Five Days Later

Five days ago, I published She Wrote It, But…., which would turn out to be a liberating decree nisi for a long-time separation.

My intention had been to follow it up with the positive version, “She Wrote It, And…” But I was deterred by the pleasant truth that it would take way too long and I’m trying to write a book here 🙂 The positive version belongs in the Acknowledgements to Lucia’s War and that is where it will go. I will strive to leave no-one out. Margaret Madden does get a shout out though. She saw the soul in my book, and saved mine. Thank you 🙂

I don’t regret or walk back a word of my blogpost, but since I hit “post” a revolution has been going on in my head. After anger, I’ve reached a point of deep calm. It was well past time to disinfect this whole thing with sunlight, and now it’s over.Continue reading “Five Days Later”

She Wrote It, But…the Irish Literary Fiction Edition

Note: this is an exercise based on Joanna Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing. I adapted it for my own use.

Yesterday, at a time of great mental duress, I took a biro and notebook and started writing; soon I covered two pages. It was a deeply therapeutic exercise. I post the annotated notes from my scribbles below in the hope that it will be of use to some besides me!

(Readers will be reassured to know there will be a positive version of this post, “She Wrote It, And…” which will be posted up shortly after this one.)

She wrote it, but she isn’t well-connected among people like us, people who matter – who’s heard of her?

She wrote it, but she’s an awkward loudmouth with notions and no tact.

She wrote it, but one of us was meant to write the World War I novel, not her, and we would have done so with more skill and subtlety.

She wrote it, but she’s an Irish Catholic woman. That’s triply the wrong demographic to write about WWI; we’re Irish and we say so.Continue reading “She Wrote It, But…the Irish Literary Fiction Edition”

Writing Other Cultures When You’re White

I was going to start this off with some mealy-mouthed title about power differentials or marginalised voices or other intersectional stuff or the like, but decided all that was just being evasive. Because what I’m doing is writing a book narrated by a person of colour, and I’m white. There’s been a lot of discussion about people doing that recently. So I wanted to address it.

I’ve been following the American Dirt controversy and not gonna lie, it made me nervous. My thoughts, for what they’re worth: I feel deeply sorry for the author, who, I believe, surely wrote her book with the best of intentions and intended no malice or hurt, but has dealt with a lot of controversy. This threatens to overshadow the good that might be in the book. I feel equally sorry for the overlooked Latino/a voices who were there before her, have written compelling fiction about migration, but never got the benefit of a seven-figure advance. If I were in their position, I’d be boiling mad.

(To be honest, I think the seven-figure advance is a very large part of the problem.)

The #OwnVoices hashtag had popped up on my timeline every now and then, but I really viscerally experienced it when listening back to the White Feathers audiobook. Having an Irish author, and Irish protagonist and an Irish actress meant that when Eva finally loses and calls the love of her life a “fucker”, it was pronounced in the deepest bogger accent you could possibly imagine, in spite of the rest of her dialogue being RP. I didn’t have to attribute the dialogue. The actress knew. That’s the power of Own Voices.

When going outside that boundary, I’m conscious of the need to research properly, employ appropriate beta readers, check language, be edited well and also be mindful of well-worn, clichĂ©d paths and stereotypes to avoid. I’m also happy to be publishing Lucia’s War myself, at my own (considerable) expense to ensure quality. Not traditionally publishing means that I am blocking no gates, nor filling any space a more marginalised author might deserve to take in a white-dominated industry. Furthermore, Lucia Percival as a character is not new – she already had a significant presence in White Feathers. She is not downtrodden; she is a musician, and a survivor. Not to mention that Black British history around the period in question, 1917-1919 and beyond, was a joy to read about.

I’ve also read, and been inspired by, the works of Andrea Levy and Lola Jaye. I’m checking out Nalo Hopkinson too, and enjoying her lyrical narratives.

I am aware that many people nowadays feel that it is not acceptable to write outside the lines when it comes to protagonists, particularly if you are in a very established group. I respect that opinion – and absolutely respect the preference of those who might not read such books as a result – but I don’t agree. Because I feel this is a worthwhile endeavour – when done with care and attention -and I hope the fruits prove my instinct right.

If you are interested in reading a work of mine that is not Own Voices to see how I get on, feel free to subscribe here to get a free story set in WWI and the eve of the Sudeten invasion, featuring romantic love – and friendship – between men. I hope you enjoy.

Free Short Story: Unfortunate Stars

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Unfortunate Stars follows war veteran Friedrich as he reminisces about a battlefield encounter twenty-three years earlier that changed his life. Click on the image to subscribe and get a free copy.

I have finally managed to finish up work on a short story that will be available to subscribers to my mailing list. I’ve worked hard on this and honestly cannot wait to share. All you have to do is sign up with your email address!

It is called Unfortunate Stars after a line from a poem by Goethe. It’s a story set during World War 1 and the “Peace in our time” agreement in the Sudetenland in 1938. The story is part of the White Feathers universe, and contains a character readers will recognise, and perhaps have missed 🙂 but it isn’t necessary to have read the book to follow it.

There is an option often taken to add content warnings, but first I would like to add some content encouragements. It’s about 10,000 words long. All the main characters are male, which is a new journey for me; I hope I do it justice. It contains m/m romance, a battle, male friendship, enemies-to-bromance (is that a thing? It is now), lots of Latin, a bit of swearing (but only when talking about Nazis) and a few brief, non-gratuitous references to the Holocaust.

Most importantly, it’s about how we can still unite across languages and borders, even at war, even in these divisive times. I really hope you enjoy it, and leave a review on Goodreads should you be so moved.

Click here to subscribe for your free story

Mailing List, Freebie Story and Other Sundries

Well! It’s been a busy and enjoyable few weeks since Margaret Madden kindly hosted the cover reveal for Lucia’s War, a new story of music, motherhood and racial struggle during WWI. During that time I pretty much parked on Twitter promoting the ARC giveaway, now closed. There is more work to be done before the ARCs will be ready, but they should be available in March.

(Book bloggers, if you are interested in an e-ARC and have not already contacted me yet, please comment here, @ me on twitter or facebook, or drop me a mail at contact@susanlanigan.com)

I also started up a mailing list for everyone who would like pre-order info. It has gained a few users, but I made the classic marketing error of not having any gifts available for tempted subscribers. While I am working on another, unrelated project at present, I do hope in the next fortnight to have a free story available from a piece I have already written. It is set during a counter-attack in the Battle of Loos in 1915, in the White Feathers universe, entitled “Finding a Common Tongue”. An injured German second lieutenant encounters a traumatised English lance-corporal on the battlefield; they struggle to communicate at first, and then confess their stories to each other and form a real bond. This will only be available to subscribers on the mailing list so do sign up if you are interested!

Thanks to all here and looking forward to having more updates available soon 🙂

Now You Know: Writing Historical Fiction In a Dangerous Present

Audio of this blog entry available here:

Should we or shouldn’t we? That is the question.

I’m sure I’m not the only author who questions her moral right to create fiction in a world where facts and events are coming at us hard and fast. I am not going to mention any distressing items in this post, but the merest glance at the news sites, or at twitter, will provide sufficient enlightenment, or endarkenment, as the case may be. We are inflicted with “garbage leadership”, to use Elizabeth Gilbert’s phrase, exactly when we need strong guidance at the helm. A particularly unsavoury example among all the muck waded through – and there is a lot of muck – has to be the Prime Minister of Australia, whose response to the plight of his stricken country was to put up a fundraising link that went straight to his own party.

As for me, my inner critic is harsh and relentless, and that’s before I’ve written a word: How dare you, she hisses. How dare you presume to tell escapist fables, instead of squaring your shoulder to bear the load of responsibility that now falls on you? How can you presume to do something as frivolous as write romances, or historical tales, or siren songs to readers desperate for escape? How dare you even consider escapism? You coward. You shirker of moral duty. You waster of time when we need to be alert, ready, fighting the enemy. You switcher-on of electric lights, you skipper of zero-waste meetings, you boiler of water in the kettle, you worthless, car-dependent parasite. How dare you?

Yes, I am Mrs Humphrey Ward in my own head. I belabour myself with endless white feathers. What a lovely inner landscape to carry around.

But another voice, beyond this screaming virago, susurrates gently in my mind. Now you know, it says, now you know. All the more important that you write now.Continue reading “Now You Know: Writing Historical Fiction In a Dangerous Present”

Why We Are Not Done with World War I

Audio of this blog entry available here:

I was at a lovely dinner with some other novelists recently (after a long hiatus from that world) and one of my dining companions, whose sharp narrative style I admire a lot and envy a little, told me: “I can’t publish my Victorian novels traditionally because publishers keep telling me that they only want World War II.”

Not only Victorian novels. World War One has apparently gone out of fashion too. Of course the centenary – the one the Irish Times said I “got out my novel in time for” – has passed. White Feathers did indeed come out in August 2014, bang on almost 100 years after England declared war on Germany for the first time. But now the centenary of the 1918 armistice has passed, as has the 101st anniversary of a post-war snap pre-Christmas general election, which was marked almost precisely on the day by the holding of…another snap pre-Christmas general election, the less said of which the better.

(The first election features in Lucia’s War, btw, as a background detail. I don’t bother mentioning the outcome – Tories lost by a huge margin – as protags are far too busy doing… other stuff.)

So, we’ve all moved on. Readers don’t want all that WWI stuff any more. It’s too long ago. Too irrelevant. Too often repeating the same themes. Is that right?

I insert exhibit A into my argument for the contrary:Continue reading “Why We Are Not Done with World War I”

Lucia’s War – Dramatis Personae

These people have been populating my head for the past while, so I want to share them with you – I’m looking forward to readers getting to know them better next year, if they don’t recognise them already, that is! For the gentlemen in Lucia’s life, I also have visuals 🙂

Lucia Percival, by the time this novel begins, is an accomplished opera singer, a dramatic soprano with considerable coloratura range, whose talent and ambition are hampered only by attitudes towards her race. But in the late Forties, on the eve of her last performance, she has no intention of going onstage, and she has a story to tell. Thirty years earlier, as a poor, ambitious young Jamaican girl seeking her fortune as a musician in London during the First World War, her life took a wrong turning and has never recovered its course. Her brother Reginald is also overseas, on active service, and bitter about his prospects, to an extent which alarms Lucia.

Her friend Eva is her Irish housemate – and, being white if not of high class, a useful ally, helping Lucia meet people, manage a life in a hostile city, and get herself together again. But can she be relied upon while struggling with demons of her own and cranky a lot of the time? Eva’s friend Sybil, an aristocrat living a dangerous life, is intelligent but has little time for Lucia.

Edgar, a fellow Jamaican, was supposed to study at the Bar, but ended up in a munitions factory then became a private investigator. Lucia seeks him out for certain details.

William Butler Yeats is a rather annoying Irishman in his mid-fifties, whom Lucia encounters at a séance in Euston Square and has to work hard to shake off. Writes poems too.

Arthur, a charismatic and seemingly easygoing African-American composer, is drawn to Lucia and they share an intellectual and emotional bond as musicians. But while he understands her in a way few else can, Lucia is uncertain if she can confide her secrets in him.

Here is a visual of Arthur as I see him, represented by the tenor Lawrence Brownlee:

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Image from lawrencebrownlee.com – who is a lovely singer and well worth checking out

Robin, on the other hand, Scottish doctor and “ginger midget”, who forges a different bond with Lucia during the thick of battle, is blunt, forthright and “Lord Mayors” (swears) far too much – not to mention challenges Lucia to a game of chess with fiery results! But when it comes to his family, he is not quite so courageous, with disastrous results…

Here is a visual of Robin as I see him, represented by the actor Scott Grimes:

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courtesy of imdb.com – and Robin’s the kind of guy who would *totally* have the top button open!

Lilian, meanwhile, is an old woman scarred by the war, and its rules on how she is expected to behave in the face of great loss. Damaged and lost, rejected by society, she falls into Lucia’s life and the fellow feeling between the two women, as well as the secrets Lilian uncovers, galvanises Lucia in spite of herself.

And of course there is the most important character, the centre of Lucia’s life, whom I will refrain from discussing at this juncture, but who absolutely informs her decisions, her life and her regrets…

So, that’s it!

And The Singing Will Never Be Done

11/11/1918

Everyone Sang

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on – on – and out of sight.

Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away … O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.

Siegfried Sassoon

A Legend and an Inspiration: Jessye Norman, Dramatic Soprano

I learned today, with sadness, of the opera singer Jessye Norman’s passing at the age of 74. She was a vocalist who had the power to move mountains, and a deeply serious musician. Her loss is mourned all over the world.

During my research for Lucia’s War I have listened to many singers,  but it’s safe to say the book is deeply influenced by Ms Norman’s sublime work, and Lucia’s later character by the aura she carries. There is an imperial streak to a dramatic soprano, and Jessye Norman always had it in her bearing. Strauss’s deceptively easy Last Songs, heard in my mind as rendered by Ms Norman, feature near the beginning of the book (don’t worry, it’s not an anachronism!)

But if any of her wonderful repertoire stands out for me, it must be her rendition of Iseult’s ecstatic, despairing Liebestod at the end of Tristan und Isolde (which resonates in the fictional universe as the story of an Irish princess who cannot live without her lover) which Lucia, with her temperament, could not but someday sing when at the zenith of her God-given talent.

Thank you for the music, Jessye Norman. The world is a little meaner for your departure. If you can, take part of a morning to have a listen to her works. She was wonderful.