Looking towards further horizons – Janet Watson

Janet Watson

A feaure by Janet Watson for Yorkshire Post, 11 January 2012.

As a girl, Janet Watson dreamed of seeing her work in print. Stories of when she was younger helped to make the dream come true.

People don’t seem to move far from Hull.

Either they stay put, find a partner, settle down, have children, or they go away then return, finding book and record shops they once knew replaced by sandwich and burger bars.

Vintage clothes shops and coffee bars opening on Chanterlands Avenue; and, for me, a bijou coffee house selling organic cupcakes where my mother used to buy her veg. Now, too, there’s the glittering edifice that is Princes Quay. Well, who wants to walk down Whitefriargate on a cold, wintry afternoon in January?

I once described Hull people’s vowels as being ‘as flat as their horizons’.

The exception to the flat outlook is north and a view of the hills of the Yorkshire Wolds chalk escarpment. But all other points of the compass give vistas to water or the M62. So, flat horizons then – though not necessarily limited.

As a child, I had my very own horizon… I wanted to be a writer. I filled exercise book after exercise book – the red Silvine ones you found in every cornershop – with stories.

I had two topics, witches – usually from Halloween onwards – and horses, about which I was mad in the usual girls and horses way. When I wasn’t writing I was reading about the Famous Five, Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat, and Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

I dreamed of one day seeing my witches – often called Esmerelda or Grimalkin – or horse-riding heroines between the colourful covers of a real, bona fide, printed, published book.

And then reality kicked in, and the need to get O-levels, A-levels and boyfriends – and in the process of getting a boyfriend, the seeds of my future book were sown, even though I had completely taken my eye off the ball in terms of writing.

It’s difficult to get lost in an imaginary world when you’re having to learn chunks of Shakespeare and your 
mother disapproves of everything you do.

And actually, my teenage life – and the friends I made in the sixth form while at Cottingham High School – was quite enough to keep my imagination sated, and I filled diaries instead of exercise books with real stories now, about life, love, the universe and everything.

I decided to train to be a journalist; it was glamorous and I could write, right? Jean Rook was a famous name from Hull, and she seemed to get paid for very few words, though they were choice ones, I’ll give her that. And so, after A-levels,

I headed west to study in Sheffield, and then towork on weekly newspapers in Pontefract and Wakefield before reaching my very own dizzy heights at the Yorkshire Evening Post in Wellington Street, in the very same hexagonal building where I’d taken the tests that had got me into journalism college in the first place.

Life took me away from Leeds in the shape of a job in Scotland and my husband. In 1990, we moved north of the border thinking we were leaving all things Yorkshire behind.

But my home county was having none of it and gradually my past, and the tragedy of what happened to the first love I’d blithely written about in my 1981 diary, caught up with me, insistent, and pulling me 
back to a point about 
halfway between Leeds and Sheffield – Wentbridge, on the A1, here ‘something’ happened.

Revisiting the teen me and the story of growing up and leaving, took me back home, and even to writing again, now for the newspaper I left behind in 1990.

I’ve learned my lesson. Never say never. Never say ‘nothing ever happens’, and horizons – even those in Hull – are never as flat or calm as they look.

Click here to read the article on Yorkshire Post website.

Nothing Ever Happens in Wentbridge by Janet Watson

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A Few Good Books 2012

Sometime in 2011 we put out a submission call for A Few Good Books. Well, here’s what we took on, our books programme for 2012. All these titles are available in print and Kindle editions. We’ll dust ourselves down in the New Year and look to start out again with a few books more…

Culture

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Because Cuba is You

Red Laal

Red Laal

Rites

Red Army Faction Blues

Carpet Burns by Tom Hingley

Tom Hingley’s insider’s account of what it felt like to be in the eye of a pop hurricane and what happens when the hits end and the arguments kick in.
‘Oh my God! Every band is the same. I couldn’t put it down.’ – Peter Hook

Nothing Ever Happens in Wentbridge by Janet Watson

A true story from the emotional front line of a first love. This beautiful and vivid account of Mark and Janet, their lives, love and loss, shows how the mind has an uncanny ability to ignore what it doesn’t want to acknowledge. Until it has to.
‘The author drew on her teenage diaries for this poignant yet hilarious memoir about finding and losing your first love. The vividly depicted memories will make readers wince with recollection, but aside from its funny moments, it’s ultimately very moving.’ – The Sunday Mirror

Everything Now by Steve McKevitt

Everything Now – where we can have whatever we want, whenever we want it. In this book, Steve McKevitt reveals how the Everything Now culture is preventing us from addressing the biggest issues of our time and how having less really can make us happier.
‘Especially telling insights into how advertising and marketing attempts to sway us from one product towards another, near identical one. Read this before you shell out for a new, ever-so slightly shinier mobile phone or pay a premium for anything that goes out of its way to convince you how ‘ethical’ it is.’ – Time Out, Book of the Week

The Angels’ Share by Paul Laverty and KenLoach

Four Friends. One Mission. Lots of Spirit. A bittersweet comedy about a Glasgow boy locked in a family feud who just wants a way out. Little did Robbie imagine that turning to drink might change their lives – not cheap fortified wine, but the best malt whiskies in the world. Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival 2012
‘Scotland’s answer to The Full Monty.’ – John Naughton, GQ

Stories From a World of Music

A book of stories gathered at Musicport Festival 2011. A kaleidoscope of shifting patterns, the book captures the tales told over three days at one of Europe’s best loved gatherings for World Music.’
‘Reads like an insightful set of liner notes crossed with an oral history project. Accessible, creative, confessional and reflective, it captures the buzz, character and diversity of everyone who came together for the Musicport Festival.’ – Songlines

Novels

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Because Cuba is You

Red Laal

Rites

Red Army Faction Blues

Because Cuba is You by Ramón Chao

To be a good Spaniard, you need a Latin American dimension.’ Ramón Chao’s magical realist account of his Galician grandmother’s Cuban adventure during a whirlwind of political change and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the birth of his father. Released February 2013. Pre-order now.

Red Laal by M Y Alam

‘Another gangster with all the presence of a ghost. Just stories you hear over the years. Heavyweight. King shit. Bad arse. Red Laal… If there did exist a Pakistani Don Corleone, then this was him.’
‘Just as you’re about to consign the gangster thriller to the bin of obsolescence, bored stiff by a tide of clichéd storylines, along comes a belter which deserves the highest praise.’ – Matt Baker, The Big Issue

Rites by Sophie Coulombeau

‘When I was fourteen I did something terrible. At least, that’s what some people tell me.’
Four teenagers make a pact to lose their virginity away from the watchful eyes of parents and priest. Fifteen years later, they reflect on the past and unravel how it all went so horribly wrong.
‘Terrific. A story that’s intriguing, puzzling and entirely gripping.’ – Philip Pullman

Red Army Faction Blues by Ada Wilson

A coalition government. A widely mistrusted ruling elite. Riots in the streets and heavy-handed police tactics. Just what did Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green walk into at that infamous LSD party in Munich?
‘Shows the power of the novel to illuminate a moment in history; the moment when terrorism became the new rock ’n’ roll.’ – David Peace

Short Stories

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Because Cuba is You

Because Cuba is You

Spellbound- Stories of Women’s Magic Over Men by Joel Willans

Ever since men painted on cave walls, they’ve been making art out of their feelings for women. Joel Willans’s prize-winning stories feature men battling for women’s hearts with weapons as diverse as chocolates and chairs.
‘Sharp, original and observant, with a generous helping of humour, Joel Willans’s stories are both thought-provoking and hugely entertaining. A great read.’ – Vanessa Gebbie

All Embracing & Other Stories by Dave Pescod

The characters in Dave Pescod’s stunning first collection are united by their desire to find love. The writing style is deceptively simple but deeply moving and the truth of these stories lingers long after the reading is done.
‘Shining a tender light on the human heart, these stories capture the dignity of ordinary individuals and the wonderful everydayness of love. A delight to read.’ – Michelle Spring, Royal Literary Fellow, Magdalene College, Cambridge

Click here for our full programme of books.

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Sophie Coulombeau Interview

Sophie Coulombeau interviewed about Rites by Rebecca Pedley, the Assistant Editor on Route’s Next Great Novelist award.

Q. Where did your inspiration for the book come from?

A. Rites was in one way a slow burner that had been a long time coming – a sort of accumulated bundle of ideas and observations about love, friendship, belief, culpability and memory that I had been turning over in my mind for years. But in another respect it had a very quick and definite point of origin – an anecdote that someone told me, the central event of which was that somebody lost their keys, and the keys had a name and address written on them, and there were consequences. There was something about that image that just sent a little bit of a jolt through my mind. I went away and kept thinking about the keys. It seemed like certain concepts were associated with them. Abandon. Accident. Discovery. A phone call. Recrimination. Confusion. Things spiralling out of control. And suddenly there was this voice in my own head, a young man’s voice – precise, pedantic, slightly mocking – saying, ‘When I was fourteen, I did something terrible. At least, that’s what some people tell me.’ That narrative voice was Damien, one of the four protagonists, the one who starts the novel off. The rest followed from there.

Q. The blurb of your book creates the impression that this book will cause controversy. Is this part of the intention of the book?

A. I’m not sure whether ‘controversy’ is quite the right word – I didn’t set out cynically to upset people or get them angry. But I definitely want it to make people think about the issues that it raises, and to redefine their values or beliefs a little bit as a result, and in comparison I don’t give a monkeys whether they ‘like’ it or not. I’ve always said that my dream for this book, rather than any particular good review or prize or sales figure, is that somewhere a bunch of people might be sitting around in a pub arguing about the book and the issues it raises, and that minds might be changed as a result. So far, the response has been great – many people have written to me saying that the book has troubled them, disturbed them, made them feel compromised or involved, kept them awake at night questioning things they had never questioned before. That’s absolute music to my ears.

Q. You’ve chosen to write the book having many different narrators, was there any particular reason for this? Is this how the idea of confession came about in a non-religious sense?

A. Well, I started with Damien as a narrator and originally he was going to narrate the whole thing. But after about ten or twenty pages I hit a roadblock and couldn’t think of how he would continue the narrative – I knew I wasn’t done with him, but it was like he just wouldn’t play ball for a bit. I was sitting there feeling a bit frustrated with him and then a few conflicting ideas of how other people might see him – as irritating, as a victim, as unimportant, as rather magnificent – swam into my head and suddenly I thought, There are other people too! Very quickly the voices of Kathleen, Rachel and Father Creevey crystallised in my mind, and I started writing their stories, with an initial emphasis on how they saw the core incident of the book and what they thought of Damien, but gradually creating a whole reality and backstory for each character. So I guess that’s where the idea came from of not only a number of narrators, but also this kind of psychological reality in which they’re speaking to the reader directly – and uneasily aware that everybody else is too.

The idea of confession is at the very heart of the book – it was one of the ideas that had been bubbling away in my mind for years before I set pen to paper. I think that the notion of ‘sharing, purging, making clean’ (to paraphrase one of my characters) is one of the great imperatives of our time. I see it all around, even in a culture that has divested itself of much of its religious baggage – in the increased popularity of therapy or counselling as a panacea for problems, in the emphasis upon sharing and expressing in friendships and relationships, in the media’s obsession with scooping the stories and emotional outpourings of celebrities and those same celebrities’ obliging willingness to tell and emote. I was fascinated by the idea that this impulse is far bigger than the cultural or epistemological boxes that are used to contain it. So I knew that literal confession was going to have a big part to play in the narrative, and almost without knowing it I found my narrative reflecting that fact by itself becoming a series of confessions to the reader.

Q. From having many different narrators, the story becomes quite tangled in what is the truth and what isn’t. Would you say the idea of truth is important within the book?

A. Yes, in that hopefully the book encourages the reader to be aware of the importance of subjectivity in the creation of what for convenience’s sake we have to call the truth. I am currently reading for my PhD in English Literature at the University of York, and I like to think that my novel reflects what I see as the mission statement of literary studies – the imperative to read texts critically. That’s more important to me than identifying a particular ‘truth’ that will solve the book like a riddle.

Q. There is a strong theme of Catholicism within the book. Is this drawn upon personal experience? Are you catholic yourself?

A. I was raised as a Roman Catholic – the school, the church, the community, all that kind of thing – but I lapsed very strongly and quite uncomplicatedly when I was about fifteen or sixteen. I still retain a strong interest in Catholicism as a living institution, in an almost anthropological way, but there is no doubt in my mind that they – by which I mean the official line propagated by the Vatican – have almost everything completely and utterly wrong. About as wrong as it is possible to be. Which isn’t to say, oddly, that there aren’t some wonderful Catholics, and that faith can’t have some deeply beneficial consequences. That’s one of the exasperating paradoxes of organised religion, and something that the book explores.

Q. The subject of rape comes up within your book. Did you find this a difficult subject to write about because it is such a delicate topic?

A. I wanted to use the idea of a rape accusation to explore issues about conflicting testimony and culpability because rape still seems to me to be a crime that, by its nature, is very badly catered for by our legal system. It comes down to one person’s word against another’s, and often the more articulate voice, or the person who is in a position of cultural power or prestige, will win out. Because of the fact that the case so often just comes down to testimony – and in their quest to make a good case, both sides will often rely on the ‘character’ of the people concerned, and there’s a can of worms – it seemed like the perfect forum in which to explore the question of how narrative modulates truth.

But yes, it was very difficult to write about, and I was terrified of getting it wrong in a way that might seem crass or dismissive. I did my very best to get the technical details right by conducting a lot of research, but the psychological reality of it – well, that’s where being a novelist comes in, I suppose. You just have to try to imagine it.

Q. If someone was torn between your book and another one, what would you say to make them pick yours?

A. Philip Pullman likes it. Look, he said so on the cover. You think you know better than Philip Pullman?

Q. Like in real life there are some people you like and some you dont… so do you have a favourite character from within the book? And if so, why?

A. Despite the fact I know he’s obnoxious and I deeply disapprove of him, I will always have a special place in my heart for Damien because he started the whole thing off, and without him there would never have been a Rites. But all the characters are me, really, at the same time as none of them are me, so it’s very hard to pick a favourite. It’s like asking whether you prefer your liver or your lungs.

Click here for more details on Rites.

 

 

First Rites Reviews

The first round of reviews are in for Sophie Coulombeau’s Rites.

‘A compelling and provocative multi-stranded narrative with a high-concept hook, this is a story told in many voices which is always risky but Coulombeau pulls it off beautifully. In a further challenge to the reader, the novel also comes down on the side of there being no such thing as objective truth when it comes to different people’s memories of the same experience. Coulombeau’s unflinchingly clear-headed analysis of the human psyche is deeply refreshing.’ – Sunday Express

‘The reader is taken convincingly in one direction then the other – implying that ultimately, the only truth we ever know is what we feel to be true, even if that is a product of self-delusion. [Coulombeau] Makes fully plausible the shifts in affection, allegiance, even desire, of her young characters, and shows how these shifts can be both terrifyingly quick and deeply felt.’  The Independent on Sunday

‘There is a a clear-sighted lack of sentimentality about the way Sophie allows her characters to expose themselves through their own words. It is utterly un-put-downable. Don’t even pick it up if you have to get up early for work the next morning.’ – The Press

‘Breathtaking originality and verve. Sophie Coulombeau is the genuine article.’ Ian Kirkpatrick

‘We are the wiser as citizens to have been educated by the writer… Immensely readable and lucid. ’ – Dig

‘Honest… human… despairing… it broke my heart a little bit. A damn fine book.’ Mark Allen, Blogomatic 3000!

‘Coulombeau’s great strength in Rites is in how she controls the flow of information, and plays with and against readers’ expectations. So there’s a wonderful sense of uncertainty – the feeling that, even when we think we know everything, perhaps we don’t after all. Add to this some insightful observations – on growing up, falling in love, and more besides – and you have a fine debut novel.’ – Follow the Thread

‘Terrific. A story that’s intriguing, puzzling and entirely gripping.’ – Philip Pullman

‘Original and gripping, this novel stands out from the crowd. I’m sure Sophie Coulombeau is destined to become a literary star of the future.’ – Sophie Hannah

‘Rites is a powerful read that has you questioning the wisdom of any adult and the innocence of any child. The story Coulombeau tells is an everyman tale of desire, friendship and betrayal. Behind it is a mind that takes nothing at face value: not love, not desire and not the violence that we are capable of doing to one another.’ – Fiona Shaw

Rites Officially Released

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Today is the official release day for Sophie Coulombeau’s Rites, winner of our Next Great Novelist Award.

‘When I was fourteen I did something terrible. At least, that’s what some people tell me.’

Four teenagers make a pact to lose their virginity away from the watchful eyes of parents and priest. Fifteen years later, they reflect on the past and unravel how it all went so horribly wrong.

‘Terrific. A story that’s intriguing, puzzling and entirely gripping.’ – Philip Pullman

‘Original and gripping, this novel stands out from the crowd. I’m sure Sophie Coulombeau is destined to become a literary star of the future.’ – Sophie Hannah

‘Rites is a powerful read that has you questioning the wisdom of any adult and the innocence of any child. The story Coulombeau tells is an everyman tale of desire, friendship and betrayal. Behind it is a mind that takes nothing at face value: not love, not desire and not the violence that we are capable of doing to one another.’ – Fiona Shaw

‘A compelling and provocative multi-stranded narrative with a high-concept hook, this is a story told in many voices which is always risky but Coulombeau pulls it off beautifully. In a further challenge to the reader, the novel also comes down on the side of there being no such thing as objective truth when it comes to different people’s memories of the same experience. Coulombeau’s unflinchingly clear-headed analysis of the human psyche is deeply refreshing.’ – Sunday Express

‘There is a a clear-sighted lack of sentimentality about the way Sophie allows her characters to expose themselves through their own words. It is utterly un-put-downable. Don’t even pick it up if you have to get up early for work the next morning.’ – The Press

‘We are the wiser as citizens to have been educated by the writer… Immensely readable and lucid. ’ – Dig

Sophie Coulombeau was brought up in Manchester. She studied at Trinity College, Oxford and the University of Pennsylvania and subsequently worked for the British Civil Service in London and the European Commission in Brussels. She is currently reading for a doctorate in English Literature at the University of York. Rites is her first novel.

Sophie blogs at sophiecoulombeau.wordpress.com

Click here for more details on the book and to order direct from Route

Buy on Amazon : Kindle : Waterstones

A Neat Invitation To Tell Stories

Here’s an invitation from Neat to get involved in their handsome looking project ‘Telling Stories’.
‘Everybody is important and everybody has a story to tell. ‘Telling stories’ invites you to submit your own work about your life and where you live in any form. ‘Telling Stories’ will be launched on June 5th at Wakefield Labour Club and finish with a celebration and sharing event on November 8th. The launch event is an opportunity to get more information, meet other people and talk about individual and joint projects. Poets, authors, musicians, photographers, dramatists and artists – experienced and starting out – will be there.

Telling Stories is organised by ‘Neat’. ‘Neat’ encourages people to do positive, creative things in these hard times. ‘Neat’ is a refusal to be ground down by the misery of low pay / temporary / no jobs and is an opportunity to keep positive through working with people. ‘Neat’ has already run a stand-up workshop with Mark Thomas and is supported by author David Peace amongst others.

HOW TO JOIN IN
Send work or contact people through the ‘Neat’ website
www.neat.uk.com
Or come to the launch do at the club June 5th  5pm onwards
Wakefield Labour Club, Vicarage Street, (behind Trinity Walk)

FREE