The Power of Fresh Eyes

The Power of Fresh Eyes

A friend who writes, also reads.  She, like I, has been an expatriate for many years, moving from country to country, crisscrossing the continents of Africa and Asia as a way of life.  We both have a rich store of memories that we use to glean stories, refusing to settle into the norm or restrict ourselves to writing about our countries of origin.  We prefer to relive our experiences, both the good and the bad, blending them into the stories of others, both real and imagined.

Story telling is a wonderful way to archive our lives, writing the stories of ourselves and of

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Book Signing, Trieste

others as we imagine them to be, but at times it feels like hard toil, especially towards completion, when the draft is rewritten a multitude of times, checking language, continuity, characterization and plot tension; all the threads that run through a good novel, knotting the detail in upon those threads like a carpet maker.  The end result; a strong, beautiful book.

This friend, the writer, wrote today with comments on a chapter of my new novel, ‘The Girl with the White Suitcase’.  Set in Rwanda, Kenya and Italy, it is a coming of age story about an intelligent, young refugee with a multi-ethnic background who cannot choose sides in a war.  It is an ambitious novel that seeks to ask questions about the nature of identity in conflict, inter-racial love, forgiveness, tolerance and female friendship.

With fresh eyes, she can see the things I can no longer see, the little mistakes.  She gives me new ideas and demands that I check and recheck the language, continuity and suspense.  It is that very suspense that keeps the reader beheld, the tension holding the pages tight in the reader’s hand. Without it, the book will fail.

The importance of fresh eyes cannot be overstated, and this is a shout out to thank all the beta-readers out there, helping writers to be the best they can be.   THANKS!

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My Debut, winner of the Cinnamon Press Book Prize 2014

 

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A Writer: Workhorse and Butterfly

A Writer: Workhorse and Butterfly

In this article, writer Ann Pratchett talks about writing fiction and non-fiction. Like her, I find writing non-fiction easy, and fiction very difficult. One taught her to be a workhorse, the other, a butterfly. Like her, I write non-fiction for money in the bank, re-writing thumbnail_disobedient_cover%20draft%206technical documents and editing the English. I do it to deadline and I do it for a living. Like her, I write fiction for pleasure. I do it because I love it, but I do it like a butterfly, flitting back and forth from the manuscript, settling for brief moments to tweak and write, change and rewrite. I have no deadlines apart from the desire to see my fiction in print, pushing me forward to complete stories and novels.

There is a great need to forgive yourself as a writer or as an artist, knowing that what you have produced is the best you are capable of, even if it might not be perfection in your eyes. Self-forgiveness is key to making art, as well as embracing mistakes, perhaps allowing those ‘wrongs’ to lead you in a different, better direction.  Just as with painting, creative writing requires superb technique as well as creative lightness and self-forgiveness.

Here is the article:

The Workhorse and the Butterfly: Ann Patchett on Writing and Why Self-Forgiveness Is the Most Important Ingredient of Great Art

 

 

 

AN INCREDIBLE Book Review: The Disobedient Wife

AN INCREDIBLE Book Review: The Disobedient Wife

I did a Happy Writer’s Dance this morning:

Annika Milisic-Stanley has created a masterpiece with this debut novel. This novel is a page-turner because you want to know every single thing that’s coming next, but it’s a novel you should take time with and really read and process the words, events and emotions. This is a book to buy in print which I eventually will so that you can share it with all of your female friends, sisters, cousins, nieces, or daughters. When a friend or family member is feeling down about their lives, have them read this novethumbnail_disobedient_cover%20draft%206l and draw strength from the incredible Nargis, and remind them to count their blessings because they have boots for walking in the snow or warm water to bathe and wash their hair. This book doesn’t imply that the Tajik women have it worse than anyone else, but their strength and ability to move on is inspirational and moving. “The Disobedient Wife” is by far one of the best pieces of literature I have ever read. “

It was truly lovely to wake up this morning and find this review on my twitter feed.

Apologies, as I have been silent on this blog for a while, for a number of reasons. First, I have been doing NanNoWriMo, or at least, attempting it. Second, I have been busy writing short stories for various competitions and magazines, including adapting extracts from my second novel, ‘The Girl with the White Suitcase’ for publication. Third, we had a school holiday which necessitated that I take ten days off and travel with my kids to see my parents in sunny, stunning Dorset, UK.

Finally, the horrific, terrifying ramifications for the outcome of the American election left me quite speechless for several days as the news sunk in. I work with refugees, many Muslim, and I have lived my adult life overseas, in places where poverty and suffering are the norm. To think that many voters who chose ‘change’ did so out of desperation, opened my eyes to the poverty that exists in the developed world, the inequalities of access to education, jobs and ‘getting ahead’.  Documentary films on North American poverty are shocking, as much as the election of this right wing demagogue and his team.  The world waits, anxiously and mourns while liberal thinkers rush to apportion blame on each other for safe space liberalism, for urban bias and blindness to the needs of people they claim to represent – the underdogs.

I digress, sorry.

This review means so much, I feel inspired, motivated and ready for the world again.  I do not know this reviewer, but she received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Her words have lifted me at a moment when I really needed it.

“THE DISOBEDIENT WIFE,”  BY ANNIKA MILISIC-STANLEY PUBLICATION: CINNAMON PRESS; NOVEMBER 9, 2015 Synopsis: Tajikistan is a harsh place of political and religious repression. It remains deeply patri…

Source: Book Review: The Disobedient Wife

 

 

Autumn – Back to Life

Autumn – Back to Life

The children are back to school and already the heat of August is a dim memory as the cold nights draw in, and the trees start to shed their leaves for winter.  Though temperatures in Italy are higher than in my native home, I look forward to this time of year, loving

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pumpkin soup, bonfires and the flickering candles above my hearth.  It is a time to resume serious work, a time for me to submit my latest manuscript and bite my nails as I wait. I enjoy the cooler weather, sliding into my jeans gratefully after a summer sweating in shorts.  Yesterday evening, I sat watching my eldest play football.  Perched high above him fullsizerender-jpgon colourful, cracked bleachers, the wind blew as the sun descended behind the trees and Italian mothers shivered in ski jackets.  I sheltered behind my enormous handbag and drummed sandal-clad feet on the thin metal floor, bemoaning my lack of foresight to carry a coat. Autumn caught me on the hop.

It is a weird month, September, a sudden rush into the real world again after ten weeks lazing about on beaches, shouting, comforting, driving, mediating and mollifying children.  One weekend working flat out to edit a fascinating document on Migration, Conflict and Food Seccultureurity, another; working to polish and pearl my latest novel.  On both these weekends I should have been relaxing, playing with the family, and I found myself stuck to a screen like Cyprus sap.   The ugly head of cultural appropriation and authenticity arguments popped up again to sully these weeks, with a controversial outburst at a literary festival and the answering ripost posted the day later to be reprinted in the Guardian.  Having completed my report and novel, I marveled at the difference between the ‘real’ world of conflict alleviation and writings on migrant suffering and the ‘creative’ world where to form policy based on focus group discussions, (the refugee ‘VOICE’), led by foreigners would be seen as ethically spurious.

I fiercely defend the right to write, and I love to write about different people and places, digging towards the Universal human experience.  I grew tired reading the animosity on chat threads, wary of arguments between angry American writers and commentators who clearly couldn’t think beyond their individual contextual circumstance, imposing their especial problem on everyone, everywhere.  I felt the frustration setm1ep back – the years spent listening in social anthropology classes; told to study, yet rendered impotent to put the knowledge into practice by my background and identity.  Thankfully, the argument was laid to rest within days as the dust settled. Aminatta Forna wrote a wonderful piece on author pigeon-holing, ‘Don’t judge a book by it’s author’; calming my mood back down to a steady whir.

Meditation resumed, the daily practice of switching down the mind, transcending the conscious mind to find the inner flow of mind waves that run deeper than thoughts.  It was an epiphany –  In many ways, I thought, this sort of transcendence is needed in the world of cultural discourse.  Let us transcend our outer boundaries and cast off the barriers that people want to build between human beings.  Let people unite and write.  I realise, as I return to the practice, tm3that I have never thanked my Mother enough for allowing me to take a TM Course a few years ago.  (Thanks Mum!)  It revives and restores, leaving me refreshed even when tired.  Creativity increases, as does intuition. Negativity recedes.

So, onwards into autumn.  A new book to write, a new book to get printed.  And the baby, my debut.  ‘The Disobedient Wife‘, to keep promoting and pushing out into the world – a reluctant child clinging to my skirts.

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End of Summer reads… Expat Creatives Recommend…

End of Summer reads… Expat Creatives Recommend…

Yes, summer is nearly over.  The children go back to school on Monday.  I will start hustling for contracts and sending in my queries for my next novel, ‘The Girl with the White Suitcase’.  For some lucky fellows, the need for ‘beach read’ ideas continue.  DisplacedDispatches.com contacted me for my recommendations… see below.

First, our summer… Croatia, my husband’s boyhood paradise.  My mornings spent walking my dog each morning to an empty cove nearby, a winding path through the pine trees bordering the turquoise sea.

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It is stunningly beautiful and quiet. I found my peace once again after a hard year.

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When the ‘Bora’ storms buffeted the village, we stayed in and made Lebanese lentils and lamb rogan josh, eating by candlelight when the electricity failed.  I painted the harmony I felt, a swirling abstract of waves passing over stones… and I enjoyed myself.

 

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Later, I traveled to England to explore the Jurassic coast of the South West. I firmly believe that even third culture kids need roots, some knowledge of their parents upbringing.

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With mother and father childhood summers covered, I returned home satiated, to wait out the last few weeks in the sultry heat of Lazio in August.

Displaced Dispatches, an online journal for expatriate creatives contacted me to ask for recommendations for last-minute summer reads: A beach read, a book for airport delays and a back to school/ work book.  To go to the full article, click here

I recommended a wonderful, clever little book of short stories ‘Don’t Try this At Home’  by Angela Readman as my beach read. Mainly for people with distractions (i.e. children needing ice cream/ lunch/ pedalo peddling), these short stories are perfect to dive into and devour in a half hour sitting.

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My airport read? Well, I figured the boredom of a delay required something a little meaty, yet satirical, funny yet serious.  I recommended ‘The White Tiger’ by Aravind Ardiga.

Lastly for the back to work: Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish caught my fancy. If you can’t read violence, then Sanjeev Sahota, The Year of the Runaways. Both relatively new, they deal with the light and dark of immigrant life as a blue collar/ illegal worker in the West.

I was very happy to see that another ‘expat creative’, author Jennifer S. Alderson of

disobedient_cover draft 6Travelling Life Press recommended MY book in her recommended reads list…

‘The Disobedient Wife’ is an expatriate/ local story from Tajikistan, the story of two very different women against a backdrop of violence, betrayal and the murky world of drug trafficking…

For further information, go to amazon or to the website for Cinnamon Press, my publisher here

Happy September my fellow book lovers and bloggers ❤

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing From The Heart, Not For The Market

Writing From The Heart, Not For The Market

An article I wrote for bookbywomen.org about my motivations for writing my novels… Enjoy the read…

Writing From The Heart, Not For The Market

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White Saviour Complex and Writings on Africa

White Saviour Complex and Writings on Africa

An Existential Crisis… at 4am Italian time.

I have nearly finished my second fictional novel, set in Rwanda and Kenya, with chapters in the UK, France and Italy. And now, I am not sure what the feck to do with it.

Everything I read lately suggests that no matter what I write, IF I AM NOT AFRICAN, I AM NOT PERMITTED (by the global liberal public at large) TO WRITE ABOUT AFRICANS.  I put this in Caps Lock to emphasize my frustration and, frankly, my white-knuckled fear of the backlash potentially heading in my direction.

First, I find myself faced with a myriad of potential obstacles over ‘marketability’, and now this; a literary mess of White Saviour-dom to muddy the waters for everyone.  Tsk!  The hashtag #LintonLies is a scathing twitter response from outraged Zambians to a feature in The Telegraph on July 1st, 2016; a new ‘GAP year’ memoir.  Ms Linton is accused of lying (she worked at a fishing lodge on Lake Tanganika in 1999, aged 18, a ‘skinny white muzungu with long angel hair‘).  Rather than memoir, some claim it is ‘warped fiction‘.  She describes hiding in ‘jungle‘ (the environment there is savannah), and fearsome, near-death encounters with Congolese soldiers (Zambia has never faced aggressive military incursions from Congo according to people who live and work there).  What really incenses Zambians though, is her ‘White Saviour Complex‘: her friendship with a little orphan girl ‘who found no greater joy than to sit on her knee and drink coca-cola‘ (sic).

While I understand the infuriation, my heart sank, knowing this can hurt all non-African writers interested in Africa.  Linked (perhaps unfairly, by a Huff Post blog post on the memoir), reading Granta Magazine’s tongue-in-cheek essay by Kenyan writer, Binyavanga Wainaina; ‘How to Write about Africa’, the resentment of some African writers at the White portrayal of Africans and Africa in literature seems stronger than ever.  Running through his list of ‘taboo’ subjects and cliches, I can almost see sarcasm dripping off my laptop, with good reason.  Happily, I appear to have adhered to all his ‘taboos’ 😉

Now, I would like to state that my book is NOT about a White person ‘saving‘ an African.  It is about a strong, educated 17-year old of strong faith, from a middle-class background.  She comes of age, against the odds, as a lone refugee in Kenya.  She does receive help from (and she helps and supports) friends who happen to be Mixed-Race and Black AND White, and she maintains a strong sense of her own agency throughout.  I contrast her life with that of another girl growing up on a rough Marseilles housing estate, demonstrating that daily life in Europe is certainly not (for some) all it is cracked up to be.  Later, my heroine marries an Italian, facing the challenge as an Italian citizen of colour with panache.  Unlike the aforementioned Memoir author, I tried hard to move beyond Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘single story’, but the reality of life for refugees in Kenya does emerge… I cannot pretend that in 1994-1997, the refugee camps in Kenyan deserts didn’t exist, or that they were lovely places to live, run by uncorrupted altruists.  I cannot pretend that refugees were housed in clean accommodation in Nairobi with running water, electricity and toilets.  Adichie too, writes of war, corruption, poverty and servants.

So… yes.  I reference a little of the book (set from 1994-2004), on a distant experience as a white expat in Kenya to imagine the fictional world of a young Rwandan woman, 20 years ago, though mostly, I use research and imaginary voice.  I do not know if that will work for my readers, African or not.  Obviously I need fiction reviewers who remember life 20 years ago in Kenya and Rwanda to rip my book to shreds when they find something in a voice that does not ring true, before it gets into print.  A painful, but essential part of the process.

 

Incidentally, do ‘African writers’ (a silly term for people from 50 countries with 2000 languages, as Taiye Selasi pointed out,) face the same problems/ criticisms when writing memoir or fiction about ‘Other’ continents?  Do they feel boxed in by their origins, as I do tonight?  I don’t want to make assumptions either way.

A writer, Damyanti Biswas, blogged on ‘voice‘, answering many of the queries raised recently by “The Linton Affair”.  In a response to a Black American author, she wrote: ‘Should the truth of your condition be limited to the fact that you’re Black, or also and equally, that you’re human, that you’re a living, sentient being?’  As a writer, I ask this question of myself all the time, rejecting the real-life categories I am assigned in life.

Lastly, I wonder sometimes whether Western publishers will still want to take a chance on a fictional novel half set in Africa that isn’t written by an African.  I guess I can only wait and see, or throw away 2 years of work and start afresh on politically safe turf this side of the Mediterranean.  The thing is, my wonderful, fictional heroine won’t let me do it.  I have given her a voice, and she won’t be quietened.

Thanks for reading.

My debut novel, ‘The Disobedient Wife’ won the Cinnamon Press Book Award in 2014, and was published in 2015.  A compelling tale of love and loss, it is set in Tajikistan.  For online reviews and info, click here

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