Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 377: Twenty-First-Century British Novelists

Holding in my hand another new publication of mine which appeared in print earlier this month: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 377:  Twenty-First-Century British Novelists, edited by the phenomenal Tom Ue, published by Gale Cengage.  

I am very pleased to have two essays in this volume:  one on P.D. James (6000 words) and one on Sarah Waters (3000 words).  It feels good to see those chapters in print.

The book was quite heavy to hold while taking this picture, as you can probably tell from my straining fingers.  458 numbered pages!

The Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 377:  Twenty-First-Century British Novelists is full of fascinating and illuminating essays on contemporary British writers, and I am proud to be a contributor to this mammoth volume.  

Saturday, 19 December 2015

"Violence in American Popular Culture" - new two-volume book

I am so pleased to announce the publication of my new book chapter, entitled "'She decided to kill her husband':  Housewives in American Fictions of Crime""'She decided to kill her husband': Housewives in Contemporary American Fictions of Crime.  In the chapter I discuss portrayals of violence and the housewife figure in short stories by Nevada Barr and Joyce Carol Oates.

My chapter is part of a two-volume collection on Violence in American Popular Culture, edited by David Schmid, and published by Praeger.  The publisher says of the book: "this two-volume work [offers] a series of concise, detailed essays that explore why violence has always been a fundamental part of American popular culture, the ways in which it has appeared, and how the nature and expression of interest in it have changed over time." 

David Schmid, the editor of the two volumes,  has  done a wonderful job bringing together these fascinating and wide-ranging essays in order to investigate the meanings and representations of violence in American popular culture.  It was such a pleasure working with David, and I look forward to reading all these fascinating essays by the other contributors over the Christmas period. You can find further information about this collection here .

Monday, 16 November 2015

Mystery Readers Journal: Scottish Mysteries

Last week saw the publication of the Fall 2015 issue of Mystery Readers Journal. This issue is dedicated to the study and discussion of Scottish mystery and crime writing - such an interesting and complex topic, brilliantly illuminated by the contributors and authors that were part of the issue.  Often referred to as 'Tartan Noir', Scottish crime writing continues to diversify and to challenge English and American crime writing traditions through its use of setting and idiom.  The Mystery Readers Journal issue on Scottish Mysteries presents a fascinating array of short articles, essays by crime writers on their work, and columns including reviews.  You can see the contents page of the issue here.

I am happy to have an article in the journal issue, entitled Performing Scottish Crime: Ian Rankin's Dark Road

I have published on the contemporary Scottish crime short story previously, in my 2013 article 'Bags stuffed with the offal of their own history': Crime fiction and the short story in Crimespotting: An Edinburgh Crime Collection Working on this material challenged me to look beyond the label of 'Tartan Noir' and engage in depth with the questioning and often deeply unsettling texts I encountered.

Having previously explored the Scottish crime short story, with my piece in Mystery Readers Journal I was pleased to have the opportunity to return to Scottish crime writing.  Ian Rankin and Mark Thomson's  co-written play Dark Road provided me with brilliant and troubling dramatic material through to examine an often less well-known or discussed literary form in the detective genre:  the crime play. Rankin and Thomson's Dark Road  demonstrates the range and scope of both crime and the dramatic, and makes brilliant use of the performance-related dimensions specific to the crime play format.  I am interested in doing further research into this genre, and look forward to an opportunity to do so.

Friday, 13 November 2015

"This Book is an Action" - new book on second-wave feminism

Holding my contributor's copy of my latest publication in my hand is a great feeling! 

The book is called This Book Is an Action: Feminist Print Culture and Activist Aesthetics, and is edited by Cecilia Konchar Farr and Jaime Harker.  It is published by University of Illinois Press.  

This Book Is an Action: Feminist Print Culture and Activist Aesthetics explores different dimensions of second-wave feminism, ranging from feminist newsletters and advances in publishing, to questions of sexuality, race and genre fiction.  As the summary on the book's University of Illinois Press page states, "Examining feminist print culture from its structures and systems to defining texts by Margaret Atwood and Alice Walker, This Book Is an Action suggests untapped possibilities for the critical and aesthetic analysis of the diverse range of literary production during feminism's second wave"

The phrase  "this book is an action" opened Robin Morgan's 1970 anthology Sisterhood Is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women's Liberation Movement.  Farr and Harker's book examines feminist literature and print culture, echoing the link acknowledged by Robin Morgan between writing, consciousness-raising and political action.  The idea that literature and other art forms are central to the representation of feminist consciousness and politicization has been key to feminist criticism for decades.  

This Book Is an Action: Feminist Print Culture and Activist Aesthetics also investigates ongoing feminist debates and questions that have preoccupied the movement since the 1960s.  In her review of the book, Trysh Travis comments on the critical conversations the book engenders.  She comments that it: "Builds on the body of scholarship that has examined the key literary texts of the movement, but it's truly original contribution is the way it uses recent theorizing on middlebrow culture and women's reading practices to reframe the essential, insoluble problem that scholars of radical feminism have so grappled with, namely, who is truly radical and who is a sellout? Cutting this Gordian knot may be the work's biggest contribution."

I love the cover of this book - it is brilliant.  It reminds me of so many late nights working on the typewriter, back in the days before computers.  It also reminds me of important times in my life when I have remembered or rediscovered feminism's profound impact on my life and my work, and felt re-energised and inspired by depictions of sisterhood and feminist struggle...

I am very happy to have a chapter included in This Book Is an Action: Feminist Print Culture and Activist Aesthetics.  My chapter is on feminist genre fiction, more specifically crime fiction, and focuses on Sara Paretsky's 1982 debut novel Indemnity Only.  Sara Paretsky has played an enormous role in feminist crime fiction and provided a source of inspiration and encouragement for women women writers generally.  I have previously published a book chapter on her autobiography Writing in an Age of Silence as well as a book review

 My chapter is called '"This Really Isn't a Job for a Girl to Take on Alone": Reappraising Feminism and Genre Fiction in Sara Paretsky's Crime Novel Indemnity Only.'  The title of my chapter incorporates a phrase from Paretsky's novel, used to discourage and belittle V.I. Warwhawski, the female detective figure.  The phrase draws attention to the importance of Paretsky's feminist intervention in the genre and the enduring importance of confronting that question: "This Really Isn't a Job for a Girl to Take on Alone".

Friday, 16 October 2015

My new article on Irish women's writing

I am very pleased to have published my article on the Irish author Nicola Pierce in the journal Women's Studies: An Inter-disciplinary Journal (Taylor & Francis).  

My article is called "Haunting the Text: Nicola Pierce’s Spirit of the Titanic and Irish Historical Children’s Fiction", and it forms part of a two-part special issue entitled "Irish Women's Writing and Experience".  The special issue was expertly edited by Brian McCabe and Jeanne-Arli Crocker Hammer, resulting in two excellent journal issues full of  fascinating essays on the important yet frequently neglected subject of Irish women's writing. I am really pleased that my article is part of this critical initiative to draw attention to the critical and creative contributions made by Irish women writers historically as well as in contemporary times.  

Here is a snapshot of my article on Nicola Pierce's novel, from the opening page, taken from the journal website:

And here is the link to the UoG institutional Research Repository record.

I have long been looking for  an opportunity to write about Nicola Pierce's critically acclaimed children's novel, which deals with the sinking of the Titanic, including the history of its construction in Belfast.  Being fortunate enough to place my article in Women's Studies: An Inter-disciplinary Journal, I was able to engage with this specific text as well as explore wider questions of Irishness and trauma, combining my interest in Irish women's writing, children's literature, and historical fiction.

The evocative cover of Spirit of the Titanic features the sinking of the ship prominently, yet the foreground of the cover is given over to Samuel, the novel's central figure, a teen-age boy who loses his life during the construction of the ship.   It is Samuel and his life and death, otherwise consigned to the annals of history, which forms the focal point of Pierce's novel, as he remains on board the Titanic as a haunting presence. His character serves to remind the reader of the complexity of individual and collective trauma, illustrated in the novel's depiction of the human cost of the Titanic's construction as well as its horrific sinking.

To me, academic research and publication is about paying attention to authors, topics and perspectives that have hitherto been neglected or overlooked by critics, by crediting them and giving them visibility.  This engagement with marginality is a priority which informs my work, whether on crime fiction, black British and postcolonial literature, Irish writing, poetry, women's writing, or children's literature.  

Sunday, 11 October 2015

"Australia's Children: The Lucky Country?" and the Cheltenham Literature Festival

Last Friday afternoon I attended a talk at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, the only talk I could manage to fit in this year, unfortunately.  

The talk on "Australia's Children: The Lucky Country?" featured Margaret Humphreys, Australian author Christos Tsiolkas, and Geoffrey Robinson.  Margaret Humphreys is the British social worker who began the investigation into Britain's deportation of children to Australia. She wrote the book Empty Cradles about the Child Migrants' Trust which she established following her investigations in order to help the victims affected by this scheme.  The child deportation policy ran from the 1930s to the late 1960s - read Veronica Lee's article "Britain's Child Migrants" in The Guardian (2 April 2011) for further context.  Humphreys  was very interesting, and I felt she should actually have been given her own event discussing her book and work, in order to give it the emphasis it deserved.  

The 2011 film "Oranges and Sunshine", starring Emily Watson and Hugo Dearing, explored Humphrey's work and engendered further awareness of the plight of the children who had been subjected to the deportation scheme and the instrumental role played by Humphreys in helping to draw the nation's attention to one of the dark chapters in its history.  

Geoffrey Robinson is a human rights lawyer and academic, author of a number of books who has led many landmark legal cases, and he contributed interesting political and legal perspectives to the discussions at the event. Christos Tsiolkas is a brilliant Australian author who, apart from The Slap, probably his best-known novel, has published a number of novels and also plays (and this event was a reminder to me to explore that part of his oeuvre further). Tsiolkas was a Guest Director of the Cheltenham Literature Festival, and undoubtedly his presence was a contributing factor in the inclusion of several insightful events on Australian literature and culture.  

Australian literature also happens to be one of my long-standing scholarly and personal interests.  I have published a chapter on the literary representations of child migrants by Kirsty Murray, a wonderful Australian author for children and YA.  

I also published an article back in 2010 on Doris Pilkington's examination in Rabbit-Proof Fence of the plight of the Stolen Generations of aboriginal children forcibly removed from their parents.  

Both of the publications I wrote mean so much to me personally, and the research I undertook as part of the process of writing them fascinated, infuriated, exasperated and moved me.  Murray's and Pilkington's works taught me invaluable things, and I am pleased to have also used their books in teaching contexts, and to have shared these works with students learning about postcolonial and Australian literature.

I came away from the Literature festival session on "Australia's Children: The Lucky Country?" with many ideas and thoughts whirling around in my mind, and a determination to research and write on these subjects further.  Meanwhile, I am going to check out some more of  Christos Tsiolkas' works.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Black History Month - celebrating the importance of black women's writing

My blog this year on the topic of Black History Month is on black British and Caribbean women’s writing, and its complex relationship to history.  The relevance of this topic is reflected in the recent publication by Demeter Press of a book called Reading/Speaking/Writing the Mother Text: Essays on Caribbean Women's Writing, edited by Paula Sanmartin and Cristina Herrera.  

The book contains 10 fascinating chapters on various aspects of motherhood and maternal experience and their representation in Caribbean and diaspora women’s writing.  I also have a chapter in this book on the black British author Andrea Levy’s work, entitled, ‘”My Mama Had a Story”: Motherhood and Intergenerational Relations in Andrea Levy’s Fiction’. 

The title quotation of my chapter, “my mama had a story”, is taken from Levy’s most recent novel, The Long Song, a historical novel set in Jamaica in the 19th Century, exploring British slavery in the Caribbean and the experiences of black enslaved women and men.  The quotation emphasises the significance of personal testimony, cultural transmission, and hearing silenced voices, and the act of storytelling. 

Andrea Levy comments on the long history of British slavery in the Caribbean and her research into this subject, in her essay about writing The Long Song which can be found on her author website.  Reflecting on her findings and how they informed her novel, Levy states that:  “Slavery in Jamaica was so inhumane that it is hard to think of it as a society [...] as soon as I began to reflect upon on the plain historical facts, I realised that slavery was much more than a two-act play; it was a massive social system – a society in the true sense – that endured for three hundred years. .”(Andrea Levy, “The writing of The Long Song”,

Caribbean and black women’s writing makes a fascinating topic of study for anyone interested in black history, including its complicated relationship to literary history, tradition and '"the canon".  Commenting on the different literary genres and modes treated in Reading/Speaking/Writing the Mother Text:  Essays on Caribbean Women s Writing, the editors Paula Sanmartin and Cristina Herrera state in their comprehensive preface:  “A common thread apparent through this diversity of genres is the authors’ efforts to revise history through their literary works.”(p.4)  

Sanmartin and Herrera examine Caribbean women’s writing as one of the means by which historical experience can be excavated, reassessed and re-presented through a literary lens.  This critical approach echoes my own, in my chapter in the book, as well as in my other publications and work on black British women's writing (see details of these on my webpage). Focusing on motherhood and symbolic and historical dimensions of the maternal can facilitate an investigation and articulation of herstory, while validating and making visible previously often overlooked and trivialised dimensions of black women’s lives and their representation in literature.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

British Association for Irish Studies 2015 conference

On 4-5 September 2015, British Association for Irish Studies held its annual conference.  I was very pleased to be able to participate on the Saturday, and also to have the opportunity to give a paper at the event.  It was lovely to meet up with other academics working in the Irish Studies field. The conference theme was "Ireland: Agents of Social Transformation", a motif that lend itself well to further examination and enquiry in a range of different areas of Irish Studies. The conference programme was rich and quite varied, and I was spoilt for choice.  Professor Patrick Lonergan gave the first Saturday keynote lecture, entitled "Performing Transformation: Irish Theatre and Crisis". His examination of contemporary Irish theatre and the challenges it faces was astute and compelling.  

Later that afternoon I gave my own paper, '“Four Lost Souls”: Crisis and Crime in Neville Thompson’s Writing.' Neville Thompson is one of the many interesting contemporary Irish crime writers I have had the pleasure of reading and researching.  The short story I examined in my paper, "The Children of Gear" was particularly fascinating to work on, because it brought together my long-standing interest in the short story format with Irish crime fiction.  Thompson's short story takes its inspiration from the Irish myth "The Children of Lir" and recasts the myth in a contemporary deprived urban Irish setting, in order to examine the ideas of 'family' and 'crisis'.  The story can be found in the anthology Requiems For The Departed (2010), edited by Gerard Brennan and Mike Stone.

I had good responses to my paper.  A lengthy fascinating question-and-answer session followed for both myself and the other speaker on my panel, Dr. Katherine O’Keefe, who gave a great paper on “Doyle and Dev: Refiguring the image of the Irish Family in Roddy Doyle’s The Snapper”.  You can read the abstract for my paper, and all the other papers given at the conference, by following this link:
I had a great time at BAIS and hope to go again next time!  I will be publishing my paper in an extended format soon.

Monday, 31 August 2015

My new publication: Reading/Speaking/Writing the Mother Text

I am proud to have a chapter on the black British author Andrea Levy and her literary portrayal of motherhood and maternal figures in this newly published edited volume entitled  Reading/Speaking/Writing the Mother Text: Essays on Caribbean Women’s Writing, edited by Paula Sanmartin and Cristina Herrera.  The book has just been published by Demeter Press, a Canadian feminist publisher specialising in interdisciplinary work on motherhood studies.  

The volume contains insightful and compelling readings of Caribbean women's writing. As Jocelyn Fenton Stitt, Institute for Research on Women and Gender, University of Michigan, says in her review and recommendation of Reading/Speaking/Writing the Mother Text: Essays on Caribbean Women's Writing:  "This book begins an overdue conversation about how representations of motherhood and family in literary works by Caribbean women connect issues of history, race, memory, nation, and violence."  Here is a picture of the fantastic cover of Reading/Speaking/Writing the Mother Text: Essays on Caribbean Women's Writing:

My chapter is called '“My Mama Had a Story”:  Mothers and Intergenerational Relations in Andrea Levy’s Fiction.'  In it, I examine the multi-faceted portrayal of motherhood and maternal characters in selected novels by Andrea Levy, and investigate Levy's representation of maternal dimensions alongside evolving Caribbean, diasporic and black British identities.  

I have long been an admirer of Andrea Levy's fiction, and look forward with much anticipation to the publication of her next novel.  To me, she is one of the most interesting and poignant literary voices around.  Her fiction has done so much to draw attention to the role and significance of Caribbean and black British men and women throughout history.  My chapter examines the complex manner in which Levy uses the theme of motherhood to trace hitherto neglected Caribbean and black British women's histories and perspectives.  My chapter in this book forms a part of my long-standing scholarly interest in postcolonialism and maternal perspectives and adds to my range of publications in this field.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

My article on true crime and baby farming in the journal "The Human"

I have just had an an article published in the journal The Human's Crime Writing Special Issue edited by Professor Rebecca Martin of Pace University, USA.  The Special Issue on Crime Writing features articles by established crime fiction critics, Merja Makinen and Sam Naidu, among others, as well as poetry.  The crime fiction articles in the Special Issue are all really interesting, and examine a range of topics, from Sherlock Holmes and Fandom (Naidu), and Japanese crime fiction by women writers (Seaman), to varieties of true crime writing and the ethical and historical questions this genre raises (Lyons; Beyer).  The Special Issue also features an excellent introduction by Rebecca Martin. 

My article is entitled "True Crime and Baby Farming: Representing Amelia Dyer".   The true crime text I specifically examined in this article is Alison Rattle and Allison Vale's The Woman who Murdered Babies for Money: The Story of Amelia Dyer (2011) [2007].  Reading Rattle and Vale's book, I became very interested in the phenomenon of baby farming and its context, and also the ways in which Amelia Dyer herself had been portrayed over the years in true crime books. 

The publication emerged from a conference paper I gave in June 2014 at the conference "True Crime: Fact, Fiction, Ideology", organised by Hic Dragones, and held in Manchester.  I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to publish this piece, which represents some of the interdisciplinary modes and questions I have been investigating in my recent research.   Rebecca Martin's Crime Writing Special Issue contains many essays and creative contributions of great interest to any scholar and student of crime fiction, and I warmly recommend it.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Captivating Criminality conference at Bath Spa University

I have just returned from a really inspiring crime fiction conference held at the beautiful Corsham Court, Captivating Criminality: Crime Fiction, Traditions and Transgressions, organised by my prolific colleagues in the field at Bath Spa, Fiona Peters and Rebecca Stewart.  They did a fantastic job!  For more information about the conference and speakers, follow this link:  

I gave a paper on Australian true crime, and am hoping to develop it into a publication before long.  I also chaired a panel earlier that day.  Am still buzzing from hearing the excellent papers on offer at the conference, and from taking part in the many interesting and thought-provoking discussions with colleagues that happened over the course of the two days I was there. Here is a picture of one of the handsome and friendly peacocks at Corsham Court!  They were a colourful presence and even provided enthusiastic audience participation at times, as they voiced their appreciation of our efforts.