This week I am pleased that my next novel, Ash, has been nominated for the Guardian Not-the-Booker Literary Prize. Being on the Longlist is a real honour, so thank you to the person who nominated me. https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2018/jul/30/not-the-booker-longlist-vote-now-to-decide-the-2018-shortlist?CMP=share_btn_link
Ash has been a labour of love. It is a continuation of the story of Amanda, the central character in my first novel Inshallah (www.honno.co.uk) and shows what happened to Amanda once she returns to the UK from Saudi Arabia with her five children. It is as gritting and realistic, perhaps as uncompromising, as my first book. I was inspired to write about some the struggles of parenting, particularly single parenting, but more importantly, about some of the challenges of being a young woman in our society. So the book is two narratives interwoven to build one overall story. Ash’s story is told in first person, present-tense, and is a shocking insight into how she struggles with self concept, with her place in the world, and with how the world makes her feel about herself. She is a very intelligent, creative but challenged young woman and I hope that readers will relate to some of her feelings. Her relationship with her own physical self is … difficult.
Amanda’s story, mostly told as a retrospective, explores the way life has bruised and battered her as much as her previous relationship did, but also shows how her sons grew from boys into men, and explores her relationships with others. In this book, unlike the previous, her relationships with women are more explicitly defined. Her process of becoming, of reclaiming her sense of self, is slow, as her energies are mostly spent on her children, but we see how this at times difficult character carves a small place for herself in the world.
Something has happened to Ash, but the reader does not know what. Amanda questions what has brought about this cataclysm in her life. Was it losing their home at Blossom House, a community of women that was their first real haven after returning home? Was it Ash’s relationship with her mother? Was it growing up with her mother’s constant fear and insecurity? What about Ash’s relationships with her four older brothers? What has happened to them? What happens to us when we feel we belong nowhere?
It is a book about womanhood, from two ends of the spectrum, and about life and poverty and growth and creativity. It is about the ways that women are with each other, and about the constant search for belonging in this difficult and dangerous world. It is about the way that we are made to feel about our bodies, about our status, about our value. And it is a story, as always, that will make you question some of your assumptions about certain things in life.
We often talk about disaffected youth, about inexplicable choices, about declining behaviours. But do we question why people act the way they do? Do we ask what impact the world has on young people? Do we wonder what needs to change to make a better world? And do we really know what is influencing the people we are about?
This is a book of questions, and some answers, and if it makes the reader think, and reflect, then I have achieved my purpose.
Ash takes you on a journey of intimate reality, inside the minds of women. I hope that you get as much from reading it as I have from writing it.