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Reading: Nick Mulgrew at Bridge Books

Join us for a reading by Nick Mulgrew from his Edge Hill Award-nominated debut Stations, and a new story from his forthcoming collection The First Law of Sadness.

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Book Bites: 23 April 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

Heartbreak HotelHeartbreak Hotel
Jonathan Kellerman (Headline)
Book thrill
A refreshing departure for Kellerman’s Alex Delaware novels. Instead of being thrown into LA’s sick psychosexual underworld, this novel opens with Delaware being asked to meet an almost-centenarian at a once-glamourous LA hotel. He likes the dynamic Thalia Mars, who asks him questions about guilt, victim selection and patterns of criminal behaviour. Thalia, though, is dispatched swiftly, and it’s up to Delaware and his cop pal, Milo Sturgis, to unravel her murder. A heart-thumping romp through LA gangster history, replete with jewel heists and blood feuds, Kellerman’s latest is the most genteel of his novels in a long time – and all the more enjoyable for it. – Russell Clarke @russrussy

Affinity Konar (Atlantic Books)
Book buff
Mischling is a horrifically beautiful novel that follows 12-year-old twins Stasha and Pearl. It’s 1944, and they’ve been brought into Auschwitz and placed in the notorious Mengele’s Zoo. “Angel of Death” Josef Mengele especially sought out twins to perform grotesque experiments on. The fictional tale has been well researched. Mengele is the main factual character. The rest are imaginary but, like the twins, have been modelled on people who suffered during the atrocity. Konar’s artistic prose sucks the reader into a nightmare where children endure the unbearable. The devastating contrast between the writing and the monstrosity creates an eerie and unforgettable read. Keep the tissues close. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

Fiona Cummins (Pan Macmillan)
Book thrill
Former Daily Mirror showbiz journo Fiona Cummins’s debut thriller has a shout by Val McDermid, no less, and is rumoured to be in the works as a TV series. Detective Sergeant Ella Fitzroy is investigating a spate of missing children: her personal life is a mess so she invests her energy in her job, trying to discover what links the abductees. A psychopath is using London as his hunting ground, stealing children with bone deformities so he can add their skeletons to the collection in his private museum. A story the Daily Mirror would love. – Aubrey Paton

Turbo Twenty-ThreeTurbo Twenty-Three
Janet Evanovich (Headline)
Book fling
It’s just more of the same Stephanie Plum adventures: gun-wielding Lula, two unbelievably sexy gents vying for Plum’s attention (the cop Joe Morelli and the mysterious Ranger), her unconventional grandma, and Rex the hamster. Many readers must be hoping that this will be Evanovich’s last, because the magic seems to be dwindling – maybe due in part to the disastrous film adaptation with the badly miscast Katherine Heigl. The banality of this latest endeavour will not change their minds. But if you are looking for nothing more than a light, funny read, Turbo Twenty-Three is not too bad. In this one Stephanie has to go undercover in an ice-cream factory. Hi-jinks involving human lollies and nuts abound. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

Book details

Jacket Notes: Lesley Smailes on why she needed to write about living 10 years in a cult in Cult Sister

Published in the Sunday Times

Cult Sister•Cult Sister
Lesley Smailes (Tafelberg)

Driven by a need for acceptance and a desire to be clean from all the drama of my high-school years, I gave my life to God after I wrote my final matric exam. Soon after finishing school I left on an overseas trip that, instead of being a gap-year, stretched into 10 years of being in a cult in America.

My long-suffering mother suggested I write a book after I returned to South Africa, but it was only 15 years later that I could write it. I wrote with the intention of exposing life in “the Church” – the cult I became part of. There’s plenty of information online about the Jim Roberts Group, but nothing as personal or as revealing as my story. I wanted to share some of the testimonies that surprised and wowed me on that long, strange journey.

My decade in the group radically changed me. It was not a fun, easy 10 years, but it sure was an interesting time. I married a man I hardly knew. I learned more than any university could have taught me. I acquired vital survival skills.

I lived out of a back pack I made myself. We gleaned all the fabric, zips, webbing and buckles for it from factory dumpsters and made designer gear like the camping shops sell. I felt like a fashionable baglady! Not only did we find stuff for camping gear in dumpsters, we found our food there too. Today this is now a hip trend called Freeganism. But we were the originals.

I had all three of my children at home in the cult. I discuss real women’s issues like birth, miscarriage, rape and abortion. I write about the complex inner workings of the church from a married sister’s point of view.

My story, though, is one of hope, forgiveness and healing.

I used the letters I had written to my mom as the skeleton of my book. They helped jog my memory. Memories are such elusive things: hiding, tucked away in the recesses of our mind, lurking in the background and waiting to be brought into the light.

I believe our testimonies are powerful and can help save us from ourselves if we choose to remember them and learn the valuable lessons they are meant to teach us.

Book details

Lives the numbers game: Michele Magwood talks to Paul Auster about his latest novel 4 3 2 1

Published in the Sunday Times

4 3 2 14 3 2 1
Paul Auster (Faber & Faber)

In the first cycle of Paul Auster’s colossal new book, a young boy is recovering in bed, having broken his leg falling out of a tree. He is musing on things more suited to an older child: on happenstance and destiny, on what is predetermined and what is fortuity or accidental. If his friend Chuckie Brower hadn’t asked him out to play, if his parents hadn’t bought a house with a tree in the backyard, if his parents had bought a house somewhere else and he wouldn’t even know Chuckie Brower. “Such an interesting thought, Ferguson said to himself: to imagine how things could be different for him even though he was the same. The same boy in a different house with a different tree.”

“So there, right at the beginning” says Paul Auster, “we’re being told what kind of book this is going to be, and how to read it.” He is speaking from his home in Brooklyn, his famously gravelled voice is warm and he is genial and expansive, despite dozens of interviews and appearances for the new book.

Now 70, Auster is a giant of American letters, frequently bracketed with De Lillo and Roth, or Thomas Pynchon. He is known as a writer of concision and elegant brevity and in latter years there have been murmurs of the Nobel Prize.

At 866 pages, though, 4 3 2 1 is a behemoth, a sprawling Bildungsroman that owes more to the German writer Heinrich Von Kleist than to spare modern stylists. A character’s description of Von Kleist could be applied to Auster here too: “The speed of his sentences, the propulsion. He tells and tells but doesn’t show much, which everyone says is the wrong way to go about it, but I like the way his stories charge forward.”

This is the story – or rather, four stories – of Archibald Ferguson, a Jewish boy born in New Jersey in 1947. He is the only child of Rose and Stanley and first we read of how they met and married. After that the story splits into four different trajectories, four different roads that Ferguson will travel.

In each of the contiguous versions, things change. The circumstances of his parents, for instance. In one Stanley dies in a fire, in another he divorces Rose. One Archie never has to worry about money, another gets by on scholarships and hauling furniture. One is bisexual, another learns he is sterile and will never have children. The extended cast of characters is the same, too, so his cousin Amy becomes a stepsister in one version, in another she’s no relation but Ferguson’s first great love.

Round and around the cycles whirl, charging on, intricately detailed, sentences streaming at times for half a page.

There are important similarities between the four. Every one of them is athletic and adores baseball and basketball, each will become a writer of some sort – poet, journalist, novelist – each loves old movies and classical music. All are precocious readers.

Midway through the book, however, they start to blur and one almost needs family trees to refer to. Is this the Ferguson whose cousin Francie is a saint or a harridan? Whose mother is a brilliant or a middling photographer or who has succumbed to depression? It is frustrating and all the reader can do is be carried along until it crystallises again.

“I didn’t want to write one of those wild fantasy books,” Auster explains. “Where one Archie becomes an astronaut, another becomes a scientist or a criminal. It didn’t seem plausible. They are the same genetic person, they have the same parents, after all. I didn’t want to do anything that seemed juvenile. I wanted to write a very serious book about human possibility.”

It is not a spoiler to say that one Archie dies, appallingly, at the age of 13 at summer camp. Another’s friend dies, equally awfully, at summer camp, a death that will stain that Archie’s life forever. Auster himself witnessed such a death at camp when he was 14, something he says has influenced his writing ever since. In much of his work cruel accidents or disaster strikes. This, then, seems to be the apogee of this theme.

“I think it’s the reason I wrote this book,” he agrees. “I was right next to my friend when he was killed in a lightning storm. It was probably the most important thing that happened to me in my young life. I had a sudden understanding that anything can happen at any moment to anybody. And that the solid ground I thought I’d been walking on up to that moment was not very solid at all. It’s affected me in all kinds of ways and certainly as a writer.”

4 3 2 1 is being described as “the crowning work of a masterful writer’s extraordinary career”. It’s going to be hard to cap that, but Auster has other plans. He was most recently in the headlines describing Donald Trump as “deranged and demented” and is determined to make his voice heard. He is set to become the head of PEN America next year. “Writing articles isn’t very useful, “ he says. “Anything I would publish would be read by people who agree with me. Whereas PEN has more of a presence in the world, a platform from which one can speak out more effectively.”

It reminds us of a note he wrote to JM Coetzee, with whom he has a close friendship. Their letters were published in 2013 in the book Here And Now, and in one he teases Coetzee about their advancing years. “I feel it is our duty to gripe and scold, to attack the hypocrisies, injustices, and stupidities of the world we live in. Let the young roll their eyes when we speak… we must carry on with utmost vigilance, scorned prophets crying into the wilderness – for just because we’re fighting a losing battle that doesn’t mean we should abandon the fight.”

Follow Michele Magwood @michelemagwood

*Listen to the podcast of Paul Auster here.

Book details

4 3 2 1 is also available as an eBook.

Call for submissions for 2018 Golden Baobab Prize now open

Golden Baobab is pleased to announce the call for submissions for the 2018 Golden Baobab Prize. The Prize discovers and celebrates African writers and illustrators of children’s stories and confers awards for their work…

The 2018 Golden Baobab Prize offers three awards:

– The Golden Baobab Prize for Picture Books, for the best story targeting a reader audience of ages 4-8.

– The Golden Baobab Prize for Early Chapter Books for the best story targeting a reader audience of ages 9-11.

– The Golden Baobab Prize for Illustrators for the best artwork that matches illustration briefs provided, intended for children ages 4-11.

Winners of the 2018 Golden Baobab Prize will receive a cash prize of 5,000 USD. In addition to press publicity, winning stories are guaranteed a publishing deal, finalist writers are connected with publishers across Africa and finalist illustrators participate in exhibitions and workshops.

Click here for the submissions guideline

Submit your manuscript for publication by Modjaji Books

Modjaji Books is a singular publishing house which only publishes work by women and people who identify as women, and only those who live in southern Africa, or who are originally from southern Africa, or whose work reflects a major relevance to southern Africa.

This independent feminist press is currently seeking manuscripts for publication.

If you are a southern African woman, or identify as a woman, and have recently written a novel, collection of short stories or poems, or a work of creative non-fiction, you are eligible to submit your manuscript for possible publication by Modjaji Books.

Interested? Click here for more.

Submissions for entries close on April 30.