We carry not only our past but also our future in the present

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Today I am delighted to be hosting a guest post from one of my favourite authors. I was impressed by Shelan Rodger‘s debut novel, Twin Truths, so was excited to be sent an early review copy of her second, Yellow Room, earlier this year.

Yellow Room blew me away. Check out my thoughts on it by clicking here.

The book was launched at a fabulous party in London last month and we can now enjoy the blog tour of which this post is a part. Below Shelan reflects on the notion that time is not linear and that, at some level, we carry knowledge of the future inside of us. I hope that you find her thoughts on the subject as interesting as I did.

Please welcome to neverimitate, Shelan Rodger.

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From the moment we are born, we start cramming our suitcase with our past. Yet, as I get older, I grow more and more convinced that time is not linear and that, at some level, we also carry knowledge of the future with us.

I will spend the rest of my life with an image of fear in my partner’s eyes, which at the time seemed extreme, but which has been born out since by the trauma of brain surgery. It was as if his body already knew.

When I dipped into my own books to prepare this blog post, I came across two passages about the notion of flash-forwards:

From Yellow Room:

‘The smell of human skin hit her the moment she entered the airport building (…) The flashback from ten years before was so acute it made her want to cry (…) at least we’re spared flash-forwards, thought Chala – imagine a world in which a certain smell or tune conjured up with the same intensity an experience yet to be lived. (…) Ignorance of the future is what makes us strong, she thought; hope is only possible because of it.’

From Twin Truths:

‘Imagine if flash-forwards to the future existed, how many events would seem unbelievable, laughable even, or just plain intolerable. I imagine life as a pile of bones without the flesh of time to join the different bones together and fatten the relationship between them…’

Yes, I am glad I cannot see into the future. And yet it is as if the cells of our flesh intuit at some level what is going to happen. We may only become aware of this in hindsight, may only see the signs looking back, but they are there, in our bodies, working slowly on preparing us for our futures. There is something of this notion behind one of the last lines of Yellow Room:

‘On the horizon of her being, her observer sat, quietly nonchalant and waiting for her future.’

Can you relate to this? Can you look back now and realize that somehow, somewhere, at some level, you ‘already knew’? When you look back and turn your life into a story, can you remember something that was said – by you or someone else – which now seems prophetic, which makes sense now with what has happened since? Is there a moment you felt something strange, a twinge of something you didn’t understand at the time, but which has come back quietly to haunt you since?

Both my novels explore the impact of the past in different ways, the way our pasts shape our sense of who we are, the scars we carry with us into the future. And yet these scars, which we so readily associate with the past, are perhaps also scars for what is still to come…

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This post is part of the Yellow Room Blog Tour. Do check out the other stops, detailed below.

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Book Review: The Blackheath Séance Parlour

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The Blackheath Séance Parlour, by Alan Williams, is a deliciously macabre gothic horror. There is no reining in of detail to protect readers of more delicate sensibilities. The story is brutal, disturbing yet is told with panache.

The central characters are two middle aged sisters who, when the story opens, are in dire financial straits. The chocolate shop that they run barely makes enough money to feed them let alone support their copious drinking habits. They realise that a change of direction is required.

The elder sister, Maggie, is a determined character who is used to being in control. Her younger sister, Judy, acquiesced to her demands but has grown tired of their poverty. She has had an idea, to turn their shop into a séance parlour. Despite her many objections, vociferously and repeatedly articulated, Maggie agrees to Judy’s plans.

Alongside the main narrative is a further story, presented as the text of a novel which Judy is writing. This plot involves two wealthy, beautiful and enigmatic siblings who harbour monstrous secrets on which their lives depend. Their background is presented in searing detail. They are the creation of a brilliant, abominable scientist who believed his work was more important than other’s lives.

The séance parlour is a sensation as is Judy’s book. Suddenly the sister’s lives are transformed but at a terrible cost.

There are many strong and skillfully developed characters within this book. Even the abhorrent among them have presence and clarity which inspires awe alongside the loathing. Despite the gore, the horror, the unleashing of powers from beyond the grave, at no point does it feel gratuitous.

The author has taken age old ideas and injected them with originality and depth. The historical detail is fascinating, the gentle mocking of the masses delicious. A skillfully written story which I enjoyed reading immensely.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Cutting Edge Press.

 

 

 

 

Gig Review: Launch Party for Yellow Room

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As a book blogger I follow many bookish types on Twitter. Some of the most exciting tweets feature news and photographs from book launches, those eager celebrations for the publication of an author’s latest ‘baby’. They always look such happy and fun events.

When one of my favourite authors, Shelan Rodger, invited me to attend the launch of the fabulous Yellow Room I decided that I could not turn her kindness down. Thus, yesterday, I traveled up to London for a party.

And what a party it was. Held in Treadwell’s Bookshop, a fascinating place to visit for those with an interest in magic and the occult, the crowd who had come along were among the most friendly I have ever encountered. I knew nobody there other than through the tenuous link of social media yet had no difficulty in striking up a series of varied and interesting conversations.

The wine flowed and the people spilled out onto the street as writers, agents, publishers, family and friends mingled. Shelan gave a lovely speech and then signed all of the books that her ardent readers had purchased.

It seems that a book launch party is something like a wedding. Everyone there knows the star of the show, has come along to admire and wish her well, and then spends the entire celebration talking to random strangers. In a gathering such as this it was all highly enjoyable.

I regretted being unable to join those who were planning on eating together afterwards but I had a train to catch. I left with my head filled with book recommendations, the promise of information on a literary festival close to where I live, and my heart warmed by the people I had met.

Attending the launch was not the only delight of the evening. I discovered that I am quoted on the back cover of the book.

 

 

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Book Review: Dark River Melody

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Dark River Melody, by MD Murphy, is a novel that brings

“the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Georgian London to the page”

It offers

“a palpable sense of the capital in all its terrible glory, its poetic squalor.”

The story encapsulates the social conditions, inequalities and injustices of the period. Through it all runs the river breathing in and out; emanating life, power, beauty and menace; representing the unstoppable progression of time.

The tale opens with the return to London of Tom Gobey who has been in prison in Botany Bay for the past seven years. His crime was to write a pamphlet criticising the church, government and King. Having served his time he now desires nothing more than to be reunited with his sweetheart, Eileen Dineen, an Irish beauty and fellow republican.

From the moment Tom steps off the boat he encounters trouble. He challenges a slave trader who will remember his face. He finds himself being pursued by an unknown assailant intent on his demise. Add to this his repeated encounters with wandering press gangs and he frequently finds himself on the run.

He comes across an old friend, Johnny Steadman, slumped in a pillory for singing a rebel song in a tavern whilst drunk. Johnny offers Tom shelter but informs him that Eileen is now living with an aristocrat. Tom determines to find her anyway, to discover if she still harbours feelings for him. He is unaware that it is her new man, the aristocrat Saffronetti, who has instructed his henchman, Mr Sticks, to do away with Tom in an attempt to force Eileen to give him the attention he craves.

Mr Sticks is one of the most vile characters that I have ever come across in literature:

“his heart felt black – black and hard as obsidian – and all its rhythms were driven by hate.”

The descriptions of his smell, habits and his treatment of others are vivid and stomach churning. He is an impressively gross creation, terrifying in his apparent unassailabilty and horrible in every imaginable meaning of the word.

This whole tale is an excellent evocation of the city and the bewildering variety of life that populates its streets. The extremes of wealth, privilege and power highlight the injustices of the time. Some things, unfortunately, have not changed.

The book beats with a pulse that is London with the river flowing through its heart. As Tom seeks out his beloved and struggles to escape his various assailants we meet those who, despite their own suffering, are still able to show compassion. When Tom encounters a dark skinned slave they find they have much in common besides their current predicament:

“Both had been rocked on the ocean, sent to lands afar. Both had incessantly dreamed of their native land.”

I did not like some of the coincidences used to progress the plot: Eileen being in the carriage Tom happened to jumped on, the house he rolled into while trying to make his way to the bone setter turning out to be Safronetti’s. However, it is the use of language that is the story’s strength. There is a terrible beauty to the prose, a dark melody that permeates each page.

I loved this book quite simply for the pleasure of reading it. It breathed life. Whatever the oppression and squalor described there remained hope.

Reading this book was like listening to beautiful, haunting music. The sounds will linger in memory long after the last note has been sung.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Cutting Edge Press.

Book Review: Yellow Room

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Yellow Room, by Shelan Rodger, is an engaging, compassionate masterpiece of literary fiction. The language is elegant, sensuous and evocative; the characterisations complex and believable. This novel cements the author’s place as a writer of substance.

Chala has grown up with the knowledge that, at four years of age, she accidentally killed her baby sister, an event that has haunted every aspect of her life. Unable to cope with the death of their baby her guardians separated. When Chala’s role in the accident became known at school she was cast out by all except her loyal best friend. Chala struggles to cope with the burden of her guilt seeking some means by which she may make amends.

She decides to fly to Kenya as a volunteer at a shelter for rescued street children. Chala wishes to offer practical help, to make a difference. She soon comes to realise that the problems in Africa cannot be solved by western aid; that what is reported abroad is a snapshot, a construct of a foreign media which soon loses interest and moves on.

What seems like wanton cruelty to western eyes goes unnoticed by those who struggle to survive. When a man has spent his entire life being kicked he thinks nothing of kicking a dog. When human bodies lie in the road a dead donkey will not be mourned. Life is cheap and perilous. Those who offer help are appreciated but it is not their efforts that will make a difference long term. Change must come from within.

Chala is changed. She has seen first hand how childhood experiences can seep through and damage the adult, how bad choices can ruin a life. She may walk away from the violence and hunger of Africa but she cannot walk away from herself.

And now Chala harbours another secret, another guilt from a bad choice she made. Determined to do as her uncle implored, to hold on to what she has got, she returns home to attempt to make a life with her husband, Paul. Unbeknown to her Paul also has a secret. What unfolds threatens to tear them apart.

As a reader I felt the raw emotions of the protagonists as they wrestled with their consciences. Is it better to be open and honest when the truth threatens to destroy; should some secrets be kept?

“Why do we have secrets? Whether they are born of fear or shame, denial or the urge to protect or avoid hurting another, so often they create pain and guilt. We pay a price for the things we keep bottled inside us, and sometimes the bottle bursts.”

After all that had gone before, the denouement was satisfying and uplifting. Life is complex and the fallout from decisions rarely predictable. Still though, it goes on.

I am in awe of this author who can put into words the emotions that bubble beneath the surface of a life. I loved this book and cannot recommend it highly enough. When you have the chance, read it.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Cutting Edge Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Dear Beneficiary

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Dear Beneficiary, by Janet Kelly, is a modern farce about a woman of a certain age. The protagonist, Cynthia, had been ‘diligently married’ for forty years and is now rather enjoying widowhood. A brief affair with a much younger Nigerian man showed her that sex could be enjoyed, a revelation to this very proper housewife from Surrey. Although she was saddened when he had to return to his home country it was also something of a relief as keeping him a secret from her family had been tricky at times, once involving several hours spent in a wardrobe.

She decided that to engage in modern life she should get on line so turned to her grandson for help. Excited by ‘the prospect of his certainly solvent if not well-off relative being encouraged to buy the latest technology’ she soon found herself the owner of a top of the range PC and smart phone, neither of which she could operate.

Almost immediately she is taken in by a Nigerian 419 scam which empties her bank account. Convinced that the money has been used legitimately by her former lover she ignores her bank manager’s attempts to help and decides to travel to Lagos to sort the matter out for herself, with unfortunate results.

The strength of this story lies in the author’s ability to show Cynthia’s many sides.

In some ways she is the foolish old woman that her family see her as with her inability to drive safely or operate technology but a stubborn refusal to recognise her limitations. She understands how she is seen by her children so often chooses not to tell them what is happening in her life.

She is vain and arrogant, expressing disdain for those her own age with their hobbies and sagging bodies. She is happy to believe her hairdresser when she exclaims at how young Cynthia looks, feeling smug about her skincare routine and regular swims. She preens herself and seeks compliments, feeling annoyed when others regard her as old.

Despite her aging, middle class conceits Cynthia is still an individual and wishes to make use of her remaining years. Having escaped the dullness of her married life and discovered that sex can be enjoyed she wishes to seek out lovers, accepting advances as the starving may accept food.

Cynthia is determined not to grow old without a fight and this determination comes to the fore when, in the direst of circumstances, she is required to plan a daring escape. Convinced of her own superiority she is surprised to discover that her companion, who she regards as brash and vulgar, has her own hidden strengths. Together they form an unlikely alliance.

The characterisations in this book are amusing with enough wit and wisdom to entertain. Ludicrous though some of the situations seem (as they should in a farce) I suspect that readers may be inspired to consider their aging relatives and friends anew.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.

Book Review: Pavement

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Pavement, by Richard Butchins, is a deeply disturbing story of a serial killer. Told from the point of view of the protagonist, Smith, we are taken inside the mind of a man who exists on the edges of society. Unemployed and handicapped he lives in a damp bedsit and survives on the meagre benefits the state grants him in return for his attendance at pointless meetings. Fortnightly he is processed, ticked off a list and sent on his way. He feels invisible.

It is this invisibility and the bitterness that he feels towards the behemoth of state and its acolytes, the people who benefit from an acquisitive and controlling society, which drive him to consider hitting out against the ordinary people he observes each day as he pounds the London pavements. He reasons that if nobody notices him then he can do what he wants. He can get away with murder.

The sparse prose takes the reader inside Smith’s mind and it is not an easy place to be. Snapshots of his past suggest abuse but also a period of what would be considered normality from which he chose to walk away. He suffers from vivid nightmares with blurred boundaries between dreams and reality. He is no fool but is damaged inside, anxious and trying to cope through daily routines and occasional medication. He is aware that nobody cares about him so long as he does what is expected and follows the rules.

The story charts in grotesque detail the actions of a man who can no longer find any reason to value life. It is hard to know if it is the graphic, intense and sickening descriptions in the tale or the fact that Smith may be right in some of his reasoning that makes the book so perturbing. This is brilliant writing, atmospheric and disquieting. The imagery of the dreams alongside Smith’s observations of his everyday surroundings are haunting.

The book comes with a cautionary notice: ‘Contains extreme violence and scenes of a sexual nature’. I was glad of the warning. It is a fabulous read, but not one for the faint hearted.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Cutting Edge Press, through a Goodreads ‘First Reads’ giveaway.

 

 

Author Interview: Shelan Rodger

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How much does a book tell the reader about its author? I am told that a work of fiction will reflect a plethora of the author’s experiences: people they have met, films they have watched, books they have read, the life they have lived. When I read a story that makes me think particularly cogently or in a new way, I want to know more about the creator of the words. Sometimes I conclude that they are simply good inventors, that my interpretation of their book is as much down to the experiences and prejudices that I bring to the story as to the author’s inspirations. Other times, the more I uncover about the writer the more I consider how enjoyable it would be to sit down and get lost in a discussion with a person capable of expressing such thoughts as they do.

Shelan Rodger has said of her first book, ‘Twin Truths grew out of two things: a fascination with the meaning of personal identity and the conviction that there is never only one reality.’ In a world where we are encouraged to follow where others lead, to think in terms of black and white, it was inspiring to find a story that explores more deeply the meaning of identity and perception. I was delighted to find that the author of this fabulous tale weaves her thoughts on life as perceptively as those she includes in her book.

To quote Shelan again, this time on how we allow ourselves to be distracted by our own busyness: ‘Food for thought…what gives you food for thought, if you stop juggling for a moment, if you let it in?’ She talks of connecting with nature, of the beauty of stillness. Given how busy she is and how she values her time, I feel honoured that she agreed to take part in this interview.

Please welcome to neverimitate, Shelan Rodger.

Where do you typically write?

My favourite place is in front of a window. There is something about looking through a window that opens me, inspires me. The actual view from the windows I’ve written through over the last few years has changed quite dramatically – from a garden in Sussex to flower farms in Kenya to the volcanic coastline of Cabo de Gata where I currently live in the south of Spain!

Tell us about your writing process.

I don’t have a disciplined approach and I’m a bit of an all or nothing person. So I like to write when I know I’ve got a big chunk of time to myself and can get completely lost in it. I find that the writing process when it really flows is like a form of meditation. A combination of letting go and being alert, a state of mental relaxation that is almost passive, so that the words flow through you…I think it is this freeing of the subconscious that is probably behind the idea so often quoted by writers of ‘characters taking over’.

Writing a novel is a bit like having a relationship. As you get to know someone, you kind of live with that person in your head. It is also very much a journey in itself. I set out with a notion of the destination I want to get to but no real idea of how I’m going to get there

Tell us about your publishing experience.

It took ages to make it happen! I have a whopping great file of rejections, including a few rave ones. I was lucky enough to find an agent who never gave up. Last year, I was passing through London on a work trip to the States and had arranged to meet my agent, Broo Doherty, for lunch. I was expecting it to be a bit of a ‘so where do we go now’ kind of thing but at the last minute she sent me an email saying change of venue, we’re going to meet a publisher who is interested in making an offer for Twin Truths. The catch? They want to meet you first. Oh my God, I thought, so if they don’t make an offer it’s because of me, not even because of the book! It was nerve-racking – but I had no time to panic or prepare so off we went. They were called Cutting Edge Press, a small new Indie publisher, whose motto is ‘fiercely independent.’ I loved them! And the moment they said yes was a moment of pure euphoria. Writing is, after all, only one arm of a body; the other is being read.

In what ways do you promote your work?

Well, the first thing to say is that I’m a complete novice at this and the idea of ‘self-promotion’ makes me feel very uncomfortable. So it is very much a learning curve. I started engaging in social media and a friend designed a website for me. I had a launch party at Goldsboro Books in London, which was a lot of fun and drew friends from all sorts of corners of my life, for which I am deeply grateful. I would love to do a few readings or talk to book clubs or more things like this and I am sure there is much more I could be doing to make this happen. I’m a little challenged by where I live (south of Spain) and by the need to juggle all this beside a full time job. But I am keen to do more and I know that Cutting Edge Press are always on the look out for opportunities so it’s very much a team approach. In the end, though, I also see it as Twin Truths’ own journey – word of mouth, the power of individual personal response to the book itself, if people like it they will talk…

What are some of your current projects?

I assume you mean writing projects! Well, my second novel, which is also due to be published by Cutting Edge Press, is in its final stages. Set in England and Kenya during the post-election crisis of 2008, Yellow Room is a drama about the power of secrets to run our lives.

My third novel is still growing in my head. Working title: A Paper Trail. It’s inspired by something that happened two weeks before my father died: he found a novel he’d forgotten he’d written in his twenties, read it, changed the last line and handed it over to me. This was the last time I saw him. In my book, an unpublished manuscript by her father falls in to the hands of Elisa and takes her to Kenya, where a twist presents the one person from her past she never wanted to meet again. This is another psychological twisty tale with dark undertones.

Where can my readers find you?

On my website/blog: www.shelanrodger.com

Or my Facebook author page: www.facebook.com/ShelanRodgerAuthor

Or on Twitter: Shelan Rodger (@ShelanRodger).

Twin Truths‘ is available to buy from the publisher, Amazon and all good bookshops.

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Shelan’s life is a patchwork of different cultures and landscapes. Born in northern Nigeria, she grew up among the Tiwi, an aboriginal community on an island north of Darwin, and moved to England at the age of eleven. After graduating in Modern Languages from Oxford, she travelled to Argentina and stayed for nine years. Then another period in England followed by six years in Kenya on flower farms by Lake Naivasha and the lower slopes of Mount Kenya. She now lives in Andalucía, Spain. Her professional career has revolved around international education and learning and development, with an emphasis on anti-discrimination.

Book Review: Twin Truths

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Twin Truths, by Shelan Rodger, is a tale of abuse, betrayal and survival. Jenny and Pippa are twins, different in many ways but always there for each other. Their childhood has left them damaged and their personalities have been shaped by their divergent coping mechanisms. One withdraws into solitude, finding escape in academia and books. The other lashes out in anger, seeking danger and excitement, punishing those around in an attempt to manage the hurt that is always present but rarely acknowledged.

A plane crash sets in motion a spiral of events that force a confrontation between past, present and future. Travelling between Britain, South America and the Mediterranean, the truths about events that have shaped the twins’ lives are gradually revealed. There are many unexpected twists and turns as the story unfolds. The individual construction of memory is laid bare, a perception that is nigh impossible to fully share with family and friends, reliant as it is on the complex web of personal experience.

At a superficial level this is a well written, psychological thriller with a satisfyingly unexpected ending. At its heart though it is so much more. I enjoyed the unpicking of the human psyche, the difficulty in seeing ourselves as others see us, the way we see the world and those around, how we translate our experiences from the baseline of everything else that has happened in our past.

Other than the obvious mystery surrounding the twins history, the central aspect explored in this book is what makes a person who they are, what is truth. Such questions are prodded at gently but cogently as the tightly written and compelling story unfolds. The short chapters facilitate pauses for thought, but I did not want to put this book down. It is a page turner with depth, thought provoking story-telling at its best.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Cutting Edge Press, via a Goodreads ‘First Reads’ giveaway.