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#Countdownto5thJune – Matt Whyman – Author Interview

Firstly huge thanks go to Jim Dean at YAYeahYeah for organising this Countdown to 5th June blog tour and for allowing me to be a part of it. You can find links to all of the previous posts and the posts to come on the Countdown Blog.

Next I’d like to thank Matt Whyman for taking the time to answer my questions about War Girls (UK Amazon Link). I’ve added a couple of comments in red – mainly as a private joke with Matt – I promise none of them are “Must Try Harder” though ;o)

Via Amazon

War Girls is a collection of short stories told from the perspective of women during the period surrounding WW1 and Matt is one of the contributing authors. His story Ghost Story was particularly powerful.

 

At the end of June this year it will have been 100 years since the start of WW1. Why do you think it was important to consider the experience of women in the war and why now in particular?

It’s very easy to think of Tommy in the trenches when it comes to WW1, but the fact is women played a vital role in so many different ways. This centenary has certainly embraced wider aspects of the conflict, in terms of coverage in the media, and the anthology seemed like a fitting means of exploration.

We’ve also reached a point where most people with first-hand experience of the war have now passed. Without a direct link to that generation, handing down their stories, it falls to writers to bring the past into the present – and there is some responsibility that comes with that. (There certainly is, and one which I think this set of writers handles very well).

How did the collection come about and how did you get involved?

I’d like to tell you that my incisive knowledge of WW1 made me an obvious candidate to contribute, but that would be, well… lies. (Lies, like the dog ate my homework – tut). I’ve watched a lot of action movies, but I don’t think that counts. In fact, having just published a memoir about life with a sausage dog (riiiiiggghhhht?!) when the author approaches went out, I still think there might have been a mix up somewhere. On the upside, I’m always drawn to a writing challenge. The research was intense and enlightening. It involved reading history books, papers and journals, uncovering news cuttings and talking to historians in a bid to get a clear picture of the event I planned to write about. In the end I found myself doing the same amount of groundwork as I would for a novel. (Well then you definitely deserve an A for effort as well as execution).

Your story in particular considers an experience I don’t think I’ve come across before. What did you learn from writing this piece?

The story is set during the Gallipoli campaign – a disastrous attempt by the Allies to open a new front against the Ottoman Empire. Getting my head around the history took some time, but what compelled me to write about it was an account by a shell-shocked British soldier of an attack from a sniper he claimed to be female. It’s a convincing case, but also called into question by historians who doubt Turkish women took arms.

It left me with a dilemma. The last thing I wanted to do was make claims for the existence of a markswoman who was essentially the product of mistaken identity or a traumatised imagination. At the same time, the defence of the soldier’s account has a great deal of merit. As we’ll never know, given where we are in history, I decided to write the story from the point of view of a grieving mother and widow who picks up a gun by circumstance only to question her purpose. So, she’s there, looking down the sights of a sniper as our soldier claimed. It’s just things aren’t as they might appear. Ultimately, I know what it’s about in my mind, but never like to tell a reader what I’m trying to convey. That’s the role of the story and the pleasure that comes from reading. In other words, I’m terrible at summarising. (No, I think you’re right, it is good to allow readers to form their own views too).

Which other story in the collection do you think brings a new insight?

This is a powerful anthology. Every contributor has sought to shine light on aspects of the war effort that are often side lined. What strikes me above all is that nobody falls into portraying their characters based on our moral outlook today. It’s uncomfortable sometimes, but the only way to truly get under the skin of individuals who served their country one hundred years ago.

You start your story with a short factual piece, do you think this freed you up to then enter into the narrative without the need for explanation during the story itself?

The story was finished before I wrote the introduction. I just wanted to be transparent about the contention surrounding the origin of the story. You could say I was keen to show my workings. As you’re a teacher, I’m hoping this answer will earn me a big tick in the margin.

In your story was it important that the woman remained nameless?

Yes. She has no name and no life ahead of her. Everything she loves has been taken away. She’s a lost soul, waiting to join her loved ones, and effectively dead from the moment we join the story.

At the end of the book are some adverts for other short story collections. How do you relate to short stories in comparison to novels, both as a reader and a writer?

As a writer, short stories are hard work. Every word feels like the compression of a sentence. What you leave out says more than what you keep in. You’re working with less but aiming to say more. I find it to be one of the more rewarding nightmares of the writing process. As a reader, I devoured short stories in my twenties by authors such as Angela Carter and Raymond Carver. I’ve written a lot over the years, but not by choice. I’ve always been approached, never learned to say no, and remain very glad of that whenever I see the finished anthology or collection.

And finally the question I always ask – Why do you write?

For the same reason that I was drawn to put pen to paper in the first place – because there’s nothing to hold back the imagination – no costs or crew to consider, or practical stuff to arrange. With some time and self-discipline, you can sit in a crappy bedsit creating a story that might cost millions to film, but won’t cost a penny. It inspired me as an impoverished 21 year old and I’m still mindful of that today.

 

Huge thanks to Matt for his excellent Grade A ‘Homework’. Matt has been working hard because he is also over at Winged Reviews talking about a solo project on Sunday 25th May.

Tomorrow’s stop on the tour is Nigel McDowell over at A Daydreamer’s Thoughts with Faye.

Faye is also the organiser of Kim Curran’s Glaze blog tour which I will be taking part in next Saturday, the 17th, with a character interview from Glaze.

Matt

#Countdownto5thJune

After the excitement of #UKYADay yesterday, today is the day for another bookish announcement.

I am very excited to be involved in the upcoming Countdown to the 5th June blog tour organised by Jim Dean – @YAyeahyeah. There are tons and tons of brilliant books due to be published on 5th June and this project plans to tell you all about them.

On Sunday 11th May I will be posting my interview with author Matt Whyman about his involvement with War Girls – a collection of short stories from the views of women.

To find out more about this project, and the authors and bloggers involved, you can follow the twitter account @countdownya or checkout the blog here.

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Tape by Steven Camden – Book Review

Tape by Steven Camden – Book Review

3.5 stars (teetering on 4 while writing this review)

Tape is the first novel by Steven Camden – aka the spoken-word artist Polarbear – For a description of the story please see Goodreads. Tape is released on the 30th January 2014.

My copy of Tape arrived in fabulously clever packaging with strips of black paper cut up like spooled cassette tape.

Tape is one of those books that you need to read completely to appreciate fully. As a story told from the joint perspective of two connected characters their relationship is only fully realised in the final pages. I was surprised to read that someone considered the main connection between Ryan and Ameliah as a twist because I felt this was fairly obvious and for me this provided a good hook to keep reading. Just in case it is meant to be a twist I won’t mention it here though.

Different fonts are used to indicate when we are following Ryan and Ameliah, and a third for Ameliah’s tape entries. Dialogue tags aren’t used, instead lines of dialogue start with a dash. Whilst this takes a little getting used to and occasionally it is a bit tricky to work out who is talking on the whole it works fine. I’d be interested to know the reasons behind that decision though.

Ameliah, who is living with her maternal grandmother, is coming to terms with the loss of both her parents. For her, listening to the tapes she discovers in the spare room help her to process this. She is outspoken and sometimes immature, but that’s as much her age as anything else. She is also determined to work out connections, especially between her Dad and the mysterious Joe.

Ryan lives with his Dad and step-mother and step-brother Nathan. Nathan, a child of divorce is sullen and moody and clearly unhappy with his situation. Ryan, however, having lost his mother, appears to be more sympathetic to the needs of his father. There were some touching scenes as the two stepbrothers learned to live with each other a little better. Later in the book we also find out more about their challenging relationship. As well as a fondness for making mixtapes, Ryan uses one as a diary, speaking to his mum.

I wasn’t so keen on the detailed descriptions of everything and I did feel this slowed the pace at times. However, about halfway through as the connections built the pace did too.

I did wonder if the tape could have been used even more to support the story, especially the sections where they’re talking to each other, but then again that might have become too gimmicky.

As a child who grew up in the same era as Ryan I loved lots of the pop culture references and it made me remember making tapes with my sister. There are a few references to Back to the Future throughout and one big nod with a taped conversation near the end. The universe has it’s way of bringing the right people together!

All in all, a cleverly constructed story with likeable protagonists. I may have even been close to shedding a tear or two.

Thanks to Mary Byrne at HarperCollins for my copy. My opinion, as ever, is my own and liable to change like the weather, especially on a re-read that I think this needs. I think there I might pick up lots of little hints along the way. In fact writing this review is already making me appreciate aspects of the book more.

Looking forward to the get together with Steven Camden, Holly Smale and Sarah Lean on Wednesday.

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