The Storyteller of Casablanca by Fiona Valpy

My enormous thanks to Rhiannon Morris at FMcM Associates for inviting me to be part of the blog tour for The Storyteller of Casablanca and for putting me in touch with the author Fiona Valpy for today’s blog tour stop. It’s a real honour to close the tour.

I wasn’t going to review The Storyteller of Casablanca because I am absolutely inundated with books that I ‘have’ to read, but having heard such wonderful things about it from the other bloggers on the tour I couldn’t resist fitting it in. I’m delighted to be able to chat with Fiona about the book and to share my review today.

Let’s find out what Fiona had to tell me:

Staying in with Fiona Valpy

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Fiona and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

It’s my pleasure – it’s great to meet you and I love nothing better than a relaxing night in!

It’s great to meet you too. I rather think I know, but tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I’ve brought The Storyteller of Casablanca, my new novel which was out on 21st September.

A slightly belated Happy Publication Day! What can we expect from an evening in with The Storyteller of Casablanca?

It’s a dual timeline book which tells the story of Josie Duval, a 12-year-old refugee from France, whose family have fled to North Africa to escape the German occupation and attempt to get their papers in order to sail for America. Josie’s story unfurls through the eyes of Zoe Harris, a modern-day expat, who’s come to live in Casablanca with her husband who works in the shipping industry. As the novel unfolds, we learn that something is wrong in Zoe’s marriage and her story becomes entwined with Josie’s.

Where did you get the idea for The Storyteller of Casablanca?

I was inspired to write it when a gentleman in America contacted me to say how much he’d enjoyed reading some of my books and that he wished someone would tell the story of his wife’s time spent in Casablanca as a refugee during the war years. I emailed him back, but got no further reply. He had piqued my interest though. So I started doing some research and discovered this whole strand of war history that I hadn’t known much about before. I’d watched the iconic Bogart and Bergman movie, of course, but it largely ignores the story of the thousands of refugees who ended up in Casablanca as they tried to escape.

What an interesting catalyst for the story. I’ve never seen the film – maybe I should. Was The Storyteller of Casablanca a departure for you then?

The Storyteller of Casablanca includes some themes that I’ve explored in my previous books – what happens to ordinary people when their lives are turned upside down in extraordinary times, for example, and how tales of courage and determination can help inspire us in our own lives. But it was also a joy to delve into a new culture and to read more widely around the subject. I had a research trip to Morocco planned but then the pandemic hit and everything was cancelled – it forced me to be more creative with my research and it became a wonderful escape from lockdown, vicariously roaming the beaches and souks. Storytelling is another important theme and there are many stories told in this book in different ways.

My word. I’ve been to Morocco and you certainly bring it to life accurately. I can’t believe you haven’t been there Fiona!

What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

I’m going to whisk us away to Morocco with some honey cakes and mint tea. I’ve also brought some items that appear in the book, to whet your appetite: a little gold star on a chain; a coral-pink feather; a sliver of jade-green sea glass; and a faded signature on a piece of blue paper. Each one is significant, but you’ll have to read the book to find out why…

Ah! Now I wasn’t going to read The Storyteller of Casablanca before this evening Fiona as I was so pressed for time. However, I heard so many magnificent things about it that I simply HAD to fit it in. Once I’ve given Linda’s Book Bag readers a few more details I’ll share my review!

Thanks so much for staying in with me Fiona. I’ve loved hearing more about The Storyteller of Casablanca.

The Storyteller of Casablanca

In this evocative tale from the bestselling author of The Dressmaker’s Gift, a strange new city offers a young girl hope. Can it also offer a lost soul a second chance?

Morocco, 1941. With France having fallen to Nazi occupation, twelve-year-old Josie has fled with her family to Casablanca, where they await safe passage to America. Life here is as intense as the sun, every sight, smell and sound overwhelming to the senses in a city filled with extraordinary characters. It’s a world away from the trouble back home—and Josie loves it.

Seventy years later, another new arrival in the intoxicating port city, Zoe, is struggling—with her marriage, her baby daughter and her new life as an expat in an unfamiliar place. But when she discovers a small wooden box and a diary from the 1940s beneath the floorboards of her daughter’s bedroom, Zoe enters the inner world of young Josie, who once looked out on the same view of the Atlantic Ocean, but who knew a very different Casablanca.

It’s not long before Zoe begins to see her adopted city through Josie’s eyes. But can a new perspective help her turn tragedy into hope, and find the comfort she needs to heal her broken heart?

Published by Lake Union on 21st September 2021, The Storyteller of Casablanca is available for purchase here.

My Review of The Storyteller of Casablanca

Zoe’s in a new home.

What a simply sumptuous read The Storyteller of Casablanca is. I loved it because Fiona Valpy has created a multi-layered, beautifully written and emotional narrative that mesmerises her reader.

The Storyteller of Casablanca is a perfect title for this book as there are multiple storytellers; from Zoe’s first person contemporary account, through Josie’s diarised narrative, to references to traditional, allegorical, cultural and mythical stories. Add in the iterative image of sleuthing through the Dorothy Sayers books and the relevance and importance of the library, particularly for Josie and there is a literary richness that captivates in Fiona Valpy’s writing.

And richness is a word so easily used to describe Fiona Valpy’s glorious settings in Morocco. She manages to place her reader at the heart of the action through her use of the senses, as well as through historical detail that creates a vivid and colourful sense of time and place. I learnt so much about Morocco in the 1940s as well as recognising the Morocco I have visited because the writing is so authentic. One of the aspects I found so brilliant was the reference to food. Kenza’s cooking in particular made me long to return to Morocco.

The plot is wonderful. I’m not usually a great fan of dual timelines, but the themes that link Zoe and Josie are so relatable and universal that the movement between both eras feels smooth and, actually, essential, in conveying the themes Fiona Valpy weaves into her writing. Through Josie’s innocent eyes and Zoe’s jaded ones we find a real depth of love in many forms, with aspects of trust and betrayal, the need to learn from history, examination of family and friendship, belonging and isolation, grief and happiness all building into an affecting, bewitching story.

I loved the women in The Storyteller of Casablanca. What I thought worked so well is that history is so often the domain of men, but here Fiona Valpy considers the role of women in an authentic and moving way. The narrative feels somehow true to the times it relates and to the characters between its pages. Meeting Josie, I became as obsessed with her as does Zoe. But it was Zoe who captivated me most. Her obsessive behaviour, her failing marriage and her sense of isolation in the midst of bustling Casablanca felt absolutely convincing.

Reading The Storyteller of Casablanca felt as if I’d been given a very precious gift. It’s a book that weaves a magical spell around the reader, entertaining them beautifully even as it educates but most of all moving them through a greater understanding of what love means in so many forms. Don’t miss it.

About Fiona Valpy

For further information, visit Fiona’s website, follow her on Twitter @FionaValpy and find her on Instagram and Facebook.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Staying in with Dennis Roth

It’s always such a privilege to part of an author’s journey and it gives me great pleasure today to welcome a new to me author, Dennis Roth, to Linda’s Book Bag to tell me all about his debut book. Let’s see what he told me when we spent an evening ‘in’ together.

Staying in with Dennis Roth

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Dennis.

Thanks, I’m thrilled to be here with you. Coming across the pond electronically is easier than by boat or plane. A lot cheaper too.

It certainly is! Thanks for agreeing to stay in with me.

I love staying in and being with my wife whom I’ve known since high school. Part of that is having lived in very close quarters aboard a 30-foot sailboat for several years in the Bahamas and Caribbean. On board we learned the skills needed to be alone together.

I imagine so. And how lovely to be together after all these years too.

Tell me, which of your books have you brought along this evening and why have you chosen it?

I’ve brought my debut novel The Bastard’s Inheritance from my series The Bastard’s Trilogy. A prequel to it is coming out in late spring of 2022 and a sequel in 2023.

That’s certainly an attention grabbing title. As The Bastard’s Inheritance is your debut it seems unusual to have a prequel coming out after this one. How did that happen?

I didn’t realize I had a trilogy on my hands until I was just finishing The Bastard’s Inheritance. Though it is the first to be published, it is actually volume #2. Now I’ve filled my plate with deadlines for two more novels before the first is barely out the door.

That’s going to keep you busy. So, what can we expect from an evening with The Bastard’s Inheritance?

The Bastard’s Inheritance is a character driven novel, written from the points of view of the four most important characters.

I love character driven books. Tell me more. Who are the characters?

The legitimate son, the bastard son, the legal advisor to the family, and the son’s girlfriend. We explore their individual thoughts and feelings as the two sons, one a dreamer and the other a narcissist, grow through their coming-of-age years and find themselves thrust into a struggle of good versus evil in the guise of a fight over inheritance. We look at the advisor who is the catalyst for familial difficulties and we find a man too weak to accept the responsibilities of his actions. The girl friend grows from an orphaned childhood into the legitimate son’s guiding strength. In a complicated ending, the winner and the loser of the battle is decided only in the mind of the reader.

That sounds very intriguing indeed.

What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

The Shore

From 36ON 81OW

I’ve brought two of my watercolor paintings.

Forget the books Dennis. Those paintings are simply wonderful.

You see, I believe we can live many lives. Not only have I completely re-made my life three times over, (from engineer/businessman to watercolorist to novelist) I have this feeling deep inside that centuries ago I was an Italian scholar/merchant from Siena. Donato Rossini feels like it would have been my name.

That’s such an interesting point of view. But how did the paintings come about?

After I retired (young) from engineering without an apparent direction for my life, my wife gave me an instant watercolor painting set. Just add water and stir! After producing a stack of ill composed and muddy paintings, something clicked inside and I found friends in the pigments and paper. Together we produced some lovely, thought-provoking pieces. These are two of them.

They really are stunning images Dennis. It has been so interesting hearing about The Bastard’s Inheritance. I wish you every success with it. Thank you so much for staying in with me.

Thanks Linda.

The Bastard’s Inheritance

In the 1970s, in western Pennsylvania, a multi-millionaire’s singularly selfish decision destines his two sons, half-brothers, to wage war in a winner-take-all battle for the family legacy. The father, wealthy Henry Molnar, shares a secret with his lawyer and best friend, Murray Applebaum; a secret so damaging and powerful that neither has ever dared to reveal its truth.

But the final whispered directives of Molnar set in motion a series of events with far-reaching consequences for his family. With his last breath, Molnar instructs Applebaum to disclose the existence of his illegitimate son, Phillipe-André Desforges.

The surprise revelation at Molnar’s funeral thrusts the family members onto paths of deception, corruption and blackmail.

Revenge infused hatred and contempt for his father and his empire permeate Phillipe-André’s daily thoughts. It compels him to employ an arsenal of devious strategies to wrest control of Molnar Enterprises from his benevolent brother, Jason Molnar.

With such high stakes, Jason as the bequeathed chairman of the board must garner the psychological strength to withstand his half-brother’s siege. The consequences of failure will deliver to Phillipe-André what he has long believed to be rightfully his.

The Bastard’s Inheritance is available for purchase here.

About Dennis Roth

 After earning an engineering degree from MIT, Dennis Roth founded what has become one of the largest structural engineering firms on the east coast of the US. He retired young and lived with his wife on-board their 35-foot sailboat, Second Wind, in the Caribbean. After enjoying a thousand magnificent sunsets and then burying the anchor, he moved to watercolor painting. His innate skills blossomed into beautiful, nationally shown and awarded landscapes and seascapes that he exhibited and sold in his art gallery, Studio Phase 3. Since 2012 he has dedicated his creative energies to writing poems and stories which in addition to being published in journals and magazines, have been collected in his two chapbooks, Reflections & Other Musings and Harry & Other Stories. And now he has created The Bastard’s Trilogy anchored by the new novel The Bastard’s Inheritance.

Dennis Roth is a teacher at heart. Since high school, he has shared his knowledge, serving as a tutor of students in math and science, as an instructor and lecturer to architectural and engineering students at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, and as a teacher of his unique watercolor techniques to budding watercolorists.

On the side, Dennis Roth has learned Spanish and Italian to help him understand more fully the cultures of Mexico and Italy during his months-long visits to those countries.

For further information, visit Dennis’s website, follow him on Twitter @writedennisroth, find him on Instagram and Facebook.

Giveaway: The Impossible Truths of Love by Hannah Beckerman

I’ve been taking a small blogging break this week as I recharge my batteries but I can think of no better way to return to blogging than by hosting a giveaway for Hannah Beckerman’s brand new book, The Impossible Truths of Love.

My enormous thanks to Kealey Rigden Senior Communications Manager at FMcM Associates for affording me this opportunity. I have three paperback copies of The Impossible Truths of Love to give away to three lucky UK readers. You’ll find details of how to enter below.

The Impossible Truths of Love will be published by Lake Union on 5th October 2021 and is available for pre-order here.

The Impossible Truths of Love

From bestselling author Hannah Beckerman comes a moving story about memory, secrets, and what it really means to feel that you’re one of the family.

When Nell’s father makes a deathbed declaration that hints at a long-held secret, it reignites feelings of isolation that have plagued her for years. Her suspicions about the family’s past only deepen when her mother, Annie, who is losing her memories to dementia, starts making cryptic comments of her own.

Thirty-five years earlier, Annie’s life was upended by a series of traumas―one shock after another that she buried deep in her heart. The decisions she made at the time were motivated by love, but she knew even then that nobody could ever understand―let alone forgive―what she did.

As the two women’s stories unravel, a generation apart, Nell finally discovers the devastating truth about her mother’s past, and her own.

In this beautifully observed and emotionally powerful story of identity, memory and the nature of family, Hannah Beckerman asks: To what lengths would you go to protect the ones you love?

****

Doesn’t that sound utterly wonderful? Why not enter the giveaway?

Giveaway

For your chance to win one of three paperback copies of The Impossible Truths of Love by Hannah Beckerman, click here.

Giveaway closes at UK midnight on Monday 4th October 2021 and is open to those with a UK postal address. FMcM Associates will send winners their copies of The Impossible Truths of Love directly. Any data gathered will only be retained until prizes have been awarded.

About Hannah Beckerman

Hannah Beckerman is a bestselling author and journalist whose novels have been translated into more than a dozen languages worldwide. She is a book critic and features writer for a range of publications including The Observer and the FT Weekend Magazine, and has appeared as a book pundit on BBC Radio 2 and Times Radio. She chairs literary events across the UK, interviewing authors and celebrities, and has judged numerous book prizes including the Costa Book Awards. Prior to writing her first novel, Hannah was a television producer and commissioning editor for the BBC, Channel 4 and the Discovery Channel, and for two years lived in Bangladesh, running a TV project for the BBC. She now lives in London where she writes full-time.
For further information, visit Hannah’s website, follow her on Twitter @hannahbeckerman and Instagram or find her on Facebook.

Celebrating The Moscow Affair publication day with Nancy Boyarsky

It’s a real pleasure to welcome back Nancy Boyarsky to Linda’s Book Bag as we celebrate her brand new book out today.

Previously Nancy stayed in with me when Liar Liar was published in a post you can see here. I was also privileged to host an extract from Nancy’s book The Entitled and you can read that extract here.

Welcome Back Nancy Boyarsky

Welcome back to Linda’s Book Bag Nancy and happy The Moscow Affair publication day.

Thanks for having me back Linda.

The Moscow Affair is your latest and sixth P.I. Nicole Graves mystery. Tell us a bit about it.

My new mystery takes you to a tour ship docked in Moscow. You’re set to cruise the Volga from Moscow to Saint Petersburg.

Now that’s something I’ve always wanted to do.

This was a trip I took several years ago, and it was fun to revisit while couped up during the Covid year of 2020. One of my reviewers, Mally Becker, author of The Turncoat’s Widow, described The Moscow Affair like this, “An update of the traditional Cold War spy novel with a determined protagonist and a twisty, fast-paced plot that could be ripped from today’s headlines.”

That sounds brilliant. Tell me a bit more about your trip.

My impressions of the Russian people: dour, unsmiling, unfriendly. Did you know Russians aren’t prompted to smile from an early age like Americans. Think of all the times your mother, aunt, grandma, whatever, said, “Where’s that pretty smile?” or “Why are you looking so sour?” One of our tour guides said she enjoyed working with American tourists, but it took getting used to because “they smile too much.” What a comment that is on Russian culture. They believe that smiling for no good reason is a sign of insincerity. A smile from a stranger can be considered an insult. Hard to believe, but there it is!

I think I’d find that hard. I do a lot of smiling – I have one of those faces that can’t help it! What aspects from your trip have you employed in The Moscow Affair?

I also describe other aspects of Russian culture, including food and fashion that point up the many differences between Russia and the West. I’ve used a larger canvas for this story than in my other mysteries with a conflict of international importance that might lead to war between Russia and Ukraine.

Does that take us away from Nicole then?

The heart of the story is Nicole’s flight from the cruise ship after she witnesses the murder of a fellow passenger. She is hunted by the Moscow police, not a good situation for a foreigner in Russia who can’t speak the language and knows no one. Always resourceful, she enlists the help of the mysterious Olga Marozova. Later, Nicole’s perennially missing fiancé, former MI6 agent Ronald Reinhardt, makes an appearance.

How did you learn so much about Moscow after a single visit?

Right. It was a cruise along the Volga that only gave me three days in Moscow. For research, I turned to the internet, which allowed me to revisit the city and its favorite tourist spots. It gave me a 360 degree view of Red Square. During The Moscow Affair, Russia is preparing for its annual May 6th military parade, which is to take place there.

I think many author have had to be resourceful for research in recent times Nancy.

So, have you brought along anything Russian to share?

To give you a taste of Russia’s food, I’ve brought some of the amazing hamburgers served by a popular fast-food chain in Russia, Black Star Burgers. Of course, hamburgers are thoroughly American, but Moscow’s take on them is yummy. These are served on Russian black bread with tons of cheese, bacon, and a deliciously gooey sauce made with truffle oil. The burgers come with black disposable gloves, because Russians consider eating with their hands unsanitary and uncouth. They may have a point, at least about the sanitation aspect, don’t you think?

I certainly do!

To drink, we have your choice of chilled government-issued Putin Vodka (although Putin himself is reputed to be a tee-totaller). Russian style, aka all you can drink. Or you can have tea, which is also very popular there.

It’ll be tea for me Nancy. Vodka is not something I enjoy. And who have you brought along?

I’ve brought the heroine of my book, Nicole, and her sister Stephanie, the perennial screwup. Oddly, Reinhardt isn’t along. I’m wondering what’s happened to him. Has he disappeared again? Please don’t mention this to Nicole. It might spoil the festive mood.

My lips are sealed. I love the sound of The Moscow Affair Nancy. Thanks so much for spending a little bit of publication day with me. If you put the kettle on to make the tea, I’ll give readers a few more details about The Moscow Affair.

The Moscow Affair

In this fast-paced mystery, P.I. Nicole Graves agrees to an unusual, short-term assignment working for MI6 in Russia. It sounds straight-forward, even pleasant: a two-week luxury riverboat cruise on the Volga, observing a group of fellow passengers and filing a daily report on their activities. It’s simple enough, except for one caveat: No matter what these people do, she’s to tell her handler at MI6—no one else, especially not the Russian police. When one of the riverboat passengers winds up dead, Nicole realizes this assignment was anything but straightforward.

Soon, Nicole is immersed in a high-stakes game of murder and espionage where trusting a stranger can be as deadly as a bullet.

Published today, 21st September 2021 by Light Messages, The Moscow Affair is available for purchase through the links here.

About Nancy Boyarsky

Nancy Boyarsky is the bestselling author of the award-winning Nicole Graves Mysteries, of which The Moscow Affair is the latest in the series. The Entitled was on Apple Books list of most anticipated fall books of 2020. Nancy’s first mystery, The Swap, won a gold medal in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards.

Before turning to mysteries, Nancy coauthored Backroom Politics, a New York Times notable book, with her husband, Bill Boyarsky. She has written several textbooks on the justice system as well as articles for publications including the Los Angeles Times, Forbes, and McCall’s. She also contributed to political anthologies, including In the Running, about women’s political campaigns. In addition to her writing career, she was communications director for political affairs for ARCO.

You can find out more about Nancy by following her on Twitter @NancyBoyarsky, visiting her website, or finding her on Facebook.

Discussing Iced with Felix Francis

I’m so disappointed that I didn’t have time to read Iced by Felix Francis in time for this blog tour, but am thrilled that Felix has agreed to stay in with me to chat all about it today. My enormous thanks to Hayley Cox for inviting me to participate in Iced‘s launch celebrations.

Staying in with Felix Francis

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Felix. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me. I rather think I know, but tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

ICED. It is my 15th novel and is published this month.

What can we expect from an evening in with Iced?

ICED is the 54th Dick Francis novel (my 15th) and again, and as always, portrays the rich world of horse racing. However, this one is slightly different in so far that it is set in St Moritz in the Swiss Alps, where, every year, racehorses compete on a track built right on the frozen lake. Add to that the adrenalin-producing excitement of the Cresta Run, and the novel has all the ingredients for an action-packed rollercoaster ride of emotion and skulduggery.

Crikey. I wasn’t aware that Iced was your fifteenth Dick Francis. I think Iced sounds very exciting. I’m thrilled to have it waiting for me on my TBR. How has it been received so far?

As one reviewer wrote: “Felix Francis pulls no punches here and goes to places few would care to follow as he carefully details the trauma that surrounds a young life, magnifying the internal anguish of an apprentice jockey fighting not only a battle with the scales but also the terrifying memories of his father’s tragic death. Both triumph and disaster are ever present, but those imposters are ultimately dwarfed by exploitation and an addiction which see a promising career in ruins almost before it began. At times it is an uncomfortable read: we identify all too easily with the young hero, but are powerless to influence the damaging choices he makes, choices that leave him exposed and vulnerable. Not for the first time, however, the Swiss mountains offer redemption: as all his yesterdays cohere and offer one last chance to get back in the saddle, our hero is forced into a final confrontation, a confrontation that sees him finally understand his past and lay the ghosts that haunt him.

What a brilliant response. You must be delighted. 

What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

Glühwein would be appropriate, or maybe a Bullshot (special cocktail for the Cresta Run make from vodka and beef stock), plus some fine-dining delights. The Sunny Bar at The Kulm Hotel specialises in Peruvian food, so maybe some of that too.

I’m rather fond of a cocktail but I’ve never tried a Bullshot! Maybe I’ll stick with the glühwein!

My guests would include James Sunley, President of the St Moritz Tobogganing Club, together with the other fearless riders of the Cresta Run who regularly hurl themselves head-first down the three-quarter-mile-long ice chute with no brakes and precious little steering at speeds of up to eighty miles-per-hour.

Hmm. I’m not sure that’s what I’ll be doing in a hurry Felix! Thank you so much for staying in with me to chat about Iced. You heat up the glühwein and I’ll give Linda’s Book Bag readers some more information about Iced:

Iced

Miles Pussett is a former steeplechase jockey. Now he gets his adrenaline rush from riding down the Cresta Run, a three-quarter-mile Swiss ice chute, head first, reaching speeds of up to eighty miles per hour.

Finding himself in St Moritz during the same weekend as White Turf, when high-class horseracing takes place on the frozen lake, he gets talked into helping out with the horses. It is against his better judgement. Seven years before, Miles left horseracing behind and swore he would never return.

When he discovers something suspicious is going on in the races, something that may have a profound impact on his future life, Miles begins a search for answers. But someone is adamant to stop him – and they’ll go to any lengths to do it . . .

Published by Simon and Schuster on 16th September 2021, Iced is available for purchase through the links here.

About Felix Francis

Felix Francis took over writing the ‘Dick Francis’ novels from his father in 2006. His 15th novel, ICED, is published in September 2021. Felix lives in Oxfordshire with his wife, Debbie, and their three dogs who are really in charge! He is a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Crime Writers Association and the Mystery Writers of America. In 2019 was the International Guest of Honor at Bouchercon 50 in Dallas, Texas, the world’s largest crime fiction convention.

Find out more on Felix’s website and follow him on Twitter @felix__francis.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Staying in with Sam Gridley

One of the aspects of book blogging I most enjoy is ‘meeting’ authors and books I would not otherwise encounter. Today I am pleased to welcome Sam Gridley to the blog to tell me all about one of his books. Let’s find out more:

Staying in with Sam Gridley

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Sam.

I’m pleased to be here, Linda. Thanks for inviting me.

Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

Well, right now the weather outside is terrible. I think we both made an excellent choice.

Argh! The weather is a nightmare these days. Much better to concentrate on books I think! Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I’ve brought my novella The Bourgeois Anarchist. Of my three published books of fiction, this is the latest and perhaps most relevant to our current cultural debates. It confronts serious issues with, I hope, good humor and respect. One reviewer mentioned the book’s “light touch” and “affection for its characters.”

That sounds lovely.

Actually, I couldn’t help but treat the main character, Susie Alioto, with affection. I’ve been in love with her for years.

Oo. Tell me more.

Susie and her mathematician son first appeared in a mystery-spoof I wrote some years ago. I thought it was tremendously funny, but apparently not enough other people did, and it was never published. Yet Susie has stayed with me, demanding to come back in a better story.

Oddly, in the years since her first go-round, Susie has stayed exactly the same age, while her son has changed his name and grown eleven years younger.

The wonders of fiction eh? 

What can we expect from an evening in with The Bourgeois Anarchist?

You too will fall in love with Susie, I can almost guarantee it. She’s tremendously good-hearted, an idealist, and about ten times as tough as you’d guess from her diminutive size. And yet she gets entangled in a situation that proves almost too much for her.

The plot includes arsonists, mobsters, sleazy cops and life-threatening violence, but the real focus is Susie’s conflicting loyalties and difficult moral choices. She’s long been an anarchist, at least theoretically—she spent two decades in a militant commune—but now her principles leave her floundering in her time of need. You might say the quandary involves her head versus her heart, but her head is on both sides, and her emotions are flipping about like butterflies.

I rather like the sound of Susie. What about her son?

Despite the seriousness of the plot, her son Eric, a classic nerd, should keep you chuckling. Though Eric knows nothing about sports, he can tell you the equations for a prolate spheroid (e.g., a football). And in case you’re inclined to mock Susie’s political idealism as naïve, don’t worry, Eric will do it for you.

The Bourgeois Anarchist sounds a lot of fun. What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

I hated show-and-tell in school, but in this case I have something good to present. I’ve brought a poster!

Among historical anarchists, Susie’s favorite is Errico Malatesta (1853–1932), an Italian who spent most of his life in exile. She keeps the poster shown here on her refrigerator so that his most famous saying—“Impossibility never prevented anything from happening”—can be a constant inspiration.

That’s brilliant!

There are various posters of Malatesta, but this one, as I described it in the book, didn’t exist, so I created it myself. I’ve made it freely available with the slogan, “You too can have an anarchist on your refrigerator!”

One other note relating to this once-famous anarchist: Susie’s son’s full name is Eric Malatesta Leffler. When he was nine, Susie dragged him through Italy to retrace Malatesta’s path during an absurdly futile rebellion. Then when Eric was a teen, his friends told him his middle name meant “diseased testicle.” His distaste for his mother’s politics should need no further explanation.

No, I suppose not!

Oh, and something else: A “bourgeois anarchist” is of course a contradiction in terms, or it ought to be. But when a young friend first heard the title, he quipped, “Aren’t they all?”

Now that IS food for thought. Thanks so much for staying in with me to tell me about The Bourgeois Anarchist Sam. It sounds very entertaining. You pop into the kitchen to put your poster on the fridge and I’ll give Linda’s Book Bag readers a few more details.

The Bourgeois Anarchist

Susie Alioto is a longtime political militant. After college she spent two decades in an anarchist commune, and at age 66 her beliefs haven’t wavered. She protests with young people to demand justice and human rights. She marches for gun control, for Black Lives Matter, for action against climate change. A portrait of her special anarchist hero, Errico Malatesta, hangs on her refrigerator with an inspirational quote of his: “Impossibility never prevented anything from happening.”

Yet Susie now teaches at an expensive private school, and her life is comfortably middle-class. Her son Eric, a budding mathematician, mocks her as a “bourgeois anarchist.”

As the story opens, violence breaks out at a peaceful rally, and Susie is injured. A young woman dressed in Antifa gear rescues her, and Susie is drawn into a mysterious intrigue involving angry activists and devious capitalists, gentrification, arson, even mobsters. Cops pound on her door to demand information. Though Susie tries to hew to her principles, the true nature of justice becomes muddled, and her anarchist heroes-including the grizzled Malatesta on her refrigerator-provide no clear answer. People’s lives are involved, and she doesn’t know what to do. The dilemma escalates into an existential crisis.

In the midst of this turmoil, Susie stumbles into unexpected romance. But is the new man any more reliable than the ones who’ve failed her in the past? Meanwhile her son, the apolitical math geek, adds an offbeat and comic perspective that may offer a clue to the personal and political intrigues.

Published on 9th July 2021, The Bourgeois Anarchist is available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and directly from the publisher, Finishing Line Press.

About Sam Gridley

After being born in Pittsburgh, Sam Gridley lived in Camden, Providence, Bristol, Westchester, Inglewood, Palos Verdes Estates, Torrance, Redondo Beach, Northridge, Culver City, Berkeley, Oakland, Cambridge, Brighton, London, Palo Alto, Bellefonte, Baltimore, Lyndhurst, Rutherford, and perhaps other communities he has forgotten. This was before the age of 29. Since then he has settled in Philadelphia and scarcely budged. As an author, he has published two novels, The Shame of What We Are and The Big Happiness, as well as stories and satire in more than sixty magazines and anthologies. He has received two fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University. Married for many years, Sam has two grown children, one neurotic dog and a small backyard where several gerbils are buried.

For further information, visit Sam’s blog, or follow him on Twitter @SamGridley2.

Freckles by Cecelia Ahern

I’ve long loved Cecelia Ahern’s writing so it is wonderful to be helping to close the blog tour for her latest book Freckles. My grateful thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part and to Harper Collins for sending me a copy of Freckles in return for an honest review.

Most recently I reviewed Cecelia Ahern’s Postscript here and was delighted to participate in a Zoom meeting with the author almost a year ago when the book was published. I have also reviewed her short story collection, ROAR, here.

Freckles is published by Harper Collins and is available for purchase through the links here.

Freckles

Five people.
Five chances.
One woman’s search for happiness.

Allegra Bird’s arms are scattered with freckles, a gift from her beloved father. But despite her nickname, Freckles has never been able to join all the dots. So when a stranger tells her that everyone is the average of the five people they spend the most time with, it opens up something deep inside.

The trouble is, Freckles doesn’t know if she has five people. And if not, what does that say about her? She’s left her unconventional father and her friends behind for a bold new life in Dublin, but she’s still an outsider.

Now, in a quest to understand, she must find not one but five people who shape her – and who will determine her future.

Told in Allegra’s vivid original voice, moving from modern Dublin to the fierce Atlantic coast, this is an unforgettable story of human connection, of friendship, and of growing into your own skin.

My Review of Freckles

‘Freckles’ Allegra Bird is searching.

I started Freckles slightly apprehensively as I didn’t feel quite in tune with the writing to begin with. I think this is an important aspect of reading Freckles because there is a musical quality to Cecelia Ahern’s writing, not least alluded to in her protagonist’s name, where the rhythm is sometimes sombre, sometimes staccato jazz in style, sometimes upbeat and so on so that the narrative draws in the reader until there is a brilliant finale. Reading Allegra’s life is like listening to a concert of eclectic pieces that all commit to a theme until they are beautifully harmonised. Having begun it uncertainly, I ended up loving Freckles.

The complete joy in this book is the plot’s gradual uncovering of Allegra to both the reader and to Allegra herself, from her self-harming school days, through her persona as a traffic warden to her understanding of what it means to be a daughter and, quite literally, to be comfortable in her own skin. Cecelia Ahern creates Allegra with tenderness and brutality, with honesty and compassion until I felt an almost physical need to climb into the book and support her. I was moved and entertained by her in equal measure. I loved meeting the other characters too; especially as Cecelia Ahern is unafraid to to give her readers fully rounded individuals who don’t always behave appropriately or who are flawed and unattractive as well as supportive and positive ones. This has the effect of presenting a real microcosm of the world in Freckles that could be transported to any setting and that is utterly absorbing.

However, although I loved the the story and the characters, it was the presentation of real life in Freckles that captivated me most. The rumours surrounding Pops illustrate how truth and reality can be blurred until people are changed and affected. Allegra’s obsessive personality, her forthright nature and her ability to create her own problems show just how difficult it can be for some people simply to exist in society. Minor characters like Whistles and Spanner help the reader understand that we shouldn’t judge others because we never really know the full extent of what is happening in their lives. I loved the traffic warden motif running through because I thought Cecelia Ahern handled it literally and metaphorically to perfection. We need rules for stability but we need to understand humanity alongside those rules, to flex them and adapt them in order for us all to retain our humanity. I found this aspect of Freckles both profound and affecting.

Freckles is a surprising book. It wasn’t quite what I expected at the beginning and took me a while to settle into because it felt edgier than other Cecelia Ahern books I’ve read, but I ended up loving it unreservedly and recommend it completely.

About Cecelia Ahern

Cecelia Ahern is one of the biggest selling authors to emerge in the past fifteen years, having sold more than 25 million copies worldwide in over 50 countries. Two of her books have been adapted as major films and she has created several TV series in the US and Germany. Her novel PS I Love You was a New York Times bestseller and huge #1 bestseller in Ireland and the UK. In 2007, it was made into a major film starring Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler and most recently, Cecelia wrote the sequel- Postscript which was an instant bestseller.

Cecelia has written13 bestselling novels including two YA novels and a critically acclaimed collection of short stories, ROAR which is being produced by and starring Nicole Kidman. Her novels have resonated with readers everywhere through their thoughtful, unique and inspiring storytelling and have won numerous awards. Cecelia lives in Dublin with her family.

You can find out more by following Cecelia on Twitter @Cecelia_Ahern, visiting her website and finding her on Instagram and Facebook.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Staying in with Gillian Hawser

I think ours might be the only household in the country that hasn’t seen the television series Bridgerton so when I heard Gillian Hawser’s writing might transport me to a similar era, I simply had to invite her onto Linda’s Book Bag to stay in with me. My thanks to Sophie Morgan at Troubador for putting us in touch with one another.

Staying in with Gillian Hawser

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Gillian. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

The Rake. I have chosen this as one of two books which I have written recently which take place at the turn of the 19th C. I am particularly obsessed by this period – the Whig aristocracy, were unique, essentially a  governing class –they ran the country for most of the 18th C.  Economic power was concentrated in the landed interest and they owned most of the land. Having said that they were educated, they were political, they patronised the arts, they hunted and danced but women such as Lady Melbourne who is in The Rake (as the godmother to Grizelda) or the Duchess of Devonshire were as politically motivated as their husbands.  They governed in every area … Foreign Office boxes littered their houses.

Behind every great man eh…?

What can we expect from an evening in with The Rake?

It is a love story, as Jane Austen’s stories are love stories but my main characters learn through their misadventures – they develop and change; Jaspar, the rake, recognises poverty and illness.

In my other book The Arranged Marriage Perpetua learns to stand up to the world. I am conscious that many girls are bullied – maybe bullied is too strong a word  but forced to do as their mother’s wish … and I don’t think this is simply found in the 18th/19th C – it is still around today. It was hard for women then but it’s still problematical now.

It most definitely is Gillian. We are not good at learning lessons from history.

What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?  

I have brought fruit and chocolates!

Thanks so much Gillian. What are you working on now?

I am currently completing a book about three girls who meet in a home for unmarried mothers in 1946. Different period but some of the problems for women are universal.

That sounds great. Thanks so much for staying in with me this evening. You share out the chocolates and I’ll tell readers more about The Rake.

The Rake

A remarkable tale of redemption and transformation, The Rake is a love story set against the backdrop of a changing world.

It is the turn of the 19th Century and Lord Jaspar Heddington is a rich handsome rake, who womanises with impunity, indulged by the world he inhabits who turn a blind eye to his peccadilloes. However, when Jaspar seduces the beautiful, innocent Laura Ludgrove, the enusing scandal is different.

To escape the fallout, his beloved sister, Nillie, orders him out of London and back to Bardfield, his estate in the country. On the journey, he encounters a mysterious and beautiful girl who captivates him – and then unexpectedly shoots him. Wounded and bleeding, his life is ultimately saved by young Dr Horace Sugden, a trailblazer of the new scientific world.

Overwhelmed, Jaspar struggles to understand why he was shot. Still haunted by the strange encounter, Jaspar decides to search for the girl who invades his dreams – but will he emerge with more than he bargained for?

Published by Matador on 1st August 2021, The Rake is available for purchase through the links here.

About Gillian Hawser

Gillian Hawser is an internationally renowned casting director, BAFTA Film Committee and Council member and BIFA chair.

You can follow Gillian on Twitter @gillianhawser. and Instagram.

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

I’ve long been meaning to read Jodi Picoult but never quite got round to it, so when The Storyteller arrived as the latest read for my U3A book group, I was delighted. I’m sharing my review today.

Published by Hodder in 2013, The Storyteller is available for purchase through the links here.

The Storyteller

For seventy years, Josef Weber has been hiding in plain sight.

He is a pillar of his local community.

He is also a murderer.

When Josef decides to confess, it is to Sage Singer, a young woman who trusts him as her friend. What she hears shatters everything she thought she knew and believed.

As Sage uncovers the truth from the darkest horrors of war, she must follow a twisting trail between terror and mercy, betrayal and forgiveness, love – and revenge.

My Review of The Storyteller

Sage strikes up a friendship with Josef.

I  cannot begin to tell you how angry I am with myself for not having read a Jodi Picoult book before. The Storyteller is fiction at its very best. The title fits the book sublimely. Not only is Jodi Picoult a consummate storyteller, but the novel itself has so many layers of storytelling that it is quite astounding. For example (and without spoiling the plot) Sage creates a narrative about her own life, deciding, without knowing, how others view her. Josef has a story to offload to Sage, wanting to write his own ending. Minka is a catalyst for so many of the stories, including the one she begins to write as a child. Leo is chasing and verifying the stories told to him. The Storyteller embodies the traditions of created narratives from fairy tales, mythology, allegory, history and personal circumstance until it mesmerises the reader. I thought it was wonderful.

The plot races along and as someone not usually keen on multiple timelines or points of view I can honestly say I was captivated by the quality of the writing and structure in The Storyteller. At times I didn’t find the content easy, but I was so ensnared by Jodi Picoult’s writing I couldn’t tear myself away. Indeed, aspects of the narrative invaded my dreams, so powerful is the writing.

The sections relating to the Holocaust are extremely powerful and I think some readers might find them distressing because they have obviously been carefully researched so that they are authentic, vivid and affecting. However, The Storyteller is not a depressing book because Jodi Picoult examines the strength of human nature even when humanity is at its worst, making the book truly immersive. The experiences so many of us thankfully will never encounter become completely knowable. The references to food in particular create this effect brilliantly and I found The Storyteller such a visual read that it was as if I were present watching the action rather than reading about it.

I thought the characters were wonderful. Jodi Picoult presents Sage, Josef et al with such a rounded authenticity that they feel completely real. I loved the way she led the reader into considering what makes us who we are, and to question what is right or wrong and how we might behave in similar circumstances. Even Sage’s name with its culinary links and the allusion to knowledge that Sage gains throughout the story is perfectly chosen.

It’s almost impossible to consider all the themes in The Storyteller. I think this is a book that would reward many readings as there would be something new to discover every time. War, humanity in so many forms, grief, guilt, forgiveness, what makes us human, history, loyalty, obedience, power, racism, family, relationships, and survival are just a few of the aspects to consider when reading The Storyteller, making it a rich and multi-layered book that I found so powerful.

Meticulously researched, flawlessly written and emotionally engaging, The Storyteller is a magnificent book that I adored. I recommend it most highly.

About Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is the author of over 20 novels, with 40 million copies sold worldwide. Twelve of her books have debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Five novels have been made into movies and Between the Lines (co-written with daughter Samantha van Leer) has been adapted as a musical. She is the recipient of multiple awards, including the New England Bookseller Award for Fiction, the Alex Award from the YA Library Services Association, and the NH Literary Award for Outstanding Literary Merit. She is also the co-librettist for the musicals Breathe, and The Book Thief. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband.

For further information visit Jodi’s website, follow her on Twitter @JodiPicoult and find her on Facebook and Instagram.

An Interview with Ambreen Hameed and Uzma Hameed, authors of UNDYING

My enormous thanks to Ben at Cameron Publicity for putting me in touch with Ambreen Hameed and Uzma Hameed, authors of UNDYING. Ambreen and Uzma are sisters and co-author books. I was so intrigued by the concept that I simply had to interview them here on Linda’s Book Bag.

An Interview with Ambreen Hameed and Uzma Hameed

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag ladies. Would you like to introduce one another please?

Ambreen: Uzma is my younger sister, though by no means the lesser. She’s a successful theatre-maker and dramaturg who, among her many credits, collaborated on the Royal Opera House’s ballet acclaimed ballet Woolf works.  In UNDYING, she writes the voice of the younger sister, Zarina.  If it hadn’t been for her determination and her  formidable editing skills we would never have finished the book.

Uzma sounds formidable!

Uzma: Ambreen has degrees in physics and the philosophy of science and has a passion for knowledge. She’s a journalist with a highly successful career in TV, including as series producer for C4’s landmark Devil’s Advocate and, somehow, has managed to fit in being a yoga teacher too. As a writer, she’s super-talented – and fast. She’s also my big sister and the voice of the elder sister, Sufya in UNDYING.

Crikey! You both make me and my big sister seem very inadequate!

And could you tell me a bit about UNDYING?

Ambreen: Undying is a black comedy told from the point of view of two British Muslim sisters who have fallen for the same man.  At the time the novel takes place, they aren’t communicating well with each other (we gradually understand the reason why) so – privy to both sisters’ experience – the reader always knows more than each sister.  The man they are in love with is called Heathrow – he’s an elusive but charismatic individual named after the Terminal 3 concourse where he was found abandoned as a child.  The epigraph for the book is Humphrey Bogart’s  line  from Casablanca “It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world” because, like Ilse, Rick and Victor in the movie, our love triangle takes place against a backdrop of seismic political change.   One of our favourite reviews of the book called it “The Bronte sisters meets Four Lions.”  We couldn’t have been more chuffed.

I bet!

Uzma: As children, we heard of a superstition that says that djinns (genies) are attracted to triangular spaces and we were interested about the kind of destructive power that might exist in a love triangle. UNDYING is set against the backdrop of the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, and the subsequent bombing of Iraq that was considered by many to be an attempt to deflect attention from his impeachment trial. In a sense, the destruction that was unleashed on the global stage, could be said to have its origins in an ill-fated triangular relationship. Among Heathrow and the two sisters too, the triangular relationship has unforeseen and devastating consequences when Zarina performs an esoteric ritual to draw Heathrow to her (not really believing it will have any effect!) but ends up inadvertently summoning a djinn.

You have both made me desperate to read UNDYING. So, what was it like writing together as sisters?

Ambreen: Working together as sisters was both extremely challenging and extremely rewarding.   We quickly realised that in order to properly understand the deep currents in the relationship between Zarina and Sufya we were going to have to excavate our own sibling relationship.  The challenge – and the rewards – lay in having difficult  conversations that perhaps we would otherwise never have had.  Not only did it help us build layers into what happens between Sufya and Zarina but it also brought us much closer together.  But there were times when we had to take deep breaths and give each other space.  It can be hard enough taking notes as a writer – as I mentioned, Uzma is a brilliant editor – and it can get really tough when the notes come from your sister … the person who knows how best to press your buttons!

Uzma: A huge gift was having the benefit of each other’s imagination. Although we had drafted a detailed structure that set out what events would be narrated in each chapter, how we each interpreted our ‘instructions’ was often a surprise. There were so many times when I thought I could never have written the chapter the way that Ambreen did, but what she had written also immediately inspired new ideas for my next chapter too. At the outset we were interested in exploring the shifting nature of truth within families – the way that no two siblings will agree on their shared history.  We didn’t expect that we would encounter this issue head on in the actual process of writing.  In this sense, the book wasn’t just about the clash of perspectives between siblings – it actually embodies it.

I imagine that was quite an interesting experience. How has the experience of writing a book together changed your relationship?

Uzma: Often in families, siblings become polarised, occupying different territories. One lovely by-product of writing this book is that we realised that we are perhaps more similar than we had thought!

If you were to sum up the experience of writing UNDYING as sisters what three words would you use?

Ambreen: Painful, enriching, hilarious.

Uzma: Challenging, fulfilling, surprising.

How did you write?

Uzma: In UNDYING, Sufya and Zarina write alternating chapters so that the reader switches between the two characters’ viewpoints. Ambreen and I together devised a detailed structure which laid out what the heart of each chapter was ‘about’ and what needed to ‘happen’. This document was quite detailed with each of the plotlines – magical/psychological/relationship/political colour-coded so that we could make sure that each of the plates were kept in the air! Still, the real writing happened on our own when we would each bring the events in the structure to life, often with unexpected epiphanies occurring. For example, we didn’t decide the form that the djinn would take – mostly because, no matter how much we discussed it, none of the ideas felt quite right. But, having inhabited the writing up to that point, once I reached the chapter where the djinn first appears, I suddenly knew what it had to be…but I won’t tell you here!

No. No plot spoilers thank you!

What advice would you give to others considering joint authorship?

Uzma: For us, this ended up being a life-event as well as the writing of a book – a revealing and joyous process that we both wanted to stick with, despite having to write in gaps between other work on and off for a decade! I think if you weren’t writing with your sister, you might be wise to put a collaboration agreement in place with roles, timescales and what happens if you disagree, all stipulated up front!

Knowing my sister I think you’re right. She’d be hounding me every step of the way…

UNDYING has been described as having ‘Sit-com style comedy’. How has your work in theatre Uzma and in television Ambreen impacted on the style of UNDYING?

Ambreen: A number of readers have talked about how visual the book is, and I think this is particularly true of Uzma’s writing.  Throughout the novel, her character Zarina is trying to stage a play (about another more ancient love triangle), and you can really feel the truth of Uzma’s many years of experience in the theatre, as well as her dramatic imagination.   I think my own experience in television and journalism perhaps helped us expand the novel from the story of “three little people”, to a story about a British Muslim family caught up in a world which views Muslims in general with suspicion and incomprehension.

Uzma: Only the reader is privy to what both sisters are doing/thinking which, (we hope!) adds a sense of suspense, especially as chapters often end on a dramatic note before the viewpoint switches. I think that’s one of the reasons so many people have said the book would be so suited to a TV serial.

I think is sounds perfect to be adapted to television.

How important is dark comedy or satire in conveying truths about society in fiction do you think?

Ambreen: I don’t think we knew when we started out that we were going to write “dark comedy”.  But in retrospect it seems obvious that we couldn’t write about our subject matter in any other way.  The satirical voice is so powerful, and can help convey and capture experience that would otherwise be too painful to digest.

How important has your cultural heritage been in the writing of UNDYING?

Ambreen:  Again, I don’t think we realised when we started planning our story that we would be exploring British Muslim identity.  But it makes sense that as the world around the two sisters becomes more polarised, each of them is forced to assess what it means to her to live with the label British Muslim.

Uzma: We discovered that, in writing about sisters, we were also writing about being British-Muslim because the experience of being immigrants in a society that is so culturally different impacts on the sibling relationship. Each sister has to carve out her own path between expectations and influences, inevitably bringing up questions of loyalty and betrayal.

What might those unfamiliar with British Muslim experience learn from UNDYING?

Ambreen: First and foremost we hope that people will enjoy it and love the characters.  The difficulty remains that “British Muslim” conjures up stereotypical images and roles to those who are unfamiliar, and we hope that our characters are complex, humanising and loveable so that readers go away with a richer sense of who their British Muslim neighbours are.

What are you working on now?

Ambreen:  I’m writing another novel now – the story of an Urdu  interpreter who works in police stations.  The situation of  interpreter has always fascinated me – someone who is between worlds, and who must convey meaning between two other people with absolutely no input from herself – as if  she didn’t exist.

I used to be a police lay visitor and interpreters fulfilled such an important role for both the police and detainees.

Uzma: I have been scoping out my next book which, at the moment, I’m not going to say much about as it’s still at an early stage. I’m not sure when I’ll get a block of time to write it yet, as my theatre work has picked up again after lockdown. I’m currently working The Dante Project, a new ballet by Wayne McGregor which opens in October.

It must be wonderful to be back in live work after all the lockdowns.

Is there anything else we should know about UNDYING?

Ambreen and Uzma: It has been longlisted for the Bath Novel Award 2021, and  championed by some of our literary heroes!

Congratulations. How exciting. Fingers crossed. Here are some of the comments being made about UNDYING:

A novel of huge ambition: both an irony-sharpened comedy of manners (and errors – lots of errors), and a powerful, passionately written dissection of the anger, confusion and violence that led up to 9/11.  I loved ‘Undying’, and couldn’t put it down until I had reached the last page.

Stef Penney 

*

Sibling rivalry, evolutionary science, theatre, film and even magic all have a part to play in Ambreen and Uzma Hameed’s exuberant tale of a romantic triangle that also touches on questions of belonging, identity and individuality that we all wrestle with today. Undying is huge fun. Its sitcom-style comedy and affectionate satire deepen into a mystery that explores what unites and divides us, in families and communities, and asks how art, science and religion try to make sense of a violent and unjust world.

Boyd Tonkin

*

What begins as a warm, sharply observed and trenchantly witty study of sibling rivalry, family dynamics and social mores amongst British Pakistanis (with a wonderful cast of principal and supporting characters) develops into a deep and tragic dramatic study of conflict in all its forms: family, gender, social and political. I loved the references to Humphrey Bogart and to Bollywood, to the sex lives and biological imperatives of bees and other animals, to political Islam versus actual lived Muslim life, and to corporate shenanigans in the supermarket world! This is much, much more than the story of two sisters in love with the same man. 

Savita Kalhan

*

The narrators are two sisters alternating between chapters, changing perspectives, winning and losing the sympathies of the reader. They take you on an audacious, at times, bewildering and always enthralling journey. The main characters stay with you: the entwined yet intensely rivalrous siblings, Zarina and Sufya, Heathrow, like Heathcliff, the unknowable, sexually mesmerising outsider, a range of Muslim relatives defying all stereotypes. The books shift between the real and spectral worlds, lived realities and imagined scenarios. You end up wanting more. I hope the Hameed sisters give us more.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Thank you Ambreen and Uzma for giving us such a wonderful insight into UNDYING. I wish you both every success.

UNDYING Book 1: The Kinship of Djinns

It is 1998 and the leader of the free world is under fire after an affair with a young intern. Meanwhile, in a corner of South London, the Malik sisters have also committed a sin: they are in their thirties and still not married. Now the unexpected return of their childhood playmate spells the chance of a happy ending: but only for one of them. And this time, younger sister Zarina is determined she won’t be second in line to Sufya, the eldest – even if it means resorting to dubious occult practices. But as tensions rise across the Muslim world, sibling rivalry and Sufi spells are not the only forces with which the three lovers must contend.

Longlisted for The Bath Novel Award 2021

UNDYING Book 1: The Kinship of Djinns is available for purchase here.

UNDYING Book 2: My Uncle’s Son

Christmas 1998 approaches and the Malik sisters struggle to come to terms with Heathrow’s disappearance. A series of unanswered questions leads Sufya on a journey across the Holy Land. Back in South London, Zarina believes she is receiving messages from beyond the grave. As the leader of the free world sends bombs down on Baghdad, anger boils over in the Muslim community. The family falls under suspicion and both sisters must pick a side.

My Uncle’s Son is the thrilling conclusion to UNDYING.

UNDYING Book 2: My Uncle’s Son is available for purchase here.

About Ambreen Hameed and Uzma Hameed

Ambreen Hameed is a television producer and journalist.  Ambreen’s career in television began at the BBC on the Asian programme, Network East, after which she worked for London Weekend Television, on its flagship current affairs show, The London Programme. She was series producer of the award-winning Channel 4 series Devil’s Advocate presented by Darcus Howe. Three of her London Programmes were nominated for Royal Television Society awards including an hour-long Special on the experiences of Black and Asian officers in the Metropolitan Police Service. Other career highlights include the award-winning series Second Chance for Channel 4, and Dispatches. She has also written for New Statesman and a short story for Radio 4’s Pier Shorts.

You’ll find Ambreen on Twitter @AmbreenHameed1 and Instagram.

UZMA HAMEED is a writer, director and dramaturg, working in theatre and dance. In 2015 she was dramaturg to choreographer Wayne McGregor on the Royal Ballet’s multi award-winning production of Woolf Works. She has since collaborated with him on Obsidian Tear (2016)Multiverse (2016) and The Dante Project – Inferno (2019) for the Royal Ballet, and on Company Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography (2017). She has also worked with choreographer Cathy Marston on Northern Ballet’s Victoria (2019), which won the Sky Arts/South Bank Show award for dance.

In 1997 she founded The Big Picture Company, a theatre company which quickly gained a reputation for its innovative visual style, combing new writing with choreography and film. For Big Picture, she wrote and directed plays which toured extensively around the UK and enjoyed London seasons at The Young Vic, BAC and Riverside Studios. From 2002-2005 Uzma was Associate Director at Derby Playhouse.

Uzma has directed for Kali Theatre, led projects at the National Theatre Studio and given talks and workshops for a variety of organisations including The Royal College of Art, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Edinburgh International Festival and Playwrights Studio Scotland.

You’ll find Uzma on Twitter @UzmaHameedRexha and Instagram.

UNDYING has a Facebook page and website too.