LitNet: Joanne Hichens interviews Karen Jennings about AN ISLAND

I didn’t set out to write a fable – or, rather, I did not think about it explicitly in those terms – yet I believe that the description is an apt one, to a certain extent. I wanted to explore certain complexities relating to the history of the African continent and how that history continues to influence the lives of individuals to this day. Because that history is such a multifaceted one that is shared, to varying degrees, by numerous African countries, I wanted to reduce the narrative to a small location, with few characters, and by those means amplify the key concerns.

One of those concerns is examining the life of an ordinary individual. There is nothing special about Samuel. He is not heroic, intelligent, skilled or wealthy. He is very much an everyman – an everyman who has experienced aspects of colonisation, of being made to flee his home, of poverty, of the fight for independence, of torture and imprisonment under a dictatorship, and of trying to find his place in all of that chaos and horror. What does a man like Samuel have? How does he feel? What will he do in order to protect his home?

AN ISLAND by KAREN JENNINGS: AN INTERVIEW

Blog Tour: AN ISLAND by Karen Jennings

Karavan Press co-published An Island by Karen Jennings with the UK publisher, Holland House Books.

When the UK edition of An Island appeared last year in November, this stunning novel and its author went on a blog tour, organised by Emma Welton of Damppebbles Blog Tours. Here are some highlights:

In my novel, An Island, I have attempted to engage with the dark history that many African nations share, the ramifications of which are felt to this day. Because of the complexity of the historical influences, I chose to tell the story in as simple a way as possible, using as location a small fictional island off the coast of Africa, never revealing to which country that island belongs. I dislike the pervasive western notion that Africa is a single country, an idea that reduces the vibrant cultures, societies, languages and traditions to all being one and the same. The intent behind An Island was never to take part in that reductionism. Rather, I hoped that through focusing the action of the novel on two key characters and their interactions within the confines of this small space that it would allow significant relevant historical influences to be seen as irrevocable and undeniable aspects in the life of the protagonist, but without the risk of specific events, historical figures and political policies overshadowing his thoughts, emotions and behaviour. By those means I wished to examine what the influence of such a history might be on an individual – most specifically, what might drive a seemingly ordinary person to violence?

KAREN JENNINGS – DAMPPEBBLES BLOG TOURS

Karen has created an atmospheric tale, one that has humanity sewn through its core. The setting of an island backdrop breathes the chill of loneliness through the chapters and the way it feels personal and raw will have the reader understanding, possibly connecting with Samuel on levels we weren’t sure we would. An Island is a truly special read, that you’ll find creeps up on you chapter by chapter. You’ll get lost in the wave of Karen’s words, in Samuel’s loss, life and grief entranced by the violence our protagonist has experienced, as well as the emotional knitting that holds the novel’s core together.

THE READING CLOSET

… a well developed story, great setting and a fantastic main character.

DONNA’S BOOK BLOG

An important and astoundingly good novel … The idea for An Island came to Karen during an afternoon nap at a writers’ residency she was attending in Denmark in 2015. In her sleep, she saw an old man, fiercely defending his island against interlopers. At the time, there was a vast amount in the news about the Syrian Refugee Crisis, which extended to what became known as Europe’s Refugee Crisis. There was a great global outcry against xenophobic responses and calls for humanitarian aid for Syria’s refugees. At the same time, there was almost nothing about refugees from Africa – not about what drove them to flee their nations, or what their dreadful experiences were, nor about their deaths or their futures. Karen chose to explore the relationship between refugee and landowner, but within an African setting, where xenophobia is as rife as in Europe, though it often manifests itself in different ways despite largely being born of colonialism. By reducing the action of the narrative to two characters, Karen felt that a complex issue could be rendered in simple ways that allowed for a focus on individual experiences.

MY BOOKISH BLOGSPOT

STEFANIE: Is there a writer whose brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
KAREN: Last year I read the autobiography of Anthony Trollope, the nineteenth century writer. I found him fascinating because of his work ethic. He had very strict rules for himself, such as getting up early every morning and writing something like 2000 words before going about his day. He would write 250 words per 15 minutes and made sure to keep a strict log of his progress. Travelling was no excuse for idleness – no matter where he was in the world, he would write, whether it was on a boat or a train, in a carriage, in the jungle, in the desert. He was “merciless”, that’s how he described his attitude to writing. If, for example, he finished writing a book, but he still had ten minutes of allocated writing time or he hadn’t fulfilled his wordcount, he would just pick up a fresh page and start a new book. Parts of this sound so mad to me, while other parts of it make sense, to a certain extent.
Steinbeck, on the other hand, seems to have been quite the opposite. In his diaries that he kept while writing Grapes of Wrath, he records often taking days off to hang out with friends or to enjoy the nice weather. Then he’d frenziedly work to the point of exhaustion for a few days before lounging around again.
I would like to be able to sit with the two of them and have a conversation about writing practice. I imagine it would be quite fascinating, but likely a disaster. I don’t see the two of them getting on very well!

THE MAGIC OF WOR(L)DS

ELS: 1. Which character would you like to be in this book?

KAREN: I wouldn’t like to be any of them! They are all in desperate situations or live very bleak existences. I can’t say that I envy any of them.

B FOR BOOKREVIEW

The themes of this book are serious but covered sensitively. I have really enjoyed reading this one.

I have loved Sam as a main character, he is unique …

LITTLE MISS BOOK LOVER 87

The vivid descriptions of life on the island capture the rhythm of Samuel’s days; he tends his vegetable patch, feeds the chickens and prepares his stew and while there is comforting familiarity to his life, there is also an underlying loneliness which perhaps explains why he shelters a man he knows nothing about. His resentment and fear of the outsider is entirely understandable yet also devastatingly poignant. These are two men who don’t understand each other but both are outsiders, shaped then shunned by much of a violent society because of who they are or where they come from. An Island is a powerful exploration of humanity’s complex relationship with each other, meaning the universal need to connect with others is constantly threatened by suspicion and frequently misplaced anger. Karen Jennings’ book is an affecting read – this empathetic, evocative novel is a thought-provoking look at themes which affect us all, regardless of where we come from. 

HAIR PAST A FRECKLE

The SA edition of An Island is published by Karavan Press: An Island by Karen Jennings.

Joy Watson reviews Death and the After Parties by Joanne Hichens

Joanne Hichens’ Death and the After Parties is a story about what happens when we lose someone we love and we’re broken beyond repair.

Joanne Hichens

Two weeks into lockdown, my Dad took ill. A month later, he was dead. In the months that followed, I spiralled into a dark pit of nothingness. Consumed by loss, I journeyed into the underworld, my only solace being stories about death. This is how I came across Joanne Hichens’ Death and the After Parties – a story about what happens when the matrix shifts – when we lose someone we love and we’re broken beyond repair.

Hichens writes, ‘How do we keep in mind how fast time diminishes for us, that the years left become a smaller and smaller percentage of time compared to what we have already lived?’

This is at the heart of the book – the fact that time is a narrow bandwidth. We live. We love. We lose loved ones …

Continue reading: Daily Maverick

WOMAN ZONE STORIES – Joanne Hichens speaks to Nancy Richards

“In her book Death and the After Parties – a memoir (Karavan Press) JOANNE HICHENS shares the full range of emotions she felt following first the death of her mother, then in quick succession her husband, her father and her mother-in-law. Recovery after the death of loved ones is a life-long affair – but what she deals with here is coping with the raw early stages and the agonising aftermath. It is a book to which every one can relate, on many different levels.”

Listen here: WOMAN ZONE STORIES

Pamela Power interviews Melissa A. Volker for Go.See.Do.South Africa: “Shadow Flicker & Other Things”

I think I met Missy Volker, author of Shadow Flicker, on Twitter (quelle surprise) through author and publisher, Karina Szczurek where we bonded over our love of books and cats. I then met her IRL at Karina’s house and subsequently at the launch of my first novel Ms Conception at the Book Lounge where Missy was kind enough to paint my nails (yes, at the book shop) and mend a bra strap that decided to give up the ghost just before we began (it was an eventful launch). Missy has supported me on my writing journey right from the get-go and it gives me great pleasure now to return the favour – and not only because she is a friend – but because I really LOVE her writing. Her books could be categorised as up-lit – literature that uplifts and they are EXACTLY what people need to read right now.

Tell us about your day job and how it’s been affected during #lockdown. Also, any grooming tips for us like how to paint our own damn nails??

I’m a beauty therapist. I work from home, but we were closed in lockdown. The sector reopened on Friday but I decided not to open just yet as I work from home and have family members with comorbidities. Also the husband has set up his WFH office in my salon. Maybe it’s time to finish that pesky first draft? Grooming tips?  Always wear sunscreen and, if you decide to wax yourself, remember once it’s on there’s only one way to get it off. And it is not 123NOPE.

Missy-doing-my-nails-before-my-book-launch...

Continue reading here: Go.See.Do.South Africa – “Shadow Flicker & Other Things”

Dragonfly interview with Melissa A. Volker

“I’ve noticed in my own journey in surfing how the ocean empowers women, how surfing teaches women that they are stronger than they ever knew. This inspired my female protagonists: strong women who prevail in the face of waves of adversity. I like to steer away from the usual gender stereotypes, for example, I made the engineer in Shadow Flicker a woman, and the single parent, a man.”

Read the entire interview here: Dragonfly.eco

Dragonfly.eco is a “news site that covers environmental fiction authors’ works via book posts, interviews, reader-submitted reviews, book database, guest posts, and author spotlights. This site raises awareness of the impact and diversity in storytelling around the world that explores climate change and related ecological themes.”