All posts by Emma A

About Emma A

I'm an aspiring writer who lives in London. I read voraciously and occasionally get sad that there's not more time to read. I'm opinionated except about friends' new boyfriends and weight gain. My favourite writers are a mixture of the literary and the entertaining: James Baldwin, Alice Munro, Douglas Kennedy, Alice Walker, John Cheever, Maggie O'Farrell, Ntozake Shange, Toni Morrison, Barbara Kingsolver, Sue Miller, Camila Lackberg, and more. I'm working on my second novel, a psychological thriller which examines social media and dating. My first novel was longlisted for the SI Leeds Prize 2012.

Remembering Ntozake Shange

‘I have never tried to do anything but keep a part-time job and write whenever I felt like it.’
Ntozake Shange

Ntozake Shange was one of  the writers  I grew up with and who inspired me to see myself becoming a writer. James Baldwin was another. (There were no British writers at that time that did that for me, and neither, interestingly were there African writers.)

She died peacefully in her sleep on 27th October 2018 and when I heard the sad sad news Continue reading Remembering Ntozake Shange


Review: A god in every stone by Kamila Shamsie

11 Sept 2018 A God in every stone by Kamila Shamsie
A beautifully written novel about loss and broken dreams in a time of war and needless suffering. The weigh of research and its details slowed down the story somewhat at times although I learned a lot about the history and geography of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The final part with the green-eyed woman felt added on. In my opinion, Shamsie’s portrayal of privileged , mildly racist colonial attitudes by Vivian Spencer was nuanced and well-defined but I didn’t get a general sense of the interaction between the colonialist and the colonised.


                        What the novel or short story reveals about the writer
Mostly, I read because I want to taken away on a journey which transports me into another world, another age, a different set of circumstances. It’s not exactly escapism as I don’t want to flee the world I live in but I do want to experience something different. So to have the sensation of being tugged abruptly out of my consciousness and thrust into the writer’s reality which lies beyond the story is a truly dissonant experience.

I experienced this last week when I was all cosied up, reading a murder mystery by Ruth Rendell. A Sleeping Life opens with the discovery of a woman’s body which Inspector Wexford tries to identify.
The story was a little dull but well-written: Ruth Rendell certainly knew her craft. It was also somewhat implausible as many murder mysteries or psychological thrillers are, but I ‘m willing to suspend disbelief up to a point.

Anyway, there I was reading to be essentially entertained and then bam! Phrases such as “negroid girl”, “pale Negress”, “Jewess” brought me to an abrupt, screeching halt. Suddenly I was looking in at a writer looking out at “me” and seeing what she sees. Othering. Rendell didn’t seem to know how to deal with multi-cultural London (“pure races and mixed races” and noise and dirt) and there is a sense of relief when the scene returns to the tranquil Sussex countryside, where all is in order. (Except for Wexford’s daughter and her caricatured rebellion against sexism.)

There are more horrors in the portrayal of the flatmate Malina Patel which was just plain weird. Malina oozes exotic flavour and she is clearly capable of driving all the boys crazy with her tiny hands and such. But alas, she is clearly unstable and Wexford has no time for her at all.

The novel was published in 1977. Not that long ago. I mean, we’re not talking about the Victorian era where you could expect to be insulted, left right and centre. Years ago, I remember reading an Arthur Conan Doyle story “The Yellow Face” where he presents and therefore implicitly encourages white fears about “race-mixing”, that any off-spring would be unrecognisably “Other”.

             “Holmes, with a laugh, passed his hand behind the child’s ear, a mask peeled off from her countenance, and there was a little coal black negress, with all her           white teeth flashing in amusement at our amazed faces.”

An elementary knowledge of genetics dictates that the offspring would display the phenotypes of both the mother and the father. It’s impossible that a child of dual heritage would be “coal black” (a crude and lazy description). Unless the mother was of African heritage too but that’s a whole ‘nother story. The portrayal of the little girl is simply problematic.
Conan Doyle continues but with a little more subtlety.

“She touched a spring, and the front hinged back. There was a portrait within of a man strikingly handsome and intelligent-looking, but bearing unmistakable signs upon his features of his African descent.” (My own emphasis.)

So for me, that sense of being shaken out of one state of consciousness and thrown into another reality- where I don’t choose to be- means that the novel or the short story has failed on one level. Indulgence in stereotypes, lazy clichés and a lack of humanity or nuance means that the storyteller has revealed more about him or herself than about the characters.

Reading, writing and stuff: 4 things that have helped me

Lots of books to read. Lots of writing to get done.
4 things that have helped my writing over the past month or so:

1. Getting a first reader whose opinion I trust (not a good friend or your sister, who will be impressed that you’re  simply writing something/anything. This  will often get  in the way of  their critical abilities. My first reader is someone who is an artist in a different field  so he’s got that distance and that proximity)
2. Allowing 2 or 3 very different people to look at my writing and see if they identity the same  (troubling) issues
3. Leaving time between drafts so they  have a chance to breathe
4. Reading more (Giving up 2 TV shows a week).

What things have recently helped you improve your writing?