Plug of the Month – The Iron Chariot by Stein Riverton, translated by Lucy Moffatt

 

This is a bit late, because ‘The Iron Chariot’ by Stein Riverton and translated by my clever and talented big sister, Lucy Moffatt, has been out for several weeks now. I’m pleased to say that it’s doing well in the Kindle Scandinavian Crime Charts, so this  plug can’t hurt.

‘The Iron Chariot’ was written a hundred years ago and is considered by most to be the original Norwegian crime novel. In  a remote Norwegian community, the locals believe the sound of the mysterious iron chariot presages death. The book opens with the discovery of a body just after it has been heard in the village. The mystery deepens when, after the chariot is heard a second time, another body is found, but this time it is the corpse of a man who died years earlier. As the unnamed narrator begins to be drawn into the investigation, he becomes more and more unsettled by the eerie goings on.

This is a spooky and blackly funny book with a great detective, Asbjorn Krag, whose apparent eccentricities hide a razor sharp mind.  Lucy’s translation is beautiful, both capturing the spirit of the time and setting, and building the brooding atmosphere that makes the novel so interesting. Translation is a very fine art that can make or break a novel, and Lucy’s does Riverton proud.

‘The Iron Chariot’ is published as an ebook by Abandoned Bookshop, the new publisher that specialises in bringing long forgotten masterpieces back into our lives.  It was co-founded by the wonderful Scott Pack, who is also my editor at Unbound, so that’s another good reason to plug it. Please do go and check it out, and take a look at other  Abandoned Bookshop titles too. You won’t regret it.

Unbound Debuts – (1) Shona Kinsella

shona

A lovely thing about being part of the Unbound gang has been getting to know a lot of authors over the past year, who like me, have crowdfunded their debut novel. We’ve all kept each other going through the highs and lows and celebrated as each book reaches 100% funding.  And as they move from production to publication, I will be using this blog to introduce some my fellow authors to you.

First up is Shona Kinsella, whose fantasy novel ‘Ashael Rising’ was published last week.   ‘Ashael Rising’ is a fantasy novel and the first in the Kaladene series. It tells the story of Ashael, a hunter gatherer on the world of Kaladene, who may be the key to keeping her people safe from the invading Zanthar.  It looks great, and I like the fact it is set in a world of gender equality, and both men and women are able to behave as they wish rather than according to stereotypes. And as always Unbound have created a beautiful cover…

ashael-rising-cover

In the last year Shona has not only successfully funded the book, and got it to publication, but she has also recently given birth again. Congratulations Shona! And her great blog post describes why it is so important to ensure her female characters are realistic.  

Writing Female Protagonists

by Shona Kinsella

 

I have been reading fantasy novels for as long as I’ve been able to read and in the vast majority of those novels, the protagonist was male. This is actually a pattern that is true for all genres that I read – note that I don’t tend to read romance, which has a much higher occurrence of female protagonists.

In Ashael Rising, I did not set out to write a female protagonist because of this – the book is based on a dream and Ashael is very loosely based on the role that I played in the dream and so she is female because I am female. However, it occurred to me after I had started that I had the opportunity to do something different. With a few notable exceptions, the women I have encountered in fantasy novels tend to come in broad stereotypes – the damsel in distress and the warrior in a dress being the most common in my experience.

I knew that I wanted to write a real woman. Ashael is strong because she knows the right thing to do and does it, not because she can wield a weapon. There is romance in her life but she is complete without it and it is not her first priority. She does not wait for a man to save her but is perfectly capable of saving herself. Like so many women, she gives to the point of self-sacrifice but she does this from a place of love, not out of a lack of self-worth.

I realised that one character, one woman, would make no difference if she was surrounded only by men. Ashael Rising has several significant female characters. Bhearra, Ashael’s mentor, is perhaps my favourite. She is the oldest person in the community – so old that she has lost track of her age. The healer and spiritual leader of the community, she is vibrant and tireless, rising before dawn and working long after many others have settled down for the night. Long widowed, she has an occasional lover. Although she has her flaws, which I can’t say much about, Bhearra is the type of woman I aspire to be.

Rana, Ashael’s best friend, is co-leader of the community with her mate, Joren. Rana has a nurturing soul and mothers everyone, cooking for others and making sure they are well-clothed. She is also a skilled hunter, often providing meat for them all. She supports the weight of her community and makes sure to know what’s happening in the lives of the people she cares for.

Alayne, close friend of Ashael and Rana, is heavily pregnant when we meet her but that doesn’t stop her flirting with Iwan. After her son is born, she happily co-parents with her mate, Gethyn, while still joining hunting and foraging groups. Alayne is brave, volunteering for a task that could result in her death.

Then there are the females of other races that we are only introduced to in Ashael Rising. Merelle of the Zanthar, a scheming manipulator and adulterer, happy to play every political game available to her in order to gain power.

Tchalikila of the Agnikant, a sorceress who knows more about Ashael’s past than our heroine does herself.

One of the things that was very important to me in writing these women was that they owned their bodies and their sexuality. For too long, women have been portrayed as play things for men to enjoy. Now, I do not actually have any sex scenes in the book but there are clear references to that facet of human relationships. Bhearra has a “friend with benefits”, Rana is happily mated in every way and Merelle is aggressive, taking what she wants. As for Ashael, well *spoilers*.

Having created these strong, rounded women, I needed to give them a society that they could thrive in, one built around respect and equality of all people, a utopia of sorts. That was more difficult than I expected. I found myself slipping into the familiar – having a man dismiss something as female intuition, defaulting to having women carry out all of the caring duties and food preparation etc. It took a conscious effort to remove these things. In doing so, I thought about the boxes that we shove men into and how restrictive traditional gender roles are for them too.

I started to think about how men are so often portrayed as stoic, unemotional, power hungry. Writing characters like that would be no fairer to men than the damsel-in-distress is to women. I started to think about how masculine stereotypes can be harmful to men and what I might be able to do to counter those stereotypes.

Here, in the UK, men are often put under pressure to show no emotion, to ‘man up’ and pretend that they do not have feelings so I decided to show the men in my book in all their emotional glory. Iwan experiences fear both for himself and for his mother. We also get to see him falling in love. Joren shares his doubts with Rana, admitting that he does not know how to lead the community through this crisis. He gratefully accepts her support. Colm worries about his mate and misses her when he they are separated.

What began as an intention to write realistic, well-rounded female characters led to an exploration of gender, how it is shaped and expressed in our society and how it could be in a culture where people are encouraged to be the truest version of themselves regardless of their gender. I hope that in this book I have been created characters capable of standing as role models for both young women and young men.

 

Great post. Thanks very much Shona!

You can order Ashael Rising via Unbound or Amazon.

Christmas round up!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Just to remind you the list of great books you could get for Christmas for those last minute shoppers among you, and all those wonderful Unbound books you can pledge to as well!

So here you go:

Julia Williams ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’

Anne Booth   ‘The Christmas Fairy’, ‘Lucy’s Winter Rescue’, ‘Refuge’

Amanda Saint ‘As If I Were A River’

Rachel Crowther ‘The Things You Do For Love’

Jackie Buxton ‘Glass Houses’ and ‘Tea and Chemo’

Antonia Honeywell ‘The Ship’

Yusuf Toropov ‘Jihadi: A Love Story’

And if you’ve run out of time to shop but are still looking for unusual gifts, you can back  Unbound books by Emma Southon,  Paul Holbrook, Alice Jolly, more details here and by Tim Atkinson, Simon Key and Tim West and Tabatha Stirling, more details here.

I believe in the power of stories and all of the above are fabulous storytellers, so please do make their Christmas and buy or back their books today!

Back these books (2)

A continuation of my list of Unbound books for you to back this Christmas…

4. The Glorious Dead by Tim Atkinson

This is another novel dealing with the aftermath of war, but  one that has a very different take from mine. The book is a fictional account of a true story – about the soldiers who remained in France at the end of World War 1 to re-bury the war dead. I’d never heard of this before, so can’t wait to read it and find out more.

5. Open A Bookshop, What Could Possibly Go Wrong? by Simon Key and Tim West.

I love indie bookstores, and though I’ve never been to Big Green Books, I’ve been a fan ever since I learnt of their existence.Additionally they’re based in Wood Green near where I grew up and they have an excellent twitter account, so what’s not to love about the story of how they came into being?

6. Blood on the Banana Leaf by Tabatha Stirling.

Set in Singapore, Blood on the Banana Leaf tells the stories of four different women and explores the effects of loss, madness, violence and hope in their lives. This looks like a fascinating insight into a society I know very little about, and judging by the extract another great read from Unbound.

 

Back these books (1)

I had meant to follow on my Christmas plug of the month with a daily plug for fellow Unbounders still toiling away at the crowdfunding coalface.

Alas, time has run away with me, so I’ll have to do a few at at a time. So, if you are looking for that last minute, unusual gift for a friend or family member, why not back one of these fabulous books?

  1. Agrippina: Empress, Exile, Hustler, Whore‘ by Emma Southon was one of the first Unbound books I backed. It deals with life and times of an extraordinary Roman woman, Agrippina (granddaughter of Augustus, niece of Tiberius, sister of Caligula, wife of Claudius and mother of Nero), and judging by the extract is told with great verve and wit. I think it’s terrific.
  2. Domini Mortum‘ by Paul Holbrook is a supernatural murder mystery set in Victorian London. This one has a wonderful Gothic feel to it,  and has the added advantage of being set in York, which is one of my favourite cities. The opening section completely draws you in. Besides, a novel that starts with death by chocolate surely has to be on everyone’s wish list doesn’t it?
  3. Between the Regions of Kindness‘ by Alice Jolly is a novel that has something in common with ‘Echo Hall’ as it too deals with different generations’ experience of war. Through the stories of Rose in World War 2 and Lara and Jay during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, she explores the cost of peace and the price of conscience. Alice is a fine writer and this one is well worth a pledge.

 

 

Plug of the month (7) -Yusuf Toropov, Jihadi: A Love Story

Earlier this year Amanda Saint, who I’ve mentioned before in this series, ran a competition on her blog. I entered in an idle moment, and won myself a copy of ‘Jihadi: A Love Story'(published by Orenda Books).  I haven’t stopped raving about it since.

Jihadi is presented as the memoir of an ex-CIA agent incarcerated in an American prison ‘the brown motel’ on charges of terrorism. His narrative of events is interspersed with commentary from the psychiatrist who interrogates him, and as the novel progresses, we are forced to question the reliability of both.

The novel switches between events in America and in Iraq, and is peopled with characters on both sides, many of whom are morally ambivalent, but all have motivations we can understand and sympathise with. It is a thriller that asks big questions about the world we live in and reminds me very much of Graham Greene and John Le Carre.

I’ve written a more in depth review here, but suffice to say I absolutely LOVE this novel and hope lots of people will go out and buy it.

Also, I’d like to give a big shout out to Orenda Books which is  a terrific indie press set up by Karen Sullivan eighteen months  and has had remarkable success in that short time.Karen is an amazing publisher  who works extremely hard and  is bringing some great new writers onto our bookshelves.  If you like intelligent crime writing and thrillers go and check out their website. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed.

Plug of the month (6) – Antonia Honeywell ‘The Ship’.

I first heard of Antonia Honeywell via the Curtis Brown Creative newsletter in an article describing her path to publication. Her description of life juggling work, writing and family sounded just like mine, so I warmed to her immediately. And it was wonderfully encouraging to hear how her place on a Curtis Brown writing course had led her to be signed by the renowned agent Jonny Geller.

Since then, I’ve got to know Antonia on twitter, and she was kind enough to back ‘Echo Hall’ just after we first connected. So I was keen to return the favour and give her debut novel ‘The Ship’ a plug.

ship-cover

‘The Ship’ has been described as a YA adult novel, but I think it fits perfectly well under adult fiction myself. It tells the story of a young girl, Lalla, who is living in a dystopian future where only citizens with papers can access decent resources. As the daughter of a former government official, Lalla lives a privileged existence in a secure flat with food and bottled water, whilst others are forced to camp at the British Museum or parks, scrabbling to survive.

As the years past, the situation becomes more desperate and the government more despotic. Fortunately,  Lalla’s father, Michael, has been making preparations, and the family are able to escape in a large cruise ship with five hundred others. At first, it seems a blessed relief to be away from the oppressive mainland, in a ship stocked with enough goods and food to last two hundred years. But soon, Lalla is questioning her father’s behaviour, watching in horror as her fellow passengers begin to act like members of a brainwashed cult.

‘The Ship’ is a well written and thought provoking novel, with a lead character who is initially self-indulgent and spoilt, but gradually grows up and learns what it means to take personal responsibility.  The story is a compelling one that raises a number of interesting questions. What does it mean to be privileged in an unequal world? What happens to a society if you take away all threat and danger?  Is it better to live a life that is safe but authoritarian,or one that is free and filled with risk?

This is another one to put on your Christmas list, particularly if you like fiction that makes you think. I also highly recommend Antonia’s blog where she is currently posting equally thoughtful Advent reflections each day.  Well worth a look.