And The Winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017 is…

…Naomi Alderman’s The Power.

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Stay With Me – Ayobami Adebayo
The Power – Naomi Alderman
The Dark Circle – Linda Grant
The Sport of Kings – C.E. Morgan
First Love – Gwendoline Riley
Do Not Say We Have Nothing – Madeleine Thien

I have popped links to all my thoughts on the shortlisted books, bar Do Not Say We Have Nothing which I have tried to complete twice. I might try it again in July as a buddy read with my good old pal Mercedes off of that YouTube. Speaking of youtube if you fancy a bitesize round up of the books that were shortlisted and indeed the winner on my booktube channel here.

So what do you think about the winner? Which of them was your favourite? Which, if you still have some to read, will you be heading to next?

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Stay With Me – Ayòbámi Adébáyò

As this goes out on the blog, tonight will see the winner of the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction 2017 announced. In a break with tradition on the blog, I decided that instead of telling you all about the shortlist (though I think I have reviewed all of them bar one and made video about them here too) I wanted to share my thoughts on my very favourite last. I have loved a lot on the shortlist this year but without a doubt my favourite has to be Stay With Me by Ayòbámi Adébáyò which has pretty much every element of what I love in a book and held me captivated by it.

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Canongate, hardback, 2017, fiction, 304 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

From the opening of Stay With Me we know that something has gone very wrong with the marriage between Yejide and her husband Akin as she writes of packing up and driving away. Where to, where from and what has happened we do not yet know but soon we are taken back a decade or two before to when the cracks began to show. The time when after much trying Yejide was finding it very difficult to get pregnant and it was becoming the constant focus of her husband and his family’s attention. (I know the below is quite a long excerpt, however I think it gives a real flavour of what comes in the novel as I am going to have to say very little as I don’t want to give too much away, which I will explain.)

I had expected them to talk about my childlessness. I was armed with millions of smiles. Apologetic smiles, pity-me smiles, I-look-unto-God smiles, name all the fake smiles needed to get through an afternoon with a group of people who claim to want the best for you while poking at your open sore with a stick, and I had them ready. I was ready to listen to them tell me I must do something about my situation. I expected to hear about a new pastor I could visit; a new mountain where I could go to pray or an old herbalist in a remote village or town whom I could consult. I was armed with smiles for my lips, an appropriate sheen of tears for my eyes and sniffles for my nose. I was prepared to lock up my hairdressing salon throughout the coming week and go in search of a miracle with my mother-in-law in tow. What I was not expecting was another smiling woman in the room, a yellow woman with a blood-red mouth who grinned like a new bride.

It soon transpires that Akin and his family have been plotting a back-up plan which is to introduce a second wife into the home, Funmi, a woman who they believe will bear children and thus save the family line as well as the marriage between Akin and his first wife. Breaking away from what is socially and culturally expected of her Yejide fights back initially in a rather comic way, yet this is the beginning of an unravelling between Yejide and Akin and a downward spiral of Yejide’s already low sense of worth since the death of her own mother in childbirth.

‘What did you feed them?’ Akin shouted.
‘Bridegroom, welcome back,’ I said. I had just finished eating my dinner. I picked up the plates and headed for the kitchen.
‘You know they all have diarrhoea now? I had to park by a bush for them to shit. A bush!’ He said, following me into the kitchen.

That is where I pretty much have to stop telling you the story, and we are only a chapter or two in, because what follows is a fantastically twisting and turning tale of what happens between Yejide and Akin in the aftermath of this with Adébáyò almost turning a marriage into a thriller which I wasn’t expecting but delighted me with the way in which she accomplished it. Of course, there is a danger in me simply saying that there are plenty of twists and turns ahead may mean you will look out for them but I doubt you will spot them. I genuinely couldn’t tell what was might happen next, and there were many a gasp out loud moment and many a heart dropping moments for this reader.

I am slightly worried that comparing Stay With Me to a thriller may diminish it in some people’s eyes, they couldn’t be more wrong and not only because to accomplish the best kinds of thrillers you need to hide a tightly constructed spiders web of plot where one can’t be seen. Adébáyò does this and much, much more. Behind the domestic dramas that are going on is the drama of Nigeria in the 1980’s and all the rioting and crime that was taking over the country and adds an additional tension to the novel as well as some heart breaking and shocking scenes as the novel moves forward.

I could not imagine then that one day in Nigeria thieves would be bold enough to write letters so that victims could prepare for their attacks, that one day they would sit in living rooms after raping women and children and ask people to prepare pounded yam and egusi stew while they watched movies on VCRs that they would soon disconnect and cart away.

One of the other elements that I admired so much about the book, and yet I have seen criticised in some places, is the fact that as the book goes on you realise it isn’t always Yejide that is narrating the story. Sometimes it flits to Akin and it takes you a small while to realise and then reassess the voice you are reading. I loved this because I thought it not only highlighted the two points of view of a marriage and all that befalls it, but more cleverly is that Adébáyò asks you to stop making assumptions about how a woman might feel about marriage and parenthood and how a man might feel about marriage and parenthood. It gives you so much to think about as well as asking you to check your own assumptions of men and women, though kindly.

You might think this implies that Adébáyò creates two leading characters who merge in to one far too easily, again that isn’t that case. Adébáyò’s characters all come fully formed whether it be leading players like Yejide, Akin, Funmi, Dotun or Moomi or lesser characters like Yejide’s competitor hairdresser Iya Bolu or the hermit up the mountain. They all brim with life, laugher and more often than not secrets. I adored them, even the shadier ones. I also loved the elements of fairy tale (you know me, I love a good fairy tale or myth) that intertwine and are told throughout too. Not often yet deftly and adding certain nuances when they do.

My favourite story was the one about Oluronbi and the Iroko tree. Initially, it was difficult for me to believe the versions my stepmothers told. Their Oluronbi was a market woman who promised to give her daughter to the Iroko tree if it could help her to sell more goods than other traders in the market. At the end of the story, she lost her child to the Ikoro. I hated this version because I did not believe that anyone would trade a child for anything else. The story as my stepmothers told it made no sense to me, so I decided to create my own version.

I could frankly go on for hours about how much I loved Stay With Me, can you tell? It brims with life, humour (dark and saucy), heartache and hope. It is one of those books that just enraptures you within its pages and you find yourself thinking about those characters, situations and layers long after as well as thinking ‘what a bloody good story that was’. For me this was a dream of a novel, it will be one of my books of the year without a shadow of a doubt, and I think Adébáyò is going to be an author to watch in wonder. Go read this book.

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The Power – Naomi Alderman

The finale of the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction seems to have crept up on me all of a sudden. There is that space between the shortlist being announced in April and the winner being announced in June that feels like ages but whizzes by, or maybe I am just getting old? Anyway, I still have two of the shortlisted titles to review and the penultimate is The Power by Naomi Alderman who is one of those authors I have always meant to read yet for some reason or other haven’t. Now, having read her latest, I certainly will be.

9780670919987

Penguin Viking, hardback, 2016, fiction, 342 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Imagine a world where ‘power’ is literally within women’s hands. Sounds a damn site better than the world is at the moment with old President Tango and his chums over the water on one side and Captain Crazy and his nuclear testing on the other, oh yeah and that other one who hates gays but spends weekends riding around on horses topless with several other men. Sorry I seem to have digressed already, where was I? Oh yes, the book…

Young women around the world are waking up with something different ignited in them, literally, they have an electrical power of some kind which has lain dorment for decades is now running through their veins. Initially just one or two younger girls have it, yet soon it is many, many, many of them and what is more they can ignite the power within older women be it their mothers, aunts, teachers, co-workers. This is the world in which we are thrown into by Naomi Alderman, well technically Neil Adam Armon (more on him later) and a world we see through four sets of eyes.

There’s a crackling flash and a sound like a paper snapper. She can smell something a bit like a rainstorm and a bit like burning hair. The taste welling under her tongue is of bitter oranges. The short man is on the floor now. He’s making a crooning, wordless cry. His hand is clenching and unclenching. There is a long, red scar running up his arm from his wrist. She can see it even under the blond hairs, patterned like a fern, leaves and tendrils, budlets and branches. Her mum’s mouth is open, she’s staring, her tears are still forming.

First there is Roxy, who discovers she has the power in her hands when she and her mother find herself threatened at the hands of some gangsters, the outcome of the encounter leading her to look for revenge. Tunde, a young man from Nigeria, who works as a journalist and starts reporting/blogging/vlogging (Alderman embraces the digital world in this novel which I really, really liked and not many authors could pull off as well) as this new electric epidemic begins. We then have Margot, a middle-aged woman working in Government surrounded by men she could do the job a million times better than but due to the patriarchal society, ever the more concentrated in politics, has not risen as high as she could. Finally, we have Allie who after years of abuse uses her power to free herself in a murderous way, and once discovering how strong her power is starts a new kind of gang/cult/religion through the power of the internet, though which becomes ever the more a reality bringing girls with ‘the power’ together.

There’s one girl, Victoria, who showed her mother how to do the thing. Her mother, who, Victoria says as simply as if she were talking about the weather, had been beaten so hard and so often by Victoria’s stepdad that she hasn’t a tooth left in her head. Victoria woke the power up in her with a touch of her hand and showed her how to use it, and her mother threw her out into the street, calling her a witch.

There is a lot that I admire in The Power and the not too distant future world that Aldermen creates. There is the message of empowerment and equality which she looks at in the forefront and start of the book but what I admired more is that she takes it to another level. Many authors would create a world where all women use their power for good and the world becomes a harmonious place where ‘the power’ is used to right the wrongs and punish the bad. Which could be a possibility and, in many cases, is how young girls and women interact with this new-found ability at the start of the novel. However, power is a tricky beast regardless of gender, to use that famous phrase ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ yet also power can become an addictive trip and once people have power it can change them in many ways, women or men, girls or boys.

No one knows why; no one’s done enough research on the thing to venture a suggestion. She’s getting fluctuations. Some days she’s got so much power in her that she trips the house fuse box just turning on a light. Some days she has nothing, not even enough to defend herself if some girl picks a fight with her in the street. There are nasty names now for a girl who can’t or won’t defend herself. Blanket, they call them, and flat battery. Those are the least offensive ones.     

As The Power continues the sense of dread and horror mounts, partially as we get titles of parts of the book like ‘Can’t be more than seven months left’ but also as women start to use the power for their own gains, for revenge, to create terror and fear. We see with Roxy and Allie particularly what can happen when people get a power trip. We also see through Tunde’s eyes just how some women, almost in packs, take this power and use it for revenge. There was one particular scene which I found genuinely horrifying and still gives me the chills every time I think about it. As a reader you start the novel thinking ‘this is so cool’ and ‘those men deserve exactly what is coming to them’ and by the end you are left shocked by what some of the characters do, and not just to the men to other women too. Which hits you all the more when you remind yourself this is a fictional world and in the real world real men are doing these things all the time.

My only slight criticism of the book was that I wanted more narrators, not something I usually say and not something that is meant as a slight. I just wanted to see the world through even more eyes, particularly through the eyes of one of the women living in the woods, admittedly it would be a pretty twisted narration (you can’t say I am someone who doesn’t like an unlikeable character) and also more from Jo’s perspective. This is a minor issue but one I did think on more than one occasion. I think what I am really saying is I wanted more, which is always a good sign.

The Power is like the book equivalent of a rollercoaster, it gives you thrills and then terrifies you leaving you a bit winded and numb at the end – only just sat on your sofa. That is Alderman’s design, she creates a book that will hook you in, take you along at speed and won’t let go until you’re good and done and then leaves you to have a think about it all. This added to by the prologue and epilogue (the latter I won’t spoil but I thought it was a genius stroke) remember I told you about Neil Adam Armon? I will say no more other than I would highly recommend you go and read The Power, I will certainly be going to read more of Alderman’s books that’s for sure.

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Manchester

Many of you who’ve been visitors here a while will know that I moved to Manchester at the end of 2010 during a very turbulent time in my life. I was welcomed, distracted, rebuilt and made incredible friendships, some will be life long. So the news last night devastated me for the city, the people (especially as it seems to be people so young) and there loved ones. I just wanted to leave this poem by Adam O’Riordan here for people to understand the Manchester spirit and why I love it and it’s people so.

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David France wins The Green Carnation Prize (And You Could Win It!)

So as many of you know, I cofounded a prize called The Green Carnation Prize which celebrates LGBTQ+ writers and their fantastic books be they fiction, poetry, memoir, graphic novel, short stories or non fiction. Well the winner has not long been announced AND as I am feeling full of the Green Carnation spirit I will be giving a copy away at the end of the post, but first here is all you need to know about the winning book which was chosen from an INCREDIBLE shortlist…

How to Survive a Plague (hadback)-1

The Green Carnation Prize today announces David France’s insider account of the AIDS epidemic, How To Survive A Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS, as the unanimous winner at a ceremony hosted by Foyles in London, UK.

The third non-fiction winner in the Prize’s seven-year history, France’s book was up against a shortlist that also featured Stella Duffy, Garth Greenwell, Kirsty Logan, and Kei Miller. First released as a film in 2012, How To Survive A Plague was dedicated to France’s partner Doug Gould, who died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1992, and went on to be nominated for best documentary in 2013 Academy Awards.

Double Emmy-nominee, France, an investigative reporter and a chronicler of AIDS since the early 1980’s, used his unparalleled access to the community to share the story of the AIDS epidemic and the grassroots movement of activists, many of them facing their own life-or-death struggles, who grabbed the reins of scientific research to help develop the drugs that turned HIV from a mostly fatal infection into a manageable disease.

Chair of judges and internationally acclaimed author John Boyne said: ‘In this time of renewed activism in an increasingly uncertain world, France’s definitive account of the AIDS crisis and the activists who changed the fate of so many lives, seems vital and important to inspire everyone, not just the LGBTQ+ community. We couldn’t be prouder to choose this book as the rightful winner.’

Simon Heafield, Head of Marketing at Foyles, said: ‘I’m so glad to have another excuse to recommend David France’s magnificent book to Foyles readers. This essential and inspirational account of one of the darkest periods of recent history is also a breathtakingly riveting read, full of unforgettable characters. This is arguably one of the most important books published in 2016, and a very deserving winner.’

In addition to his trophy, France also received a bottle of champagne and his winning book will receive national in-store promotion across Foyles bookshops. Now in its seventh year, the Prize, with the support of Foyles, seeks to champion the best writing by an LGBTQ author in the UK. It is a vital recognition and celebration for books as diverse as the community it represents and unified by a common thread: sheer quality of writing.

Simon Savidge, Director of the Prize, said: ‘I am delighted that David France has won The Green Carnation Prize with this incredible and important book. We have made many steps forward in the 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, however some of the voices of our history have often been silenced. I hope this book will enlighten people, make them question what they think they know and encourage discussion. That is what every great book does.’

Previous winners have included Patrick Gale, Catherine Hall, and Christopher Fowler. Last year, following the highest number of submissions to date, the Prize was awarded to Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings. Upon winning the prize, James said: “Six years ago I wouldn’t have been able to voice that I was LGBT, so to be recognised for that and for work the judges felt was great is fantastic.”

So there you have it. I now instantly have to start thinking about next year’s prize, well maybe after a few celebratory shandies. Before that though I promised you the opportunity to win a copy of the book. So how can you? Well simply leave a comment below telling me what your favourite LGBT book is and why by the 1st of June and I will select one entry from anywhere in the world and email you and send it over. That simple. So go for it and good luck!

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Catching Up With a Cuppa or a Costa…

So another month or so goes by and after promising to get the blog up and running and back in business, I haven’t. I am a dreadful sausage and should be ashamed. Well I am ashamed if I am honest, I am not going to apologise too profusely as a) I already have several times b) you can’t spend your whole life apologising for being busy can you? For I have been busy, very busy. There has been work where I have taken on another person’s workload because they have gone on maternity and I have also been part of the recruitment plus planning for the next year… exhausting. Then there has been all the bookish stuff which is frankly much more likely to be what you want to hear about isn’t it? Grab a cuppa this could be quite a post, ha.

So what have I been upto? Well… Firstly I was reading all of the Baileys longlist. As many of you know I don’t half love the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and so I was reading the longlist before the shortlist was announced which was quite a mission as even though there were 16 books instead of 20 it was still tough going. It does mean I have loads of wonderful books to talk to you all about though in the next few weeks and months (I may even cheat a bit and backdate some of them, ha naughty) which I am looking forward to.

Secondly I have been getting The Green Carnation Prize all sorted and the admin behind the longlist, shortlist and winner (which will be announced a week today) and the finale party. The judges have been amazing and the wonderful Maura Brickell has been a diamond organising things so really this year it has been minimal and I have felt slightly distanced from it but both long and short lists were wonderfully received, so I am thrilled. I am even starting to look towards next year. Have I read the shortlist? No, only one of them which is shameful isn’t it. But sometimes is it about time, which leads me on to the third and fourth things I have been upto.

Well actually I am a slight tease because one I cannot talk about until June, so let’s put the third on whole. The fourth though is amazing because (and many of you may have seen me explode with joy on Twitter) I have been asked if I will be one of the judges on one of my favourite book prizes. Can you guess which one it is?

Yes, it is the Costa Book Awards!!!! I am beyond excited and still think they might have had one too many coffees when they asked but I am running with it. I can’t tell you which category I have yet, I can say it is one that I am thrilled about and cannot wait to get reading. More in due course. Of course this does mean things might change with the blog as I can’t talk about the submissions I don’t think, however as I have been so shoddy with review since Christmas (ok and possibly a bit before) it does mean I have a stack of other books I can chat to you about. It’s almost like I planned it, in fact let us pretend I did. Ha.

Penultimately, fifthly, I have been doing lots of house and garden sorting. The library has been a slight nightmare but more on that in a future post, it is getting there now though and the lounge, dining room, bathrooms and master suite in the attic are all looking lovely. As is some of the garden, some not all.

Then finally, the sixth reason for being so bonkers busy, is because I have been doing quite a few events (I am wondering if I should have an events page on here?) with the likes of Paula Hawkins, Sarah Schmidt, Patrick Ness and Natalie Haynes over the last few weeks PLUS I have been quite a social butterly. I know, what happened to the man who liked to hide form the world with a book on the sofa or in bed? Well he has been up and down to London, had guests staying and been on a wonderful weekend in Kent. There are a couple more balmy weeks before June (do you want to come on some of these trips with me, would it interest you?) So it really has been quite busy. Oh and I have a wedding to plan, how do I forget that?

So that is me, what have you all been upto? I would love to know, let’s chat in the comments.

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Happy Bithday To Me & The Green Carnation Prize Longlist 2016

Not long before this post goes live, the clocks will have struck midnight and I will have turned 35 years old while I am deep in slumber like Sleeping Beauty. What makes my 35th birthday all the more special is that today The Green Carnation Prize announces its longlist for 2016, which as it’s co-founder seems most apt. Now in its seventh year I honestly couldn’t be more proud that the prize, which started by a conversation on Twitter and administered mainly in my bedroom on my laptop for many years, has grown and grown and the longlist today shows once again the wealth of LGBTQ writing and just why I have kept this prize running to showcase it.

Enough waffle from me here is the list…

  • London Lies Beneath, Stella Duffy (Virago)
  • The Inevitable Gift Shop, Will Eaves (CB Editions)
  • How to Survive a Plague, David France (Picador)
  • What Belongs to You, Garth Greenwell (Picador)
  • A Portable Shelter, Kirsty Logan (Random House)
  • Spacecraft, John McCullough (Penned in the Margins)
  • Augustown, Kei Miller (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
  • Where The Trees Were, Inga Simpson (Blackfriars)
  • Straight Jacket, Matthew Todd (Transworld)

Isn’t that just a corking list? You can find out more about the longlist and see my official quote over on The Green Carnation Prize website here. But indulge me on my birthday, which of these have you read and what did you make of them and are there any which you have been really keen to read?

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