In the Media: 19th April 2015

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. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist was revealed this week. Sarah Shaffi of The Bookseller reports, ‘Experience tells on Baileys Women’s Prize shortlist‘ while Anna James of We Love This Book introduces us to each of the books and invites us to read along in this video.

Other big news was London Book Fair. For readers, this means announcements about new acquisitions from significant writers. Alison Flood in the Guardian reports, ‘Age shall not weary them: Diana Athill, 97, and Edna O’Brien, 84, are stars of London book fair‘ and ‘London book fair excited by Erica Jong’s new novel‘. The Quietus reports on Viv Albertine’s new book and the cover for Patti Smith’s sequel to Just Kids was released this week, see it in The Pool. If you want a glimpse into what goes on at the fair, Antonia Honeywell wrote on her blog about the panel she was part of, ‘Promoting Debut Authors – London Book Fair 14th April 2015‘.

The woman with the most publicity this week is Evangeline Jennings who’s interviewed on The Indie View, Col’s Criminal Library, Quirky Fiction, Omnimystery News and in character as one of the narrators of her short stories, Helen Wheels on Reflections of Reality.

In this week’s Harper Lee news, ‘PRH reveals Harper Lee title page‘ reports Publishers Weekly.

And in this week’s Elena Ferrante news, if you haven’t read anything by her, she’s this week’s Bedtime Bookclub in The Pool where you can read the first five chapters of My Brilliant Friend. Also in The Pool, Viv Groskop asks, ‘Is being a bestseller all in a name?‘ and Cristina Marconi writes, ‘Elena Ferrante versus Italy‘ on Little Atoms.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Music, Film and Television:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction to read:

If you want some poetry to read:

  • What Did Sriraman Say?‘ by Perundevi (translated by Padma Narayanan and Subashree Krishnaswamy) in Words Without Borders
  • Highway‘ by Malathi Maithri (translated by Lakshmi Holmström) in Words Without Borders
  • Three Dreams‘ by Sharmila Seyyid (translated by Lakshmi Holmström) in Words Without Borders
  • Fear‘ by Krishangini (translated by Padma Narayanan and Subashree Krishnaswamy) in Words Without Borders
  • Shunaka: Blood Count‘ by Karthika Nair in Granta
  • Gone to Pasture/To Speak‘ by Natalie Eilbert in The Offing
  • Compromised Field‘ by Shareen Mansfield on The Honeyed Quill
  • Humbles‘ by Frances Leviston on Poem Today
  • The Handshake‘ by Isabel Rogers on her blog
  • A Psalm for the Scaffolders‘ by Kim Moore on Seren Books’ Blog

If you want some non-fiction to read:

The lists:

The Bailey’s Prize for Women Shortlist 2015

Here it is! The official shortlist for 2015. It shares three books with the Shadow Panel shortlist. If you click a cover, it will take you to my review of the book. Congratulations to all the shortlisted authors.

The Bees – Laline Paull

She dragged her body through and fell out onto the floor of an alien world. Static roared through her brain, thunderous vibration shook the ground and a thousand scents dazed her. All she could do was breathe until gradually the vibration and static subsided and the scent evaporated into the air. Her rigid body unlocked and she calmed as knowledge filled her mind.

This was the Arrivals Hall and she was a worker.

Her kin was Flora and her number was 717.

Flora 717 is a worker bee, born to serve in the lowest class of the hive – sanitation. However, Flora is unusual. Catagorised as ‘Excessive variation. Abnormal’ by the hive police, she is saved from certain death by Sister Sage, one of the priestesses. Flora ‘is obscenely ugly…excessively large’ and can speak – highly unusual for her kin. Taken under Sister Sage’s wing (sorry), Flora travels through the hive with her to the Nursery. There she is left as an experiment to see whether she can produce Flow and feed the babies but not before she learns of the concerns of Sister Teasel:

‘They say the season is deformed by rain, that the flowers shun us and fall unborn, that foragers are falling from the air and no one knows why!’ She plucked at her fur convulsively. ‘They say we will starve and the babies will all die…’

Flora’s time in the nursery is successful but it comes to an abrupt end when the fertility police arrive on the ward following the discovery of a wing deformity on one of the newly hatched bees. This can’t possibly be the Queen’s offspring – it would be treason to suggest she could produce a deformed baby, regardless of the impact of climate change – so the imposter’s spawn must be destroyed. A baby is taken from a crib and Flora is ordered to destroy it. Holding the baby, she is unable to do it. The fertility police wrench it from her and devour it. Flora is sent back to sanitation though not for long.

Through a series of not entirely plausible events, Flora manages to work her way through the hive, playing different roles. This way the reader gets to see the entirety of the hive and to understand how it works. Three things are notable here: the Drones, the Queen and the religious aspect of the hive.

Flora first comes into contact with a drone as she walks through the hive with Sister Sage. As one emerges from his compartment in the Drones’ Arrival Hall, the bees treat him like a member of The Beatles in 1964:

…to the sisters’ fervent applause, he showed himself off from many angles, stretching out his legs in pairs, puffing his plume and even treating them to a sudden roar of his engine. They screamed in delight and fanned each other, and some scrambled to offer him pastries and water.

The drones are lazy, vain, selfish, gluttonous, sexist characters. They preen and swagger about the hive but they also bring some comedy to the novel – sometimes with their bawdy lines, but mostly as we laugh at them.

The Queen is obviously important but more so as Flora gets to meet her – not a privilege afforded to many bees. Flora accesses the Hive mind during a crisis in which she fights a wasp who attacks the hive and it is this which earns her the visit to the Queen. During her time in the Queen’s chamber, she learns the stories of the bees and the Queen’s secret.

The religious aspect of the hive is used as a control mechanism. The hive has a very strict power structure, every bee is born knowing their place. The Sage priestesses are the ruling elite, maintaining order through overzealous police officers, the catechism – ‘Desire is sin, Vanity is sin, Idleness is sin, Discord is sin, Greed is sin’ – and the first commandment – ‘Accept, Obey and Serve’.

The Bees is overlong and the way in which Flora moves from role to role is overly contrived to allow the reader to see the workings of the hive through a third-person subjective narrator. However, it is also hugely imaginative and handles its themes with care. Paull takes ideas about climate change, power, religion and sexism and weaves them into a narrative which in it’s best moments is gripping.

I was mostly impressed with this – the imagination at work here gives some compensation for the length and initial structure – and I’m keen to see what Laline Paull comes up with next.

Fellow shadow judge Paola has also reviewed The Bees on her blog. Click here to read it. As has Eric on his.

Thanks to Fourth Estate for the review copy.

The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2015

It’s here! The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2015 is as follows:

Rachel Cusk: Outline

Lissa Evans: Crooked Heart

Patricia Ferguson: Aren’t We Sisters?

Xiaolu Guo: I Am China

Samantha Harvey: Dear Thief

Emma Healey: Elizabeth is Missing

Emily St. John Mandel: Station Eleven

Grace McCleen: The Offering

Sandra Newman: The Country of Ice Cream Star

Heather O’Neil: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night

Laline Paull: The Bees

Marie Phillips: The Table of Less Valued Knights

Rachel Seiffert: The Walk Home

Kamila Shamsie: A God in Every Stone

Ali Smith: How to be both

Sara Taylor: The Shore

Anne Tyler: A Spool of Blue Thread

Sarah Waters: The Paying Guests

Jemma Wayne: After Before

PP Wong: The Life of a Banana

I’ve read and reviewed six of those already, if you hover over the titles, I’ve linked to my reviews.

Initial thoughts are I’m absolutely thrilled for Lissa Evans whose book I love and made my end of year list last year. Also very pleased for Sara Taylor whose debut I’ve read but not posted my review of yet (it’s published later this month), which is very good. I’ve got lots of reading to do but many of the books there are books I’ve had in my to be read pile for a while! (I also need to apologise to the person who commented on my wish list and mentioned Heather O’Neill’s book; I didn’t think it was eligible and clearly I was wrong. I’m pleased it comes highly recommended though.)

I’m looking forward to reading the rest and discussing with the rest of the shadow panel. Please do join in and let us know what you think of the list and any of the books you read.

In the Media: 2nd 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.

The week kicked off (almost literally) with Julia Stephenson writing a piece in the Telegraph with the headline ‘Can a Woman Be Happy Without Having Kids?’ to which Bryony Gordon responded also in the Telegraph. They weren’t the only woman writing about children this week; The New Yorker ran an extract ‘No Babies, Please‘ from Megan Amran’s book; Kate Long wrote about ‘The Five Stages of Motherhood‘ for Mslexia, and Shappi Khorsandi wrote on ‘Raising Girls‘ on Huffington Post.

This was followed on Tuesday by Hollaback’s film of a woman being catcalled for ten hours in New York which raised issues about race as well as the way some men behave towards women in the street. Emily Gould wrote about it for Salon and Hanna Rosin for Slate.

On lighter issues, it seems I was pre-emptive putting Amy Poehler top of the list last week as this week she’s EVERYWHERE. (Which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned.) If you don’t know who she is, I’ll direct you towards her 10 Funniest Clips on the Telegraph first, then you can feast on the rest: Amy Poehler reading from the Prologue of Yes, Please on Pan Macmillan’s Soundcloud; an extract on taping SNL while pregnant on Vulture; talking about writing being ‘hellish’ on Huffington Post; interviewing George R.R. Martin on Vulture; 11 Amy Poehler Stories You’ve Never Heard Before, But Will Totally Relate to Your Life in The Huffington Post; 30 Hilarious Truth Bombs Amy Poehler Dropped During Her Reddit AMA on Buzzfeed; doing #AskAmy at Twitter HQ;

The other high profile funny feminist woman who’s had plenty written about her this week is Lena Dunham, who was in the UK promoting her book. Alex Clark interviewed her in the Observer; Emma Gannon interviewed her for The Debrief and wrote about meeting Lena and her event at the Southbank Centre with Caitlin Moran on Friday night on her blog. She’s on video on The New Yorker talking about Girls and Sex at The New Yorker Festival and there are facts about her on Oprah. While Rebecca Carroll wrote about Lena Dunham’s Race Problem on Gawker and Sonia Saraiya responded in Salon.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

In translation:

If you’d like some fiction to read:

Photo by T. Kira Madden

And the lists: