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.

Ghostbird
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/

 

 

 

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My review of Sandlands by Rosy Thornton

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At that, the crease smoothed away and she smiled at him. ‘Oh, don’t worry, we’re still appalling know-it-alls. We dig things up, but then we photograph and catalogue, record and document, and as often as not we put things back. It’s not the finds so much as the findings. Not the objects but the stories they tell.’

Sandlands is a collection of sixteen linked short stories, all taking place in and around the small coastal village of Blaxhall in an area known as the Sandlings in Suffolk, England. Life and death, past and present, overlap in these stories, coming full circle. The victories, losses and betrayals of past generations come back to haunt the present, forever imprinted upon both the physical landscape as well as the realm of memory and imagination.

In ‘Nightingale’s Return,’ birdsong fills the air as a recently retired clerk travels from his native Italy to visit the farm in Suffolk where his father worked as a prisoner of war during World War Two. In ‘Mad Maudlin,’ one of the more unsettling stories in the collection, a pub lodger stays up late to compare old video footage of the pub from decades before. ‘Silver Studded Blues’ is a story of regeneration and renewal and the surprises which nature sometimes brings, wrapped up in the story of a man who has spent his entire life in (nearly) the same place.

Thornton’s stories are quiet, delicate and full of wonder. They slowly weave their way into your heart, where they remain.  They are poignant, poetic, lush with the landscape, wildlife and history of Blaxhall and beautifully written but, above all, they are perfect. By perfect I mean perfectly composed—each word earns its place, and then some. Each character, each setting, each paragraph hearkens back to another, lending a satisfying, almost musical, quality of resonance within the stories and, indeed, within the collection.

As I read, I found myself turning each story over, wondering what had really happened. This wasn’t because the writing was unclear at any point but more a result of the writer wanting the reader to make his or her own mind up as to what had occurred. Thornton’s stories are multi-layered and nuanced in such a way that they lend themselves to varying interpretations, a feature I very much enjoyed.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Thornton’s work and, perhaps, even visiting the Sandlings someday.

Sandlands is published by Sandstone Press and is available from Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B017KU9E9K/ 

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Sandlands-Rosy-Thornton-ebook/dp/B017KU9E9K/

You can follow Rosy Thornton on Twitter: @rosy_thornton

Visit her website: http://rosythornton.com/

 

Interview with Denise Ersalahi Erguler, author of children’s fantasy novel The Adventures of Shifting Jack

 

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I’m delighted to be welcoming the talented Cypriot children’s author Denise Ersalahi Erguler to the blog today to talk about her novel, The Adventures of Shifting Jack, which is released today as an ebook. My review follows the interview.

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credit: Olkan Erguler

Welcome, Denise!

Firstly, could you please describe the story for readers?

Yes with pleasure, it is about a family of bird shifters that have been in hiding moving from country to country

What’s the inspiration behind The Adventures of Shifting Jack?

I had an idea for an adult fantasy novel rattling in my mind for a while, so I decided to write my book called The Essence. It’s about a planet called Nageena. Fiona, an interior designer, is kidnapped by  aliens who are hoping Fiona can help them with the civil war that is killing their planet. They picked up on Fiona’s unique brain waves – she has empathic abilities – but it doesn’t help the civil war as they have a problem with the planet’s defence system. Fiona meets the man of her dreams, literally. She has been dreaming of a man since she was a little girl. In her dreams they grew up together, and now she meets him in the flesh. However, she doesn’t feel anything for him. Even worse it looks like he hates her!

The Denizens of planet Nageena are shape shifters, they host a symbiant entity called The Essence, which allows them to shift into various animals.

My son wanted to know what I had written about, so I told him the clean version. His face lit up when I told him about shifting, so I thought I would write a shifting story for children.

Jack and his father, Militis, are shape shifters—half breeds. What appealed to you about shapeshifters and, for those who don’t know what a shapeshifter is, could you please describe one?

A shape shifter is being that can change their body into another shape like a human into a bear, or bird.

One of the things I took away from my reading of the book is the value of respecting nature and being kind to animals, and each other. This is a very important message, especially for young children. Did you consciously weave this lesson, and others, into the book?

Yes, Mother Nature needs to be looked after better. It’s always easier to start with children of a young age, you would be surprised what they pick up on.

How long did it take you to write the story and what obstacles did you encounter along the way?

It’s been three years since I wrote my first word. The biggest obstacle we came across was when I was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer. Since then I have been focusing on getting better–my writing has taken the back seat for now.

Once your first draft was written, did you have a lot of rewriting to do? Could you talk readers through your writing process?

First I wrote a basic outline, then I expanded that into chapters. Once it was finished I passed it on to Anne Hamilton to edit. Once I had her feedback I changed one scene and added other scenes and events.

The story is written in close third-person, from nine-year-old Jack’s perspective. Did you find it difficult to write from a child’s viewpoint, and what challenges did you come across as a result?

I didn’t find it difficult to write as a nine-year old, as I have a nine-year old boy myself.

How did you come to writing? Have you always enjoyed storytelling?

 I’m a dreamer, sometimes I think I’m away with the fairies more than I am on earth. I lived in The Essence story for over a year. It was hard to end the book.

Are there any future novels in the works?

Yes, I’ve just started to plan out the second Shifting Jack of the series.

Thank you for the interview and a big congratulations on the publication of The Adventures of Shifting Jack!

Readers can obtain The Adventures of Shifting Jack from: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01I5GAMNA

You can follow Denise on Twitter at: @Denise_Jack16

Catch up with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Denise-Erguler-Author

My review of The Adventures of Shifting Jack

Nine-year-old Jack and eight-year-old Lily move with their parents, Linda and Militis, to Turkish Cyprus, uncertain of what to expect from their new school and home. The family has already moved numerous times for Militis’s work. Jack and Lily have become used to switching schools and not having friends. As a result, Lily is shy and withdrawn and Jack feels it’s his duty to look out for her; Lily is all he has in terms of a playmate. Linda worries about them and wishes they could stay put for once.

When Linda takes the kids to their new school, she’s impressed. The staff and students are welcoming and friendly, far more so than those at the previous schools they attended. Lily makes a friend almost immediately—Bahar—whose mother also reaches out to Linda. Before they realise it both families have become close.

As the kids are playing on the playground one afternoon, a small earthquake hits. Jack reaches out to try and help Lily escape from a falling swing-set when something remarkable happens—his hand turns into a claw and grows feathers. When it changes back again, he thinks he must have imagined it.  But Militis confesses to Jack that they’re shifters—creatures who are both human and bird. Jack knows he’s finally figured out why his family have always seemed different to him.

Unfortunately, Bahar’s father, Ali, is a hunter—an activity which Jack’s family is firmly opposed to. When it comes to light that Ali isn’t only a hunter but is also being blackmailed by foreign poachers, Jack and Militis decide to get involved by using their shifting powers to help. But will they be too late? And will Jack ever master his shifting, or will he end up getting himself, and his family, into trouble?

The Adventures of Shifting Jack is a delightfully imaginative fable for middle-grade children whose fresh and different perspective will also appeal to their parents.

Review of My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante (Book 1 of the Neapolitan Novels series) translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein

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Naturally we were improvising. In the course of that back and forth I tried to understand what was really going through Lila’s head, so as to be in tune with her goals.

Lila, aka Raffaella Cerullo, and Lenù, aka Elena Greco, have been best friends since they were small enough to believe their dolls were speaking to them. They grew up together in the same impoverished neighbourhood in Naples, with its overcrowded tenements, domestic abuse, and never-ending struggle of its inhabitants to survive.

Lenù and Lila are constantly in danger of being pulled out of school, their families needing the money that an extra worker could bring in. Early on, their teacher, Maestra Oliviero, recognises Lila’s intelligence, which enables her to continue her education. Lenù, jealous of the attention her friend has received and eager to please the teacher, aims to match her abilities, thereby gaining her place at the school too. And so begins a friendly rivalry which continues for the remainder of their lives, and which, ironically, enables them to thrive in this harsh, patriarchal society.

With a lively cast of characters–from the foreboding, mysterious and ever-dreaded Don Achille, who runs the grocery store, to that of Melina, a love-sick, hysterical widow, and even Marcello Solara, the local big-shot who is the first to purchase a car and parade it through the streets trying to pick up local girls–Ferrante imbues potentially depressing scenes with a sense of vibrancy and passion. While the story is told in first-person, from Lenù’s perspective, the narrative arc of all of her characters is shown. The masterful cohesiveness of this story, combined with Ferrante’s strikingly intimate and detailed prose, brought this small section of Naples to life for me. Indeed, Lila and Lenù’s struggles seemed to mirror that of their entire neighbourhood, which in turn mirrored that of Naples itself.

I look forward to reading the rest of this immersive and engaging series.

Literary Laryngitis by Poppy Peacock

Today I’m pleased to welcome fellow writer and blogger, Poppy Peacock, to the blog.

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I have a confession. Well, two actually… I didn’t spend my, ok arguably misspent, youth with my nose in a book. I did read, from rib-tickling escapism to rousing expeditions but sporadically rather than emphatically.

I haven’t yearned to write since being knee-high either, as many writers often profess; I was more of a talker. Writing was mostly formal and confined to official documentation & business reports; any creativity only leaked into odd letters & emails to far flung friends and relatives in a voice very different to my work one. When writing about my news & happenings I tended to write the way I spoke – strong regional accent laced with local dialect & idiolect of the North East of England – and definitely NOT always grammatically correct.

Then sudden, severe illness all but silenced me in 2004. For cognitive rehabilitation – and to keep the gibbering-n-twitching at bay– I began studying with the Open University. Initially I stayed in my medical-background comfort zone; then I ventured into Literature & Creative WritingReader, I was hooked!

During my first three years with the OU I did 3 Creative Writing modules: A174 Start Writing Fiction, A215 Creative Writing and A363 Advanced Creative Writing and thoroughly enjoyed every minute.

My creative voice was very much being formed from extending my correspondent, not professional, habits. I certainly got the best feedback – and marks – when I used my native tongue, rather than a strained RP narrative, and characters with familiar social backgrounds.

Here’s an example of one of the first pieces of life writing I fictionalised for an activity:

Chapter 1 : I am born

            ‘Dimples to die for’ Nana S sighs wistfully.

            ‘Fat as butter, just like her mother’ spits Nana P; Dad’s mam obviously.

            ‘Missed nowt’ chuckles me Dad.

            ‘Humph, I wouldn’t know’ huffs me Mam.

It is with these comments, rung out religiously with the habitual presentation of the one – and only – faded Polaroid,  I can deduce how I appeared on my big outing; and according to old Mrs Edna next door – neighbour and fiercesome midwife – did them all out of a good Co-op Ham Tea. Her prediction of my demise was premature.

By all accounts I certainly wasn’t; I kept them waiting just short of three weeks. After days of Mam writhing and kneading that starchy bed, my best effort produced a solitary foot; as if dipping in a toe and deciding against any further venture. The painful recollection never dims with time. She still describes the inhumane suffering, heels and palms rubbed raw, the howling, until they finally conceded to a quick abdominal exit. Rudely levered and yanked from my cocoon the forceps bruised a nerve so for the first few days I slept with one eye open.

‘A flock of hair, rich like any coal face’ crows me Dad.

‘Like the wether of a prize ewe’ simpers Nana S.

‘Aye, but a black sheep, nevertheless’ prickles Nana P.

But like Mam said – she never saw that. Wrung through and spent, she was left limp in that bed whilst I was whisked off to another bubble four floors up.

‘That’s why we never bonded,’ Mam’s favourite retort; aired at every disagreeance.

I got a great response and encouragement to continue in my own everyday voice, although it wasn’t always grammatically correct and I used certain colloquial words, odd sentence structure and even made-up words: ‘disagreeance’ caused a mini-storm! Many agreed it sounded natural but some couldn’t get past it should technically be disagreement.

At the end of Year 2 I adapted and grew this piece into a complete short story (Frontline, which you can read over on Poppy’s blog:  http://poppypeacockpens.com/) keeping the narrative very much in my natural regional tongue. After receiving a distinction, I was encouraged to submit it to a competition – I chose The Yellow Room: a women’s literary magazine edited by Jo Derrick – and was chuffed to bits to get 3rd place and see it published!

I also submitted two other short stories and got one win and a highly commended… the first published online.

During the Advanced Course in Year Three, my strengths were again nurturing my natural voice while learning about various other media forms too – such as short films & radio plays – I knew then I really wanted to persevere with my own writing.

Now came the crunch bit… although I only joined the OU for cognitive physio I was loving the learning environment and passing assignments & modules was a great boost to my morale and self-esteem; being stuck at home due to ill health is very isolating and through studying I was meeting like-minded folk online who have become great friends (though I’ve still yet to actually meet most of them).

At 17, I dropped out of school during ‘A’ levels to nurse where there was very minimal classroom time; at the very least 80% of the time was spent working 45hr weeks in placement. With the OU the new world of academia was appealing and I succumbed to further literature modules – to attain a degree – but mainly believing it would enhance my appreciation & aptitude for writing.

And I have no doubt it has helped; through these modules I’ve learned so much about different authors through the ages for many genres, styles of writing and narrative techniques. But my creative writing dwindled due to the demands of studying and writing critical essays; by the time I finished Uni in 2013, I hadn’t written any fresh stories for quite a while.

By the end of that summer I missed the routine of study – having M.E. I have to try and do some kind of cognitive activity every day to battle brain fog. Interested in possibly pursuing a career in writing/editing etc I wanted to explore the industry and a friend suggested Twitter… WOW! What a fantastic find!

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these last 18 months; Twitter is a brilliant resource for meeting so many good folk and being introduced to so many good books I never really appreciated existed, but it can be very time consuming, not to mention expensive! My book buying habit has excelled!

As for my own writing, I keep starting new pieces and rehashing old pieces but really struggle to get anything I’m truly happy with. I’m finding it hard not to be influenced by all this reading and question what my own voice is actually like now. It’s definitely a case of my academic voice – sitting on my shoulder like some stuffy old crow – nagging and pecking at my creative voice; the latter being far more laid back and colloquial but definitely muffled. Spookily, as Kendra and I talked about this, there was an excellent post from Tara Guha on the very subject:

http://lindasbookbag.com/2015/10/15/guest-post-by-tara-guha-author-of-untouchable-things/

I certainly don’t want to stop reading but I do want to find the right balance so I can write again, comfortably! So, I set up my blog poppypeacockpens.com to record and review what I’m reading, document what I’m writing and best of all liaise with like-minded folk for companionship; it feels like the perfect way to strike the right balance between developing academic skills but most importantly, nurture the return of my natural storytelling voice.

Thank you, Poppy, for a fascinating post. And I have to admit I found it very interesting that you don’t come from a writing background–I would never have guessed it from reading your work. 

You can find out more about Poppy by reading/following her blog: http://poppypeacockpens.com/ 

She is also on Twitter and Facebook.