As seen in the September issue of Uncaged Book Reviews.
Uncaged: You tend to hit a lot of social issues and stigmas in your novels. Can you tell readers what inspired your writing?
Yes, characters who tend to be outsiders or marginalized in some way inform a lot of my writing. I have written about characters with mental health problems, physical disability and drug addiction. I have also dealt with hard hitting issues, such as child abuse and rape, racism, homelessness, people struggling on benefits and neighbour conflicts. But I never set out thinking ‘ah, here’s a social stigma, now let me fit some characters around such and such an issue’. The characters usually come first, and their backgrounds and present situations. The more complex they and their issues are, the more a story develops.
Uncaged: What do you have coming up next that you can tell us about?
I’m writing a follow up to ‘Down The Tubes’ which is a hard hitting book based on working in the addictions field although I don’t usually do follow ups! It is still very much a work in progress but it’s about Michael’s story two decades on when something momentous happens in his life, which knocks him off course (again) causing him to relapse. There are more family strains as his past comes back to haunt him and new revelations come to light. He finds he’s not beaten the addiction demons yet after all but the opening event acts as a catalyst for change. Michael is a survivor and hopes to get his life back on track again in his life, though perhaps not quite as he thought.
Uncaged: Do you read your reviews? What do you feel you can take away from them?
I do read my reviews, yes, though sometimes I might not notice straight away when a new one is posted, if I’ve not been notified. If it’s a glowing review and the characters and the writing resonated with the reader then that gives me a nice fuzzy feeling. Those reviews make it all seem worthwhile. But constructively-worded critical reviews are valuable too if you are to learn and grow as a writer. A lot of feedback is very subjective and as a writer you need to differentiate between what is subjective e.g., a reader’s personal preferences and what is more objective e.g., something faulty with the plotting, denouement and so on. For instance, a lot of reviewers have found my endings too short and abrupt. I hold my hands up, guilty as charged! I think it’s because I really don’t like long drawn out endings and this is especially true in many films where every i has to be dotted and every t crossed. I often want to say ‘cut there’ – leave the viewer (or reader) wanting more, or with something to think about. I think I’m very much in a minority though.
Uncaged: What is one of the nicest things someone has said to you about your books?
There have been many memorable moments, but one that stands out for me is what one of the toughest Awesome Indies reviewers wrote about my novella ‘Break Point’: ‘…The reader is often left to wonder what sort of response this dialogue ought to provoke from the various speakers, which reminded me of the dialogue of Hemingway. I’m heartened when the author thinks enough of the reader’s intelligence not to lay every detail out straight. There’s space between the lines, and I was happy to fill it with my own conclusions. In addition readers gain the benefits of a steady pace, neither too fast or wallowing-in-details slow, an impressive array of memorable characters, including a Holden Caulfield’s girlfriend type character, and a winning extended metaphor with tennis.’
But it’s best not to get carried away with such reviews, lovely as they are! I am often brought down to earth by reviews from other readers who don’t gel with my work or don’t ‘get’ them. That may sometimes hurt, but that is absolutely their prerogative and we all have our preferred genres and styles.
Uncaged: What are some of the advantages of indie publishing? The drawbacks?
There are many advantages to being indie published and that’s being in charge of your content, your word length, your entire book! It means that you don’t have to worry if your book is less commercial or more niche. I love that about it. Of course, the drawbacks mean that you need to rely on a small circle of people or beta readers for editing if you’re on a tight budget. It means you have to do all your own book cover deigns (or pay for them) and all your own marketing and promotions (or pay for them). That is the side most of us loathe. But in this day and age the lines between traditional and indie are blurring, with most, if not all, traditional publishers expecting a lot of input, promotion and online visibility from authors.
Uncaged: What do you like to do when you aren’t writing? Where is one of your favorite places on Earth?
When not writing, you will find me reading, listening to music, spending far too much time on Facebook and a bit of online campaigning against social injustice. I also love cats, hanging out with my family, photography and LFC. I have Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue and Anxiety, so my time and energy is limited. One of my favourite places on earth would have to be somewhere with sand dunes, unusual beach huts and boats. I think Hengistbury Head and Mudeford rank pretty high for that reason!
Uncaged: What can you tell us that is very unique about you?
I have always lived with my sister and we’ve always invented characters. Once again, the enacting of the characters came first, it wasn’t until I was older that I began writing about some of them. Being able to enact them with someone you trust, really brings them to life. Many other writers do this though, and if they don’t have another person to enact with, they just do it in their heads!
Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you?
A big thank you for supporting me! Writing novels is a form of communication and dialogue. If you manage to connect with readers and say something which resonates or touches them, then you have succeeded. I’m always happy to hear from readers.
She realized her unhip credentials were mounting so she decided to write about it. Little Guide to Unhip was first published in 2010 and has since been updated. However she’s not completely unhip. Her punk novel, Fall Of The Flamingo Circus was published by Allison & Busby (1990) and by Villard (American hardback 1990). Skrev Press published her novels Seaview Terrace (2003) Sucka!(2004) and Break Point (2006) and other shorter work has appeared in Skrev’s magazines. Thalidomide Kid was published by Bewrite Books (2007). Her novel Savage To Savvy was an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) Quarter-Finalist in 2012. She has had other short stories published and shortlisted including Hard Workers and Headboards, first published in The Diva Book of Short Stories, in an erotic anthology published by Pfoxmoor Publishing and more recently in an anthology of Awkward Sexcapades by Beating Windward Press. She also received a Southern Arts bursary for her novel Where A Shadow Played (now re-Kindled as Did You Whisper Back?).
She has re-Kindled her backlist and is gradually getting her titles (back) into paperback.
Far Cry from the Turquiose Room
Told from both daughter and father’s perspectives, Far Cry From The Turquoise Room is a coming-of-age, riches-to-rags tale of loss, resilience, and self-discovery, just before the millennium. It is also about the passage of childhood into puberty.
Leila is the eight-year-old daughter of Hassan Nassiri, a wealthy Iranian property owner, and younger sister to the adored Fayruz, her father’s favourite daughter.
But a holiday narrowboat tragedy has far-reaching consequences for the surviving family. Hassan withdraws into reclusive grief, when he’s not escaping into work, or high jinks with his men friends at his second home in Hampstead, leaving Leila to fend for herself in a lonely world of nannies, chess and star-gazing.
Leila eventually runs away from home and joins a family of travellers in Sussex, and so follows a tale of adventure, danger and romance – and further anguish for her surviving family. But how will she fare at such a young age and will her family ever find her?
I was nine yesterday, August the eighth. Ali remembered. Ali he does the garden. He bought me an atlas and another book on stars. And Linzey gave me the doll’s house which she said was from mummy and daddy. But I didn’t ask for a doll’s house. I asked for a telescope so I think Linzey lied. I think she was given the money to choose a present she thought I would like.
Linzey is my nanny. Before Linzey there was another nanny from the Philippines who couldn’t speak a word of English. It was hopeless. She was in tears trying to understand what I was saying and she only lasted two days. I’ve got to have a nanny because mummy is still away getting better. I don’t know how long for. I miss mummy.
“D’you think daddy might see me today, Linzey?” I say, every day.
“Not today. No one’s to disturb him he said.”
“But it’s my birthday,” I said yesterday, but it didn’t bring daddy out from his dark room where he shuts the velvet curtains and where he has his black moods. He gets them from his uncle. His Uncle Kassim. Uncle Kassim is my great uncle who I might have met in Iran when I was very little, but I don’t remember.
“Play chess with me, Linzey,” I said.
“No, it’s boring,” she said, and she went on painting her nails coral. She’s got auburn hair. It’s straight round, like in hairdressing pictures, and she wears grey suits often. I think she’s twenty-nine. Twenty years older than Leila! I don’t know what I think about her but she’s the only one to talk to or play with, except skinny Ali or his father or his brother who all keep the gardens beautiful with their secateurs. “Somebody’s got to do the gardens, little Leila,” they say. “Hey, Leila’s not little any more,” I say, and they wink at me and say, “maybe not.”
Portia isn’t allowed to send me cards or presents because Linzey checks all the post and phone calls. “I’ve told you, Portia, you’re not to phone or write here any more,” I heard Linzey saying once. “Sleepovers? Certainly not! You’re not to have any contact with Leila,” she said. “I’m just acting on orders from my employer.”
But there are phone extensions. There’s the onyx one in mummy’s bedroom, and I’ve phoned Portia on that one a couple of times, but one day Linzey caught me. I heard the click of someone else listening on the line and me and Portia went quiet like mice, and then I saw Linzey behind me. I saw her hand reaching out and cutting me off. “We’ll all get into trouble,” she said. “Don’t risk it. Don’t rock the boat.” (She didn’t even flinch at those words.) But yesterday Portia phoned me on my mobile. “Happy Birthday, Leila,” she said. Linzey’s forgotten about my mobile or maybe she doesn’t know I’ve got one otherwise she’d have confiscated it. So I have to whisper into it, even in this huge house which is getting like a prison.
I wish I was back at school now. I went back for a couple of weeks before the end of term. Mrs Galloway, the headmistress, and Mrs Sheppard kept smiling at me but you could see the pity in their eyes. “Hello Leila,” my best friend Rowena said. “I’ll lend you my exercise books so you can catch up.” My other friend Binnie didn’t say anything to me for a few days. “Hi Binnie,” I said, “Cat got your tongue?” Then Binnie couldn’t stop talking. Not proper talking but babble, rubbish, all about last week’s Casualty. Then she quickly changed it to The Bill because Casualty is about hospitals and people dying and everything. But I couldn’t get a word in. “Ah, here’s daddy’s Jag now,” she said. “Well then, I’ll see you tomorrow, Leila, bye.”
Today, Linzey hasn’t come in yet and it’s the afternoon. I’ve tried phoning Portia but there’s only voice-mail or answerphones. Where’s Ali? No Ali either. Watch Leila sitting in the summerhouse, hearing the peacocks. Look, there’s one on the low roof. Look at his long, blue, velvet neck, and there’s another one on the ground with his fan closed and it’s trailing behind him like long skirts. Look at the little tuft on his head, ending in little beads. I saw daddy last week out in the garden with his mobile. “The peacocks they cry out for Fayruz,” he said, and then he took the phone away from his ear and waved it around in the air so the person on the other end could hear.
Leila goes to Fayruz’s birthday garden. The fountain gurgles and splashes into the pond. The fish are still in the water, dead still, then they suddenly dart under the kingcups. Kingcup Island in the middle of the pond where the frogs come and sit. Ali says there are eleven goldfish. One for every year of Fayruz’s life and one for luck. Leila lies down in the hot quiet place looking up at the flowers, like pink ballerinas. I think they are fuchsias. Fayruz knew what they were. She knew all the names of the flowers. She knew the difference between a water boatman and a pond skater. I want to run in and tell daddy. I want to tell him that it’s all quiet and peaceful in Fayruz’s beautiful garden.
Leila is impulsive! She is banging on the door of his gloomy Persian Room. She wants to make him feel better.
“Go away,” he says. “Go away.”
“But daddy, come outside. It’s sunny.”
“Is not sunny, go away and do not disturb me.”
Later, I see him getting into his black Mercedes with the dark windows. He’s wearing shades and dark clothes.
Watch Leila sitting at her dressing table, opening and closing her soapstone trinket box with all the carvings. She has lots of soapstone boxes. What shall she do? Who shall she play with? She could have played with Pilau if he was here but they took him away for rehoming. “No!” I protested to Linzey. I held on to Pilau tight. As tight as I could without hurting him but he did yowl a bit. “Leila wants him to stay. She wants him.”
“It’s your father’s orders. He can’t bear to see it.”
“It? it? He’s a he! Not an it!”
I howled when Linzey took Pilau away. It was like losing someone else. Poor Pilau. He helped me so much when I had to come home early from the holiday from hell. We comforted each other. I lay on the floor in my bedroom and he climbed onto my chest. I could hardly breathe. I loved it. I sat in my chair and tried to read and his great weight squashed against my chest so that I had to hold the book high in the air to read but it didn’t matter because I wanted him there, nice and heavy, purring fishy breezes over me. I think of him now in front of a different fire pining for us. Poor Pilau. Leila puts her head down on her arms and cries. Mummy said tears are for sharing but Leila has hers alone.
I wander downstairs and pick at cold chicken from the fridge, and then I have some of my leftover birthday trifle, though it doesn’t taste as good today. Linzey made it for me with cream and hundreds and thousands on top and you should hear it squelch when you spoon it out. I wish Linzey would come and talk to me about her boyfriend or her favourite CDs.
Leila is lonely! Bored!
If Leila walks through the house and hides in all the curtains in all the different rooms and imagines she’s different characters in each room, and if she stops and looks at all the pictures with the gilt frames, that will kill some more time. In the Turquoise Room, the fish are dying. Leila pulled one out yesterday, and another one last week. Fayruz used to feed them. Fayruz and mummy. Leila will ask Ali. Ali will know. Leila will press on to the Mosaic Room and the Gold Room and the Baroque Room, which is pink like icing with white figures all around. It looks like a cake, and it has a shiny chequered floor like a chessboard, so Leila calls it the Chess Room. It is based on a hall in a stately home in Warwickshire. Daddy says that all the rooms have their different moods. The Chess Room is cold and shiny and it echoes. The Mosaic Room and the Gold Room are rich and regal and the Turquoise Room is deep and mellow and lonely without Fayruz. Sometimes the Turquoise Room is locked. Leila plays in the rooms most days if they’re not locked. Except the Persian Room. She doesn’t go in there. That’s daddy’s gloomy room. Leila follows the new housekeeper lady around. She doesn’t know the housekeeper’s name. She never knows the names of the housekeepers because they never last very long. Then Leila goes to watch the TV monitors showing pictures of the grounds where you can watch for intruders. There are security cameras all around the grounds, but all Leila sees are funny black and white shots of the big black gates that work by intercom, now some trees, the ones that shake crows out in the wind. Now there’s the statue, and the archway through to Fayruz’s birthday garden. I wish there was an intruder on the screen. Then I could run through and be useful. I could say, “Look, I’ve spotted someone trying to break in.”
Upstairs, Leila doodles. She looks up and watches her windows going dark blue. Usually, we have lots of fireworks in August, with Ali and his family, and Rashid, and our cousins from Manchester, and Lars the astrologer, and all mummy and daddy’s friends and their children, and even Pilau didn’t mind the fireworks like other cats do. He ignored them. But there’s nothing to celebrate. Leila puts on one of her black lace armlets and looks in the mirror, this way and that. Over it she puts on beads and rings. It’s just something to do. “Well, Leila? How about a game of chess? Mmm, OK. Leila will be black. Who will be white? I know. Pilau.”
Leila starts playing chess, playing the black pieces smart, and the white pieces not so smart. Leila wants to win, after all. But she wants it to be a good match except she knows where Pilau’s going to put his pieces and Pilau knows where Leila’s going to put hers so it’s not so fun, and then my worry egg falls on my big toe. Ouch! Heavy or what? It’s made me think of that egg story Fayruz told me and I think maybe that’s what Fayruz did, just like that little boy in her story. She put on a pair of magic wings from inside the magic egg and flew off up to the stars.
The stars are coming out. Look at them all. There are thousands of them, crowning the world. They explode and die and then they turn into new stars, they do, and daddy always said Fayruz was a star.
“The cruel shift from Is to Was. Tell me she still Is. Tell me she still Will be.” That’s all daddy said when he had to fly back from Malta to bad news and there was his postcard from Valletta waiting for us. My dear little princesses, it said, but I didn’t read the rest because someone took it away and I haven’t seen it since. Daddy just shook his head when he got back from Malta, like he was in a dream. “Yesterday she was Is. Now she is Was.”
Told from two perspectives, this book follows a family after the tragedy of the death of the oldest and favored daughter. The father retreats into work and is away from home most of the time, and Leila, the youngest daughter is left on her own. Leila is forced to grow beyond her very young age, so it feels like she’s more of a teenager than just an 11-12 yr. old.
It took me until about half way through to really get into this author’s style of writing, and the story itself. It was quite depressing and emotional. When Leila runs away from home, her father finally realizes that his younger daughter needs him and he snaps out of his grief and will turn every stone in his search. I liked the two perspectives, when running this type of narrative, I always like to hear the other voices and what they are thinking. A coming of age tale, that is worth a look. Reviewed by Cyrene