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.

 

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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Book Conscious Review: The Disobedient Wife by Annika Milisic-Stanley

Review by Bookconscious Deb Baker of The Disobedient Wife

bookconscious

The digital world is smaller than the physical. Annika Milisic-Stanley contacted me via Twitter in December, to let me know about her new novel The Disobedient Wife. I don’t usually pursue unsolicited author enquiries, but it turned out we had Cinnamon Press in common. I’ve long admired the work of Jan Fortune and her family, who run this very fine small press in Wales and bring interesting books to the world, and my poetry has appeared in Envoi a few times. So when Jan got in touch with a review copy, I trusted this was going to be a good read.

And it was. I’ve never read a book set in Tajikistan and I’ll bet most of you haven’t either. Milisic-Stanley is a terrific writer, and she brings the beautiful and the bleak alive in equal measure, as in the opening line of the novel, “In the early hours…

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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.

voice

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.

Author of Olive Kitteridge, one of the coolest cats I’ve seen in a long time

Author of Olive Kitteridge, one of the coolest cats I’ve seen in a long time

I have to confess, I have not read the Pulitzer Prize winning stories of Olive Kitteridge, but I saw them recently, cooped up in the cultural abyss of Sky TV in Italy…

This fantastic series came on in place of the usual crappy criminal intrigues and lousily illogical sitcoms and I sat up, transfixed from the start.  A series of stories set in Maine about an incredibly blunt, (I would say on the Asbergers spectrum), intelligent woman named Olive.  I loved her right away for her flesh-coloured stockings and refusal to change her hair.  My husband turned to me as we watched, grinning.

‘Now that is something you would say,’  he kept saying.

Yes, it was true.  I found myself nodding, laughing, agreeing with her.  I recognized the fraught family scenes, the misunderstandings and the inability she had to keep her mouth SHUT.  I loved her for her faults, the nearly (but not quite) affair. The cut to the chase comments to her husband when he grew obsessed with his young, vulnerable shop girl widow.  The impatience she had for false, pretentious types with Californian suntans and cabriolets.  I loved the kindness and empathy she showed towards her friend with mental illness, and later, the son.  I liked that she gardened, preferring live flowers to the dead in a vase.

The best of course, mentioned in this interview – the feverish hiding of one shoe, a bra and an earring in revenge, possessions of her new daughter-in-law.  A scene made in comedy heaven.

This is a writer with books I will buy, secure in her hands, knowing I will love them.  I adore her admission that she writes for herself, that she made it after 15 years of hard graft and endless rejection, and that she never gave up. You inspire, brave Elizabeth. I am a huge fan.

Interview of Elizabeth Strout: Here

Naples, Italy: Book Presentation

Naples, Italy: Book Presentation

On Saturday, 12th March, I will be whisking my way to Naples on the Freccia-Rossa high speed train to spend a morning with the lovely people of the International American Women’s Group of Naples, who have invited me to come and present ‘The Disobedient Wife’ to their group, as well as a wider audience.

I’m excited to see the ancient metropolis of Naples, as though I have lived in Rome, Lazio for the last 30 months, this will be the first visit to my neighbouring city in Campania region.  The reasons I haven’t dared go to date seem cowardly, even ill-informed when I think about them now.  Rowdy, countryside-born children unused to the hustle and traffic of the city; stories of motorbike muggings from visitors; the organized corruption and rubbish piled up to rot in the streets.  All this served to turn my compass north whenever I felt a desire to explore new places in Italy.

Now though, I have a wonderful, all expenses paid, opportunity to see something of Ndisobedient_cover-draft-6aples, soak up the sights and smells for another, longer visit later this summer on my way to Sorrento, Capri and Iscia… who knows?  I can’t wait!

If you are in Naples on 12th March 2016, if you are an avid reader, or a fellow writer… and would like to see my presentation, please contact me here and I will put you in touch with the Naples AIWG Coordinator.  The plan for the morning: I’ll show a short film, read several excerpts from the novel and hold a question and answer session. I’ll have some books to sign with me, should anyone want to buy one. The presentation is from 11:30 – 13:00.

To remind you, The Disobedient Wife is a compelling read about two women in Tajikistan: A diplomat’s wife and her maid, a local woman from Tajikistan.  The story examines life in a Central Asian outpost and the changes that have affected women since the collapse of the Soviet apparatus.  Themes: Infidelity, Drug trafficking, Cultural Tradition versus modernity and women’s rights.

It won the Cinnamon Press New Book Award in 2014 and was published the following year, a few months ago, in November 2015.

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Book Review: The Fine Times Recorder

Book Review: The Fine Times Recorder

This week I received a very fine review on ‘The Disobedient Wife’ by the editor of The Fine Times Recorder, an online website on Arts and Culture in the South West UK.

She starts the review as follows:

‘THE “Stans” are mysterious and unknowable, strange lands of ancient cities with slender minarets, vast windswept plains, snow-topped impregnable mountain ranges and people who trace their lineage back to Genghis Khan and his golden horde.

That’s the romantic image – Marco Polo, the Silk Road, dramatic looking people hunting with eagles across the steppes of central Asia.

The reality in the 21st century is, of course, very different. Decades of dominance by the USSR and the inexorable Soviet machine that sought to eradicate cultural differences, turned the “stans” into poor satellites, dumping grounds for all the things that Mother Russia wanted to forget about.’

The Disobedient Wife is a compelling read, and a masterful first novel – as well as the first novel about modern post-Soviet Tajikistan.’

To read further, please go to the link below:

The Disobedient Wife – a window on an unknown land

The Disobedient Wife was published in November 2015 by The Cinnamon Press, UK. It won their First Book Award 2014.

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Book Cover

 

This Week in Writing: Gatecrashing Book Clubbers, #BookConnectors, Literary Critters Get Even, and a ‘Surprising’ Review by an Irish Aussie

This Week in Writing: Gatecrashing Book Clubbers, #BookConnectors, Literary Critters Get Even, and a ‘Surprising’ Review by an Irish Aussie

A Writer’s Diary of the Week…

So, firstly, I had a very good lunch (avocado salad, fish pie, pudding and far too much bubbly Prosecco) with a lovely book club made up of expatriate women living here, in Rome. They hailed from Iceland, Switzerland, Holland, South Africa, the UK, Egypt and Australia.  They read the book in their December holidays, some while skiing, others on the beaches of the South, one in her car, hiding from the family duties of Christmas.

All enjoyed it, luckily, and I experienced a very hazy, surreal, out-of-body experience of eight women all talking at once about the characters in the book as though they lived and breathed.  An argument over who was the most evil; a discussion as to whether a character killed herself or was murdered – it is true – I left it open, though in fact, that was no deliberate act of subterfuge.  I realized, I knew what happened and that was all that mattered when I was writing it.  I was humbled, blushing when they asked,

“So, Annika, do you have any questions for your readers?”

In my fog of egocentricity and gatecrasher’s nerves, it never occurred to me that they might want to be interviewed as to their opinion.  I rummaged through my prosecco-addled brain, searching for a decent question.  Nothing.

“Well, not really,” I blurted.

Oh, the arrogance of the debut author.  I apologize; put it down to naivete.

***

This week, I managed to join a very useful facebook page called Book Connectors, recommended to me by Pam Reader, a prolific book blogger. Authors ask good questions and can post information about upcoming events, bloggers post reviews, and the community seems to be a friendly and helpful one, especially for British writers.

***

I joined an online literary critique forum.  I was not expecting much to be honest, as it is free and very basic in terms of the web design (an uninspiring grey with white font), and format (‘cheap as chips’).  In the absence of my fantastic Editor-on-Tap (she is fighting a valiant battle with cancer), it turned out to be surprisingly useful.  ‘Credits’ are earned by critiquing other writers, which you can then ‘spend’ by uploading your own offerings.  I uploaded the prologue and half the first chapter of my new novel (draft 2, at least, with much fiddling and rewording).

Then I waited, biting my nails.

The ‘critters’, as they call themselves, did not hold back:

“I don’t like starting critiques on the negative, but there’s no way to avoid this: your opening sentence is tell—tell that is flat, written in passive voice, and unimaginative.”

Oh dear.  I laughed out loud, he was right.  He was getting even too – I recognized his ‘name’ –  I’d ‘critted’ a chapter of his book the day before, asking him to work harder on characterization.  I don’t think that writers should make it their religion not to use passive to be verbs, sometimes you need to… but…  I conceded the point.  I got praise for my pretty use of language.  Within an afternoon, I spring-cleaned the upload, replacing passive she/he had/ was into fresh, immediate dialogue.  Much improved, I look forward to the critter’s responses to the next two uploads.  I expect a serious dressing down, though I tried hard this time .  As the author, it is hard to catch mistakes – hence the need for great editing.

Lastly, I received a review from Writerful Books, an Australian publishing house based in Melbourne.  It can be found here: Writerful Books Review

Writerful-Logo

I loved that the reviewer was honest enough to open the review with:

“This was a surprisingly good read.”

I don’t know what initially put him off – the pinkish lettering of the title font, perhaps?  The little Tajik woman in the corner of the cover?  I grinned, imagining his sighs as he opened it and settled down to read.  Did he start the book in trepidation, thinking himself sentenced to review a new sub-genre of Central-Asian Chick Lit?

It was a lovely review, take a look! 🙂

All in all, a very good start to Writing in 2016.

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Calling All Geneva’s Trailing Spouses, Expatriates, Internationals and Writers

It was the best way to start 2016. Yesterday I firmed up a date for a new event to launch my debut ‘The Disobedient Wife’ (Cinnamon Press UK) in Geneva, Switzerland. The book signing will take place at Payot Rive Gauche Bookstore, on Rue de la Confédération 7, 1204 GENÈVE, at 18:00 on 3rd March 2016.Payot1 I will offer myself for conversation and meet up at this informal book signing event. I am hoping that my friends each bring along their friends and that we form a friendly, pop-up crowd, united by our interest in books, reading, writing, Central Asia and expatriate life.

Why Geneva? I chose Geneva because ‘The Disobedient Wife’ is a book that appeals to readers who want to learn about new places and it will suit an international kind of reader. It is a book that discusses the Expatriate Trailing Spouse Condition – the unique experience of trailing another person this way and that way across the globe, first for love and later for lack of reasons not to.

Yes, I know I will get into trouble for this, for admitting that we trail. But we do trail. In my case, I trail because my husband always had the better job, he is older than I, with the better salary; for us, it was a no-brainer.

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Book Cover

We trailing spouses follow and support and take out our tools to carve out a temporary niche in our new existence. We bounce from place to place and we learn to cope with culture shock, opening ourselves up to new experiences. We learn the street chat of umpteen languages and become genius map readers, mastering google earth. Unlike our spouses/ partners with their work, we have no ready-made ‘family’ and so we become brilliant at making friends on the hop. We abandon our shyness and approach anyone speaking our language or with children the same age, if we are parents. A shared coffee after drop off at school can lead to life-long friendship. I once approached someone simply because she was wearing hiking boots… I love to hike. Others fall by the wayside almost as we board the plane out, never to be seen again. The established communities hate us for that; our perceived coldness, our ability to cut ties, face forward. “The constant goodbyes killed me in the end. I stick to permanent residents now,” a Kenyan told me.

creating yourself

We have no comfortable office to go to each morning with a beaming, kind secretary and so we find our own places to gather: the coffee shops, community centres, school meetings, baby groups, book clubs and sport grounds of our new posting. We have no organizational relatives waiting to back us up, a Motherly boss or a brotherly colleague, no comfort of the familiar face from a workshop five years before, now seated in the office next door.  We must search anew for work in every country we land in, hustling for consultancies, teaching jobs or volunteering. I do not mind this. It stretches us and keep us mentally limber, even as we despair over the disjointedness of our CVs, the career opportunities gone, the lost pension plans and PhD places. I have had to abandon my development projects, my art studio, a kindergarten business and significant career paths as a civil servant, a UN worker, an anthropologist; transforming myself as I move.  I am Mistress of the Fresh Start.

As the years pass, even our countries of origin change or dwarf to insignificance.  Too much happens to us as nomads and we find that cannot relate when we return, our eyes are too wide, our minds too open.  We no longer truly ‘fit’. Our only home, then, is in the arms of our spouse, an insecure ‘putting-all-your-eggs-in-one-basket’ kind of existence if you aren’t lucky enough to keep your marriage alive…

Geneva has a huge community of non-Swiss internationals and many of them live with husbands and wives who have experienced this daily condition for years on end.  I am hoping that many of them will come, seek me out. That they will read the book and find comfort in it, in the Expatriate character’s renewal.  In her finally creating herself to be the person she wants to be after years of confusion.

look within