Earlier this month a publisher invited me to chair an Author Panel. There were four of them, all just publishing that difficult second novel. We were to meet at Waterstone’s Piccadilly and they would discuss Love and Romance Across Cultures. Their own experience and writing gave them the basic material. It sounded a blast. But I havered…
The trouble was that I had not read any of the relevant books. Moreover the date was imminent and I was writing at white heat myself. OK, I’d chaired more than one author panel in my time and these books all identified as romantic, in one way or another. I did know a bit about romantic fiction over the centuries. But was it enough? AAARGH!
I needn’t have worried. The event was a revelation – from so many aspects that I’m still counting up what it taught me. The authors and their books were by turns emotional, witty, and insightful. And often surprising.
The Publisher and the Author Panel
Actually, Jacaranda, the publisher who invited me, only had one of the four author panel on their list. Their commitment to the event, however, was total. And I got terrific briefing from Jazzmine Breary, their digital and publicity manager. Real saved-my-bacon briefing, I mean. Ace stuff.
Based in Southwark, Jacaranda were founded by Valerie Brandes, ex Profile Books, to publish the kind of books she wanted to read but was having trouble finding.
Works focusing on Africa and the Caribbean interest them particularly but their list embraces a wide range of history and issues affecting ethnic minorities, women, and young people. And they’ve welcomed a witty and grown-up love story, too.
Author Ola Awonubi
Ola is an award-winning writer with very strong emotional ties both to the UK and Nigeria, where she returned with her family and lived from the age of 10 to her mid 20s. Her first novel, Love’s Persuasion ,was published by Ankara Press, the Romance imprint of Cassava Republic in December 2014. Her second book by Ankara Press Love Me Unconditionally has been out since Valentines Day this year.
She read from Love’s Persuasion – the Austenian title is not chance – and revealed an intriguing story. She structured it around the assumptions and conventions of Nigeria, and these heighten the impact of those universal constituents of a true love story – angst, uncertainty, pain and, above all, emotional fulfilment. Went straight onto my To Read list.
Author Colette Dartford
Colette’s insight into cross-cultural relationships came from living in California where, lacking the necessary green card to work, she took to study (Viticulture and Enology, a woman after my own heart!) and wrote her first book, Learning to Speak American.
She, too, read from her first book, and introduced it by saying that the disconnect between American and British mores heightened her heroine’s sense of isolation. Her delivery of the tense, evocative scene moved her audience to silence and then applause.
In her second novel, An Unsuitable Marriage, her crises stress a family to breaking point. Out now.
Author Ayisha Malik
Ayisha Malik’s second novel is a sequel. She pitched them both as the Muslim Bridget Jones and her publishers agreed. Spot on, from what I can see. Their cross-cultural aspects are straight out of the heroine’s 21st century designer baggage – metropolitan survival versus traditional family values. Her heroine Sofia Khan is a hoot, too, as well as devout – she throws her knickers over the air conditioner only after marriage. The audience for the author panel loved it!
Sofia Khan is Not Obliged (Twenty7), was a WH Smith Fresh Talent pick in 2016 and has been optioned for TV. The Other Half of Happiness (Zaffre), is out April 2017. Incidentally, Ayisha is also the ghost writer for Great British Bake Off winner, Nadiya Hussain’s book, The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters (Harlequin).
Author Frances Mensah Williams
Jacaranda’s own author, Frances Mensah Williams, moved to the UK from Ghana with her family aged 6. She’s not only an author (both fiction and non-fiction), but CEO of Interims for Development Ltd and the Publisher of ReConnect Africa.com.
In From Pasta to Pigfoot heroine, Faye, is a lively problem-solver with input from friends and family which is not always constructive. Like so many of the best love stories, this is also about the heroine finding herself. Faye’s confidence and judgement matures while she explores her Ghanaian heritage, her family, the beach, the shops, the history, from the middle class to a simple village. It is full of laugh-out-loud moments, kindness and truth.
The sequel, delightfully, is called From Pasta to Pigfoot, Second Helpings and is out now.
What Crosses Cultures? Author Panel Conclusions
As so often happens, the audience had more excellent questions than we really had time for. (OK, the whole session interested me so much that I lost track of time. My bad.) Two things stay with me: the authors all agreed that none of them could think about whether they might upset the more traditional part of their audience while they were actually writing the book. “You just have to close your eyes and go for it,” said one. “Your characters drive you,” said another. But they – and I – all admitted that, once we’d finished a book, what really made us writhe was the thought: my mother’s going to be reading this.
Oh, and the hunk emerging from the sea is pretty much a universal fantasy.