Interview with Carol Lovekin, author of Ghostbird

Today I’m welcoming the delightful Carol Lovekin to my blog. Carol is the author of the magical and poignant novel Ghostbird which is published by Honno, the Welsh Women’s Press, an independent co-operative press run by women and this year celebrating 30 years of publishing books exclusively by women.

In case you missed my review of Ghostbird, you can read it here: https://kendraolson.wordpress.com/2016/09/07/my-review-of-ghostbird-by-carol-lovekin/),

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Welcome, Carol! Thanks for coming by to talk with us today about your novel.

It’s my genuine pleasure, Kendra. Thank you for inviting me.

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Credit: Janey Stevens

Firstly, could you please describe the story for readers?

My central protagonist is Cadi Hopkins, fourteen years old, lonely and surrounded by ambiguity. She lives with her emotionally distant mother, Violet, in a remote Welsh village where each year it rains every day throughout the month of August. Next door lives Cadi’s witchy aunt Lili, guarding a secret she knows she should never have agreed to keep. It’s a frustrating existence for Cadi – all she knows is her father and little sister died not long before she was born. When the ghost of her sister attaches itself to her, Cadi begins a search for the truth. The rainmaker and an ancient myth cast spells and the secrets wake up. In the process, each of the three Hopkins women comes of age, proving you are never too young or too old. The myth of Blodeuwedd – from the Mabinogion – is a thread running through the story and one of its meanings is the origin of the book’s title. In Welsh folklore the barn owl – the bird Blodeuwedd is changed into – is known as the ghostbird.

What is it that makes this story unique?

I’m not sure any story is unique. What sets Ghostbird apart is, perhaps, my ghost. She’s little more than a baby and although at first she scares Cadi it’s less from evil intent than frustrated confusion. And I’ve written a consciously female-centric narrative; reimagined Blodeuwedd’s story from her perspective. I used my vision of her change, together with my imagined metamorphosis of the ghost, as a device to illustrate the transformations of Cadi, Lili and Violet. (My male characters are, I trust, as sympathetic as they deserve to be!) My aim when writing the magic was to make it unobtrusive; incidental almost because it’s part of the Welsh landscape. It’s as authentic as my reader decides it is.

When did this story begin, for you as the writer?

What a great question! Nothing comes from nowhere; all stories begin somewhere and many years ago when I first moved to Wales and read the Mabinogion, I found myself particularly fascinated by the story of Blodeuwedd, a woman created from flowers, by men, for their political ends. How, as a punishment for her perceived betrayal, she was cursed by being turned into an owl. To my mind, being turned into a bird meant Blodeuwedd would gain her freedom. Wouldn’t she? This seed lay dormant until I was ready to make it germinate.

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revolves around the lives of three women – Lilwen, Violet and Cadi Hopkins. Why did you choose to put women and their stories at the centre of the novel?

I’ve always considered fiction an excellent vehicle for telling women’s stories. Dramatizing real narratives gives them an added dimension. Writer and reader can delve deep; explore their own lives and experiences beyond received wisdom. I am a great delver! I’m also a feminist and women’s stories matter to me. From the moment I read Blodeuwedd’s I wanted to reclaim it – give her a voice and tell her story from her viewpoint. (Cadi came to me out of another blue somewhere on the wings of a bird, fully formed and in agreement. She became my ally.)

Traditional Welsh village life features in the book, yet in many ways the themes are quite modern. Was this conscious on your part and, if so, how did you navigate the literary terrain between the modern and the traditional?

In many Welsh communities, traditional life remains a reality. The old ways still exist, even if they are largely disguised. I’m not a historical novelist in any sense of the word, preferring modern settings, and the myth is a trace – a hook to hang the ghost’s story on. Initially, her voice had far less prominence, hardly more than a whispered soundtrack. Once my editor, the astute and talented Janet Thomas, pointed out the ghost needed more of a voice, I wrote her story in isolation, slotted it into the main narrative and to my surprise discovered I was writing a proper ghost story!

One aspect of the novel that I appreciated was that you feature lesbian characters but did not highlight their sexuality to readers – in other words, their sexuality isn’t of particular importance to their character. Why did you choose to write your characters in this way?

The frivolous answer is I’m on a mission to change the world of fiction one lesbian at a time! You have already addressed the more serious one: Lili’s sexuality is of absolutely no importance in reference to her place in the story. She’s a lesbian, dear reader, move on! Lesbians (and gay men) in literature rarely need explaining. It pleases me that so few reviewers have commented on Lili’s and Pomona’s relationship, those who have, wisely noting how it doesn’t need to be an issue.

Dreams, apparitions, imagination and the subconscious all feature in the story. Some have referred to the novel as ‘magical realist’, myself included. Would you agree or disagree with this statement and why or why not?

In a way, this question feeds into the one you asked about the notion of a story’s uniqueness. If my reader interprets what I write as ‘magical realism’ I’m honoured – it’s a noble tradition. (Frustratingly it’s become confused with fantasy and is too often horribly misappropriated.) I write from a place I have been deeply familiar with for decades. If my reader can suspend disbelief and accept that a woman can have fingers so green her garden never needs weeding, I’m content. If she can accept the possibility of a rain spell, or a ghost in the shape of a child reincarnated as a bird, my work, so to speak, is done. Magical realism is in the eye of the beholder.

Did you encounter any challenges when writing the novel and, if so, how did you get around these?

Writing is a challenge, from first word to last and I enjoy it more than I can describe. As a latecomer, I’m writing to catch up. That’s the real challenge: getting all the stories in my head down on paper while I still have my marbles!

I understand that you’re currently working on a new novel. Are you able/willing to tell us anything about the story?

I’ve recently completed another ghost story. It’s also set in Wales, is darker than Ghostbird, and the ghost is Victorian. It’s another sister story (my favourite kind), features far less rain, an abundance of snow and some Cream Legbar chickens. The only other thing I’m able to tell you is it’s with my editor, pending approval.

Thanks so much for coming by to talk with us today! Best of luck with Ghostbird and with all your writing!

Thank you, Kendra! It’s been enormous fun. And may I say, as a writer, you and the other bloggers and reviewers who continue to support us are the bee’s knees deserving of our undying gratitude.

Thank you! 🙂

Readers can obtain Ghostbird from Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ghostbird-Carol-Lovekin/dp/190998339X/

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Ghostbird-Carol-Lovekin-ebook/dp/B01AOMVP2U/

Honno the Welsh Women’s Press: http://www.honno.co.uk/dangos.php?ISBN=9781909983397

Learn more about Carol and her writing by visiting her website/blog: https://carollovekinauthor.com/

 

 

 

Visiting Tarbert and the Tarbert Book Festival

Readers of this blog will remember an announcement I made back at the beginning of September to say I’d been shortlisted  for the Tarbert Book Festival’s writing competition . At the end of last month I went up to Tarbert with my partner to attend the book festival as well as doing some sightseeing of our own in the area.

While I didn’t win the grand prize (that accolade goes to the very talented Frances Ainslie for her lovely story, Nights with Mary-Anne), I did have a wonderful time getting to meet and chat with many interesting writerly (and not so writerly) folk. I even received a compliment on my story from Janice Galloway (a prize in itself).

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Here I am, reading my shortlisted story.

In addition to the awards reception on the Friday evening at The Loch Fyne Gallery where short-listees read their stories, I also attended the Saturday of the writing festival.

On Saturday morning I participated in Anne Hamilton’s inspiring and fun writing workshop. As well as discussing setting (which was the inspiration for the writing competition), Anne talked about the importance of writing for its own sake. She said that so many people these days talk about writing, but never do it. She then went on to give us some practical hints and tips for both starting writing and for finishing what we begin. The piece of advice which most spoke to me was Anne’s admonition to leave the editing until after the story was written. I have a difficult time with this, always wanting to tweak and polish as I go. But, as Anne said, the perfect is the enemy of the good. I will try to keep this in mind the next time I’m tempted to edit before finishing a piece.

The second session I attended was Janice Galloway’s. She was reading from her latest collection of stories, Jellyfish, and discussing the writing of them. She said that how you tell a story is more important than what is actually said. The writer’s voice is incredibly important to the telling of the story because our books are, ultimately, about us as we are their creators. She went on to say that self-consciousness is the enemy of good writing, which must be natural. It’s about interpreting and presenting vulnerability. She then read an extract from one of the stories in her new collection which was captivating. After the session I had to go and purchase my own copy and get it signed, of course. 🙂 What she had to say resonated with me and is something I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

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Later that afternoon I attended Shirley McKay’s excellent talk about her historical fiction crime collection, 1588: A Calendar of Crime which takes place in Tudor Scotland. Her talk was fascinating and I was very much drawn to the idea of crime being integrated with historical fiction—it sounds tricky but satisfying, particularly when the crimes take place during such a dramatic period of history. When I was in my late teens I became particularly interested in this period of history (I’ve no idea how this came about as I lived in California) and so it was a lot of fun revisiting that history in Shirley’s talk. I’m looking forward to reading her books at some point too.

That evening at Stonefield Castle we were treated to an excellent whisky tasting by local distillery Springbank, followed by a hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable talk by Chris Brookmyre. Of course, besides being funny and giving some colourful anecdotes from his writing life, Chris also dispensed good advice. My favourite of which was his definition of writer’s block as reluctance to make a decision about your story. He said that sometimes you just have to finish the work and make a decision about where you’ll take it, even if it’s not what you thought it would be. He said that sometimes where you think a story will go isn’t where it actually ends up. I thought this was an interesting approach to it and worth sharing. (For another insightful approach to writer’s block, see this post by Colorado-based writer Kele Lampe: https://theshadowsanctuary.wordpress.com/2015/03/22/carving-up-writers-block/ ).

While the following day of the festival held several exciting events which we would have loved to have attended, we chose to do some exploring instead as we only had a couple of days in this beautiful and enchanting area of Scotland. We chose to hike to the White Shore, through the woods along the northern side of Tarbert Harbour. Later we took a ferry to the nearby village of Portavadie where we walked a short stretch of the Cowal Way. Both were beautiful and refreshing to experience. On the Friday, before the reception, we’d visited Tarbert Castle, which we also enjoyed.

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Tarbert Castle

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Hebridean sheep who “occupy” the castle.

And on our absolute final day in Tarbert we took a ferry all the way to Lochranza on the Isle of Arran, mostly to experience being on the sea (this was thanks to a local tip as we would never have known about this ferry journey otherwise). Because the ferry only went once a day, we were only able to get off for a few short minutes, but at least we can say we’ve been there 😉 . The journey itself was spectacular. We saw two pods of porpoises swimming alongside the boat as well as a mother porpoise and her baby. We also saw a seal playing in the water. The previous day, on the ferry to Portavadie, we’d also seen seals in the distance. Magical doesn’t even begin to cover it. Seeing the Isle of Arran gently hover into view on a misty day was unforgettable.

It made me sad to leave Tarbert but I’m consoled by the fact that there’s always next year.

Have you attended any writing festivals far from home and, if so, did you try to combine it with a vacation? I’d love to hear about your experiences so please leave a comment below.

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Review of The Changing Room by Jane Turley

Jane and I are both members of the Book Connectors group on Facebook. I’d read, and enjoyed, her short story collection, A Modern Life: Sweet and Salty Short Stories. So when I ran into her at the Triskele Literary Festival in London on the 17th September, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s always fun to meet someone in person who you’ve only chatted to online.

Jane was manning a table of her lovely books at the festival and, as they looked so intriguing, I gave into temptation and purchased one. Of course, Jane was lovely too. 🙂

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I chose a limited edition hardcover of Jane’s first novel, The Changing Room (edition at back). As you can see from the above photo, the cover was later changed (front-most edition) and, while I do find the new cover attractive, it also looks similar to another cover I’ve seen somewhere. The cartoon on the hardback version drew my attention right away and made me question what the book was about. I have to admit, I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. Also, now having read the book, I think this cover suits the story better.

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The back cover is nicely decorated too.

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What do you think of Jane’s two covers, and which would you have chosen? I’d love to hear so do consider leaving a comment below.

Here’s my review of The Changing Room.

My review:

“Parenthood is one long journey of discovery isn’t it? I’d better go,” I say, snatching a look at Mum. “My mother’s keeping a watchful eye on me.”

As Sandy Lovett’s mother becomes increasingly confused and disoriented due to her Alzheimer’s, Sandy has to step up and take on a caring role for her. When, one night, Sandy enters her mother’s home to find her huddled underneath the table in the dark, fearing the arrival of German forces—her mind is often stuck in World War 2—Sandy realises her mum needs full time care. Not yet ready to put her mum in a home, Sandy decides to quit her job at Hendersons furniture store to look after her full time, in addition to her responsibilities to her three children.

Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t be worse for husband Dave’s small scale building business. He’s struggling to get by and refuses to lay off any of his workforce in order to increase profits (good on Dave). When Sandy’s friend and fellow PTA-member Deidre offers her a part time sales job at The Herald, Sandy jumps at the chance—she can sell anything and working out of the office will mean she can spend more time with her mum. But, despite Sandy’s excellent sales record, the job still isn’t lucrative enough to support Dave’s ailing business. Luckily, phone sales isn’t the only line of work Deidre has to offer. What she proposes next will heat things up in more ways than one.

With a colourful cast of well drawn characters and a fantastic sense of humour, Turley’s The Changing Room was just the kind of book I’d hoped it would be and more. I admired Sandy’s strength and tenacity in choosing the right battles to fight and, sensibly, letting the others go. Of course, I also appreciated her witty reflections on those around her and, indeed, on herself.

Turley’s writing is hilariously funny in parts as well as poignant. Her empathy for her characters shines through at all points. I found The Changing Room to be both uplifting and refreshing–a story about working families makes for a welcome change. I look forward to reading whatever Jane Turley chooses to write next.

Readers can purchase The Changing Room from Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Changing-Room-British-Comedy-Laughter-ebook/dp/B0160Q1YFC/

Amazon U.S.: https://www.amazon.com/Changing-Room-British-Comedy-Laughter-ebook/dp/B0160Q1YFC/

And where all good books are sold.

Visit Jane’s website, The Witty Way’s of a Wayward Wife:  http://www.janeturley.net/

Follow her on Twitter: @turleytalks

Like her page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JaneTurleywriter/?hc_ref=SEARCH&fref=nf#

 

 

 

 

New article published today in Lothian Life

I’m pleased to announce that an article I’ve written on the historic role of the Edinburgh Fire Brigade in making the world a safer place has been published today in Lothian Life. The article was inspired by a recent trip to Edinburgh where I visited the Edinburgh Museum of Fire on my partner’s behalf (he works in the fire service). While there I learned some very surprising facts.

http://www.lothianlife.co.uk/2016/10/trail-blazing-edinburgh/

The Story Behind Laying Ghosts

For those of you who read my review of Virginia King’s latest story, Laying Ghosts, yesterday, I thought you might be interested to read more about the inspiration behind the story. Of course, even if you missed my review you might still enjoy hearing the story behind the story. 🙂

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And for those who missed it, just a quick reminder to let you know that Laying Ghosts is now available to download FREE from Amazon UK, Amazon US and other retailers.

So without further ado, I’ll hand you over to Virginia King:

A Ghost Story Needs … a Ghost

(A version of this post first appeared on ‘Hey Said Renee’  in May 2016.

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Vasilisa the Beautiful at the Hut of Baba Yaga, by Ivan Bilibin 1899, public domain image, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasilisa_the_Beautiful#/media/File:Vasilisa.jpg

My psychological mysteries have a mythical twist so I’m into visionary mirrors and mystical graveyards, suspect stalkers and symbolic objects. I’ve never sidled up to a ghost. But the idea to write a ghost story – as the prequel to the Selkie Moon mystery series – crept up on me, especially in the middle of the night – just like a … ghost.

Click here to continue reading: http://www.selkiemoon.com/la-bloguette/a-ghost-story-needs-a-ghost/

 

Review of Laying Ghosts by Virginia King, a new #FREE short story ebook

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Having read and enjoyed both of Virginia King’s novels in her Selkie Moon Mystery Series—The First Lie and The Second Path—I was both excited and flattered when Virginia approached me back in February asking if I’d like to read her 10,000 word short story prequel to the series, now titled Laying Ghosts. Of course I said I’d love to.

At the time that Virginia approached me she was still in the process of developing the manuscript and wanted my honest opinion on what I liked/didn’t like as a fan of the series.

One of the things that instantly struck me about the story was how well-developed Virginia’s characters are—I instantly recognised Selkie from the novels and could picture her friend Rina well. And, of course, the story as a whole was strong and required very little work from an editorial point of view. In fact, my desire to publicly offer my services as a development editor partially arose from my experience of working on Laying Ghosts with Virginia.

When Selkie Moon plays sick in order to get out of attending husband Andrew’s business conference in Vanuatu, she finds herself with a full four days to herself. She decides to settle in with a glass of wine and have an early night. But that all changes when she receives a mysterious text message on her phone, ‘Help me at Crystal Cottage. Rina.

While Selkie and Rina were once best friends, they’ve not spoken to each other since attending a sinister house party nearly four years ago, at a remote beach house called Crystal Cottage. When Selkie responds to the text, she receives the same message back. ‘Help me at Crystal Cottage. Rina.’ Uncertain as to what’s happening, Selkie decides to drive up to Crystal Cottage to meet her friend, and see if she’s okay.

When Selkie arrives, however, the house appears to be deserted. Or is it?

In Laying Ghosts, Virginia King slowly and tantalisingly reveals the mystery to her readers. As is usual with Virginia’s work, there are many layers to this story. A fantastic tale in its own right, it also provides a fascinating backdrop to Selkie’s later adventures.

Whether you’re interested in exploring the series, enjoying a great (free!) ghost story or have already read the novels but would like to know more about Selkie Moon, you’ll love Laying Ghosts.

“A strange message, a deserted beach house, a shocking incident from the past … Selkie Moon’s life will change forever.

When a text message from a long lost friend lures Selkie Moon to Crystal Cottage, the events from a house-party four years earlier wrap her in ghostly fingers and turn her life upside-down.

A prequel to the Selkie Moon Mystery Series plus your bonus first chapter of The First Lie.”

Laying Ghosts is available FREE from Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Laying-Ghosts-Selkie-Moon-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01LAFOIRE/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Laying-Ghosts-Selkie-Moon-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01LAFOIRE/

It’s also available from Barnes and Noble, Kobo and iBooks:

https://books2read.com/u/38DEy6

And from Virginia’s website: http://www.selkiemoon.com/laying-ghosts/

You can follow Virginia King on Twitter: @selkiemoonbooks

Like her page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/selkiemoonmysteries/

Check out Virginia’s website where you can also subscribe to her newsletter to be the first to hear about Selkie’s latest adventure: http://www.selkiemoon.com/

 

Review of Islanders by Teow Lim Goh

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If I don’t tell her story

we cannot see her,

and without a reason for her being,

how will we let her survive?

–from “Her Story,” page 71

As a follower of Conundrum Press—a small publishing house based in Denver, Colorado which specialises in quality, literary titles—I was very pleased to hear about the publication of this poetry collection back in July.

To give some background to the collection, between 1910 and 1940 as many as 175,000 Chinese immigrants were detained and processed at Angel Island Immigration Station which is just off the coast of San Francisco, California.[1] They had made the long, arduous and often dangerous journey from China to seek a better life in America, only to find themselves imprisoned under racist and discriminatory immigration laws designed to curtail the influx of Asian immigrants. Some were joining family members who had already immigrated, others were arriving with their families in tow, only to find themselves separated upon landing, sometimes forever in cases where one partner was allowed to remain while the other was immediately sent back to China (usually the wife).  Others were single and hoping to find work and create a life for themselves free from the poverty and hardship they’d experienced back home, as so many immigrants to America sought to do.

Many of these immigrants were detained for months or even years under harsh, prison-like conditions. Others were sent back to China, never to see their families again. Between interrogations by immigration officials—supposedly designed to test their credibility but in reality designed to exclude as many Chinese as possible—the immigrants languished in their overcrowded barracks. To help cope with their miserable conditions, many of them composed poetry upon the walls of their cells, some of it carved onto the wooden surface.

All of the poems on record come from the men’s barracks. The women’s poetry was destroyed by a fire which happened in 1940 and which resulted in the closure of Angel Island.

In this poignant and powerful collection, the lost voices of these women are imagined, remembered and brought to life for modern-day readers.

In the opening poem, ‘Angel Island,’ Goh recalls the legacy of the Chinese in America, ‘To the miners who sailed the Pacific / with dreams of golden rivers. / To the workers who built the railroads / over mountains and prairie skies. / To the farmers who made the desert bloom.’ She then contrasts the hardships they endured with her own relatively easy experience as a recent immigrant. ‘This is my history. / I crossed the sea. / I sat on a plane. / I came with the dream / of freedom / to speak / to believe.’

Goh then goes on to structure the collection in five sections.

In the first section, ‘Voices: Angel Island 1910-1940’, Goh imagines the experiences of the women who were imprisoned on Angel Island, waiting to go ashore and separated from their families. In the poem, ‘In a Wooden Building,’ she writes: ‘Each day we knit in silence, / socks for the children, / hats for the parents, / and our words swirl in the sea.’

‘The Waves’ tells a story about a young man whose father dies suddenly. In order to help support the family, he goes to America to work. When he makes enough money, the man returns to China, to marry his sweetheart and bring her to live with him in San Francisco. But when their ship docks in California, she is turned away, ‘There’s nothing / we can do. Foreign wife / of a Chinese merchant, your case / is automatically / denied.

In ‘Between the Sea and the Sky,’ a woman commits suicide while in Angel Island, and another tries to.

The second section is titled, ‘Echoes: San Francisco: 1910-1940.’ Here Goh tells the stories of the family members waiting for their loved ones in San Francisco. Some of these stories overlap, such as in ‘Letter Unsent,’ which is written from the point of view of the same Chinese merchant whose first wife was refused entry and who has now married for a second time, only to find his second wife detained at Angel Island for over a year. Also, in ‘Consolation,’ the husband of the woman who committed suicide, reflects on the experience. He is told she died of ‘causes unknown,’ but he knows the truth as he too has been on Angel Island and is aware of the terrible conditions there.

In ‘Tomorrow’ a man anticipates the joy of finally bringing his wife home. ‘I will hug you and never let you go. /  / I will bring you home to a feast.’

‘Work: Angel Island 1910-1940,’ includes the stories of those who were involved in running Angel Island. These include the privileged, smug and disdainful official whose decision changes lives for better or for worse. Then there are those officials who are the children of recent immigrants and who cannot help but see their own parents in the faces of the families who arrive. ‘In her eyes he sees his mother / fleeing a homeland plagued by famine, / huddled on Ellis Island.’ (‘Daydreams’) There is also the cleaner in ‘Housekeeping’ who tries her best to make sense of the words scribbled on the walls, having only recently learned to write herself.

In ‘Riot: San Francisco, July and August 1877,’ Goh skilfully and sensitively imagines the voices of all those who were involved in the Anti-Chinese riots. The Anti-Chinese riots happened during an economic downturn in the American economy when labourers, including those in trade unions, blamed the Chinese for the lack of available work, claiming that their willingness to work for reduced wages drove everyone’s pay down. Instead of trying to unionise the Chinese workers, they persecuted them instead.

She empathises with both the out-of-work labourers as well as the Chinese immigrants who’ve come to carve out a new life, much as many of those labourers did a generation before. ‘Maybe his wife just left him / in a string of shattered plates. / Maybe he’s looking for / something beyond himself, / a crowd he can become.’ (‘To Chinatown’) But Goh does not shy away from exposing their racism for what it is either. ‘I hear him tell the boy / he should count his blessing: / / unlike those dregs of Asia, / he was born to a worthy people,’ she writes in ‘Nob Hill’. In ‘Immolation’ she tells the tale of a Chinese man who committed suicide by overdosing on opium, unable to bear up any longer. A mob discovers him dying in an alley and stuffs the head of a duck down his throat.

In the final section and poem, ‘Pilgrimage’, Goh reflects on the history she shares with those long-ago immigrants as she herself pays a visit to Angel Island, ‘the borders we inhabit, the borders / we inherit, and in writing this story / / I find my way home.’

Islanders is a beautiful and remarkable collection, as important for the stories it tells as for the restrained and resonant way in which it tells them. Goh brings a little known piece of American history vividly to life and reminds us of how relevant this history is to our modern day experience of living in a world where people cross national boundaries every day in their search for a better life.

Readers can purchase Islanders direct from the publisher: https://squareup.com/store/conundrumpress/item/islanders

From Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Islanders-Teow-Lim-Goh/dp/1942280319/

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Islanders-Teow-Lim-Goh/dp/1942280319/

Learn more about Teow Lim Goh’s writing by visiting her website: https://teowlimgoh.com/ 

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My cat, Othello, enjoyed her poetry too.

[1] http://www.cetel.org/angel_poetry.html

 

Guest post by Peter Taylor-Gooby, author of The Baby Auction

Recently I was approached by fellow author and Book Connector Peter Taylor-Gooby about writing a post for my blog. Peter mentioned that he’s a social scientist by day and has a particular interest in what he calls ‘social science fiction’. As I found his ideas intriguing, I said yes. Here Peter tells us about the difficulties he encountered when planning his novel and gives a few tips which helped him along the way.

So, without further ado, I’ll hand over to Peter…

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credit: Sue Lakeman

What should come first in planning a novel – the characters or the plot?

Writing a novel is like building a house of cards: change one character, realign the plot just a tiny bit and it all comes tumbling down.

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image courtesy of Instability, public domain photo, taken by Daniele Pellati

As a newbie author I thought I wanted to write plot-driven fiction. My background’s in social science and I wanted to talk about issues of trust and empathy and how market capitalism weakens and distorts them. Imaginative writing is much more fun than writing academic articles (but much harder work). Then I found the characters I’d imagined wouldn’t do what I wanted them to – they’d suddenly say and do things that weren’t in the plot-line and the whole house of cards would collapse and have to be rebuilt.

The next attempt started out from characters. I thought them through, wrote sketches of them and set them off. Again I couldn’t control them. They developed and changed in ways that I really wanted to pursue, but at the cost of demolishing everything. Back to the starting point!

So how do you make your characters do what you want them to?  Three possible techniques:

  • Write backwards: (I’ve tried this in a number of short stories). You get the characters where you want them with all the loose ends tied up and the twists and turns unravelled and take them back. Problem: you find they couldn’t have been the same people you thought they were when they started out on this adventure. You think you’ve got control because you’ve fixed the end point, but that doesn’t mean you can tie down how everything starts off.
  • Shift point of view: if the character starts off in a direction you don’t want, you shift PoV away from them, so you see them from outside. You don’t have to deal with all the internal passions, hopes and feelings that drove them where they are going, they become a smaller part of the world and it’s your new PoV character you are wrestling with. Problem: if you are handling multiple PoVs the reader has to be prepared and the novel has to be structured around that approach. In any case, it’s often the characters you can’t control that are most interesting to the readers – and to you.
  • Try and work out what’s going on – why did this character in that situation say and do that? Why did they feel the way did, what were their emotions, their responses to the other characters? Did they change, or was there something else going on that you, the author, hadn’t initially understood? Now you’re getting somewhere (maybe).

These issues bear on how you think about the job of the author. To what extent is writing a matter of describing a world that’s in some sense already out there, of constructing it from one’s own imagination, or of exploring something that you don’t yet fully understand?

Novel-writing involves all three in different mixes. John Lanchester’s Capital, for example, rests very much on our shared conceptions of contemporary London and the plausible lives and feelings and aspirations of a range of people within it. It’s a world we are convinced is there and in a sense is being described, yet the people it includes are real because of Lanchester’s skill in realising them and that involves creative imagination. But it’s much more than simple imaginative creation. The people in the novel develop and the whole created world has a trajectory. The patterns of the novel (the story of the immigrant builder who finds a fortune and gives it up to the rightful owner, or of the aspirant artist who oversteps the mark and ends up in gaol with his life ruined) tell us new things about choice and the value of moral action even within the huge and diverse city, where at first sight anything goes.

So how to handle all this? In my current work I tried to side-step the choice between character and plot. I start with situations – vivid scenes in which people are interacting, which set them off in new direction, conflicts, debates, meetings, ceremonies – and try to get them on paper. Most go straight in the bin, but some are there, with their own life, on the page so powerfully that you can’t throw them away and that’s when you can start on the story. So it’s not a choice between character and plot – both emerge in interaction with each other. After all, how do you know someone’s character until you’ve seen them make choices in real situations?

Baby-Auction-work v2

Thanks very much for that fascinating article, Peter, and for the useful tips as well.

Readers, what do you think? And are you planners or ‘pantsters’? I, for one, agree with Peter that character and plot are intimately intertwined. And I find the idea of using fiction to explore ideas and change people’s perceptions about society to be an intriguing one. I’ll be adding The Baby Auction to my reading list.

Peter’s novel, The Baby Auction, is published by The Conrad Press and is available from Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Baby-Auction-Peter-Taylor-Gooby-ebook/dp/B01IKW9I3O/

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Baby-Auction-Peter-Taylor-Gooby-ebook/dp/B01IKW9I3O/ 

It is also available to purchase direct from the publisher: http://theconradpress.com/

About Peter:
My novels deal with how people live their lives and relate to each other in the modern globalised capitalist world. In The Baby Auction Ed and Matt must find a way to lead a passionate, humane and generous life in a world run entirely on market principles, in which no-one can understand that caring for someone else might be a motive.
In my day job I write academic texts (for example The Double Crisis of the Welfare State). My work shows how globalised market capitalism generates inequalities between haves and have-nots and promotes a corrosive individualism that stunts our capacity for empathy, charity and love. People live for themselves and their families and vote for more privatisation and less redistribution and against the welfare state.
I enjoy hill-walking, riding my bike, holidays and looking after my grand-daughter (not in that order). I became interested in social policy issues after working on adventure playgrounds, teaching, claiming benefits and working in a social security office in Newcastle. I’ve worked in the UK, most European countries, Canada, the US, China, Korea and Japan, Australia and South Africa.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Taylor-Gooby
Follow Peter on Twitter: @PeterT_G
Like his page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheBabyAuction/