In the Media: March 2016, Part Two

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.

Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2016 Longlisted Books1

8th March 2016: The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction announces its 2016 longlist, comprised of 20 books that celebrate the best of fiction written by women

The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist was announced this fortnight. While former winner, Lionel Shriver declared ‘Women’s literary prizes are ‘problematic’‘.

And the Wellcome Book Prize announced their shortlist with four (out of six) female writers on it, as did the YA Book Prize with eight women writers on its ten book shortlist.

Elena Ferrante is hot news in the literary world once again after Corriere della Sera published an article in which Marco Santagata claimed to know her identity. Rachel Donadio wrote, ‘Who Is Elena Ferrante? An Educated Guess Causes a Stir‘ in The New York Times; Jonathan Sturgeon said, ‘We Already Know the Identity of Elena Ferrante‘ on Flavorwire; Lincoln Michel asked, ‘Why Do We Care Who the “Real” Elena Ferrante Is?‘ on Electric Literature; Stassa Edwards asked, ‘What’s Really Behind Our Obsession Over Unmasking Elena Ferrante?‘ on Jezebel; John Dugdale wrote, ‘Will Elena Ferrante outlast Louisa May Alcott’s secret alter ego?‘ in The Guardian, and Jessica Roy declared, ‘Leave Elena Ferrante Alone‘ in The Cut.

Anita Brookner died. Rebecca Hawkes wrote her obituary while Linda Grant wrote, ‘Why Anita Brookner’s funny, sharp novels got under your skin‘ both in The Telegraph.

The best of the rest:


On or about books/writers/language:

Sara Novic


Personal essays/memoir:




Society and Politics:


Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:


The interviews:


The regular columnists:

In the Media: January 2016

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 traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.


January’s been living up to it’s reputation as the most miserable month in the calendar. There’s been the misogynistic and racist response to Sarah Howe’s Young Writer of the Year Award and TS Eliot Award wins. Poet, Katy Evans-Bush responded with ‘TS Eliot prize row: is winner too young, beautiful – and Chinese?‘ in The Guardian.

The deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman at least inspired some great writing: Stacey May Fowles, ‘Reconciling David Bowie‘ on Hazlitt and Sali Hughes, ‘I’ve had it up to here with the grief police‘ on The Pool. Gwendolyn Smith, ‘Forget Snape – in concentrating on him, we leave out one of the greatest roles Alan Rickman ever performed‘ in The Independent and Daisy Buchanan, ‘Alan Rickman’s Colonel Brandon taught me an important lesson about love‘ on The Pool


In happier news, there were a number of other prize wins for female writers: Kate Atkinson won the Costa Novel PrizeAnuradha Roy won the 2016 DSC prize for south Asian literature; A.S. Byatt won the Erasmus Prize, and the writers shortlisted for the Costa Short Story Award were revealed, including Annalisa Crawford, Peggy Riley and Erin Soros.

Glamour welcomed a transgender columnist: Juno Dawson will chart her journey in the magazine. I’ll add Juno’s column to the regular columnists list once it has a permanent URL.


The Observer revealed their New Faces of Fiction for 2016 and Joanna Cannon wrote this great piece – The Monster Under the Bed – about her inclusion.

And the woman with the most publicity of late is Amy Liptrot with ‘I swam in the cold ocean and dyed my hair a furious blue… I was moving upwards slowly‘ in The Guardian; interviews in The Independent and The Pool.


The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:


Personal essays/memoir:




Society and Politics:


Film, Television, Music, Art and Fashion:


The interviews:


The regular columnists:

In the Media, December 2015

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 traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

This fortnight’s mostly been about end of year lists. Last year I linked to those that were gender balanced but this year I gave up counting after the first two, deciding it was a futile endeavour. Having said that, Sarah Seltzer says , ‘White Men Are the Minority on This Year’s Biggest Book Lists‘ on Flavorwire and there was some excitement around a new ‘Best UK novels’ list commissioned by the BBC. On The Pool, Lynn Enright said ‘Women writers dominate the top spots in list of best British novels‘. Which they do but the list as a whole isn’t balanced and it’s dominated by Nineteenth Century novels.

A fortnight ago I was going to begin this piece by mentioning The Good Immigrant an essay collection being published by Unbounders which means it needed crowdfunding. It includes essays by Chimene Suleyman, Bim Adewumni, Salena Godden, Sabrina Mahfouz, Coco Khan, Sarah Sahim and Reni Eddo Lodge and was fully funded in three days, partly thanks to JK Rowling. You can read about what an excellent person she is and what a great collection it sounds in The Guardian. And you can still contribute to the funding.

Clare Vaye Watkins essay ‘On Pandering’ is still being discussed. She talks about it further (with Marlon James) on NPR. Anne Boyd Rioux responded with ‘A Brief History of Pandering‘ on The Rumpus. Aya de Leon responded initially with ‘“On Pandering” and Subversive Revelations of Female Insecurity‘ and then to Marlon James’ Guardian conversation with ‘On Pandering, White Women as Scapegoats, and the Literary Industry as a Hand-Me-Down‘ on her blog, while Dreda Say Mitchell replied with ‘Black authors don’t write only for white women‘ in the Guardian.

In prize news, Sarah Howe won the resurrected Young Writer of the Year Award for her poetry collection Loop of Jade. She’s profiled in The Sunday Times (£) and interviewed on Bookanista and The Workshy Fop. And the Saltire Society Literary Award was announced with wins for Helen McClory, Patricia Andrew and Tanja Bueltmann.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:


Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art and Fashion:

The interviews:

The regular columnists:

Young Writer of the Year Award Shortlist Event + giveaway

Giveaway now closed.


Photograph by Chris Bone

On a grey, dreary Saturday afternoon in London I’ve been told to look for a yellow door. This particular yellow door is the entrance to The Groucho Club, legendary hang-out of the likes of Noel Gallagher, Alex James and Lily Allen. Unfortunately, I don’t spy anyone looking remotely famous on the way up to the second floor where the event I’m here for is taking place.

I’m here for a bloggers’ event for the Young Writer of the Year Award, the shortlist for which was announced last week. The shortlisted writers – Ben Fergusson, Sarah Howe, Sara Taylor and Sunjeev Sahota – are all here as are some of my favourite bloggers – Eric from Lonesome Reader, Erica from The Book Shop Around the Corner and Clare from A Little Blog of Books. We get time to talk to the writers as well as Andrew Holgate, Literary Editor of the Sunday Times before the more formal part of the event takes place.


L-R: Sunjeev Sahota, Sara Taylor, Sarah Howe, Ben Fergusson, Andrew Holgate

Each of the four writers are introduced and read a two-minute extract from their books. These are The Spring of Kasper Meier, a (literary?) thriller by Ben Fergusson; Loop of Jade, a poetry collection by Sarah Howe; The Shorea fragmented novel/interlinked short story collection by Sara Taylor, and The Year of the Runaways, a literary novel by Sunjeev Sahota. Andrew Hogan describes it as ‘the strongest shortlist we’ve ever had’. He also comments on the variety of forms/genres that make up the shortlist. As he’s talking about this, I notice that the list is balanced in terms of gender and writers of colour to white writers. Well done the (all white) judging panel of Andrew Holgate, Peter Kemp and Sarah Waters. [After the readings, I was discussing this with a couple of people when Andrew Holgate overheard me and came over. The judges hadn’t even thought about it, he says. It’s interesting that this is the case and makes me wonder what was submitted and whether the shortlist is a reflection of a pool of young, diverse writers or whether the best books rose to the top of a sea of white men. Either way, this is a good thing.]

Because this blog’s all about women writers, I’m only going to discuss Sarah Howe and Sara Taylor’s books. However, I do urge you to read the other books too. I haven’t read The Spring of Kasper Meier yet but it sounds fantastic and is set in Berlin, one of my favourite cities, and The Year of the Runaways, which you’re probably already aware of as it was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize this year, is wonderful and set in the city I live in (Sahota lives here too).


The writers read in alphabetical order, so Sarah Howe’s the first of the two women with her Forward Prize and T.S. Eliot Prize shortlisted collection Loop of Jade. She begins by talking about China’s one child policy which, as you probably know, has recently been altered to allow people to have two children. Howe tells us that one of the results of the policy is that 30 million children and women are missing and her own mother was one of those missing children. Midwives used to have a box of ashes next to the birthing bed so a baby girl could be smothered quickly after birth. She uses this fact to introduce her poem ‘Tame’ which begins:

‘It is more profitable to raise geese than daughters.’

This is the tale of the woodsman’s daughter. Born with a box
of ashes set beside the bed,
in case.

Howe doesn’t read the poem, she performs it. It’s a joy to watch and listen to her.


Sara Taylor reads the opening of her Bailey’s longlisted, Guardian First Book Award shortlisted The Shore. It begins with news of a murder breaking and the narrator of this chapter, Chloe, hearing the chatter in the local shop. She ends with:

“And that ain’t even the half of it.” The lady leans in close, but her whisper is almost as loud as her talking voice. “They done cut his thang clean off!”

Andrew Holgate begins the Q&A by saying he thinks that all four books are very bold, very ambitious and they all take risks. He says that Howe’s book took eight years to write and encompasses a variety of styles. Is there freedom in that risk?

Howe says, ‘I think risk is a really interesting lens to look at that.’ She says the poem the collection takes its title from has very bare, cut down, fragmented prose sections. With them she was trying to give the barest testimony of what happened to her mother, or at least her understanding of what happened to her mother. These sections are interspersed with high flourishes of Chinese myth. She structured the poem this way as she wanted to square her mother’s upbringing with Chinese myth. She said it was a difficult thing to do because her mum ‘is a real person’ and she was terrified of what her parents would think. She says there’s gaps in her history, some of which are because she doesn’t know her whole history and some are because her mother doesn’t want her to talk about them. She says that the collection’s an elliptic telling of her mother’s story and there are revelations towards the end of the book. ‘I like the idea that mine might be the thriller!’ she says.

Howe was inspired by Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with the Amber Eyes. She’s wearing a necklace, the pendant part of which is the loop of jade from the collection’s title. It was given to her by her mother but was actually a present from the woman who adopted Howe’s mother. It’s a bracelet for toddlers, the idea being that when a toddler falls over, the bracelet will shatter and save the child from harm. She tells us that they think the woman who took her mother in did so because she was also a lost girl.

Sara Taylor says she took the risk of writing The Shore because she was coming to the end of university and ‘I was tired of doing what people wanted me to do’. She wanted to know what ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ means. ‘The risk was I couldn’t not take that risk.’

She wrote the book without a plan beginning with the first story which led her to write the mother’s story and then to where her husband was from and what happened to her parents. She says her agent was the first person to mention creating a family tree for the book to her but she says it’s more a wreath than a tree.

They’re asked if there’s anything they felt they weren’t able to write and has having some early success trapped them or given them greater freedom?

Howe says, ‘It’s actually a strange notion that people are reading it.’ She says when she was writing in a darkened room at 2am, she lulled herself into the illusion that no one would ever see them. She conceived of herself as a poet’s poet so finds it extraordinary that the book’s reaching beyond the poetry world to a wider audience.

Taylor says she avoided ‘wonderful, horrifying family secrets’. They’re in the second book though! She says she won’t be pigeonholed because she can’t write another fractured novel without a break. ‘I do wonder what the world’s going to make of the next novel.’ [How keen am I to read it right now?]

Hogan rounds off the Q&A by saying he revived the prize along with Caroline Michel, CEO of PFD Literary Agency, because he became aware that lots of potential young British writers were no longer writing books but going into film, digital media and television instead. He asks the shortlisted writers if they’re tempted by other media?

Sara Taylor says she’s seen many writers make that choice as its a tangental necessity to building a career. It’s easier to do a screenplay, magazine copy or other shorter forms instead. They’re ‘more zeitgeisty’.

Well, thank goodness these writers did write books because they’re great. If you want to hear more from them and previous winners Adam Foulds, Andrew Cowan and Helen Simpson, there’s a free shortlist event at Foyles – including beer and pizza! – on Monday 23rd November. The details for which are here.

If you’d like to read some of the books, I have a copy of Loop of Jade and a copy of The Shore by Sara Taylor to give away. To enter, leave a comment below stating which book you’d like to win (you can enter both draws if you wish). I’ll accept worldwide entries. The competition closes at 5pm UK on Wednesday 18th November after which the winners will be drawn at random.

The winners:

I’ve allocated everyone a number in order of entry so for The Shore that’s:

1 – Niall McArdle
2 – snoakes7001
3 – jenniferheidi
4 – isabellisima
5 – Helen Lloyd
6 – Claire Stokes
7 – Naomi
8 – Candyfloss
9 – Sheridarby
10 – Erdeaka
11 – Helen Jones
12 – isis1981uk
13 – Keith Hunt
14 – Victoria Prince
15 – Karen Richards
16 – schietree

and the winner is…

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 16.55.56



Congratulations, Naomi!




And for Loop of Jade:

1 – snoakes7001
2 – Cathy746books
3 – jenniferheidi
4 – Marianthi
5 – Amy Pirt
6 – Elle
7 – Candyfloss
8 – bellarah
9 – isis1981uk
10 – Victoria Prince
11 – Helen S
12 – schietree

and the winner is…

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 16.59.12



Congratulations, Elle!




Winners check your emails for what to do next. Thanks to everyone else for entering.

Thanks to the Young Writer of the Year Award for the prizes.


TBR Book Tag

I don’t often take part in memes but I’m doing this one for three reasons: the first is I was tagged by Leslie at Folklore & Literacy whose blog I highly recommend, so it’s a good reason for me to send you over there for a look if you don’t read it already. The second is by confessing all about my TBR, I might do something about it! The third is so I can tag some of my favourite bloggers and see their terrible habits too!

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?

Pile? Hahahaha. Book case(s). I don’t. I do keep track of the review copies I’m sent by publishers; I have a spreadsheet in which I log publication dates but I’ve been useless with it the second half of this year. I do actually have two priority piles at the moment though – the books that are on my women of colour #TBR20 pile, which I’ll be finishing reading at the end of the month (yes, it’s taken me this long) and the 2016 publications I’ve been sent which I’m reading in anticipation of my preview post around Christmas.

Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?

It’s probably 75% print. I’ve bought fewer ebooks this year but that’s mostly because it was getting out of hand – it’s easy to pretend you haven’t got a huge stack of unread ebooks when they aren’t physically in front of you!

How do you determine which books from your TBR to read next?

It varies. Sometimes it’s an upcoming publication date, sometimes it’s because a book’s been nominated for a prize, sometimes I just fancy a particular type of read. What’s changed this year though is I’m consciously reading widely so I’m looking at the authors of the books I’m reading and making sure I’m reading more by women of colour and LGBT authors.A book that has been on my TBR the longest?

There are books on my TBR still that I bought in Sixth Form which is 20 years ago now. They’re mostly classics – Middlemarch (which I attempted last year but stalled on) and The Woman in White spring to mind although I’m sure there’s more.

A book you recently added to your TBR?

I bought a copy of Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe which has just been shortlisted for the Young Writer of the Year Award.

A book on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover?

The 4th Estate boxset of Nell Zink’s The Wallcreeper and Mislaid. I already had a copy of The Wallcreeper from the Dorothy Project but the boxset is so beautiful I couldn’t resist.

A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?

Haha! I think I got rid of all these in the summer. I culled 300 books before moving house and I was very strict about ones I’d held on to that I was never going to read. They were mostly by middle-aged British and American white men!

An unpublished book on your TBR that you’re excited for?

I’m going to be cheeky and have three: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon which it seems everyone’s talking about; My Name Is Leon by Kit De Waal which people I trust are telling me is wonderful, and Where Love Begins by Judith Hermann which I’ve had a sneaky read of the opening of and promises to be wonderful.

A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you?


A book on your TBR that everyone has read but you?

Beloved by Toni Morrison. I’m going to rectify that before the end of the month.

A book on your TBR that you’re dying to read?

So many! If I was choosing one it’d be Pleasantville by Attica Locke. I loved Black Water Rising, I think Jay Porter’s a brilliant, complex character and Locke’s writing about politics is smart, nuanced and creates cracking page-turners.

How many books are on your TBR shelf?

Oh. Ah. Well, earlier this year I calculated it would take me 23 years to read all the books I have. I’ve removed 300 since then but added some too. Let’s just go with a lot!

People I’m tagging:

Susan at A Life in Books
Cathy at 746 Books
Jacqui at JacquiWine’s Journal
Eleanor at Elle Thinks
Janet at From First Page to Last 
Eric at Lonesome Reader
LaChouett at Chouett
Ali at HeavenAli