On Thursday night I visited the lovely cafe Time for Tea to speak to all the wonderful people who came to hear me speak. Unfortunately I don’t eat cakes, but I have been told that Julie Komac’s cakes are simply wonderful! The atmosphere was amazing and I am so touched at the turn out and that all these people came to hear me. I’m also so pleased for Ebba Brooks, who has done such a wonderful job of putting together the Prestwich Festival. It is a success, and I wish her all the future success in continuing the Prestwich Literary Festival for the future.
On the 31st May I am excited to be hosting a literary salon at Time for Tea, a lovely tearoom in Prestwich which will form part of the inaugural Prestwich Book Festival. Organised by Ebba Brooks, the festival celebrates the authors who live around Prestwich and who have connections with the area. I will be at Time for Tea as it is particularly apt, given that my novel, Tea at the Grand Tazi, centres around the Hotel Grand Tazi in Marrakesh, where the favourite drink of the locals (if not the debauched expatriates of the novel) is mint tea.
This will be my first literary festival; Tea at the Grand Tazi was published just a few months ago and I have been amazed at the extent of the support and interest. Other authors who will be performing at the festival are Emma Jane Unsworth, Sherry Ashworth and Gill James, writers Kate Feld, Benjamin Judge, Claire Massey, Sarah Clare Conlon and Aaron Gow are also taking part.
Performance poet Longfella, also known as Tony Walsh, will perform Vocabaret with poet Jo Bell at the Church Inn on 14 June. Both poets have been poets-in-residence at the Glastonbury festival.
Prestwich is having a renaissance, a lot is happening there now and it is fantastic to be invited to host a cultural event to celebrate the area, its history, its present, and the words, books, writing and performance that I love.
Link on The Guardian newspaper online:
Time for Tea, Prestwich:http://www.timefortearoom.co.uk/where_we_are.html
Facebook: Prestwich Book Festivalhttps://www.facebook.com/PrestwichBookFestival
Blog: Ebba Brooks: http://jennywrenandbellawilfer.blogspot.co.
This evening, my publishers Legend Press are, together with Elaine Hanson and her family, launching the novel of her son Luke Bitmead. Luke was an incredibly talented writer and his novel ‘The Body is a Temple’ is set in Bangkok Luke loved to travel, and he spent several years living in Hong Kong and Bangkok. Due to my own circumstances, I am unable to make the launch tonight, which is very disappointing, but I am really looking forward to reading it. I owe my own success to the Luke Bitmead Bursary, which was set up with legend Press to help new struggling novelists, and I would love to have met Luke. He loved to travel and sounds like he had many stories to tell.
Fortunately, this story is finally being told, thanks to Elaine and Legend Press. ‘The Body is a Temple’ tells the story of Josh, who ‘trapped in the unrelenting grip of pain and heartache, is losing his hold on reality. Having escaped to Bangkok his life appeared to be turning around with a beautiful girlfrienfd, a roof over his head and a somewhat unconventional job.
But then he takes a call from somebody he thought he left behind a long time ag. On the first plane back to Hong Kong, he finds his life has again embarked on a downward spiral, and he feels powerless to stop it.
Swearing he’d never go back to his old ways, Josh can’t help himself from being dragged into a world of danger and hostility. Can he escape the pat set out before him and, ultimately, does he want to?’
The Body is a Temple has received rave reviews from authors Ruth Dugdall, who writes, ‘
"With a deceptively light touch Luke Bitmead takes us into a world of gigolos and drug pushers where love is at a price and pain is never far away."
Andrew Blackman, ''A fast-paced, exciting, adrenaline-fuelled and yet deeply philosophical look at youth, disillusionment and the search for true happiness.'
and the LEGENDARY Jilly Cooper, who comments,
"I hope Luke's book takes off into the Heavens'"-
THE LUKE BITMEAD BURSARY
Also, for other aspiring novelists, submissions have now opened for the 5th Luke Bitmead Writer’s Bursary. ` This award was set up shortly after Luke’s death in 2006 by his family to support and encourage the work of fledgling novel writers. The bursary is now the UK’s biggest award for unpublished authors. We are pleased announce that this brilliant bursary is going ahead for a fifth year, and will hopefully follow in the success of previous years, whose winners include Andrew Blackman (‘On the Holloway Road’, published February 2009), Ruth Dugdall (‘The Woman Before Me’, August 2010), Sophie Duffy (‘The Generation Game’, August 2011) and J.R. Crook (‘Sleeping Patterns’, July 2012).
Only adult fiction is eligible. Author must be a UK resident and a first-time author
- Novels must be complete before entry
To enter, you must submit the following:
- The first 3-4 chapters of your novel
- A detailed synopsis (maximum 1 page) – this should include your novel’s word count
- A personal statement outlining why you would particularly benefit from the bursary
Submissions should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Submissions will be accepted from today until 3rd August 2012.
Further details can be found at www.legendpress.co.uk
The Prestwich Book festival in the North of Manchester is the UK's newest micro literary festival. Organised by the devoted and highly enthusiastic Ebba Brooks it showcases the work of emerging writers and celebrates words, writing and performance from the North of England.
I'm going to be speaking at the festival on Thursday 31st May, at the Time for Tea cafe. I can't wait! Check out the festival website here:http://www.prestwichbookfestival.net/index.html
Like most authors, I read my reviews peeking through my hands. Even though my work is not autobiographical, all art involves the emptying of the self to some extent. One's thoughts, one's philosophy, one's opinion on the world, even whilst getting in the heads of characters. I was bemused this week to discover that a reader thought I might have libelled Morrocco, if one can libel a country! The thoughts of the protagonist are not my thoughts, her experiences are not my experiences. The thoughts and experiences of the character Maia are her truths. There is a reason for the word 'fiction'. One might as well say that Maxim Gorky libelled Russia, or accuse Graham Greene of libelling Vienna in The Third Man! Admittedly, I was less than amused to read someone's opinion that in the novel, 'gay sexuality is equated with corruption'. Now that is looking to criticise what is not there: almost every character in the novel is corrupt by default, gay, straight or equivocal.
Later on that afternoon, I was intrigued to be alerted to the following review by my publishers Legend Press at Thebookbag website. The Bookbag is a lovely site where new books are faithfully reviewed by Sue Magee and Jill Murphy.
On Tea at the Grand Tazi they write:
'The fascinating decadence of those African countries just outside Europe, Tunisia, Morocco and so on, has been captured by numerous works of fiction, but Alexandra Singer's debut novel charts this familiar territory from a contemporary feminine perspective. This tale of her heroine Maia's descent into vice and subjection explores both the clash of cultures and of gender in the torpid heat of North Africa.
Seeking solitude, peace to paint, and solace from a failed relationship, Maia finds a job assisting the Historian, a shadowy academic, in return for life in the centre of Marrakesh. And with her duties light, she sets off to explore her surroundings, attempting to examine the women in this culture. But as a European female she is treated as an item of sexual prey by the men, and ostracised by the women, so she finds herself isolated and alone.
Through this simple framework, Singer captures initially the isolation of a European woman alone in this society, objectified and treated as purely a sexual object by the males around her, who dominate the street scenes and cafes of the souk. In her attempt to find some outdoor life in this constrained society she stumbles upon the Grand Tazi Hotel of the title, a small, seedy oasis of mixed company in this male dominated world. And it is here that she has what initially appear to be safe, yet we realise become increasingly dangerous encounters with locals and travellers, especially Armand, a mysteriously enigmatic but attractive French Moroccan.
Singer's narration does capture some of the pressures and contradictions of this situation. In part she creates a mystery where the intentions of the key players, the Historian, Armand and even the hotel owner Mahmoud are always doubtful, never clear to Maia. What are their true intentions towards her? And in this increasing tale of increasing tension Singer also creates a novel exploring Maia's own sense of female identity, through the stark contrasts of values presented through her Western feminism and the Arab male mores, and through her attempts to paint Moroccan women.
Ultimately, although Maia does create her paintings, they are mostly women seen from a distance, from the rooftops, peeking at their lives from a distance rather than close to. And if the novel has a weakness, it is a similar sense of distance and observation which means I never completely engaged with Maia. No matter how much I am told of her fearful infatuation, her powerlessness in the face of what is so obviously exploitative and dangerous, I find it hard to identify with. However, the threatening nature of the Moroccan culture does come across powerfully.
There is a clear structure here and a good sense of atmosphere, and an even clearer intent to explore issues. What is created most strongly for me is the heat, the confusion and the seedy nature of both surroundings and tourists. This is more ambitious than merely a travel novel though, for it attempts to tackle some complex interwoven issues. Singer uses the clash of cultures to create more than a mystery, and in fact more than a novel of growing up. She especially explores how isolation and alienation can lead to dependence and corruption, something very currently an issue with young women in certain British towns today.
For an 'inside' exploration of womanhood in the post-Arab spring world, I would recommend Sarmada by Fadi Azzam which complements this rather 'outsider' view. But to move away from the fictional, The Arab Spring, edited by Tony Manhire, is an exploration of many aspects of the realities of change in Arab societies now through the eyes of Guardian journalists.'
See The Bookbag for more at: http://www.thebookbag.co.uk/reviews/index.php?title=Tea_at_the_Grand_Tazi_by_Alexandra_Singer