In the Media: 9th November 2014

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week 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. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

It’s awards time again this week. Congratulations to Helen Macdonald who won the Samuel Johnson Prize with her stunning memoir H is for Hawk. There’s an article about it and an interview, both in The Guardian. You can also listen to interviews with all the shortlisted writers on BBC Radio 4.

While in France, Lydie Salvayre won the Prix Goncourt with Pas Pleurer.

The Green Carnation shortlist was announced this week and there are four women on the shortlist of six – congratulations to Kerry Hudson, Kirsty Logan, Anneliese Mackintosh and Laurie Penny. Prior to the announcement, Antonia Honeywell wrote her thoughts on the longlist.

The National Book Awards (UK) shortlists were also announced this week. Lots of books by women worth a read on there too.

And the Saltaire Society shortlisted a self-published book for their First Book AwardThe Last Pair of Ears by Mary F. McDonough. The first self-published book to be shortlisted for a Scottish Prize.

That might make you think about Paul Kingsnorth’s novel The Wake which was the first crowd funded novel to be longlisted for The Man Booker Prize earlier this year. Well, Unbound, Kingsnorth’s publishers have announced a Women in Print campaign to try to increase the number of female authors published.

This week has also seen The Bookseller’s report on diversity in publishing – still not good enough, is the overriding conclusion.

It wouldn’t be an average week these days without a Lena Dunham story. Accused by a right-wing journalist of sexually molesting her younger sister following a confessional passage in her book, discussion ensued from Emily Gould, Katie McDonough, Mary Elizabeth Williams and Carolyn Edgar on Salon; Sarah Seltzer on Flavorwire; Emma Gannon on The Debrief; Grace Dent in The Independent. To cheer you up after that, here are 37 Funny and Inspired Thoughts from her book tour on Buzzfeed.

In more cheering news about prominent females, Mallory Ortberg, founder of The Toast, had her book Texts for Jane Eyre published in America this week. In the Los Angeles Review of Books, Sarah Mesle wrote a stunning essay/review about the book’s feminist credentials. She’s interviewed on Entertainment Weekly, The Huffington Post and The Guardian. And you can read an extract, 7 Brutal Literary Breakup Texts on Buzzfeed.

And the Amy Poehler stories are still going. The woman herself answers the Proust Questionnaire in Vanity Fair. Here’s 5 Unexpected Things Marie Claire learned from Poehler’s book. Jessica Valenti has (mis?) read the book and declared ‘bitchiness’ the secret to Poehler’s success in The Guardian. Also in The Guardian, Hadley Freeman told us ‘Why Amy Poehler is the Ultimate Role Model for British Women‘.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

In translation:

  • Jenny Erpenbeck (tr. Susan Bernofsky) ‘Homesick for Sadness’ on the fall of the Berlin Wall in The Paris Review
  • Julie Winters Carpenter interviewed about translating Japanese poetry on the Asymptote Blog

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

The lists:

And the 13 (I tried to keep it to 10 but it’s been a very good week) best things I’ve seen this week:

Sugar Hall – Tiffany Murray

There was a boy; there was a small boy and the boy appeared out of thin air, and he, Dieter Sugar, was sure this boy was something different, he was almost certain this boy wasn’t like any other boy he’d seen before.

Sugar Hall begins with young Dieter running, petrified, from the long shed on the edge of the gardens to the reception room in the stately house which is his inheritance. He’s seen the boy mentioned above, a boy who is definitely no longer alive.

The Sugars – Dieter, his older sister Saskia and their mother Lilia – have moved to Sugar Hall from London following the death of Peter, Lilia’s husband and Dieter’s father. Dieter misses his friends, the Wee-Hoo Gang, who played in the wasteland on the edge of the Thames. It’s his sadness about being away from London that makes him declare:

‘A boy was out there,’ he whispered, ‘he did wear a silver collar and you’ll see, I’m going to make him my friend.’

As Dieter makes friends with the ghost boy, completely naïve as to the consequences this will bring, Lilia’s also making friends of her own:

Juniper Bledsoe, neighbour, arrives on horseback, wearing a wax jacket, carrying a joint of beef and being a thoroughly English countrywoman. She’s practical and open.

And John Phelps whose mother used to be a servant at the hall:

John visited because there were things that were difficult for Ma, and although Dieter knew John couldn’t help with every difficult thing, like sadness, he could hit the taps that dribbled green with a spanner; he could climb up onto the roof as Ma worried below, and he could bang until the gush of water stopped. Ma said if it wasn’t for John Phelps they might be dead.

It’s clear that although they’ve never been well off – Peter was estranged from his father due to his marriage to Lilia – there’s been an attempt to raise the children to aspire to something superior, they’ve been given elocution lessons, for example. It’s not until they take over the hall that their financial status becomes crippling and standards begin to slide.

The story’s told in a third person subjective narration moving mostly between the points of view of Dieter and Lilia. This allows us to witness the boy ghost from both Dieter’s perspective, who can see the boy and attempts to help him to his own detriment, and Lilia’s terrifying position as a mother whose son is suddenly and inexplicably ill.

Murray intersperses the narration with a variety of other texts. These take many forms, including newspaper articles, letters, lists and pictures, all of which link to key events in the story.

Sugar Hall, despite its early introduction of the ghost, is a slow burner. Murray allows the reader to become acquainted with the hall, the locals and have a glimpse of the Sugar ancestors and their collections – butterflies, moths, masks and animal heads – in order to build a terrifying atmosphere which hurtles towards it’s grim conclusions. The novel explores how the sins of the ancestors are passed down the generations who ultimately pay for the inhumane crimes committed. Not only is it a very good ghost story, it’s also a reminder of atrocities whose aftermath still resonate today.


Thanks to Seren for the review copy.