These Dividing Walls by Fran Cooper

Fran Cooper’s debut novel, These Dividing Walls, is a meditation on the way ordinary lives are impacted by racism, Islamophobia, terror attacks and the far right in contemporary Paris.

“One Parisian summer
A building of separate lives
All that divides them will soon collapse…

In a forgotten corner of Paris stands a building.

Within its walls, people talk and kiss, laugh and cry; some are glad to sit alone, while others wish they did not. A woman with silver-blonde hair opens her bookshop downstairs, an old man feeds the sparrows on his windowsill, and a young mother wills the morning to hold itself at bay. Though each of their walls touches someone else’s, the neighbours they pass in the courtyard remain strangers.

Into this courtyard arrives Edward. Still bearing the sweat of a channel crossing, he takes his place in an attic room to wait out his grief.

But in distant corners of the city, as Paris is pulled taut with summer heat, there are those who meet with a darker purpose. As the feverish metropolis is brought to boiling point, secrets will rise and walls will crumble both within and without Number 37…”

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These Dividing Walls takes the reader on a journey into the lives of the inhabitants of an apartment block in arrondissement Paris, drifting seamlessly from one character’s perspective to another. Meet among others, Edward and Frédérique, both stricken by grief; depressed and emaciated mother of three Anais and her absent husband Paul; Chantal and her lost and disillusioned husband César Vincent; Madame Marin, the gardienne who runs a hairdressing salon in the courtyard and slips out in the night; the hate ridden Isabelle Duval, and Josef, the vagrant who sleeps in the doorway opposite. Through this cast of quirky and troubled characters the various attitudes to be expected in any social mix, from tolerance through prejudice to extremism, are explored.

The writing is exquisite and discursive. The narrative meanders, rich with incidental details and acute observations, Cooper’s strength, her ability to enter into the souls of her characters. Frédérique seeks “a world beyond the bourgeois formalities cradled within these walls…everything that has suffocated her before in its intensity turned now a cushion against pain; scar tissue around her heart.”

The use of the present tense brings an immediacy to the story, focusing the mind of the reader on the characters in close proximity. Through it, Cooper, invites the reader to ponder the inane and banal aspects of prejudice.

These Dividing Walls is a slow read that contains few surprises. The portrayal of terror and reprisal bleeds into the narrative, growing ever larger, vying for centre stage, seeking to oust the much larger and more poignant story of grief. Contemporary fiction is difficult to write, for the risk is always that themes appear stuck on, worked into something already in existence. Cooper manages to achieve a good balance, using the weather – Paris endures a June heat wave –  to full and dramatic effect. Ultimately, it is the weather that binds this story and makes it work.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Hodder and Stoughton for my review copy.

A warm review of Asylum from Readers’ Favorite

Asylum is a solid story that deals with one woman’s journey to adulthood while underscoring the social and political injustices faced by those who don’t hold Australian citizenship. Although some of the language will be strange to non-Australian speakers, the story is nevertheless compelling and utterly relatable. Well worth the read.” – Reviewed by Marta Tandori for Readers’ Favorite.

I wrote this novel in 2012-13 when the Labor party were in power and the exodus of asylum seekers from countries including Syria into Europe hadn’t happened. I wrote the story to express my personal dismay over the way asylum seekers were treated in Australia. It’s even worse now. I juxtaposed the situation my protagonist, the aptly named Yvette Grimm, found herself in as a British-born visa overstayer, with the plight of real asylum seekers. I also paralleled the punitive and cruel asylum seeker policies of current governments with the way Australia treated the forgotten child migrants who were sent to children’s homes.

You can read the full review at Readers’ Favorite.

Find out more about Asylum, and read an excerpt and other reviews here.

And you may buy a copy if you wish, from many places, including Amazon, Book Depository, Booktopia.

If you wish to read my opinion pieces on asylum seekers, you will find a list of links here.

Talking Location on Trip Fiction

Here in Australia it’s Mother’s Day. UK based Trip Fiction would probably not have known that. So when they published on their blog my piece on Lanzarote, they couldn’t have known how significant the timing was for me.

I left Lanzarote in 1990. My daughters were born in 1991. They exist because I left the island that had captured my heart, my mind, my soul in a way nowhere else has. When I left, I had no intention of doing anything other than going back. Then everything went wrong and I ended up in Australia, reuniting with my mum who I hadn’t seen for 9 years. A new chapter of my life began, one centred on my mum, and those two girls of mine.

I’m saving for my next visit to my favourite little island. Meanwhile, a big thank you to Trip Fiction for including my piece on their wonderful innovative site, which is dedicated to travel fiction and stories set in interesting locations. Here’s the link to my piece – http://www.tripfiction.com/chatting-lanzarote-author-isobel-blackthorn/  While you are there, you might want to check out the site.

You can read more about my novel The Drago Tree here

and read a lovely thoughtful review by Nada Adel Sobhi  here

 

Author Interview – James Watts

I am delighted to welcome author James Watts, whose debut horror novel Them was released by Fear Front publishing on 15 May 2017.

Tell me a little about yourself James. Where were you raised? Where do you live now?

I grew up in the small town of West Jefferson, Alabama. Born in Birmingham, Alabama on March 17, 1976.  A few years after high school I moved to Panama City, Fl for around 10 years. I moved back to Alabama 5 years ago and currently live in my old home town of West Jefferson.

At what age did you realise your fascination with horror?

It was pretty early on, around the age of 6 or7. My older sisters and brother were always watching horror films. Especially my sister Tammy. She introduced me to Nightmare on Elm Street. And my sister Eugenia and her boyfriend, now husband, took me to a drive-in to see Friday the 13th.

When did you start writing?

Around the age of 11. I was using the library more and more around the 4th grade and discovered the Hardy Boys. Loved those books. And not long after I picked up a copy of Stephen King’s “The Stand”, and knew after that I wanted to write. Between my love of comics and novels, I eventually tried my own hand at it. And it was terrible, but I kept going.

Who are your favourite authors to read? Who inspires you in your writing?

My son Bailey is my inspiration to keep pushing on. My favourite authors include Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, John Saul, Anne Rice, Peter Straub, Edgar Allan Poe, and Richard Matheson.

Tell me a little about your latest book?

 Them is a horror narrative set in the small Alabama town of Maple Grove and took a little over a year to finish, mainly because I was working in security at the time and was constantly working.

The fictional town of Maple Grove is actually located around five miles from my hometown of West Jefferson. By knowing the area so well, it was easier to tell my story. It doesn’t end with familiar surroundings either. There is a lot of me in this book, different smaller parts of me in every character. For instance, the protagonist Ray Sanders moved to Florida to escape the pain of betrayal. I did the same thing. Although, our reasons for returning are different. Now as for Ray’s childhood, it was pulled from my own to a certain extent.

The story itself focuses on Ray overcoming his insecurities and to be the man he must be in order to destroy the evil that has hovered over Maple Grove for over a hundred years, and to break the hold it has over his bloodline. Mind control, creepy animals, and vividly eerie dreams make this task almost insurmountable.

“In the small town of Maple Grove, Alabama, an ancient evil resurfaces to claim its right to life and the human race be damned. When Ray Sanders returned to Maple Grove to attend his mother’s funeral, he never planned to have to overcome all of his insecurities in order to save the town from an evil as old as time itself. For over a hundred years, the town of Maple Grove has suffered from the deranged minds and unquenchable hunger of parasitic creatures not of our Earth. Once before in a sacrifice of blood, the forces from beyond were locked away presumably forever. Now they have returned, hungering for their chance to evolve. It will be up to Ray Sanders, his cousin Roy, and a woman either them recall to stop this evolution and prevent the reign of these ageless creatures before their evil can spread.”

Thanks for the interview James, and all the very best with your book, Them, which very very creepy.

You can buy a copy of James Watt’s book on Amazon

You can find James on Facebook at

https://www.facebook.com/Southernhorrorwriter/

Twitter @james2go34

Me and Bettina Arndt – in conversation with Ann Creber Monday May 15

I’m pleased to announce I’ll be on Ann Creber’s The Good Life, this Monday May 15th, 4-5pm  in conversation with sex therapist and men’s rights movement supporter Bettina Arndt on the topic of controversial documentary The Red Pill and domestic violence.

Bettina takes a very different view of domestic violence to me. We both acknowledge the problem, but with very different takes on the perpetrators and victims, and the statistics. See http://www.bettinaarndt.com.au/news/2479/

My experience of domestic violence, both as a child and as an adult, along with my stays in three women’s shelters, has provided me with first hand experience of this very ugly side of human nature. Here’s one story I wrote, ‘The Refuge,’ first published in American literary magazine Mused, and later in my short story collection, All Because of You.

Although I have also experienced workplace bullying from female perpetrators. https://open.abc.net.au/explore/82764

I won’t deny that both men and women can be abusive. It’s just that men have a greater capacity for domestic terror than women. They tend to be bigger, stronger and more likely to feel a sense of entitlement when it comes to exerting their power over others.

I’m about to start giving creative writing workshops for women survivors of domestic violence. Each participant will be writing a short story, to add to an anthology of survival stories.

All in all, the combination of views should make for a lively and interesting chat!

Tune in to 3MDR 3-5pm Monday 15th May for The Good Life – http://www.3mdr.com/

Tell Me Why by Sandi Wallace

All good books are hard to put down. Sandi Wallace’s Tell Me Why is no exception.

“Picturesque Daylesford has a darker side. Melbourne writer Georgie Harvey heads to the mineral springs region of central Victoria to look for a missing farmer.There she uncovers links between the woman’s disappearance and her dangerous preoccupation with the unsolved mystery surrounding her husband.Maverick cop and solo dad John Franklin is working a case that’s a step up from Daylesford’s usual soft crime; a poison-pen writer whose targets are single mothers.Georgie’s investigation stirs up long buried secrets and she attracts enemies. When she reports the missing person to the local cops, sparks fly between her and Franklin. Has he dismissed the writer too quickly? A country cop, city writer, retired farmer and poison-pen stalker all want answers.What will they risk to get them? What will be the ultimate cost?”

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The twin elements that will win the hearts of crime fiction fans are setting and an interesting sleuth. In Tell Me Why Wallace has both. The setting is Daylesford, a small country town east of Melbourne famous for its proximity to Hepburn Springs, rendering the locale a lure for the rich and famous, an area of luxury hotels and spa retreats. Knowing this before opening Tell Me Why, the reader may be forgiven for anticipating an Agatha Christie cosy mystery, or a sort of corporate crime conspiracy novel. Tell Me Why is neither. The novel is firmly situated in the sub-genre of Australian rural crime, since there is such a thing.

The novel has two sleuths, senior constable John Franklin, and Melbourne-based writer Georgie Harvey, each investigating a separate mystery. The inclusion of two sleuths, one from the country, the other the city, plays to the theme of the rural-city divide, although the dichotomy serves more as a backdrop than as an issue explored and developed in a literary sense. Both Franklin and Harvey are well-crafted characters, satisfyingly complex and damaged. Neither sleuth is especially likeable at first. Both are hard edged, carrying their hurts and prejudices close. Both are judgemental, Harvey more so, her heart filled with resentments and frustrations, whereas Franklin is prone to the sort of casual sexism found in Australian rural society. Through both pairs of eyes social realism veers close to stereotyping, with single mothers under the spotlight.

Inevitably, the various foibles of Franklin and Harvey drive the plot. The story opens with a short prelude, a catastrophic fire and a mystery. From there the  narrative jump cuts from Franklin to Harvey, as their individual inquiries unfold.

The jump cuts work well, if making for a seemingly disjointed narrative at first, more demanding of the reader’s attention. The style makes for a fast pace and creates natural tension, the reader forced to wait for vital information as her attention is diverted back and forth between the points of view. What unfolds is a cracking plot. There is never a dull moment. The reader sinks into the story, confident the author is in control of the narrative and won’t disappoint. No small feat. Crime readers are a sharp bunch, likely to extract a calculator to check up on a distance or a passage of time. Thankfully, Wallace manages to avoid stepping outside the bounds of plausibility.

The writing is strong, gritty, earthy and witty at times. Tell Me Why  is a considered work, written with care. Wallace knows her craft. Tell Me Why is a perfect balance of action, dialogue, and reflection. Description is kept to a minimum, just enough to be evocative. Wallace knows her readership too. Themes appealing to female crime lovers abound. Mothers and babies, the strong bonds of female friendship, a cast of utterly believable and endearing minor characters, all held together in a pleasing the rural setting.

Tell Me Why is a compulsive read. The novel should appeal to crime lovers everywhere. I am looking forward to reading the newly released sequel, Dead Again.

Find Sandi Wallace here: http://www.sandiwallace.com/

This is the second book I have reviewed for the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge. To find out more about the challenge, visit the website