Category Archives: book reviews

Look till you break

Apart from editing and a final revision, I finished the translation of Joan Barbara Simon’s Verses Nature: In the Beginning Was The Heat. Initially I revolted against the male protagonist, Tatar, as it was very conflicting to put myself in his skin, his mindset and especially his words. I wrestled with him for a long time, but as he is an undeniable reality that can be seen in many lights (and should) I put in every effort to genuinely do him justice in German and reflect who he is or might be for that matter.

 

To bond with the female counterpart, Carmina, was essentially ‘easier’, as her struggle is a well-known and yet potentially kept silent reality of too many women, too many female narratives that remain hidden in the bedroom drawers of pain, shame and agony. She is made of flesh and blood, of bad and good, of pain and pleasure and she is done with apologising, with justifying herself and selling herself short. She rewrites her own story and as hurtful as it is, she changes the predestined conclusion of her life.

 

Even though Verses Nature contains raw sexual matter (so what?), it does not deserve the common, depreciative and cheap stigmata associated with erotic fiction. It is indeed literary if one dares to take the time to dig deeper, read beyond every word and sense and dive into each page without preconceptions and judgements. Each page takes and needs its space in meaning, the process is akin to the musing of a painting, a portrait, as intimate as it gets, to swim through the features and textures of a face, a personality that is deeply flawed, human, hurt and lusting after life. Every time that I thought that I had figured them both out, I was wrong and rediscovered a new aspect that could be closer to the truth. When approaching Verses Nature, one has to do so with an open mind, it takes time and a lot of unburdening, but I managed to sincerely appreciate it, it challenged me and I do not say this because I consider Joan to be a dear friend of mine or because she chose me to be the translator, but because these narratives matter and need to be told and dissected. Even if Tatar might come across as an incredible asshole, a misogynist, a nonsensical skirt chaser or Carmina as threatening, vulgar and uncomfortable, they stand utterly exposed and therefore vulnerable and that’s the point, not to be judged, but to be understood, analysed. Together, they are representative of the social, political, religious, familial and emotional issues that still have a long way to go in today’s society. They cannot be reduced to black and white shades, they are in no way extremes or stereotypical binary oppositions. They might be you and me, then and now, they are intertwined and consist of common dysfunctional and functional features that we all possess and control more or less. Verses Nature is holding up the mirror to your face and challenges you to keep looking. Maybe if you figured out how to gaze, it will break.

(Laura Gentile)

 

shell-shock-vn-vol1

 

Thank you, Laura, for the excellent translation into German and for this spot-on evaluation of my book! I’m continually tweaking the book’s categories. After adding the subtitle: Memoir Of A Lonely Hotwife, it shot to #1 on amazon yesterday. True, the rankings are updated hourly, so fame is short-lived but the pleasure is nonetheless sweet. I like the word memoir as it shifts the book to a place where fiction and non-fiction may co-reside. Just as Verses Nature can be seen as erotica and more, the social, political reality it depicts also makes its fictional characteristics move beyond fiction to become that ‘more’ which invites us to keep questioning. So readers, if you feel like a challenge, here it is, ready and waiting.

How To Stay Alive (from a survivor)

The doctor said it was too late. Soft medicine would be of no use to me now. I cried into my pillow as the visions of what I still wanted to achieve in my life flashed before me then ran off into the bushes.

Don’t move. If you do, you could bleed to death in less than three minutes.

I practised being dead, resisting every urge to cough or twitch, but first I called the children to hear their voice in case…

And as I practised being dead – getting better and better at it – a familiar face ventured almost apologetically into the room.  So grateful was I to see him one more time that I cried in earnest. It wouldn’t matter if I bled to death now.

That was nearly two years ago. Two years, over 600 pills a month and the will to prove everyone wrong. Whenever anyone says ‘no’ to me, I make it my mission to prove them wrong. The doctors had been telling me for years that  I would be on medication for life.

‘Are you sure that I won’t be able to get off these pills one day?’
‘No. Let’s be honest’.

That was their No. Not mine. On my miraculous journey back to health from a chronic kidney disease, I encountered a wonderful soul with a simple message: we can eat our way back to health and the way to do so is to practise intermittent fasting. It sounded like just another fad to me and I challenged the author to give me good reasons why I should take him seriously. He won me over. I read his book and you know what: I feel GREAT! I’m not going to twist your arm or try to talk you into anything because I’m not motivated by self-interest. There is a growing body of research on the benefits of intermittent fasting. I only know it is helping me to regenerate both my body and my mind. If you would like to know more, click on the image below to receive your copy of this short yet life-changing book.

 

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Staying with the topic of health, I’d like to share with you an amazing piece of fiction by  Mari Reiza. My first encounter with Mari was via her book  Physical: The Catastrophe of Desire. This is a first-class piece of feminist humour which I would have loved to read all over again, but I decided to try another title to see if Mari could enthrall me yet again. Oh yes she can! I’ve just finished reading Room 11: A Man Sits Singing Where A Woman Lies Dreaming. This is an impressive book that should have its place on the reading list for Contemporary Fiction or Women’s Fiction around the world (says I, as a  Creative Writing lecturer). Reiza’s short book nonetheless takes on epic dimensions of mind, inhabiting liminal spaces that churn around love, desire, belonging, acknowledgement, You would need to be an erudite reader to take in all the references in this story which frequently returns to Greek mythology and escapes (or so I find) into surrealist-like fantasies that call to mind Kafka. In many ways I see the work as a tragedy of love. It’s a breathtaking work that left me exhausted and thoroughly elated. Just read it!

 

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Like Loui Lam, Mari was amazingly open to my questions and comments about her book. I love that dialogue between authors and readers!

If we want to stay alive, physically and mentally, then we shouldn’t play dead. We should be open for new encounters that have the potential to refresh our souls. I remember reading a blogpost about a woman who one day realized that her reading was in fact limited to English and American authors, so she determined to correct this blind spot by aiming to read a book from every country in the world over the course of a year. That’s some goal! There’s so much out there for us to discover and that is why I would now like to make a request:

Tell me about your favourite fiction titles and/or any life-changing books you’ve read and why you think everyone should read them. Depending on how much time you have or want to spend, you can tell me about a single title or many. I’d love to share this list over the course of forthcoming posts so we can all stay alive.

More good news: I competed my second PhD in February, despite all odds. I’m very proud to be able to call myself Dr Dr Joan Barbara Simon (or Joan Barbara Simon, PhD, PhD). Achieving the unthinkable is also one reason why I have been away from this blog for so long. Well, now I’m back, full of love and life and love for life and I want to share as much of what I’m reading, doing and thinking with you so don’t be surprised if my posts bounce from theme to theme: it’s just how I am, not trying to concoct some marketable brand but giving you the real deal on who and how I am.

 

A final piece of good news: my historical novel, Long Time Walk On Water, is now ranked #1 in 3 amazon categories! It’s a pity that there are so few reviews to let readers know what to expect. If you have read and enjoyed the book and would like to take a few minutes to share your views, please click on the link below.

Review Long Time Walk On Water Vol.1

Thank you for that and hear from you soon with your personal Best Books!

 

Getting your foot in the door with WHISKEY, NOT WATER: Verses Nature

Simon_VERSES NATURE_IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE HEATVerses Nature Vol.1: In The Beginning Was The Heat

 

Now that my latest book is out and there’s a free sample to get you started, I have more time to check out the market. Just reading the opening passages of a few samples of erotic fiction. Let’s call this: homework.

Sample 1:

There’s screaming. There’s a gun. There are the obligatory expletives. She is tied to an over-sized table. Of course. I can anticipate the rape scene and all the rest, depicted by an author I assume (and I hope I’m right!) has never been raped. He did this. She did that. More screaming. More expletives. I give up after the opening paragraph, already cringing at both the female protagonist’s name and that of the author. If that were my real name, I’d consider treating myself to a pseudonym.

Sample 2:

Only two paragraphs on display and already one typo: should that be long blond hair?

Sample 3:

Six paragraphs for our delight. Ah, there’s literary merit for a change. No typos, though a number of grammatical issues (a self-published book?) and the direct speech is as stiff as hell. Nothing erotic has happened so far. It’ll come later. No pun intended.

Sample 4:

A bestseller this time and a huge chunk for us to enjoy, which I do, I must confess, for it is well written. Nothing new, plot-wize or stylistically, but at least it’s well written. Still wouldn’t buy it, though.

Sample 5:

No erotic scenes in this opening but I can smell one around the corner! The sample steers clear of kitsch and even has enough humour to draw a smile from me. The author, it seems, is not content to have the characters play cat and mouse, but she will play cat and mouse with us, the reader, too. I think I know how this will end, though I wouldn’t say no to reading a bit further.

Conclusion:

All these samples are typical of the genre. I’m not sure I can find my place here. I’ve been saying it for a while: I don’t think what I do is erotica. The fit is too loose for my liking. Adult fiction? Or maybe erotic fiction after all. Intellectual erotica; what I’ve elsewhere described as high-brow rumpy-dumpy.

 

Many have confessed to me that although they love reading what I write, they don’t feel comfortable talking about it to others. Ah, so that’s why when I invite readers to share what I post on Facebook, very little happens.

fingerwhip (ripped jeans)

Turn it down a bit?

beyond her comfort zone

Still no one sharing. I can’t twist anyone’s arm, but maybe I can use this knowledge anyway:

 

9 out of 10

 

 

 

I like the one above as it makes clear that the book isn’t only for women and I like the one below for its international flair.

 

around the globe (III)

 

 

Doing my very best to steer clear of the word ‘erotic’, but noting that some people are left puzzled by the term ‘adult’ fiction. To say ‘romance’ would be to say too little. Would be to make it all too soft. I need to draw attention to the style as much as to the content. The novel, VERSES NATURE, is experimental:

‘cubist characterizations, full of violence and scorn’ (Purple Starsky)

‘Primal, deep, complex, secretive, honest, spacious. Grabs you.’ (Robert Hall)

Experimental romance? Experimental adult fiction? I can use these terms to describe my book, but it still makes sense to also refer to my work as erotic.  Doesn’t need to be the same type of erotic as everyone else, does it? So ok, I’ll join the club; bring in some fresh blood. Change the genre from the inside.

 

 

The Crocodile Princess (II)

 

Can you hear that sad sigh? I’ve just finished Ian Gregson’s The Crocodile Princess and I feel it has so much more to give. One excerpt on my blog is not enough. The book’s definitely got its place on one of the  Got To Read Again shelves in my study.  I say shelf but it’s actually a bookcase each time and I have five main categories:

  • a Got To Read Again shelf
  • a To Read shelf (I bought over 30 books one afternoon at a local book fair last year and am still working my way through those tho the Lord knows, my To Read shelf wasn’t empty before that)
  • a Was Good, You Can Pass It On to Someone Else shelf
  • an Academic shelf (books relating to my PhD)
  • a For The Flea Market shelf

And then there’s a whole pile of homeless books wandering around and ending up in the most unlikely places. Librarians across the globe will be rolling their eyes. What do I care.

Here’s another taste of The Crocodile Princess for you.

 

Ian Gregson THE CROCODILE PRINCESS book cover

 

Keith thanked the pedaleur but said that he had urgent business to attend to at the moment, but the pedaleur said that he would return later in the day and take him to visit some girls, and all of them would be congenial and lovely, and there would be a choice – there would be some Cambodian ladies, but also some Vietnamese, some Chinese and some French (…)

Keith was suddenly shocked by the thought that such a visit might actually be wise – because sex was an activity he needed to learn and this, when no emotion was involved, might in fact be the wisest place to learn it. He was unnerved by the idea that the wisest course could possibly be so thoroughly the opposite of conventional wisdom. But a woman would certainly expect a man to be confident and competent and he couldn’t be either in a field of action he had never entered. (…)

Keith was made aware of the long silence between them when the pedaleur said that he also knew boys who could be of service to him. When they arrived outside Peter’s apartment, the pedaleur looked Keith solicitously in the eye and said that he, too, could be of service, and Keith registered the man’s gold-capped teeth, and his dark skin, the skin of a rural Cambodian, and his powerful arms and shoulders. With that sudden intensity which Keith had noticed before in Cambodians, the pedaleur said that he and Keith could go to a place he knew where, for half an hour, they could be heureux, and then he would pedal Keith tranquilly along the river, so that he could be quiet and peaceful. And this would cost only one American dollar. Keith remembered it was Sunday morning, and thought how different this was from the church-going Sundays of his Lancastrian upbringing.

 

(once inside Peter’s apartment, he is surprised to find a married woman there, Edith. Surely those two weren’t… were they??? This is me, Joan, paraphrasing the section I’ve omitted. Keith takes in the compromising scene, then…)

 

Several desperate words which hated women, which he had heard used mechanically, obsessively, during his national service, and which he had found himself using then, during that time, crowded into his head and shouted.

 

***

 

  • Ian, would you say that every writer is willingly or unwillingly also a politician?

All literature is inevitably political in its implications, but some forms are more explicitly political than others. In lyric poetry the politics is only implicit; the short story also has a tendency to occupy a personal rather than a political space. The novel is the most political of literary forms and the greatest novels (by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Dickens, Toni Morrison etc) evoke a whole society.

 

  • some believe that it is impossible to teach creative writing. What’s your stance on this?

I taught creative writing for a long time so I’d have to declare an interest there. It’s certainly possible to teach writing techniques connected eg to narrative voice. I’d also hope that, as you teach such things, you instill a love of literature in general.

 

  • how do you feel about commissioned writing?

Nice work if you can get it, though these days I wouldn’t want (much) of it.

 

  • what was the hardest aspect of writing The Crocodile Princess?

Inventing comedy ideas that were appropriate,and good enough, for Peter Cook to speak.

 

  • to which extent does the final book correspond to the original you had in mind before you started writing?

I had a broad outline in mind which the novel does fulfill, but it developed a lot on the way and that’s one of the most gratifying aspects of writing.

 

  • where would you place yourself along the continuum of novelist-types: meticulously planned before I sit down to write — start writing then go with the flow?

I’m somewhere in the middle of that – I have a general idea and quite a number of specific ideas about plot and character and individual scenes, and images,etc, but the great joy is moving along through those and finding it expand and acquire its shape.

 

  • literary criticism: science or art? and why?

It’s a combination of the two. I do think that novelists and poets should be aware of Derrida, Foucault, Lacan etc because that’s among the most important thinking of our time.

 

  • why Cambodia: what is unique to this setting regarding the requirements of your novel?

It’s fascinating, beautiful place which got caught up in some major political events.

 

  • Crocodile Princess. two versions of the story; the  Cambodian (princess swallowed up by a crocodile) and the Dagenham version. The theme of secrets/masks, origins, double/parallel identities, public/private faces (Yuri, Dudley, Joe smoking opium to retreat from his mundane life, Edith). Unreliable surfaces, déjà vu, illusions/magic. Dialogical identity. There is a lot antagonism/tension caused by these clashing identities and their individual objectives within the plot; also:pieces of information like poker chips, owned and coveted and passed around by means of your mischievous literary style. No one seems truly happy; all trapped in their own identity crisis. dreams, illusions, nightmares…  is the title of the book symbolic merely of the ‘paranoiac petty-mindedness’ of the diplomatic community,  or of the human condition in general, in your view? To which extent is the novel a mask YOU wear to play beak-a-boo with the reader?

Well these are the bits and pieces we all work with as novelists aren’t they? And the most important thing is that they are ambivalent and polyphonic so that they can say a wide range of things at once and so go some way to evoking the beautiful mess that we live in.

 

  • in the novel, we hear more than once about the inadequacy of rationalism to do justice to the intricacies of human thought or to bring about some form of inner (dare I use the word: spiritual?) peace. What is your personal take on this issue? how satisfactorily are you able to function and connect to other minds in/of Western culture? Have we been led astray? How does rationalism affect you as a writer AND critic?

I don’t regard rationalism as separable from other kinds of cognition: it’s a label we give artificially to a form of thought that is thoroughly intertwined with other forms and works alongside them to help us understand our experience.

 

  • humour: Do your students ever get the chance to laugh in your classes?

I’d really want them to laugh but I’m not funny enough to make them laugh as often as I’d like.

 

  • What’s on your bucket list that you haven’t done yet? Do you have plans to do it yourself or will one of your characters see to it for you?

Really that’s my current project, where I’m combining different literary forms, – poems, short stories, flash fiction, and an essay in a sequence focused on a single subject (in this case about advertising).

***

The Crocodile Princess. The description on the back cover fits so I won’t try to outdo it, I’ll simply repeat it:

Fast-paced, witty, full of intrigue, misdirection and set in the heart of Phnom Penh in an extraordinary moment of history, The Crocodile Princess is a gripping read from the highly accomplished author of Not Tonight Neil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Crocodile Princess

Ian Gregson THE CROCODILE PRINCESS book cover

 

I got a present the other day; a signed copy of The Crocodile Princess by Ian Gregson; novelist, poet, critic and Oxford Professor of Poetry nominee. I had only ever met Ian once in person before. That was five years ago, when he gave me his personal copy of As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner and told me to consider writing my next novel in the first person. I did more than consider it, I took up the challenge, one which, for years, was marked more by cursing than by anything I would care to call satisfactory progress. Now the novel is finished. Thank goodness. Now I can get back to reading for pleasure.

A pleasure I wish to share with you. Below is the opening of Ch2 of The Crocodile Princess. I love it for so many reasons. I’m sure you will find your own.

 

THE CROCODILE PRINCESS

 

‘No no you’re not going to catch me,’ shouted Joe Keane, the American ambassador in Cambodia. He stared in the face of Norodom Sihanouk looming on a billboard above him, Sihanouk dressed all in white and with a shaved head, saintly Buddhist, his serenity a rebuke to Keane’s desperate, breathless driving forward of his cyclopousse, his bicycle rickshaw, his pedalling ever more frantic because the finishing line was a huge jacaranda tree only forty yards past the billboard, and Peter Cook was gaining on him, now only fifteen yards behind, and calling to him, taunting him with his growing nearness, about how he would imminently overtake, about the superiority of Cook’s own cyclo, about how Joe’s contraption was wonky, about how Joe himself – worst of all, this, as Joe was gasping more and more for breath –   was an old man, was past it… and Joe was dizzy now, standing up on his pedals, then sitting down again, and the cyclo was so unwieldy, and four times heavier than a normal bicycle, and he could feel his head sicken, where dazzling white enormous Sihanouk in the silver of the nearly-full moon was swimming in his eyes above him – or no, too bright for that, because in fact lit from below by a carefully placed lamp, so now, as he approached, Joe could see lizards running all over the god/king… lizards (and he thought this ludicrously, even painfully, given what he needed to concentrate upon) attracted by the insects on Sihanouk that were, in turn, attracted by the lamplight… and then he thought about that thought and knew he was observing his thought self-consciously still because of the opium he had smoked earlier, at Madame Chhum’s, the opium whose pungent taste even now lingered between his teeth and inside his tongue, somehow both sweet and bitter, the opium that made his thoughts wrap themselves around each other, twist inside each other and open passageways that led past tens of doorways which might open at any moment and lead down other passageways… and it was being too deeply inside that thought that led him not to notice he was veering to the right, not to notice so that now he had to wrestle the cyclo leftwards, still half-hoping to go forwards as well, still somehow to win because the tree was only twenty yards ahead, but it was no good, the front wheel was pointing left but the weight of everything behind it, the hooded seat and the wheels and Keane himself, was dragging it still to the right, so that his back right wheel was slipping more and more into a shallow ditch, and he made a final effort, standing on his pedals feeling that his breath was squeezed hard as though his lungs might burst, but no, it was no use, and he slipped further into the ditch and the whole ungainly contraption toppled onto its right side, and he saw Cook go flying past him to the jacaranda where he stopped and jumped out of his cyclo and danced about him with his arms in the air.

***

I’m not quite halfway through the book but already have loads of questions. Here are a few:

 

  1. Ian, do you have any personal experience of the diplomatic service? If not, what kind of research did you do in order to portray this particular social group so convincingly?

I’ve never worked as a diplomat, but I think it’s important that the novel tackles political questions and if you focus on a diplomatic community you’re involved in politics straight away. In particular, it’s important for British writers to explore the colonial experience, especially given the extent to which writers in colonized countries have focused on that history from their perspective. So I researched the lives of ambassadors and other Embassy staff, and read memoirs of diplomats, including ones that described that life in the time and place of The Crocodile Princess.

 

  1. How long did it take you to write the book and did you use any time management software to help you? (What do you think of such software in general?)

It took me three years – some days I only wrote about two hundred words, and I revised the first draft extensively. I’m not even aware, to be honest, of what time management software is!

 

  1. One of the things I adore when reading The Crocodile Princess is the way you weave in witty observations that make the characters immediately come alive in a line or two. I also have the impression that it is at times a very thin line indeed being drawn between humour and disdain. Why did you decide to give characters this edge and have you personally ever been at the receiving end of such treatment?

The focus on comedy arose from the element of alternative history, where I invented an alternative life for the comedian Peter Cook. I wanted this component to throw a defamiliarising angle on the politics. I love the idea of the novel as a polyphonic form that incorporates multiple voices and languages. So I conceived of the satirical comedy as a language which would be a source of imagery – as in the references to the domino effect, for example. The element of disdain in it might be connected to the class aspect, of Cook’s upper-middle class origins (his father worked for the Foreign Office in Nigeria). And that might also indicate that I wanted some distance from Cook, which was why I invented Waldo Vaughan as an angry left-wing Welsh nationalist comedian as an alternative which unfortunately never occurred.

 

  1. Another thing I admire: the philosophical remarks which lift the plot beyond the mere happenings within the diplomatic circle yet without rendering the book too high-brow or know-it-all. Are any of these opinions ones you share or were they attributed to your characters much in the way you would choose the colour of their hair or select for them the right spouse?

I agree with some of them and not others. One of the things I wanted to depict was a kind of ideological norm for 1962 – people being racist, sexist, homophobic, and snobbish – but above all casually, as part of a set of unquestioned assumptions. Hector Perch, the left wing journalist, is the character whose views I would most naturally share, but – partly for that reason – I wanted to show him being alarmingly wrong in his political diagnosis of Cambodia. One of the ready resources you can draw upon in a novel set in 1962 is the ironies that arise from having characters have perceptions which readers – from their knowledge of subsequent events – realise are shockingly wide of the mark.

 

  1. A critic whose name unfortunately escapes me said that a novel in verse is an abomination. You write novels as well as poetry. How useful do you find the distinction between poetry and prose in contemporary literature?

I wouldn’t want to write a verse novel because the form of poetry, to my mind, would be too awkward. But the idea of poetry being dialogic and novelized, as theorized by Bakhtin, is very important to me. And my own poems have always invented characters who speak the poems, and they have overlapping points of view where voices collide. And I like to think that in my fiction I call upon forms of imagery which I’ve learned from writing poems.

 

  1. Tell me more about the cover.

Adam Craig at Cinnamon designed it. He came up with several alternatives, but I thought that the understated reference to Angkor Wat was cool and laid-back in a way that appealed to me.

 

  1. What’s something the readers don’t know about one of the protagonists: something you had in mind when writing the book, but which didn’t make it into the final version?

It’s not so much a character thing. A pun on ‘backwater’ haunted me: that word is repeatedly applied to Phnom Penh. It’s important that the city was patronised in that way, because it means that outlandish stuff could happen there that wouldn’t have been tolerated in Paris or Moscow. But I also thought of the word as referring to the astonishing yearly event in the city, when its river reverses its flow. That image was connected for me to the central themes of the novel’s ‘alternative’ nature – its focus on systematic disorientation, of a deep-seated bewilderment which I hoped would express how little in control people are of what is underlyingly shaping their lives.

 

  1. What are you reading right now and why would you recommend it?

I’m reading Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful, which is a novelised version of the lives of jazz musicians like Duke Ellington and Thelonius Monk. Based on facts but extending what is known through fictive speculation. I’d recommend it because it does what I most admire – it is beautifully, accessibly written so you feel compelled to keep reading, but it also asks fascinating, complex questions.

 

The same can be said of The Crocodile Princess. Definitely. Thanks, Ian, for sharing your views with me. Some people think the author doesn’t count and that we should approach the book as an autonomous work of art. I’m not one of them. Ian’s answers allow me to get so much more out of reading his novel. And I hope they make you interested in finding out more.

Mut@tus

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between the virtual and the real, between knowledge and doubt. Between the meaning, and consequences, of the ‘I’…

mutatus revised front cover

‘This is quite simply one of the most extraordinary and brilliant books I have ever read. Dark, disturbing, and forensically brilliant at dissecting twenty-first century sexuality. It has everything Anais Nin and Brett Easton Ellis have, wrapped up in the same incredible package.’ (Amazon)

‘Of all the books I’ve read, this has divided me against myself more than any other.’

‘This goes beyond erotica, beyond the culturally censurable. It is sheer beauty as was Henry Miller at his most liberated.’  (Authonomy)

‘I jumped at the chance to read more by this obviously talented and original authoress. I was not disappointed – ‘blown away’ would be a more appropriate description. This is an abridgment of a novel which pushes the boundaries of women’s literary fiction to its limits – a D.H. Lawrence type moment (…) I can’t say enough good things about this novel. This is a haunting work which will stay in my head for a long time.’

‘This is such a surprise! Wonderful writing, scintillating ideas and rich use of language and character. This is something I would happily read and buy copies for all my friends (maybe not my Mum, though).’

‘I don’t know what tablets you’re taking, but do, please, keep taking them. They seem to be working wonders. If you can get them on the NHS, please let me know.’  (Brian L.)

UK’s leading magazine Female First finds out more.

MUT@TUS.  available at bookstores including:
Waterstones

Barnes&Noble

Book Depository

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon France

Amazon Germany

Long Time: Waiting

SHE’s: young, fresh over from Jamaica, looking for a new life in 1960s London. She coudln’t be bothered to learn the national anthem. They let her in anyway.

HE’s: got red hair, blue veins, she’s got no idea how old he is but he looks like a fish. In his ordinary life he lives on the seventh floor with a wife who cleans spud juice from her fingernails with a knife.

THEY: happen to meet at a bus-stop. The rest is history.

*

“Jack!” Monica prodded him, “C’mon, you’ll be late for work. Jack… you playing wiv yourself?”

“Wot time is it?”

“Time you stopped wanking and brought some money in!”

“Know wot? You’re as common as muck.”

She leant over, squashing her breasts against his arm, said, “Give ’ere, let me do that for ya…”

But he yanked the sheets back and marched his cheated hard-on out the bedroom.

They hadn’t done it for ages. There he was, wanking off next to her and there she was, only too willing. Monica fell back onto her pillow, wondered what she might be doing wrong, but then thought fuck it, she snatched her cigarettes from the bedside table.

*

“Hello again,” said Jack as he reached the bus-stop, wearing a grin so wide almost all his teeth were on show. “You and I must stop meeting like this or tongues will wag, you know!”

“I don’t know what yu mean!”

“Don’t you, now. We’ve met here at least a dozen times… wot’m I saying,” he interrupted himself, “dozens! And I get a glimpse of you almost every day, or every other day. You never have a friendly word to say to me though I know you don’t dislike it.”

“Is what yu tink I can possibly have to say to someone like you?”

“Well, you could smile once in a while and say, “Hello, Jack, fancy meeting you here,” or “Hello, Jack, nice to see you again,” you know, something like that. Nice n friendly, like.”

“Nice an frenly me back foot!”

“Wot have you got to be so defensive about, eh? I don’t hiss or whistle as you go past like your lot do. Well, do I? No, I most certainly do not! I’m just nice n friendly, as I said. So wot’s a young girl like you got to be so uptight about, anyway, eh?”

“If is woman yu deh look go look inna yu own kind an inna yu own age, yaah.”

“I beg your pardon?!” It was far too loud to be a real whisper. One or two heads turned. Jack put his back between them and Rose, “How old d’you fink I am, then?” Did he look a mess? He knew Monica could look a damn sight better but he thought he wasn’t doing too badly.

“Yu old enough to be me farda, yaah.” Rose turn her face the other way look down the road.

Wot? Don’t make me laugh!”

But he did. “If I started having kids at fifteen like your lot seem to then I could be your father, grant you that.” She had a nerve! Old enough to be her father indeed! “I’m only -”

“How old you is don’t interest me.”

“Wot does interest you, eh?”

“Wat me do is none a fi yu business.” Is wat mek im no go weh an leff me alone, im is a blasted nuisance, she thought. An where di blasted bus deh?

No blasted bus, near or far, but Lou, as luck would have it, a little up from the bus-stop, Lou stepping out of the newsagent’s and heading their way, hunched over her cigarette.

“Oh ello, Emily! On your way home, are you?”

“Yes, see you.” Rose managed a meaningless exchange for a second or two, but glanced up only briefly at the voice that had so stabbed into her privacy.

“Wot you looking for, then? In a bag that small can’t be too hard to find anyfing, can it? I mean there’s not a lot you put in your bag when you’re going to work not like when you’re going out somewhere special I’m off somewhere nice tonight. Fink I might pop out again this aftanoon n see if I find somefing to doll me up a little bit noffing I hate more’n a woman who lets herself go, can’t be surprised if her old man’s eyes start doing the walkies, know wot I mean? Course, me n my old man we’re just like we were from the beginning, wouldn’t change im for the world n he wouldn’t want no other woman, either, I see he’s alright. No-one goes running after a bit a scraggy chop when he’s got steak at home, know wot a mean? Anyhow I must be off, listen, you fancy coming out for a round of bingo sometime? All girls togevva, we don’t half ’ave a good laugh I got noffing against you lot. My Michelle had a golly when she was little got it from her auntie Diane. Loved that little golly, she did. Really, must go, got a fousand n one fings to do before the day’s done. Cheerio, Emily. See you tomorrow!”

You know them people who talk non-stop? No business if you show no sign of interest, just talk talk talk without them even stop to draw breath? This is a kind of person Rose could never stand, like a whistling woman and a crowing hen; they were an abomination. For one long moment, Rose stood with her eyes closed, her head tilted back, as if knocking back some nasty cough syrup. Said,

“Here yu bus.”

Silence.

“Emily -”

Rose jump. He had said her name so sadly, so painfully, but never the pain which she had felt.

*

Emily Thompson (Rose to her friends), the protagonist, epitomizes the strong, funny, suspicious nature of the Outsider daring to go for a new life in a foreign country. She epitomizes the strength of dreams. She’ll reveal to us a lot about how the Jamaican family works and although she’d never use the word feminist it’s still true to say that she is all about independence, equality and betterment.

(Joan Barbara Simon, interviewed by Sezoni Whitfield for Writer’s Kaboodle)

Beautifully written. Joan Barbara Simon is a wordsmith par excellence. (The Sunday Gleaner)

A magical reggae-type experience full of pride poise & grace (Amazon)

Intelligent, humorous, tragic and sensual. Contemporary British literature at its best.   (A.A., London, U.K.)

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