Neil White- Q and A

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Today, it is my pleasure to host a Q and A with Neil White. Neil usually writes crime fiction but last week published a novel called Lost in Nashville that is about a father and son who look into the life of Johnny Cash and attempt to rebuild their relationship. The novel is a fascinating read and my review will be published shortly.

Do you feel that things would have changed if what happened at Selma hadn’t happened?

Yes, except the spark would have been ignited somewhere else.

Things had been boiling for a while. Martin Luther King was a prominent figure and had nationwide support. You have to remember that Selma happened more than a year after the famous I Have A Dream speech, when he packed out the Mall in Washington and spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Selma accelerated the demands for civil rights, that’s all, because it provided the tipping point.

Like the bus boycott in Montgomery following Rosa Parks’s refusal to move from her seat, if it hadn’t been her and at that point, it would have happened somewhere else and over something else. Rosa Parks might have been a weary seamstress when she boarded that bus, but she was also a committed protestor who had been to weekend training sessions, where she and others learned effective ways to protest. She had the fight she’d been waiting for, and there were a lot of people like her. Change was needed, and people were ready for the fight. Selma didn’t start anything, as such, but became the point where people everywhere said enough is enough.

Before I visited the town, I was slightly apprehensive, not knowing what kind of town I would find, because the town is a symbol of racism. The famous bridge, where the march to Montgomery started and the police clubbed peaceful protestors, stood out on images as a symbol of white brutality in a very brutal Deep South. When I visited, however, it took on a different meaning, because it is presented as a symbol of hope, the marker for where the scales shifted heavily in favour of civil rights.

Selma and protest songs were big news in the 1960s, do you think that today’s media would report differently and have changes in law and the speed that information is distributed make it completely different?

Fundamentally, it would be the same.

Compare it to the Black Lives Matter movement. It is similar in tone and origin, because the events in Selma accelerated because of the killing of a black man by a white police officer. Depressing to see that fifty years on, little progress has been made. Selma may have been about voting rights, but the message was largely the same as the current movement, that black lives matter in every sense.

Black Lives Matter is very much focused on the more direct point that black people shouldn’t be suspects first and citizens second when being dealt with by the police, but the fundamentally the same point is being made as it was in Selma in 1965. Now, it is starting to branch out into a protest movement about economic inequality on racial grounds.

The main difference with the events that followed Selma is that as it was dealing with a specific issue, voting and equal rights, and it had an aim it could achieve. The Black Lives Matter movement is more to do with creating a shift in public consciousness and police attitudes, and it will be harder to assess when success has been achieved.

Change is usually generational though. The young people of today are the most tolerant there have ever been, and that is something you could probably have said throughout history at any given point. Things will change. There were things being said twenty years ago that we wouldn’t say now.

Do protest songs still have the same impact?

I don’t think so, but I think it reflects more on how music has changed. Now, music is more eclectic. Back then, there was soul, rock and roll, blues, country and folk. Everyone knew all the chart acts. Now, it is spread over more formats and platforms, and is more market-driven. Gone are the days when A&R people would trawl the smoky clubs of the provinces, looking to hear that new exciting band that is creating whispers. Music has become lazy in that regard, and too financially-driven.

Take the music I loved as a teenager, the ska revival of the end of the seventies. In early 1979, Madness were playing in pubs around London, gaining an audience and doing their own thing. By autumn 1979, they were a top chart act, doing the same songs in the same clothes. No remodeling. No reinvention. Come in, record the tracks, take a picture for the album cover and release. I don’t think it would happen like that anymore.

Could you even name the current number one? I couldn’t. Go back thirty years, most people could.

I think music is listened to differently too. Music used to be something you did as a static thing. You’d sit and listen to an album, pouring over the lyrics sheets and even reading the thank you messages at the end. Now, it feels often like music is what you listen to when doing other things.

I’m not saying either is better or worse. I’m glad music was how it was when I was a teenager and older, but now there is access to so much more than before. You lose with one hand and gain with the other, and I accept that as I’m much older I’m perhaps not looking in the right places. But I just don’t get the sense that the youth of today are driven by music in the same way that they were thirty years ago and more. Now, music is the backdrop to their lives. Then, it was the framework.

Or maybe I’m just old.

I don’t think protest songs would find the same traction because not many songs filter into the national consciousness in the same way that they did in the past. There’ll never be another Bob Dylan. Not because he was a unique songwriter, and he was just as derivative as all those who have been derivatives of him, but because a songwriter will not be able to get the broad appeal in the same way.

Johnny Cash was criticised for not supporting Selma in song, was this justified even though he did support other causes, i.e. the plight of the American Indians, that he believed in? If you protest about too much does it weaken the argument?

It is something I look at in Lost In Nashville but I don’t know whether he was actually criticised at the time or whether it is merely something that stands out with hindsight.

At the time the events in Selma happened, Johnny Cash’s album Orange Blossom Special came out, February 1965, and there is a civil rights song on there, All Of God’s Children Ain’t Free, so it isn’t right to say that he was ignoring the civil rights movement.

To put it into context, however, in the lead up to that album, he’d been getting a lot of criticism for singing about causes that weren’t popular in the country music circles; namely, those in support of Native Americans.

He’d taken a lot of flak for his single The Ballad of Ira Hayes, a song telling the true story of one of the American soldiers who raised the flag in the famous Iwo Jima photograph and monument, as well as his album Bitter Tears, all about Native Americans. He had to bring out an album that would bring him back into the country music fold, and Orange Blossom Special was that album, but he did sneak onto it a song in support of the Civil Rights movement. The fact that it came out as the same time as the events in Selma makes the album seem strangely silent on the issue, but he wasn’t to know the events would occur at that time, and they had been bubbling for a while.

The sour thought, however, is that it is unclear how much support he would have had for bringing out an album in support of the civil rights movement, as it could have killed his music career. For all the time Johnny Cash was bringing out albums in support of Native Americans, the civil rights movement was gaining ground, and it seems as if the record labels were just about content to let him protest on issues that were vaguely Wild West in tone but I’m pretty sure they would have killed an album supporting Martin Luther King.

You can buy the novel here

The Plague Charmer by Karen Maitland.

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About the Book

Riddle me this: I have a price, but it cannot be paid in gold or silver.
1361. Porlock Weir, Exmoor. Thirteen years after the Great Pestilence, plague strikes England for the second time. Sara, a packhorse man’s wife, remembers the horror all too well and fears for safety of her children.
Only a dark-haired stranger offers help, but at a price that no one will pay.
Fear gives way to hysteria in the village and, when the sickness spreads to her family, Sara finds herself locked away by neighbours she has trusted for years. And, as her husband – and then others – begin to die, the cost no longer seems so unthinkable.
The price that I ask, from one willing to pay… A human life.

My Review

The Plague Charmer is the first book that I have read by Karen Maitland and also the first that I have read that is set in the 14th century.
It is set in Porlock Weir, an area of Exmoor and features several people. Will, a ‘manmade dwarf’, Sara, a wife and mother and Matilda, otherwise known as the ‘Holy Hag’ are the main characters. When the village is cursed by Janiveer a woman who was rescued from the sea and the plague decimates the village population all three are affected. They all survive the plague itself but their battle doesn’t end there.
I remember learning about the plague at school and how devastating it was. The rapid spread and agony experienced by the victims was exactly how I imagined it to be. I loved Will’s character, he was very determined, loyal and a great sense of humour especially regarding Matilda who was a very nasty individual. I’m not sure whether his storyline was a true reflection but it made fascinating reading. All the women who featured had strong characters and were determined to do everything to survive. They were more than willing to attempt their husband’s work.
Even though the novel was at times traumatic there was still plenty of humour. I was still laughing two days after reading a comment regarding childbirth from Cador. The only part of the novel that I wasn’t as keen on was the storyline concerning the Prophet. I found it a bit too intimidating compared to the rest of the novel. However, it was only a small part of the novel.
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received.

Tell Me No Lies by Lisa Hall – Blog Tour Review.

 

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About the Book

Don’t. Trust. Anyone.

It was supposed to be a fresh start.

A chance to forget the past and embrace the future.

But can you ever really start again?

Or does the past follow you wherever you go

My Review

Steph and Mark Gordon are settling into a new home in an attempt to rebuild their marriage after he had an affair. Steph has had her problems, a traumatic event in her teens, post-natal depression, the affair and her best friend now lives in America.
Mark works away a lot of the time and she becomes good friends with two neighbours Lila and Lawrence. But she is under pressure, Mark is away in the build up to Christmas, she is pregnant and being hassled by a very unlikeable woman to join the PTA. And then more worryingly, items start to appear on her doorstep, personal items disappear and she has a general feeling that somebody has been in her house.
I loved Lisa’s first novel so jumped at the chance to read an advance copy of her follow up. I found it very gripping and at times felt extremely edgy. I thought I could see what was happening but when more was revealed about Steph’s problems in the past I became more uncertain. I had a lot of sympathy for her, it must be an awful situation to be in. Events were happening that she couldn’t explain and nobody including her husband, mother and friends believed her.
The ending was totally unexpected. Everything I thought would happen didn’t and I felt bewildered and flabbergasted by how events turned out even though it was believable. I found myself tapping the kindle to turn over the page, thinking NO this can’t be happening!!
Its very intimidating, scary and made me feel quite paranoid.

With thanks to the publisher for the copy received.

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Caraval by Stephanie Garber.

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About the Book

Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year week-long performance where the audience participates in the show.
Caraval is Magic. Mystery. Adventure. And for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father.
When the sisters’ long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive, it seems their dreams have come true. But no sooner have they arrived than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show’s mastermind organiser, Legend.
Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But nonetheless she quickly becomes enmeshed in a dangerous game of love, magic and heartbreak. And real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever.

My Review

Caraval has to be one of the strangest books that I have read and once I got into it I loved it.
Scarlett and Tella are desperate to get away from their abusive father’s clutches. As far as Scarlett is concerned the way to do it is to go along with the marriage that has been arranged for her, even though she has never met her husband to be. Her plan is to take Tella with her, but before she marries they decide to accept an invitation to take part in the game that has been devised by Legend.
When they arrive on the island Tella disappears and Scarlett has to find her before the game is over and get back in time for her wedding. She is helped by a number of people including Julian, Dante and Jovan. But who can be trusted?
Everything about this book is bizarre. Colour is exaggerated, vibrant and seems to be brighter if emotions are high. There is magic, buildings move, tunnels and bridges appear and disappear. Some people show how little they can be trusted in their desire to win the game. When Scarlett makes mistakes, and she makes a few the danger levels increase for everybody.
There are always characters I am not keen on, obviously the father is one in this novel. But with the others, my opinion changed constantly. As it stated in the synopsis everybody was playing a game and everything was a performance. What I thought was real might not have been, and who might have been be a good person could have been part of a cruel trick.
I hadn’t realised that this was a debut novel, or that it was part of a series. I hope that I don’t have to wait too long for the sequel.
With thanks to the publisher for the copy via NetGalley.

The Mountain in my Shoe by Louise Beech – Blog Tour.

 

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About the Book

On the night Bernadette finally has the courage to tell her domineering husband that she’s leaving, he doesn’t come home. Neither does Conor, the little boy she’s befriended for the past five years. Also missing is his lifebook, the only thing that holds the answers. With the help of Conor’s foster mum, Bernadette must face her own past, her husband’s secrets and a future she never dared imagine in order to find them all.

Exquisitely written and deeply touching, The Mountain in My Shoe is both a gripping psychological thriller and a powerful and emotive examination of the meaning of family … and just how far we’re willing to go for the people we love.

My Review

How to be Brave was one of my favourite novels from 2015 so I was really looking forward to reading Louise’s new novel. It’s a completely different type of novel, whilst both books are about survival this one was also more of a thriller.
Conor is a young boy in care who gets into a stranger’s car after school. Very anxious to find him are Anne his foster mother and Bernadette who has become his friend through a voluntary friendship scheme. Bernadette has become very close to him through the scheme and he thinks a lot of her. She hasn’t told her husband about their friendship sensing that he would disapprove and stop her going. She had been planning to leave her husband on the day that Conor disappeared but he failed to come home from work.
I worked out fairly early on who Conor was with but I don’t think it was ever meant to be a shock. What is important is why it happened and Conor’s life up to that point. The book tells both Bernadette and Conor’s story throughout but there also chapters from his lifebook. This was a book that would be given to Conor when he turned 18 and it would give him an idea of his family history. These chapters were at times devastating to read, but as well as highlighting the bad side of our care system it also showed that there were those who wanted to do the best for him. It would be wrong to judge people in this novel. Conor’s mothers story was in its self very upsetting and due to her own childhood she was ill equipped to provide the best care for her own children.
Conor was an amazing character, I loved the chapters that he narrated. They showed a need to trust, to love and be loved and also an amazing sense of humour. What was absent was a level of self-pity, he just accepted that his life was a little different to other people. He showed anger but also remorse for any hurt he caused.
There were twists and heartbreak but also friendship and love in another fantastic and heartwarming novel from Louise Beech.
With thanks to Karen Sullivan for the copy received.

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