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

 

 

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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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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A Day in the Writing Life

A Day in the Writing Life

 

(Following on from the previous post, a day in 1 minute)

I, am a writer.

I am, a writing writer.

I am a writer, I am. 

Today I…

Dressed the kids, took them to school, attended a school meeting, shopped for groceries, unpacked the groceries and sat in front of a blinking screen, I had 30 minutes to spare;

Uploaded new fragments of novel for a friend in Benin who is reading the latest draft;

Chips MasalaResearched what potato chips cooked in a Kenyan slum alley might taste like (to no avail).  Would they be masala, or plain, I wondered?  Plain.  Ate a chip, still could not get further than the bulky ‘salty potato-ness’.

Then…Cleaned the house of mess, drove to the airport, collected a car load of refugee donations, drove home and put them in my garage/warehouse;

Checked my email and researched the origins of far right wing party Casapound in Italy;

Then…6358978799962263061835043493_Barbie-Wallpapers-Cartoons-Disney-e1405610118291 Picked up the kids from school, brought the kids home, snack time and homework, took one kid to his friend’s house, cooked and served dinner, cleaned up the kitchen, sorted washing, picked up debris from the floor (dirty socks, a wet pair of swimming trunks, a drawer-full of sweaters, sleeves tied together, a school bag of books scattered across a room, a box of Barbies, tipped upside down);

Sat down to edit 4 pages, adding 3 words and removing 5, taking out a comma and putting it back in, 6 times;witch

Researched witchcraft in Rwanda for protection (and read an article about magic ‘medicine’ found on a championship goalpost where the Rwandese/ Ugandan national football match ended 1-0, leading to accusations of witchcraft);

Checked the blue peril (facebook) 5 times;

Checked my email, sent emails, responded to several messages;

Edited another page of writing (for the 40th time);

Debated whether to begin another fragment of novel, a missing piece of the structural puzzle… thoughts don’t count as writing, though one could make an argument they should… and sat down to write this blog post.

I am keenly aware that:

1) I have not done much editing/ new writing today; hair

2) When I edit my novels, I spend up to 6 hours each day but have little to show for it, nothing that a reader would notice.  Worse, my publisher will take this book, my baby, and make changes, scrapping the hours spent into little balls of disregarded metaphors, adverbs and descriptive passages.  I wonder, therefore, is all my literary fiddling worth it?

3) Housework and motherhood justify this existence, even though (2), the magical 6 hours, is the personal achievement of each day to which I aspire when I wake;

4) I will publish again, if only to know that the time spent researching, reading and writing over the past 16 months led to something more tangible than an invisible file measuring a paltry 43KB on my C Drive.  I take comfort in knowing that in round 2, I am still ahead of myself in round 1. The Disobedient Wife took 4 years to write, 2 to publish.  Luckily, hair grows back; thicker, stronger.

Only do it if you love it.  This is a writer’s life.

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