by Rana Asfour
In two days' time (on July 1) the winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize for 2015 will be revealed at a ceremony at Fortnum & Mason, UK. The three shortlisted titles chosen from a longlist of ten books published in the last year by British and Irish debut novelists include ' by Emma Healey (Viking), 'by Carys Bray (Hutchinson) and ' by Claire Fuller (Fig Tree).
In a press release, Chair of judges Louise Doughty noted: 'It’s fascinating to see that each writer arrived here from slightly unorthodox beginnings and it’s a testament to The Desmond Elliott Prize that it identifies and rewards the very best new writing talent, whatever the author’s date of birth. Our shortlist shows that there’s no age limit on being a sparkling new arrival on the literary scene'.
Claire Fuller, 48, originally studied sculpture at Winchester School of Art, specialising in wood and stone carving, then ran her own marketing company for 23 years. She began writing fiction in her 40s, spurred on by National Novel Writing Month (or “NaNoWriMo”), an online phenomenon which challenges participants to write a novel in a month.
Emma Healey, the youngest of the shortlisted authors at 29, took home a C in GCSE English in her school days, but, like Fuller, brings an artistic background to her writing – her first degree was in bookbinding, after which she worked in an art gallery. She eventually enrolled in the UEA Creative Writing Course before 'Elizabeth is Missing' went on to sell at auction and become a bestseller.
Carys Bray, 39, has spoken openly about the restrictions that kept her from writing until recently. Just five years ago she and her husband decided to remove their family of six from the Mormon faith. She now also teaches Creative Writing and is completing a PhD.
In a review I wrote about 'A Song for Issy Bradley' just before it hit the shelves, I described it Carys Bray book as a stunning heart-warming story about loss that is brave, even funny and so heartbreaking in its sincerity that you'll need to keep that tissue box handy. In short, this is a book about a family, any family, who has to conjecture enough faith to miraculously resurrect itself from the abyss after having lost one of its own.
For the full BookFabulous review, click HERE & to read an excerpt, click HERE
This is about elderly Maud who although is slowly losing her grip on every day life as she battles with Alzheimer's, yet remains consistently insistent that her best friend Elizabeth is missing and in danger. Ignoring everyone's advice to the contrary, Maud, armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself resolves to discover the truth and save her friend. Her quest opens up a seventy-year-old mystery. One that everyone has forgotten about. Everyone, except Maud.
To read a review and an excerpt, click HERE.
This is the story of eight-year-old Peggy Hillcoat, whose father James, a survivalist, kidnaps her to live in a forest and convinces her that the whole world is no more and everyone on it has disappeared, including her home in London and her mother. As time goes on, Peggy comes to discover for herself the events that brought her to the forest and finds a way to return to civilisation. After Peggy's return, her mother begins to learn the truth of her escape, of what happened to James on the last night out in the woods, and of the secret that Peggy has carried with her ever since.
To read an excerpt, click HERE & for a review, click HERE
by Rana Asfour
Abu Dhabi-based New Zealander William Moloney has just released his debut historical fiction entitled ‘The Battle of Messines Road’. The book is based in large part on the actual war diary of his late grandfather JK Moloney, who served on the Western front from 1915 – 1917. The diary can be found in New Zealand’s National Archives.
‘The Battle of Messines Road’ is, on the one hand, a novel about 10-year-old, Commando Comic series reader, Zac Le Burn, from Wellington, who strikes an unlikely friendship with Messines Road resident, Mr. Moloney, after a miscalculated decision by Zac on his daily paper run lands him with a ‘punishment’ that involves him reading to the nearly blind, elderly old man. On the other hand, it is, in the broader sense, a book about New Zealand’s involvement in World War I, and the lasting effects it has had on that country.
Arriving for his first day at Mr. Moloney’s whose kitchen smelt ‘like bleach and damp were in a battle to the death’ and whose living room was musty and dank, he is handed a folder of papers to read about ‘a writer on a troopship, going to war’. Zac, at first uncomfortable with anything to do with the subject of war, as it not only reminds him of his father serving in Vietnam but also threatens to awaken ‘the big scary dangerous’ which Zac is in constant battle with himself to control, finds he is soon absorbed in the events of the diary. He decides that war sounded a lot ‘like school camp’ when it came to the food, the cleaning up and the rules.
The readings reawaken Mr. Moloney’s long ago memories of a time that saw him on an adventure he would never have got to have but for the war. In an early journal entry in Steenbecque, France, dated 17 April, 1916 JK Moloney writes:
‘With us [New Zealanders], it is fun all the way. The saving grace of the Anzac Corps is their capacity to make the most of the shining hour. If the truth be known, this crowd absolutely enjoy the war’. Although on a more sober note, he continues, ‘Perhaps if our country were invaded, our homes destroyed and our national life upset, we might not have the same outlook’.
The readings also serve to rouse a 10-year-old boy’s curiosity to learn about the places and people mentioned in the diary. A gradual kinship blossoms between the two characters as they discover that they have both started to look forward to their reading time together. Eventually, as the two hatch a plan to battle against ‘all the unfairness’, they land themselves in a spot of trouble with Mr. Moloney’s daughter and Zac’s mum, whom they have nicknamed the ‘brass hats’ as well as some boys from the neighbourhood.
Not content with the magnanimous task of taking on the 'Great War', the author has chosen to set the novel in the year 1968 in which New Zealand troops are busy fighting in Vietnam; A time that saw a vocal and well-organised anti-war movement in New Zealand with many accusing the New Zealand government of simply doing what the US told it to. All this loomed large in the lives of service families making it a difficult time for army wives and their children as is very evident in Zac’s everyday dealings with those around him as well as his life at home with his mum and two siblings.
‘I was interested in the Vietnam War because I think it provides a counter point to the First World War,’ says author William Moloney. ‘The two wars are so very different, in scope, in involvement, in popularity. But in the end, they are both wars that involved New Zealand soldiers. The First World War involved or affected, in some way, every person in New Zealand. More than that, it was a war fought by a very British version of New Zealand. The Vietnam War was one fought by a professional New Zealand army. We didn’t have conscription. So, the number of troops, and their experience and their families’ experience, was very different from that of World War I when the whole country was involved. They were alone in many ways, especially as the Vietnam War was so unpopular’.
'In November, it will be fifty years since the end of the Great War. I know this seems a long time to you but it's not, not in the scheme of things. Only fifty years to change from it being shameful for not doing your duty to shameful for doing it' - Mr. Moloney to Zac.
Author, William Moloney, holds a Masters degree in War Studies and as such it is highly evident that a lot of research has gone into his novel. There are so many parts that will prove illuminating and enjoyable to many readers even those, like myself, who might not necessarily, usually be drawn to the subject. It was lovely to dip in and out of the journal that alternated between the writer’s actual diaries (non fiction) and old Moloney’s running commentary (fiction) during Zac’s reading as he tries to make sense of his time at war. Since author William Moloney never met his real grandfather, who died a few years before he was born, he works around the character traits evident in the diary and spins them out to a re-imagining of what his grandfather might have been likely to be, do or say when he was older.
‘Not a better man, not a worse man, just a different man,’ says William Moloney. ‘The reason I named the character in the book Mr. Moloney was out of respect for the nature of the diary. I felt that if I changed the character’s name a link to that historical document would be lost’.
As Zac’s readings go on, we find in Mr. Moloney a character trying to make sense of a war he is unable to recover from and to reconcile it with a war, that fifty years later, is shifting the country’s attitudes yet again. Mr. Moloney alternates between instances of happiness when he recalls his travels and the people he met and the places he passed through, to instances of sadness and utter desolation when he remembers the scores of young, promising lives wasted on the battle ground in a war where everyone thought they ‘were doing the right thing’ and yet was nothing less than ‘God-awful’.
Ultimately, as Zac reads out the entries, readers are treated to a wealth of information that start from when Mr. Moloney boards the troopship ‘Tahiti’ in 1915 to Egypt and then all the way to the Western Front in France where he serves until 1917, when the diary ends. Throughout, JK Moloney's beautiful writing, wit, keenly observant eye, sense of humour and honesty even when it hurts to do so, come through. His recording of key historical events and first hand encounters with wartime figures is just priceless.
Moloney writes of the Armenian refugee camps as well as the Prince of Wales’s visit to Alexandria in 1916. He describes his encounter with the ‘first vista of the war’ at Armentière in France, of the desolate ‘bloody, muddy ditches’ that are the trenches, and of ANZAC Day, Chunuk Bair, Gallipoli, Messines, Flers and the horror of Passchendaele. He writes of Kitchner, Ponsonby, Lloyd George, William Ham and his meeting with Rudyard Kipling and so much more. The journal offers a thorough detailed image of life during World War I not only for the soldiers but for the civilians caught in its crossfire as well.
'In Gallipoli, the boys have shown themselves to be the equal of anything the world has produced; some say they are the best ever. They did their duty like heroes and never complained' - JK Moloney, diary entry El Dabba, Christmas morning, 1915
However, it serves well, at this point, to mention that many of the accounts of the characters’ lives are fictitious and based on the author’s imagination.
‘I loved trying to piece together the lives of these men after the war but they are not fact, they are fictionalised accounts of their lives, as remembered by a shaky, and failing memory,’ he says. ‘Based on what I could find out about them, I then placed them in the mouth of an old man remembering his youth, remembering the friends of his youth. And as we all know, memories are not sacred. They are not the truth; we shape them, by our experiences, by the lives we have lived’.
After a while, one gets the impression as if in fact two books run simultaneously side by side. This in no way detracts from either storyline but it was interesting to find out that, in fact, that is exactly how the novel came about in the first place.
‘I think it probably, all told, took about 12 years to write the book. I first read a photocopied diary in 2002 and so the first thing I had to do was type it out. And as it runs to about 120,000 words this took me a decade or so. I didn’t work on it everyday or even every month, what with work, kids and life. In 2011, I set proper time for it, finished the typing and started researching the stories of the men mentioned in the diary. I then tried to write a story to fit around the diary that could enhance it to give the reader context. Writing Zac’s story took 18 months to write and another six months to edit’.
Apart from the theme of war, many readers will identify ‘The Battle of Messines Road’ as a novel about family, friendship, loss, and ultimately love. It is also about religion, loyalty, national identity and the rotten business that is war and politics. The two intertwined narratives will hold a wide-range of reader interest and the perspective of 10-year-old Zac will capture the attention of the young adult market while still appealing to more mature readers.
According to records, it has been argued that the ‘Battle of Messines’, from whence the novel borrows its title, was the most successful local operation of World War I, certainly of the Western Front. Carried out by General Herbert Plumer, Second Army, it was launched on 7 June, 1917 with the detonation of 19 underground mines underneath the German mines. It was the first time Australians and New Zealanders had fought side by side since the Gallipoli campaign of 1915. Although the offensive initially recorded very few casualties, as the day wore on, though, German guns began to bombard the newly captured areas and many New Zealand and Allied troops were killed. By the time the New Zealand Division was relieved on 9 June, it had sustained 3700 casualties, including 700 dead.
The book is out now and can be bought HERE.
About the authors:
William Moloney is a 40-year-old New Zealander. He holds a BA from Massey University in History, Economics and Politics and an MA from Kings College, London, in War Studies. He has worked as a military and political analyst for the last ten years and currently resides in Abu Dhabi, UAE. He is married with three children.
J.K. (Jack) Moloney was a 22-year New Zealand law-student when he left for war in 1915. After being returned to New Zealand as a casualty he lived in Christchurch, working as a barrister. During his life, he became prominent in region as a rugby and athletics administrator including being President of the Canterbury Rugby Union. He wrote several books on rugby including 'Rugby Football in Canterbury, 1929-1954 (1954) and 'The Ranfurly Shield History' (1960). He was married to Margret and had three children Barbara, Phillipa and David. He died in 1971.
Whether it's a paper copy or an ebook, having any reading material very close to water is always tricky. However, scientists along the years have been hard at work to produce books that you can take to the beach or read while soaking in the bath.
A few years ago a team at Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) in Genoa, Italy managed to get the molecules that make up paper (called monomers) to connect with new nano-particles they created in the lab. Together, they form a polymer, which is then mixed in what science class refers to as a “solution” to make a fancy “polymeric matrix” filled with nanoparticles. So, basically, they stir in their fancy nanoparticles in a unique way so that they stick to the paper molecules. (See full article here).
After the nanoparticles get busy with the paper, you can sprinkle in other things to give paper super-powers. Want magnetic paper? Just add in some iron oxide nanoparticles. Are you a germophobe? Silver nanoparticles will make the paper antibacterial. There is a nanoparticle for waterproofing as well.
Additionally, a clear wax sealant was also created to prevent running ink and to stop pages from becoming soggy and tearing when wet. Banks in Australia use the technology to prolong the life of banknotes and to reduce the risk of forgery. 'The Greater Bad', an ebook by Alan Cork, was the first book ever to receive such a treatment.
And Now ...
Bibliobath: A Kickstarter company created by Dutch-Chinese husband and wife team Jasper Jansen and Wing Weng. Depending on your pledge amount, you can either get a copy of short stories by Mark Twain, a selection of poems by W. B. Yeats, Shakespeare’s , or, for a limited time only, a special edition of ' by Sun Zi. Check how it works and what you can do HERE.
The You-Bumi: If funds are limited and you still want to enjoy your favourite book by the beach or pool, the Japanese have got you covered for every eventuality, including reading in the bath. The You-Bumi is that brilliant invention. Click HERE for details on cost and where to buy.
Ben Meadows: This site offers waterproof writing accessories to write your way to a better day—rain or shine! Check it out HERE.
Do you feel you 'need' to write? Feel there's a story inside you bursting to be told? Words dominating your thoughts and sentences parading before your very eyes? Still wondering what's stopping you? Here are some quotes to help you discard any doubts you may have about your ability to pen the future literary masterpiece and to set you on your way to becoming that fearless writer you might be destined to become.
It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.
My favourite by Hemingway: 'The Sun Also Rises'
If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write.
My favourite by Maugham: 'Of Human Bondage'
Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.
My favourite by Kingsolver: 'The Lacuna'
Anecdotes don’t make good stories. Generally I dig down underneath them so far that the story that finally comes out is not what people thought their anecdotes were about.
My favourite by Munro: 'Something I've Been Meaning To Tell You: 13 stories'
There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.
My favourite by Pratchett: 'Dodger'
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story within you.
My favourite by Angelou: 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings'
Just write everyday of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.
My favourite by Bradbury: 'The Halloween Tree'
A free online crime festival will run for the first time in July 2015, as a result of a grassroots initiative instigated by author Helen Smith. The festival boasts more than forty crime authors, including Eva Dolan, Mark Edwards, C L Taylor, Sarah Hilary and Mason Cross.
In a press release, Helen wrote about BritCrime.com 'We became friends after meeting at various literary events, and although we love attending festivals and enjoy meeting readers, it’s important to balance time spent at events with time spent writing. Festivals can also be expensive for readers, especially when travel and accommodation is factored in, so we founded BritCrime to provide free, accessible events that every reader can attend, wherever they live.’
BritCrime 2015 will take place 11 to 13 July 2015 and will feature live Q&A panel discussions hosted on Facebook, as well as informal ‘Meet us in the bar’ sessions for late night chat. The festival will provide updates from BritCrime authors attending New York’s ThrillerFest, as well as a look ahead to Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate the following week, where many BritCrime authors will be in attendance.
In the run up to the festival exclusive content will be available on the BritCrime website and social media platforms, including giveaways, video sessions and interactive Google Hangouts. More than 500 people have already signed up to receive the festival mailing list, which offers the incentive of a Kindle Paperwhite giveaway for one lucky subscriber.
Edgar-winning author Alex Marwood was the first to sign up for BritCrime. ‘BritCrime is organised by authors, and it feels great to be in control of how the event goes. We’ve already reached more than 70,000 people via our online channels, and this is just the start of what we hope to achieve.’
Source: Press Release
'The Best Eid Ever' by Asma Mobin-Uddin, illustrated by Laura Jacobsen (2007)
It's Eid, and Aneesa should be happy. But her parents are thousands of miles away in Saudi Arabia for the Hajj pilgrimage. To cheer her up, her grandmother gives her a gift of beautiful clothes from Pakistan, one outfit for each of the three days of Eid. She even prepares lamb korma, Aneesa's favourite dinner, which they will enjoy when they return from prayers. At the prayer hall, Aneesa meets two sisters who are not dressed in new clothes for the holiday. Aneesa discovers that the girls are refugees. With their father, they have fled from their war-torn country. Aneesa can't stop thinking about the girls and what Eid must be like for them. That's when Aneesa comes up with a plan to help the girls celebrate Eid and make it the best Eid holiday ever.
To listen to a summary of the story see below:
'Under the Ramadan Moon' by Sylvia Whitman, illustrated by Sue Williams (2011)
Ramadan is one of the most special months of the Islamic year, when Muslims pray, fast, and help those in need. Sylvia Whitman’s lyrical story, with luminous illustrations by Sue Williams, serves as an introduction to Ramadan—a time for reflection and ritual with family and friends. A detailed note about Ramadan is included. The author lives in Virginia and wrote this story so her son’s classmates could learn how he and his family celebrate this important time. The illustrator lives in England.
To listen to a summary of the book, see below:
'The Jinni on the Roof' by Natasha Rafi, illustrated by Abdul Malik Channa (2013)
Eight-year-old Raza is too young to fast, but he longs for the delicious parathas the grown-ups eat before dawn. The aroma of the flaky, golden bread tempts him. He cannot wait for the children’s breakfast, but he’ll get into trouble if anyone finds him up this early. Lying in bed, Raza hatches a plan. Will he get away with it? This is a delightful tale about a mischievous boy who learns the true meaning of Ramadan – patience and empathy. Age range 4 -8 years.
NOT A BOOK ... HOWEVER...
I've included this song 'Ramadan Moon' by Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens) because it's one of the cutest things I've come across with regards to Ramadan and kids. Enjoy!
According to the UAE's daily English-language newspaper 'The National', a coffee-table book recording the successes of 21 Emirati women in various fields including aviation, business, fashion, sport and film, was released at Le Meridian, Dubai on Sunday. 'Emirati Women Achievers', a 184-page coffee-table book, in English, has been published by UAE-based publishing company Xponent Media. The book was released by Mirza Al Sayegh, director of the office of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Minister of Finance and Deputy Ruler of Dubai.
The woman behind the book, Meraj Rizvi, managing editor, Xponent Media, said that the 'Emirati Women Achievers' project took more than six months to complete. Some of the women featured are Alia Abdulla Al Mazrouei, chief operating officer of Mazrui Holdings; Film director Amal Al Agroobi; Amna Binhendi, Chief Executive of Bin Hendi Enterprises; Fatima Khalifa Al Enezi, an Emirates aircraft engineer; Lamya Abedin, designer and founder of the Queen of Spades; Mariam Othman, founder and director of Rashid Centre for Disabled; Dr Najat Mohammed Rashid, director of Medical Laboratories and Blood Banks; and Layla Abdul Aziz Al Redha, an endurance rider and trainer.
The 184- page book will be available in shops and can be ordered from the publishers Xponent Media, via email@example.com.