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Angelena Boden

Angelena Boden

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A Chat with Anne Coates - author of the popular Hannah Weybridge crime novels

I’m not a book blogger as such, but when an interesting author with an exciting new approach to their genre comes along, I’d like to help get their titles out there because you, voracious readers, might miss something.

If you haven't heard of  Hannah Weybridge,  you’re in for a treat. She is the lead in Anne Coates’ pacey thrillers. Single mother, investigative journalist with a dogged determination to get to the truth whatever the risks, Hannah Weybridge takes the star role in Anne’s three novels, details of which can be found below.

I’m going to focus on Anne’s latest book, ‘Songs of Innocence’ as I think this is her best and most socially sensitive book to date. Why do I say that? These are not your average murder scenes or crimes. They involve several young women from ethnic communities in South London but the police don’t seem to be taking the crimes seriously enough.

The book is set in the nineties and I can't help thinking that we are facing similar themes of  racism and protests against immigration while Asian and African women are still battling against cultural mores and equal rights within their own communities, such as forced marriage, domestic abuse and trafficking as well as battling on going discrimination in the UK. The author does an excellent job of giving us a realistic insight into these issues which, let’s face it, we would rather pretend didn’t exist.

It’s gritty, it’s real, and if you’re looking for something that carries you along, Songs of Innocence’ is a must read.

As always I am keen to know the story behind a popular author so I asked Anne a few searching questions. Anne, author of seven non-fiction books and short story writer who has been published in magazines such as Bella and Caris,   really knows what she is talking about.

Hannah Weybridge has developed into a strong, identifiable character. What gave you the idea for her and in particular her role as a journalist as opposed to an investigating police officer? 
Hannah Weybridge first appears in ‘Dancers in the Wind’, a novel which was inspired by my own journalism. I had interviewed a prostitute and a police officer at King’s Cross for a national newspaper. It was to link to a documentary that was just about to be aired. My article was spiked as it was too harrowing… Sometime later I started thinking “what if” and fictionalised the interview to set off the events for the novel. Hannah Weybridge was born… there was never any thought of her being a police officer.

 

As someone who does not know London outside of the areas visited by tourists, why did you choose Peckham for the setting on Songs of Innocence? I must add that you present a strong sense of place with minimal description. 
Peckham is only one location in the book. Dulwich also features plus the action takes place throughout the borough of Southwark, plus other areas. Peckham Park pond is where the first body is discovered – the park is where William Blake had his vision of angels in an oak tree, hence the link to the title of the book. South-east London is Hannah’s home patch – and mine.


I ask this question as someone whose life has been enriched by diversity since 1979, yet has found it challenging writing about mixed communities from the outside, have you had similar experiences when writing Songs of Innocence and what advice would you give to other writers when tackling similar themes? 
The area where I have lived for many years is a melting pot of cultures and residents come from all walks of life. I love it. When I first moved into my house, my neighbours on one side were Indian and Caribbean on the other, plus a Turkish family a few doors down. There was also an elderly lady who had been born in her house before WW2 and a middle-aged man still living with his father in the flat he’d also been born in. My work as an editor introduced me to books written by Asian women plus I have visited India. However I would stress that Songs of Innocence is written from Hannah’s perspective as an investigating journalist. Advice to other writers would be to go to primary sources and always at least three – the magic number we were given when fact checking as a journalist. 


What appeals to you about crime writing? Would you consider other genres for future books?
Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven series have a lot to answer for! I find crime really satisfying to write – I love the clues characters whisper to me as we get to know each other. Previously I have written short stories for women’s magazines and many of these centred on a “crime” although others were more about family relationships. Another project I’m working on is a stand-alone, first person narrative but I’m not sure where it’s heading at the moment… Although I have translated an erotic novel written in French, I wouldn’t dream of writing in that genre nor would I attempt science fiction and I don’t think I’m romantic enough to write a love story.


You have told me that most of your life has been in publishing related industries so you must have seen many changes. How do you see publishing in the future and what do new authors need to understand before they embark on what is certainly a tough career?

I’d love to have a crystal ball to predict the future path of publishing! The changes that the digital age has made are phenomenal and now everyone can be a publisher, which is exciting and (sometimes) disastrous. For anyone considering writing books I’d say write because you love writing. It’s not a “career” as such – no entry qualifications or clear “continuing professional development” – it’s a way of life and you will probably need another career to support yourself financially.

How do you think social media helps sell books (or not)? 

Well, I certainly buy books that I’ve discovered via social media and if I am “friends” with an author, I’m likely to buy and read their books. However it’s a double-edged sword for an author as you mustn’t be seen to be trying to sell your books. Nevertheless, I have seen one author recently do nothing but self-promote and it seems to have worked judging by her “bestseller” listings.


What's your view of the current wave of fiction writing in the first person/present tense? 
First person narratives have been around forever. One of my all time favourites is The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne which was first published in the 18th century and is so funny. Books written in the first person lend an intimacy to the reading process which is very powerful. The book I’ve just read in the first person is Rowan Colman’s The Summer of Impossible Things and it’s practically perfect. I love first person narratives when they are well executed but it’s a skill not everyone has.

Will we see more of Hannah? 
I am currently writing the fourth book in the Hannah Weybridge series so that’s a resounding yes!

You can buy 'Songs of Innocence from amazon.co.uk https://amzn.to/2LoTAa8

Death's Silent Judgement                                             https://amzn.to/2L4qIrw

Dancers in the Wind                                                      https://amzn.to/2Ldjotb

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Edna's Death Cafe

As in life, death is not without its agenda. This is something seventy-nine year old Edna Reid finds out when her partner, Ted, suddenly dies.

To cope with her loss, she sets up a Death Café to break down the taboo around death and to encourage other members of the community to discuss it openly. Over tea and cake, the participants hide their fears behind a veil of dark humour.

Religious fanaticism clashes with Victorian spiritualism as Edna’s meetings trigger lively conversations on the fragility of life, anxiety over dying, cost of funerals, and making sure long-lost greedy relatives don’t benefit from inheritances. 

Soon, a series of events begin to unfold which threaten to undermine Edna’s livelihood and the Death Café meetings. These events just happen to coincide with the arrival of a mysterious stranger into the village.

Who is she and why is she so hostile to Edna?

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Talking About Death, Celebrating Life

YODO! No, it’s not a new greeting. It’s shorthand for You Only Die Once, so why not make it a good death? There has never been a better time to get talking about those “face behind a cushion” topics we’d all rather pretend weren’t going to happen. At least, not to us.

The international Death Cafe movement has been encouraging us to share what’s on our mind about death, dying and bereavement since 2011 when Jon Underwood set up the first Death Cafe meeting in Hackney, washed down with tea and sweetened with a bit of cake. Over 6000 meetings in 56 countries have been held to date but you won’t find negativity on the menu.

It’s a safe space run with no agenda, no aim to convert to a belief or sign up to a philosophy of life (or death). No one is under pressure to do or say anything. No long lectures or guest speakers pontificating, no funeral services representatives trying to sell you a plan. Just you, others like you and the facilitator wanting to share what’s on their mind. To find out about a meeting in your area or to see what’s involved should you want to set one up, visit www.deathcafe.org Follow them on Twitter @DeathCafe

Let’s get back to YODO. Being near Birmingham, I shall be attending A Matter of Life and Death Festival (May 10th – 26th), an arts of cultural programme of events with death as a core theme. BrumYODO is a local collective set up with the aim of helping the people of Birmingham have more open and honest conversations about death and dying. The collective describes themselves as “a growing group of artists, undertakers, food artists, hospices, palliative care professionals and generally all-round interesting folk. http://brumyodo.org.uk/matter-life-death/

So why am I so passionate about the need to talk about all things mortal?

As someone who has suffered from death anxiety (thanatophobia) ever since my Grandad died when I was ten (fifty years ago), I discovered that I wasn’t alone. Part of any fear is driven by not owning it. Bringing it out into the open is one way of disempowering that fear and empowering ourselves. In doing so, we add more value and quality into our daily lives by making every moment count.

            I’ve attended a number of Death Cafe meetings which have provided the inspiration for my latest novel, EDNA’S DEATH CAFE, set in the Derbyshire Peak District, my childhood stomping ground. Fiction can often reach parts that other communication channels cannot. We can be alone with a book, argue with the characters, ponder on their words and reflect on their lives, hopefully to find resonance with ours.

            I’ll be writing more about the book, about bereavement and my work as a newly trained funeral celebrant. I’ll leave you with my favourite bit of philosophy. Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside is while we live. Norman Cousins.

Edna’s Death Cafe will be published by Matador in September 2018. Keep up to date with the news on Twitter. Follow @Angelena Boden @matadorbooks

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Why I Hate Eating

One of my recurrent symptoms of non-combat post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the inability to digest food. At these times, the thought of having to eat anything solid triggers an outraged response from my digestive system. I’m surprised the neighbours can’t hear it shrieking out for help.

Everything about food, the look, colour, texture and smell leaves me nauseous. My throat rebels by tightening up so that it’s even a struggle to swallow tea. TEA? I ask you. Nothing has ever stopped me drinking tea. Except the panic that comes with the flashbacks. I’ll write about those later.

The OM (Old Man) has to shoot out to the chemist to get me a protein shake which lasts me all day. All 203 calories of it. I wish I could pop a pill or mix a powder with water instead.

To be honest, for the past ten years my diet has been restricted to 15 different foods, all bland and unexciting. It’s too much effort to think about shopping for it, preparing it and then having to actually eat it. My winter breakfast is an oat bar, my summer breakfast, muesli. Lunch is always soup and gluten free oatcakes, (home -made) and dinner, a tiny portion of fish and salad or just salad. Rice cakes do a good job of filling the holes.

I’m a lousy dinner guest and you would never see me posting pictures of meals in restaurants as I rarely go. It’s such an uncomfortable experience. I can’t drink alcohol (hate the stuff) and have to be really nice to the staff to organise something for me that’s off-menu. Gluten free, acid free, lactose free, meat free, sugar free and fat free. Grass madam?

May as well since everything tastes pretty much the same. Don’t offer me sludgy food either. Rice pudding, custard, porridge. I’m not sick but I would be at the mere sight of something that looks as if it should be plaster for walls.

The stress of long term trauma has left me with a condition known as GORD gastro-oesophageal reflux disease which has got so bad it’s upped its game into a pre-cancerous condition called Barrett’s Oesophagus. I should have shares in Aloe Vera juice, Apple Cider Vinegar and other stuff which boasts its efficacy in soothing the gut but is the underlying trauma leading to the stress which impacts on the stomach, that second brain, that is to blame. Please don’t tell me to get therapy. I’ve tried it all at great expense. A memory wipe-out would be the easiest.

It’s been eight days since by last big melt down. I am back to drinking tea and nibbling on a rice cake. There’s an event in the town I am supposed to be attending tonight. Hopefully I won’t be bamboozled into trying Mrs. Shepherd’s utterly delicious lemon drizzle cake. The dog might be in for an unexpected treat.

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