Friday 29 November 2019

The Sea Cloak & Other Stories by Nayrouz Qarmout @NayrouzQarmout @commapress #TheSeaCloak

Drawing from her own experiences growing up in a Syrian refugee camp, as well as her current life in Gaza, these stories stitch together a patchwork of different perspectives into what it means to be a woman in Palestine today.

Whether following the daily struggles of orphaned children fighting to survive in the rubble of recent bombardments, or mapping the complex, cultural tensions between different generations of refugees in wider Gazan society, these stories offer rare insights into one of the most talked about, but least understood cities in the Middle East.

Taken together, the collection affords us a local perspective on a global story, and it does so thanks to a cast of (predominantly female) characters whose vantage point is rooted, firmly, in that most cherished of things, the home.

The Sea Cloak & Other Stories by Nayrouz Qarmout  was published by Comma Press on 22 August 2019.  My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.

I've always enjoyed short stories and seem to be reading more collections recently. This is a collection of stories that draw on the author's own experiences of growing up in Gaza. She was born in a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria and moved to Gaza aged eleven.

For someone whose knowledge of Gaza is painfully lacking; I felt enlightened by Qarmout's stories. Written in accessible language with skill and power that is really quite absorbing.
With a theme of 'home' and what homeland means to the author running through them, these stories are both educating and entertaining.
Stunning depictions of the brutality of humans alongside the innocence and hope of children; the author's voice is confident and authoritative.

The lives of everyday people, living in extraordinary circumstances, finely detailed and beautifully written.  I've read some of these stories more than once, and will probably be reading them again soon.

Nayrouz Qarmout is a Palestinian writer and activist. 
Born in Damascus in 1984, as a Palestinian refugee, she returned to the Gaza Strip, as part of the 1994 Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement, where she now lives. 
She graduated from al-Azhar University in Gaza with a degree in Economics. 
She currently works in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, raising awareness of gender issues and promoting the political and economic role of women in policy and law, as well as the defence of women from abuse, and highlighting the role of women’s issues in the media. 
Her political, social and literary articles have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, and online. 
She has also written screenplays for several short films dealing with women’s rights. 
She is a social activist and a member of several youth initiatives, campaigning for social change in Palestine.

Twitter @NayrouzQarmout

Thursday 28 November 2019

The @YoungWriterYear #YoungWriterAward Shadow Panel Winner

julia armfield instagram shadow winner

Last Thursday was final judging day for the Shadow Panel of the Sunday Times / University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award 

I travelled to London to meet with my fellow panel members: Linda Hill from Linda's Book Bag
David Harris of Blue Book Balloon, Clare Reynolds of Years Of Reading Selfishly and Phoebe Williams of The Brixton Bookworm so that we could discuss the shortlisted books and choose our winner under the expert chairmanship of Houman Barekat.

Image preview

After weeks of reading, thinking and discussing, and a strong consensus in favour of the winner at a fascinating judging meeting, we are now ready to reveal who we chose  as our winner.
Julia Armfield, for her collection of short stories salt slow.
In her brilliantly inventive and haunting debut collection of stories, Julia Armfield explores bodies and the bodily, mapping the skin and bones of her characters through their experiences of isolation, obsession, love and revenge. Teenagers develop ungodly appetites, a city becomes insomniac overnight, and bodies are diligently picked apart to make up better ones. The mundane worlds of schools and sleepy sea-side towns are invaded and transformed, creating a landscape which is constantly shifting to hold on to its inhabitants. Blurring the mythic and the gothic with the everyday, salt slow considers characters in motion – turning away, turning back or simply turning into something new entirely.  Julia is a fiction writer and occasional playwright who lives and works in London.

julia armfield twitter
What the panel said: 
“Salt Slow is a pitch perfect collection of nine stories that not only enthralled us all, but also unapologetically puts women absolutely at the heart of each one, and there is a delicious sense of anticipation as you wait to discover their fate. I loved the notion that right at the edge of our world is another of infinite possibilities, and Julia Armfield has undoubtedly written a book that demands subsequent readings to delight in the stunning prose and savour the transformations that each story reveals.” – Clare Reynolds, Years of Reading Selfishly
“Salt Slow is an intriguing and original collection of short stories; an immersive mix of magical realism with contemporary and important issues.
The panel agreed that the writing is both intelligent and searing and is a book that will stand the test of time.” – Anne Cater, Random Things Through My Letterbox 
“I’m thrilled that Salt Slow by Julia Armfield is the Sunday Times / University of Warwick Young Writers Shadow Panel winner. This collection of short stories is not only beautifully written with luminous, descriptive prose, but Julia Armfield takes concepts with which we are familiar in a modern world, such as lack of sleep, and transforms them into fascinating, disturbing and compelling narratives that resonate with her readers on many levels, both personally, socially and globally. Salt Slow is an absolute triumph. I loved it. ” – Linda Hill, Linda’s Book Bag
 “These are stories that centre young women’s experiences, that take the time to express their feelings, indeed to personify those feelings. They have an eerie sense of being at the same time in the mundane world and also somewhere quite different – with the combination being totally compatible, totally to be expected, something to be lived with and through. Taken together this is a strong collection, and a joy to read.” – David Harris, Blue Book Balloon
Salt Slow is a stand-out collection of short stories that brings vivid, imaginative and grotesque tales of transformation to life. Julia Armfield’s irresistible and haunting writing style drew me right into the heart of each story and I’m so pleased that she’s our shadow panel winner.” – Phoebe Williams, The Brixton Bookworm

The official Sunday Times / University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award is announced at a ceremony in London on 5th December

Salt Slow cover

Stay Mad Sweetheart by Heleen Kist BLOG TOUR @hkist @RedDogTweets #StayMadSweetheart #BlogTour

Data scientist Laura prefers the company of her books to the real world – let alone that cesspit online. But when her best friend Emily becomes the victim of horrific cyberbullying, she makes it her all-engulfing mission to track down the worst culprits.
Petite corporate financier Suki is about to outshine the stupid boys at her firm: she's leading the acquisition of Edinburgh's most exciting start-up. If only she could get its brilliant, but distracted, co-founder Laura to engage.
Event planner Claire is left to salvage the start-up's annual conference after her colleague Emily fails to return to work. She's determined to get a promotion out of it, but her boss isn't playing ball.
As the women's paths intertwine, the insidious discrimination they each face comes to light. Emboldened by Emily's tragic experience, they join forces to plot the downfall of all those who've wronged them.
But with emotions running high, will the punishments fit the crimes?
A pacy suspense fiction novel with its feet firmly in the #MeToo era. 9 to 5 meets Suits with a dash of Black Mirror.

Stay Mad Sweetheart by Heleen Kist was published by Red Dog Press on 13 November 2019.
I'm delighted to host a slot on the Blog Tour today and am honoured to share extract from the book with you all.



A tear fell onto the page of my book in a star-shaped splotch. I wiped it with my thumb. The stationery cupboard’s dry, inky air tickled my throat as I sighed.
Those poor people.
The photocopier vibrated against my back, mirroring the movement of the novel’s train carriage, its heat evocative of the bodies pressed together, its persistent humming an echo of the stoic prayers uttered by the captives being transported to their final destination.
I hated to leave them, but my time was up. I waved the still damp page side to side and blew the coldest air that I could onto it. The translucent spot rippled the paper. I closed the book and held it to my chest, stroking its edges. It wasn’t the first one I’d ruined this way.
I heard giggling. The door clicked open. I froze. Restless rustling of fabric, the smacking wetness of lips, and baritone groans filled the tiny space.
‘Hurry up,’ said a woman.
The man whispered, ‘Let me help.’
It may only have been seconds, but the intensifying moans suggested they were being well spent. I shrunk into my slot between the photocopier and the side wall, forced to listen to the unmistakable swoosh of skirt-lining against tights, the metal tear of a zipper, and the thud and tinkle of a belt buckle hitting the floor.
The room’s flimsy rear partition shook against my shoulder. Through a small gap I saw snippets of skin: her braceleted arms outstretched above their heads, the tips of his fingers digging into her wrist.
I looked away. Beside me, rattled pens rolled towards the edge of a metal shelf. I willed them to stay put.
Her voice again, breathless: ‘I have a better idea.’ She cooed, ‘Help me up.’
I stiffened. Up?
The man grunted. The photocopier creaked and a cascade of red curls fell over the side of the machine onto my head. Definitely Sally. But who was he?
I winced. I preferred not to know. But what if they saw me? They’d think I was some kind of pervert. Steeling myself for intense awkwardness, I cleared my throat. Twice.
‘What the...?’ said the guy.
The mass of hair bounced out of view.
My knees complained as I rose. ‘Sorry. I was reading.’
‘Oh my God, Laura, if I’d known...’ Sally hopped off the machine, clutching the panels of her blouse. She swooped down to pick up her skirt, not realising that swift move exposed me to a full-frontal of the newest data science recruit, his stunned face up top and trousers bunched around his ankles below.
My blush felt incandescent. I covered my eyes to let the interrupted love birds regain their modesty, the three of us developing an unspoken understanding that this never happened.
As the door closed behind them, I caught his worried murmur, ‘Do you think she saw it?’ and her replying with a chuckle, ‘If she did, it will have been her first.’
Though it was true, it was unnecessary. I crouched to retrieve the book from my rudely invaded personal haven. The guy’s head popped back in. I jumped, hitting my shoulder against the shelf.
‘Forgot to tell you.’ He smiled meekly. ‘Justin is looking for you.’

THE FILTERED-WATER dispenser in the corridor provided me with much-needed cooling down. The heat receded from my cheeks but immediately fired up again as I saw the clock overhead and stress took hold: I was late.
How did I let time slip away? I grabbed my phone for my regular check-in with Emily, my best friend. The line rang out. I let out a high-pitched whine, torn between wanting to wait to try again and rushing to Justin’s supposedly mission critical meeting.
I walked on.
Five colleagues huddled ahead of me, deep in discussion, drawing flow charts with black marker pens on a long length of wall coated with a special, wipeable paint. One of them spotted me approaching; he nudged another. Their semicircle fell silent and broke open, revealing their work. Hopeful faces sought my contribution, my approval. I passed them with a brisk pace and my most courteous smile.
I dialled Emily again as I strode past rows of desks, their occupants tip-tapping away at their keyboards, their screens faded by the rays of a rare Scottish sun. This time, her line was engaged.
Please God, let them not have found her mobile number, too.
In the lobby, the multicoloured logo of Empisoft stretched across the surface behind the reception desk. Underneath, a shelf showcased our many technology awards, oversized engraved dust-gatherers bearing testament to our team’s hard work. Next to them, an embarrassingly large photo of Justin and me holding yet another trophy, my thin smile doing its best, my eyes missing the lens by a mile.
Liv stood watering the plant next to the visitors’ TV tuned to the non-stop horrors of the outside world. She dried her hands on her cardigan and flashed a motherly smile. ‘There you are. A dose of book time again?’
I nodded, ready to speed on, but my eyeline flicked to the sixty-inch screen. Adam Mooney, the Hollywood star, was exiting Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre and making his way down its stone steps. Saliva flooded my mouth in revulsion.
A sea of outstretched arms shoved microphones towards his angular jaw as reporters pelted him with questions. ‘How do you respond to calls for your arrest for sexual assault?’ I spotted errors in the closed caption transcription. Too many voices. But it perfectly captured his response: ‘No Comment.’
Liv stood at my side. ‘That’s a real tearjerker, isn’t it?’
‘What? You feel sorry for him?’ I asked.
‘No, your book. The concentration camps.’
‘Oh.’ I looked down at the blue-and-white-striped cover. ‘Yes.’
‘I do feel a bit sorry for him, though.’ Liv gazed back at the screen. ‘It’s so easy for this kind of thing to destroy a career. I’m not convinced he deserves to suffer like that.’
I spun towards the boardroom. ‘I don’t think he can suffer enough.’

Heleen Kist has been fondled, patronised and ordered to smile by random men. So she wrote ‘Stay Mad, Sweetheart’, a feminist tale of revenge. Whilst her professional knowledge of technology start-ups fed the novel’s setting, its theme of harassment and workplace discrimination required no research: it is familiar to all women. 
Heleen was chosen as an up and coming new author at Bloody Scotland 2018. Her first novel, ‘In Servitude’ won the silver medal for Best European Fiction at the Independent Publishers Book Awards in the USA and was shortlisted for The Selfies awarded at London Book Fair.
A Dutch strategy consultant living in Glasgow and married to a Scotsman, she’s raising their son to be a good man and their daughter to kick ass.

Twitter : @hkist