For Books’ Sake http://forbookssake.net Championing Books by Women Fri, 26 Aug 2016 15:24:47 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 For Books' Sake: Championing Writing by Women since 2010. Your regular monthly dose of brilliant books, fierce feminism, music and more. Presented by Zoe Grisedale-Sherry. For Books' Sake For Books' Sake jane@forbookssake.net jane@forbookssake.net (For Books' Sake) Books, Feminism, Music and More For Books’ Sake http://forbookssake.net/wp-content/uploads/powerpress/Podcast_Logo.jpg http://forbookssake.net Memory and Misery: Memoir Writing Advice from Crystal Jeans http://forbookssake.net/2016/08/22/memoir-writing-crystal-jeans/ Mon, 22 Aug 2016 07:00:49 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=31809 "Sometimes Crissy's mum is her best friend, sometimes a woman to be frightened of. A diet of Hammer horror and cake mix has hardened her heart and her arteries and even Jehovah can't bring her into line."

The Vegetarian Tigers of Paradise is the new novel by Welsh author Crystal Jeans, telling the story of narrator Crissy's family, childhood and adolescence.

But the book began life as a memoir, and here Crystal divulges her secrets: when to distrust your own memories, what to expect when friends and family recognise themselves in your writing, and how not to believe your own bullshit...

Crystal_Jeans_Vegetarian_Tigers_Paradise
"Be careful. Change names. And fictionalise it to filth..."

The post Memory and Misery: Memoir Writing Advice from Crystal Jeans appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
"Sometimes Crissy's mum is her best friend, sometimes a woman to be frightened of. A diet of Hammer horror and cake mix has hardened her heart and her arteries and even Jehovah can't bring her into line."

The Vegetarian Tigers of Paradise is the new novel by Welsh author Crystal Jeans, telling the story of narrator Crissy's family, childhood and adolescence.

But the book began life as a memoir, and here Crystal divulges her secrets: when to distrust your own memories, what to expect when friends and family recognise themselves in your writing, and how not to believe your own bullshit...

Crystal_Jeans_Vegetarian_Tigers_Paradise

The Perils Of Writing About Your Family

 

Be careful. Change names. No matter how affectionate your stories or kind your intentions, you will upset people. If you are (un)lucky enough to get published, you will have a deep grumbling anxiety in your belly, you’ll think it can be easily assuaged by further changes of identity (let’s make that short fat blonde man into a tall, skinny ginger man with a beard, should do the trick). But it will not be enough. Because they’ll recognise themselves, and they might not be ready for what you really think.

When my family read my book, they loved it. But once the honeymoon period had ended, my mother admitted that she was very worried about how her character would be perceived by judgemental strangers, so worried that it was eating her up. I felt like a piece of shit. You too will feel like a piece of shit. I cannot stress that enough.

The week following publication, I was a turd with shoes. I even hoped that my book would do badly – for about five minutes (I later amended that to, I hope it does so well that it makes me rich so that I can compensate my family with fancy cars and holidays to Disneyworld).

My best advice: fictionalise it to filth unless you are an absolute sweetheart who never has an unkind thing to say about anyone (in which case you run the risk of being boring) and just accept that things might get hairy.

Or just don’t do it at all.

Not convinced? Take a gander at this article discussing the repercussions of Augusten Burrough’s famous memoir, Running With Scissors. And remember – he thought his depiction of his foster family, the Finches, was affectionate.

 

Do Not Trust The Memories Of Others

 

I was writing a chapter about my dad, which I would later go on to name ‘Dad’s Drugs’. At this early point, I’d settled on writing a straight memoir and wanted to record things as faithfully as possible, so I sat my dad down, pulled out a notebook and interviewed him about his long history of drug use/abuse.

Because he thinks drugs are cool and that I’m impressed by this (I’m not), he was a keen and willing interviewee. I wrote long lists about morphine and cannabis and LSD and noted his thoughts on them.

(‘So basically, Crystal Meth is the only drug you haven’t taken?’

‘Actually I think I took that once in the eighties.’

‘Was Crystal Meth even around in the eighties?’

‘Apparently. Because I smoked a load.’)

I wrote the chapter and a couple of years later, after many direction changes (I decided to take my own advice and fictionalise it), I got it published by Honno Press.

My dad isn’t much of a reader, but there’s nothing like starring in a novel to get the pages turning. His verdict? Funny. He loved it. Except there were some things I’d written in ‘Dad’s Drugs’ that ‘didn’t happen like that.’

‘What are you on about?’ I said. ‘I literally sat down and wrote what you said word for word. I didn’t even fictionalise that bit. I still have the notes.’

He shrugged.

The man’s brain was drug-addled. A shrug was the correct response.

I felt like a piece of shit. You too will feel like a piece of shit. My best advice: fictionalise it to filth.

Do Not Trust Your Own Memories

 

It wasn’t just my dad’s memories that were iffy; I was starting to get confused about my own. Case in point: my mother once told me a story about the time my dad, an animal lover, went to work in a slaughter house. He came home to my mum half way through his first shift sobbing. Except he didn’t.

There was no sobbing. Talking about it years later, my mum told me that he came home very upset and quiet. I must have added the sobbing myself, perhaps because I liked the idea of my father being such a super-sensitive animal-loving darling that the sight of pig death moved him to tears. I had subconsciously decided to re-frame my own dad.

It does help with writing, being a born manipulator and all.

 

Kiss Goodbye To Your Real Memories

 

It took me years to get The Vegetarian Tigers of Paradise into its final form. I had other projects on the go, but there were long periods where I was immersed in this world of my past. And this sort of immersion can play havoc with your recollections.

I’d go over a chapter dozens of times, changing fact (or imagined fact) to fiction, making things up, swapping identities. I did this so much that I no longer properly recall my real memories.

There’s a character called Russell who once dated my mother. Russell is a made-up name. I no longer remember the real name. He will always be Russell to me now. And he will always appear to me as he did in the scenes I set up; he is no longer a vague face floating in the ether of a twenty-year-old memory, he is a man who raises his eyebrows and licks the crisp Rizla paper with a small pink tongue-tip. *

This is the problem with memoir writing. We start to believe our own bullshit.

There are scenes that I half-fabricated that now feel more real to me than the initial memory. Such as my parents telling me and my sister that we would be leaving the faith (we were Jehovah’s Witnesses up until that point). I couldn’t remember how it really happened so I set up a scene.

And now, when I try to think back to that time, I imagine that scene: my mum on the sofa with her beefy leg up on the cushion, my dad picking his nose, rain outside.

It’s like I dragged down an emaciated old christmas tree from the attic, and seeing its bareness, I overcompensated with hundreds of baubles and yards of tinsel, and now all I can see is baubles and tinsel and there are only glimmers of green artificial leaves poking through, and it’s important that the tree is artificial in this analogy, because even the memories we think are real might not be real.

I’m not saying I mind. I’ve got a fricking book published.

Screw my memories.

*I’m totally lying here for convenience. I do remember Russell’s real name and there is no scene in which he licks a Rizla paper and raises his eyebrows. But I did forget his real name for about three days. You know you’ve arrived as a writer when you find yourself lying about lying.

___________________________________

The Vegetarian Tigers of Paradise is the debut novel by Crystal Jeans. It was published by Honno Press earlier this year. Order it here or read an extract.

The post Memory and Misery: Memoir Writing Advice from Crystal Jeans appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
Girls, Girls, Girls: Rosalind Jana recommends the Best Fiction About Young Women http://forbookssake.net/2016/08/08/girls-girls-girls-rosalind-jana-recommends-the-best-fiction-about-young-women/ Mon, 08 Aug 2016 07:00:49 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=31777 There’s been an absolute glut of books with the word ‘girl’ in the title in the last few years. Gone Girl, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl on the Train, How to Build a Girl, Girls on Fire, and Emma Cline’s recently released The Girls all spring to mind (as does Lena Dunham’s TV series Girls).

Here, Rosalind Jana - author of Notes on Being Teenage - explores the literary landscape's obsession with girls, gives us the lowdown on highlights past and presents, and looks into what we need next...

Girls_Girls_Girls_Neon
Girls are everywhere, but what are the best books about young women?

The post Girls, Girls, Girls: Rosalind Jana recommends the Best Fiction About Young Women appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
There’s been an absolute glut of books with the word ‘girl’ in the title in the last few years. Gone Girl, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl on the Train, How to Build a Girl, Girls on Fire, and Emma Cline’s recently released The Girls all spring to mind (as does Lena Dunham’s TV series Girls).

Here, Rosalind Jana - author of Notes on Being Teenage - explores the literary landscape's obsession with girls, gives us the lowdown on highlights past and presents, and looks into what we need next...

Girls_Girls_Girls_Neon

I want to talk about actual girls though. Or, at least, young women. I want to talk about how they’re represented in books: for better, and for worse. There are some very big, necessary conversations currently happening about what kinds of characters we see, and what narratives could be better represented.

While working on my book, Notes on Being Teenage, I spent a lot of time thinking about all the versions of girls we see on the page, on screen, in newspaper headlines. To explore them all would take up an entire book, so I’m going to stick with fiction.

What Went Before

 

I grew up reading complex, nuanced depictions of girls and teenagers. People like Lyra Belacqua in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy; Sephy Hadley in Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses; Hester Shaw in Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines; Cassandra Mortmain in Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle; any of the characters written by Geraldine McCaughrean, Celia Rees, David Almond, Jamila Gavin, Tim Bowler or Alan Garner.

There were Louise Rennison and Meg Cabot, often hilariously capturing the ins and outs of being teenage. A set of protagonists that ranged from smart to ferocious to quietly observant. I lived in a literary world populated with possibility: with girls who were resourceful, capable, honest, entertaining.

I lived in a literary world populated with possibility: with girls who were resourceful, capable, honest, entertaining.I also read my fair share of dodgy books . Ones in which young women were less flesh-blood-and-breath, more two-dimensional trope. Ones where they were just love interests, or obsessed with boys and little else; where losing their virginity (always framed as a loss, not a gain) was the most important thing ever; where mental health was reduced to a ‘quirky’ personality facet, or treated in ways verging on sensationalist; where what the main character really needed was some lovely young man to come along and ‘fix’ them (with little in the way of LGBT relationships).

All of those areas are worthy of writing about. In fact, they need to be written about, but with research and understanding and reflection, not flimsy cardboard stereotypes.

Those novels formed and informed my thinking. The best of them gave me a way to contextualize or work out things. Others offered a sense of possibility. Plenty allowed me to slip into worlds beyond my own, to escape the confines of my own life for an hour or two. They were the important ones. The ones I’m grateful for. Rosalind_Jana_Notes_On_Being_Teenage

What’s Happening Now?

 

Now, there are many people offering up even more marvellous narratives in YA. Plenty that I wish had been around when I was a teenager. People like Holly Bourne: her Spinster series sparkling with fabulous feminist sentiment.

Or Louise O’Neill: opening up conversations about everything from body image to sexual assault in her hard-hitting books Only Ever Yours and Asking for It.

There’s Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree: a romp of a read that also explores profound gender inequality in the 1890s. There’s Louise Gornall’s Under Rose-Tainted Skies with its tender, honest exploration of agoraphobia and OCD.

There are authors like Tanya Byrne, Non Pratt, Juno Dawson, Jenny Han, Sarah Crossan, Julie Kagawa, Lisa Williamson, Nicola Yoon, Rainbow Rowell, Zana Fraillon, Natasha Ngan, and a myriad of others doing brilliant things.

When it comes to graphic novels, there’s the often-complicated exploration of desire in Phoebe Gloeckner’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl; the entertaining and unflinching exploration of girlhood in Iran in Marjane Satrapi’s autobiography Persepolis; the forceful trio of young punks who want to do their own thing in Coco Moodyssen’s Never Goodnight.

In the realms of more adult books, I love the young twins at the heart of Helen Oyeyemi’s Icarus Girl, and the teens on the strange cusp of sexuality and adult life in Daisy Johnson’s Fen.

When I asked on Twitter for people’s favourite representation of a girl/ teenager/ young woman in a book, I got a staggering number of responses. Someone told me how important it was to see a character like Willowdean in Julie Murphy’s Dumplin because it offered her “one of the first fat teen characters that nails my experience as a plus-size teenager”.

Others stressed the brilliance of characters ranging from Garth Nix’s Sabriel to Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne Shirley. The general consensus was that these characters had affected them deeply. Some showed them they weren’t alone. Others opened up vistas into experiences they’d never considered.

Where next?

 

It’s important to celebrate the good, whilst also working out what should lie ahead. We need more stories about teenagers of all sizes, all sexualities, all skin colours, all family scenarios, all classes. More narratives about disability. About a full range of mental health problems. About what it means to negotiate gender. Although it might be easy to just lapse into listing here, it’s important to pinpoint every single one of these areas. Each signals a multitude of tales. Each is about the complexity and honesty of being human.

The Geena Davis Institute, set up to tackle representation in film, has a slogan: “if she can see it, she can be it.” Perhaps the same can be said of fiction: “if she can read it, she can be it.”

Now I’m not suggesting that we all move into crumbling castles a la Cassandra Mortmain, or find ourselves catapulted into some fantastical realm where we have a limited amount of time to save the world.

Instead it’s about the depths and possibilities of experience that these characters offer. Real, recognizable traits: courage, fragility, not fitting in, you name it….

It’s about the breadth of possibility, of being able to pick up a book and recognize something in the protagonist, or find some kind of spark of inspiration, or move beyond the confines of your own life. It’s about storytelling. And oh, are there are lot of girls’ stories left to be told.

______________________________________________

Rosalind Jana is 21-year-old student and writer from a tiny UK village. Her debut non-fiction book ‘Notes on Being Teenage‘ is out now. She has  written for British Vogue, Broadly, BBC Radio 4, The Debrief, The Guardian, Oxfam and Teen Tatler, and is Junior editor on Violet Magazine.

Top image via Shadowfoot

The post Girls, Girls, Girls: Rosalind Jana recommends the Best Fiction About Young Women appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
Historical Fiction in Translation http://forbookssake.net/2016/08/01/historical-fiction-translation/ Mon, 01 Aug 2016 07:00:17 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=31768 It's August, and that means Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth) is here once again. To celebrate, we've got author and HerStoryNovels.com founder Jyotsna Sreenivasan, with the lowdown on the best translated historical fiction written by women. Take a tour round the world with these four fantastic historical novels, exploring witches, mystery, religion and seduction...

Historical_Fiction_by_Women_In_Translation
Celebrate #WITMonth with four fantastic historical novels written by women...

The post Historical Fiction in Translation appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
It's August, and that means Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth) is here once again. To celebrate, we've got author and HerStoryNovels.com founder Jyotsna Sreenivasan, with the lowdown on the best translated historical fiction written by women. Take a tour round the world with these four fantastic historical novels, exploring witches, mystery, religion and seduction...

Historical_Fiction_by_Women_In_Translation

Did you know that gender discrimination in publishing extends to translation? Only 30% of new English translations are books by women, according to Meytal Radzinski’s web site, Biblibio.

In response to this disparity, Radzinski (a former Hebrew-English translator who lives in Israel) spearheaded Women in Translation Month (August). As she states on her web site, “As a bilingual reader, I know just how many gems are lying around untranslated.”

I’ve recently started a website and blog devoted to historical fiction by women, about women (HerStoryNovels.com). I’m focusing on classic and “literary” historical novels, and aim to include comprehensive lists of fiction available in English that fit my criteria.

Predictably, most of the books on my lists take place in English-speaking countries, and most are written by authors whose native language is English. But I have recently read some wonderful historical fiction in translation, which – in celebration of Women in Translation Month – I’ll be highlighting below.

So, if you’re in need of #WITMonth inspiration August, here’s four fantastic options to explore…

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Condé (translated from French by Richard Philcox)

Maryse Condé is an African-Caribbean writer who became fascinated by the historical figure Tituba, a slave from Barbados who was accused of witchcraft in the 1692 Salem, Massachusetts Witch Trials.

Condé could find very few facts about her life, so she decided to imagine her life in fictional form. This short novel is told by Tituba herself, and spans a lifetime, from her conception to her death.

She is a healer who normally uses her skills to help people, although she can be provoked to revenge. Because Tituba is telling her story from beyond the curtain of death, she is sometimes detached and even mocking when describing her own suffering.

Purge by Sofi Oksanen (translated from Finnish by Lola Rogers)

Although she lives in Finland and writes in Finnish, Oksanen is of Estonian origin, and Purge takes place in Estonia. The novel alternates between chapters that take place in the 1990s, and chapters from the 1930s to 1950s.

The story begins with an elderly woman, Aliide, finding an injured young woman in her yard. Against her better judgment Aliide invites the young woman (Zara) into the house and takes care of her.

We soon realize that Zara knows who Aliide is and has been looking for her, although Aliide does not know Zara. What is the connection between Zara and Aliide? Why is Zara looking for her?

These are just the first of many mysteries which the author develops in this gripping political novel. Originally published in 2010, this novel has since been translated into more than fifty languages.

Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath by Sigrid Undset (translated from Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally)

You may have heard of this book; the author won a Nobel Prize. Originally published in 1920, this is a coming-of-age novel of a young Catholic woman living in Norway in the 1300s.

The characters are vivid and Kristin’s anguish about love and religion is very relatable. The author excels at bringing to life the scenery and way of life of medieval Norway. If you have not read this book yet, you are in for a treat.

The Lost Daughter of Happiness by Geling Yan (translated from Chinese by Cathy Silber)

Even though Geling Yan lives in the United States, she prefers to write in Chinese. First published in Taiwan in 1996, this novel takes place in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1860s and 1870s.

It tells the story of the mysterious, beautiful Chinese woman, Fusang, and her effect on those around her. The novel is told from multiple points of view: a conventional narration in third person, as well as first-person sections told by a 21st century Chinese-American researcher, who addresses Fusang as “you.” An unusual, beautiful novel.

________________________________________

Jyotsna Sreenivasan‘s novel And Laughter Fell from the Sky was published in 2012 by HarperCollins. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary magazines and anthologies. She is also the author of novels for children and reference books for high school and college students. She is the founder of HerStoryNovels.com, which showcases the best in historical fiction by and about women.

The post Historical Fiction in Translation appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
#4: Just F***ing Do It at Grrrl Con 2016 http://forbookssake.net/2016/07/18/grrrl-con-2016-podcast/ Mon, 18 Jul 2016 15:21:41 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=31743 The first ever Grrrl Con took place in Edinburgh in June 2016, and we've only just recovered. Here, Grace and Lauren interview speakers, attendees and get the ultimate in writing advice from authors Denise Mina, Kirsty Logan and Marjorie Lofti-Gill, along with tips from lit agent Jenny Brown.

Radio-Studio
The lowdown from the authors at the first ever Grrrl Con...

The post #4: Just F***ing Do It at Grrrl Con 2016 appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
The first ever Grrrl Con took place in Edinburgh in June 2016, and we've only just recovered. Here, Grace and Lauren interview speakers, attendees and get the ultimate in writing advice from authors Denise Mina, Kirsty Logan and Marjorie Lofti-Gill, along with tips from lit agent Jenny Brown.

Radio-Studio

In this episode…

Interview with Jenny Brown:

Founder of Jenny Brown Associates, one of the UK’s leading literary agencies, Jenny was previously Head of Literature at the Scottish Arts Council, presenter of book programmes for Scottish Television, and founder Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. She is also a former Committee member of the Association of Authors’ Agents and was shortlisted in 2014 for the Agent of the Year Award. In this interview, Jenny Brown outlines the role of an agent, gives more insight into the world of publishers and tells us what writers we should look out for in the coming months (including Chitra Ramaswamy, who wrote about her book Expecting for For Books’ Sake recently).

Independent Publishers:

Throughout Grrrl Con, lots of the speakers gave shout-outs to the work of publishers. Lauren talks about a few independent publishers based around the UK. Her list is by no means exhaustive (of course!) and we would love to hear from you about any publishers that you really rate, so email us with your suggestions.Here are the publishers mentioned in the podcast, with a few resources thrown in there for good measure too…

Independent publishers:

Virago
Peepal Tree Press
Dahlia Publishing
Jacaranda
Tilted Axis Press
Galley Beggar Press

Additional resources
Spread the Word
Writers and Artists
Forgot to mention: Creative Access

Top Tips from Kirsty Logan and Marjorie Lofti Gill

Kirsty Logan – who shares her top four tips for writing magic realism in this episode – is the author of the short story collection The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales (Salt, 2014), which was recently awarded the Polari First Book Prize, and debut novel The Gracekeepers (Harvill Secker, 2015). Her latest book, A Portable Shelter (ASLS, 2015), is a collection of stories inspired by Scottish folktales.

Marjorie Lofti Gill is the poet in Residence at Jupiter Artland and co-founder of The Belonging Project, which reflects on the flight, journey and assimilation of refugees, and Open Book, a charity running shared reading and writing groups for adults in the community. Marjorie’s poems have been published in a variety of journals and anthologies in the UK and US, and have been performed on BBC Radio 4. Marjorie ran a workshop on how to construct the perfect sentence, and gives us some advice on how to craft our words.

Interview with Denise Mina

Dame Denise Mina is a critically acclaimed Glaswegian crime writer. Her novels include The End of the Wasp Season and Gods and Beasts, both of which won the prestigious Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year Award in consecutive years. Denise also writes short stories and plays, and is the author of the Garnethill trilogy. She was inducted into the Crime Writers’ Association Hall of Fame in 2014. Grace and Lauren got to chat to Denise after her talk on the final day of Grrrl Con, asking for advice on how to just get on and do it, in what ways can we prioritise our writing, and how to take critical feedback. She advised ditching the gym and bribing ourselves with KitKats alongside other essential tips.

A big thank you to all of our featured guests for sharing your words of wisdom with us and for taking the time to sit down with us and chat. A special thanks has to go out to Grrrl Con organisers Jane Bradley, Claire Askew and Kerry Ryan, for a fabulous weekend. Also thanks to all of the volunteers over the weekend for making sure we knew where we were to go and what was coming next (Charlotte Forfieh, we’re looking at you!) And finally to the amazing grrrls, all those who agreed to be a part of our podcast and everyone else for making the weekend such a success. It was great to meet you all – roll on next year!

The post #4: Just F***ing Do It at Grrrl Con 2016 appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
Expecting: Chitra Ramaswamy on pregnancy, metaphor, pain and joy http://forbookssake.net/2016/06/24/expecting-chitra-ramaswamy-pregnancy/ Fri, 24 Jun 2016 07:00:50 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=31643 In the pregnancy and birth sections of bookshops, "women - always straight, usually white, often pony-tailed - smile serenely from the covers of big, heavy authoritative books while stroking their big, heavy, authoritative 'bumps'."

But until Chitra Ramaswamy wrote Expecting, there were no books describing the experience of pregnancy from the inside. Here, she explains how pregnancy was nothing like she imagined, and how it prompted her to explore art, literature and family history...

Expecting: Chitra Ramaswamy on pregnancy, metaphor, pain and joy
"It was nothing like I imagined it would be." Chitra Ramaswamy explains why she wrote Expecting...

The post Expecting: Chitra Ramaswamy on pregnancy, metaphor, pain and joy appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
In the pregnancy and birth sections of bookshops, "women - always straight, usually white, often pony-tailed - smile serenely from the covers of big, heavy authoritative books while stroking their big, heavy, authoritative 'bumps'."

But until Chitra Ramaswamy wrote Expecting, there were no books describing the experience of pregnancy from the inside. Here, she explains how pregnancy was nothing like she imagined, and how it prompted her to explore art, literature and family history...

Expecting: Chitra Ramaswamy on pregnancy, metaphor, pain and joy

I was 34 years old when I became pregnant. I had spent more than three decades walking around in my body, inhabiting my skin as unthinkingly as I had lived in my home as a child. The wallpaper so familiar I no longer felt the embossed ridges beneath my fingers (it was the eighties – textured walls were a thing), the smells so intimate they had long become indecipherable to my nose.

Then I got pregnant – not easily either, but that’s another story – and for nine months the home became hotel. Suddenly I had a longterm guest, this peculiar little character banging against the walls of my womb and demanding, well, everything from me: room service, 24/7 concierge, blood, organs, the lot. It was nothing like I imagined it would be.

Meanwhile, the rest of me was changing too. Not just my body but my perspective. Not just the stretching skin, mysterious rashes, nausea, quickening, glossy hair, hands on fire, fattening feet, monstrous hormones, bleeding gums, pelvic girdle pain, and, always, always the marvellous and relentless ballooning of my belly.

Other changes were less visible but no less powerful. A fascination with my family history, illness and death. A heightened awareness of the business of being alive that was not unlike falling in love. Joyous, but painful too because it carried within it, always, always the threat of loss.

It seemed the more the baby fattened inside my body, stubbornly and mysteriously becoming itself, the less I knew myself. And the more I wanted to know.It seemed the more the baby fattened inside my body, stubbornly and mysteriously becoming itself, the less I knew myself. And the more I wanted to know.

“The face / Went on shaping itself with love, as if I was ready,” wrote Sylvia Plath in her only play, Three Women, a remarkable account of three very different pregnancies.

This was not the pregnancy I had unwittingly imagined from the outside, the beatific and hermetically sealed state constructed by books, films, news, and a society bent on monitoring, controlling and misrepresenting it.

This was so much more weird, difficult and interesting than that. It was the curiously silenced story of how each and every one of us began.

I went looking for a book that might tell this tale in those oddly sanitised pregnancy and birth sections of shops. Where women – always straight, usually white, often pony-tailed – smile serenely from the covers of big, heavy authoritative books while stroking their big, heavy, authoritative ‘bumps’ (as they’re known in the disembodied language of pregnancy).

What did I find? A whole industry’s worth of manuals, month-to-month, week-to-week and even day-to-day guides, humorous books, pink books, frustrated books, fertility books, medical books, and the occasional feminist polemic.

What I didn’t find was a book that illuminated the experience from the inside, spilling the secrets of what it felt like to inhabit a pregnancy in the same way a foetus inhabits a body. A book that told the story of a woman’s pregnancy but also delved into some of the history and literature that had constructed it, or perhaps papered over it.

In the spirit of Toni Morrison, who famously said “if there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,” I decided to do just that.

To write a book of nine chapters for the nine months of pregnancy and birth. A memoir of sorts that would also be a travelogue, a philosophical inquiry, an extended piece of nature writing where the gravid body stood in for the landscape.

The idea, at least, was born. The book, like the baby, took longer. In the end I started to write Expecting weeks after my son was born. Though I had tried to write it while I was pregnant I was too exhausted, too consumed by the thing itself to make sentences out of it.

Instead, while I was pregnant, I read books. Birth scenes in Anna Karenina, Ulysses, The Handmaid’s Tale and Beloved. The poetry of Sylvia Plath, Sharon Olds and Muriel Rukeyser whose laconic poem, Islands, opens with the wonderfully fractious lines: ‘O for God’s sake / they are connected underneath’. The perfect metaphor for the pregnant state, which is one of both isolation and deep belonging.

I read and reread Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain, a masterpiece of nature writing and a love letter to the Cairngorms in the Scottish Highlands that has zilch to do with pregnancy but somehow become the overriding metaphor of those nine months. The pregnant body as living mountain: the mysterious insides that can never be truly revealed.

I watched All About My Mother by Pedro Almodovar and thought about how anyone can be a mother. Like my partner, who as a woman would be our child’s mother though the baby would not be birthed from her belly.

I watched Gone With The Wind for the millionth time in my life (what is it about that long, cruel, deeply dodgy film?) and realised how much of my misunderstanding of childbirth was born from that dark scene in Atlanta when Scarlett is forced to deliver Melanie’s baby amidst the death throes of the Old South. I wondered how on earth I would write the story of my own labour. I wondered how I would live it.

Expecting is a strange book, which seems appropriate for such a strange subject. Like most books – and indeed children – it started off as mine and then scooted off in its own direction.

I ended up telling the story of my mother’s birth in her grandmother’s house in Bangalore and my father’s arrival in London from that same southern Indian metropolis in autumn of 1967.

I ended up criss-crossing the world from a small curve of sand in the Maldives to a egg-shaped island off Mull in the Hebrides where I spectacularly lost the plot in my eighth month of pregnancy. And then ate a load of shellfish.

I ended up writing about a shark dive in the Firth of Forth, my mother’s breast cancer, and a mind-blowing nineteenth century painting by Gustave Courbet called The Origin of the World.

Expecting became a book about death as much as birth. It became a book about life.


Expecting by Chitra Ramaswamy is out now, published by Saraband 

The post Expecting: Chitra Ramaswamy on pregnancy, metaphor, pain and joy appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
Basma Abdel Aziz on writing The Queue http://forbookssake.net/2016/06/09/basma-abdel-aziz-writing-queue/ Thu, 09 Jun 2016 14:51:19 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=31574 In an unnamed Middle Eastern city, in the aftermath of a failed uprising, an authority known as the Gate has risen to power Citizens are required to obtain permission from the Gate for even the most basic of their daily affairs, yet the building never opens, and the queue in front of it grows longer and longer.

Egyptian author Basma Abdel Aziz tells us more about the real-life queue that inspired her debut novel, a book that's already been compared to dystopian classics including Kafka's The Trial and Orwell's 1984...

Basma-Adel-Aziz-The-Queue
The Egyptian author on the real-life queue that inspired her debut novel...

The post Basma Abdel Aziz on writing The Queue appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
In an unnamed Middle Eastern city, in the aftermath of a failed uprising, an authority known as the Gate has risen to power Citizens are required to obtain permission from the Gate for even the most basic of their daily affairs, yet the building never opens, and the queue in front of it grows longer and longer.

Egyptian author Basma Abdel Aziz tells us more about the real-life queue that inspired her debut novel, a book that's already been compared to dystopian classics including Kafka's The Trial and Orwell's 1984...

Basma-Adel-Aziz-The-Queue

I began writing The Queue in September 2012, shortly after returning to Egypt from France. One sunny day, I went to Downtown Cairo, where numerous battles between revolutionaries and security forces had taken place since the revolution began in January 2011.

While walking down a main street, I came across a long queue of people waiting in front of a closed governmental building. The gate to the building would certainly open shortly, I thought to myself; after all, it was nearly midday.

Two hours later I walked back the way I came, only to find the same people standing exactly where they had been. They hadn’t moved. There were more of them now, yet the gate was still closed.

“I didn’t know what they were waiting for, and why they didn’t leave”

Some sat on the ground, some leaned against cars parked by the sidewalk, and some had retreated under the shade of nearby trees, seeking shelter from the heat. I didn’t know what they were waiting for, and I didn’t understand why they didn’t leave. Noon had turned into afternoon, yet nothing had changed.

The people seemed bound there – to that patch of ground, and to the gate which was still closed – by the hope of having their needs met. I thought the scene would make a good short story, one I might include in the next collection I wrote, so I wrote down my observations on scraps of paper I always keep in my bag, and when I got home I started writing.

I was primarily interested in what all these different people in this strange queue had in common; there didn’t seem to be any connection between them.

Some seemed financially comfortable, while others looked poor, there were women and men, elderly and young people, and even children playing nearby.

I wondered why they stood there so long in vain. Why didn’t any of them speak up in protest or frustration about the delay; why didn’t anyone suggest they all leave?

“The queue extended through the novel, crossing into other cities”

This thread was just the beginning, not for a short story, as I had intended, but for my first novel: The Queue. I spent two whole months writing without pause; I was seized by the desire to follow the fates of these characters that had appeared and taken shape on the page.

I didn’t plan it in advance, or sketch out their lives before starting to write. The queue extended through the novel, crossing into other cities, and my imagination extended further and further with it.

I spent eleven hours a day with the queue and the people waiting in it; I experienced their relationships and interactions, until I nearly felt like I had become one of them.

I developed patience and perseverance, just like the characters who rescheduled their lives so they could stand in front of the Gate and fruitlessly wait.

On the verge

It reached the point that I felt I was on the verge of becoming someone like many of the characters, a dutiful and submissive citizen whose life is dictated by totalitarian authority.

The closed gate slowly came to symbolize a regime that represses people, determines their behavior, turns them into identical copies of one another, and strips them of their will.

Meanwhile, the queue became a parallel society for which the people waiting had exchanged their normal lives: they began to eat, drink, sleep, conduct business, negotiate with each other, and worship there.

The protagonist of the novel is a man in his late thirties with a bullet lodged in his body. He cannot have it removed without permission from the authorities, who, of course, are represented by the Gate.

People rose up against the regime in power, and as a result, the Gate closed. It hasn’t opened since, as if it were punishing them; as long as the Gate is closed, people’s affairs are delayed.

The number of citizens gathered in front of it, each with his or her own aim, begins to multiply. Some want certificates certifying that they are True Citizens so they can find a job, some want medical treatment, and some simply want a permit to buy food.

“No more than shadows of themselves”

In writing The Queue, I drew on my experience in psychiatry, my specialization and the field in which I work. I also drew on my later studies in sociology, to establish the means by which authority dominates and controls citizens.

I examined the complex mechanisms which, in the end, make people accept the reality they find themselves in, even if it is dire. I also built on my experience working with victims of torture.

For over ten years I have worked at El Nadeem Centre, which offers support and psychological rehabilitation for those who have been subjected to torture in police stations and detention camps.

I have seen with my own eyes how major psychological trauma can change people. I have witnessed how continuous repression and humiliation can drive them to become no more than shadows of themselves, not venturing beyond the lines their oppressor has drawn for them.

Ruler and ruled

In both my fiction and my academic writing, I have long been interested in the mutually constitutive roles of ruler and ruled. I am intent on exploring how this manipulates people’s fates, and am determined to resist the ways it reshapes their understanding of the world.

Egypt is currently going through a tumultuous period, but I believe this has the potential to inspire writers and thinkers, and motivate them to produce exceptional creative and intellectual work.


The Queue is the debut novel by Egyptian author, journalist, academic and artist Basma Abdel Aziz, published last month by Melville House.

Both this feature and The Queue were translated by Arabic translator, writer and researcher Elisabeth Jaquette.

The post Basma Abdel Aziz on writing The Queue appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
#3: Megaphone, Mental Health and More http://forbookssake.net/2016/06/03/3-megaphone-mental-health/ Fri, 03 Jun 2016 07:00:13 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=31558 Megaphone founder Leila Rasheed talks writing, diversity and representation, then we round up the best books on disability, and take a look at what's happening in the land of lit over the next couple of months...

#3: Megaphone, Mental Health and More
We talk to Leila Rasheed and round-up the best books on disability...

The post #3: Megaphone, Mental Health and More appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
Megaphone founder Leila Rasheed talks writing, diversity and representation, then we round up the best books on disability, and take a look at what's happening in the land of lit over the next couple of months...

#3: Megaphone, Mental Health and More

In this episode…

Interview with Leila Rasheed

Leila Rasheed is a young adult and children’s author of numerous publications, including Chips, Beans and Limousines, which was awarded the Red House Read of the Year in 2009 and shortlisted for the Wigan Explore Book Award.

Leila is the Founder of Megaphone, a new writer development scheme for BAME writers who want to write their first children’s novel. She was born in Libya to English-Bangladeshi parents and lives in Birmingham with her husband and child. She tweets at LeilaR.

Feature on visible and invisible disabilities

Books mentioned:

  • Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me by Ellen Forney
  • 72 Hour Hold by Bebe Moore Campbell
  • The Madolescents by Chrissie Glazebrook
  • Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability by Shelia Black (ed) Jennifer Bartlett (ed) & Michael Northern (ed)
  • The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Journals and Magazines

  • Pentimento
  • THE FEM focus on minority groups in general, but keen to accept stories by women writers with disabilities.
  • Wordgathering – primarily accepting submissions from writers with disabilities

Organisations and Resources

Bonus book recommendations:

  • Shadows in the Sun: Healing from Depression and Finding the Light Within by Gayathri Ramprasad
  • Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

News and what’s coming up

  • Grrrl Con: Saturday 11 & Sunday 12 June. Two day festival in Edinburgh championing women writers, presented by For Books’ Sake and Write Like a Grrrl. Now sold out but keep an eye on the hashtag #GrrrlCon for quotes, news and more.
  • Scot Lit Fest 2016: Friday 24 – Sunday 26 June The virtual literary festival will be bringing some of Scotland’s most exciting and much-loved authors to an online audience, meaning that anyone in the world is able to take part. Participating authors so far include A.L. Kennedy, Kirsty Logan, Helen McClory and more.
  • The Leeds Big Book End and the Northern Short Story Festival: Talks, book launches, spoken word performances, children’s workshops and a creative writing bilingual workshop.
  • Salena Godden is on tour across the UK throughout the summer. The next episode of the podcast will feature an interview with Salena and a recording of her performing My Tits are more Feminist than your Tits.
  • Curtis Brown Scholarship

Until next time…

The post #3: Megaphone, Mental Health and More appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
Panty by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay http://forbookssake.net/2016/06/02/panty-sangeeta-bandyopadhyay/ Thu, 02 Jun 2016 07:00:39 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=31513 A woman moves into a Kolkata apartment. She's alone and has brought no luggage. She's waiting for a surgery that may or may not go ahead, and often in pain.

On her first night in the city she finds a discarded pair of leopard print panties in the wardrobe, stained by their former owner, and begins to fantasise about this other woman, imagining a life that begins to overlap with her own.

Panty  by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay
A 'disorienting, sensual yet sad' novella from the celebrated Bengali author

The post Panty by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
A woman moves into a Kolkata apartment. She's alone and has brought no luggage. She's waiting for a surgery that may or may not go ahead, and often in pain.

On her first night in the city she finds a discarded pair of leopard print panties in the wardrobe, stained by their former owner, and begins to fantasise about this other woman, imagining a life that begins to overlap with her own.

Panty  by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay

Translated from Bengali by Arunava Sinha, this is a disorienting, sensual yet sad and lonely novella. Its story has to be pieced together, and I’m still not sure whether the non-sequential chapter numbers are clues as to the order of events or a sign of character disintegration. Both seem possible.

The woman is from an unspecified elsewhere and unaccustomed to Kolkata. She watches a homeless family who live on her street as if they are a TV soap.

She seems to have nobody, except possibly the man whose apartment she is staying in, but whether he was real and if so who he was I was never able to pin down.

I picked it up. Imported. Soft. Leopard print. At once I wanted to know who the owner was. Many years ago I had found a blue bangle in a bedside drawer in a hotel room. When I took it in my hand it seemed to be dripping blue water. That day, too, I'd felt an urge to find out who the owner was.From another writer this might be a slow, thoughtful, cold tale. But Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay fills it with life, with disarming frankness about the woman’s body, her thoughts about sex, her longings and her reservations.

For such a short novella it truly packs a punch, leaving me feeling discomfited but moved. It is at times erotic, sometimes explicit, but it is too shadowy and obscured to be just that.

There is a background of complex social issues, from poverty to religion to Kashmir and terrorism, but these are just part of a life that is at this moment overwhelmed by something more private, though whether that is the surgery or something else is again never quite made clear.

“You said nothing. She was the one to break the silence. ‘I ran away. I escaped to the centre, inside the fire that rages at the circumference of life.’ ”

If you like stories with a clear beginning, middle and end, with no ambiguity, this is not for you. But if you are open to obfuscation, to outright bafflement even, it’s certainly worth giving this celebrated Bengali writer a try.

In this new edition from brand new publisher Tilted Axis Press, Panty is packaged with a short story by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, “Sahana, or Shamin”, which is uncomfortable in a very different way.

Again, a woman is at its centre, a woman struggling to be her true self while facing down centuries of religious rules and traditions. It is the most honest acknowledgment I have read of that personal conflict.

The post Panty by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
‘Most women still have a terror of fat, even if they are allies’: why feminists still can’t handle fat girls http://forbookssake.net/2016/05/31/women-still-terror-fat-even-allies-feminists-still-cant-handle-fat-girls/ Tue, 31 May 2016 08:00:28 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=31474 For many women, fat remains the stubborn last sticking point in the argument for equality. Three new books explore the topic in detail...

Books About Fat
What's behind feminists' fear of fat girls?

The post ‘Most women still have a terror of fat, even if they are allies’: why feminists still can’t handle fat girls appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
For many women, fat remains the stubborn last sticking point in the argument for equality. Three new books explore the topic in detail...

Books About Fat

Unable to accept our fear of fat and sidetracked by straw man arguments about public health, many of us fail to see the vital role of self-acceptance in our politics – not to mention the many unique wisdoms and strategies that third wave feminism has yet to learn from fat activism.

Nowhere is this issue more engaging than in contemporary writing, and – for American authors Sarai Walker and Mona Awad, fat characters in Dietland and 13 Ways of Looking At a Fat Girl – have been a source of huge creativity.

Remarkably, both authors describe the same experience when they sat down to write: their lead characters appeared to them out of the blue as visual images.

Walker started writing what was to become Dietland on an MFA but initially abandoned the draft. Years later she was walking down Lamb’s Conduit Street in London when, she says, she had a strong sense of the presence of Plum, the lead character in Dietland, confronting her: “It was like I could see her. She was all of a sudden in my head, really clear, and she said, ‘you’d forgotten about me’.

“I don’t know what to make of it. She was clearly just in my subconscious and fought to get out.”

Awad recalls: “I first started with the image of a young woman in a dressing room staring at a piece of clothing she already knew wouldn’t fit while her mother and a saleswoman waited outside.

“She actually sort of appeared to me during a long car ride in Utah. She wasn’t particularly specific in terms of her exact body size and her physicality. But I knew this was a woman for whom body image was a deep struggle.”

Awad’s confrontational title already starts to unpack issues around body image before the reader opens the collection: “That was very important to me. I wanted to challenge and complicate all of the assumptions, images, and simplifications that come with this term, to explore how “fat girl” isn’t simply a question of flesh.

“It’s a far more dynamic, psychological and relative state than this, one that can hold contradictions, is internally and externally constructed.”

Walker wrote most of Dietland in London – a city she’s now widely reported as calling the worst place for fat-shaming she’s ever lived in.

She recalls: “There were overtly sexualised images of women, fuckable women, all over the place and if you don’t fit into that mould in some way you are open to attack.

“It was like: ‘Why do you exist? I don’t find you pleasing, so why are you here walking down the street?’, and [strangers] feeling this sense of entitlement to actually say that to a person.”

The fear of fat she experienced, she says, creates an environment in which it’s nearly impossible to actually be fat. Fat people face endless talk about diets, as well as people comparing fat-shaming to skinny-shaming, pathologising or ‘reading’ fat as something ‘bad’ and assuming that the default person is thin.

Walker also warns that body positivity – which has been a breakthrough for many women – is not the solution it’s been hailed as. Co-opted by fashion brands, marketing and advertising – it becomes a kind of positivity where any size is OK, as long as it’s an hourglass (and not too, you know… fat).

One of the big influences Walker cites is the activist Charlotte Cooper, who has just written a new guide to fat activism.

Asked about how fat activism does (and doesn’t) intersect with feminism, she says that movement has struggled to gain acceptance and recognition, particularly when writers (originally, Susie Orbach) pathologise fat as a sign of something being ‘wrong’ with a person.

She warns that there’s an agenda behind ‘fat panic’ (often outed by anxiety about an ‘obesity epidemic’), which makes fatness out to be an issue of personal responsibility. Fat people are branded a ‘burden’ on the NHS and urged to ‘treat’ their size with surgery – risks for which are often played down.

She recommends that people learn how better to advocate for themselves at the doctor’s, and to practice acts of radical pushback – refusing to have BMI data gathered on you, for example. And the age-old argument that people are just worried about their health? “The question is irrelevant and controlling,” Cooper says. “Don’t engage.”

Sarai Walker also warned of feminists who struggle to accept or listen to fat women.

“I know lots of thin women who are so supportive of fat activism and everything but I know that they themselves never want to become fat,” she reveals. “They would be very upset if they were all of a sudden fat. You know: ‘Fat activism: that’s great for you but I don’t want to be fat myself!’”

“It’s not condescending but it is a little bit like, ‘Oh that’s great, I’m so glad you’re doing that, but I would never want to be like that’. That goes unsaid.

“Fat phobia is just so ingrained. Most women still have a terror of fat, even if they are allies to people in fat acceptance.”

——————————-

Charlotte Cooper’s book Fat Activism is published by HammerOn Press.

Sarai Walker’s Dietland is published by Atlantic.

Mona Awad’s 13 Way of Looking At A Fat Girl is published by Penguin Random House.

Ellie Broughton is the Lead Features Writer for For Books’ Sake. 

The post ‘Most women still have a terror of fat, even if they are allies’: why feminists still can’t handle fat girls appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua http://forbookssake.net/2016/05/25/thrilling-adventures-lovelace-babbage-sydney-padua/ Wed, 25 May 2016 07:00:46 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=31327 The entertaining story of the eccentric scientific duo who pioneered the ‘first computer’.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
A highly entertaining graphic novel celebrating the inventors of the 'first computer'

The post The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>
The entertaining story of the eccentric scientific duo who pioneered the ‘first computer’.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

 

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage started as a webcomic, taking a lighthearted look at compelling Victorian-era scientific collaborators Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace.

Writer and artist Sydney Padua ended up falling in love with her subjects and creating a hefty tome based on their antics, real and imagined.

Ada Lovelace, daughter of infamous romantic poet Lord Byron, became a collaborator and friend to renowned mathematician Charles Babbage when she was a teenager. He was a bitter older man who retained his passion for maths despite multiple setbacks.

Lovelace was a mathematician in an era when it was frowned upon for ladies to do such work. Not only that, but she was an incredibly accomplished ‘enchantress’ of mathematics (in Babbage’s words). She was also a pioneer of the idea of software.

Lovelace is now often referred to as ‘the world’s first computer programmer’ and Babbage the inventor of the machines which predate today’s computers.

The author’s enthusiasm for the duo is infectious, creating a desire for them to live longer and achieve more. This is satisfied by the section of the book set in ‘the Pocket Universe’, a steampunk dream which in fact comprises the majority of the book.

The author’s enthusiasm for the duo is infectious

Padua’s animation background shines through in the artwork. The black and white drawings are fun and lively, displaying the movements and mannerisms of the eccentric characters. There are also diagrams explaining some of the mechanisms invented by Babbage.

The author’s breadth of research is incredibly impressive, to the point where even the imaginary parts of the story provide opportunities for education. Unfortunately the many footnotes, endnotes and appendices can disrupt the flow of reading at times.

However, the amusing heroes and nerdy jokes ensure the story doesn’t drift off into dry history book territory. The footnotes also provide an opportunity for the author’s likeable personality to shine through, in the form of her palpable enthusiasm and comedic self-deprecation.

Historical illustrations combine with Padua’s own, alongside some amusing asides from Victorian newspapers, creating a visually interesting compendium. Flicking through the book at random can also be entertaining, given that the storyline isn’t too plot-driven and there are some great images to be found (a reason in favour of the hardcover rather than the Kindle edition).

An impeccably researched and lively tale full of worthy and entertaining characters.

The post The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

]]>