Book Review: Dead Babies and Seaside Towns

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My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dead Babies and Seaside Towns is a fantastic, tragic, hopeful memoir by still-birth survivor Alice Jolly, who writes honestly and movingly about her grief for her ‘five dead babies’.

Jolly does not hold back in describing her experiences, first with her still-born baby daughter, and later, the other ‘dead babies’ that she miscarries. She describes how she becomes touched by death, feeling as the ‘Spectre at the Feast’. The silence of friends, ignoring and even avoiding the tragic couple. She is harshly critical of IVF, I was pleased to see, as a money making industry giving false hope to childless, desperate couples in their early forties.

Her self-deprecating sense of humour saves the book from slipping into the maudlin, with sentences that had me laughing through the tears. My favourite: ‘On death certificates it says – cancer, stroke, heart attack. It never says – she opened the fridge and, yet again when confronted with the task of turning four sausages and a lump of cheddar into a tasty family meal, she simply lay down and died’.

It helps that she is also a terrific writer, with near perfect prose and beautiful descriptive passages of coastal Britain.  I enjoyed her paragraphs on writing as craft (whether discussing the form of a novel or a memoir – her fears of writing memoir as Me, Me, Me, Moi, Moi, Moi). And her clever use of repetition – the book as an echo chamber – to describe the way life passes by ‘I put the washing machine on, load the dishwasher, hang clothes on the line, write a short story, wipe my son’s nose’).

As well as describing the world of surrogacy, she provides little insights on motherhood, female friendship, writing and faith that rang true. I loved this book, and literally could not put it down.

Proceeds from this book go to SANDS – Still Birth and Neo-natal Death Charity

5 stars
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/21327053-gardenia-plant

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Lamentations on Book Promotion by a debut author… and #Bookreview #RBRT THE DISOBEDIENT WIFE by @MilisicStanley #Tajikistan #TuesdayBookBlog

Lamentations on Book Promotion by a debut author… and #Bookreview #RBRT THE DISOBEDIENT WIFE by @MilisicStanley #Tajikistan #TuesdayBookBlog

A fabulous review for my new novel!

This comes at a good time, when my writing is struggling. I published my debut in November 2015 after winning a literary competition for unpublished novelists with Cinnamon Press. I will be forever grateful to their judge, who picked my book out from thousands of others.

Since then, it has not been easy to find reviewers, or promote the book, even though the disobedient_cover draft 6 reviewers who do read it have all given me wonderful 4 and 5 star reviews, comparing the book to a bestseller, and doing their best to spread the word on social media.

It is a tough market out there though.  The book industry is heavily influenced by the big presses and their entourage of journalists, literary critics and media culture vultures.  It is heavily London-centric, a problem for someone writing in English but living in Italy. Having spent most of my adult life in developing countries, I have no contacts, and know no one.

Many yearly debut novel competitions require the publisher to pay a large fee – there are ‘book clubs’ and others placing books in prominent position in high street chains and supermarkets that ask upwards of £50,000 to submit books.  My publisher is a small, independent press, funded by the Arts Council and certainly has no spare funding for this.

The industry is biassed towards the marketable, the commercial genre fiction books, 2016-05-26-PHOTO-00000011especially crime and romance and chick lit, the funny, light reading stories written for women relaxing after a long day at work, or lying on a beach bed in Ibiza.  There is nothing wrong with that, I understand that everyone needs to make money – this is not about art, this is business. Still, it is a bitter pill to swallow when I realize I have spent the past 6 months using up my scarce, valuable writing time as a mother of three on the funny art of self-promotion when I should be writing my second, third and fourth books.  And barely  1000 books have sold since November.

Luckily I do not live on the income my writing, as after hosting 10 promotional events, I doubt I even broke even.  It was never about the money anyway. I do wish though, that little books like mine had greater prominence on book shop tables. I do wish that I could rely on more than word of mouth and well intentioned friends to promote my book.  I am writing my second novel, sick in the knowledge that soon, the merry-go-round of letter-rejection-letter-rejection is to begin again.

And so here we are.  One of my most generous reviewers, Rosie Amber and her Book Review Team have published a wonderful review of The Disobedient Wife, for which I am truly grateful.

Today’s team review is from Georgia, she blogs at Georgia has been reading The Disobedient Wife by Annika Milisic-Stanley #Bookreview for The Disobedient Wife by Annika Milisic-Stanley @Milis…

Source: #Bookreview #RBRT THE DISOBEDIENT WIFE by @MilisicStanley #Tajikistan #TuesdayBookBlog

Apanthropinization: A New Word

Apanthropinization: A New Word

Today I learned a lovely new word.

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With the events of this past week: The Orlando mass shooting, the lovely Minister of Parliament (human rights defender and mother of two) shot dead in a small town in Yorkshire, I feel more and more like apanthropinzing. Retreating into the garden to gaze at my dahlias and sniff the roses.

Of course, with a husband in humanitarian work, and with my volunteering with refugees this just is not possible. We have to face reality, and try to make the world a better place in any minute way that we can. disobedient_cover draft 6

This week I finished the third draft of my latest book, ‘The Girl with the White Suitcase’ (or ‘The Virgin’s Daughter’, I cannot decide: Which do you think is the better title?).  It does not hide from the ugly truth of the world, but it has an uplifting, ultimately heart-warming ending, full of hope.

As with my first novel ‘The Disobedient Wife’, I write to explore the issues that interest me, though they may be dark, and somewhat hard-hitting. I cannot apanthropinize with my own books, and I refuse to join the reams of authors who do.

Have a great week! 🙂

Biography:

Annika Milisic-Stanley was born in 1975 in the USA to Swedish and Anglo-German parents, but grew up in Britain. After graduating from the School of Oriental and African Studies, she worked with humanitarian projects in Nepal, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, India, Burundi and Egypt as well as living in Tajikistan for several years. Annika now lives in Rome. In addition to writing and painting, she works as a campaigner to raise awareness on the plight of refugees in Southern Europe.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/MilisicStanley

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26256488-the-disobedient-wife?ac=1&from_search=true

Twitter: @MilisicStanley

Blog: www.thedisobedientauthor.com

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Disobedient-Wife-Annika-Milisic-Stanley/dp/1909077828/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1466078696&sr=1-1&keywords=the+disobedient+wife

Amazon Kindle/ USA: https://www.amazon.com/Disobedient-Wife-Annika-Milisic-Stanley/dp/1909077828/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466078749&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Disobedient+Wife

Book signing in Trieste: Cafe San Marco

Book signing in Trieste: Cafe San Marco

This week I was lucky enough to be invitedIMG_1270 by the International Welcome Club of Trieste Region (IWCTR) to come and give a talk on my book, ‘The Disobedient Wife’.

The venue chosen, Cafe San Marco, is popular with Trieste readers and writers alike, with several literary events (as well as others, such as wine tasting), held every week. It is located in via Battisti 18. Founded in 1914, it became famous as a rendezvous for intellectuals and writers including Italo Svevo, James Joyce and Umberto Saba, a tradition that continues to date with Claudio Magris. A meeting point for Trieste’s irredentists, the café was destroyed by Austro-Hungarian troops during the first World War but was reopened when hostilities ended.  Brass-coloured leaf motifs cover the ceiling and circular pictures of thespians and jesters adorn the walls like portholes looking into a different era.

One side of the cafe is for coffee drinkers, the other for books.  Towards the back of the cafe there is a delightful space for presentations, and this is where our group met.IMG_1266

Around eighteen people came, some of whom struggled with the English, but who valiantly stayed to listen to the end. Others were British like myself, or long term expatriates from other countries living in Trieste, interested in hearing a talk about a little-known part of Central Asia.  As usual, I showed my film, and explained the socio-political and economic situation in Tajikistan in the present day.

‘The Disobedient Wife’ is literary fiction rather than biography or travelogue, but it inspires discussion about traditional culture, religion and the fall of the USSR wherever I take it.

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It was interesting to hear parallels drawn between the onset of fascism in Italy (and therefore, education for women frowned upon), and the situation in Tajikistan today with tradition overtaking the ‘Soviet’ ideal of egalitarianism between the sexes. As usual, I took away as many observations and knowledge for myself as I gave to others.

All in all, a great book talk. Thanks to IWCTR.

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Heaven is…

Heaven is…

Lying in bed after a long run in the Italian morning sun with my laptop and a cup of English tea.  Feeling the words form, the story lines merge.  Using images of African queens for inspiration, researching witchcraft and confession, rebellion and refugee poetry.  This is my idea of a heavenly day.

Silence, words, tea and time.  No sound outside, except birdsong and the rustle of wind in leaves.

Grateful.

writing

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My book, ‘The Disobedient Wife’ by Annika Milisic-Stanley is published by Cinnamon Press Ltd (UK)

 

 

The Beauty of the Book Club (for this Author)

The Beauty of the Book Club (for this Author)

In November 2015, Cinnamon Press published my debut, The Disobedient Wife, winner of their First Book Award 2014.  I am a long-term expatriate, moving every 2-4 years.

My public outings at book shops and cultural venues to launch the novel are terrifying, thrilling joy rides.  I prepare myself for the public onslaught.  I thicken my skin to handle rejection or negative criticism, whether on the subject matter of the novel or on the quality of the writing.  I suffer sleeplessness, worrying about the typo that escaped the beady eye of my editor;  the story itself – is it strong enough to withstand the storm of a fussy readership?  I can only compare this anxiety to my feelings when I exhibited paintings for Dorset Arts Week in 2012.  Hauling my mother into the studio, as I could not bear watching art lovers examine the minutiae of each canvas in critical contemplation.

Luckily, my fears are unfounded. The book has been well received, with good reviews by bloggers and magazines.  I am, as it turns out, my own worst critic.

Another venue for discussion on my novel is the eponymous ‘Book Club‘.  Intimate gatherings of educated, intelligent (mostly) women with an interest in literature.  They come together to eat, drink and tear apart a novel.  Book clubs are diverse and complex in terms of age, cultural background and education/ professional sphere.  At the last one, I met a jolly nun, before that, an Icelandic artist.

I have been hosted at several here in Italy, as well as holding a few on Skype with overseas clubs, where fortuitously, most members are themselves long-term expatriates.  They relate to the confusion and loneliness of one of the main characters, Harriet, and tell me, ‘I know women just like her/ her friends’.  Some even go far as to say, ‘I recognize the conversations in the book, they are my own.’  Equally though, I meet British and Italians, non-expats, who relate to her loss of self, her former identity clashing with marital/ societal pressure to conform to the new environment.  I meet Western women who prefer to relate to the Tajik character Nargis, crossing the cultural divide to form a virtual relationship with her based on admiration and respect.

They know what it is to move with a husband, searching for meaning anew every few years.  The familiar sense of invisibility brought on by the question; ‘What does your guammaphusband do?’  I gain new insights at these meetings, as literature directs the conversation into deeper topics than at a typical social gathering.  For example, one reader compares the setting of Dushanbe to Guam, where she once lived.  Guam is an island housing thousands of women and children on an American airbase.  The locals live off base in comparative poverty, serving as maids and nannies to dissatisfied, lonely women left for long periods on a ‘small rock’ in the middle of the Northwestern Pacific Ocean.  Most book clubbers appreciate the main premise of the book, that Harriet will not find true happiness or satisfaction so long as she cuts herself off from the culture and the people she lives with.

In these book club meetings, Harriet is often used as a verb: ‘I have been ‘Harrietted’/ She gets ‘Harrietted’ quite often’ or as a noun: ‘There are plenty of Harriets in Singapore’.  This delights me.  Most wonderful of all, I sit through lively arguments between book club members as to what Harriet or Nargis should/ would do in a given situation, or how they felt at a certain moment.  I have the surreal, delicious sense that the characters live as real people in lively, intelligent minds, as though we are discussing long-lost relatives at a family reunion.  This is confirmation that I did my job; the figments of my imagination live on, past the confines of the page.  I answer questions about the characters beyond the finish line; what happens to Nargis and Harriet next.  Often, someone brings up the good looking driver, or debates who exactly is the real villain of the piece.

We usually discuss traditional culture as opposed to generalizing about religion.  I go to great pains to point out that the book is not about ALL women in Tajikistan, nor ALL expats.  It is fiction, after all, not a sociological report.  We see the point of view of Nargis and Harriet, but do not go beyond them into the political realm.  Of course educated, wealthy women in Tajikistan experience better lives than Nargis, with more opportunities and less barriers to progress.  Class and tradition hold back the poor and unfortunate, with socio-economic hardship and male migration compounding their impact on women.  Nargis has also to deal with a blighted reputation and an abusive, immoral ex-husband.  This leads to the juxtaposition created by the character Patty, a frustrated, hard-line Republican American who believes that ‘the poor deserve to be poor because they do nothing to better themselves’.  We discuss the belief that life for women like Nargis may have been better during the Soviet Union.  I especially enjoy talking about this with readers who remember the Cold War era.

In conclusion, I love being invited to book clubs, feeling in them a sense of my own responsibility as an author.  The positive energy generated in these book club meetings justify the years spent poring over a manuscript to check continuity in story-line, plot and character.  The re-writing and re-reading that became so tedious as to bring on physical nausea.

Literary fiction is a powerful tool, a subliminal way to raise awareness without lecturing.  I am glad to provide readers a new place for fiction, a young Republic with an ancient history and culture, a fascinating country, cut off from the outside world both during Soviet times and since independence.  A place where until recently, writers could not function freely, held under the lens of political dictatorship (from 2011-2013, social media took off in Tajikistan, but even those in the diaspora remain cautiously optimistic).  This, in large part, is why I wrote the book.  Mostly though, as an avid reader myself, I wrote the book to entertain people with a good story.  As an guest author, I enjoy book club meetings because they confirm that I managed to do both.

And let us not forget the crispy tacos served with spicy guacamole and a frozen margarita…

For more information on the book below, please visit: www.facebook.com/MilisicStanley.  It is available at Waterstones, Foyles, amazon (.com, .co.uk, .it, .ca, .ru) , bookdepository.com and wordery.com as well as at independent bookstores by order.

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