A World Gone Mad: The Diaries of Astrid Lindgren 1939-45 (translated by Sarah Death)

I have a confession: I’m not a huge fan of books set in or about either of the world wars. So much has been written about events – both non-fiction and fictionalised accounts – that I wonder what’s left to say, what new angle can be discovered or created. I tell you this so you know when I say that Astrid Lindgren’s diaries, written during the second world war, are compelling reading, you know I mean it.

What’s different about Lindgren’s take on events is that she was writing a diary, documenting life during the war while living in Sweden, a neutral country. The diary reads as an attempt to make sense of developments for herself. Her comments on politics and strategy sit alongside mentions of her own life and that of her family. She is married to Sture and they have two children, Lars (nicknamed Lasse) and Karin.

2 September 1939

It’s Children’s Day today, and dear me, what a day for it! I took Karin up to the park this afternoon and that was when I saw the official notice that all men born in 1898 [Sture’s year of birth] would be called up. I tried to read the newspaper while Karin went on the slide but I couldn’t, I just sat there with tears rising in my throat.


She’s forthright as to her views on Hitler, ‘It’s a shame nobody’s shot Hitler’, but is often no less critical of the allies. A humane streak runs through her comments, particularly when she worries about the cold in Russia that soldiers on both sides have to contend with.

Two threads to her narrative are of particular interest. The first are those which indicate similarities to the world we’re living in today:

In the end the world will be so full of hate that it chokes us.

Poor human race: when I read their letters I’m staggered by the amount of sickness and distress, grief, unemployment, poverty and despair that can be fitted into this wretched earth.

Sweden is pretty much flooded with refugees. We apparently have about 50,000 of them here.

The second is about Lindgren’s writing. It was during this period that she was first published and began to write the Pippi Longstocking books. Although there isn’t a huge amount about her work until later in the diaries, there are little gems about her work and particularly how it’s being received. Dagens Nyheter returned both pieces she’d sent to them:

On one of them, Staffan Tjerneld had written some comments, starting with ‘The girl can write, there’s no question about it, but it was too short and not true enough to life, hah hah!

Lindgren’s diaries were published posthumously in Sweden, after being discovered in a wicker laundry basket at her home. In the introduction to the English edition, the translator, Sarah Death, quotes another Swedish writer, Kerstin Ekman:

War diaries were kept by general staff and units out in the field…It is striking to think of this 32-year-old mother of two and office-worker taking on the same sort of task with such seriousness. But only for herself, to try to understand what was going on.

In doing so, Lindgren’s given us another perspective on the second world war, one that makes fascinating reading about a young woman’s daily life in extraordinary circumstances.


Thanks to Pushkin Press for the review copy.

The Power – Naomi Alderman + interview

Helen Simpson’s latest collection, Cockfosters, contains a short story called ‘Erewhon’. The bulk of the tale takes place between 3.29am and 5.20am as the narrator lies awake in bed worrying about their work as a teacher; not knowing how to approach their partner to discuss going part-time; thinking about the parent who told them about the domestic abuse they’re suffering; considering unrealistic media images of people their age, and so on. It sounds like a familiar tale, until you know that the narrator is male. Simpson subverts stereotypes, creating a picture of domesticity as it might be in a matriarchy. In her fourth novel The Power, Naomi Alderman mines a similar vein but on a global scale.

A framing device introduces the reader to the idea that the book we’re about to read has been written by a male academic which he’s sent to an academic called Naomi, seeking her opinion on it. He describes it as ‘a sort of hybrid piece […] Not quite history, not quite a novel’.


The book he’s written begins with the Day of the Girls. It’s the day that the world at large discovers that young women contain a power within them, a power they can harness and use. Tunde, a twenty-one-year-old journalism student in Lagos, becomes aware of this power when he flirts with and then grabs a girl at a swimming pool. On the Day of the Girls, he’s in a shop where he witnesses a man harassing a teenage girl. Aware that she’s about to use her power, he films the incident on his phone.

Tunde is recording when she turns around. The screen of his phone fuzzes for a moment when she strikes. Other than that, he gets the whole thing very clearly. There she is, bringing her hand to his arm while he smiles and thinks she is performing mock-fury for his amusement. If you pause the video for a moment at this point, you can see the charge jump. There’s the trace of a Lichtenberg figure, swirling and branching like a river along his skin up from wrist to elbow as the capillaries burst.

Tunde posts the video online which triggers a wave of films and a wave of incidents.

The story follows three key females: Roxy, Margot and Allie.

Fourteen-year-old Roxy is the daughter of a London gangster. Her story begins when she witnesses her mother’s murder in their house. She’s one of the first to discover the power, using it to disarm one of the men attempting to kill her mum.

Margot, the mayor of a town in Wisconsin, has to make decisions about how to manage the girls and their new found powers. When her daughter Jos is sent home for fighting with a boy, Margot asks her to demonstrate how the power works. What she doesn’t expect is for the power to awaken within her too.

Allie, the sixteen-year-old, mixed-race, foster daughter of white Christians Mr and Mrs Montgomery-Taylor, discovers her power as Mrs Montgomery-Taylor sits in her living room listening to the radio and sipping sherry while Mr Montgomery-Taylor rapes her in her bedroom, as he does most evenings. She kills him, leaves through her bedroom window and walks until she finds a convent where they take her in. There a voice speaks to her. She takes the name Mother Eve and preaches about a new nation run by women.

A revolution begins: women take power in the streets, in their homes, in political administrations, in religious affairs. Tunde travels the world, documenting the changes taking place.

The novel’s so compelling, the world Alderman creates so complete and believable that when the framing device returned at the end, I’d forgotten I was supposed to be reading a text written by a male academic. What’s so clever about this though is that Alderman uses it to question almost everything the academic has included which contradicts the established narrative in their society. You can tell how much fun she had writing it:

What you’ve written here contradicts so many of the history books we all read as children; and they’re based on traditional accounts going back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. What is it that you think happened? Are you really suggesting that everyone lied on a monumental scale about the past?

All love, Naomi

What’s particularly brilliant about Alderman’s approach to all this is she refuses to allow her matriarchal society to be the soft, caring, fluffy world that some like to argue women in charge would bring. Alderman’s women are interested in power, in taking charge, in ruling the world. There is violence, corruption, sexual and domestic abuse.

When I first came across Simpson’s story ‘Erewhon’, I was present at an event where she read it aloud. It was hilarious, I howled with laughter the whole way through. As I read The Power I also found myself thrilled at moments, laughing and feeling as though I could punch the air. Hurrah for women on top, it’s about time! But seconds later as the full horror of the women’s actions were revealed, the joy turned to disgust. It’s not funny when you remember that the worries and fears of Simpson’s narrator and the actions and desires of Alderman’s characters are things women deal with every day in our current society. Here’s hoping that these stories allow more people to see this and they become catalysts for change.


Photograph by David Levene

I’m absolutely thrilled to welcome Naomi Alderman to the blog to answer some questions about her work.

Where did the idea for a matriarchal society where women have special power come from?

Heh. Really, it came from living in a patriarchal society where men have a specially large amount of upper body strength! I imagine an alien from a planet without gender asking me this question and being very puzzled by sexual dimorphism, but as we do have gender all I had to do was turn it over and see how it looked upside down.

I took a long time thinking about exactly what power I could give women that would flip it over without feeling too unbalanced or different to what men have. It couldn’t be something that gave a total upper hand: men don’t have laser beams coming out of their eyes, their physical strength advantage (on average) only works in a fight at close quarters. And I didn’t want it to feel too *silly*. The power I give women in this novel is exactly what electric eels and other electric fish have – so at least it exists in a species that evolved on the same planet as us. Those genes exist, they could theoretically have evolved in us, given the right push at the right moment.

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about unlikeable female characters. All of your lead females have unlikeable aspects to different degrees; how do you feel about these elements of your characters and the debate in general?

I really like difficult women. Ballsy, aggressive, demanding women are my bag. If I see that a woman is mouthy, if she’s ambitious and spikey and doesn’t suffer fools gladly, I make a beeline for her.

I find people who need to be liked very exhausting. Like children doing forward rolls and constantly looking back to see if you noticed and asking for approval. I mean that’s fine for children, but it’s not really the thing if you’re 43 years old with an MBA and are CEO of a company.

One of the best things I ever did for myself was to realise that not everyone will like me; and that’s not just OK, it is *desireable*. The only people who are actually liked by everyone are those who are so anodyne that no one really knows what they think about anything. They show no passion, no temper, nothing but a smooth bland facade of received opinions. For the most part, and within normal parameters of human decency: if you’re really hated by some people it means that other people will really really love you.

All of this is to say, I love the women in The Power because none of them are trying to be likeable, and those are my favourite women in the world. And honestly, how much of a shit would you give about whether people liked you if you could electrocute people with your fingertips?

There are moments in The Power which make quite uncomfortable reading. For me, this was because there’s something quite thrilling about women in positions of power until you realise that some of their actions are really quite horrific. Was this the reaction you were aiming for?

Oh yes, of course. We live in a world mediated by and patrolled by threats and reports of violence. If you don’t believe me, just think how comfortable you’d be as a woman alone walking home at 3am. And then think how often you’ve tried it, or known a woman who tried it, and how often a woman you *actually know* has been attacked. Not that it doesn’t happen of course. But mostly the violence we imagine all around us has been taught to us as a story about what it means to be a woman. And I’m offering a new story. Of course it’s thrilling, it would be!

So: of course it would be good not to be in fear of violence. But the only way we can conceive of that in the current system is by being the wielder of violence. The only conceivable route to freedom is to become the aggressor. So we want the freedom… but if nothing else were to change we’d just become the aggressor.

Or to put it another way (and in the words of Audre Lorde): the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

You interweave a number of recent events into the narrative, I’m thinking particularly of the Egyptian uprisings and the Black Lives Matter campaign. Did you find the story changing as current events took place?

The wonderful thing about writing a novel about gender is that it touches everything; gender is everywhere, gender biases and assumptions are wild in our culture and in the way we think about everything. This is also the massive *problem* with writing a novel about gender! I had a first draft that was about 200,000 words long and I knew I’d either have to rewrite it from scratch or write another 200,000 and turn it into a trilogy. (I threw it out and started again.)

So yes, the story was able to touch on anything that seemed important and of-the-moment. It didn’t *change* the story exactly, but current events gave it an interesting flavour.

The journalist who reports on these events is a young African male. Why did you decide to have a male character witness this change in society?

It seemed to me that, right at the start, men would still have the feeling they have now: that the world is open to them, free and exciting and that there are very few if any places where they’re not allowed to go. Most women don’t have this feeling, and it would take us a while to get there. So Tunde made sense as the character who would instantly set off to investigate the changed world. And of course it gives him a nice series of realisations about how slowly and insidiously his freedom’s been curtailed.

It also became clear to me that if I didn’t have a man’s perspective in at the start of the novel, I’d have – in essence – no ‘woman’s’ perspective in by the end. Where the ‘woman’s’ perspective isn’t about genitals but about a position in the world, and a mental shift.

You use a framing device which suggests a male academic has written the text of The Power, while a female colleague critiques and questions the validity of the text. Why did you choose to frame the novel in this way?

In a way it was: to make myself laugh. Because I wanted to be able to write a bit of *full reversal*, where the whole thing was done and dusted several thousand years ago and this new world order is now just normal. But once I’d decided to do it, I found there were so many useful things I could talk about this way. One was: the uses of history. We use the stories we choose to remember from history as a way of justifying and shoring-up the society we live in: it must be this way, it’s always been this way. We forget the parts of history that don’t fit with our smooth narrative. I thought that if this really had happened there would be a lot of forces wanting our world, this strange “world ruled by men” to be forgotten. And that seemed a pretty mind-bending place to end up. And I love a mind-bending story.

A conversation about religion seems to be a significant part of your writing – in earlier novels as well as in The Power. Is writing about religion a way of working out your own feelings about it?

Funnily enough, I feel fairly settled in my own feelings about religion these days. I grew up an Orthodox Jew and now I say that God is somewhere between my imaginary friend and my ex-boyfriend. So: my ex-imaginary-boyfriend. We used to spend a lot of time together, and not all of it was terrible or I wouldn’t have stayed so long, but in the end I decided that I was better out of that relationship. This is – pleasingly to me – an answer that will satisfy neither the religious nor the atheists nor, I suspect, even the agnostics. I don’t think that “does God exist?” is anywhere near being the most interesting question about God or religion at all.

So why do I write about religion? Because I think that Matthew Arnold was wrong and the sea of faith hasn’t really receded – or it’s only receded among a smallish group of people in a smallish area of the world. Most people on the planet still worship, pray, practice their faith, for billions of people their religious life is the centre of their day or week. Or near the centre, anyway. I think the instinct to religion is as inevitable as the instinct to violence; of course we can learn to do and think differently, and maybe it’s advisable that we do, but that doesn’t mean the instincts will ever fully go away. I think at a time of global cataclysm – the kind that might happen if all the women suddenly developed the power to electrocute people at will! – some world religions would have a field day. Or would offer people wonderfully helpful comfort. Maybe those are the same thing.

You were paired with Margaret Atwood through the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. What influence has she had on your writing in general and on The Power specifically?

Margaret is my dear friend now – as are her family! So her – and their – influence has been as much on my life as on my writing. She’s introduced me to some wild places in the world: we went birdwatching in Cuba and travelled to the Arctic together. That’s rearranged my head in some interesting ways. And I’ve been able to see the disciplined daily schedule that means that Margaret Atwood is able to get her writing done wherever she is in the world: inspirational and strangely calming, because all that brilliance doesn’t just come effortlessly. Good writers work hard.

As for The Power: it was Margaret who first suggested the word ‘convents’ to me in this context. So that was a good steer.

My blog focuses on female writers; who are your favourite women writers?

Ursula Le Guin, Toni Morrison, Ali Smith, AL Kennedy, Han Kang, Joanna Russ, Shirley Jackson, Elizabeth Knox, Daphne Du Maurier, Josephine Tey, Elizabeth Goudge. I could go on, and on, and on….

Huge thanks to Naomi Alderman for the interview and to Penguin for the review copy.

Two Novellas by Aliya Whiteley

The Beauty


Twenty-three-year-old Nathan is a storyteller. He tells stories around the fire at night, stories of the women who’ve been missing from the community for the past six years.

Miriam died early, one of the first, with the yellow fungus thick on her nose and tongue. It crawled out from her womb and down her legs. […] Today the world moves on, and I must find new ways to turn the truth into stories. The graveyard bears more mushrooms, clustering in soft wet shapes, yellow folds and rivulets, in the outlines of the women beneath the soil. It must mean something good.

Two of the men touch the mushrooms and disappear. The community sends out a search party including Nathan. In the woods at night, he falls asleep. The following morning the sound of humming awakens him.

The ground shudders and from the hole climbs a thing. A woman. A thing. It is yellow and spongy and limbed, with a smooth round ball for a head. It is without eyes, without ears. I press myself against the rough wall as it emerges and stands like a human, like a woman. It has breasts, globes of yellow, and rounded hips that speak to me of woman, of want, and that disgusts me beyond words.

The thing follows Nathan and eventually captivates him. He names her and begins a sexual relationship with her. When Nathan returns to the group, he takes the Beauty with him and they possess the men.

The Beauty bring about a reversal of gender norms and soon it becomes clear that they’re out for revenge, for the ‘Hysteria, the sickness of the womb’ that killed them.

I thoroughly enjoyed Whiteley’s speculative fiction tale. Elements of it reminded me of Margaret Atwood and who can resist Doctor Freud’s misguided, endlessly perpetuating nonsense about women taking a good kicking?


The Arrival of the Missives

arrival-of-missives-1In a story which initially seems quite different from The Beauty, our narrator, Shirley Fearn, landowner’s daughter and seventeen-year-old schoolgirl, confesses her love for her teacher, Mr Tiller. Not long returned from the first world war, the villagers gossip that “He isn’t a real man, of course, not after that injury”. Shirley cares not, preferring to imagine what’s under his shirt and waistcoat and declaring her plan to marry Mr Tiller and ‘become a schoolmistress to raise the finest generation yet known to England’. First though, she needs to go to teacher training college in Taunton, if she can get the letter past the busybody at the local post office without her father finding out.

When she sees Tiller tremble as she loiters in the school room after class has finished, she identifies herself as the cause:

The village is unaware how much has changed in the last few moments, and how much I am changing within it. I feel strong, powerful, ripe with possibility.

Shirley walks until she finds herself outside Tiller’s house where she gets what she wants as she sees him remove his waistcoat and shirt. What’s underneath is far from anything she could’ve imagined though:

…the scar is not a scar. It is a pattern revealed, which decorates the entire of his chest and stomach, and lower; I cannot comprehend so many lines and angles, made in the flesh. Except in the centre of the pattern, where there is no flesh at all. There is rock.

How can it be rock? It is solid, and juts forth from the bottom of his ribcage, making a mountain range in miniature, sunk into the body in places and erupting forth in others. There are seams of bright material within it that catch the lamplight, and glitter, delicate and silvery as spider thread.

[Anyone else suspect Whiteley’s a Joy Division fan?]

Once Shirley has seen Tiller’s secret, he recruits her to help him fulfil the needs of those who’ve controlled him since his injuries were sustained. It’s not by accident that he’s come to the village of Westerbridge where generation after generation of the same families have lived, worked and married.

The Arrival of the Missives cleverly shows how a girl on the precipice of womanhood can be manipulated, as were the young men who marched to their deaths – physical and mentally – following the orders of those who should’ve known better. It questions whether our future is predetermined or whether we can change our own destinies. In one sense, it requires more of a suspension of disbelief that The Beauty due to the insertion of something fantastical into an ordinary seeming village in Devon, but it is no less powerful if you’re prepared to give yourself to Whiteley’s vision.


Thanks to Unsung Stories for the review copies.

One Hundred Shadows – Hwang Jungeun (translated by Jung Yewon)

I saw a shadow in the woods. I didn’t know it was a shadow at first. I saw it slip through a thicket and followed it in, wondering if there was a path there, and thinking how familiar it looked. The woods grew more dense the deeper in I went, but I kept on going deeper and deeper because the deeper I went, the more the shadow drew me in.

Hwang Jungeun’s novella One Hundred Shadows has a fairytale quality to it, one of shadows that rise up, woods, darkness and lovers. Walking in the woods with our narrator, Eungyo, is a young man, Mujae. It is he who stops her following the shadow deeper into the woods, into the darkness. As they try to find their way out, sodden from the rain, Mujae tells Eungyo a story about a shadow.


The story concerns Mujae’s father and the day his shadow rose. He followed it a little way and then confessed to Mujae’s mother. Mujae’s mother makes his father promise not to follow it again, but the fact he grows thinner and dies leads Mujae to believe his father did follow his shadow:

If you spot someone who looks just like you, it’s your shadow, and once your shadow rises it’s over for you, because shadows are very persistent, because you can’t bear not to follow your shadow once its risen.

Tied up with Mujae’s story is the fact of his parents getting into debt looking after him and his six older sisters. When he describes getting into debt as ‘inevitable’, Eungyo challenges him. He responds:

I don’t really like people who go around saying they don’t have any debt. This might sound a little harsh, but I think people who claim to be in no debt of any kind are shameless, unless they sprang up naked in the woods one day without having borrowed anyone’s belly, and live without a single thread on their back, and without any industrial products.[…]A lot of things can happen in the manufacturing process, can’t they, when it’s the kind of mass production that uses all sorts of materials and chemicals? Rivers could get polluted, the payment for the labour could be too low. What I’m saying is, even if you buy so much as a cheap pair of socks, that low price is only possible because a debt is incurred somewhere along the line.

Eungyo works at an electronics market, manning the customer services desk and running errands for Mr. Yeo’s repair shop. Mujae’s an apprentice at a transformer workshop. This is where the three elements of the story coincide: Eungyo and Mujae’s growing relationship; knowledge about the shadows, and the idea of debt linked particularly with progress in manufacturing.

In her introduction to the book, Han Kang says:

This is a world in which those living on the edges of society, at the very bottom of the social scale, are being brought to the limits of what they can endure.

As Eungyo and Mujae’s place of work is threatened, their very selves – and those around them – are threatened by the rising of their shadows. Jungeun asks whether love can survive in a place overtaken by such darkness.

One Hundred Shadows is smoothly translated into English by Jung Yewon, leading the reader alongside the lovers as they navigate a landscape both familiar and utterly alien. It’s a short, unusual and compelling tale.


Thanks to Tilted Axis for the review copy.

We and Me – Saskia de Coster (translated by Nancy Forest-Flier) + Q&A

It’s one thing to suffer the disintegration of a family that had never been perfect but is at least surviving in the midst of all the new family-type constructions. It’s something else to hang out your family’s dirty laundry. This is something Mieke’s father drilled into her. Even though she finds family life so suffocating at times that she can barely catch her breath. It makes her feel like a fish that has fallen out of its aquarium and is flapping its gills in misery. Everyone thinks it’s applauding but actually it’s choking to death. […] somehow she’ll keep applauding no matter what the circumstances. She’ll keep her façade intact until the end of her days.

The Vandersanden family – Stefaan, Mieke and Sarah – live on a private estate in the mountains. It is 1980 when de Coster’s omniscient narrator guides us up the mountain, apprising us of the history of the residents and their social conventions. We land at the house on the day Sarah is born.

Stefaan, her father, is a manager at a large pharmaceutical firm. He had to abandon his dreams, at 28, of opening his own laboratory when a rival company threatened legal proceedings that would wipe him out before he began. Now, at 40, he thinks he’s reached the pinnacle of life:

He has finally been granted the title of father.

He has always told himself that he must not rest until he has reached that rarefied, precarious point: the top. It’s not everyone who makes up their mind one day to assume a leadership position, but such people do exist. These are people who don’t take orders from others but deal them out themselves. Arms crossed, shouting defiantly at the world: come on, I dare you.

There’s a problem with being at the top though…


Mieke met Stefaan at the notary’s office where she worked. Her inherited wealth and his work means that with the birth of their first child, she is to be a stay at home mum. There will be no nanny. Mieke had considered an abortion but as the years progress, Mieke’s family – including her rebellious brother who wanders in and out of their life as he please – become all she has. She doesn’t know who she is, she doesn’t recognise the man she’s married to, and she has a daughter who rebels against her.

We follow the family through to 2013 as Mieke’s attempts at keeping up appearances fail and the cracks become chasms.

The narrative voice moves between members of the family, giving alternative perspectives into people’s behaviour and an insight into each character’s psyche. It was interesting to see a European female writer take on what’s traditionally been seen as the bastion of the great white American men and provide a different take on the middle class family.


I’m delighted to welcome Saskia de Coster to the blog to discuss the novel further.

We and Me, despite being mostly set in Belgium, seems to me very much in the tradition of  ‘The Great American Novel’: a family at the centre, an extended timespan, a backdrop of key events and some universal questions about humanity. Were you thinking about these things as you wrote the book and if not, where did your inspiration come from?

The spark for this novel came when I noticed I had started to repeat some of my mother’s favourite sayings.. Although we are very different people and I rebelled against my upper class upbringing , I had wanted to write the story of my youth for a long time, not as a form of cheap therapy but because I can see how life in the upper classes, where We and Me is set, is emblematic of life in Western Europe: characters filled with fear struggle to survive, even though they live a seemingly very comfortable life in a perfect setting where luxury is the norm. Neighbours in these posh neighbourhoods like to keep a close watch on each other as showing off is a big part of their lives. Inside their homes and behind the facade, family members look for their own chance to be free, on their own, not as a family: the father has his hobby shed, the mother has a neurotic obsession with combing her carpets and Sarah, the daughter, flees to her grunge band The Lady Dies (named after Lady Di – We and Me is set between 1980 and 2013).

There seems to be a pre-occupation in the publishing industry as to how likeable and engaging protagonists are. None of your key characters are particularly likeable; did it worry you how readers might react to them?

To me, that is one of the main challenges a writer should set herself: to not just bring to the fore obvious, likeable protagonists and let the reader develop some kind of very self-evident relationship with them, but to carve out the characters over the course of the novel and the years in the narrated time, so that they have more depth. On first sight, the mother Mieke is a completely horrible, neurotic, uptight and stuck-up woman, but throughout the novel, she’s actually the person with the most inner strength and a kind of admittedly tough love. Mieke is the one who develops a certain strength under very dramatic circumstances. Writing in her logic made me understand the logic and reasonings of my own mother and women like her much better.

The novel is a multi-narrative moving mostly between three key characters; did writing from different perspectives provide any particular challenges?

Yes challenges and opportunities. There is not one way of seeing things – e.g. while Stefaan digresses more and more and falls into a deep depression, even though he’s a hot shot at work, his wife Mieke starts to enjoy life more and breaks free without noticing the changes in his behaviour. One can argue she, from her point of view, does everything she can to make Stefaan’s life better but he sees it completely differently, from his side.

We and Me is translated into English by Nancy Forest-Flier; did you work closely with her on the translation? How do you feel about having your words translated into another language?

A translation is like a second life for a book:  It becomes different with the words being changed into another language but the core is still the same somehow. Nancy Forest-Flier did an excellent job on the translation and improved the book, as only really outstanding translators can do.  She also noticed some inconsistencies including a mistake in a scene between two subway stations in New York (it seemed as if they were only 500 meters apart).

My blog focuses on female writers; who are your favourite women writers?

Well, my all time favourite is (of course) the genius Virginia Woolf. However nowadays, a great many strong female authors have emerged, to name but a few of my favourites: Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Jennifer Egan, Ali Smith (all of them not so new), Chris Kraus, Maggie Nelson, Valeria Luiselli, …

Thanks to Saskia de Coster for the interview and to World Editions for the review copy.

Himself – Jess Kidd

Mahony steps off a bus and walks into Mulderrig all Dublin swagger.

With good looks like that, thinks Tadgh, the fella is either a poet or a gobshite, with the long hair and the leather jacket and the walk on it, like his doesn’t smell.

Within days the people of the town are either furious about his return, madly in love with him, or a bit of both. Mahony doesn’t remember them or the town – he was just a baby when he left – but the town remembers him, or at least, they remember his mother who disappeared not long after he was born.


Mahony’s back after twenty-six years because the previous Thursday, sitting in the Bridge Tavern, he was approached by Father Gerard McNamara. Sister Veronica had died, leaving a letter to be passed on to Mahony. A letter left with him on the doorstep of St Martha’s Orphanage. The letter told him his real name, his mother’s name, his place of birth, and contains a photograph of him with his mother and a warning:

For your information she was the curse of the town, so they took her from you. They all lie, so watch yourself, and know that your mammy loved you.

His mammy had loved him. Past tense. Mammy was past tense.

Several things elevate Himself above your average small town murder mystery: Mahony can see the dead; other supernatural elements are also successfully interwoven; the characters of Mrs Cauley and Bridget Doosey are a joy, and Kidd’s use of humour, interweaving of the Irish accent, and her use of narrative voice are all superb. The later of which moves freely from third person subjective between several characters to directly addressing the reader. That it does so without jarring is quite a feat.

Kidd’s narrator tells us:

For the dead are always close by in a life like Mahony’s. The dead are drawn to the confused and the unwritten, the damaged and the fractured, to those big cracks and gaps in their tales, which the dead just yearn to fill. For the dead have second-hand stories to share with you, if you’d only let them get a foot in the door.

Mahony lets a little girl, Ida, into his life and she becomes one of the keys to discovering what happened to his mother.

When we first meet Mrs Cauley, a lodger at Rathmore House, where Mahony also finds himself staying, she appears as a Miss Havisham type of character; the entrance to her room has become a corridor constructed from ‘books, magazines, periodicals and papers’, some of which are ten feet high.

‘This was a beautiful room before she made it her lair.’ Shauna points up at the thick cobwebs that trapeze the spaces between her books. […]

‘She calls it her literary labyrinth,’ says Shauna, kicking an avalanche of play scripts out of the way. ‘I call it a bloody hazard.’ 

Mrs Cauley lies in bed, very old, bald and tiny. However, it soon becomes clear she’s more – as she describes herself – Miss Marple ‘with balls’. Along with her partner-in-crime, Bridget Doosey, she knows all the goings-on in the village and decides to help Mahony solve his mystery, partly by putting on the village play.

Mrs Cauley grins. ‘Shauna hates having Doosey in the house; she says we’re a bad influence on each other. That girl chews the ears off me with her relentless bloody nagging.’ Mrs Cauley shoots him a mutinous glance. ‘As soon as she patters off down to town I get Doosey in for a bit of hell-raising.’ She leans forward and speaks low. ‘We have a signal. I hoist my harvest festivals out of the window and Doosey stands on the quay with her binoculars.’

Mahony looks confused.

‘I wave me knickers, boy. Harvest Festivals. All is safely gathered in?’

Himself is a gem. It’s difficult to believe a novel that contains such sophisticated narrative techniques and interweaving of the supernatural is a debut. It was a joy to read and I’m very keen that Mrs Cauley and Bridget Doosey make a return in Kidd’s work. The campaign for them to have their own series starts here!

This post is part of a blog tour. If you want to read more about Himself, visit the sites listed below.


Thanks to Canongate for the review copy.


In the Media: October 2016, Part One

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.


The fortnight began with the outing of Elena Ferrante. I’m not going to link to the original article, but there’s been a huge reaction to it:


Photograph by Kate Neil

The other big story of the fortnight has been the release of the film version of The Girl on the Train.


And the writer with the most coverage is Brit Bennett who’s interviewed on The Cut, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Jezebel, The New York Times and Literary Hub.


The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:


Personal essays/memoir:




Society and Politics:


The interviews/profiles:


The regular columnists:

Susan Barker at Manchester Literature Festival

In 2014, Doubleday published Susan Barker’s third novel The Incarnations. Set in contemporary Beijing but spanning 1000 years of Chinese history, it’s an inventive, intelligent, engrossing novel. It went on to win a Jerwood Fiction Prize in 2015 and to garner rave reviews in the broadsheets both in the UK and the USA.


On the second day of Manchester Literature Festival 2016, I’m in the International Anthony Burgess Centre to see a sold out talk by Barker about her writing of the novel. She begins by telling us that it’s about the six lives of the taxi driver Wang Jun, one in Beijing in 2008, where he’s a taxi driver and five across the Tang Dynasty, the invasion of Genghis Khan, the Ming Dynasty, the Opium War and the Cultural Revolution.

Barker says she had two strategies when researching the novel. The first was for the historical sections which were largely text based, although she did visit sites of historical interest too. The second, for the contemporary sections, in which she wanted to show the rapid societal and economic changes that had taken place in Beijing, she took an artists’ residency in the city in 2007 and ended up staying for five years.

While she lived in the city, the idea of the narrator’s occupation came from a conversation Barker had with some taxi drivers on a cigarette break in December 2007. She talked to them, practising her ‘bad Chinese’ and decided that a taxi driver would give the reader ‘a panoramic view of the city’ and allow Beijing to have a central presence in the novel.

She lived in a flat that had previously belonged to the Ministry of Agriculture and housed some of its workers. This is the flat in which Wang lives during the novel. As Barker moved to Beijing as the city was gearing up for the Olympics, the atmosphere at the time ‘swept its way into the book’. This atmosphere took several forms: renovation, celebration and surveillance. She tells us of building supervisors carrying out checks on people’s papers and of the government cleaning the streets of the homeless and the mentally ill whom they detained for the duration of the Olympics.

Barker began by reading books that gave broad overviews of Chinese history and then carried out further research into those most interesting to her. She wasn’t sure how she was going to structure the novel until she came up with the idea of reincarnation and the epistolian nature of the book. This meant that the structure would link past to present; Barker also liked the idea of human nature repeating/history reoccurring and this became one of the central themes.


We’re then treated to a bit of a history lesson as Barker takes us through the settings of the five letters in the novel. The first is set in the Tang Dynasty which, she says, was comparatively open and cosmopolitan compared to some of periods of Chinese rule. This period produced some of Barker’s favourite cultural highlights. The story written with this period as the backdrop is during the rule of Tang Taizong, the 2nd Emperor of the dynasty. He was entertained by courtesans who would sing, dance, recite poetry and be witty conversationalists. Only eunuchs were permitted to serve the emperor to ensure purity of the imperial lineage. Barker was interested in the psychological effects of castration: some men found it purifying, others distressing, so she explored this in the story set in this period.

The second is the Jin Dynasty, 1215, during the invasion of Genghis Khan into north China. The Siege of Zhangdu was his most ambitious. 70,000 horseback warriors surrounded the city until one million inhabitants began to starve and turned to cannibalism. When the city fell, the Mongols went through systematically and raised it to the ground. The only people who survived were people with skills. The story told in The Incarnations is about two people who lie that they have skills but, Barker tells us that Genghis Khan is ‘very much the beating heart of the story’. She was interested in what it was like to be a powerless individual swept up by this historical force.

Emperor Jiajing, the most sadistic of the Ming Dynasty – ‘Which is quite impressive!’ –  is the ruler during the time in which the third story takes place. Jiajing was mostly interested in his own mortality. He had a harem of 200 concubines and it was rumoured he’d tortured and murdered some of them. In October 1542, sixteen concubines plotted to kill him. ‘In a sense they were the most powerful women in China’, Barker says, but they were also prisoners who took their fate into their own hands. The story follows the women as they carry out their plot.

The fourth story takes place in Canton, the city now known as Guangzhou, during the Opium Wars. Barker includes the Tankas, a group who live on junks and have their own subculture and the British. She explores the psychological climate: the Chinese and British attitudes to each other. There were deeply ingrained racial prejudices that were very difficult to overcome, she says.

The Anti-Capitalist School for Revolutionary Girls in the People’s Republic of China is the setting for the fifth story. Barker was interested in class at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution and the way in which it began with education with schools being given the freedom to persecute teachers. She read Colin Febron’s Behind the Wall which was written in the 1980s not long after the Cultural Revolution ended. In it he describes the revolution as ‘The collective madness as of an entire nation’. Barker thinks this assessment is harsh but she is interested in how loyalty to Mao Zedong overrode rationality. She’s interested in what it was like to live in a totalitarian society so the story takes place from the interior view of someone who’s being brainwashed.

The themes of the novel are power and power struggles. This is both between individuals in their relationships and between the state – the minority who rule – and the people – the majority who are subjugated. Barker’s interested in how these reoccurs generation after generation. States of peace and stability are always precarious, she says. The contemporary section of the book is set during the most stable time but Wang Jun is disengaged and passive. He’s not interested in wealth and gaining status through it. Instead he’s seduced by the letters left in his taxi and the idea of someone loving him so passionately. The relationship between the taxi driver and the anonymous letter writer is ‘the final power struggle of the book’.

Dodge and Burn – Seraphina Madsen + Q&A

A multilingual Russian novelist, poet, lepidopterist and chess composer once noted that the spiral is the spiritual circle: a circle set free. Had Camille and I spiralled out of the circle of life on Earth? Had that first cup of hemlock tea killed us? And then there were all of the other mishaps which could have resulted in the death of my body while my spirit lived on believing that the body was still there, like the phantom limb of an amputee. For all I knew I was my own hallucination. But in the end, what did it matter? Einstein had supposedly said: “Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” As long as my imagination was intact, there were no limits. I could create meaning and purpose and that was enough.

Madsen’s debut novel, and the first to be published by new independent imprint Dodo Ink, is an exercise in imagination that takes the reader on a road trip across the west of the USA and the possibilities of experimental fiction.


Dodge and Burn is framed by news reports of a missing American heiress, Eugenie Lund. A notebook of hers containing a manuscript has been found in a cave in Altamira, Spain. The novel begins with an excerpt from it during which we learn about Lund’s childhood, and that of her sister Camille, following the death of their mother.

Their mother died after being attacked by killer bees at the home of Dr Vargas, with whom she was staying. As their father was on an expedition to Antarctica and could not be found, Dr Vargas adopted Eugenie and Camille in accordance with their mother’s will. They lived in Maine, the first two years in hiding as Vargas believed the children were at risk of being kidnapped. They had an unusual upbringing, learning how to survive in the wild, reading voraciously, practising gymnastics, learning to play poker and being classically conditioned. Eventually they were ‘re-socialised’ in the first year of middle school, learning to move ‘like ghosts […] We were to acquire the skills of espionage, infiltration, and sabotage most often attributed to ninjas’.

Occasionally schoolyard gossip would turn to Vargas. The general consensus held that he was a blood-sucking vampire and baby killer. It was true, Dr Vargas did, to some extent, have an air of Klaus Kinski in Nosferatu about him, except that his teeth fit properly in his mouth, his fingernails were shorter and he moved with more speed and agility. Vargas chose to cover his baldness from the world with a thick, black, luxuriant toupee he wore with authority.

By the end of the chapter, Vargas has revealed his hand and been dealt with and Camille has disappeared. Eugenie decides to go to Altamira to look for Camille.

When we next see Eugenie, we’re reading from seven notebooks that have been found in a backpack in Maine, she’s on the run with her husband Benoît after taking the Vegas strip, turning ‘two grand into sixty-three’, and being threatened by casino security. We follow them on a trip (often in both senses of the word) across the west of the USA from Nevada to Colorado as Eugenie searches for her sister.

Madsen’s created a novel that asks big questions about life: who are we? Where are the limits of our existence? Are we just writing our own narratives?

There’s a wealth of information about all kinds of otherwise disparate things in the book and it’s fascinating to see them all brought together. This is a story written on a relatively small geographical canvas but containing a vast backdrop of ideas and imagination. It fits within the tradition of the cult road trip novel – Madsen references Kerouac and Burroughs towards the end of the book – but by making her protagonist female, reclaims something of that movement for the women who were excluded from it in the 1950s.

The novel’s also very readable – if you fear you have an aversion to experimental fiction, you shouldn’t be put off this one – I gulped it down in an afternoon, desperate to know where it was going – literally and figuratively. Dodge and Burn is a joy. It’s a smart, often funny, wild ride. Anna North’s The Life and Death of Sophie Stark and Emma Cline’s The Girls are the female-led, American novels people have been talking about this year. If there’s any justice, Seraphina Madsen’s Dodge and Burn should be top of that list. A gem.


I’m delighted to welcome Seraphina Madsen to the blog.

Dodge and Burn began life as a short story you wrote on your MA course. What inspired the piece and how did you go about turning it into a novel?

The piece was a recollection or enactment of a short story I wrote when I was seventeen with a Dr Vargas and killer bees which was lost long ago when I ran away from home. At the time I was obsessed with Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Ernest Hemingway. I had to submit a piece for an experimental writing module at Kingston and had no idea what I would do, so I decided the only thing I could do in that short period of time was to edit the short story I had tried to recreate out of a sense of plumbing the depths of my past. It was incredibly personal and I didn’t really want my tutors to see it but I had nothing else to submit. So it was pretty terrifying when they said I’d had a breakthrough and it was the best thing I’d ever written and Lee Rourke ended up submitting it to The White Review. I just told myself that in making art you had to have courage so I had to face my demons.

The novel fits into the cult California road trip, drugs and psychedelia tradition, which is dominated by male writers (some of whom – Kerouac and Burroughs – you mention towards the end of the book). How do you see yourself within that tradition? Are there any other cult female writers you think deserve to be better known?

There weren’t many women authors of Beat fiction. Joyce Johnson wrote the first Beat novel, Come and Join the Dance, published in 1962, which didn’t have any of the structural or stylistic innovations Jack Kerouac or William S. Burroughs were experimenting with, and was more like a memoir disguised as fiction. But what was contained within the pages of Come and Join the Dance was daring because it depicted women who were ‘real’ as Johnson saw them, not the demure housewives society wanted respectable women to be. At the time it was perfectly fine for a man to go hitch hiking across America, to drink and smoke and frequent jazz clubs and still remain respectable. If a women were to do the same thing she would have been considered tainted, ruined, and disgraceful. Upright, honest women of good repute simply did not do things like that and in the 1950s and early sixties did not go out without a chaperone. So, because of the civil rights movement and changes in perceptions of women someone like me has the freedom to write about drug fuelled adventures akin to something Hunter S. Thompson, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac would have gotten themselves into without the stigma of being louche or contemptible. There is still a long way to go toward equality between women and men, and civil rights for minorities for that matter, but it was much worse for women during the Beat Era in that regard.

With Dodge and Burn I wanted to incorporate some of the energy and concerns of the Beat movement into the postmodern mix, so I see myself as taking aspects of the tradition, venerating them and challenging them.

Alexandra-David Neel’s memoir Magic and Mystery in Tibet is work that comes to my mind that perhaps most people haven’t heard of and is phenomenal in every sense.

None of your characters are particularly likeable. In an industry that seems obsessed with likeable and relatable characters did you feel any pressure to soften them?

With complex characters and challenging situations, I don’t think you’re going to have completely likable characters, Jack Kerouac and William S Burroughs certainly didn’t. The narrative voice of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita was essentially a paedophile. Then there is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Nikolai in The Demons, the list goes on. Eugenie is dealing with severe childhood abuse and hasn’t had any kind of therapy whatsoever, so she is living in this disassociated state with PTSD, trying to make sense of the world. I envisioned her to be a lot like Edie Sedgwick. As my final project at Kingston I was working on another American road trip novel with a DJ male protagonist who was misogynistic and constantly trying to get his girlfriend into threesomes with other women. Everyone in the workshops hated him and said they didn’t want to read anymore because they detested him so much. So, at the end of the course, for fun, I decided to create another DJ, but this time an ideal, who ended up being Benoît. Everyone loved him and thought he was super cool. I scrapped the previous road trip novel and began Dodge and Burn.

One of the things that impressed me about the novel was the amount of knowledge that seemed to be contained within it – literature, music, film, surviving in the wilds, physics. How much research did you do? Is there a fascinating piece of knowledge you can tell us which didn’t make the final edit of the book?  

I have an inquiring mind so I’m constantly looking into things. The knowledge in Dodge and Burn took many years of research, maybe my entire lifetime. There were loads of things in retired Navy Seal Clint Emerson’s 100 Deadly Skills: the Seal Operative’s Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation I didn’t have the opportunity to use.

Dodge and Burn is the first publication from fledgling publisher Dodo Ink. How does it feel to be the first writer published by a new imprint?

It’s pretty incredible. In my wildest dreams I wanted to be published by an indie publisher like Dodo Ink and they are proving to be even better than what I could have imagined.

My blog focuses on female writers; who are your favourite female writers?

Alexandra David-Neel, Carson McCullers, Jean Rhys, Marguerite Duras, Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter, Anaïs Nin, Margaret Atwood, and Angela Carter.


Huge thanks to Seraphina Madsen for the interview and for Dodo Ink for the review copy.

Jersey Festival of Words: The Non-Fiction

I tweeted on Saturday afternoon that one of the things I love about Jersey Festival of Words is the number of non-fiction writers who also happen to be female who are hosted by the festival. In 2015, I saw Rachel Bridge, Irma Kurtz, Ella Berthoud, Jane Hawking and Dr Gilly Carr. This year, it’s Anne Sebba, Cathy Retzenbrink, Kat Banyard and Sarah Turner aka The Unmumsy Mum.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 13.53.14

Kat Banyard takes to the Opera House stage along with former sex worker Diane Martins on Saturday afternoon. They’ve come to discuss the ‘uncharted territory’ society finds itself in following the ‘huge and unprecedented expansion of the global sex trade’.

In her book Pimp State, Banyard discusses each area of the sex trade but for this event, he focuses solely on prostitution, looking at ideas around power, money, equality and policy choices. She states that ‘the global sex trade affects everyone’ as the trades weave themselves into the fabric of society. This promotes a message about the ways in which it’s acceptable to treat another human being.

Banyard reiterates much of the ground covered in the book with regards to sex buyers and their views; the women who become sex workers; those who control the trade, and the different legal stances, from legalisation to the Sex Buyer Law.


Diane Martins supports women exiting the sex trade and campaigns to end demand for sexual exploitation through implementation of the Sex Buyer Law. She tells us her story, which you can read here.

She has some interesting things to say about the work she does with women exiting the trade, in particular. She talks about the disassociation she felt and other women often feel from their bodies, ‘My vagina’s not attached to me by velcro’ and how powerful words are, ‘The power of words is so strong. You’re worth nothing. You’ll do as I say. This is what your life is’. But she hopes that her words can help impart hope and change ideas.

Both Martins and Banyard comment on the Home Affairs Select Committee they were asked to give evidence at with regards to prostitution laws. The committee was chaired by Keith Vaz, who was later revealed to be a sex buyer himself. Diane talks about how vulnerable some of the women who gave evidence were and how difficult revelations like this make it for them to talk about their experiences.

Banyard ends by saying that men take experiences of the sex industry into other areas of their life: work and home.


Photograph by Yasmin Hannah

On Saturday evening, the Opera House plays host to Sarah Turner aka The Unmumsy Mum, who’s interviewed by some blogger from the north of England. It’s difficult to talk about an event when you’re the person on stage asking the questions, but Turner’s fantastic: funny and honest. Her audience of 300 parents (mostly mums) roar with laughter as she talks about wanting to put the kids up on eBay, not having a kitchen with an island, the milking incident and What Would Ruth Do?

The two events everyone was talking about though, happened on Saturday morning at the same time – Michael Morpurgo in the Opera House and Cathy Rentzenbrink in the Arts Centre. Obviously, I was at the Arts Centre (although I did run the length of St Helier to get a signed copy of Morpurgo’s latest book for the ten-year-old).

Rentzenbrink’s interviewed by Paul Bisson, Vice Chairman of the festival. I mention this because Bisson’s first question is about interviewing as Rentzenbrink often interviews writers and chairs panels (she chaired both the thriller panel and the history panel at the festival this year). She says she’s become a better interviewer now she’s on the receiving end of it. She used to accidentally be a little bit casual, not wanting to gush over writers. Now she tells them if she loves their work. She also comments that not everyone who interviews you prepares and sometimes you realise twenty minutes into the interview…

Bisson says there’s an irony in her saying in The Last Act of Love that she didn’t want to be known as ‘coma girl’ and now she’s known for her memoir about it. She says there’s dealing with the thing and dealing with how to communicate the thing and she feels a great sense of relief now she’s on the record about what happened and who she is. ‘I’ve wrestled it into a book,’ she says. She jokes that if anything were to happen to her husband and she has to return to dating she can use the book as an introduction, ‘Read it and see if you can be bothered to take me on’.


How big Rentzenbrink’s book would be if it contained the whole truth.

She talks about the truth of the events, saying that ‘the written version becomes the true version’ and that although ‘there’s nothing in [the book] that’s not true’ there are omissions. These fall into two categories: people involved who didn’t want to be written about and things that were removed during the editorial process.

One of the reasons Rentzenbrink wrote the book was the misunderstandings around comas. She says they’re very clean on television, you either wake up or die. She quotes Henry Marsh, author of Do No Harm, who says that it’s easy to save someone’s life with emergency brain surgery but that they’ll almost never recover. He uses the phrase, ‘The collateral damage to the family’. Rentzenbrink says that she used to think she was crazy and mad but has since realised she’s not, it’s the events that happened to her.

However, there are many moments in the book which are funny. ‘Tragedy is funny because if you couldn’t find funny you’d die on the spot,’ she says. She tells us that she got the giggles at Matty’s funeral because she thought his friends were going to drop the coffin in an Only Fools and Horses type moment.

She talks about living and working in the family pub. How people who drink in pubs are very funny but that measuring your drinking habits against them when you’re seventeen isn’t advisable. However, she credits the pub with preventing the family from the isolation they might have suffered on bringing Matty home if they’d been living in a house. She also comments on how many people seem to miss the class element of the book. ‘I love my journey from Snaith Ladies Darts Team at sixteen to the main stage at Cheltenham Literature Festival.’

On writing Rentzenbrink says, ‘I think all of writing is about self-doubt management’. She mimics herself typing, squinting at the keyboard. She says it’s only in the editing she thinks about the reader but because of her work in prisons with men who don’t read well, she’s aware of a need to make books accessible for a wide audience. She wanted to take something complex and make it simple. While editing The Last Act of Love she became very aware of the lack of books on the subject of persistent vegetative states and pictured a builder who’d never read a book reading it. This led to her editing for clarity and deleting a whole thread about her response to a range of books. ‘That man does not need to read me twatting on about Julian Barnes.’

It’s so easy for memories to be overtaken by a decaying body, she says. Writing the book helped her to remember what Matty was really like. ‘I remember new things about him all the time. He feels completely real to me now in a way I thought I’d lost him. He sort of talks to me. It might be him, wouldn’t turn that down. I think it’s my memory having a conversation with itself.’ He’s encouraging, sweary and gives career advice. He’s fondly critical and calls Rentzenbrink to account with comments like, ‘What the fuck are you worrying about that for, you crazy bitch?’

There’s a theme of religion running through the book. Rentzenbrink describes herself as ‘a hopeful agnostic. I like a bit of smells and bells. I like married clergy, love being the answer and all’. She wonders why she doesn’t allow herself to go to church and thinks religion hasn’t caught up with medical developments. She was scared that religions people would be angry about the book and the decision her family took.

Rentzenbrink says that she considers herself a case study but doesn’t want to be a spokesperson for euthanasia. ‘Almost all of those arguments reduce the human.’ She says raising awareness is a great thing but, ‘I like the book to do that’. She says more cases have gone to court because of the book, people didn’t know it was an option.

She’s currently editing her second book, a non-fiction work called A Manual for Heartache which is about loss and grief more generally. She says if you remain silent people think you’re alright but when you’re honest, people say ‘me too’.

She’s also writing a novel. Doing so has liberated her from the need to tell the truth. She ends by saying that thinking about other people’s books, which she does for her Contributing Editor role at The Bookseller, ‘keeps me sane’.