Tag-Archive for ◊ Whitbread First Novel ◊

• Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Diana Evans was born in London but lived part of her childhood in Lagos, Nigeria. She studied Media at the University of Sussex and obtained a Masters degree in creative writing from the University of East Anglia.

She was a dancer before turning to journalism as a feature writer and critic for Marie Claire, The Independent, The Observer, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph.

Diana Evans’ first novel 26 a, published in 2005, won the Orange Award for New Writers in the same year and received a nomination for the Guardian First Book Award. She was also short listed for the Whitbread First Novel and Commonwealth Best First Book Awards.

26 a has been translated into several languages. The Wonder, published in 2009, is Diana Evans second novel. Diana Evans lives in London, England.

26 a, Diana Evan’s first novel dedicated to her twin sister, Paula, is semi autobiographical, having lived the loss of Paula, who committed suicide in 1998 while a young adult. The story takes place mainly in Neasden, London and partly in Nigeria.

26 Waifer Avenue, Neasden, in North West London is the home of the Hunter family. 26 a is the loft where the identical twin-children and soul mate, Georgia and Bessi Hunter live and chose to barricade themselves from the outside world. They created their own haven where nobody was allowed in without knocking and where they could discuss important matters without interference.

They managed to secure their den from the oppressive atmosphere down below, in the house, with their homesick, melancholic, Nigerian mother, Ida, who discourses with “spirits” and their depressed, English, alcoholic father, Aubrey, who hasn’t learned “how to master his demons” and who turns from Dr Jekyll into Mr Hyde, when he is drunk. Their elder sister Bel nurtured them and their younger sister, Kemy, was eager to become part of their secluded world as their third twin.

They built a childhood universe of make believe, where they felt they could fulfil their innocent dreams. Unfortunately, reality caught up with them as they became adults. They had to learn to break the unbreakable bond, their dependent magical relationship and grow apart by accepting that the “twoness” becomes a “oneness”.

A nostalgic, moving, bittersweet tale about searching for personal as well as cultural identity, skillfully written with a great deal of feeling and sensitivity. The poignantly dark, supernatural ending to the story creates a link to the emotionally two petrified furies of the beginning of the novel and contrast with the humoristic narration in between.

In the Observer issue of 6th February 2005, Diana Evans wrote under “My other half”, “A personal essay on twinness”, how after the suicide of her twin sister Paula, Diana felt her sister’s presence haunting her everywhere she went, even in her dreams. She was even speaking at times like her sister with the same voice, finding herself laughing the same way, which made her feel spooky.

Diana Evans felt that she was now living her life for two persons, her twin sister has always been part of her and remains very much so, even after her death. She went on to say that being a twin does not end when one of you disappears, “because there is never really only one of you. Once a twin, always a twin”.

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• Saturday, March 03rd, 2007

Susan Fletcher was born in 1979 in Birmingham, England. She grew up in Solihull, in the English West Midlands, and attended St. Martin’s school from the age of 7 until she was 16, and then joined the 6th form at Solihull School. She studied for a B.A. degree in English at the University of York and then went touring for a year to Australia and New Zealand. Back in England she attended the University of East Anglia and attained an M.A. in their Creative Writing Course. She now lives in Warwickshire.

“Eve Green” was first published in 2004 and it is Susan Fletcher’s first novel. It won the Whitbread First Novel 2004 award.

“Eve Green” is the memoirs of 29 year old Evangeline, who is pregnant for the first time and travels back in time to her childhood when she was just eight years old. She reflects on her mother’s sudden death, her move to her grandparents’farm in Wales, in a remote, small countryside village where people gossip as well as interfere in everybody’s affairs. Especially with so many secrets, betrayal and lies abounding.

The eight year old child, overwhelmed with grief and loss, finds it hard to adapt from Birmingham city life to country life in Pencarreg, Wales.

The author gradually unfolds the story of Eve’s first Welsh summer. Her infatuation with Daniel, the farm help 16 years her senior who represents the missing father figure.

Her friendship with Billy Macklin, a disfigured man excluded from the whole community for being insane, but who is in fact kind-hearted and sensitive. (Read page 260).

It is through Billy Macklin that Eve will discover the truth about her parents’ romantic, mysterious love story which helps Eve resolve her identity problem by discovering the identity of her father and what he was guilty of. This was one of her quests for discovering her family’s dark secret.

There is also the mystery of Rosemary Hughe’s abduction, not forgetting Billy Macklin’s disappearance after the barn fire. Nor Kieran, Eve’s Irish father, who was never seen again after leaving the village, mysteries which will remain unravelled.

The novel does not have an orderly ending. Susan Fletcher says in her interview: “I didn’t want a tidy ending. It would have felt false, to me… it is really up to the reader to decide what happened to Billy, for example, or where Rosie may now be. I feel too that the book becomes more personal that way.” Indeed, unsolved mysteries can be a very up-to-date way of writing a plot. The complete opposite of an Agatha Christie or a Conan Doyle.

In “Eve Green” the Welsh countryside is described in all its breathtaking beauty, which illustrates how the author must love it: “I was keen to set the book in rural Wales. It is this wild, lonesome landscape that first led me to want to write.”

Like an artist painting so Susan Fletcher paints with words. The book is written with a great deal of feeling. The pages are rich, almost too rich, with the description of the Welsh countryside and the small details of everyday country life with its goosip, animosity and mysteries.

In an interview Susan Fletcher reveals that she thrives on descriptive prose but has to be careful not to overdo it. She says the only similarity between her and Evangeline is the red hair and the love of the countryside. Otherwise the book is entirely fictional: “I knew very little when I began to write “Eve Green”. I had no plot, no list of characters, I wasn’t sure of my themes. But I knew I didn’t want my debut novel to be autobiographical. Eve bears a slight resemblance to me, but otherwise this story is hers.”

Susan Fletcher describes her characters in great detail, which makes them alive enough for us to want to piece the story together to have a full picture of the puzzle. As Eve will be doing throughout the novel, painting the souvenirs of lost loved-ones in a touchingly exquisite simplicity.

The style is lyrical, the scenes are evocative and captivating, which helps to create a novel close to poetry. The description of the characters, of the verdant Welsh valleysor even the reminiscence, reveals the author’s evident love for poetry: “Whilst working on “Eve Green” perhaps the greatest inspiration came from poetry, not from prose.” She adds: “I love a good, poetic novel, and I love description. That’s my real passion.”

A good book from a young, promising story teller.