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

 

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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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

Literary Wives: The Disobedient Wife by Annika Milisic-Stanley

Literary Wives is an on-line book club that examines the meaning and role of wife in different books. Every other month, we post and discuss a book with this question in mind: What does this book s…

Source: Literary Wives: The Disobedient Wife by Annika Milisic-Stanley

Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty Interview

Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty Interview

Last week I was contacted by Tajik journalist Khiromon Bakoeva at Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty and participated in an interview with her about ‘The Disobedient Wife, my debut novel on Tajikistan.

RFE/RL’s mission is to promote democratic values and institutions by reporting the news in countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established. Their journalists provide what many people cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate.  To visit their website, click here.

I am very happy that I am finally starting to find a platform through which to reach Tajiks, especially, I hope, women.  This is challenging as the country is far from open and without fluent spoken and written Tajik myself (I did speak it badly when I lived there but left 7 years ago) , it is not easy to reach people in the country.  During the interview I encouraged any Tajiks listening to write, and publish, especially women.  I wish my publisher would consider having the book translated into Russian and Tajik, but sadly I fear that financial constraints will not allow this to happen.

Khiromon asked me numerous questions:

Why I wanted to write about Tajik women… Because I think they are strong, brave and generally pretty awesome!

The disobedient wife is Nargis.  Why is she disobedient?…  Actually there are several in the book, but the Tajik woman named Nargis is disobedient because she has dared to leave her husband, thus becoming a figure of scandal and contempt in her community.  The other wife is a British Expat.

Radio Free Europe

Did I sense that radicalisation is a problem in Tajikistan and do I think women can help to solve this problem by talking to their sons?… certainly when I lived there no, Dushanbe was a secular, fairly safe place and people did not seem at all ‘radical'(willing to die for a cause), only traditional.  There were isolated incidents targeting the Prime Minister but nothing major.  This might have changed since… and yes, of course mother’s may be able to help persuading their sons not to go and fight in radical wars, but most importantly, something has to be done to help the youth to find jobs and build lives (Tajikistan is suffering now from the huge drop in the Russian ruble because so many families rely on remittances from Tajik workers in Russia).  When people lack hope they are vulnerable to the excitement and opportunities they think may open up by fighting in a religious war. (We are seeing the same thing in Bosnia, another country with a crippled economy and high youth unemployment).

The book referenced the main character Nargis accusing international aid workers of partying all the time… This was just on one page and referenced her feeling of invisibility as a waitress at receptions for international expats. An ex-aid worker myself, I do think some of the ‘academics’ prefer to sit behind a computer with data, rather than get out and talk to the actual people they are helping, especially in countries without an acute emergency crisis, such as Tajikistan…

Use of Tajik words and phrases in the book, why?… To add richness to the language used, and to let the reader have a sense of the language.  I love Tajik proverbs.

The full interview is here  in Tajik and HERE in Russian

 

 

Have a good week.

 

Writing Point of View – The Search for a Voice

Writing Point of View – The Search for a Voice

This week I spent hours rewriting sections of my draft novel – working title. This book is about a young, privileged teenager.  She is at Catholic boarding school, but lives with her Grandmother in the holidays.  The novel is set in a Central African country in the Great Lakes with a troubled inter-ethnic history.  It is on the verge of civil war, but the teenager tries to ignore this out of deep-seated fear, hiding in pop music and school work.  During her Easter holidays, the situation boils over and she finds herself the target of violence and persecution, fleeing to become a refugee in Kenya.

This week, I was worried that in the third person omniscient narration mode, readers will not feel they are sufficiprocessently inside the protagonists head to care enough about her to read on.  While writing ‘The Disobedient Wife‘, my debut novel, one of my editors told me to increase the voice of the British expatriate character as she was more ‘relatable’ to my ‘market’ than the Tajik. In this new book, my non-Western character will be going it alone… and will have to hold the reader until Chapter 8, when a French aid worker gets her voice.

She needs to be compelling and three dimensional, especially as she is a character from another cultural world than our own.  It is up to me to ensure that the readers will feel an emotional bond for this young woman that overrides any prejudices or assumptions about her based on nationality, race or age.

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With this in mind, I decided to embark on an experiment in Point of View (POV), transferring my novel, chapter by chapter into the 1st person immediate narrative.

There were results almost straight away. As I wrote in the ‘I’ format, I found myself relating to the character more as a teenager, a girl on the cusp of adulthood who is about to befall a huge, life changing calamity.  I answered my own questions (how could she have been kept in the dark so long, how did she handle the increasing danger in her situation) and I discovered new facets to her personality and upbringing, including a rather snobbish attitude towards her fellow villagers and her politically extreme Aunt, the ‘peasants’.

She emerged from each scene as a fully fledged human being, with defined flaws and faults, insight and emotions.  Those insights, moments of thought and reveals in dialogue have been reinserted in the third person omniscient narrative, with excellent results. In the end, I prefer the literary quality of this more traditional writing style, it suits me better as a story-teller. I find 1st person difficult to read and sometimes ‘slightly jarring’, as my Mother has put it.

Now, time to stop blogging and get nikewritingback to the task… 100 pages down, 200 more to go.

Have a great week, bloggers 🙂

Annika Milisic-Stanley

 

 

 

 

Displaced Dispatch – Best Expat Fiction 2015

Displaced Dispatch – Best Expat Fiction 2015

Just saw this – 6 weeks on… drum roll….

My novel, ‘The Disobedient Wife’ (Cinnamon Press) made the list by THE DISPLACED DISPATCH for BEST EXPAT FICTION 2015!

The Displaced Dispatch is a weekly online magazine dedicated to the ‘expat creative’ or international, people who are global residents, moving frequently and working in a creative pursuit, whether it be fine art, literature, film, food, business or theatre.

Please go to their link here to see the whole list.