Thursday, 20 January 2022

Interview With Writer M Valentine Williams

Today, I'm welcoming M Valentine Williams to my blog to talk about her forthcoming book, Losing It, and her dystopian novel, The Marsh People, both published by Victorina Press.

Review – Losing It"A stark, cleverly-written book. Despite a very difficult subject the author manages to draw us very quickly into Jane's small world and those who people it. More importantly, we are drawn into Jane's mind. and with that her terrors and her awful nightmares. Although it's written in quite a pared-back style, with short, fast chapters, the author uses wonderful detail to paint Jane's surroundings. Few NOvels will pull you in as forcefully as this - or ensure that your sympathies will lie so completely at the end with a character like Jane."


Welcome to Troutie McFish Tales, Mary! Losing It is your second title to be published by Victorina Press – however they are two very different books. The Marsh People is dystopian fiction “pitting outsiders against inhuman tyrants”, whereas Losing It is a novel set in a high security hospital; a harrowing story of redemption and compassion in a dangerous and uncaring world. Can you tell us a little more about the novel, and about the character of Jane?

I had heard from staff working with imprisoned people labelled ‘criminally insane’ and was impressed by the understanding and care they gave to these people. They understood that faced with the full knowledge of what they had done, many could not live with themselves. Jane, damaged by her own early childhood, cannot escape the reality of her situation, or her part in the deaths of her own children. When the  well-meaning doctor opens these old wounds, she takes her own life. I wanted to give a voice to Jane and other women like her, who society calls monsters, in an effort to aid understanding of how people become shaped and formed by early traumas and a society that doesn’t care. Jane is a person, not a headline or a statistic.

I know you have worked in mental health in the past. Is that why you wanted to tell this story? Do you often look to your own life for writing inspiration?

I don’t write much about mental health matters, partly because of confidentiality - I don’t know any Janes - but also because I find it depressing myself! But I do find people ‘on the edge’ fascinating, interesting and sometimes more alive than your average person. I’ve been lucky enough to have met some extraordinary people and heard their stories, and I’ve been down and out myself from time to time; it’s all grist to the mill.


In contrast, The Marsh People is set in a wholly imagined world – one which has been highly praised by reviewers for its feeling of authenticity. Did you enjoy creating this bleak dystopia? Do you find it easier to write about the world you live in or the worlds you create?

The Marsh People was partly based on an experiment with dogs carried out by Seligman, on ‘learned helplessness’. In this experiment, dogs were kept isolated in small enclosures with electrified fences, but with comfortable kennels, and were fed regularly. When the electric fencing was turned off, most dogs stayed put, despite having no real freedom. One or two, however, jumped over the fencing and made a bid for freedom, not knowing how they would survive out there. In The Marsh People, I put the dogs in charge and let Scummo and Kelpin out into the wide world to survive as best they may. The world outside the City reflects my own childhood in a way, as I hated school and spent as much time outdoors as I could.
    More recently, coming across discarded clothing in a derelict warehouse, I realised rough sleepers had lived there and tried to imagine what it must be like to wake up in this bleak, draughty passageway - and The Marsh People was born.



Losing It covers sensitive issues and explores what goes on behind closed doors in a secure hospital unit. You must have been constantly aware of the need to portray this world accurately. What was your biggest challenge when writing it?

This is a hard one to answer. I did a lot of reading, talked to a good many people who worked in these settings, and have worked myself in Special Schools and in a prison. As a psychotherapist, one of the main challenges in writing is making sure there are no identifying details or any details people could regard as relating to them. The interviews between Bruce and Jane, for instance, are pure invention. So are all the characters. The challenge is to recreate them so that they could be understood as real.

Both of your novels are quite dark. What did you enjoy about writing them?

I like exploring the darkness. Testing myself and letting my imagination have free rein.

Are you a fast or slow writer? Do you find it difficult to carve out time to write, or are you quite disciplined?

I can be disciplined, and I’m a fast writer once I’ve started. I once lived over the road from Buchi Emecheta, who got up at five before starting work as a cleaner in order to write while her kids were asleep. I mean, bloody hell...
 
Victorina Press believes very strongly in the principles of bibliodiversity. What does this mean to you personally and was it a factor in your decision to submit your work to them?

My family has people from many places within it, and I love that. I fully support bibliodiversity.

What is next for you as a writer? Another novel, or something else?

Still thinking about that one. I have a half-written novel about the Italian mafia, Ndrangheda, and a woman who shopped the Boss. I’m also writing poetry.


Thanks for talking to me today, Mary. I wish you every success with the launch of Losing It (out Spring 2022 from Victorina Press). 

You can order The Marsh People here



Sunday, 16 January 2022

The Victorina Press Poetry Contest 2022

 


It is always an honour to judge a writing award, and this year I have been asked to be one of the judges for the Victorina Press Poetry Contest.
    I’m a real lover of poetry and have a large collection of poetry books, many of which I have owned since I was a teenager. I have also written poetry since I was a child, and I achieved early competition success in my grammar school literary contest at the age of eleven – with a poem about George Best! My debut chapbook, The Collective Nouns for Birds, won the Saboteur Award for poetry in 2020, and my first full length collection, talk to me about when we were perfect, will be published in early 2023 by Victorina Press.

    The 2022 Victorina contest, in collaboration with Voces-Voices Festival 2021, is open for entries until February 28th. Poems should be forty lines or less and written in English or Spanish. There’s a £1000 prize pot and the opportunity for poets to see their work published in an anthology. Everything else you need to know can be found here.
    My fellow judges will be Bethany Rivers, Adan Feinstein and Maria Eugenia Bravo-Calderara, and I’m really looking forward to reading all the entries and discussing the shortlisted poems with them in due course.
    In the meanwhile here are a few of my thoughts about some of the things I look for in a winning poem.
    The Victorina contest has a broad and universal theme: Life, Death and Beyond, which I think everyone would agree is the bread and butter territory of the majority of poets. The main topics covered in the poems I’ve read for previous competitions have largely fallen within that theme: death, marriage, funerals, illness, friendships and adultery. These universal themes will always outnumber the quirky and unusual, but they need to be approached with fresh eyes to be noticed.
    At the start of the judging process it always feels like a daunting challenge: will I find poetry with that indefinable magic, with original language, arresting imagery and adventurous ideas to surprise me? Will I be able to identify the poem that – for me – shone above the rest?
    For a poem to work, the poet needs to communicate with the reader, not just talk to themselves. Beautiful language is meaningless if there are no concrete ideas and no clear message. The best poetry is never overcrowded, the words are reduced to an essential essence that dances to a unique rhythm.
    There needs to be a confident voice, and even if that voice is a delicate one, it needs to have surety.
    But a winning poem needs more than deft technique, originality and a clear message. It has to resonate, demand re-reading, it has to touch the soul and linger in the mind.
    Good luck!



Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Queer Life, Queer Love Anthology

 

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This incredible anthology is a global showcase of diverse and confident queer writing. A heady mix of poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction, it is powerful and punchy, subversive and boundary-pushing, full of courage and attitude – forty-three different writers exploring all the complexities and experiences of living a queer life. The book, published by Muswell Press, is dedicated to Sarah Beal’s trans-daughter Lucy who died, age 20, in March 2020. It is a particularly fitting way to honour her life, as it was an idea she had discussed with Sarah, with the aim of encouraging new writers and rejoicing in the richness of queer life.

 

You can buy a copy here

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

Review from Amanda McLeod

I was thrilled to wake up to a thoughtful review from Amanda McLeod today. Here's a taster and the link to the full review:

Review – ‘Crossing the Lines’ by Amanda Huggins

Amanda Huggins is a writer with an eye for the details in the everyday that bring a story to life (see my reviews of All Our Squandered Beauty and Scratched Enamel Heart). In her novella Crossing the Lines, we follow Mollie as her mother Ella drags her from her home on the New Jersey shore to a farm a thousand miles away, on the promises of a man. 

From the beginning, Mollie is distrustful of Sherman; there’s something in his eyes that gives him away. As the story unfolds it becomes evident that Ella is also conscious that Sherman was not the man she hoped, but expectation and humiliation force her hand and she goes ahead with the move to the farm knowing it puts both her and Mollie in danger. As dreams unravel and Sherman’s nature becomes fully apparent, Mollie realises that if she doesn’t save herself, no one else will. 

There’s a diverse cast of characters here, quite disparate but all joined to the narrative by their interactions with Mollie, no matter how fleeting. The messages in these interactions follow two main streams. The first is that kindness heals, offering a kind of catharsis that allows people to release their pain and move forward. The second is that the vulnerable, over and over, are let down by those who are meant to keep them safe and that cycle is difficult to break. Mollie is let down by almost all the adults in her life; Ella’s own issues with abandonment are a precursor to her treatment of Mollie; even Sherman, a victim of childhood abuse, is able to recognise in the end but not break the pattern in his own life. (continued)

You can read the full review here

Crossing the Lines is available for preorder now from Victorina Press.


Thursday, 4 November 2021

Just a month to go before the release of Crossing the Lines!

 


 

It's nearly publication day for Crossing the Lines! The physical proofs are about to go out, and I've already had some lovely reviews from readers who've read the e-book proof.

This novella is a little darker than some of my other fiction, a little grittier, so I was wary of how it would be received by readers who've enjoyed my other work. But luckily they seem to really like it – sigh of relief!

THE BOOK

When Sherman Rook walks into the Jupiter diner, Mollie’s mama is instantly smitten. Despite her daughter’s reluctance, they leave the New Jersey shore behind and move to his isolated farmstead over a thousand miles west.

Fifteen-year-old Mollie distracts herself from Rook’s cruelty by befriending a stray dog she names Hal, but when Rook crosses a final line Mollie realises that sometimes we must leave behind those we love in order to save ourselves.

With only $20 to her name, she sets out from Oakridge Farm, relying on luck and the kindness of strangers as she makes her way back home across five state lines.

You can pre-order here

THE REVIEWS

'This is a beautifully written novella, where layers of the narrative build to offer insight into two communities and many relationships. Mollie, the young protagonist, travels treacherous landscapes and grows wiser for the journey. Crossing The Lines shows it’s possible to break intergenerational cycles of behaviour . . .  or not. Amanda Huggins uses skilful, sensory prose to offer a wonderful reading experience. What a joy!' Gail Aldwin - author of This Much Huxley Knows

'An atmospheric and haunting coming-of-age story of a young girl escaping her fate and returning to her roots. With compelling characters and evocative prose, this is a journey of self discovery that will stay with you long after you read the last line.' Sarah Linley, author of The Trip

'A road trip across America, the mistakes and lessons that pass across generations – Crossing the Lines by Amanda Huggins follows the journey of mother and daughter Ella and Mollie as they head west with the dubious Sherman Rook. First loves, lost loves, an unsettling and lingering threat of violence, Huggins creates a dusty, middle American landscape that acts as a backdrop for Mollie’s incident filled trek home to the East Coast. This is a beautifully written, tightly constructed novella, almost poetic in its descriptions. Huggins has a masterful grasp of language and within a few pen strokes creates characters that are wholly believable. The narrative arc works well within such a few pages and Huggins controls the pace and direction of the story with great skill.' Mike Lewis, author of If God Will Spare My Life

'Another beautiful novella from Amanda Huggins. I read in one sitting. It feels darker and edgier than some of her other stories and is drawn with an expert hand. As always, her writing style gives the reader enough but never too much; profound and unpretentious. Narrated in the third person, the novella shows a variety of characters’ perspectives, switching in each chapter. It felt unobtrusive, almost seamless. That is quite a feat. Though Mollie is the protagonist, I found myself sympathising with most of the characters, even the unpleasant ones, because they are well-rounded and believable with fleshed-out backstories. Amanda draws you in and before you know it you’ve reached the end. It is satisfying but makes you curious to know what happens next. It would have been easy for her to tie up the loose ends, but she chooses a subtler, more nuanced ‘open conclusion’. I love this realistic depiction of life, in all its messy complexity! Through her empathetic depictions, we experience the intricacies of the human experience, their vulnerabilities, and their desire to be saved. Some of the characters end up in a good place; perhaps the other characters can overcome their inner demons and choose a better path too. Who knows? Well…I sensed that there was hope.' Hannah Ruth Retallick

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Interview with author Caroline Moir

 


A warm welcome to Caroline Moir, whose novel Brockenspectre will be published by Victorina Press on 12th November.

THE BOOK

Brocken spectre: the magnified and detached shadow of an observer; typically on a mountain
 

The peace of an isolated Lake District university campus is disturbed by the arrival of mature student, Hild. For Miriam and Ed, the newcomer brings darkness and disorder which reshapes every aspect of their lives, and strikes at the core of their relationship.

Miriam is determined to exorcise the shadow Hild has cast, but how? And can she justify keeping another woman out of the light, the education, she has enjoyed?

Brockenspectre was shortlisted for the Sceptre Prize in 2013

You can pre-order a copy here.


 THE INTERVIEW

Congratulations on the publication of Brockenspectre. There is an intriguing story at its heart, but this novel also feels like a love letter to the Lake District – how important is a sense of place in your work?

I am not sure it is a love letter. I have a love-hate relationship with the Lake District – it rains a lot! In my early life rain was an event – I remember ‘swimming’ in the rain on a verandah as a young child. In the Lake District you factor it in to whatever you do.  But a sense of place is hugely important in my work. My first novel was largely set in the New Forest, my most recent novel is set in British Columbia, and in my memoir-in-short-story place is crucial. I think it is because I was brought up until I was thirteen abroad, paid long visits to my father in the Middle East, and have lived and worked in the USA and Canada.  For me places are characters in my fiction, and even, I think, in my plays.

I believe you wrote the original version of Brockenspectre quite a while ago. Tell me a little more about where the idea originally came from and how it has developed and changed?

The original stimulus was twofold. My husband was being stalked by a parishioner and one day I wondered whether you could get rid of someone by ‘writing them out’. Originally I didn’t want Hild, the stalker, to have a voice in case she dominated Miriam. However I felt that was too one-sided and I gave Hild, and Miriam’s partner, Ed, voices, which makes the novel less partisan, more understanding and more balanced. I was astounded the other day to read the first version and realised it began with the Christmas ball where the published version ends.

Who is your favourite character in Brockenspectre and what do you love (and hate!) about him or her?

I don’t have a favourite character in Brockenspectre but I am really interested in the two main characters, Miriam and Hild, what makes them tick, and how, despite their antipathy, they are similar. You can’t have one without the other.

 


I’ve heard you mention that some readers think Hild is not a real character, but rather a figment of Miriam’s imagination. Did you deliberately set out to create this ambiguity and mystery?

No, I didn’t. Because I didn’t want Miriam to have a one-way street of antagonism towards Hild, then Hild becomes like her and yet not like her. Curiously when I was first writing Brockenspectre, I was also reading a lot of Nathaniel Hawthorne who is a very unsettling author. I came across his novel The Marble Faun which I hadn’t read and discovered it also had two characters at odds with each other called Miriam and Hilda. That, and the fact that I began the novel on the day I started Margaret Atwood’s Robber Bride, having had it on my shelf for ages, and found it had a similar theme and opened on the same date, sent shivers down my spine which may have led to ambiguity and an almost claustrophobic atmosphere.

Who are your favourite writers and have they had an influence on your prose style?

I don’t have favourite writers – I have enthusiasms for one writer after another and bore my friends with my discoveries! I read a lot of European and fiction from round the world, particularly from the Americas and Caribbean. At the moment I am hooked on Monique Roffey and Tessa McWatt, who are British and published in this country, but whose settings and themes stem from their ethnicity and upbringing. Saying that one of the books about which I am persistently enthusiastic and which has influenced me stylistically is Train Dreams by the sadly now dead American writer, Denis Johnson. I marvel at the transparency of his prose.

Brockenspectre is your second novel – the first being Jemillia in 2007 – and you are also a playwright and short story writer. What are the different challenges you face when crafting these alternative forms?

I am a playwright by commission. I have considerable experience of youth and community theatre and when I started writing short stories and novels I tended to write them as if they were plays – lots of dialogue and not much else. I had to flesh the fiction out. I still have difficulty writing at length I have had short stories published but I am not sure that I am a classic short story writer. Though I very much enjoy reading both, I find it difficult to close my fiction, which I think is demanded by the novella and short stories – and plays. I like the open-endedness of the novel form.

Your publishers, Victorina Press, believe very strongly in the principles of bibliodiversity. What does this mean to you personally and was it a factor in your decision to submit your work to them?

For me bibliodiversity represents an opportunity to publish all kinds of authors and all kinds of genres from many different countries. Bibliodiversity is not restrictive. I submitted Brockenspectre to Victorina Press for precisely that reason. The novel doesn’t fit the current bill, because in it I examine what happens when ambitious women are in competition. I also submitted the novel and Brockenspectre is set in the English Lake District and Argentine and Chile. I greatly admire what Victorina Press is doing.  

What can we hope to see from you next? A new novel, another play, or something else?

I am working on a prequel to my very short novel – not a novella! – Hunting Jenet Nish which is set in British Columbia between 1914 and 1971, and which recounts Jenet Nish’s search for her mixed-race namesake

Thank you for talking to me today, Caroline. Good luck with Brockenspectre – I hope it flies off the shelves!


 

MORE ABOUT CAROLINE

Caroline Moir was born in the Sudan and has lived and worked in places as far apart as Newfoundland and Syria, Italy and Argentina. 

She is re-writing her first novel Jemillia, set in a future New Forest and Edinburgh, and has just completed Hunting Jenet Nish, set in British Columbia, the first of a historical trilogy.

As a playwright she was commissioned to write St Wilfrid of Ripon 2009, by Ripon Cathedral, and by Kendal Community Theatre A Passion for Kendal 2012, Lady Anne Clifford – a woman cast out 2013, and The Wednesday Play ~ plot to kill Jesus 2015. She was Literary Director for Kendal Yarns Festival of New Plays in 2016.
 
She has read her work for the BBC, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and at ‘Aye Write’ in Glasgow, and most recently at Lancaster LitFest 2019 and online with Yvonne Battle-Felton. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Glasgow University. 

Her memoir in short stories, the swaying corridors of the wagons-lits, was long listed for the Cinnamon Literature Award in 2020.

You can pre-order Brockenspectre here.



Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Interview with Rhiannon Lewis

 

Today, I am delighted to be talking to award-winning novelist and short fiction writer, Rhiannon Lewis. Her new collection, I Am the Mask Maker, comprises eleven of her compelling short stories, and will be published by Victorina Press on 30th October.


 THE BOOK

A collection of award-winning short stories which transport us from plague-ridden Renaissance Venice to a failing antiquarian bookshop in inner-city London, from a struggling family farm in 1960s West Wales to a soon to be discontinued Heaven where the angels are packing up to leave. Vividly-drawn, with wit and subtlety, Lewis’s characters are determined not to be pawns in worlds where the odds are stacked against them; to survive they often come up with solutions which are unconventional and unexpected. Includes the William Faulkner Literary Contest winner, ‘Piano Solo’.

THE AUTHOR 


THE INTERVIEW


Congratulations on this brilliant collection. Many of the stories have won awards or been shortlisted for writing competitions. You must have been particularly thrilled to win the William Faulkner contest last year?

Thank you. Yes, I was thrilled, particularly as I was the first UK winner since the competition was established in 1997. I still can’t get over the fact that my story meant something to a judge from as far away as New Albany, Mississippi. The competition is held annually in William Faulkner’s hometown. Under normal circumstances the prize would have been awarded at a dinner for over a hundred guests. Because of Covid-19 I wasn’t able to travel there to accept the prize. One day, when things are safer, I’d love to go there to see William Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak, and his hometown of New Albany. 




Who are your favourite short story writers and have they had an influence on your writing style?

I don’t have a favourite as such. I think you can learn something from every writer and there are so many good writers to choose from. I would have to mention Raymond Carver. His stories seem so banal on the face of it, but utterly striking – the way they get under your skin. 'The Fox' by D H Lawrence is one of my favourite short stories of all time. I go back to it time and time again. I love the way he creates a feeling of impending disaster right from the start. Lately, I’ve been reading the work of Jean Rhys. She breaks ‘the rules’ all the time, which I love. Though you shouldn’t read Jean Rhys if you’re feeling in the least bit depressed.

Your stories are set in many different countries and locations – how important is a sense of place in your work?

When you write a short story or a novel, it is necessary for you to want to be in that place for a while. I’ve started many stories and then thought, oh, I really don’t want to spend too long in this place – it’s not interesting enough or it’s too close to something I know too well and can’t be objective about. Often, taking a story and transposing it to a different place altogether, perhaps even somewhere you have to make an effort to research, can give a story a new lease of life and a better perspective. A sense of place is very important but so is imagination. Writers are told all the time to write about what you know. But don’t forget your imagination! That’s the most useful thing of all.

Who is your favourite character in your stories and what do you love about him or her?

I love all my characters! Saying that, I would rather be stuck on a desert island with some rather than others. One or two would know exactly how to build a tree house and find something to eat. Others would just curl up under a palm and be of no use whatsoever unless they had a piano with them, which would be unlikely on a desert island. Of all the characters I’ve written about, Aeronwy in 'The Significance of Swans' is the one I admire most. She manages to stay sane in a situation which would defeat most of us, including myself. Davy, the lead character in My Beautiful Imperial is the one I would want to have with me on a desert island, however. He’d know how to build a boat and how get us home in one piece, no matter what the conditions. And he’d probably make me laugh quite a bit on the way.

You write novels as well as short fiction. What are the different challenges you face when crafting these alternative forms?

I think of a short story as a sprint and a novel more like a marathon. Or to use another analogy, when you’re embarking on a novel, it is a bit like boarding a ship that’s bound for another continent. You have to be prepared to be there for a long time. You know there will be hardships and challenges, as well as adventures and excitement. You have to have faith that you’ll get there in the end. Some short stories come to you fully formed. Others start with a single line and you go from there. With a longer work, I don’t like to plan too much. I’m not one of these writers who outlines everything on a pin-board and knows exactly what they’re going to be writing in each single chapter. What would be the fun in that? I will have a vague idea of where the book is going – especially if I’m writing historical fiction and I’m trying to stay faithful to the facts – but on the whole I like to start off not knowing too much about what’s ahead. That way, the story and the characters can grow through the story. Writing a short story or a novel should feel like an adventure not a chore. 




Your debut novel, My Beautiful Imperial, was based on the experiences of your great-great uncle who inadvertently became involved in the Chilean civil War of 1891. It must have been fascinating to dig deep into your family history? Was his story something you had been wanting to write about and explore for some time, or did you learn about it more recently?

I spent over twenty years researching the story of the steamship Imperial and my great-great uncle’s involvement in the Chilean civil war. At the time, I was working full-time so there was no possibility of writing a novel. And in any case, the research was something I was doing for my own interest. Gradually, it became clear to me that the whole story would be completely forgotten if no one wrote about it. At around 4am on 11 April 2011 I scribbled the date on the top of a school exercise book and began writing, thinking that I wouldn’t stop until I’d told the whole story. It took me three years of writing in my spare time but now it’s there for everyone to read.

Your publishers, Victorina Press, believe very strongly in the principles of bibliodiversity. What does this mean to you personally and was it a factor in your decision to submit your work to them?

I’d never heard of the principle of bibliodiversity before I met the founder of Victorina Press, Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes, but it means a great deal to me. When you start writing, people are desperate to put you into a particular box or category. I was a woman, writing about a man who had taken part in a civil war on the other side of the world. I was also Welsh, but writing in English. Neither I, nor my work, seemed to fit into any convenient box. Consuelo was prepared to look beyond these things and to read my work on its own merits. I was so pleased that My Beautiful Imperial was recommended by the Walter Scott Prize Academy soon after it was published because it was the best way to repay Consuelo’s faith in my story. I love the fact that Victorina Press is publishing books by such a diverse and ever-expanding group of voices.


What can we hope to see from you next? More short stories, a new novel, or something else?

This autumn, I really want to get my teeth into another longer piece of work. I’m researching a few different ideas at the moment. There’s nothing like the feeling of being immersed to the point where the work and the characters sometimes feel more real than what’s around you, day to day. But we’ll see. The short stories have way of butting in when you least expect them!

Thank you for talking to me today, Rhiannon. Good luck with I Am the Mask Maker – I hope it flies off the shelves!

You can pre-order I Am the Mask Maker here.



Thursday, 30 September 2021

Interview with the poet, Jennifer Langer

 


I’m delighted to welcome Jennifer Langer to Troutie McFish Tales to talk about her newly released poetry chapbook, The Search, which I had the privilege of editing for Victorina Press.

THE POET

A long-time writer of poetry for herself, Jennifer’s work has been published in various magazines and she is a member of an inspiring poets’ collective. Jennifer is editor of four anthologies of exiled literature: The Bend in the Road: Refugees Writing (1997), Crossing the Border: Exiled Women’s Writing (2002), The Silver Throat of the Moon: Writing in Exile (2005) and If Salt Has Memory: Contemporary Jewish Exiled Writing (2008) all published by Five Leaves. She is lead editor of Resistance: Voices of Exiled Writers (Palewell, 2020). She is founding director of Exiled Writers Ink which brings together established and developing migrant and refugee writers from repressive regimes and war-torn situations. Established in 2000, it is an ever-expanding organisation that provides a space for exiled writers to be heard, develops and promotes their creative literary expression, and crucially advocates human rights through literature and literary activism. 

Previously co-editor of Exiled Ink magazine, she has written numerous articles on aspects of the literature of exile and has presented papers both in the UK and overseas, ranging from Casablanca to Gothenburg. She also reviews poetry, memoir, fiction and research focusing on migration, exile, memory and identity. She holds a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, in Cultural Memory and Literature by Exiled Iranian Jewish Women, and an MA in Cultural Memory from the School of Advanced Study, University of London. She is currently a SOAS Research Associate. Jennifer is the daughter of refugees who escaped from Nazi Germany and who met in England. Her parents were both the sole survivors of their respective families.


THE COLLECTION

The Search is an exploration of the poet’s complex sense of identity as the daughter of German Jewish refugees who fled Nazi Germany for Britain. Crucially, her sensibility of otherness is dialogically engaged with contemporary refugees and the oppressed. Born of the history of loss and of refugee roots, the poet dreams of a lost world attempting to snatch at fragments and striving to create a narrative yet she is also compelled to confront current tensions arising from the diverse facets of this identity. Engaged in the attempt to resist negative representations projected onto herself, she struggles to define herself.

 You can order a copy of The Search HERE


 THE INTERVIEW


In the very personal opening poem of The Search, a friend asks “where do you really come from?”, a question which heralds the main theme of your collection. As the daughter of German Jewish refugees, your identity is complex, and I see these multi-layered and immersive poems as an attempt to make sense of the past and to discover your true self. Was that a deliberate journey you embarked upon, or did the collection grow in a more organic way?

Born of the history of memory of loss, I dreamed of a lost world and snatched at fragments, striving to create a narrative. I have written numerous articles, particularly for Second Generation Voices, about my insights, experiences and journeys of exploration over the years. As I delve deeper and deeper into my parents’ and relatives’ stories and fates, I feel more and more connected to the once anonymous faces in the photos I first saw as a child. Somehow, I felt the emotional need to articulate my search, pain and mourning in poetry. These are the poems that I wrote over a long period. To conclude, I would say that the collection grew in an organic way.

You don’t limit yourself to examining your own experiences in these poems, you also cast your net much wider, to show us an entire world of displaced and exiled characters. Where did the inspiration come from for these poems – and are some of them based on people and situations you have encountered when travelling?

Some of the travelling has taken the form of a search for roots over many years. My visceral feelings of outsiderness and difference have caused me to empathise with the marginalised of society, particularly asylum seekers and refugees. Frequently there is a dialogical engagement between poems about my background and poems about ‘the other’ so that some of my poetry reveals a concern with outsiders and victims such as the Herero tribe, Calais migrants and the Palestinians, amongst others. As a traveller you are an outsider in a new environment observing with detachment, unless of course, one’s own identity feels intertwined, as it was in Namibia.


You are the Director of Exiled Writers Ink – could you tell us a little bit about that. How important is EWI to you and how has it informed your writing over the years?

As the founding director of an organisation that was never planned but has grown enormously over the years to meet a need, EWI is very important to me. Established in 2000, Exiled Writers Ink recently celebrated its 20th anniversary with an anthology titled Resistance.

The organisation brings together established, emerging and aspiring refugee and migrant writers. It develops and promotes their creative literary expression, encourages cross-cultural dialogue, and advocates human rights through literature and literary activism. Our work comprises creative writing workshops, training, live literature performance events, theatre, mentoring, translation, publications, symposia, poetry competitions and road shows. Our theatre projects have included productions in partnership, performed in the UK and in Poland, Italy and Bosnia.

Having read and listened to the work of exiled writers over many years, as well as having shared experiences with them such as running workshops together, I have been privileged to gain insights into their experiences and sensibility, be it nostalgia, anger, trauma, the state of exile and more, including love. I have also absorbed a richesse of imagery and form such as ghazal and Sufi poetry. 

Yet, while I have undoubtedly been affected by their pain and have written about it, I have been wary of speaking in their voice in order not to define them.

What was your biggest challenge when writing this collection?

I had written some early poems in a fairly spontaneous manner with minimal editing. The challenge was to become more disciplined through controlling form, tone, line breaks, metre and so on. In recent years, I have attended a City Lit course, craft of poetry sessions and book launches by established poets and in addition, I am an avid reader of poetry. These have all lead to increased awareness of what is involved in writing interesting, inspiring poetry. A further challenge is that poetry editing never ends!

What did you enjoy most about writing the collection?

The sense of achievement in creating a poem to my satisfaction.


I know you have a busy life. Is it difficult to find the time and space for your writing?

It is difficult although I love exploring ideas and expressing myself through writing in both non-fiction prose and in poetry. Although my intention is always to start the day by working on a poem and shutting myself off from all the demands and pressures in ‘a room of my own’, I somehow invariably succumb to them.

Your publishers, Victorina Press, believe very strongly in the principles of bibliodiversity. What does this mean to you personally and was it a factor in your decision to submit your work to them?

I have to admit that the first time I heard about bibliodiversity was at one of the Victorina Press book launches and although I was unfamiliar with the term, I support all that it stands for. As the founding director of Exiled Writers Ink, whose fundamental aim is to enable the voices of refugee and migrant writers to be heard in society, I realise that bibliodiversity is key in informing our ethos. In fact, I submitted my work to Victorina because of their record in publishing cutting edge work of quality that provides new insights and of course I was thrilled at Consuelo’s positive response to my poetry.  

What is next for you as a writer? Another poetry collection or something else?

Yes, I aim to write a poetry collection and currently continue to write poems, some of which I hope to eventually submit to literary magazines. I would also like to convert my doctoral thesis into a book.


Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today. It's lovely to finally see The Search in print and I really hope it all goes well for you!



You can order a copy of The Search HERE

Monday, 13 September 2021

Interview With Nour Morjan

 

 

Today I’m welcoming Nour Morjan to Troutie McFish Tales to talk about her forthcoming poetry chapbook, I Am the Power You Undermine, which is out on September 30th from Victorina Press.


THE POET

“Don’t tell me stories about great kings/tell me stories about great queens who ran the world/ and were never heard of/ Don’t tell me what to become/let me become what I want/ Don’t use religion against me/or threaten me with hell/Being a slave to a man is hell enough”.


Nour Morjan is a feminist Syrian immigrant living in Shropshire. Her poems express a powerful belief in a woman’s right to own her body and she questions patriarchal societies and deep-rooted religious impositions. In Nour's poetry, she explores the internal battles she faces in her continuing search to find a sense of belonging, which she lost after moving to the UK. In constant dialogue with herself, she experiences loss of identity, cultural shock, but also self-growth. Living between cultures has given her an insight into what makes her a woman. 

 


Welcome, Nour! I must confess right away to my readers that I was the editor of I Am the Power, and therefore I feel personally invested in your collection. It struck me when I first read the poems that many of them feel as though they are a spontaneous outpouring of strong emotions. This gives them a freshness and immediacy, as though you wrote them in a very short timeframe. In reality, how long did it take you to write this debut collection and how much re-drafting did you do before you were happy to send it out into the world?

Thank you for having me here – and of course thank you for all your help with editing my pamphlet. You are spot on, the majority of my poems were written as a spontaneous outpouring of my feelings and emotions. I wrote most of them while on the bus on my daily journey to university at the time, or when I was in a new place which inspired me or helped me explore different feelings. I wrote the poems over a period of five years or so. Individually – apart from a few exceptions – most of them did not take me long to write. For some poems, I would write the initial line as a prompt, and would then leave it for a few days, weeks, or even months, until I had explored my feelings again and knew how to translate them into a poem.
    Initially, I wasn’t planning on publishing a collection, but when I was told that my poems stood a good chance of being published, I started considering re-drafting them with that in mind. I completed the initial re-drafting when I did my first ever live reading during the Refugee Week – a yearly event celebrated nationally. After that, I re-visited my poems more frequently, reading them out loud sometimes to listen to how they sounded. I finally submitted them to Victorina Press and they were accepted for publication.
 
I Am the Power You Undermine is a very personal piece of work, exploring your experiences and challenges as an immigrant, and your search for identity. I know you describe yourself as a Muslim feminist, and that you have very strong opinions on abortion rights, the restrictions of patriarchal societies and religious impositions. Have you ever been reluctant to express these beliefs for fear of judgement, or have you always had the courage and confidence to speak out about them? And do you think your writing has helped you to get your message across?

In all truthfulness, I was reluctant for a very long time to express my views, which I knew were radical. Coming from a very conservative Muslim society, I was always anxious about how my feminism would be received, especially when it came to comparing the things men or boys were entitled to compared to the choices that I, as a girl, and later as a woman, was given. I did argue with people around me about some of these topics, and the response was always either rejection or some form of policing. This fear haunted me for a very long time, and was the very reason why I wanted to move abroad. I wanted to have the space to explore my feminism and allow myself to grow as a woman. I fought a lot of mental battles around my religion and my society, and I had to do a lot of unlearning – exploring and challenging both myself and the society around me, including some religious people. This in turn affected my mental health. At one point, these battles were so hard to fight that I lost the will to live. Some people don’t understand that feminism isn’t just about women’s rights but also about the extent of the damage that the patriarchy has inflicted on us and on society – affecting men as well as women. I had to learn how to conquer my ground and empower myself and I did that through writing and through learning more about feminism from amazing feminist activists. Writing empowered and encouraged me to face my feelings and explore the ideas that came to me.

Do you look for inspiration outside your own life as well as to your own experiences?

My poems are predominantly about my own personal journey, but I have written from other people’s viewpoints as well. I wrote about refugees and abortion even though I am not a refugee myself and I haven’t experienced abortion. I know that going through the pain of these life events is not the same as writing about them, but I wanted to shed light on important social and political issues.
    I am also aware that some of my own experiences resonate with many other people. So, while most of the poems are written from my own perspective, I know that they are universally relevant.

What was your biggest challenge when writing this collection?

The biggest challenge was when I had the urge to write but had no time to do it. Writing has always been an essential way of surviving and keeping me sane in this crazy world. But as we get older, we have other pressing commitments.

What did you enjoy most about writing the collection?

When I write, I feel more myself, and I have this bond with my inner soul which brings me truth and peace. I wrote these poems without the intention of getting them published, but simply to connect with myself and just breathe through my writing.

I know you are a pharmacist and have a busy working (and home) life. Is it difficult to find the time and space to write?
 
Working in healthcare certainly can be tough, and with the pandemic we had even more difficult and challenging days. I also had to study for my registration exam alongside working full time and having a family to take care of.
    I must say, that with my husband’s help and support, I manage to find some time to write whenever I get the impulse. When I feel words are flowing in my head then I try to write, whether I am in the car park waiting for my shift to start or before I go to bed – or even while waiting for the food to be cooked.

Your publishers, Victorina Press, believe very strongly in the principles of bibliodiversity. What does this mean to you personally and was it a factor in your decision to submit your work to them?

I knew that submitting my poetry to a publisher believing strongly in diversity would mean my work would truly be seen from the angle I wanted it to be seen. Considering that I come from an ethnic minority background, I don’t always get to be seen as I am. Immigrants are often overlooked, and their talents can be hidden under the umbrella of social and cultural barriers. It takes both parties, the person from the ethnic minority and the surrounding society, to break down those impediments and create a more integrated society. Victorina created this space for people like me to have their voice heard and to let their talent sparkle. There was a time when I felt my background was a disadvantage to my progression in life, but through my journey I learnt how to turn the disadvantage into an advantage, and I feel that being from an ethnic minority gives a special flavour to my writing.
 



What is next for you as a writer? Another poetry collection or something else?

I write poetry consistently, but sometimes in Arabic. I might start translating some of the poems into English. I do want to write a book, but it is very early days. I have more than one idea floating in the air and I have not settled on one yet.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today. I can’t wait to see I Am the Power in print and I really hope it all goes well for you!

It has been my pleasure.

You can pre-order Nour’s collection HERE


 
 



 

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Same Same But Different

I've been neglecting my blog of late! I know, I know, it's a familiar and regular cry from bloggers all over the land!

I've been busy doing some freelance editing, tutoring my short story course for the Retreat West Creative Writing School, and – more recently – doing some marketing work for an indie publisher. This has all left very little time for writing, and I seem to be busier as a part-time self-employed person than I ever was as an employee. Which isn't quite what I'd planned!

I've had some recent success with short stories, winning the H E Bates Short Story Competition and being Highly Commended for the Fish Short Story Prize, and my short story, 'An Unfamiliar Landscape' has just been published in a beautiful hardback collection, Same Same But Different, alongside writers such as A L Kennedy, Helen Simpson, Paul McVeigh and Alison Moore. So lots of exciting stuff going on.

My new novella, Crossing the Lines will hopefully be out from Victorina Press at the end of this year, and I've just signed a contract for my next short story collection, An Unfamiliar Landscape, with another indie press. More news on that soon!

So that's all my news – how about you?

Hopefully I'll be around more now, as I plan to share some author interviews with you soon.


Tuesday, 20 April 2021

So excited to be part of this new anthology!

I've got a mention in The Bookseller! So excited that my short story will feature in this forthcoming anthology from Everything With Words alongside some of my all-time writing heroes!

Indie Everything With Words expands into adult books

Indie children's publisher Everything With Words is expanding into adult books this year with three new titles.

The press, set up in 2013 by Mikka Haugaard to bring authors into schools, said it was encouraged to make the move after releasing its first novel for adults last year, Inside the Beautiful Inside by Emily Bullock, which won praise from the Sunday Times and Observer.

Among the new books is The Tiny Gestures of Small Flowers by Emily Critchley, released on 15th July, billed as a navigation of family, toxic relationships, coercive control and independence. “Gripping" magical realist story Circles a Clover by Michael Egan follows on 26th August.

On 2nd September, Everything With Words will publish Same Same but Different with an introduction by Amanda Craig, a story anthology themed around solitude including tales by A L Kennedy, Stephen Thompson, Alison Moore, Amanda Huggins and Helen Simpson.

Haugaard, founder and publisher, said: “I enjoy being involved in the wonderful and crazy world of children’s fiction— lots of talent there— but my passion is for adult literary fiction with all its variety, from the restrained to the passionately outspoken. I am particularly drawn to those who know how to blend the lyrical with the vernacular and take the reader by surprise.”

Interview With Writer M Valentine Williams

Today, I'm welcoming M Valentine Williams to my blog to talk about her forthcoming book, Losing It, and her dystopian novel, The Marsh ...