’s or 70’s so it was a particular delight to find that our main characters are, unusually in fiction and even less so in love stories, nonagenarians and this is so much more than a simple love story.
Alex Clark posted an interesting and story detailed (so some spoiler potential) review of the book which can be found here
With the exception of mention of finding the book to be an occasionally difficult read (as I did), the summary of Clarks review draws attention to key points to note about the book – the urgency and bleakness, the humour and style, the tenderness and thought provoking narrative and as I couldn’t agree more or have put it better myself there is no point in trying to and I recommend a trip over to his lovely review.
Reading this quite lovely book made me think about why I imagined ‘older’ as slightly older than myself, and why initially, before I had even read a word of it my enthusiasm for it was a little dulled precisely because it was about older people. Was that just ageism on my part or something else? Was it, as Ashton Applewhite argues in her TED Talk have origins in my own fear of my future self? Was I afraid of the possibilities/probabilities of older age (some of them already manifest) such as body degeneration, loss of people and faculties, significant lifestyle changes and poor care?
Books create a magically open window through which to see the world a little differently and maybe affirm or change our held views. We learn and develop through virtually everything we read and plough this learning back into our engagement with the world. There are plenty of great books which feature older protagonists – Driving Miss Daisy, The Remains of the Day, Love Again – which of course are just the ones that come to mind.
I very much hope to have lots to look forward to 70 and beyond. The reality is though that these tend to be books specifically about ageing and the imminent presence of the grim reaper. I do not know how the majority of fiction/contemporary novel book characters might be categorized but generally they seem to me to be childbearing to young-ish middle age. I have three novels on the go at the moment (two crime, one up-lit) and whilst the age of all of the characters is not specified, actions suggest no character falls out of the 30 – 50 age range. I was intrigued to read an article by Saffron Alexander in the Telegraph about so-called ‘boomer lit’ – that is, literature for the baby boomers of the 60’s who are now in their 50’s and 60’s. Boomer lit apparently ‘addresses what matters to (boomers) as they enter into their ‘Second Adulthood’*. Typically, such literature deals with transition, and the management of change – ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ is given as one example.
Jacobson’s book, quite apart from being a delicious read, prods me to add ‘older characters’ to my growing list of ‘things often missing in novels’ so that I can be active in making sure characters I create in my fiction writing are fully representative of all communities.