Jacaranda Books and Words of Colour launch 20 in 2020

Jacaranda Books, in partnership with Words of Colour Productions, is extremely proud to announce a new initiative to publish 20 Black British writers in the year 2020.

Works will include adult fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Having been, in recent years, a leader in the development and exposure of new voices from around the globe, with an excellent list of award-winning books and authors the result, Jacaranda has a proven track record of developing and publishing diverse writing. The diversity-led publisher now looks to focus the vision on the development and exposure of Black British talent.

This news follows Jacaranda founder Valerie Brandes making the Powerlist 2018 for her
contribution to diverse and inclusive publishing. Brandes said regarding the initiative:

‘We have been very fortunate to publish outstanding writers both abroad and here at home. To have Black British writers such as Stephen Thompson and Irenosen Okojie on our list, each at very different stages in their careers, enabled us to contribute directly to what we see as a growing pool of excellence in Black British writing. Driving this ambitious publishing initiative is our unwavering belief there are so many more talents to uncover, and our continued determination to provide a platform for such voices.’

Founded by Joy Francis, Words of Colour Productions is a creative communications agency that promotes, facilitates and develops writers of colour – of all genres, collaborates with arts and creative industries to increase cultural inclusion, and creates multi-platform and multi-media projects to reshape the single narrative misrepresenting culturally diverse communities.

The open submissions period will run from February 28th 2018 through August 31st 2018.

Submission guidelines and further information to follow shortly.

All queries should be directed office@jacarandabooksartmusic.co.uk with subject 2020.

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Secrets Remain Untold

Swimming with Fishes by Rasheda Ashanti Malcolm: Jacaranda Books, 2017

Having never read a Caribbean novel, I was intrigued by Rasheda Ashanti Malcolm’s
Swimming with Fishes, especially after researching the author and the publisher, Jacaranda Books. In a ‘Question and Answer’ piece published on Jacaranda’s website, Malcolm claims that the inspiration to write her debut novel came from ‘listening to women across generations talking about the lack of genuine love’.  From this, the novel falls straight into the romance genre, however, it takes on interesting and realistic twists along the way.

The protagonists, Kat and Ben, fall passionately in love while Ben is on a business trip to Kat’s native home, Jamaica. Though Kat and Ben’s island love appears to fill Malcolm’s void of ‘genuine love’, as in true life, love is not that simple and their affair grows beyond either of their expectations. Malcolm’s development of realistic character is admirable as the novel unveils the significant secrets that Kat and Ben hide from each other, including Kat’s struggles with sickle cell anaemia and the fact that Ben is married. The character’s secrets may be complicated, but the plot is simple to follow and I like to think that the large number of chapters flipping back and forth from Ben’s life in London to the Meadows in Jamaica mirror Ben’s heart, confused and split between two women and two countries.

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Malcolm presents the reader with an interesting female perspective in Ben’s wife, Claire. By giving her such a large role in the novel, Claire’s character is well established and it is
impossible to ignore her position as the ‘right’ woman for Ben, no matter how much the
reader would like to route for Kat and Ben’s impulsive island love. Malcolm’s creative descriptions of the Meadows, including the sand, sea, the smell of flowers and even Jamaican foods, allows the reader to be pulled along with Kat and Ben’s island romance, even with the reality of London edging closer within the next chapter. This irresistible nature of love is put up for questioning multiple times throughout the novel and through characters such as Kat’s mother, Miss Ruthie and her relationship with Old Man Jaguar, and even the village gossip, Nellie Potato.

Overall, Malcolm’s debut novel is an enjoyable read, focusing on relatable and relevant issues within modern day romance.

Click here to buy Swimming with Fishes by Rasheda Ashanti Malcolm direct from Jacaranda Books.

Jacaranda Books Art Music is a new independent publishing house based in London
publishing adult fiction and non-fiction, which cross linguistic, racial, gender and cultural boundaries, with an aim to represent the cultural and ethnic diversity and heritage that can be found in London, and a particular interest in works related to Africa, the Caribbean, and the experiences of those peoples in the Diaspora.

Review by Kelly Blewitt

Kelly is a recent graduate of English Literature from the University of Westminster and is
currently pursuing an MA. She loves literary fiction of most genres but prefers crime,
mystery, and romance fictions.

 

 

Murder in Montego Bay

Murder in Montego Bay, Paula Lennon: Jacaranda Books

I was pleased to receive a copy of Murder In Montego Bay via The Contemporary Small Press because of its Jamaican authorship and setting. I have only previously read one Jamaican novel, A Brief History Of Seven Killings, and although this book also revolves around murder, it provides a very different perspective on island life. Lennon sets her tale within the grossly underfunded Jamaican police service. I appreciated that her team of detectives really are portrayed as a team. Their leader, Preddy, does have shades of the dysfunctional-older-detective-against-the-world crime fiction cliché, but at least he isn’t an alcoholic who never eats! There’s no random love interest forced into the plot either which made a refreshing change! Instead Lennon’s detectives realistically banter, support and rile each other in a patois dialogue. Their camaraderie reminded me of Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck series and I think fans of those books might also enjoy this tropical mystery.

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Lennon’s great strength I thought was in her evocation of Jamaican culture and people. She presents the poverty of the island alongside the vast wealth of some of its inhabitants, and shows how tourists are generally fenced into their own secure beach enclaves away from sights that might discourage them from visiting again. Details of police station disrepair are shocking. I liked that the lack of available high tech gadgets gave a classic crime fiction feel in keeping with the investigation’s style. This novel is certainly more of a character-driven mystery than an all-action thriller. The plot narrative isn’t particularly convoluted, but Lennon kept my interest throughout and I actually found myself being drawn deeper into her created world as the book progressed. I wasn’t immediately gripped by the early chapters, but struggled to lay the book aside by the end as I wanted to know how everything would turn out! Murder In Montego Bay is a nicely satisfying read and has the potential to continue into a strong series.

Click here to find Murder in Montego Bay at Jacaranda Books.

About the Publisher:

Jacaranda Books Art Music is an independent publishing house based in London publishing adult fiction and non-fiction, including illustrated books, which cross linguistic, racial, gender and cultural boundaries, with a particular interest in works related to Africa, the Caribbean, and the experiences of those peoples in the Diaspora.

Review by Stephanie Jane

Stephanie is a travelling blogger usually to be found in her caravan somewhere in Western Europe. She loves long country walks, theatre trips, second-hand shops, coffee and cake, and, of course, reading. She makes a point to read diverse authors from around the world as this allows her to experience countries and cultures that she may not get to visit in person. Literary fiction is her favourite genre, but she is happy to try niche reads across the board and enjoys supporting small publishing houses and indie authors.

Director Mark Tonderai buys film rights for The Book of Harlan

Small Press News – Jacaranda Books

Mark Tonderai and his production company Shona Films have acquired movie rights for historical novel The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden. The novel, published last year (2016) by Jacaranda Books in the UK and Akashic Books in the US, follows the life of Harlan, a travelling musician from Georgia during the heart of the Harlem Renaissance, who is taken hostage in Paris when the city comes under Nazi occupation during the Second World War.

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Tonderai is the director of psychological thriller Hush (2008) and House at the End of the Street (2012) which starred Hollywood’s Jennifer Lawrence. He is adapting The Book of Harlan, and will direct the movie himself, with McFadden assisting in production.

The Book of Harlan has received several accolades since publication, winning the NAACP Award earlier this year, and the American Book Award. It’s powerful prose, evocative of time and place, and its success in highlighting a poorly documented group of victims of the Nazi regime, has already garnered it outstanding praise. McFadden says of the novel “I realized that while much had been written about the Jewish victims, the fate of Africans and African Americans at the hands of the Nazis was less well documented. I was fascinated by this discovery and set about writing a story that would illuminate this hidden verity.

Click here to buy The Book of Harlan directly from Jacaranda Books.

 

Representing Against: The List, the Photographer Blackmailer and the Writer

Representing Against: The List, the Photographer Blackmailer and the Writer

Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila, trans. Roland Glasser, Jacaranda Books Art Music Ltd, 2015

Tram 83 was originally published in French in 2014 and is the debut novel of Fiston Mwanza Mujila. It has won numerous literary prizes in France and Austria and has been translated into eight languages. The story’s setting is inspired by Mujila’s birthplace, Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, focusing on the underbelly of life there. The unnamed city is presented as a centre of human greed, since tourists from all over the world flock there in the hope of making a fortune out of the mineral wealth of the country. The major settings of the novel are the train station and Tram 83, the only night-club of the city. The novel is broad and compact and politically aware. It explores, amongst other things, the issues of civil war and political unrest, censorship, globalisation, exploitation and capitalism.

In many ways, the major theme of the novel is the difficulty of creating culture and intelligence, as well as a radically subversive literature, out of the raw materials of life and the context and history in which the individual finds him or herself. Like Joyce’s Ulysses, It is really writing about writing and presents the reader with the horrors of history, which is the nightmare from which we are trying to awake. It must be emphasised, however, that it is writing about writing as it fits into the general, larger field of representations. Thus, Mujila focuses on the characterisation of Lucien, an aspiring, subversive writer and ex-history teacher who has once had to abandon his manuscript when faced with a gun down his throat and who is again attempting to publish.

 

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Lucien is a supremely moral consciousness and refuses to take the easy way out by producing state literature. Instead, he writes against the state. The inclusion of the resisting writer and the journey to publication foregrounds the status of representation and its political situation after the fashion of much postcolonial and postmodern literature. Lucien has been arrested for speaking his mind on stage, described as “breaching national security, and planned and systematic incitement to revolt” (63). The suggestion is that Lucien’s novel is to be considered as such an incitement. The fundamental irony is, however, that the work is to be published by the white man who demands major cuts and revisions, corrupting the spirit and the sense of the writing with the clamour of his voice. The very means of representation and those that hold them and control them, the dominant and implicit racial and gender identity of representation and literature itself and how representations are themselves enabled, are outlined and criticised.

In this general description and critique of representation and the political situation of writing today, and how it fits into the larger, more general field of representations, photography makes its appearance. Lucien is coupled with Requiem, the opportunist. Requiem controls the male tourists through a strategy of photographing them without their clothes on and then blackmailing them. This representational strategy operates through the image, the body and the event, the opportunity, and the materiality of photography, which operates without the conscientious moral filter of a Lucien and his non-figurative and immaterial prose. The tourists are ensnared by prostitutes and then exposed in blood and flesh truthfulness. Women and gender are implicated in the process which produce powerful, controlling representations for the black man. The novel compares and contrasts the two forms of representation, the photographic and the literary, and their political value, how they are both separated and tied together in a work of radical subversion against the state. It is thus the poles of image and text and the seeing and writing nexus which is at its heart.

Although women are a resource from which the writer draws, and despite the inclusion of the marginalised voices of prostitutes, the novel may be criticised for its weak characterisation of the sex and for the minor role they play in the unfolding of events. I have indicated that gender is implicated in the photography of Requiem, however there are only faint impressions rather than clear, critical outlines. This is a curious failing in such a politically aware novel.

The style of the novel in translation is accessible. Biblical imagery abounds and the writing is for the most part self-consciously fabricated, particularly when it comes to the dialogue. Lists and listings and rules saturate every other page. Indeed, the dominant image of the novel is the list and the dominant technique appears to be listing. There is perhaps a parody on the techniques of the archive of the state which relies on lists and rules of action and even perhaps a nod to the historical origin of writing which has been seen to derive from the practice of listing and the state archive.

Tram 83 is certainly a memorable and important novel. It has the experimentalism of youth and signals the potential of things to come. It is intellectual literature. The world it paints is bizarre and absurd and it therefore represents the strangeness of our reality and historical condition. The masculinity of the novel is however, a rather serious failing, particularly when one thinks of how women have historically been exempted from the political field and political representation. It is, however, certainly worthwhile reading and one can learn much from it.

Click here to find Tram 83 at Jacaranda Books.

About the Publisher:

Jacaranda was founded in 2012 as a publisher of adult fiction and non-fiction, including illustrated books, “across linguistic, racial, gender and cultural boundaries”. The publishing house aims to “directly address the ongoing lack of diversity in the industry today, and seek[s] to enrich the landscape from boardroom to bookshelf”. Jacaranda aims to represent “the cultural, heritage and ethnic variety that can be found in London, with a particular interest in works related to Africa, the Caribbean, and African America”.

Review by Suneel Mehmi.

Suneel is a scholar and an amateur writer, poet, musician and artist. He is a member of the British Asian community and lives in East London. He holds degrees in Law and English Literature from the London School of Economics and Political Science, Brunel University and the University of Westminster. He has published academic work on the concept of Law and its relationship to violence in the adult short stories of Roald Dahl and is currently working on the relationship between photography and law in Victorian writing. He has previously contributed scholarly book reviews to the Literary London journal and to the London Fictions website.

Irenosen Okojie Shortlisted for Betty Trask Prize

Irenosen Okojie Shortlisted for Betty Trask Prize
Irenosen Okojie has been shortlisted for the Betty Trask Prize 2016 for her debut novel, Butterfly Fish, the Society of Authors announced on 1 June. Okojie is one of four authors shortlisted for the prize, which celebrates the best debut novel by a first time author under the age of 35.
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Butterfly Fish is a part historical, part contemporary novel which follows the story of a young woman, Joy, coming to terms with the sudden death of her mother. When Joy inherits an ancient artefact leading back to 19th Century Benin, she is compelled to discover more about its origins, taking the reader on a journey through time and space, revealing long buried family secrets along the way. Judge Michèle Roberts said of the novel, “A bittersweet story uniting different traditions of narrative to create a whole new geography of the imagination.”
The Betty Trask Prize will be announced at a special ceremony on 21st June 2016. The winner will receive £10,000 with runners up receiving a Betty Trask Award of £5,000 each. The judges this year were Simon Brett, Joanne Harris and Michèle Roberts. The Prize and the Awards will be presented by John Agard.
Butterfly Fish, which published in hardback in 2015, will be newly released in paperback this month, followed by her short story collection Speak Gigantular in September 2016. Okojie will also be appearing at the Edinburgh Literary Festival in August and the Henley Literary Festival in October.
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2016 SHORTLIST & JUDGES’ COMMENTS

ALEX CHRISTOFI GLASS (Serpent’s Tail) A marvellously funny, original story, written with immense charm and humour – Joanne Harris

IRENOSEN OKOJIE BUTTERFLY FISH (Jacaranda Books Art Music) A bittersweet story uniting different traditions of narrative to create a whole new geography of the imagination – Michèle Roberts

NATASHA PULLEY THE WATCHMAKER OF FILIGREE STREET (Bloomsbury Circus) A fascinatingly imaginative and enchanting book set in a Victorian London that builds up a completely self-consistent world only slightly out of kilter with the real one – Simon Brett

LUCY WOOD WEATHERING (Bloomsbury) An emotionally mature consideration of generational love, loss and change – Michèle Roberts

Betty Trask left a bequest to the Society of Authors in 1983 to celebrate young authors writing in a traditional or romantic style. This year a total of £25,000 in prize money will be distributed.

Reflections: The Elephant and The Bee

Reflections: The Elephant and The Bee

On Thursday 26th May Jess de Boer visited the Contemporary Small Press at the University of Westminster in conjunction with the Institute of Modern and Contemporary Culture for the final event of her promotional book tour with Jacaranda Books in London.

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The Contemporary Small Press’s Sally-Shakti Willow (left) interviews writer Jess de Boer (right)

Jess spoke vibrantly about her life and experiences as a bee-keeper, read from her memoir The Elephant and The Bee, responded to questions from the audience and signed copies of the book at the event, which was ‘the perfect way’ to end the London book tour.

The book, The Elephant and The Bee, has been both written and illustrated by Jess de Boer and the book design chosen by publishers Jacaranda accentuates Jess’s fun and light-hearted approach to her story with a soft cover and rounded edges, giving the book an enjoyable tactile aesthetic which enhances the pleasure of reading.

Jess spoke on a wide range of topics during the interview.  When asked about her writing process Jess revealed that she had started keeping a journal during the years of her experiences and had started drafting out chapters that she hoped ‘might be funny some day’.  When she made the acquaintance of a Kenyan literary agent, she sent her the chapters which were then revised and edited.  After a process of a few years the book was created and subsequently acquired by Jacaranda Books for publishing.  Jess has plans to write further books based on her continued experiences as a bee-keeper and her development into the field of permaculture, which will also be published by Jacaranda.  On a recent visit to the Kenyan Embassy in London where the book was officially launched, Jess was encouraged to ‘write three more books’ by next year!

One of the most vivid and memorable sections of the book describes Jess’s disastrous attempt at insect farming, in which she tries to cultivate maggots as an alternative source of protein.  It does not end well.  However, in sharing this experience with the audience at the event, Jess spoke knowledgeably about the need to turn to alternative and sustainable sources of protein production, saying that ‘Agriprotein and insect farming are a more efficient and necessary form of protein production’.  She highlighted the cultural differences that mean that some people across the world embrace this solution while others find it difficult to stomach.

In this sense, Jess’s writing has a marvelous ability to enable us to reflect on ourselves with a degree of humorous critical distance.  Like when she relates her first trip to London as a teenager and the effect of the ‘bizarre breakfast of pop tarts and pink Nesquik’ with ‘the absence of wind down windows’ as she hurtles along the M25 in her uncle’s car.

Subsequent visits to London, however, including this most recent, have given her an insight into the importance of urban food production.  In response to a question about London’s rooftop bee-hives, Jess said that ‘approximately 70% of the world’s population lives in urban centres; we must begin to produce food in urban centres.  Urban beehives and rooftop gardens allow us to contribute to food production from cities’.

Jess is a vibrant, informative and inspirational speaker, and it was a pleasure to welcome her to the University of Westminster on behalf of the Contemporary Small Press and the IMCC.

Contemporary Small Press reviewer Becky Danks said of the event, ‘it was an inspirational evening and Jess’s genuine enthusiasm for bee keeping and for making a difference in the world makes her a great role model and spokesperson. I’m reading her book now and I think that many people could relate to her experiences, young and old.’

Click here to find The Elephant and The Bee on the Jacaranda Books website.

Interview and review by Sally-Shakti Willow: Research Assistant for the Contemporary Small Press.  Images by Becky Danks.

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