Friday, 16 December 2016

BOOK CLUB: A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards

This month on Book Club, we discuss A Cupboard Full of Coats, by Yvvette Edwards

About the author

Yvvette Edwards is a London author of Caribbean heritage. She is the author of two novels - A Cupboard Full of Coats and The Mother. Her books are peopled by characters who, as she said in an interview for Foyles, “speak in ways I recognize, like people whose roots were forged in the Caribbean who have made their permanent homes here in the UK."

About the Book

A Cupboard Full of Coats is a story of domestic abuse and the way its consequences reverberate down through the years. We see events unfold, not through the eyes of the abused woman, but through the eyes of her daughter, Jinx – sixteen at the time of her mother’s murder and now thirty – and Lemon (short for Philemon), a family friend.

The adult Jinx is emotionally shut down, her relationship with her son and ex-husband in tatters, when Lemon arrives on her doorstep, determined to unearth the past she has tried so hard to bury. Bit by bit, we piece together the events that led up to her mother’s death. As the heartbreaking significance of that cupboard full of coats is revealed, we start to glimpse Jinx and Lemon’s own roles in the tragedy.


A Cupboard Full of Coats is a tender telling of an all-too-common tragedy. How did you find this way of approaching what could be a very difficult subject?

(GEH) I think the author has been very clever in the style she used and the balance is spot on. Gripping, real, thought-provoking and emotional without a hint of melodrama. Getting to know and understand Jinx as an adult gave us an insight into her teenage years from a totally different perspective. The most emotive part for me was the cupboard full of coats - but I don't want to add any spoilers here. Just read it!

(JJ) For me, Edwards's skill is in how much she reveals and how. I saw it as less of an all-too-common tragedy, but all-too-common outcome of tragic events. A damaged child grows into a damaged adult and only has one version of the story. This book is unusual in how it thaws and unpacks those frozen perspectives.

The novel is set in Hackney in East London, but the older generation of characters are all immigrants from the tiny Caribbean island of Monserrat, and the language and rhythms of the island permeate the story. How did you feel that worked? Did it draw you in?

(GEH) Okay, so I listened to the Audiobook version and I thought the narrator was amazing with a capital A! I loved all the voices, particularly Lemon and the teenage friend, Sam. It totally enhanced the story for me, added depth to the characters and drew me into the lifestyle of Hackney at the time.

(JJ) I read the book, but I'm a massive fan of voice, especially when done this well. I know nothing about Monserrat, although felt I had learnt much by the end of the book. The language, rhythms, culture and cadence all had an effect on the pace, which felt relaxing and easing, Ideal for a book which unties old knots.

Edwards’ writing is profoundly sensual–whether she is describing Lemon dancing, plaiting cornrows into Jinx’s hair, or the coats themselves, still carrying the lingering scent of her mother, moulding to her naked shape as perfectly as second skin. Were there particular images that stood out for you?

(GEH) I was going to say the coats first and foremost, but also the description of the Caribbean style food and drink Lemon created and the lyrical way his movements added to the experience. One image is the description of pumpkin soup he cooked, the colour, richness and taste came across borderline erotic. Jinx was an unusual narrator because her inner battles gave differing accounts of the same thing - but with Lemon she couldn't hide her feelings. And on the same note, the sex scenes, I thought were perfectly balanced with enough eroticism and realism to bring the images alive for the reader. Excellent job!

(JJ) The most striking moments are when the sensual echoes the emotional and exposes the emptiness Jinx is only dimly aware she has. The description of her licking the gravy even when the plate was clean struck me as reflective of someone starved, but not of gravy. The echoes of childhood sensory experiences comfort an adult who is convinced she has no need of them. This was an incredibly powerful theme and made the book rich in its subtlety.

Food plays a central role – the scents and tastes of the food Lemon cooks, creating a bridge between Jinx and her past. Saltfish cakes and plantain, “red mullet, perfectly fried, crisp and salty on the outside, moist and steaming on the inside.” Sorrel and Guinness punch. Pumpkin soup, “saffron coloured and bursting with flavour, with small soft pieces of yam and sweet potato and green banana and tania seed and chewy torpedo dumplings.” Why do you think Edwards makes it so important?

(GEH) Yes, as I touched on in the previous answer, I loved the references to the food and it added a colourful and interesting layer to the characters and the story. I think for the author it may have been a nod to her culture, to the importance of food in their family life, how Caribbean family life revolved around food traditions and she wanted to bring this into modern-day Hackney and Jinx's story. And also, maybe to show some comfort amid the cruelty that surrounded Jinx and her mother on a day to day basis, that they had their love of food there no matter how bad life got for them.

(JJ) Food is something I always notice in books and use liberally in my own writing. For me, it is a key aspect of conjuring the environment. This is one aspect of what Edwards does but as Gilly says, there's a deeper sense of identity involved with these tastes and flavours. Preparing food for someone shows love and care and dedication. These meals are an embrace, another way to give someone a hug. A striking element of the cook and cooked-for is how Jinx opens up to the joy of eating these foods. For someone so apparently closed, she abandons herself to the simple act of eating, while the reader feels the layers of distance peel away.

How did the central image of the cupboard full of coats work for you?

(GEH) I thought the title of the novel was unusual, and even the first time Jinx went to that cupboard in her mother's bedroom, I thought it was just a matter of needing them for comfort. But as the layers of the story were gradually peeled away, and the truth revealed, I found it heart breaking. I had pictures of her mother's bruised face, forced smiles and the dread every time a new coat appeared.

(JJ) It fits. Not just because of why the coats and where they came from, but again, the sensuality of these arms, these soft fabrics, these symbols of comfort in more than one way. I also felt a resonance with the concept of cupboard or closet. Closed doors where something scary might lurk. A portal to another world, where imagination can escape. Or simply as a place to hide.

Without giving too much away, did you find the revelation of Jinx’s and Lemon’s role in the tragedy believable? Satisfying?

(GEH) Yes, both. Lemon's role I found totally believable, the balance between love and hate is a fragile one, particularly when weighted by jealousy. With Jinx I did wonder if such a simple act of childhood rebellion would really have left her so scarred and guilt-ridden. But in hindsight, without knowing about Lemon's involvement too, yes, I can see how it would have built up until she felt the whole weight on her own shoulders. I liked the conclusion, the visit to the family grave and reconciliation with her son. It was very cleverly portrayed.

(JJ) Their roles in the tragedy, whilst vital to the story, were less significant than what they believed and the stories they told themselves. The satisfaction comes from changing the patterns of thought, blame and self-regard. When a defining event turns out to be not what you thought, you have to change your own story. You re-define. As the book shows, it sometimes requires a blast from the past to comprehend your role.

Do you think the ending contains some promise of healing and redemption for the two central characters?

(GEH) Lemon - I don't know. From the tending of the grave, he clearly had lived with a lot of remorse. I am not sure he feels he deserves redemption and as we had no hint of where he went to, I'm not sure what his future ends. For Jinx, yes, I think the skeletons of her past have been firmly buried now and she can see a future where she can love and trust and live ... finally.

(JJ) Yes. Both let go of something - guilt, remorse, unfinished business and dealt with the shadow hanging over them. Edwards hints at a stony path ahead and so it should be. Recalibrating a life does not happen in one weekend, which is what Jinx must do. As for Lemon, his visit may have lifted Jinx, but his own trajectory, freed of baggage, is unclear.

The book reminded me of Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan in the way that it peeled back layers of guilt and remorse. What other novels would you compare it with and why?

(GEH) I've had to think about this one ... and the first book that came to mind, maybe because of a similarity in style was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Characters who are moulded by family secrets and lies that leave them burdened with guilt that is slowly revealed to the reader. And another book I enjoyed recently that had similar issues of grief and guilt that were slowly revealed was I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. A twist in the middle turns that book on its head, but we still see the aftermath of an event that completely changed a person's life before we learn about the event and the consequences. A real skill for an author to achieve.

(JJ) Gilly's spot on there with Khaled Hosseini. He explores loyalty and self-preservation perfectly in The Kite Runner. Three books came to my mind, the first being Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Completely different in tone, location and characters, but the spectre of grief as physical struck home. Sophie's Choice, by William Styron, moves from the collective guilt to the personal in one moment which destroys every participant. And A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride. Her blend of remorse and regret is as physical, cultural, painful and emotionally agonising.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Revisiting the Triskele Lit Fest 5/5: Preserving the Unicorn

The last session of September's Triskele Lit Fest was the intriguingly-titled "Preserving the Unicorn," a conversation with literary authors and their editors, chaired by Catriona Troth.

Participants Sunny Singh, Alex Pheby and his editor Sam Jordison, and Rohan Quine and his editor Dan Holloway talked about their influences and inspirations, and the process of editing a literary novel.

A discussion that roams from Dante's Inferno to Freudian psychoanalysis, Martin Scorsese to Gustav Klimpt, A Clockwork Orange to Dick van Dyke (in the space of one sentence!), and Derrida to Salman Rushdie.

Watch the full panel here:

Part way through, Alex Pheby throws out a challenge to the audience. "No one ever comes back to me on this," he says. "I dunno," says the chair, "I know some of this lot." On the day, we ran out of time to follow through on this, but audience member, Orna Ross (who had been on the Hist Fic panel earlier in the day) did come back with the series of questions for Alex. We are hoping to persuade him to respond to those questions in Words with Jam in the New Year.

You can watch all the videos from TLF16 on our YouTube Channel.

Rohan Quine is a writer of literary fiction with a touch of magical realism and a dusting of horror, celebrating the beauty, darkness and mirth of this predicament called life, where we seem to have been dropped without sufficient consultation ahead of time.

Publications: The Imagination Thief (novel); The Platinum Raven, The Host in the Attic, Apricot Eyes, and Hallucination in Hong Kong (four novellas); and the upcoming Beasts of Electra Drive, now barrelling down the pipeline.

Rohan's editor, Dan Holloway is a poet, novelist, journalist, editor and performer. Dan loves the writing and research process but comes into his own when given a microphone. He is the rabble rouser in chief of The New Libertines, who have been touring the UK’s festivals and fringes since 2011. In 2010, he won the international spoken prose show Literary Death Match and competed at the 2016 UK National Poetry Slam Final at the Royal Albert Hall.

He also runs the editing and copywriting business Rogue Interrobang, working with academics and non-fiction writers.

Sunny Singh is an author and journalist. She also teaches creative writing at London Metropolitan University.

One unusual aspect to the development of her novel, Hotel Arcadia, was the role of Sunny’s Dutch translator in the editing process.

Sunny was born in India, and has lived in Pakistan, Spain, South Africa, Latin America and the US.

Alex Pheby was born in Essex, but moved to Worcester in his early childhood. He currently lives with his wife and two children in London, where he teaches at the University of Greenwich. Playthings was described as "simply a superb novel" in the Literary Review, "compelling" in the Guardian, glowingly reviewed throughout the UK press, and shortlisted for the 2016 Wellcome Prize.

Alex's Editor, Sam Jordison is a journalist, publisher and writer. He is the co-director of award-winning Galley Beggar Press. He writes for The Guardian and TLS. He is the author of several works of non-fiction, his latest is called Literary London and is co-written with Eloise Millar.

The panel was chaired by Catriona Troth, who is a member of the Triskele Books author collective and the author of two novels, Ghost Town and Gift of the Raven. She writes regularly for Words with Jam magazine, where she has particularly enjoyed interviewing authors like Sunny Singh, Leye Adenle,  Michelle Innis and Myles E Johnson.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Revisiting the Triskele Lit Fest 4/5: Historical Fiction Panel

The fourth of our five panels at the Triskele Lit Fest focused on Historical Fiction.

Our panelists' novels cover a huge spectrum, both geographically and chronologically - from 3rd Century Syria to early 20th Century Ireland, from the Partition of India to the Roman Empire re-imagined in the 1960s.

Here you can watch novelist Jane Davis talk to Orna Ross, Radhika Swarup, JD Smith and Alison Morton.

Next week: Preserving the Unicorn - literary authors and their editors.
And you can listen to our earlier panels (Sci Fi, Crime and Romance) on our YouTube channel.

Orna Ross writes novels, poems and the Go Creative! books and is Director of the Alliance of Independent Authors.

After the Rising and Before the Fall are the first two of a trilogy of novels set in Ireland during the early 20th Century.

Her Secret Rose is the first of her trilogy about the poet WB Yeats.

Alison Morton writes Roman-themed alternative history thrillers with strong heroines. Three of the series, Successio, Aurelia and Insurrectio, have been selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices. Aurelia was a finalist for the prestigious HNS Indie Award for 2016. The first four books have been awarded the BRAG Medallion.

A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison has misspent decades of holidays clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. She holds a MA History, blogs about Romans and administers the HNS Facebook group.

Jane is the author of the HNS Indie Award 2016 finalist Tristan and Iseult and The Overlord series, comprising The Rise of Zenobia, The Fate of an Emperor and The Better of Two Men. The Rebel Queen is due out in early 2017

She is a member of the Triskele Books collective, editor of the writers' ezine Words with JAM, and the readers' review site Bookmuse.

She is also an award-winning book cover designer.

And she loves cake. Just in case you were wondering.

Radhika Swarup spent a nomadic childhood in India, Italy, Qatar, Pakistan, Romania and England, which gave her a keen sense for the dispossessed. She read Economics at Cambridge, following which she worked in investment banking before turning to writing. 

She has written opinion pieces for Indian broadsheets and the Huffington Post as well as short stories for publications including the Edinburgh Review.
Where the River Parts is her first novel.

The Historical Fiction panel was chaired by author, Jane Davis. Jane is the author of six novels, including the historical novel, I Stopped Time. Her writing has been compared with Kate Atkinson and Maggie O'Farrell.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Revisiting the Triskele Lit Fest 3/5: Crime and Thrillers

The third panel at the Triskele Lit Fest on 17th December was Crime and Thrillers.

Here you can watch Ben Cameron in conversation with Kate Hamer, Adam Croft and Chris Longmuir. Ever heard of Grip Lit? Know what Devil's Porridge is? Find out here!

The conspicuous empty chair on the right belongs to Nigerian author, Leye Adenle, who at the last minute was prevented from joining us. Catriona Troth caught up with him a little later, and you can read her interview with him here.

Next week: Historical Fiction. And you can also watch our Sci Fi and Fantasy  and Romance panels.

Adam Croft is a British author, principally of crime fiction, best known for the Kempston Hardwick mysteries and Knight & Culverhouse thrillers as well as his 2015 worldwide bestselling psychological thriller, Her Last Tomorrow, which became one of the biggest selling books of the year with over 150,000 copies sold in the first five months.

His books have sold more than half a million copies around the world, and in 2016 he was featured by The Guardian as one of the biggest selling authors of the year, and regularly takes part in discussions and panels on publishing and the future of books.

Chris Longmuir is an award winning novelist. She is best known for her Dundee Crime Series, featuring DS Bill Murphy. Night Watcher, the first book in the series, won the SAW (Scottish Association of Writers) Pitlochry Award, and the sequel, Dead Wood, won the Dundee International Book Prize, as well as the Pitlochry Award. 

Kate Hamer grew up in Pembrokeshire. She did a Creative Writing MA at Aberystwyth University and the Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course.
She won the Rhys Davies short story award in 2011 and her winning story was read out on Radio 4. She has recently been awarded a Literature Wales bursary. She lives in Cardiff with her husband and two children.
Her debut novel, The Girl in the Red Coat, was a Sunday Times top ten bestseller. Her second novel, The Doll Funeral is out in 2017. You can read our review of it on BookMuseUK.

The Crime and Thrillers panel was chaired by Ben Cameron. Ben is the Founder and Managing Director of Cameron Publicity and Marketing. He has over 20 years experience in book publishing, promotion and sales with both traditional publishers and self-published authors. Ben is also a well-regarded speaker and writer on publishing and contributes to The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, Writing Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Self-publishing Magazine and others.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Revisiting the Triskele Lit Fest 2/5: Romance Panel

On the second panel from the Triskele Lit Fest 2016, four very different authors discussed Romance writing with Triskele Books member Liza Perrat. What classifies a book as 'Romance'? Can men write Romance, and what happens when they do? And what are the secrets of their writing craft?

Watch the whole panel here!

With Carol Cooper, Sareeta Domingo, Charlie Maclean and Isabel Wolff.*
(With apologies for the poor quality of sound for the questions from the audience)

This time next week: Crime and Thrillers. And you can watch our Sci Fi and Fantasy panel here.

Carol Cooper is a doctor, journalist, and novelist. She writes for The Sun newspaper and teaches medical students at Imperial College.
After a string of trade-published non-fiction books and an award-winning medical text, she chose self-publishing for her fiction debut Night at the Jacaranda. Her latest novel, Hampstead Fever, came out in June. Her novels are all about Londoners looking for love, and they’re laced with inside medical knowledge.

 Sareeta Domingo was born in Camberwell, South East London but spent her formative years in Bahrain, when her family moved there for her father's job. She currently works as a senior editor at a creative book packager by day, and squeezes writing into her mornings, evenings and weekends. She writes reviews of contemporary romance titles on her blog, The Palate Cleanser.
The Nearness of You is her debut novel.

Unforgettable, Charlie Maclean’s sparkling debut novel, is a captivating contemporary romance set in present-day London with an irresistible Sliding Doors concept. National press coverage, rave reviews and an award-shortlisted cover looks set to make it one of the breakout books of 2016. This literary-romantic drama is Charlie Maclean’s first full-length novel. He studied English Literature and Law before working in public relations and business. Charlie is currently writing the screenplay for Unforgettable and working on his next novel, another romance, this time set in the seaside city of Brighton and Hove.

Isabel Wolff is a former BBC radio reporter whose ten bestselling novels include Rescuing Rose, Behaving Badly, A Vintage Affair',and Ghostwritten, all published by HarperCollins. Isabel lives in London with her family.

The Romance Panel was chaired by Liza Perrat, A Triskele Books member, Liza grew up in Australia, where she worked as a nurse and midwife. She has now been living in France for 20 years, and writes historical novels set in France and Australia, and reviews books for Bookmuse.

(*With apologies for the poor quality of sound for the questions from the audience.)

Friday, 11 November 2016

Revisiting the Triskele Lit Fest (1/5): Sci Fi and Fantasy

On 17th September, 2016, the Triskele Lit Fest kicked off with five authors talking about Sci Fi and Fantasy. Chairman Jack Wedgbury explored their love for the genre, their inspirations, the secrets of their writing practices and more with Felicia Yap, CS Wilde, Jeff Norton, Eliza Green and Yen Ooi.

If you weren't able to join us on the day, here is your chance to watch the full panel!

Come back this time next week to see discussion with Romance authors Sareeta Domingo, Carol Cooper, Isabel Wolff and Charlie Maclean!

The Authors

C.S. Wilde wrote her first Fantasy novel when she was eight. That book was absolutely terrible, but her mother told her it was awesome, so she kept writing.
Now a grown-up (though many will beg to differ), C. S. Wilde writes about fantastic worlds, love stories larger than life and epic battles. She also, quite obviously, sucks at writing an author bio. She finds it awkward that she must write this in the third person and hopes you won’t notice.

Eliza Green tried her hand at fashion designing, massage, painting, and even ghost hunting, before finding her love of writing. After earning her degree in marketing, she went on to work in everything but marketing, but swears she uses it in everyday life, or so she tells her bank manager.
Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, Eliza lives there with her sci-fi loving, evil genius boyfriend. When not working on her next amazing science fiction adventure, you can find her reading, indulging in new food at an amazing restaurant or simply singing along to something with a half decent beat.

Felicia Yap grew up in Kuala Lumpur. She read biochemistry at Imperial College London, followed by a doctorate in history (and a half-blue in competitive ballroom dancing) at Cambridge University. She has written for The Economist and the Business Times. She has also been a radioactive-cell biologist, a war historian, a Cambridge lecturer, a technology journalist, a theatre critic, a flea-market trader and a catwalk model.
Felicia lives in London and is a recent graduate of the Faber Academy's novel-writing programme. Her debut novel The Day After Tomorrow, a high-concept thriller, will be published by Headline in 2017.
Jeff Norton is an award-winning author, writer-producer, and founder of AWESOME. His books include the high-tech ‘MetaWars,’ the comedic ‘Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie,’ and the best-selling ‘Princess Ponies.’ He is an Executive Producer on the hit pre-school show ‘Trucktown’ and has shows in development with DHX, Amazon, and Nickelodeon.
Previously, Jeff worked at Chorion Ltd where he acquired and developed new projects and ran the Enid Blyton literary estate. Before moving to the UK, he produced the award-winning ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ movie featuring William H. Macy and FrankieMuniz.

Yen Ooi is a reader and author, and a publishing consultant. She holds postgraduate degrees in English Literature and International Business. Having enjoyed a vibrant career in music touring, education, and management, Yen started writing in 2008. She has had various publications since then: a novel, Sun: Queens of Earth; a collection of short stories, poems and illustrations, A Suspicious Collection; and short stories and poems published in other collections. She hopes to explore further the role of fiction in understanding humanity, inspecting what it is that drives us forward in our lives.

Chair of the Panel

The Sci Fi panel was chaired by Jack Wedgbury of Troubador. Jack Wedgbury is a Production Controller for Matador. Jack graduated from De Montfort University in 2015 with a first class degree in Creative Writing and English Literature. He was awarded the Creative Writing Portfolio Prize for his final year project. In his spare time he enjoys reading, writing and travelling.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Winner of our Big 5 Competition!

We're super delighted and hugely excited to announce the winner of our Big 5 mentoring competition today!

Drumroll please ....

The winner is SOPHIE WELLSTOOD for her novel

Congratulations, Sophie! Sophie now gets to enjoy a whole year's mentoring with Triskele Books, starting with a full-on structural edit in the capable hands of Catriona Troth. We're excited to have Sophie on board and look forward to working with her on this project to see her book blossom and mature towards full publication.

Your first thoughts, Sophie?

"Competitions are an integral part of my work as a writer. They provide structure, deadlines, purpose, and disappointment. My focus for years has been short stories and poetry, and this year I finally made the longlist of the Bath Short Story Award, and cried. But I want to write novels too, and started drafting the seeds of this story five or six years ago. I finished it in its current form last year - six full re-writes, 30k words chopped. Another 30k added then chopped again, and so on. Then I began the grind of subbing to agents. How competitive is it out there? Unbelievable. Everyone who wants to write commercially knows how important it is get that one breakthrough, that one ‘yes’ that might get them a toehold into the mainstream. Winning this competition is a real validation that all those hundreds of hours obsessing over words, and that the special kind of madness writers have, to be honest, is worth it. I’m so, so happy - and relieved - that all my imaginary friends are at last going to be set out in the world. I hope people like them. There are many more to come. Thank you all so much. Sophie."

Chapter 1

Valentine’s day. A bitter, sunless day; the sort of London day when the sickly light does not change from dawn to dusk, a day when abandoned foil balloons float across sleet-sodden clouds, when collars are turned up and heads bent down, a day when even the pigeons shiver and shrug and retreat beneath railway arches and guttering. 

I stood in our hallway.

Chris held onto the front door, bare feet tippy-toeing on the tiles. ‘So look after yourself, yeah?’ she said. ‘Take care. I’m -’
‘Sorry, I know.’ I leaned in for a final kiss. She offered me her cheek. ‘The keys. Come on, I need the keys.’ She put her hand out. ‘Look. If it all goes tits up you can always - well, there’s the sofa - .’
‘Gosh, thanks.’
She put the keys in her back pocket, folded her arms. ‘Babe. You’ll be fine. All that cash - the world’s your oyster. The sky’s the limit.’ 

I heard a car horn, a couple of thuds of a bass line, a door slamming. I turned to see a bespectacled young woman opening the back of a jeep and lifting out a rucksack. Then a plant. Then a guitar. 

 ‘Perfect,’ I said. ‘Out with the old, in with the new.'

JUDGE'S REPORT by Sheila Bugler

(inc a mention of second place runner-up White Stock by Gill Thompson.)

Judging a writing competition is pleasure and stress in equal measures. Pleasure because it’s such a treat to read a range of good writing and discover new voices. Stress because how on earth do I choose just one winner?

I really enjoyed all the entries for the Big Five competition. The short-listed entries were really well-written and engaging. In each case, I genuinely wanted to read on and find out what happened next. Every story was unique and the mix of characters and settings kept me thoroughly entertained.

Choosing a winner is never easy. The final decision is always subjective and I hope everyone who made it this far in the competition remembers that. It is a real challenge to get the opening section of your novel just right - to find that fine balance between interesting characters and a plot that draws you in and makes you want to keep on reading. Every writer short-listed for this competition has found the right way to start their story. Every one of you should feel rightly proud of how well you have done this.

But, as always, there can be only one winner. I read each entry several times and made my choice on the simple basis of which one I enjoyed the most, which story and characters stayed with me the longest. In the end, that choice wasn’t too difficult. Although I genuinely enjoyed every piece of writing, the one that stood out for me – and, therefore, the winning entry - is The Sky is a Blue Bowl.

Written in the first person, the story centres on Blodwyn (Wyn) Parry-Jones. Wyn’s life is a mess. She’s lost her job, her girlfriend has just dumped her and ‘a glistening millionaire’ has taken over running the country. With nothing to lose, Wyn decides to leave her old life behind and fly to the other side of the world to visit Edith Flowers, an old friend of Wyn’s grandparents.

The contrast between Wyn’s old life in North London and this new world of hot summer grass, insects and bird song is vividly portrayed. Edith Flowers – a plain-speaking, booze-drinking, ‘silver-haired Amazon’ – is an utter delight. I wanted to be out there in New Zealand with these two marvellous women, drinking Edith’s wine, eating her food and watching the moths ‘batter themselves against the light.’

In short, I loved the opening pages of this novel. The writing is light and effortless. The characters are brimming with life; the description of place, the atmosphere that’s created and the smells and sounds and sights of New Zealand are all pitch-perfect. More than anything, the distinctive voice of Wyn Parry-Jones is a delight. I cannot wait to see the finished version of this novel and find out how Wyn’s and Edith’s stories play out.

Before finishing, I’d also like to mention White Stock, which was a very close second. The opening section begins with two (non-fiction) quotes from Gordon Brown and Kevin Rudd, both apologising for the devastating impact on the lives of children sent from the UK to Australia as part of the UK’s Child Migrant Programme. After that, the plot focuses on the lives of two characters: Molly and Kathleen. Molly and her son Jack are living in Croydon in 1940, their lives increasingly torn apart by the bombs falling over London and the south-east. We then meet Kathleen a year later in Perth, Western Australia. She is stuck in a loveless marriage and yearning for children she can’t have. This is a very strong novel and I hope to read it in full sometime very soon.

My heart-felt thanks to every short-listed writer for sharing your unique story with me. Writing a novel is a very difficult thing to do. It takes hard work, dedication and a lot of self-belief. Most of all, you need talent and this is something you all have. Please keep on writing and don’t give up until you get to where you deserve to be.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Triskele Author Feature - Liza Perrat

Once in a while, we like to remind ourselves of why we're an author collective. Five individuals in three countries bound by a love of writing. People often ask how it works, but rarely why.

Here's the first in our Author Feature series, on why we appreciate Liza Perrat.
Liza’s Bone Angel trilogy captures moments of upheaval in French history – the Revolution, the Nazi Occupation, the Black Death. But we view them through the lives of ordinary people – the people largely forgotten by the history books. - Catriona Troth

Jane Dixon Smith: As a huge fan of history, and a writer of historical fiction myself, I love getting lost in Liza's work. For me she invokes a real sense of era and I love how she's adapted to different centuries in her Bone Angel series, from a French village during the 1348 Black Plague, to the French Revolution and WW2 Nazi-occupied France. I found the descriptions and setting of Lucie-sur-Vionne particularly vivid and real; unsurprising as it is based on a real rural village, Oradour-sur-Glane. When you begin to flick back and forth between centuries, reading stories based in the same village, you suddenly realise just how much history these places have seen, and when you look at them through fresh eyes. They don't just hold a story they are most remembered for, but many other stories too. Liza's work really made me realise just how rich the past is. A great achievement.
What readers say about Spirit of Lost Angels:
“This was definitely a book that will leave you swirling with emotions ... I would definitely recommend the book as a suspenseful and historical tale of a women. Liza Perrat weaves a great story and if you are into historical fiction this a book just for you!”

“The character betrayals are very strong and realistic as are descriptions of the locations. A well-researched novel from this début author who writes in a way that will draw you in, especially if you are a fan of historical fiction.”

“The author has researched the period meticulously and effectively evokes the spirit of the age, whether she is writing about life in a French village or in the melting pot that was Paris in the revolutionary era. Liza Perrat is particularly strong when writing about the role and lot of women at the time. She also cleverly weaves well-known incidents, such as the diamond necklace affair or the storming of the Bastille, into Victoire’s story. This is a compelling and vivid story with strong characterisation, and I can recommend it highly to anyone who likes historical fiction.”

Gillian Hamer: Liza’s writing was one of the first historical fiction books that I remember reading in the online writing group where we met. I fell in love immediately with what was to become Spirit of Lost Angels, loving how she evoked the sense of time and place in her writing. Some aspects of the story echoed with what I was writing at the time, and I remember being so impressed by the ease she seemed to create her chosen world. She has a fluidity to her prose that is almost lyrical, especially in descriptions and sensory details. Her characters come to life, big and bold and ready to star in the production. I’ve learned a lot from reading Liza’s novels over the past decade about myself and my own writing – that in itself is an invaluable tool for a writer.

What readers say about Wolfsangel: “Liza Perrat's writing is full of passion and realism, the reader is drawn into the action and becomes part of the village from the opening chapters. The lead character; Celeste, has many difficult situations to deal with during the course of the story - her predicaments and her decisions are harrowing at times and leads the reader to consider how one decision can change the course of a life. Entwined into the story are true events, and it is this that adds authenticity and also the shock factor. The brutality of war, and of human behaviour is laid bare by the author who is not afraid to include the full horror of events that really happened.”

“Perrat draws the village characters deftly and highlights the high level of resourcefulness, inner strength, and sometimes lies, that were essential if you were to survive. It was a tension-loaded read. We know from education and reading other work that it was dangerous, often fatal, speaking and acting against the occupying forces; you had to be exceptional to attempt these. We have read stories of deportation and execution, so we know the worst that could have happen. Yet I was still on the edge of my seat reading Wolfsangel.”

JJ Marsh: It's no surprise we work so well as a team. We liked each other's writing long before we ever met. Liza's sensuous use of language has taught me a lot, and her emotional engagement with our work makes us focus on our strengths. If we under-use our talents, she gives us a swift kick. Her attention to detail shines in her own writing and she insists we do the same. I can point to lines, images, characters and scenes in my own books which owe their origin to Ms Perrat.

What readers say about Blood Rose Angel: “I can't begin to describe how much I enjoyed reading this novel. It caught my attention from the very first page and held me in its grip until the fabulous ending … If you like tales with strong, determined, and moral women at the helm, then this tale is sure to please. There is never a dull moment as the story unfolds and I can honestly say that it is unputdownable. This is a must read for those who love medieval historical fiction. You won't be disappointed.”

“What I like about this author’s writing style is the way in which she allows both characterisation and plot to have equal importance, with neither one attempting to outshine the other. The medieval setting comes gloriously alive, with all the sights, sounds and smells of the medieval world, and yes, also the petty indifferences, which are so reminiscent of this dangerous time. However, Blood Rose Angel is also inhabited by vibrant and memorable characters who take command of their story and as they leap fully formed onto the page, we are allowed a tantalising glimpse into the intricacies and sadness of their daily lives.”

“It’s beautifully written and the dialogue is a joy too, which is rare in historical fiction. But it’s definitely not all sunshine and the sweet scent of lavender and beeswax. It’s set during the Black Death and the medical passages are spot on (couldn’t resist the pun) as are the midwifery details … I won’t divulge the story any further. Suffice to say there are some harrowing scenes, though I’m glad to report that Perrat delivers a satisfying and uplifting ending. Now I’m definitely going to read her other books.”

Catriona Troth: One thing I have always loved about Liza’s writing is her capacity to evoke the way landscape changes with the seasons. Whether she is writing about rural France in the middle ages or present day Australia, her gift for observation and her ability to see the world with fresh eyes immerses us in time and place.

Find Liza online:

Friday, 21 October 2016

Puttin’ on the Lit Fest

By Catriona Troth

It seemed like such a good idea at the time.

How do we get more readers to come to one of our pop-up bookshops? Panels of authors talking about books! Talking about the genres that readers love: crime, sci fi, romance...!

Little did I know that this was going to turn into six of the most intense, stressful, enjoyable and rewarding months I have ever experienced.

As the idea started to take root, and influenced by discussions that dominated the publishing environment in late 2015 / early 2016, we established a number of core principles.

We would:

- put trade and indie authors together on the same platform, but not talk about routes to publication

- include literary fiction – because, yes, that is a genre too!

- invite BAME authors to talk about their books, not about diversity

- pay all speakers a fee for appearing

- keep the festival free and accessible to all booklovers, not just those who could afford expensive entry fees

In short, the festival would be about building bridges – not barriers.

We knew it was going to be quite some challenge – especially financially – to satisfy all those aims, but we were determined to give it our best shot.

In the event, the easiest part was getting authors to participate. Trade and indie authors alike loved our pitch, and accepted our invitations almost immediately. As so often, it was niggling matters of money and admin that kept me awake at nights over the next few months.

So here, for anyone else who might be thinking of putting on a literary event, are a few hints and tips about what to do and not to do.

Plan your budget carefully. Think about your ‘must haves,’ which will determine the minimum amount you need to raise.

Consider your venue carefully. Size and acoustics of the room. How easy it is to get to. Accessibility. What else will be going on around your event? This is likely to be one of our major expenses, so you need to get it right.

Are you paying your speakers a fee? Expenses? The Society of Authors strongly advocates that authors should be paid, but many larger festivals are still failing to do so.

It can be the small things that catch you out. Many venues now expect you to have your own Public Liability Insurance. And when you look for insurance, the insurers are likely to ask that that any exhibitors (such as sponsors with a table at the event) have their own PLI!

Where is your income coming from? Sponsorship? Crowd-funding? Admission charge? How much will be committed before you need to start paying anything out?

You cannot start too early to look for sponsorship – companies plan their budgets before the start of the financial year, so you need to look that far ahead too. What are sponsors going to get out of the deal? Why should they back you? Remember you are going to have to knock on a lot of doors to before you get any responses.

In the UK, the Arts Council provides grants for artistic endeavours, including festivals and other live events. But again you need to plan a long way in advance. You also need to provide concrete evidence of artistic outcomes, public engagement and partnerships – not something you can bluff your way through, so think carefully and do your research.

The chairmanship of the panels is as important as the participants. They will have to be prepared to do their homework – to read books by the authors and work with you to develop questions that are challenging and geared to promoting a lively discussion.

Are you going to sell books at the event? If so, will you have a retail partner (in which case, they may take as much as a 50% cut, to cover their costs)? If not, how will sales be handled? How will books get to the venue, and how will you handle any not sold at the end of the day?

Consider filming / recording your event – potentially another major expense, but one that will give it a life beyond the live event, an attraction for authors and sponsors alike. If so, remember that sound quality is key for capturing discussions.

Publicity is vital – and hard to get for a new, untried event! Think about the balance of print v online, geographically local v targeted to interest groups. Think laterally about articles you can pitch that promote the event without being blatant advertising. (We got articles into blogs with Writers & Artists and The Bookseller by finding things they were interested in talking about that linked to the Lit Fest.)

Take care of your authors! Make sure they are kept informed in the lead up to the event, and know what to expect when they get there. Make them welcome when they arrive, ensure they have what they need to be comfortable, and that they have a chance to meet their fellow panellists.

And most of all, make sure they – and the audience – have FUN!

Friday, 14 October 2016

Bookclub Discussion: Our Endless Numbered Days

Triskele Bookclub’s October novel up for discussion is Claire Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days

I first became interested in this book when I read the review by Triskele author, Gillian Hamer on the Bookmuse review site.

About the Author ... Claire Fuller trained as a sculptor before working in marketing for many years. In 2013 she completed an MA in Creative Writing, and wrote her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days. It was published in the UK by Penguin, in the US by Tin House, in Canada by House of Anansi and bought for translation in 15 other countries. Our Endless Numbered Days won the 2015 Desmond Elliott prize. Claire's second novel, Swimming Lessons will be published in early 2017.

About Our Endless Numbered Days ... Peggy Hillcoat is eight years old when her survivalist father, James, takes her from their home in London to a remote hut in the woods and tells her that the rest of the world has been destroyed. Deep in the wilderness, Peggy and James make a life for themselves. They repair the hut, bathe in water from the river, hunt and gather food in the summers and almost starve in the harsh winters. They mark their days only by the sun and the seasons.

When Peggy finds a pair of boots in the forest and begins a search for their owner, she unwittingly begins to unravel the series of events that brought her to the woods and, in doing so, discovers the strength she needs to go back to the home and mother she thought she’d lost.

After Peggy's return to civilization, her mother learns the truth of her escape, of what happened to James on the last night out in the woods, and of the secret that Peggy has carried with her ever since.

Along with fellow Triskele colleague, Gillan Hamer, reader Claire Whatley and book blogger, Linda Hill joined in the discussion of this book.

Liza: Personally, I found this book a 5-star read, and whilst it has garnered mostly excellent reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, it also has a few not-so-great reviews. I put this down mainly due to the novel’s disturbing and depressing themes of mental illness, kidnap and child abuse. “Disturbing … horrifying … just plain wrong… nauseous…” were some of the comments. However, in my view, the author deftly handled these dark themes through captivating, lyrical prose and by creating a sense of realism, despite the apparent incredibility of this “adventure”. For example, the deep forest in which Peggy’s father takes her to live becomes a third, very well-rounded character: a dark and threatening but very beautiful thing. Indeed, the Chicago Tribune’s review states ... Fuller weaves a hypnotic intensity of detail into her narrative that gives every lie the feel of truth.

So, how do you rate something so disturbing but so well-written?

Gillian: I don't think I considered the book disturbing at all, there are worse things out there in routine crime procedurals. The book stayed with me for a long time after I'd read it and I rated it 5 stars. To be honest the cleverness of the writing comes from writing this through a child's eyes so the naivety and perception we see masks the real horror of the situation. As an author I know how difficult this is to achieve so I have nothing but praise for the author and the writing. I'm actually about to read her next book 'Swimming Lessons.'

Claire: Overall, I’d give it 4 and ¾ stars. It’s very much a novel in three acts: one - life before Peggy is taken to the forest, two - the forest years, and three – what happens after. Acts Two and Three are definitely 5-star whereas the first part of the novel (before their years in the forest) has quite a slow build-up and it is occasionally quite hard to see where the story is leading. I think this is to some extent because we’re seeing mysterious adult behavior through the eyes of a child. However, I would say to any potential reader it’s absolutely worth persevering with what might seem a slow start. Fuller’s prose is definitely 5-star and all in all, it’s a brilliant debut.

I found it hard to rate Our Endless Numbered Days highly enough. When I read it I didn't realize that the author had been a sculptor and that doesn't surprise me in the least. The attention to the most essential detail in this pared down novel was perfect. I felt there was a deceptive simplicity in the prose that was almost hypnotic.

Liza: Given the disturbing themes, I would hesitate to recommend this novel to certain friends I know would not enjoy the story, however I would definitely recommend it to most reader friends. Would you recommend Our Endless Numbered Days and why?

Gillian: Yes, I would. Maybe it isn't the book for everyone, but I'm afraid there isn't a book out there to suit absolutely everyone's tastes - and nor should there be! I think you would have to be very thin skinned to find anything about this book distasteful - the six o'clock evening news is probably more graphic! But I think as human beings, we need to explore everything humanity throws at us in order to understand there are so many layers of what it is to be human and how important it is to be open to all of them.

I’m one of those readers who avoids graphic violence, cruelty or abuse in fiction, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Our Endless Numbered Days, perhaps with a caveat that the ending is pretty grim and dark. I loved Claire Fuller’s exploration of both the physical challenges of survival in the forest and even more so, the psychological elements. The ‘dark’ scenes were sensitively handled, in my opinion.

I don't agree entirely, Liza. I would recommend it to all readers, even those who have experienced similar themes in real life as I feel it would help them realize they are not alone and others can understand what they are suffering. For those of us for whom Peggy's experiences are way beyond our knowledge I feel Our Endless Numbered Days provides such emotional insight into these topics and themes that we become better able to understand the world around us and to empathise with those like Peggy.

Liza: Narrating a story entirely from the point of view of an eight-year-old girl might be cumbersome for authors as well as readers. As in Emma Donoghue’s Room, I felt the author handled this expertly. Do you think Claire Fuller handled this well?

Gillian: I thought the author handled Peggy perfectly in all aspects and I think for anyone considering writing from a child's POV reading this book is a must! I found the voice solid and believable throughout and the inner thoughts and feelings of a girl of her age, in that position, were handled superbly. Because of that I found I connected with her, despite the age gap, I understood what she was going through.

Yes, I do. I found Peggy’s narrative voice convincing throughout and at no point did the author lose the authenticity of that. Peggy’s trust, anger, confusion were all very real to me. If anything, I would have been interested in a deeper exploration of how she dealt with the challenges of puberty without any reliable adult to explain or assist her with that. It’s an aspect of the story that was rather skimmed over, I felt.

Linda: Absolutely. In fact, as I read I completely forgot Peggy's age, but just immersed myself in the narrative. This wasn't a character of any age, this was a real human being to whom I felt an emotional attachment. There is a clear 'voice' behind the writing, but it isn't Claire Fuller's, it's Peggy herself, regardless of age. I loved the fact that Peggy's voice wasn't a contrived childish one, but was simply that of an individual who had a story to tell.

Liza: Throughout the story, we flit back and forth between Peggy as a child before the “event”, her time with her father in the woods, and 1985, when she is found, an adult back home with her mother. I enjoyed reading each timeline as it gave insight into Peggy’s life before, during and after, as well as the consequential effects of the kidnapping and abuse. Did you enjoy it too, or did it disrupt the rhythm of the story?

Gillian: I thought it added extra depth to the story and I had no problem keeping track of the story. I think flashbacks, if handled correctly, work really well - and the author got it spot on here.

Claire: Hmm. Initially I found myself having to keep up with the time swaps but once I was engrossed in the story I accepted them and had no problem with them. However, I think it could be argued that a more straightforward chronological narrative might have worked just as well and would have given fewer clues to later outcomes.

I'm not usually a great lover of novels that switch between different time scales, but I loved this in Our Endless Numbered Days. I felt I was being given real insight into the characters - and indeed into a psychological world I'd never normally encounter. I also think that the iterative image of music helped draw the strands together so that transitions felt seamless and fluid.

Liza: There is one scene towards the end of this book that I won’t forget in a hurry, but I don’t want to give anything away! Was there any particular scene that remained with you, after you finished reading?

Gillian: Not so much one scene maybe for me - but the location in the woods. It was so vivid to me, maybe because it was Peggy's whole world for so long that she knew every tree, every knot of wood in the cabin. It became very real to me and I think that was one thing I recalled long after I finished the book.

Oh yes – the scene you’re speaking of! Grim as it was, it needed close and careful reading to be sure of what was going on as the author clearly wanted to retain a degree of ambiguity. It’s a clever piece of writing, but I won’t say any more than that…

Linda: There isn't an individual scene that sticks in my mind especially, rather a resonance of feeling and emotion that is still with me some 18 months after I first read Our Endless Numbered Days. I can still picture the cabin and the woods in my mind's eye incredibly clearly.

Liza: And lastly, the end of this novel had me wondering whatever became of Peggy. How could anyone mature into a “normal” functioning adult after this kind of experience? Any thoughts on that?

Gillian: I think it probably very much depends on the person. It's amazing what a human being can go through and come out again the other side. I would like to meet a grown up Peggy actually. I feel she would be a very determined and driven person as an adult, who would find it hard to trust anyone but when she finally did give her heart, she would give it for life. I think some people (and I'd probably include myself here) have a way of packing away the 'bad stuff' and 'bad memories' into a far corner of their brain - and if Peggy was able to do that I think she would mature into a good person who refused to be a victim of her past and went on to achieve great things.

Claire: It’s a good question. And of course, it begs another question: what is ‘normal’? Over the years there have been several real life cases of young people being kidnapped and locked away from society for years. As far as ‘normal’ functioning is concerned I suppose it depends on a) the individual’s predisposition, b) on the quality of counselling they receive, and c) most importantly, the support network they have around them. It would be a long hard adjustment but I think anything is possible.

I think it's surprising just what the human psyche can live through and still behave and appear 'normal'. We are incredibly resilient. Had I been Peggy, I doubt I would have dealt with the situation so well, but then until we are in certain situations we don't know just how we will respond. I certainly have taught youngsters whom I can't believe are so well balanced when I've discovered their past and their home lives. I could see Peggy developing problems in the future, perhaps having difficulties with relationships, but equally I could see her becoming a psychologist or psychiatrist to help counsel others!

Liza: Thanks everyone for your comments! If anyone else would like to say anything about Our Endless Numbered Days, please feel free to comment below.