News on writing: next novel, short stories and getting a literary agent

In haste this one – and apologies that I haven’t written for a while. Just to say that I have placed my first book of short stories Famished (publisher TBA all in good time; I’m not allowed to tell you yet) to be published September, 2020 and so, with my historical fiction Saving Lucia out with Bluemoose next spring…herewith some stars of the show: the Honourable Violet Gibson who, in 1926, went to Rome and tried to assassinate Mussolini – and Lucia Joyce, dancer and artist, daughter of novelist James Joyce. She, like Violet, was admitted for life to St Andrew’s Infirmary (formerly the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum).

….that’s two books for you next year. I also have a piece on rebuilding your mind with books for Trauma: Art as a response to mental health for Dodo Ink in January – and we’ll see if there are further commissions. In other news. Tempest…

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…the anthology of writings about dystopias for Patrician Press for which I wrote the introductory essay came out on March 1st and, this summer, one of my stories is published in Newcon press’s Best of British Horror, 2019. Now, if you are looking for my first two books, 2016’s Killing Hapless Ally and this year’s The Life of Almost, you may, at time of updating this (4th April) be able to buy copies online, but these books are, as of this week, currently between publishers and I will post updates as soon as I can.

What else? Well my second historical fiction, The Revelations of Celia Masters (set in mid 17th-century Somerset and Virginia) is waiting for its read (will update) and I have more short stories and another novel, The Fabulist (working title only…) on the go.

Love,

Anna

Hello: this is me, by the way! My seven year old took it and I have snow in my hair.snowyanna

And also…I have a literary agent! I have just signed with Kate Johnson of Mackenzie Wolf Literary Agency, NY…http://www.mwlit.com/…

MacKenzie Wolf

…and we will see where this takes us. Kate has been very involved already – actually I have been talking to her for a year and it is partly Kate whom I have to thank for Famished, partly because she encouraged me to write gothic fiction. We are both delighted with the press it has gone to: it’s a fantastic home! I am currently writing a second volume of short stories which will go directly to Kate and that is called Ravished. While Famished is a series of gothic, horror and weird fiction tales linked by the theme of food and feasts, Ravished is all about age, faith, death and judgement. It’s bloody terrifying me, in fact. I call it my eschatological volume. I’ve been researching Victorian memento mori, photos of the dead, embalming…flipping to googledocs now, it looks like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in its use of photos…ooohhh.

Much love and happy writing – or writing amidst a whole lot of other things going wrong and Brexit stress. Don’t wait for the perfect moment, the clear day or a room of one’s own, huh?

Anna xxx

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A Christmas that’s blue?My bravehearts, you have YOU.

I wonder if you’re looking forward to Christmas? I am, now – but this process has taken a long time. In brief, I lost my mother just before Christmas and my dad eighteen months before that; in the five years prior to that, I had also lost all the relatives who were most significant to me then and the beloved godmother who loved me in a way – I truly believe – which my mother never did. I loved my mother dearly, my father, too, but if you’ve read my first book, you will see that a lot of very dark and complex things went on and were either not known about or were not…seen…by my extended family. I’ve the scars from all that and there will always be scenarios when I feel tender about might have beens, as loss bubbles up. And Christmas has a habit of swatting you back to your earliest pathology. Do you find that, too? I don’t fancy being frightened kid any more.

Now, in my dad’s family, there was conflict and dissension; there was untreated and severe mental illness which I had some measure of as a child and which terrified me; there were suicides and what I now know to be eating disorders which killed at least one of them. I do not see any of my remaining relatives now – and my father had six siblings so I know I must have cousins living not far away; it is a strange and unreal situation. I do not think about it so much until another relative or well-meaning friend brings it up, usually some time around Christmas. I shiver.

‘You ought to try and get in touch with your father’s family.’

But you see, when I think of it all, of my father’s family, I feel so sad. I can salvage a memory of the most beautiful tree you ever saw at Christmas; it was in my grandparents’ house and it had tiny musical instruments you could actually play; I can bring to mind a pretty little brass saxophone now. But all this is gone. Why? Because when I buried my mother, some of my father’s clan came and, as I turned from the grave, two younger aunts and a cousin tapped on the arm before leaving abruptly. They said, ‘We will not be seeing you again.’ So there’s me, barely an adult, having just lost both parents and there we are. No, I never saw them again because all communication stopped. I know that people say blood’s thicker than water, but I disagree. Blood is thick, alright – but sometimes family links are meaningless.

There, I said it.

If a group of people makes it clear that you have no place in their life and that they do not and never loved you, why would you pursue them? Yes, this hurts; it hurts particularly at Christmas, but this is really where your self care and command of yourself need to kick in. Build more family. You may have a partner, children (I am married, have three boys and help to take care of others’ children); you may not. You are not in any way lesser because you do not. I’m not having that, oh no no no. If you possibly can, try to think that family is a flexible construct. You can build it of your friends. Once you truly accept that, there’s a feeling of liberation.

If you feel lonely, unloved, come and see me. Because I know, I just know, I am going to love you. And I’ve got the pies and mulled wine. And sugared almonds.

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I mentioned before about my parents. Well, there were many good things and I don’t want to be ungrateful for those. I loved my mother, in particular, with a passion. But my experience, broadly, was of one brutal and sneering parent (my mum) and of another (my dad) who failed to protect me from her. It was made clear, again and again, that I was an unwanted child. That I was the bringer of harm. I was weird kid and eldritch child and any manner of things. I remember wonderful routines and beautiful decorations at Christmas; I also remember being frightened and lonely. I have had years of managing mental health problems, from the OCD that ruled much of my activity in childhood and early teens, to depression, generalised anxiety, the nightmares which are the bringer of insomnia (I always have the same nightmares, more or less) and the dissociative episodes which are managed but not cured. Were I to hunt for a root for all that, I should test my pulse and say…yes: there it is in the ghost of Christmas past when I was given a present unsmilingly and told I did not deserve it. And it was such a beautiful present. It might have been lying beside me as I was kicked in my side or had my hair pulled. As part of all this was a much older sibling who, to me, was angel and devil. He disappeared from my life altogether and then re-emerged. My mother, like my dad, came from a big family but, with a couple of exceptions, when he re-emerged with a new wife, they killed the fatted calf. Because there should not and cannot be – I don’t want to overload you with detail here – a link (meaningless anyway) between my sibling and my young family, recent extended family events at Christmas have involved him and her and not me, not the kids everyone should, I would say, be focused on or more protective of. The loyalty and the love that I hope I have shown my entire life are valued – and I cannot say that I am without family members who value me and who have been understanding and loving – but it is easier to go along with the person who may leave again and go along with it for the sake of my dead mother. So, I have had to entirely reshape my family dynamic and, this year, for the first time in years, we are spending it all at home, the five of us, the cats. the ladybird colony upstairs, the hens clucking away outside. The home I always thought I could not build or have.

pie

And I feel so lucky. We will ring my husband’s family in the US. We try. Again, my husband has made the difficult decision not to see his birth father any more. He tried to make it work from his parents’ acrimonious divorce onwards; that was when he was a kid. He can no longer do it. He is loved, our boys are loved, but then again there are fractured relationships in that family because of two difficult divorces, remarriage and where the kids settle into all that. Or haven’t in all cases. Some families manage it well; it would be fair to say that this one has not. In this particular case, we make the best of it. Because it’s what you do. You take the love and joy where you can; when you get stronger, you realise you can move away from the things that hurt. When you are a child, it is not the same at all. There’s another reason why we are at home this Christmas. My husband wants to hunker down there and for his sons to feel the solidity of that home.

Again, a voice pipes up. ‘You should make contact with your dad. It’s Christmas.’ My husband is altogether more phlegmatic than I am. He just says, ‘Nope.’

And a few more pipe up on the subject of my brother. ‘You should try and make contact with your brother. For the boys’ sake. Don’t they deserve to know him?’ I cried a full hour after that, pulling off the M4 at Cardiff Gate. The notion that I had taken something from my children. (And also, The Glamour. What did I look like, banging the steering wheel in the rage that followed as I sat there?) All well meant, but no, they deserve better and no I shouldn’t make contact. Any interest is fleeting, I am scared of him and more now of what he could say than of what he could do and it is incumbent on me to protect my kids, while I can. Families go down rabbit holes to keep the peace. But I am peaceful. What happened there, in my past, my teens and early twenties, caused me immense pain and fractured every area of my life. Why would I put my kids in a place of risk? Why would I enforce on them a contract with a person who has taken no interest in them and in their wellbeing and shows none now. And a kindly relative whom I love (but still whose opinion I must disparage – this is okay, readers) says again and again, ‘You must do what your mother would have wanted’. There I, the gaslit child, ask a question and am met with bafflement.

I say, ‘Why?’

And a well meaning friend: ‘Christmas is for families…’ ‘Yes, but…’ ‘But they wouldn’t have to be alone with him…’ Think about this. It is predicated on fantasy from an otherwise kind and intelligent person. It is nonsense.

I say, ‘But why on earth would I even entertain that?’

What I said about family being a flexible construct. The other day, my friend J Hall wrote this piece: https://jlhallwriter.com/2018/12/14/a-safe-christmas/  J confronted her parents and the results were explosive. I will leave you to read this beautiful piece. But here is an example of what happened next.

Fast forward over a decade and there are no invitations to family Christmas dinner, no more phone calls after the Queen’s speech. The festivities in my wider kin continue without me. Sometimes I wonder if I am missed, or thought of for anything other than a brief, conscience-pricked moment. My family now is my partner.

At Christmas, for those of us that have lost, we feel the heartbeat of those losses. They pulse under our skin, they surge in our veins. When we stop the busy-busy, the undead of abusive Christmases past nip at our heels. They sink in their teeth and bite. Memories appear fully formed, here to bully and ravage.

Many families have been broken, and as adults our worst Christmas is always remembered, and held a little bit closer to us than it is the rest of the year.

She’s right, isn’t she? And brave. And I said to her just the other day that she can now add me to her family, if she would consent. And she said, ‘I do.’ As I write, I’ve had devastating news about a friend. She’s a friend who calls me ‘Sis’. Through the demanding illness of both herself and her husband, her family has not stepped up. We will be there on Christmas day – as the family that was made. And her boys need me. They tell me. Water is sometimes thicker than blood! Let’s go with that image: imagine a thick water, warm, enveloping, doting, loving and providing.  Like your best bath ever! Yes, that.

Now, here’s a feature from yesterday. From the excellent Kerry Hudson, prefaced with this quotation:

‘Christmas without family might be painful, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than Christmas with them.’

https://www.the-pool.com/news-views/opinion/2018/51/christmas-no-family-friends-how-to-cope-kerry-hudson-lowborn

If you’ve been feeling fragile, may it comfort and support you; likewise, through it, I followed some threads on twitter from @MhairiMcF on how very silly it is for people to comment and pass judgement on whether or not Meghan Markle should see her father (in your face Piers Morgan). I felt for her; I’m no fan of anything royal, but I felt for her, making her way forward and expecting her first child. It is not casting aside or cruelty to decide not to see a relation – even a parent – you feel you cannot see. Because some relationships must, at some point, pass on without you. From here, I found wisdom from @ SaliHughes – commenting here on twitter that,

‘If you know better than the Meghan Markle haters, and understand from exp that estrangement from family members is complex, nuanced, difficult but sometimes very necessary, then you can apply to join my FB group. Search for NFE – Necessary Family Estrangement, in the groups tab.’

Practical and wise, that. I want to add, for anyone alone on Christmas day, because of family problems or any other reason – and I mean feeling alone, feeling lonely – then I can thoroughly recommend the hashtag #joinin on Christmas Day, as started by the comedienne Sarah Millican. Here: https://metro.co.uk/2017/12/25/sarah-millicans-joinin-campaign-help-lonely-christmas-7183846/ As Metro put it,

Whether you’re spending the day on your own, are feeling lonely, have suffered a loss or simply find the holidays hard, just click on the hashtag and chat to those feeling the same.

For the past two years, I’ve joined in. I’ve had big bubbles of cry come up – and this despite having the children here. Because I find it hard, still. A huge support and I hope others enjoyed talking to me as much as I did to them.

bauble

I think that’s enough of all this. The sky is azure here; the air is crisp. Hey you. Gird your loins, get some stollen in, dm me, whatever you need, my bravehearts. Go for a walk and listen to the winter song of the robin for a while. Take a holiday from the worries that beset you (and I mean global worries as well as about family and the dearth or paucity of it) and remember my adage: that family is a flexible construct. I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

As you are and on your terms,

Love, Anna x

 

Writing, mentoring, proofing, cheerleading and editing (BUT ALSO getting through GCSE, IGCSE and A level).

These days, I am finding it a bit tricky to separate out the strands of my working life. And by working life, I mean my teaching and tuition (at secondary level) and mentoring for young people, then my fiction mentoring, editing and proofing which goes hand in hand with my own writing – plus my volunteer work with literacy and as mental health advocate and campaigner. I feel that there’s overlap and cross-fertilization. For example, over the next month, I’ve two events in schools where I’m drawing on my own writing; I’m editing a book in which a former upper sixth student is published alongside established writers and academics and I am having discussions about how my first book, autobiographical novel Killing Hapless Ally, might be used more in mental health settings or by mental health professionals and clinicians.

Then, I have two free schemes available: the Fabian Bursary (which I started for GCSE and A level tuition for young people then expanded to all ages!) and the two free reads a year I offer for book-length projects under my mentoring, editing and proofing work.

So here’s a update on the whole thing!

For tuition at secondary level, my Fabian Bursary is now filled (you know who you are!) from January 2019-January 2020 and I dearly hope I can support a family and a young person and also help them find some joy and excitement in their English studies. But why not get in touch for a chat about 2020 onwards? If you want to do a GCSE in English or English Literature or an A level – perhaps you are 16, but maybe you’re 71 and you’re rich in enthusiasm but funds would preclude study – then you can do it with me. I can arrange exam entry and I have arrangements with exam centres so that you have somewhere to sit your exam.

 

OOOOH WHAT ELSE?

I have a FREE read going before Christmas if you have a book-length project of literary fiction (but will also look at memoir and autobiographical fiction) and want to get it ready for submission. I can read it, proof it for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors, factual accuracy and general typos, suggest edits, share with you anything I know that might be useful and write a report on it. I will also proof a synopsis and any covering letter if you would like that. All you need to do is write to me – you can use the contact button on this website for information. I would like this free read to be for someone who is on low-income and perhaps for someone who is coping with physical and mental health problems. I have been hampered from childhood onwards by the latter and so if I can help empower just one person…

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Right: for English and English literature tuition, I have some daytime slots currently available on Wednesday and Friday morning; these can be online. I will have more from late May, 2019. Beyond that, if you are reading this and nearby, I’ve slots with me, in West Wiltshire, between 3.10 and 5.10 on Monday and Wednesday 3.10-4.10 from late May, 2019.

I think that’s everything.

Well, apart from the facts that…

…my current book The Life of Almost is moreorless out and about  (I am tongue in cheek about this after distribution problems and being ignored by reviewers) and hopefully near you (but maybe not – there we are; more drear laughs: this is a marathon, not a sprint), I am editing an anthology of writings about dystopias called Tempest: that’ll be out in March 2019; my next book, historical fiction Saving Lucia, will be out with the legendary Bluemoose Books in early 2020 and more historical fiction, The Revelations of Celia Masters, is out on full submission at the moment and that one is all a bit nerve wracking. And if you are submitting to agents or publishers at the moment, let it be known that the latter has been called “unsaleable”, “brilliant”, “too literary for me to be able to sell”, “gorgeous”, “deeply intriguing” and “just not special for what is a very crowded market”. BABIES: YOU HAVE TO LISTEN, BUT BE AWARE OF SUBJECTIVITY – AND BACK YOURSELF, TOO.

 

Love, Anna x

 

 

 

 

 

Two Poems to read for Remembrance Sunday

There is much to say about these poets, Edward Thomas and Wilfred Owen, both of whom fought in WW1. But today, on Remembrance Sunday,  let me just offer a beautiful poem from each, and a brief story of their service.

Neither man came home.

Edward Thomas. 1878-1917.

thomas

Thomas enlisted in the Artists Rifles in July 1915, despite being a mature married man who could have avoided enlisting. Thomas was promoted to corporal, and in November 1916 was commissioned into the Royal Garrison Artillery as a second lieutenant. He was killed in action soon after he arrived in France at Arras on Easter Monday, 9 April 1917. His widow, Helen, was told that his was a ‘bloodless death’; that Thomas was killed by the blast wave of one of the last shells fired as he stood to light his pipe and that there was no mark on his body.  We now know this was not the case because a  a letter from his commanding officer Franklin Lushington written in 1936 (and discovered later in an American archive) states that the cause of Thomas’s death was being ‘shot clean through the chest’. Thomas is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Agny in France (Row C, Grave 43).

Here is a favourite poem of his. It is gentle, pastoral but profoundly moving.

As the Team’s Head Brass
BY EDWARD THOMAS
As the team’s head-brass flashed out on the turn
The lovers disappeared into the wood.
I sat among the boughs of the fallen elm
That strewed an angle of the fallow, and
Watched the plough narrowing a yellow square
Of charlock. Every time the horses turned
Instead of treading me down, the ploughman leaned
Upon the handles to say or ask a word,
About the weather, next about the war.
Scraping the share he faced towards the wood,
And screwed along the furrow till the brass flashed
Once more.
The blizzard felled the elm whose crest
I sat in, by a woodpecker’s round hole,
The ploughman said. “When will they take it away?”
“When the war’s over.” So the talk began—
One minute and an interval of ten,
A minute more and the same interval.
“Have you been out?” “No.” “And don’t want
to, perhaps?”
“If I could only come back again, I should.
I could spare an arm. I shouldn’t want to lose
A leg. If I should lose my head, why, so,
I should want nothing more. . . . Have many gone
From here?” “Yes.” “Many lost?” “Yes, a good few.
Only two teams work on the farm this year.
One of my mates is dead. The second day
In France they killed him. It was back in March,
The very night of the blizzard, too. Now if
He had stayed here we should have moved the tree.”
“And I should not have sat here. Everything
Would have been different. For it would have been
Another world.” “Ay, and a better, though
If we could see all all might seem good.” Then
The lovers came out of the wood again:
The horses started and for the last time
I watched the clods crumble and topple over
After the ploughshare and the stumbling team.

And here is a second poem; this one by Wilfred Owen, 1893-1918, prefaced by a brief account of his war service.

In 1915, Owen enlisted in the Artists Rifles Officers’ Training Corps and in June 1916, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant (on probation) in the Manchester Regiment. During this first part of active service, he was blown up by a trench mortar and spent several days unconscious on an embankment lying alongside the remains of one of his fellow officers. Rescued, Owen was diagnosed as suffering from neurasthenia or shell shock and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh for treatment. It was here that he met Siegfried Sassoon, who encouraged his writing. Once discharged from Craiglockhart, judged fit for light regimental duties, eventually returning to active service in France in June 1918; then,  at the end of August 1918, Owen returned to the front line. He was killed in action on 4 November 1918 during the crossing of the Sambre–Oise Canal, one week before the signing of the Armistice. Owen is buried at Ors Communal Cemetery, in northern France.

Below is my favourite Owen poem; it’s beautiful and eliptical: it doesn’t have the visceral horror of ‘Dulce et decorum est’, but I find it the most haunting poem of all. There is, of course, no answer to its sorrow.

Futility
BY WILFRED OWEN

owen

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds—
Woke once the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

 

 

 

 

 

Because language matters

I am currently editing a thing or two and getting in a total stew about language. In this case, what other people have written and whether I dare challenge.

And I think I do dare.

Language matters – what it connotes and the attitudes it betrays; words other and marginalise and encourage others to do the same. I found, when writing The Revelations of Celia Masters (this is my fourth book, currently on submission after a revise and resubmit) that I took apart some of Trump’s words and phrases.  They are not new. My book is about settlers in the Middle Plantation of Virginia during the English Civil War and I came to look at such words as ‘tame’, ‘infest’; ‘crazed’ and ‘animal’. One of the things many have observed and protested about is that language – presidential and administration language – matters and Trump is roundly casual about the way in which it is used, blaring and glaring; full of brutality.

Trump’s proud ‘We tamed a continent’ says a lot, doesn’t it? The verb ‘tamed’. It says something like, they were savages, but I am not: I am civilised. And the pronoun itself, we. The colonisers who did tremendous things and set the natives straight. The we. We are still that we and it’s still encumbent on us to tame them, he would have you believe. It’s so erroneous I don’t even know where to get started. Trump also refers fairly constantly to ‘Western Values’ which has absolutely no meaning at all. It’s a shadow phrase which I doubt he could even articulate.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the important of language choice when I was preparing Celia Masters (as I am now as I edit others’ work); mulling over sources and academic works like David Hackett Fischer’s exemplary Albion’s Seed. I was thinking about how the Cavaliers, coming into asylum under Berkeley (which is the starting point of my book) held freedom in the highest esteem, but that within it was the freedom to oppress others – and I realise I have expressed that in very broad terms, so you’ll have to read the book! (His and mine!) I explored how, through noting contemporary sources, you could see that colonists clearly believed that their settling of America was God’s work and that He had intervened to make it possible. I promise to write more about this later – and you can see that Celia Masters becomes repelled by it because of what she sees, comes to understand about herself and her true past and what she creates…

 

Back to the editing.

I am, for example, struggling with some of the phrases white writers use to describe skin which is NOT white; this has to be handled so very carefully or not handled at all, some might say. What do you think of  ‘honey-coloured’ or ‘cocoa-coloured’? I’d say you delete it if you’re a white writer. Do you baulk at that? I am also…bothered by the phrase ‘traditional cultures’ in that I see it used by anthropologists and sociologists, but I see academics in the same and in other fields taking it apart. Am I on shaky ground? Quite possibly, but I want to have a discussion about it and with different sources. And I personally don’t think anyone should be using the phrase ‘third world’ because that IS diminishing, patronising and othering.  My older boys were mortified to learn that I had challenged its use in their secondary school. I am a person who is sometimes chided for being ‘too PC’ which makes me tremble with a sort of punchy anger. Overreaction?

When I was writing The Revelations of Celia Masters, I had to think very carefully about the language and concepts I handled because my protagonist is a mid 17th-century white girl tangling with cultures and worlds that ate deeply unfamiliar to her. She has seen only Somerset, the Dorset coast and the court of Charles I. I was really worried about how I was going to write about the use of slavery in the colony and also to write about the Algonquin Indians who are in my story and, like the slaves, integral to it. I sought advice from an excellent source and was led, amongst other things, to the article below; I also discussed how I might approach my exploration and found that what I needed to explore was Celia’s whiteness. I turned it on its head. ‘…write you‘ in the words of the article in this link. As you write, reflect on your own privilege and power. There are plenty of jarring narratives about black culture from white voices. Also, I was damned if I were going to reduce folklore to some hokey thing about fairies, when it’s fire and blood and richly syncretic. The article was useful for that, too. Read carefully, discus with various sources, don’t shoot from the hip, be prepared to be totally and utterly wrong (you might enjoy what the late Hans Rosling has to say about this in Factfulness) and remember that words have power.   

What do you think? About any of this?

(Article from Buzzfeed: succint, intelligent and pithy – and I’d love to discuss it further!)

. https://t.co/gvJ06LmBwe

Archive work and exciting discoveries

So in this relatively strenuous rewrite of Book Four, The Revelations of Celia Masters, I am unearthing various old texts and manuscripts. My mother in law in Virginia is also looking things out for me – in manuscript rooms and archives. And I have been able to add extraordinary things to the book. I’ll get through it and then assess. The year is 1643 and on board the ship is Celia Masters; they have boarded at Deptford and sail to Virginia. Here is something I have found, with a little tweaking, to include along with other rare historical texts. It is a remembrance of the lady by Mercy, a young girl at the time, and a girl who has been snared from the streets of London; ‘trappan’d’, as they said. Her account of meeting Celia: the spelling is only slightly modernised.

 

Remembrances. In the year 1660 of when we were childrene. And first we met our precious blessed lady on the ship Lydia Constant travelling from Deptford to Virginny.

It is only the three of us who write for her for now our prettie Grace is gone and I saye gone in the ways that ordinary men are given to understande. I, Mercy, can write best because I started earlier with the bookes and wordes when a rich lady whose draines and turds I would cleane, she took pitee on me and taughte me some books. But it was our Celia, our lady she, who taughte us all as best she coulde and with what time to write and so to reade.. None of us knewe our mothers. But then we knewe her.

That first night on the Lydia Constant, that was when I said, as I remember, that we were taken, we were trappanned and  even some of the little girls and the older ones, taken to be servants in your Virginny. And we’ll never see home again. And then I said I had dreames that my owne mother was taken, but I don’t remember her and I knowe not who she was or where, then Celia whispered, ‘Oh sweete childe, this is how it is for me’ and I then began to cry with her eyes wet too. She stroked my face as I told her of the others I knew, and that there must be more of us on other boats and so I went to holde her, but the captaine up and yelled for me to be gone. Her eyes flashed with somethinge differente then; they promised a darke thing, so I was scared and thrilled too. ‘He will paye’ said she. So the next night and the next she crept to us and spoke more; we told her of the many we knewe who had been captured, boys and girls, young women. We gave names, because we had been made namelesse. ‘Oh lady we were snared miss.’ And I heard tell an old song ‘The Trappan’d Maiden’ so told her and this she learned, so for posteritee said she. I did not know what that told or what posteritee meant, but I knew she was truth, so it must be good. ‘Give ear unto a Maid, that lately was betray’d and sent unto Virginny, O’ and I sang on until she hushed me for fear of Masters or a well to do gentleman seeing this little raggedy girl trilling without right.

And I sayde all our names and she remembered and after only one callinge. I sayde about the thinges we girls heard of travelllers and of this Virginny and that there was another song about an honest weaver who sold his wife to Virginny. And that there was a lady in Bishopsgate where I lodged and roamed and she was kind and full of promises; her name was Elizabeth Hamlin Miss and she tricked me and I hope they will send her to the Newgate prison. My life was hard, but I miss the church I would creep into – St Helen’s – it was a very old and pretty church and oh it had such a pretty stained glass window depicting Mr William Shakespeare – and he was a very famous man who lived in the area many years before I was born. But I know he was a man of words and looked kind.’ She cried. ‘And I sayde my prayers in the church but no-one protected me.’ Then she told me of the church in the county of Somerset and of the little creatures made of marble which seemed to creepe from the tombes. For a moment we were silent because of her flinte eyes then and I saw the look in all our trappanned that wondered if she was a trap, a gin – a bad thing or terrible crone made beautiful to spirit us, but then I saw our fear pass, though I am not saying and could not say now – forgive me – in these remembrances that she was only good. But she was right and cruel when that was a good thing.

And many times she came and sometimes I saw the man like her father, Masters, watched her go and she saw it not, or at least not with her eyes and that is how we knew he was different too. And that first night we loved her. We would staye with her and attend near her as best we could. I remember the shooting stars and I thought she had made them for me. Celia brought us steals of eggs and roast meate when all we would have and knew were slops and a nasty tack. There seemed alwayes more than was in our hands. She had cloths to splaye the food on, from I know not where. This was an end, for we would never see Englande againe, but too a beginning and we thought magic had come.’

(Letter fragment part of a collection held in William and Mary College, Williamsburg, Virginia.)

 

Updates: on libraries, my books, edits and apocryphal texts

News.

  1. MY FIRST TWO BOOKS AND LIBRARIES

First of all, I asked for help from The Society of Authors and a flood of information came through. It was about how I could get my first two books stocked in libraries. Two things about that. First, if you go to a local library you will struggle to find books published by small, independent presses. Libraries, under the current government, are cash strapped and you may have seen news on closures. Well, we know how vital a resource they are – and I will write about that at length another time, not least because my favourite person, in a complex situation as a kid, was the school librarian and the library was the only place I felt safe. Ah – what was I saying? Yes, having received helpful information, I am in the process of buying some stock and donating copies to my local libraries and, because the second book is extremely geo-specific and most of my family is there, I am going to do the same with South West Wales.

2. Lookee here

https://twitter.com/NinjaBookBox/status/1046656144389951489

Ooh join in if you can. This is an online book club discussion about my first book, tonight. Killing Hapless Ally (March 2016) is a semi autobiographical novel; a black comedy. I feel compelled to say ‘trigger warnings’ if you are not doing too well, because it contains frank accounts of mental health states, self harm, violence, hospital, depression and dissociative states. Having said that, they belong to me: I am still here and writing this for you. NOLI TIMERE. Do not be afraid.

Killing Hapless Ally

Published March 3rd, 2016

Prices
£4.85 (e-book)
£10.00 (print)

If you want to order from a local independent bookshop – bear in mind that a big chain like Waterstones stocks very few independent presses, but they can always order – then the ISBN is handy.

ISBN
9780993238857 (e-book)
9780993238864 (print)

Anna Vaught

This is a black comedy in which Alison conceived in childhood an alter ego called ‘Hapless Ally’ to present a different, more palatable version of herself to her family and to the world beyond. Ominously, the alter ego began to develop autonomy. Alison deals with this helped by a varied catalogue of imaginary friends. The book is about serious matters: fear, confusion, dark days of depression and breakdowns. It carries a timely message to anyone pole-axed by depression or associated problems — or any reader interested in such things: you can, like Alison, survive and prevail. Ah, if you had to survive — would you kill for it? Now that is an interesting question.

Buy paperback from Patrician Press

SOME REVIEWS:
Latest Goodreads review. Thank you!
Killing Hapless Ally by Anna Vaught is an intense rollercoaster of a read which grips you from the very beginning.

A dark comedy, the plot follows Alison from childhood to womanhood, as she struggles with inner voices and the family around her.

I’ve never read a book like this. I don’t know if there is another book like this. It is heart-breaking, heart-wrenching yet also heart-affirming at the same time. ‘Hapless Ally’ is the alter ego, created as the more presentable self of Alison, to deal with the incredible family and social life surrounding Alison. My goodness, the life of Alison was hard. Unbelievable treatment from her family, and as a reader, you’re there with her, willing her, aching for her to get through it. With the help of her imaginary friends including Frida (the brunette one), Albert, Shirley and Dolly, and various doctors (some more help than others), the reader sees Alison finally get to a place where she can thrive.

I could not put this book down. If you’ve ever had thoughts that you’re going insane, read this book. It’s a wonderful advocate for mental health and the struggles to survive. I loved Muffled Myfanwy, and think she could be the focus of another novel, but then I could say the same for Helen. This was beautifully written; so much so that it felt like Alison was talking only to you, letting you in on secrets. A triumph of a book, and very brave. Therapy to write and therapy to read. Stunning.

3. The Life of Almost is a month old today. Have you seen him? He’s my drowned bard boy, come up to tell you a story!

The Life of Almost

Published August 31st, 2018

Prices

£9.00 (print)

ISBN

9781999703028 (print)

This is a dark comedy set in Wales and a spectral reworking of Dickens’s Great Expectations. Almost is a boy, brought up by his sister, Perfection. He is shrouded by bereavement and surrounded by the hauntings of his family’s undead. He plays in the sea caves, visits graves, amongst mermaids, longing mermen, morticians, houses that respire and a poltergeist moss that grabs your foot. A cast of family and friends drawn from sea caves, the embalming table, the graveyard and the dark Clandestine House, which respires heavily and in which time has stopped. And like Pip, he sings into the sea and likes to tell stories – the key theme of the book which is the story of his life, his struggles and triumphs. He is thwarted in love but understands – the night he meets a ragged convict, for the convict is a merman, come on land – that he has deep and commanding powers.

The poems are the author’s own.

“An exhilarating, exuberantly poetic book with such a wonderful cast of characters, I couldn’t bear for it to end! Like a song, a myth, a fairy tale – by a spellbinding writer.” Heidi James

“In The Life of Almost Anna Vaught has conjured a dark wonder. She writes a distinctive, thrillingly precarious prose, making and breaking its own rules as it glides between voices and stories and worlds with giddy pleasure and incalculable cunning. This short, concentrated novel certainly delights in the fantastic, but it is always rooted in the glorious thicknesses of language and landscape, the ripenesses of a blackberry hedge, the trembling density of a jellyfish.” Anthony Trevelyan

See Storgy review here: https://storgy.com/2018/07/19/book-review-the-life-of-almost-by-anna-vaught/

The first chapter of the book was published by the New Welsh Reader in May 2018. Here is the online edition: https://www.newwelshreview.com/article.php?id=2241

The Life of Almost, although not published until 31st August 2108, was nominated and voted for The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize in July 2108. It received a great review from baldoukie:

“Poetic, comedic, a reworking of Great Expectations set in Pembrokeshire, this is a reading delight. A smorgasbord, satisfying at all levels. The child Almost, raised by sister Perfection, lives in an underworld of the dead, with their stories from the past, and with the living. Segueing between both, an interweaving of prose and poetry is the story of his life. The Llewhellin family (my favourite is Muffled Myfanwy Llewhellin), alive and dead, with Miss Davies and her adopted daughter Seren, with mermaids Nerys and Dilys, with the convict Derian Llewhellin, and many more.”

Here is the latest review from the inimitable Jackie Law:

https://neverimitate.wordpress.com/2018/09/03/book-review-the-life-of-almost/

4. And finally. I seem to have worked quickly, in that I’d placed my third book and my fourth was out on submission before I’d published my second. I am soooooo happy that Saving Lucia will be published by Bluemoose in early 2020 and will write separately on that. I cannot tell you details on the book that’s been out and about – where it has been and so on – but I can say that it’s The Revelations of Celia Masters and you can read about it on my last blog post. Anyway, one of my tasks this morning is to work on the letters and accounts that are referred to in the book and which intercut its first person narrative (I’m gambling on this – it’s hard to pull off); some are also referred to in its footnotes. There is, here, an intermingling of truth and…untruth. You must decide. A selection.

Bess Masters: Upon My Sacred Mother (1663)

Virginia Dare: manuscript of These Living Sheltered Days (found 1650)

Anna Constable Lee: A Discourse on Witchery (1647)

Sir William Berkeley. A Treatise on New Britain. Two Volumes. (1645 and 1660)

King James I. An Adjunct to Daemonologie (1597) on The Last Witch (1625)

A Brief Account of The Indian Girl (Anonymous). An account of Pocahontas in London (1617).