I first came across, Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn’s debut novel, ‘Here comes the sun’, through writer, blogger and book reviewer, Anne Goodwin.
Neither the book cover nor the title appealed to me at first. They both seemed too light hearted and brought to mind too many negative images around the ongoing political debate on Caribean tourism. Hence, I only skimmed through Anne’s review and, at the end, decided (to support the writer (something I regularly do) by (one day soon) picking up a second hand copy of the novel.
Weeks later, during a discussion with Anne Goodwin on the novel, she asked for my opinion on it. I was engrossed in another novel at the time, but considered it and later, ventured a read.
I didn't get into it until after the first couple of pages, but after that, I was hooked.
I found Nicole Dennis-Ben’s writing style to be beautiful and refreshing; her characters true to life and the issues raised by the novel explosively ‘political’.
My only disappointment was with the ending. But I’ll let you decide yourself what you think on that.
Take my word for it, Nicole Benn’s ‘Here comes the sun’, is truly worth a read.
How do you feel? Does your kindle do it for you?
Great news. I submitted one of my short stories, Saturday's Soup to The Mechanics' Institute Review (MIR) Online and I am happy to say that they've agreed to published it. I consider it to be one of my best short stories so far. Hope you get some kind of a stir out of reading it.
As always, I would welcome your feedback.
You can check it out here: mironline.org/fiction/.
Writers are advised to read widely. Diversify. Don’t just read the writers you love or have grown used to reading. Go outside of the box. This will help to improve your writing, as well as your awareness of what other works are out there.
As some of you will know, I am working on the second draft of my novel, ‘A woman like Doli’. As it happens (yes, it does) islolation and self doubt started creeping in. I sought the support of a mentor and chose Emma Darwin, who came recommended by a fellow writer.
Reading Emma's profile I took a mental step back when I discovered her writing genre is historical fiction. I checked out her first novel, ‘The mathematics of love’.
From the Suffolk countryside to the old Basque towns of Spain, Emma Darwin's unforgettable debut tells the astoundingly moving story of Stephen, a veteran of Waterloo…’
This write up just didn't appeal to me because it seemed to be set in a place and time that had nothing to do with my world nor one I'd be interested in. And Historical fiction? It's just not something I'd choose to read. On top of that, due to my politics on war, I did not want to get into the head of a soldier.
But Emma is my mentor. I could see she knows stuff. I mean really knows stuff. Stuff that I was already taking on board to help improve my writing; structuring and loads of other things related to the writing process. Reading her novel would actually enable me to see how she applies what she’s trying to show me. It could speed up my learning process.
Then…what do they call it? ‘Divine intervention’? Coincidence? Well, I got an episode of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) and had to rest my wrist. What on earth was I going to do with myself? I couldn’t be asked to activate my speech recognition software so that I could dictate my work onto the page. So, I did more reading. Finished the novel I was currently reading; started to read another, then it came to me: What about Emma’s book?
I bought it. Started it. Felt uncomfortable reading the first few pages full of oldie worldie language, from the point of view of my ‘dreaded character’ ⎼ the soldier, then as I read on, discovered I'd found a good read, a page turner that surpassed my expectations. It was a great and satisfying read.
Thank you Emma Darwin, for, among other things, taking me out of my comfort zone.
Turns out, I do like historical fiction after all.
What about you? Do you tend to stay in the 'safe/tried and tested' zone with your reading, or do you think you could do with some diversifying?
Three months ago, I decided to read a book by a well known award winning author. This book had been sitting on my shelf to many years and I chose to read it ‘for a change’ from the last two prize winners and chit lit books I’d been emmersed in reading.
I really enjoyed reading my new selection and (as I often do) decided to search for other books by the same author. Yeepie! I was in reading heaven and ended up munching through three in a row by the same author. I loved his writing style. His plots were varied and interesting and as a writer I found myself learning a thing or two from his work. I was eager to reading his next novel and got stuck right in.
Unfortunately, after reading the first few pages of the fourth in my selection, I started to lose interest. The story kept sagging. “Where’s this going?” I asked myself. “Give him the benefit of the doubt.” I plodded on. Everytime the story presented a slight upturn, I got excited, telling myself, this is it. Now we’re getting somewhere. But no. More than half way through and even when I was almost at the end, I still found myself counting how many pages I had left before I could put it down.
As a serious writer, I have learnt to assess and reassess everything I read. So why didn’t I enjoy this read?
I’m sure the author had his reasons for writing this novel and I could see some of the issues he was trying to raise, but the reading experience left me wondering why this book was published, when surely the publisher or agent knows this author could do better. He has a track record to prove it. Clearly I have more to learn about the publishing industry.
What do you do when you find yoursef reading a book that isn't doing it for you? Do you continue reading inspite of it all? Or are you one of those people who simply put the book down and not recommend it to fellow readers? Do you give up on the author altogether and never pick up another one of their books? I'd love to know.
Earlier this month, I attended my first literary festival - Calabash, in Jamaica. It took place over three days in the wonderful picturesque setting of Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth.
The audience mainly came from Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean, but participants came around the world.
The numerous stalls at the entrance to the venue, displayed colourful crafts and and clothes and there was an opportunity to sample some Jamaican coffee. Food and drinks were also continuously available, of course.
On day one, we enjoyed listening to Jamacian writers such as Nicole Dennis-Benn, whose debut novel, ‘Here comes the sun’, will be published this year. Award winning, Kaylie Jones, author of ‘Lies my mother never told me’ read some of her work, together with, Chigozie Obioma, whose first novel,‘The Fishermen’, was named as book of the year for 2015 by the UK Observer, The Economist, The Financial Times and others.
Poets such as Ilya Kaminsky, Valdimir Lucien and Jessica Care Moore, performed some of their work. There might be some bias here, but I particularly liked Vladimir's poem 'Description of Articles', where he lists items we conceal in our suitcases when we are leaving the Caribbean for England. This poem had most of us in fits of laughter.
The evening ended with a wonderful Roots Rock Reggae session, with reggae singer and songwriter, Protoje, as the main artist.
In the ‘Movable Feast’ section, on day two, we were treated to poetry readings from Tishani Doshi, Nikola Madzirov, Ladan Osman and Kei Miller. Novelists included the Man Bookere prize winner, Eleanor Catton. Poet, novelist and political activist, Chris Abani (Nigeria/USA) sat in facinating reasoning (conversation) with Paul Holdenraber. I was particularly touched by his poems about his father.
On the last day, we listened to extracts from the stories of the five finalists of the Commonwealth Short story competition for 2016. Then the final winner was announced. This year Parashar Kulkarni, from India, won the grand prize (£5,000). Well done Parashar. His story, ‘Cow and company’, also had the audience in giggles.
The two popular open mike sessions allowed some people in the audience (mainly poets, due to the three minute limit) to perform some of their work. This really demonstrated just how many talented people are out there (most 'undiscovered'). I got the opportunity to read one of my pieces of flash fiction: 'An Okay Day'.
The final day ended with music from the Calabash Acoustic Ensemble. The theme was a celebration of food, so many were taken down memory lane with Jamaican folk songs such as:
"...carry mi ackee, go a Linstead Market
Not a quattie worth sell
...carry me ackee, go a Linstead Market
Not a quattie worth sell...
Lawd what a night, not a bite
What a Saturday night
Lawd what a night not a bite
What a Saturday night.'
Here are some pics (and a U-Tube link) I think you'll also enjoy.
Parshar Kulkarni: Winner of Commonwealth short story competition 2016.
Me with my country man: poet, screenwriter and actor, Vladimir Lucien.
Me and one of my favourite dub poets: The master, Linton Kwesi Johnson who is the only black poet, to be published in the Penguin Modern Classics series.
Finally, if you're looking for a good read, you might want to take a look at the work of some of the authors who attended the festival.
The Calabash Literary Festival takes place biennially. Admission is free!
I know one person who's not going to miss it in 2018.
Ok it’s been over three weeks since my 'early to bed and early to rise' challenge. For twelve out of the 24 days since setting this task, whilst I have not always managed to get to bed early enough to get my required 7-8 hours of sleep, I have sprang out of bed on time (mostly without an alarm) and spent at least two hours editing my novel. On two occasions, I even woke up at 3.30!
Day one was exciting for me. I sat at my computer and listened to the sounds of whistling frogs, interrupted by the chorus of cocks crowing and not a sound in the house (ahh, bliss). An hour later, the odd car was passing by. And I thought I was an early bird?
One day in my second week, the rain started pelting down on the galvanized roof (this always gives me that 'cosy' feeling). I was sorely tempted to rush back to my bed and snuggle down under the sheet, but I managed to drum up enough self-talk: “It’s 5.30 Steff,” I told myself, “and who's gonna do your writing while you’re sleeping?”
In week three there was so much rain, my house was totally flooded out and I couldn’t even sleep there that night. The recovery process lasted for days. Taking all of this into consideration, I would give myself 7 out of 10 for effort and perseverance.
One thing I would say though is, I’d forgotten just how long the editing process can take and the concentration that’s needed. In particular, I got bogged down with a scene, where I am introducing one of the main characters’ boyfriend to the reader for the first time. That kept not feeling right for me and I wasn’t even sure if it was coming at the right time in the story. Even whilst writing this blog I’m still a little unsure, but part of the fun of editing is the freedom to play around with changes.
I recently read two novellas, ‘Quicksand’ and ‘Passing’, by Nella Larsen. They were published in the late 1920s and both fit into my ‘good reads’ category. I find the writing style of that period quite refreshing. For example, the first few lines in chapter one of ‘Quicksand’ reads:
‘Helga Crane sat alone in her room, which at that hour, eight in the evening, was in soft gloom. Only a single reading lamp, dimmed by a great black and red shade, made a pool of light on the blue Chinese carpet, on the bright covers of the books which she had taken down from their long shelves, on the white pages of the opened one selected, on the shining brass bowl crowded with many-colored nasturtiums beside her on the low table, and on the oriental silk, which covered the stool at her slim feet.’
I had to read this section again, just to confirm that the second sentence was really that long and to immerse myself in the language, style and how they hung together. It worked for me and, in fact, grabbed my attention more, even though I know most writers would try to avoid such long sentences, for fear of losing the reader.
Nella Larsen was of dual heritage. Her father was from one of the Dutch colonies in the Caribbean and her mother was Danish born, so it isn’t surprising that both stories have a theme of identity and race running through them.
You can read my review of both stories on the New Black Magazine’s site, by clicking here.
In September I attended an event at Goldsmith’s University entitled, ‘Black British writers in conversation’. When I signed up for my free ticket, I anticipated a round table forum with writers such as Bernadine Evaristo, Andrea Levy, Donna Daley-Clarke, Zadie Smith, Jacob Ross, Courttia Newland etc., discussing aspects of writing – their journeys into writing, the stumbling blocks they have faced (or still do) as black writers; the publishing world and the best way forward for writers etc. Lovely…. This could not be missed, I thought.
First I hit a bad start. That afternoon, I got to the station to find that due to flooding (we’d had a massive down-pour earlier) no trains were running from Ilford to Liverpool Street. I took another route – you know – going backwards to come forward again, and eventually made it to the event one hour late!
I walked in, sweat dripping down my neck and lower back and tip-toed to an available seat. There were two black women on the stage: Bernadine Evaristo and another, whom I later learnt was Andrea Stuart. At the time she was reading from her published autobiography. The writing was engaging enough to draw me in and give my body some time to cool down.
There was a third woman on the stage and, because she was white, I wondered why she was there. It soon became clear that she was the chair. Deirdre Osborne.
Was this it? I asked myself, after Andrea Stuart finished reading her piece. True it was difficult for me to get into the event, having arrived so late, but I couldn’t help wondering: Where are the rest of the black writers? I looked around the theatre. There were between 70-100 of predominantly young black people, but a whole block of vacant seats. Out of the questions from the audience, I found the most interesting ones to be around ‘Exhibit B’, and the MA in Black British Writing, Performance and Drama.
My journalistic curiosity began to bubble.
Today, you can read my finished article published in The Voice newspaper on Thursday 4th December, by clicking here.
Here you'll find my views and comments on my experiences and other stuff I just can't shut up about.