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May 2022

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The Country of Others by Leila Slimani
19th May 2022

Read an extract from
The Country of Others
by Leila Slimani

The Country of Others

 

Two nations at war. Two cultures in conflict.
One couple caught in the crossfire. One woman torn apart.

 

The Country of Others is the new paperback from Leila Slimani, bestselling author of Lullaby and Adele, and is the first volume of a dazzling new trilogy telling the saga of one French family between 1946 and 2016. Powerful and perceptive, this is one of the most compelling and evocative novels you will read this year, and here you can exclusively read the opening chapter

 



 

The first time Mathilde visited the farm, she thought: It’s too remote. The isolation made her anxious. He didn’t have a car back then, in 1947, so they crossed the fifteen miles from Meknes on an old cart, driven by a Gypsy. Amine paid no attention to the discomfort of the wooden bench, nor to the dust that made his wife cough. He had eyes only for the landscape. He was eager to reach the estate that his father had left him.

          In 1935, after years spent working as a translator in the colonial army, Kadour Belhaj had purchased these hectares of stony ground. He’d told his son how he hoped to turn it into a flourishing farm that would feed generations of Belhaj children. Amine remembered his father’s gaze, his unwavering voice as he described his plans for the farm. Acres of vines, he’d explained, and whole hectares given over to cereals. They would build a house on the sunniest part of the hill, surrounded by fruit trees. The driveway would be lined with almond trees. Kadour was proud that this land would one day belong to his son. ‘Our land!’ He uttered these words not in the way of nationalists or colonists – in the name of moral principles or an ideal – but simply as a landowner who was happy to own land. Old Belhaj wanted to be buried here, he wanted his children to be buried here; he wanted this land to nurture him and to be his last resting place. But he died in 1939, while his son was training with the Spahi Regiment, proudly wearing the burnous and the sirwal. Before leaving for the front, Amine – the eldest son, and now the head of the family – rented the land to a Frenchman born in Algeria.

          When Mathilde asked what he had died of, this father-in-law she’d never met, Amine touched his belly and silently nodded. Later, Mathilde found out what had happened. After returning from Verdun, Kadour Belhaj suffered with chronic stomach pains that no Moroccan healer or European doctor was able to allay. So this man, who boasted of his love of reason, his education, his talent for foreign languages, dragged himself, weighed down by shame and despair, to a basement occupied by a chouafa. The sorceress tried to convince him that he was bewitched, that some powerful enemy was responsible for his suffering. She handed him a sheet of paper folded in four, containing some saffron-yellow powder. That evening he drank the remedy, diluted in water, and he died a few hours later in terrible pain. The family didn’t like to talk about it. They were ashamed of the father’s naivety and of the circumstances of his death, for the venerable officer had emptied his bowels on the patio of the house, his white djellaba soaked with shit.

          This day in April 1947, Amine smiled at Mathilde and told the driver to speed up. The Gypsy rubbed his dirty bare feet together and whipped the mule even harder. Mathilde flinched. The man’s violence towards the animal revolted her. He clicked his tongue – ‘Ra!’ – and brought the lash down on the mule’s skeletal rump. It was spring and Mathilde was two months pregnant. The fields were covered in marigolds, mallows and starflowers. A cool breeze shook the sunflowers. On both sides of the road they saw the houses of French colonists, who had been here for twenty or thirty years and whose plantations stretched gently down to the horizon. Most of them had come from Algeria and the authorities had granted them the best and biggest plots of land. Reaching out with one hand while using the other as a visor to shield his eyes from the midday sun, Amine contemplated the vast expanse. Then he pointed to a line of cypresses that encircled the estate of Roger Mariani, who’d made his fortune as a winemaker and pig farmer. From the road they couldn’t see the house, or even the acres of vines, but Mathilde had no difficulty imagining the wealth of this farmer, a wealth that filled her with hope for her own future. The serenely beautiful landscape reminded her of an engraving hung above the piano at her music teacher’s house in Mulhouse. She remembered this man telling her: ‘It’s in Tuscany, mademoiselle. Perhaps one day you will go to Italy.’

          The mule came to a halt and started eating the grass that grew by the side of the road. The animal had no intention of climbing the slope that faced them, strewn with large white stones. The driver stood up in a fury and began showering the mule with insults and lashes. Mathilde felt tears well behind her eyelids. Trying to hold them back, she pressed herself against her husband, who was irritated by her sensitivity.

          ‘What’s the matter with you?’ Amine said.

          ‘Tell him to stop hitting that poor mule.’

          Mathilde put her hand on the Gypsy’s shoulder and looked at him, like a child seeking to appease an angry parent. But the driver grew even more violent. He spat on the ground, raised his arm and said: ‘You want a good whipping too?’

          The mood changed and so did the landscape. They came to the top of a shabby-looking hill. No flowers here, no cypresses, only a few stunted olive trees surviving amid the rocks and stones. The hill appeared hostile to life. We’re not in Tuscany any more, thought Mathilde. This was more like the Wild West. They got off the cart and walked to a small, charmless little building with a corrugated-iron roof. It wasn’t a house, just a series of small, dark, damp rooms. There was only one window, located high up to prevent vermin getting in, and it let through the barest hint of daylight. On the walls, Mathilde noticed large greenish stains caused by the recent rains. The former tenant had lived alone; his wife had gone back to live in Nîmes after losing a child, and he’d never bothered making the house more attractive. It was not a family home. Despite the warmth of the air, Mathilde felt chilled. When Amine told her his plans she was filled with anxiety.

 



Leila Slimani

Leila Slimani is the first Moroccan woman to win France's most prestigious literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, which she won for Lullaby. A journalist and frequent commentator on women's and human rights, she is French president Emmanuel Macron's personal representative for the promotion of the French language and culture. Born in Rabat, Morocco, in 1981, she lives in Paris with her French husband and their two young children.

Author Photo © Catherine Helie

 

Diary of a Film by Niven Govinden
16th May 2022 - Niven Govinden

Immersive and beguiling -
 Diary of a Film
by Niven Govinden
 

Diary of a Film


If you've been missing the simple joys of wandering around a European city, lost in the narrow streets and local atmosphere, then allow Niven Govinden's new novel Diary of a Film to take you away for a little while. This is a meditative novel about cinema, flâneurs, and queer love, which begins as an auteur arrives at a prestigious European festival to premiere his latest film, and falls under the spell of the city's secrets, both historic and personal. Here Govinden introduces his novel, and generously shares some of the books which inspired and intrigued him during the creative process of writing his new work.

 


 

"Diary of a Film", my sixth novel, is a love letter to cinema but also to books, lost art, and the dreaming that comes from walking around European cities. I always think of novels in terms of generosity: as well as giving the reader one particular vision, it should also direct you to further points of interest. How many odysseys have begun after reading a much-loved novel? For me, countless journeys. In this spirit, here's a reading list comprising novels, essays, biography, interviews, travelogue, photographic plates and recipes, intended to keep you enveloped in the world of "Diary of a Film" as well as leading you to the mist that surrounded me as I wrote it. Happy travels. 

 

Gilbert Adair - "The Dreamers" (Faber)

James Baldwin - "Tell Me How Long The Train's Been Gone" (Penguin)

Giorgio Bassani - "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis" (Penguin)

Robert Bresson - "Notes on the Cinematograph" (NYRB Classics)

Ray Carney ed. - "Cassavetes on Cassavetes" (Faber) 

Teju Cole - "Blind Spot" (Faber)

Anna Del Conte - "Gastronomy of Italy" (Pavilion)

Lauren Elkin - "Flaneuse" (Vintage)

Philip French - "I Found It At The Movies: Reflections of a Cinephile" (Carcanet)

Luigi Ghirri - "Complete Essays" (Mack)

David Llewellyn - "A Simple Scale" (Poetry Wales Press)

William Maxwell - "The Folded Leaf" (Vintage)

Jan Morris - "Venice" (Faber)

Rachel Roddy - "Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome" (Hodder)

Domenico Starnone - "Ties" (Europa)

Jean Stein - "West of Eden" (Cape)

Frederic Strauss ed. - "Almodovar on Almodovar" (Faber)

Wim Wenders - "Instant Stories" (Thames & Hudson)

 



Niven Govinden

 

Niven Govinden is the author of five previous novels, most recently This Brutal House, which was longlisted for the Jhalak Prize and shortlisted for the Polari and Gordon Burn Prizes.

 

The Transgender Issue by Shon Faye
9th May 2022

Vital, clear and
powerfully humane -
The Transgender Issue
by Shon Faye

The Transgender Issue


There's no two ways about it; The Transgender Issue by Shon Faye is a landmark work that should be read far and wide, which signals the beginning of a new, healthier conversation about trans life. Available now in paperback, and with praise from the likes of Sarah Schulman, Juno Dawson, Owen Jones and Mark O'Connell, Faye's writing is deeply researched and experience-based, whilst also sparklingly precise, inspiring and and truly forward-thinking.

Especially for Foyles, Faye has chosen an extract from her book to share on our blog, and has also written an introduction giving insight into her motivation for writing this powerful, very necessary book. 
 


 

After a new wave of visibility in popular culture in the mid 2010s it seemed that society was beginning to move towards a new acceptance of trans people after decades of engaging in public displays of ridicule and cruelty. More and more trans people, like me, seemed to be open about their identities and the media in Britain and beyond gave those of us who work in journalism more space and platforms to shed light on issues facing trans people. However, this was to be short lived. As the campaigner Christine Burns has pointed out, trans people committed the ultimate crime for any minority group: being more visible. As a result, right wing and conservative forces from the US and the Murdoch media became intent on generating a backlash against the political progress trans people had made and began manufacturing a campaign of hostility and moral panic towards and about transgender lives. 


As a writer who occasionally wrote positively about trans people and their lives, I suddenly found my attempts to report on the discrimination and hostility the most vulnerable trans people face across their lives -  from school to healthcare, from the workplace to the care home – drowned out by a committed campaign of disinformation which treated us as inherently suspect, secretly powerful, proponents of a harmful “ideology” which was creating all sorts of problems for people who are not trans: particularly women and children. Occasionally, I would be commissioned to write corrective pieces but the obsession with ‘balance’ and the lack of informed cisgender people and other trans people in the media or politics meant the power imbalance was simply too great.


This is why I wrote ‘The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice’. I wanted to start a new, different conversation that centres the actual lived experiences of trans people and in doing so I found that, despite welcome progress in social acceptance, trans people remain marginalised in many areas of life. Trans experiences are diverse – but certain trends emerge and in the book as I lay them out what emerges is not a powerful, dangerous, lobby, as a lot of commentators seem to think, but rather one of the most vulnerable and misunderstood communities in the UK, and around the world. Too often British trans people continue to experience significant discrimination, harassment, and social exclusion: 1 in 4 trans people have been homeless, for example.  It is my hope that readers will find the stories in the book help them to understand this community better and will generally help to create more empathy in public discussions of trans lives. In the following adapted extract from the book’s introduction, I explain how the book sets out to do this.


EXTRACT
 

The liberation of trans people would improve the lives of everyone in our society. I say ‘liberation’ because I believe that the humbler goals of ‘trans rights’ or ‘trans equality’ are insufficient. Trans people should not aspire to be equals in a world that remains both capitalist and patriarchal and which exploits and degrades those who live in it. Rather, we ought to seek justice –  for ourselves and others alike. 

Trans people have endured over a century of injustice. We have been discriminated against, pathologized and victimized. Our full emancipation will only be achieved if we can imagine a society that is completely transformed from the one in which we live. This book is primarily concerned with explaining how society, as it is currently arranged, often makes trans people’s lives unnecessarily difficult. Yet, in posing solutions to these problems, it does not limit itself to thinking solely about trans people, but also encompasses anyone who is routinely disempowered and dispossessed. 

Full autonomy over our bodies, free and universal healthcare, affordable housing for all, power in the hands of those who work rather than those privileged few who extract profit from our vastly inequitable system, sexual freedom (including freedom from sexual violence) and the end to the mass incarceration of human beings are all crucial ingredients in the construction of a society in which trans people are no longer abused, mistreated or subjected to violence. Such systemic changes would also particularly benefit everyone else forced to the margins of society, both in the UK and across the world. 

The demand for true trans liberation echoes and overlaps with the demands of workers, socialists, feminists, anti-¬racists and queer people. They are radical demands, in that they go to the root of what our society is and what it could be. For this reason, the existence of trans people is a source of constant anxiety for many who are either invested in the status quo or fearful about what would replace it. 

In order to neutralize the potential threat to social norms posed by trans people’s existence, the establishment has always sought to confine and curtail their freedom. In twenty-¬first- century Britain, this has been achieved in large part by belittling our political needs and turning them into a culture war ‘issue’. Typically, trans people are lumped together as ‘the transgender issue’, dismissing and erasing the complexity of trans lives, reducing them to a set of stereotypes on which various social anxieties can be brought to bear. By and large, the transgender issue is seen as a ‘toxic debate’, a ‘difficult topic’ chewed over (usually by people who are not trans themselves) on television shows, in newspaper opinion pieces and in university philosophy departments. Actual trans people are rarely to be seen. This book intentionally and deliberately reappropriates the phrase ‘transgender issue’, in order to outline the reality of the issues facing trans people today, rather than as they are imagined by people who do not face them.


Today, representational equality and true redistributive politics elude trans people, even as more and more trans people are coming out than ever before. Trans people have now become one of a number of targets in right-wing media, alongside, for instance, Muslims, immigrants generally, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, Black Lives Matter, the fat acceptance movement, and feminists challenging state violence against women. All these groups and more have been reduced to issues in a toxic and polarized public rivalry between value systems.  The past few years have seen discussions around trans people become not only poisonous but, crucially, banal. The ‘topic’ of trans has now been limited to a handful of repetitive talking points: whether nonbinary people exist and whether gender neutral pronouns are reasonable; whether trans children living with dysphoria should be allowed to start their transition; whether trans women will dominate women’s events in the Olympics; and the endless debate over toilets and changing rooms.

This book will not regurgitate these talking points yet again. I believe that forcing trans people to involve themselves in these closed-loop debates ad infinitum is itself a tactic of those who wish to oppress us. Such debates are time-consuming, exhausting distractions from what we should really be focusing on: the material ways in which we are oppressed. The author Toni Morrison once spoke about how precisely this tactic is employed by white people against people of colour: ‘The function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction,’ she told students at Portland State University in 1975. ‘It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being  . . . None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.’ In much the same way, the public discourse over trans people’s experience is distorted and derailed. 

With this book, I want to change the trajectory, to move beyond this discussion of trans people as framed by those who want to stoke a so-called culture war, and to start a new, healthier, conversation about trans people in the UK and beyond. Something that this book is not: a memoir. You don’t have to know the intimate details of my private life to support me. Don’t worry about the ‘why’; act on the ‘what’. What does being a trans person in a transphobic society produce? At the moment, too often, it is still violence, prejudice and discrimination.

Throughout this book, cis (non-trans) readers will recognize inequalities often endured by trans people that they personally, or other minority groups they are familiar with, are also experiencing. This is a good thing: the framing of trans people as ‘the transgender issue’ has the effect of cutting us off from solidarity and making us the ‘other’. A new conversation, then, must necessarily start to undo this estrangement and consider what we share and where we overlap with other minorities or marginalized groups. It is only through solidarity, compassion and radical reimagining that we can build a more just and joyful world for all of us.
 



Shon Faye


Shon Faye was born in Bristol, and is now based in London. After training as a lawyer, she left the law to pursue writing and campaigning, working in the charity sector with Amnesty International and Stonewall. She was an editor-at-large at Dazed, and her writing has been published by the Guardian, the Independent and Vice, among others. Faye recently launched an acclaimed podcast series, Call Me Mother, interviewing trailblazing LGBTQ elders. The Transgender Issue is her first book.
 

Author Photo © Paul Samuel White

 

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw
5th May 2022

Recommended reading
from Deesha Philyaw,
author of The Secret
Lives of Church Ladies


The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw


The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw is a sparkling short story collection which explores the raw and tender places where Black women and girls dare to follow their desires and pursue a momentary reprieve from being good. With Candice Carty-Williams, Caleb Azumah Nelson and Bolu Babalola all huge fans, this is the kind of debut collection which is sure to appeal to Foyles customers, and especially for Foyles, Philyaw has selected her five favourite books published within the last year, a great, varied collection, each of which she introduces below.

 



The Prophets

The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.


A love story, a revelation, a reckoning, and a rebellion all in one, The Prophets will forever upend and subvert comfortable notions of “the slavery novel.” On the Halifax plantation in 1830s Mississippi, we meet Isaiah and Samuel, two young enslaved men who dare to love each other in their private time alone in the barn where they keep the animals. But Amos, a suspicious fellow enslaved man who wields Christianity like a weapon, threatens to destroy the sanctuary Isaiah and Samuel have found within each other. Jones is a dazzling writer and lyrical truth-teller. His debut novel is ancestor-breathed, unapologetically Black and brilliant. The comparisons to Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston that his writing has garnered are well earned. 

 

Confessions of an Alleged Good Girl

Confessions of an Alleged Good Girl by Joya Goffney


This smart, sex-positive YA novel is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. Monique, a Christian preacher’s teenage daughter, discovers she has vaginismus, a medical problem that makes it impossible for her to have sexual intercourse. She and her boyfriend have been secretly trying to have sex for two years, despite the expectation that they will wait until marriage. As Monique struggles to heal, she discovers many truths about her family and about herself. Goffney is a terrific storyteller. With a lot of humor and heart, she raises awareness of vaginismus and challenges outdated, misogynistic views about sex.

 

Khabaar: An Immigrant Journey of Food, Memory, and Family

Khabaar: An Immigrant Journey of Food, Memory, and Family by Madhushree Ghosh

Ghosh’s beautiful memoir is a thoughtful meditation on family, marriage, migration, immigration, and South Asian foodways. Through a series of engrossing essays, she traverses her childhood in India, including her family’s move from Calcutta to a Bengali neighborhood in Delhi, and her move to the U.S. Cooking keeps Ghosh connected to her roots. She’s also a scientist and an activist, so her personal story is woven together with the many complexities of food, race, economics, and culture. The result is a narrative that is deeply intimate and global, personal and political, powerful and tender. And yes, this book will make you hungry. Savor it!
 

Post-Traumatic

Post-Traumatic by Chantal Johnson

What a wild, wonderful ride this book is! Vivian is a young Black Latinx lawyer devoted to her work as a patient advocate at a psychiatrist hospital. But her own mental health hangs on by a thread, the result of unaddressed childhood trauma. Vivian survives her inner terrors and dating disasters with a little help from her friend Jane, some self-medication (weed), and a wicked sense of humor. But Vivian can’t avoid the past forever. Johnson’s prose ignites the page as she draws us into the quiet chaos of Vivian’s mind. Post-Traumatic is a stunning achievement and a truly unforgettable debut.
 

Shoutin' in the Fire: An American Epistle

Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle by Danté Stewart

Stewart writes about the thorniest topics with so much candor, vulnerability, and love. His memoir is as poetic as it is political. A young Black man from South Carolina, he writes of coming of age in a “time of terror,” of deconstructing his experiences with Christian evangelicalism and the white supremacy at the foundation of it. Ultimately, Stewart’s story is one of faith restored, but along the way, he confronts not only the church, but the U.S.’s bloodied and broken promises around justice and freedom. This book is essential reading for anyone seeking to better understand the fraught intersection of race and religion.

 



Deesha Philyaw


Deesha Philyaw is an American author, columnist and public speaker. Her debut, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, won the 2021 Pen.Faulkner Award, the 2020/2021 Story Prize, and the 2020 LA Times Book Prize for First Fiction and was shortlisted for the National Book Award. It is currently being adapted for television by HBO Max. Deesha is also a Kimbilo Fiction Fellow and will be the 2022-2025 John and Renee Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi.

Author Photo © Vanessa German

 

 

My Name is Yip by Paddy Crewe
4th May 2022

Bringing vibrant new
enegry to the historical 
novel - My Name is Yip
by Paddy Crewe

 

My Name is Yip by Paddy Crewe


Arriving with glowing praise from authors such as Sebastian Barry, Rachel Joyce and Donal Ryan, My Name is Yip is the powerful debut novel from Paddy Crewe, starting in the American Mid West in 1815. Being mute, friendless, and an outcast, Yip Tolroy, does not have a voice in the conventional sense of the word, but the through the brilliant writing of Crew, he makes himself heard in the very essence of his character, as he faces hardship and struggle, hope and comradeship as he navigates travelling shows, escaped slaves and the greed of gold-hungry men. Especially for Foyles, Crewe has selected an extract and written a short introduction below

 



This extract isn’t far off from the middle of the book. Things are just starting to go awry for Yip, and he’s desperately trying to cling on to some sense of normality in a world that’s changing rapidly before his eyes. We can never really tell when these moments are coming for us in real life – when a sequence of events, beyond our control, is set in motion – and will, ultimately, lead us down a different path. It’s this lack of control that we all fear, but that’s what makes it so interesting to write about. Yip is on the brink of irrevocable change. Nothing will ever be the same again for him: he’ll be forced away from his home, from everything he knows and loves, and he’ll never be allowed to return to the person he was.

This particular extract is also a good example of the way language works in the book. There’s a difficult balance to strike in a first-person narrative like this: I wanted Yip’s vernacular to have a kind of poetic leaning, but I never wanted it to feel inauthentic, or that there was a transparency to it. What he sees and feels has to be expressed in a way that makes sense to him and, in a way, doesn’t necessarily make sense to me. It’s his world, not mine – I’m the visitor, not him. It sounds obvious, but anyone writing historical fiction has to remember that the world they’re creating for their characters wouldn’t be strange to the characters themselves. For me, the langauge Yip used was a big way of keeping that in mind.


************************************

 

41 BRUNG TO SILENCE
 

When I did open the door it was my nose took the first offence, all them rude vapors what flower full-bodied from sodden furs & sweat-rimed hats was partnered up with pipesmoke to hang in ghostly ruin above my head.
        You might have mistook the origins of that stink for a shovel of Farmhouse Shit but it come from a crowd of half-drowned men, they was hunched at their tables before me, their backs steaming like a herd of shorthorn cows, their beards ambered with drops of liquor come weeping from their plump & wetted lips.
        O how quick their wagging tongues was brung to silence as the door swung shut behind me. Rain dripped steady from my oilskin to the boards, I fancied it did echo in all that stillness loud as grapeshot. My own face was chaptered with streaks of dirt & blood, no doubt they took me for some woodling creature come to damn their Earthly Doings & curse their souls with ruinous spells.
        I should say not a one of them was a stranger to me or I to them but that unnatural weather & the queer play of shadow & light from a fire burning in the grate was conspired to fray the faith of any trusting man. Their eyes was set hard upon me, O it is easy to forget how well a lively blaze might turn a friend to foe, all them wise & kindly lines upon a face soon scored deep as Death.
        So it was I had no chance to take off my hat before several of them had laid a hand upon their weapons, they might have blown my head clean off had Tom Peeper not looked up from his doings behind the bar. He had himself a clasp knife, he was working on some lump of wood with shavings like snowdrift upon his sleeve when he did recognise me for the innocent I was.
        Well little man, said he, his voice come booming out across the room. If it ain’t Yip Tolroy.
        Them men blinked in confusion as old Tom stepped out from under the four lengths of rough-hewn timber what was generously considered a bar & put his arm firm around me. His manner was much changed from the morning, vanished was his sombre tones & hangdog expression, his eyes was now loose with drink. Had I not just seen Burl laid dead in the woods I would have thought him found.
        To hold such tremblesome news in your heart & keep it from them what ought to know is a Great Weight to bear, I did flinch like a fox in a trap at his touch & could not look him in the eye.
        Ain’t no need for nerves here, said he. I do reckon I am right in sayin this is your first time settin foot in my establishment is it not?
        He spread his arms wide & looked about as if it was a Palace of Wonders he did present before me. It was no bigger than the store, the tables was bowlegged & the chairs a sad affair indeed, it was a wonder they held any weight at all. The roof was patched in places, a dinted pail collected the steady drip from a split shingle. As for that bar it was as simple as they come, it did boast no mirrors or rows of polished glasses as you see in them fancy saloons these days, it looked more like mule’s stall than anything I seen.
        Tom Peeper stared back down at me, he was expecting a more excitable response than the blank look I give him, his brow was suddenly knit in concern, spittle did fleck the corners of his moustaches.
        You is looking very hard done by, little man, said he. Put that slate of yourn away. You do not need no single word writ down to tell me you is in need of a good drink.
        He clapped his hands & dipped back under his bar & set to preparing me whatever it was he spent his days brewing.
        All them men was staring at me still, there did sit Wesley Peck & brothers Amos & Ned Seagrave. There was Vaughan Bilpin & Jack Keeves & Brody Waghorn also. Now my character was revealed they each did offer me a sombre nod or tilt of their glass, though I could tell they was still disgruntled by the interruption. That was my first lesson in the habits of a Drinking Man – his fervent hope is to return to his own problems, he is not there to concern himself with the troubles of others.
        But where indeed was Dud Carter?
        I searched every shadow for him but he was not there & soon my eye was drawn to the walls, how queer it was to see them bedecked with shelves & them very shelves lined with so many dark & skilful carvings. Many I saw was horses so artfully crafted in their poses of majesty & triumph, some was risen on their hind legs & others was stilled by some timeless breeze, their strands of mane all a-riffle & well-muscled necks nobly twisted with stony eyes set upon some Distant Glory.
        I had not knowed Tom Peeper for such a craftsman, he must have been hard at work upon another when I come in, there was little piles of dust & shavings I saw now upon the floor what skipped & jumped to the whistling of the wind outside.
        Perhaps, thought I, this might in time come to resemble a merry scene but then I begun to see nailed to that same wall some rows of shallow & leathery bowls or so it looked to me. They was sprigged with a shock of dark & dangling fabric, at first I took it for some finespun cloth or lace.
        But it was not long before I realised what they was, they was no delicate enterprise like the carvings but the wrinkled scalps of all them Indians what had fell beneath Tom Peeper’s blade. The hair hung down, I fancied I still saw the blood gone to brown, it fringed them scalps like woodworm.
        How strange to think they was the tops to peoples’ heads who had once walked & thought & lived out their lives. Where was the rest of them now but surely no more than bones laid out beneath some cold & distant sky, I cannot imagine any soul resting in peace in the knowledge their missing parts was made a trophy of & nailed upon a tavern wall.

 



Paddy Crewe

Paddy Crewe was born in Middlesbrough in 1991. He studied at Goldsmiths, University of London. My Name Is Yip is his first novel.

 

 

Miss Aldridge Regrets - Louise Hare
27th April 2022

Louise Hare introduces
her absorbing second novel
Miss Aldridge Regrets


Miss Aldridge Regrets - Louise Hare


Miss Aldridge Regrets is the beguiling second novel from Louise Hare, a brilliant historical murder mystery, which deftly explores class, race and pre-WWII politics. An intriguing Christie-esque mystery, that is sure to earn Louise even more fans, after her debut This Lovely City did so well and was featured on BBC2's Between the Covers. Especially for Foyles, Louise has chosen an illuminating extract, and written a blog that gives insight into her research and extra context to her evocative and immersive novel. 

 




The choice to make my protagonist, Lena, mixed race but light skinned enough to pass came after an argument with a friend. This was back in 2018 and the papers were still obsessing over Meghan Markle. ‘But how can it be racist,’ said my friend, ‘when she basically looks white?’

There isn’t space here to go into why racism isn’t purely linked to skin colour. There is no doubt that there is an advantage to having ‘European’ features, good hair, to ‘fitting in’, but that isn’t enough to save a person entirely from being othered.

In two of the most well-known novels that focus on ‘passing’ as a theme – Nella Larsen’s Passing and Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half – there is deception at the heart. Both Clare Kendry and Stella Vignes marry white men and are forced to cut themselves off from their old community in order to maintain their appearance as white women. This perhaps makes sense when you consider the one-drop rule that became prominent in the US and became particularly popular with the rise of the eugenics movement and its accompanying ideas of racial purity.

Far from being a US phenomenon, I wanted to write about passing from a UK perspective. While watching a TV programme on Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the mixed-race Victorian composer and musician, I was struck by an interview with one of his descendants, a white man who had only recently discovered that his famous ancestor was Black. Coleridge-Taylor faced terrible racial abuse during his life, especially in his hometown of Croydon. Is it so strange then that his own children chose to remain racially ambiguous? His own daughter, Avril, even toured South Africa under the apartheid regime until her heritage was discovered.

My own protagonist, Lena, has spent most of her life letting other people decide whether she’s Black or white, but when she gets offered the chance of a lifetime, she knows it’s time to make a choice. To complicate matters, the recent death of her Black father leaves her feeling guilty about denying her heritage, but as she gets swept up in the excitement of getting her big break on Broadway, she must decide which is more important: her heritage or her career.

 

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         The toilets were outside the club, along a corridor, and as I approached the ladies’ I noticed a door to my right, leading out onto the deck. Some fresh air might clear my head and lend me a spark of conversational wit. My head felt clearer immediately, even as my skin reacted to the chill sea breeze, goose pimples erupting as I found myself at almost the very top of the ship, the deck practically empty at that hour.

         I stood in the alcove by the door, out of the wind, and managed to light a cigarette. Leaving my fur stole in the club had been an error, but then I hadn’t expected to end up outside. The light above the door was bright and I took a step forward towards the railing, blinking as my sight adjusted to the gloom, slowly picking out the clouds above, shades of cobalt and navy blue against an indigo sky. I began to walk along the deck, trying to keep warm.

        ‘Hey there. Got a light?’

        I jumped at the sound of the voice, deep and male. American.

        ‘Here you are.’ I dared to step forward, holding up my box of matches.

The man who emerged from the shadows towered over me by almost a foot. He reached out a hand for the matchbox, an electric tingle running up my arm as his fingertips brushed against my palm. He lit his cigarette expertly, knowing how to hold his hand against the wind so that the flame caressed the tobacco lovingly, the tip burning bright. I wanted to say something clever and impressive, but I was tongue-tied and silent. His skin was darker than Alfie’s, a burnished smooth umber that caught the light in an impossible way and made me wonder why I’d ever given the pasty-faced James Harrington the time of day. The coat and tails he wore were smart enough but I could see the loose threads around the buttons, the shiny patches that told its age. Much like the black dress I’d worn every night at the Canary. A costume for a stage.

        ‘I haven’t seen you around before,’ he observed.

        ‘Should you have?’

        He shrugged. ‘I know most folk on this ship by now. You weren’t on the last couple crossings.’

        ‘Of course not.’ I laughed at the absurdity of his suggestion. ‘Why would I travel all the way from New York to England and then head right back again?’

        The relaxed look on his face disappeared, confusion fleeting, replaced by an expression of wariness. He took a step back, standing up straight. ‘You’re a passenger?’

        ‘As opposed to…’ Then it dawned on me. ‘You thought what – that I work on the ship?’

        ‘No, no,’ he said hurriedly. ‘Well… I mean, you don’t get many folk like us up here. Not ’less we’re working. So I just assumed. I’m sorry.’

        ‘Like us?’ I stared at him wide-eyed, the words coming out as a bark. ‘What do you mean by that?’

        The man raised his eyebrow and half smiled. ‘No. Sorry, forgive me, I made a mistake. Good evening, ma’am.’ He moved forward and I took a step away from him as he flicked his half-smoked cigarette past me, over the rail, before turning on his heel and walking away in the direction he’d appeared from.

        He’d seen me for what I was. Did everyone know and they were just being polite? No; Frankie had guessed Italian. And people weren’t polite about things like that, especially people like Frankie Abernathy. They didn’t see the need to be. But this man had known immediately. He had taken one look and assumed we were merely different shades of the same. Black. Coloured. Whatever. It didn’t matter, I reminded myself. This is England! Alfie had always told me. We could do what we pleased, same as anyone else. Which didn’t necessarily stop people from staring, or whispering things about us as we walked by on the street, but we could sit where we liked on the bus or the tube.

        Alfie had told me that there were two sets of rules in America, one for them and one for us. In England, there simply weren’t enough coloured people for them to have thought about it that hard. That was why Alfie hated it when another black musician turned up in Soho. He was always welcoming to their face, but I knew that he worried about the delicate balance. A few of us were a novelty, something new. Too many of us and we’d start to become a problem.

        When we moved to Bethnal Green from the mixing pot of Soho I began to understand it more. Most people were friendly enough, they just liked to ask questions: Where are you from? Can I touch your hair? Does the brown rub off? Irritating but harmless, Alfie used to say. You are special, he told me whenever the questions became less harmless, the taunts more hurtful. And they are jealous. But you are as English as they are.

        I am English, the Queen Mary a tiny corner of that green and pleasant land. That was what Charlie had assured me. The concealment was purely for peace of mind, he’d said. It wasn’t a problem, but some Americans weren’t used to a coloured person sitting at their table. They might not take well to it, and we didn’t need the hassle. Smooth sailing. He’d laughed at his own weak joke. No one back home cared who my father was or if I tanned a little darker than the average person in the summer. In New York it would be different.

 



Louise Hare

Louise Hare is a London-based writer and has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London. Originally from Warrington, she has found inspiration in the capital for much of her work, including This Lovely City and Miss Aldridge Regrets. This Lovely City was featured on the inaugural BBC TWO TV book club show, Between the Covers, and was shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize. Louise was selected for the Observer Top 10 Best Debut Novelists list in 2020, securing her place as an author to watch. Miss Aldridge Regrets is her second novel.

Author Photo © Charlotte Knee

 

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