Writing about Strong Women in Exotic Locations by Annika Milisic-Stanley – Guest Post

As featured on blog – fromfirstpagetolast.com – an article about writing strong women in exotic locations…

From First Page to Last

Today I’m pleased to welcome Annika Milisic-Stanley to the blog. Annika is the author of The Disobedient Wife, published by Cinnamon Press on 20 February 2016  and today she has written a great guest post discussing strong women in exotic locations.

Writing about ‘Strong Women in Exotic Locations’

The title of this piece sums up my first novel ‘The Disobedient Wife’ in five words.

My debut came out in November 2015, published by an innovative, independent press house (Cinnamon Press) after winning their First Book prize for 2014.  Prior to this I tried more traditional routes to publish, but while I received praise for my writing and plenty of encouragement from agents, my book had no ‘niche’.  It seemed no one wanted to read about strong women in exotic locations (aside from myself).  Judging from the reviews I received since, however, this assumption was clearly incorrect.  Mainstream readers do want to read about…

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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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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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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

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

Book Review: Fish Net by Kirstin Innes

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Here is my goodreads review of Fish Net, a novel about the sex trade in Glasgow by Kristin Innes…

Things I liked:

Excellent writing, interesting contrasts between the blog posts by prostitutes, and the public and private life of the main character, Fiona. I enjoyed the office descriptions – I am sure most people have experienced the gray boredom of temping – and liked the various twists and turns of the story that kept me hooked to the end. Innes has a masterful grasp of language, with moments of originality in her prose. I loved her use of Scottish in dialogue: the Glaswegian in the narrative. I liked her change of heart vis-a-vis the sex work trade, the constant questioning of assumptions about power, vulnerability and choice.

Things I felt could have been better:

If I have any criticisms, there are only two – I would have liked more internal narrative from the point of view of some of the more interesting characters, as I did not find Fiona’s inner thoughts/ sexual misadventures all that compelling (until right at the end). I also felt that the ending was a rush job, I sensed the author racing to finish, tie it up with a pretty bow and start her next project. I felt like saying, stop! Put the brakes on, Fiona has just got interesting! All in all, recommended for anyone with an interest in a gritty novel that does not flinch from examining the sex trade in all its stark glory and contradiction.

4/5 Stars

View all my reviews

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

Musings on another amazing book review…

Musings on another amazing book review…

…this time, because this reviewer, the author Georgia Rose, refers to my use of language, a true compliment for someone like me, someone who spends hours on every sentence, perfecting each passage in each chapter.  And then waking up to do it all again. Over and over and over.

Book reviews from the blogger world motivate, inspire and comfort in equal measure. They are given willingly, without prejudice or payment, like hand-wrapped parcels from perfect strangers, popping through the cyber letterbox.  This one tasted all the more sweet because it happened to arrive on my Birthday.

And what better compliment than to read, “I never wanted it to end…”?

http://www.georgiarosebooks.com/bookreview-for-the-disobedient-wife-by-annika-milisic-stanley-milisicstanley-rbrt-tajikistan/#comment-5407

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