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Interview With Anthony Cartwright, Author Of Peirene Press’ The Cut

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Last year, Peirene Press launched the first title in their ‘Peirene Now’ imprint series. breach, lower case intentional, delivered a collection of short stories about the refugee camp in Calais and various people’s opinions on it. This month second book, The Cut is being released, a response to Brexit, a fictional conversation about the reasons people voted ‘leave’ or ‘remain’.

I said ‘yes’ to the invitation to interview the author; here is the result.

How did you come to write The Cut?

I was approached in the summer of last year by Meike Ziervogel of Peirene. I took it on for a few reasons. The first was that I thought I could do a good job – I’d written about some of the divisions and inequalities that seem to have underpinned much of the vote in my previous work. I also knew I would write about Dudley again. And it was a chance to work with Peirene, whose books I really admire, as part of a fascinating project.

The book opens with a bit of ambiguity. Was this a concious decision, to reveal what was going on, who was involved and how, slowly?

That sequence in Dudley market-place was the first thing I wrote. It wasn’t entirely clear to me who was on fire when I first wrote it. And although it’s probably too simple to say that I wrote the rest of the story to find out who it was, we certainly made a conscious decision while editing to focus on the slow revelation of how a woman comes to run through Dudley on fire. In fact, it was Meike as editor who picked up on this and asked me to pursue it.

There are various ways a book about the Brexit divide could be written because of the effects on both large and individual scales. You chose to focus on two individuals. Why did you decide to do this, and could you tell us about their relationship?

Cairo and Grace’s relationship might be best summed up as mutual attraction but also mutual incomprehension. For the story to work I think it had to be about individuals and a very specific place and set of circumstances. I mean this as a kind of antidote to the massive generalisations all sorts of people were making after the referendum – that we had 17 and a half million racists on one side and 16 million people who were happy with a kind of social apartheid based on class on the other – that kind of thing! I think fiction is able to explore specifics and the emotions of the characters, and this seems more difficult in mainstream political discourse. Of course I also have the luxury of asking questions without having to give answers.

Throughout, the book is subtle in its look at Brexit – the reader often has to look into what else is happening to make the connections – and you include a sort of acknowledgement of this late in the book when Cairo talks about people just living life alongside the debates. Could you tell us more about that?

Some of the great tiredness Cairo talks about at a similar stage in the story is connected with this. He talks about the kind of deep fatigue of having to live lives out on what seems to be the wrong side of a historical divide. To Cairo the hysteria around the referendum is just one more episode in the slow (although sometimes very quick) structural violence that has been done to his community and the place he lives. Something that struck me was the remainers talk of a ‘catastrophe’ after the result, but for many people and places the catastrophe has been going on for generations now. There were plenty of people on both sides of the Brexit divide quite happy to ignore that fact.

What are your hopes for the publication of The Cut, and for Britain going forward in the negotiations?

My own immediate hope is that we get a Labour government in power, fulfilling the promises of the recent manifesto. Economic and social justice should be what matters, the negotiations will have to be driven by that, not the other way round. As for The Cut, well, it’s published now, so if people read it and it makes them think, that would be great.

My thanks to Anthony and to James at Peirene for setting it all up. The Cut is out now. For more information, go to Peirene’s site or The Guardian’s review.

Interview With Laura Barnett

A photograph of Kathryn Williams and Laura Barnett

I’m delighted to welcome Laura Barnett to the blog today (she’s the one on the right – on the left is Kathryn Williams who Laura tells us about). Laura is the author of The Versions Of Us which I reviewed a few years ago – even if it really doesn’t feel that long ago! – and her latest novel is out this month. She’ll be at the Balham Literary Festival this Friday and more details are at the end of this post.

How did the move from journalist to novelist occur?

Slowly! Writing novels was always my primary ambition from about the age of five, and I wrote novellas and short stories throughout my teens. But after graduating from university, I didn’t feel ready to sit down and write that big first novel – I felt like I needed to get out and experience life a bit first. So I trained as a journalist, and spent the next few years working hard on staff at the Telegraph and the Guardian. I was still writing in my spare time, but that time was in short supply – until, in my late twenties, I took the opportunity to go freelance and dedicate myself more fully to writing fiction. It still took several years – and a lot of rejection – before I actually saw my first novel published, and could finally allow fiction to take precedence.

The ‘versions’ in The Versions of Us aren’t all that dissimilar to each other, there are no extreme differences, and each is a very regular life. Had you considered bigger differences? (I thought the lives as they were worked well.)

The Versions Of Us book cover

Yes, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to distinguish the three versions, but I knew I didn’t want them to be too different – to see Eva, say, become a zoo-keeper in Atlanta in one version, and a librarian in Burnley in another. I wanted the novel to consider the smaller permutations of our decisions: the ways in which life draws us down one path over another, changing certain aspects of our circumstances, relationships and personalities, while keeping others the same.

Do you have any ‘what if…’ moments of your own you could share with us?

Like everyone, I have many! Perhaps the most significant is the fact that I was very nearly not born at all… My mum had a fiancé when she was twenty-one who decided to move to America. She broke off the engagement as she couldn’t see a future for herself there; had she not done so, I’d never have existed. We can probably all look back and imagine versions of our parents’ lives in which we would not have figured. I find the thought both disconcerting and intriguing.

Where did the idea for Greatest Hits come from and can you tell us about the decision to bring real music into it?

Greatest Hits book cover

Of course. As so often with a novel, or any creative project, it was the coming together of several different ideas. After The Versions of Us, I knew I wanted my next book to be what we might call a ‘long-view novel’, centred on a character in later life, looking back over her experiences and trying to make sense of them. And I also knew that I wanted to somehow expand the reading experience beyond the page – to work with another artist, from another medium, to forge something really new and original.

From there, it was a short step to deciding that the character at the centre of this new book would be a musician – and that therefore the best way to expand the reading experience would be to work with a real-life singer-songwriter to bring the character’s songs to life.

Can you see yourself working with other medium in future?

Yes, absolutely – I’m really open to anything, and I’ve hugely enjoyed the process of collaborating with Kathryn Williams, not least because novel writing is usually a pretty lonely process! I’m very interested in the visual arts, and I have several ideas about combining fiction with photography and painting. I’m also really excited about the possibilities offered by the recent explosion of interest in podcasts and audiobooks. In fact, Kathryn and I are planning to launch our own podcast soon, so watch this space…

My thanks to Laura, and to Ashton of FMCM.

Laura Barnett is the author of Greatest Hits (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) and will be speaking at Balham Literary Festival on Friday 9th June. If you’re in London in two days time and would like a literary start to your weekend, I would say it’ll be a good evening, and tickets are still available. The festival as a whole runs from tomorrow until Sunday and it’s been created by Dulwich Books.

Interview With Samantha Sotto

Picture of the author

When Samantha Sotto emailed to ask if I’d review her latest book, Love & Gravity, I said yes without a thought and asked if I could add an interview to the arrangement. Sotto’s début, Before Ever After, a road trip novel in the fantasy genre, remains one of my favourite books and having looked over her second I thought it an idea to follow up the interview we did four years ago. (My review will be posted next week.)

Where did the idea for Before Ever After come from?

Before Ever After was inspired by the time I spent living, studying and travelling through Europe as we all as a huge dose of Dr. Who Season 3. I’m a certified Whovian and you will see a lot of The Doctor in Max, the main character of Before Ever After.

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The book is full of travel and history. What did your research for it involve?

I didn’t have an outline when I was working on it. I just knew that it was going to begin in London and end in Italy. I mapped out the countries between those places and chose the countries I had travelled to. From there, I went through the list of locations and – this will sound EXTREMELY strange for those who haven’t read the book – I googled “strange chicken facts.” This served as my inspiration for the historical stories I wrote about in each stop.

Your upcoming book, a time slip/travel, features Issac Newton and a fictional heroine. Why did you decide to write about Issac Newton, particularly in this context?

Believe it or not, Love & Gravity was inspired by an axe-wielding, vampire-hunting American President. My hubby and I had watched Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer and I left the theater with an itch to create my own alternative history tale. It made me wonder about other historical icons and think about the “secret” lives they might have led. I wanted to challenge myself by selecting the most unlikely romantic protagonist and creating a book that would completely change the way readers viewed and felt about him. I came up with a list of historical figures and decided on going with Isaac Newton after I had researched about his life and accomplishments. Isaac explained how and why the apple fell. I wanted to write about the woman who dropped it.

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Where does your love of time travel-esque stories stem from?

Time is something we have absolutely no control of in real life. It marches on whether we want it to or not. We cannot stop it, reverse it, or make it go faster. I like to write about and play with time because fiction is the only place I have power over time and can make it do what I want.

What books do you like to read; which are your favourites?

I like any book that has a good mystery box that keeps me turning the pages. Neil Gaiman is my favorite author, but the books I most recently enjoyed are The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

My thanks to Samantha!

Over to you, my readers: I have both Nicola Cornick’s and Barbara Erskine’s latest time-slip books to read – any others you’d recommend?

Q&A With Sarah Ladipo Manyika

Upon finishing Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun I had some questions and took the chance offered to put them to the author. Not only did Sarah answer them, she prepared an audio version just for The Worm Hole. I’m hopeful the majority of you will be able to listen to the file, but if not the written answers are below. Pausing the audio takes you away from the track, so be aware that if you do pause, you’ll have to either reload this page or visit SoundCloud’s page for the file. If anyone knows how to stop this change happening, do let me know.

Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun

Where did you get the idea for the book and where did the title come from?

In life, I meet many older women who have lived colourful lives, and yet when it comes to fiction I find few stories that mirror this, especially when it comes to the lives of black women. Whenever I cannot find stories that I’d like to read, I inevitably try writing them for myself. The title of my book, Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun, is taken from two lines of Mary Ruefle’s poem, Donkey On. I love the imagery in these lines and the fact that it evokes multiple senses and possible meanings.

Morayo’s love of books is written in detail. Following this you show the process of de-cluttering, then Sage finds a book and keeps it. I was wondering if there was anything in this process?

Morayo’s love of books is, in a way, homage to many of the authors that I’ve admired over the years. The passing of one of Morayo’s many books to my homeless character, Sage, is perhaps symbolic, showing how books can also bring people of all backgrounds together.

A photograph of Sarah Ladipo Manyika

Both Morayo and Reggie are afforded time to talk about their sexuality. Could you tell us about that, the importance of it and so on?

I often find that sexuality in older age is either thought not to exist, or that it shouldn’t exist at all. My characters obviously think quite differently.

The ending is left open – there’s a likely but not forgone conclusion. What was it that made you choose this slight ambiguity?

I’ve always liked endings that leave room for the imagination – for scenarios that even the author might not have imagined. The other day, a reader of my first novel informed me that the way he interpreted the ending of my first book (in which my two main characters sit outside on a bench, hand in hand, reminiscing about times past) was that my characters sat outside in the cold for so long that they froze! This was not at all what I had envisaged for those two characters but…

Any plans for your next book?

Right now I’m working on non-fiction, including a piece on homelessness in San Francisco.

My thanks to Sarah for her answers and also for making a recording – a lovely surprise! Thanks also to Alice from FMCM Associates for the book, information, and set up.

Q&A With Helen Lederer

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the pre-publication party I attended for Helen Lederer’s upcoming novel, Losing It. The book may be about an everyday subject – weight loss – and imbued with comedy, but the way it’s written means you get a good look at the way the idea of weight loss can be taken advantage of, at how one needs to be happy in themselves.

Now nearing the release date, Helen has answered questions for several bloggers (links below so you can carry on the tour if you wish) and we’re kicking it off here, today.

Helen Lederer

What/who inspired Losing It?

Er me! I knew it was a simple story but the characters and canvas were the things I wanted to try and nail as well. And, yes I did do a herbal diet pill for money…!

Tell us a bit about Millie (the main character)

She is me – a negative voice is in her head all the time – she indulges and despairs at her weakness but can’t stop herself from popping things in her mouth.

What made you want to become an author?

I started as a stand up comedian and wrote my own material, I was always writing poetry and forcing my parents to listen… and no one can be mean to you while you are writing (only afterwards) so it seemed the right timing. That’s why I called it Mid lit (as oppose to chick lit) High time to be funny.

Who is your favourite literary or television character?

Miss Jean Brodie; Foyle (Foyle’s War)

What’s next?

Promote this book which is a first! Write the next one! Finish Hollyoaks (I play an alcoholic midwife) April Channel 4…

I confess to never having watched Hollyoaks, but knowing Helen will be on it, I will be tuning in and giving it a go. If you’re interested in following the tour and reading the other interviews, here are the links and dates:


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