Tuesday, 14 March 2017

An interview with Sandra Alland and Khairani Barokka, two co-editors of 'Stairs and Whispers'

Today I'm delighted to bring you an interview with Khairani Barokka and Sandra Alland, who along with Daniel Sluman, are the co-editors of 'Stairs and Whispers', which will be published by Nine Arches press and will be the UKs first major anthology of poetry and essays by D/deaf and Disabled poets.

Nine Arches Press are currently running a crowdfunder to bring this amazing anthology into fruition. As of right now they've reached their initial goal so along with their part-funding by Grants for the Arts funding from Arts Council England they have had enough pledges to be able to publish the anthology, but any extra support towards their stretch goal will mean you are supporting an incredible anthology and some great writers - you can even get yourself a free gift poetry book with one of the crowdfunders pledges! 

So to spread the word about 'Stairs and Whispers', Sandra Alland and Khairani Barokka, two co-editors of the anthology, have kindly answered a few questions all about the anthology. Thank you both!

Khairani, as ‘Stairs and Whispers’ is going to consist entirely of d/Deaf and disabled artists’ voices - how important do you think the anthology will be to the industry moving forward? What impact do you hope it will have?

We hope the anthology will have an impact in many ways, including: providing a way for our community of D/deaf and disabled poets to have a sense that we are a community, one that’s vital to ourselves but also to literature generally; to encourage other D/deaf and disabled poets based in the UK and overseas to keep writing, keep sharing, submitting, to find each other, and to assert their work into the scene wherever they are; to set an industry standard in terms of making an accessible anthology that’s also inclusive; and getting fundamentally important poetics, talents, and perspectives to a wider audience, so that we have our own say in the mix when our lives are being threatened by political policies, austerity, and continued discrimination.

What kind of work can readers expect to find in 'Stairs and Whispers’, Khairani?

A huge variety—poetry set everywhere from colonised islands to Alice’s Wonderland, from the funny to the sobering, and poetry that’s both, and lots of really vital political takes on the world we live in and how it treats our varying bodyminds: whether through personal stories or explicit take-downs of policy. There are as many writing styles as poets in this book!

Sandra - 'Stairs and Whispers' is obviously very important for various reasons - how did you come to be involved in the project?

The project was conceived by Markie Burnhope and Daniel Sluman, in collaboration with Nine Arches Press, after the successful Fit to Work: Poets Against Atos online anthology (edited by Burnhope, Sluman and Sophie Mayer). I was over the moon to be invited to join the editorial committee, and we dreamt hard together about what kind of anthology we wanted to help shape – one that showcased disabled and D/deaf artists in the UK like they hadn’t been before, one that sought to address intersectional activism and access, one that ‘wrote back’ against neoliberalism and our current political climate.

Our call-out went into the world in 2015, and we were bombarded with a ridiculous amount of brilliant writing by brilliant people. When Markie sadly had to step down because of health issues, we were also unfunded, so we took a wee break to reassess what we could manage, as disabled poets with chronic health issues, and without cash.

Reinvigorated by rest and part-funding from Arts Council England, we wooed Khairani Barokka to join us in making the selections from over 500 pages of writing, editing them, inviting poets to write essays, and conceiving ideas for the form, tone(s) and scope of the book. Okka, Daniel and I asked additional artists to submit (I have a firm belief that call-outs are not sufficient to reach as many communities and people as one wants. Nothing is enough, but tonnes of research and invitations help.) When the final deadline came, we went swimming in a very large pile of the most refreshing poetry.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about collaborating on 'Stairs and Whispers', Sandra?

If I had to name a dream job, co-editing Stairs and Whispers would likely be it. I cannot emphasise enough what an absolute peach of an experience it’s been working with Okka and Daniel – and Jane Commane at Nine Arches, and Markie before. Having coworkers who just get things – for example, that you’re tired or ill or fed up with ableist, cissexist, heterosexist and classist micro- and mega-aggressions – is an amazing gift. Working with other disabled people is a gift, cross-disability organising is a gift. I learned so much, but we all had to explain so little.

Okka, Daniel and I also balanced each other out well as editors. We have overlapping tastes, but also differing tastes and backgrounds, and I think this helped us choose a wider variety of styles and kinds of poetry. Speaking of the poets, it was super difficult to make decisions, but we just couldn’t publish everyone. We’ve included over 50 poets, in print or on film, and the calibre of work is truly impressive. Working with them has also been dreamy – they get things to us on time, they’re open to edits, and they’re as passionate about the work as we are. There’s a real sense of community to this book – of disabled and D/deaf people, of adventurous poets serious about their craft. 

These are tough times, in the UK and elsewhere. We hope Stairs and Whispers will contribute to ongoing discussions about the value of disability poetics, aesthetically and politically, and continue both our unique artistic traditions and our resistance to oppression of all kinds.

Thank you again for taking the time out to answer these questions! What a fantastic insight to 'Stairs and Whispers' and its editing process. 

You can buy a physical or e-book copy of 'Stairs and Whispers' and support the project through its crowdfunder here (and I definitely recommend you do so asap, as it closes in 2 days!) Every supporter of the crowdfunder even gets their name printed in the back of the anthology as a supporter as well! What more could you want? Please pledge if you're able to - I've already pledged and I can't wait to receive my copy. Not only is it a really important anthology for so many reasons - some of which Sandra and Khairani have so rightly pointed out, but it also sounds like an incredible body of work by some outstandingly talented disabled and D/deaf poets. So if you're able to, please pledge if you can and get yourselves a copy! 

Sandra Alland’s work includes Blissful Times (BookThug, 2007) and Naturally Speaking (espresso, 2012) and Khairani Barokka's works include Indigenous Species (Tilted Axis, 2016) and Rope (Nine Arches, 2017). Daniel Sluman has two books with Nine Arches Press: Absence has a weight of its own (2012) and The Terrible (2015).

You can find more information about Nine Arches Press on their website, here. They can also be found on Twitter, here.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

LGBT Media Favourites

To celebrate LGBT History Month in the UK, here are some examples of my favourite pieces of media (films, TV, podcasts and books) that include LGBT characters.

San Junipero (Black Mirror)

Available on Netflix, San Junipero is a standalone episode of Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’. With its usual sci-fi elements, this episode of ‘Black Mirror’ centres on Yorkie, a young girl who's just arrived in the lively San Junipero for a visit. In Tuckers, the local bar, she meets Kelly in the 80s - and everything changes. Or is it the 90s? Or maybe the 00s? With an amazing twist ‘San Junipero’ is an incredible story about love, loss, and the concept of forever.

San Junipero is full of great acting, great storytelling, and a very well done story between two women - with a happy ending, no less! I’d absolutely recommend watching it if you can. The story really stays with you.

Humans (series 2 specifically)

Series 2 of Humans, which originally aired on Channel 4, is a sci-fi show about an alternative reality where robots - or synthetics, are a constant part of society. They are nannies, carers, shop assistants - and can be bought to help people and businesses.

However they are a group of synths who are sentient, and the series revolves around those synths as they try to hide who they are for fear of being taken and experimented on. I won’t give away too much of the plot because it’s so good that I don’t want to spoil it for you! But if you love sci-fi, then you pretty much have to watch this.

Not only is it a great sci-fi show, but it gives its female characters depth and scope - they very much carry the story along, especially in the second series - and they either save the men, or save the day, and even the secondary female characters are given development and their own stories, which I found really refreshing.

But onto LGBT characters specifically - in the second series, Niska, one of the sentient synths, meets Astrid, a human, and they begin a relationship. While you might expect the whole robot thing to impose some issues, it doesn’t, as hey very clearly have a deep bond and love for each other. And despite the danger in the later episodes of the series, their relationship is constantly well-written and developed and is often the positive and light of an episode.

'Humans' is incredibly well written and incredibly underrated - both in terms of LGBT characters and relationships and as a show as a whole. It’s a masterclass of great writing and great acting. I’d love a third series but unfortunately, ratings were low for the second series so if you can please support it by buying the DVDs (as series 1 is great too!) or watching it somewhere else legally - it’s an amazing show, and when I say that I really, really mean it.


Set in the 1950s, ‘Carol’ is about Therese, a young sales assistant in a department store. An aspiring photographer, her life is changed forever when she meets Carol when she comes into the store to buy something for Christmas. They eventually begin a relationship, despite the attitudes of the time (and Carol’s controlling husband) throwing some spanners in the works.

It has a happy ending (you might cry, just a heads up) - it’s beautifully shot, really well written, and really well acted. The soundtrack is also stellar and is actually one of the first film soundtracks where I love every single song. This is actually one of my favourite films (from a Film Studies student perspective it’s amazing on all accounts) so I 100% recommend it - especially if you like period films. You can check out Carol on Amazon (UK).

Unspeakable - Abbie Rushton

If you’ve read my review of ‘Unspeakable’ you know how much I love it. It’s about Megan, a teenage girl, and the mystery around why she’s no longer speaking. But Megan also begins to have a crush on the new girl at school Jasmine, but then a relationship begins to develop and after a surprising and shocking event Jasmine’s feelings are also revealed and they begin a relationship. But can it survive the mystery and the secret that Megan is keeping?

‘Unspeakable’ is so well written - a really sweet book, that also has a happy ending (which doesn’t spoil the resolution of the mystery, btw - that’ll shock you!) But it’s one great story that I really recommend reading. If you’re interested, you can check out the book on The Book Depository.

I’ll Give You The Sun - Jandy Nelson

Again, if you’ve read my review of ‘I’ll Give You The Sun’ you’ll know that I also love it. This one is about a set of twins, Jude and Noah, and how their lives turn upside down after their mother dies. (And it actually deals with their relationship and both their grief really well). Jude believes that her mother always preferred Noah, as they both loved art - Noah even applies to get into a prestigious art school. But he doesn’t get in - and instead sneaks into the woods to take part in art classes at the school in secret. We learn that Noah has a crush on his childhood friend, Brian - and the book deals with these feelings, whether Brian reciprocates them, and eventually all of the characters get into relationships and their happy endings.

The story is really well told and the book is visually beautiful (there are some incredible printed quotations from the book within it) so you should definitely check it out if you have the time! If you’d like to pick up a copy you can do so on The Book Depository.

BBC Atlantis

A modern TV series made by the writers of BBC Merlin, the show is about Jason who goes into a submarine in the hope of finding out about his father, who went missing on a similar voyage - but he actually ends up in the mystical city of Atlantis. There, he encounters real people of myth and legend, Pythagoras, Hercules, Medusa - and even Oedipus! He also battles lots of foes - and eventually finds his dad… but unfortunately, the BBC cancelled the show after its second series, leaving it on a cliffhanger. (Yes, I’ll always be bitter).

But before the show was cancelled, in the second series - Icarus is introduced. A close friend of Pythagoras, both of their feelings for each other soon become obvious and after a near-death experience they admit their feelings for each other, and in the final episode, begin a relationship.

If you like short series, a show where being LGBT isn’t a big deal (there are no coming out stories, Pythagoras love for Icarus is just completely expected and treated as normal) and don’t mind cliffhangers, then I definitely recommend BBC ‘Atlantis’. The story writing is a bit ropey, but the acting and the writing of characters and their relationships is really well done. If you’d like more information you can buy the DVD on Amazon (UK).

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Available to watch on Netflix, ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ is a comedy musical that is full of incredible songs, a hilarious and really well-written script, and great characters (and really good character development, might I add). The show deals with the likes of mental health, abortion, family issues, and religion - all incredibly.

But it’s LGBT issues that I’m going to focus on. The show features the coming out of Darryl, once he realises that he’s bisexual. It’s really well done - Darryl even sings a song about his bisexualty (that’s the most catchy song ever, just to warn you!) And enters into a relationship with White Josh, a gay man. The second series then deals with their relationship, which is, again, really well done - it’s realistic and very sweet, often ending up being the positive part of some of the sadder episodes for other characters when their relationships break down.

It’s just been renewed for a third series (yay!!) so if you like musicals, comedies and a great story (all that include LGBT characters) then definitely check out ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’!

One Day At A Time

Also available on Netflix, ‘One Day At A Time’ is a comedy sitcom that centres around the Alvarez family, Penelope, the single veteran mother, lives with her mother Lydia, and her children Alex and Elena. The family is Cuban American, and the show very eloquently goes from being hilariously funny to tackling the likes of immigration, LGBT issues, racism, PTSD, and religion. This is honestly the funniest, freshest sitcom I’ve ever seen!

Specifically, the show does tackle LGBT issues really well - as Elena comes out to her family as a lesbian. The shoe explores this from all angles - the coming out scene is particularly touching, and how each individual family member reacts to the news is also really well done and really affecting (I say that to avoid spoilers, but don’t worry - all of the main family members in the show are supportive). Overall, the show and the LGBT issues and characters are very well acted and incredibly well-written.

The episodes are only 20 minutes long each and there’s only been one series released so far, so if you have time to watch a short show on Netflix then I definitely recommend this ‘One Day At A Time’. I really couldn’t recommend a show more - I literally renewed my Netflix account to watch this show and I don’t regret it for a second.


Unfortunately, these examples don’t include characters from every aspect of the spectrum - I’ve got a to-watch and a to-read list a mile long that had media on it that includes way more LGBT characters. So while I haven’t read or watched any of these, here is my ‘LGBT Media Wishlist’, so to speak, which includes books, TV and films that I will watch very soon - and that you should watch, and read when you can.

A contemporary YA novel that includes gay, bisexual and demisexual characters.

A TV series about the adventures of Kara Danvers (aka Supergirl). It includes the coming out of her sister, Alex, and her relationship with Maggie Sawyer.

A contemporary YA novel that includes a transgender character.

(My wishlist is hyperlinked with links to the books/shows in question so if you’d like to know more about them please give them a click!)

To read more about LGBT History Month, check out its Twitter account and website.

What do you think - do you like my choices? Let me know your favourites in the comments!

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Nowhere Near You by Leah Thomas review

Title: Nowhere Near You
Author: Leah Thomas
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 400
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Fantasy
Format: Hardback, Paperback, ebook
Source: An ARC. Thank you!

An outstanding story that gives us insight into Ollie and Moritz’s life and friendship yet again through their letters - ‘Nowhere Near You’ is a story about two disabled teenagers just trying to live, but this time we’re also privy to other teenagers and their lives as they try to do the same - as Ollie attempts to document their lives while he’s on a road trip. And it’s an amazing experience to see their lives and relationships develop while they continue to fight a world that often won’t let them do so with their conditions, because Thomas touches on aspects of living with conditions and disabilities (some of which are wonderfully sci-fi) that both comfort and educate disabled and able-bodied readers respectfully, while also just writing about people, - and about teenagers who are just trying to find out what to do with their lives (whether it’s love, educational, or just their general lives).

‘Nowhere Near You’ is nothing short of absolutely incredible. Thomas continues to let both Ollie and Moritz’s voices shine through throughout the novel - who, like Ollie and Moritz, have unique conditions. Both Arthur, and Bridget, in particular, jump off the page and are as real, and lovable as Ollie and Moritz, especially as we learn more about them. Thomas effortlessly develops her new characters so by the end of the book you care about them as if you’ve been reading about them for years, while also expanding and continuing to develop Ollie and Moritz as characters so they become even more human. Thomas is a master of writing real, human characters within a story that will utterly enrapture you - and this book is another example of that fact.

This book is also very much a roller-coaster ride of emotions. Thomas manages to interweave emotion into every line so that you’ll be quite literally crying at the end (trust me on that one) - but they’ll also be ample opportunities through the book that will make you laugh, smile and cry. Thomas is a master at making you feel not only what the characters themselves are feeling - but she is such a master of words that even a description can make you weep or smile. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a writer that can so masterfully make you feel so much. Thomas’s writing is not only amazing, but also really emotive. You’ll definitely need a pack of tissues when you start reading this one!

The tension within ‘Nowhere Near You’ is also really well done - I wasn’t able to put the book down as soon as the plot started building pace. There were twists, turns, and surprises that kept me on my toes and that make you want to devour the book in one go just to see where the story goes. But that’s not just because the story is really suspenseful and really well told - even though it is, of course - but it's also because you really, really care about Ollie, Moritz, and all the other characters within the story. ‘Nowhere Near You’ is everything you want in a book - characters that feel like family, and a story that’s equal parts heart-wrenching and incredible.

When I started to write this review I was lost for words - ‘Nowhere Near You’ is not only an amazing sequel to ‘Because You’ll Never Meet Me’ (which is one of my all-time favourite books, btw) but as a standalone novel, ‘Nowhere Near You’ is faultless in its powerful story and its lovable characters. You’ll reach the final page and long for more, but will be completely satisfied with how Thomas has effortlessly lead you along such a beautiful story of friendship and humanity and love. Be warned, however, the ending of the book will definitely make you cry - even if you feel like you’ve cried out all your tears by then! The book really ends in such a lovely way - I gasped aloud when I realised what was actually happening! I don’t think the end of a book has ever made me feel so happy for its characters (as well as thousands of other emotions!) But like I said, Thomas really is a fantastic writer - and if ‘Because You’ll Never Meet Me’ proved this, then ‘Nowhere Near You’ nails the point home so that no can ever refute it.

In ‘Nowhere Near You’ Thomas effortlessly weaves an impacting, heart-wrenching story of friendship with elements of fantasy that should, and does, appeal to anyone that loves books - because this is a damn good one. I know it might seem like I’m being hyperbolic - but honestly, if you’re looking for books to read, let it be this one and it’s predecessor because when I sing their praises, I mean it with all of my heart. They’re fantastic, for so, so many reasons.



Friday, 6 January 2017

Wing Jones Photo Blog Tour - Day 2!

Throughout January, over 40 bloggers (including me!) are participating in the #WJphototour – a photo blog tour documenting Katherine’s path to publishing her debut novel, Wing Jones. From childhood memories that inspired her writing to her time living in Atlanta and Asia that influenced the book to authors she’s met over the years right up to receiving her first finished copy of the book, follow along to see Katherine’s author life unfold!

I'm very happy to be a part of the blog tour, and to be able to show you such a lovely photo. So without further ado, here is today's photo, with Katherine herself telling you all about it.

Another important family relationship in WING JONES is the relationship Wing has with her grandmothers, her Granny Dee and her LaoLao. Even though I never lived with my grandmothers like Wing does, I’m lucky to have been very close to both of my grandmothers growing up. My Grandma Kay, pictured here, passed away when I was 16, but she instilled a great love of reading and travel in me from an early age.

Want to know more about Wing Jones? Of course you do! Wing Jones is the much-anticipated debut novel from Katherine Webber, publishing 5th January 2017 in the UK. With a grandmother from China and another from Ghana, fifteen-year-old Wing is often caught between worlds. But when tragedy strikes, Wing discovers a talent for running she never knew she had. Wing's speed could bring her family everything it needs. It could also stop Wing getting the one thing she wants…

And the book's author, Katherine Webber, was born in Southern California but has lived in Atlanta, Hawaii, Hong Kong and now in London. For several years she worked at the reading charity BookTrust, where she worked on projects such as The Letterbox Club which delivers parcels of books to children in care, and YALC, the Young Adult Literature Convention. You can find her on Twitter @kwebberwrites

You can buy a copy of Wing Jones here, at The Book Depository.