The Missing List: A Memoir

The Missing List: A Memoir by Clare Best, Linen Press, 2018 

I am one of the lucky ones. I made it through. There are too many who do not – our prisons, hospitals and cemeteries are full of them. And so I give you my story, hoping it may help to break down myths and misunderstandings around abuse and its aftermath.

Clare Best finely weaves together a tapestry of memories, delicately stitching the fragments of a life both lived and lost through the experiences of childhood sexual abuse. Best pieces together a collage of “offcuts”, tackling the struggles of a split self who has fought to navigate the rocky terrain of taboo, shame, guilt, anger, anxiety, fear, love and resilience whilst acknowledging and attempting to accept, process and survive the abuse and “fallout” of her early childhood years. She experiments with written form, refreshingly negating the “conventions” of memoirs that often attempt to “fit” the author’s biography into the narrative arc of a novel. She interchanges between film scripts, transcripts, lists, and medical diagnoses, whilst merging or interlinking past and present events, which arguably creates a greater authenticity to the narrative by truly emphasising the experiences of memory in the throes of dealing with trauma.

Best approaches her experiences with both bravery and sensitivity. She is careful to keep control of her narrative, making sure that it remains her story. There is always a fine line between saying what is comfortable to voice and saying too much, where the story no longer remains the author’s to tell, yet Best treads this line carefully, never detailing the abuse too explicitly and ensuring that what she tells the reader is what she has chosen to share. It is hers, and she is finally the one who can own it after all these years. The result is a carefully written piece, and whilst it may act as a trigger for some readers, it may also give comfort to others in realising that they are not alone in what they are feeling or experiencing.

The narrative intertwines childhood memories with those of her present moments of being a carer to her ailing father. By interweaving the past and present, Best highlights the ongoing effects of her abuse and how difficult it is to overcome, particularly when the parent/abuser is still ever present in her life. Whilst the physical effects of abuse can often be grasped in more concrete terms and perhaps, in some ways, overcome more quickly, the psychological trauma of abuse can be far more long-lasting as remnants remain as internal scars for an individual. It is far harder to truly articulate and understand the psychological impact such manipulation and control can have on a person, in which love is conditional and based on what a child will do, as the child learns early on how to play particular roles. Yet, Best deftly brings this to the forefront of the narrative and effectively communicates this manipulative dynamic and fraught relationship to the reader.

His love, such love as he can show, has always been conditional. Do this and I will love you. Be like this and I will love you. Be my mother, sister, wife, daughter – and perfect at each – and I may love you in every way and none. When I see you in this role you become the role. When I’m finished with you in this role, you will revert to another role. This is how it’s been.

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Best brings to light the psychological impact of abuse in a brave and eye-opening way to the reader, not only detailing memories of events, but equally articulating her thoughts and feelings as an important part of her narrative. She tackles the difference between the lived experiences and the medical diagnosis of symptoms by expressing the way in which abuse splits identity and how one may embody themselves as multiple, rather than whole.

One, the home-child, is emotionally volatile, swinging between fury and contrition; she adores and needs to be adored by her mother. The other, the school-child, is careful, measured, self-sufficient, almost obsessively tidy; she works harder and harder at her lessons, with better and better results, despite the unexplained school absences. And then there’s a third presence, discernible as a space that both separates and holds together the two girls. This space is like the central image of Rubin’s Vase – the black-and-white optical illusion where you can see either a vase or two heads in silhouette, but you can’t hold both at once.

Although it is a common symptom of child sexual abuse to dissociate from oneself, it is often difficult to grasp what this entails. Best explores this with great self-awareness of how her sense of embodiment was altered into three aspects of herself, the “home-child”, the “school-child” and a third presence, a haunting of a self that flitted between the other two that she beautiful portrays as the Rubin’s Vase. This splitting can often be a way of coping with the psychological trauma inflicted; therefore, Best assists in bringing to light what is so often the hardest to explain or articulate to others. It is one thing to understand what dissociating means as a term and diagnosis, but it is another thing to be able to eloquently and coherently communicate the lived experiences of such states.

Yes, I’m resilient. Resilience is the other side of shame. I’ve come through loss and pain, and made many adjustments. I must continue, will continue.

Best questions what it means to survive, and although she is not the biggest fan of this word, it is one of the few that places hope into the narrative, rather than labelling someone forever a victim. Her narrative gives hope through highlighting how one can be resilient. She shows strength and perseverance, and whilst the outcome may not have been the one she wished for or felt she needed, she eventually found her ending. Rather than her father having the last word, waiting for his apology, his acknowledgement or his time to talk about it, she took control of her narrative and chose to be the one to end it. This act seems far braver in many respects, as it takes courage to step away and be the one to break the cycle, to finally say “no”.

Click here to order The Missing List direct from Linen Press.

About the publisher:

Linen Press is the only independent women’s press in the UK.

About the reviewer:

Isabelle Coy-Dibley is a PhD student at the University of Westminster, where her research predominantly considers inscriptions of the female body within women’s experimental writing.

 

 

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Everywhere is Somewhere

Everywhere is Somewhere, Naseem Khan: Bluemoose, November 2017

 ‘So when does an art form become ‘English’? Or when does a person become “English”?’

‘It’s a tricky thing, identity.’

‘Being British surely has to take in all the variations that I am unearthing.’

I was very glad to be asked to review this moving, timely and necessary book. Its clarity is impressive; its scope great and to tangle with such questions and statements as those above, is an essential challenge, now more than ever, I think: sometimes painful, but always necessary and, if we would only talk and properly look and listen, it could bring great joy.

I already knew of and admired its author, Naseem Khan, who died in June of this year, not long after she learned that the fine independent press Bluemoose wanted to publish her memoir. I had read her column in ‘The New Statesman’ and had seen her writing in ‘The Guardian’ and ‘The Independent (she also wrote for ‘Good Housekeeping’ magazine and had been theatre editor of ‘Time Out’ and a journalist for ‘City Limits’). I knew her writing, books, Voices of the Crossing (2000, with Ferdinand Dennis), about the impact that writers from Africa, the Caribbean and Asia have had on Britain and British culture; Asians in Britain (2004), where her text accompanied beautiful photographs by Tim Smith and I am about to read, rather overdue, Being British: The Search for Values That Bind the Nation (2009, edited by Matthew D’Ancona and Gordon Brown), to which she contributed. And I knew about her work, with its passionate but gentle emphasis on diversity in the arts, that she had struggles with the idea of the establishment, had spent much of the 1960s travelling in India and Pakistan, connecting with the Khan roots from her father’s side, that she had been arrested in Pakistan as an Indian spy and that she had been part of the black power scene in Notting Hill, from where she edited the ‘Hustler’ magazine with Darcus Howe and others. Looking at these things, I thought, ‘What a woman.’ And I knew about her work in the latter part of her life when she moved from Hampstead to Hackney and threw herself into community work, aiming — and the exploration of this is one of the most moving parts of Everywhere is Somewhere for me — to bridge a gap between those newly arrived in the East End, the so-called ‘hipsters’, the Muslim families and the old East End families; she became a vital figure on the Boundary Estate. If you had looked at social media a few weeks ago, you might have seen coverage of a wonderful thing. A community event centred upon Arnold Circus, a 19th-century bandstand at the heart of the estate which had become a ruin and which, with her persistence and loving care, has gone on to be an East End landmark. After this, she worked on the Phytology medicinal field, which lies in a corner of the Bethnal Green Nature Reserve. That went on to win a Kew Gardens innovation award and a Wellcome Trust grant.

So that is a portion of what she accomplished. She was a true cultural pioneer. In 1976 she wrote a report called ‘The Arts Britain Ignores’. At that time, the lively and growing arts scene in Britain’s ethic communities was not well know or documented. She argued — and I passionately agree with this — that with a more inclusive approach, we would live in a culturally richer place. There’s a line in the book that particularly lingers for me. It is kind; incisive: it is stunning in its essential rightness:

‘The imagination, I think. This is what can bind us. This is what can transform.’

She was, in effect, advocating a community of the imagination. If you read this memoir — and I urge to you — may you feel the same way; test on your own physiognomy the telling pulse of hope and the excitement that goes with it. There were scenes in this book which made me cry because I was so grateful to hear her words: when Naseem Khan is at a meeting discussing plans for inclusion in the arts, she describes an intense happiness in the room: ‘I can feel electricity running along my veins — really feel it, crackling and fizzing. I can hear and feel the emotion in the room. It is a sense of common discovery….I am too proud that I have had a hand in this extraordinary occurrence. Invisible no longer, I think: silent no longer.’

But there is also a righteous anger, a determination. In another meeting, a name is posited for the pioneering report that was to come: ‘We nod: “The Arts Britain Ignores” — it has a ring. We have a name. It’s done…An organisation to push the recommendations further, to make sure that we all stay visible. Keep going.’

Yes. Keep going. That — and the belief in the binding powers of the imagination and of our upholding of diversity in out communities — is what this book is all about for me. ‘The Arts Britain Ignores’ had clearly pointed up the need for greater institutional support to ensure diversity in the arts. She pushed on and later that year — it is all in the book — Naseem founded the Minority Arts Advisory Service (MAAS) and went on to become a co-director of Akademi, the London-based academy for Indian dance, worked on a huge number of local authority cultural plans and also those for museums, including the V&A, and worked on influential studies on parks and urban open space, public libraries and looking at the social impact of the arts. How they foster links between groups; nurture our well-being and the ties that bind. She went on, though with some trepidation, as her memoir shows, to become Head of Diversity at the Arts Council. This is actually the point in time at which the memoir begins, with the author on her way to the job interview. ‘I drag my feet’ she tells us: ‘I am not part of this grand tradition. An interloper’ as she traverses Parliament Square, walking towards the Arts Council of England building.

‘Half my roots are deep in icy wolf-howling Schleswig; the other half in the baked heat of central India. And right now I am on my way to one of the major portals of the Great British tradition.’

She has been persuaded into it by her friend Usha, who tells her that the issue of cultural diversity within the organisation has stalled. ‘If you want to change things…there is only one effective way — and that is through institutions.’ There is a decision to be made here, which I found fascinating and which the author faces with courage: it’s profoundly moving.

‘Memories of my father’s humiliation as he searched for the respect he craved. Resolute black theatre companies exposing racism in rickety halls. All the tenacity needed to unearth quantities of artists, writers, dancers, singers, all from different parts of the world that went into The Arts Britain Ignores…And still so little happened, so little real progress towards the equal society we envisaged.’

She goes to work at The Arts Council of course. Oh, it is painful to read that last bit about her father’s humiliation for this book has made me grapple with issues in my own family history. I hope its author would be glad to hear that. I remember my own Bengali uncle, the man I called Uncle or Kaka, starting again like a junior as the family left the clinic they ran, losing everything, in the second Indo-Pakistan war. We talked often about that, Uncle and I. Who am I to write this review? I’m a white middle class woman, who comes from clawed-up Welsh working class roots. Ah, well that’s rather the point. I need to grapple. I knew about Naseem Khan because one of my greatest influences was this beloved uncle, Dr Jamall, who taught me Urdu and cooking and about the beauty of ghazals, Indian art and also how to eat mangos — I was delighted to see this in the book: you can eat them in the bath, the young Naseem’s father tells her as I was told, and did— and he also knew about Naseem Khan. Because she was important and visible. And all that shot a sharp pain through me, because it’s not long ago we lost him, Kaka.

I have lived in India and travelled widely within it and Pakistan; I’ve been to on-off weddings as young Naseem did; my godmother is a Pakistani Muslim; I lost my parents in my teens. Sometimes I’m not sure who I am. And yet I am exactly sure: I am a hybrid. A questioning, excited hybrid, who looks at all things and tangles with others’ notions —of what the ‘canon’ is in literature or art. I’ve married a man who’s from the state of Georgia and he’s part Cherokee. My Welsh and my Faulkner and my instinctive aping of his often archaic syntax and grammar and his mother’s utter mystification at my elliptical Welsh style where I’ll muddle up pronouns and miss off the subject of a sentence. Oh, I love it. Yes, obviously there can be cultural traditions we might regard and study as we look at the tradition and history of a country, but why can we not draw new things or unacknowledged older things into that; into what we perceive as canon; as mainstream? That is Naseem’s question in the book and it is mine, too. There is room for both. Are we frightened of something? There’s a challenge in this book that is — at least it seems this way to me — particularly pressing in these Brexit days, as we swim in choppy waters and when, reflexively, the lexis of many seems to focus on doom and gloom and on exclusion rather than inclusion. But plurality gives you wings; varied ideas enliven and illuminate. What, I believe, is needed is not a battening down, but an expansion. May this memoir encourage that.

It has certainly made me reflect. On my identity; my cultural precedents.

Everywhere is Somewhere

What does it mean to be British? Testy subject, isn’t it? Painful and destructive, too. As I reflected on the content of Everywhere is Somewhere, on Naseem’s devotion to ‘shared space’, her responses to ‘major social changes as I’ve lived through them’ and to her clear ringing assertion that ‘mixing is so simple’, I put the word out to my friends and family and invited frank response, some of which I knew would nauseate me (sorry, but I speak plainly), but I promised myself that I would not yell or castigate. Because there has to be conversation with those whose views you find abhorrent; has to be, in my view. Because everyone has a story, right? Here — and I must be mindful of the topic of culture because it was as a determined, intelligent and loving defender of the arts that Naseem Khan was known — the greatest confusion remained. British culture, to those who were fearful of its dilution, often meant something terribly vague; a sort of amorphous thing which included red telephone boxes and worries about the purity of the English language being sullied, or the English language not being central enough. That in itself should be a cause for concern because, if you have any secondary education in this country, then your English teacher (I am one) should be explaining to you that the English language is a living breathing thing; that it evolves, bends and twists, borrows words and phrases verbatim. That it did not bound forth with its unsullied grammar and vocabulary from a spring in Arcadia, but is composed of a series of layers, graftings from all the immigrants (sorry; I tend too readily to sarcasm) so we’ve got Norman French and Latin, Anglo Saxon, Greek roots, whole words from Bengali and Hindi — it is in fact a linguistic jamboree. And elsewhere on culture I got ‘Shakespeare being booted off for…oh I don’t know…this PC stuff.’ I did wonder: if we could not define British culture; if we took no particular part in it, then what right had we to question its dilution? Also, is there not room? Why cannot the you and me, just be us? There is nothing that can be said to me that could dissuade me from this: that one of the truest, deepest joys we can feel is to be part of a community, with its various voices, faiths and ideas; with its varying arts: a massive, beautiful plural. And as for identity, bring it on: vast, different, sometimes clashing and dissonant but, with understanding, persistence and humour, all British. As the author of this excellent memoir states:

‘Being British surely has to take in all the variations that I am unearthing.’

I loved this book. It is written with clarity and warmth and, on several occasions, moved me to tears. As I said at the beginning, it felt necessary. I made brief contact with Amelia, Naseem Khan’s daughter on twitter, on the day of the celebrations at Arnold Hill. She had made a speech there and written jubilantly about the day on social media. I wrote to her and told her how much I had loved reading the memoir. I realised afterwards that the Bluemoose team had come from Hebden Bridge to be there, too. You know how Naseem Khan described the electricity in a room full of shared ideas; how I felt a shiver down my spine when I read that? I felt it again looking at the snippets of news that day.

Back to those words of hers: the ones which ring in my ears.

‘So when does an art form become “English”? Or when does a person become “English”‘

‘It’s a tricky thing, identity.’

‘Being British surely has to take in all the variations that I am unearthing.’

I want to say, it is its own thing and the canon can accommodate, flex and mingle; that I agree; that I agree again.

To this observation, rousing, beautiful, ‘When the teacher sweeps the big rubber across the blackboard at school, everything vanishes. There is just the blackboard. Just like that, As if we — and now more than we — were never there. It is not, I think, acceptable any longer’ I want to say, show me how. I agree. How do we carry on this work?

This is a terrific book. A memoir; not a whole life, but stories drawn from a life. If I had a criticism of this book, it was that I wanted to know more — about her being arrested as an Indian spy while in Pakistan, for example. But then, as I said, this is a memoir, not an autobiography — and I am glad for what I have learned; such criticism is hardly justifiable. I enjoyed the modesty of its narrator and that she tells us gently about her domestic situation and the dynamic between her mother and father. I found Naseem’s accounts of her father particularly compelling; of his response to his patients, community, status and discomfort at the new wave of immigrants in their area. I saw this in my own Kaka, my beloved uncle. ‘Look’ he said once as we ate dosa in Newham, me in my early teens, ‘Look at those villagers. Those junglies.’ ‘Uncle, don’t!’ I said. ‘Why not? You think only you bloody whities are allowed to say this sort of thing? You think you have the hegemony on this?’ (I had to look up hegemony later!)

Identity and what we perceive it to be and how we think others impinge on it can cause pain. As you have seen, the book caused me to reflect on aspects of my own life and loss; on tender difficulty and surprise. I felt the text’s plangency on domestic discord, parents, parenting, bereavement, starting again but above all the writer’s passionate belief in the value of the arts; that they – dance, art, poetry and a lively, questing discourse on such things – are a conduit to an understanding of one another, however inchoate that might be to begin with. It’s a book that is plain speaking, but ultimately about hope. And always, this: I want to quote it again:

‘The imagination, I think. This is what can bind us. This is what can transform.’

One more thing; very personal and like a call to action in my ear, so timely it was uncanny. A quotation of George Eliot that Naseem had on her wall for many years, regarded as she begins a fresh start in East London: ‘”It is never too late to be the person you were meant to be.” And that’s what I want.’ Yes. I said to myself, brought up short. Yes. I want that too. And everywhere is somewhere. With its tribulations and its beauty: we need to look closely. So my last words on this book are simply, thank you.

Click here to visit Bluemoose Books for Naseem Khan’s Everywhere is Somewhere.

About the Publisher:

Bluemoose Books is an independent publisher based in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.

Review by Anna Vaught

Anna is a novelist, essayist, poet, editor, reviewer and also a secondary English teacher, tutor, mentor to young people, mental health campaigner and mum to a large litter. A great champion of the small presses, she reviews their books and writes for them: novel, Killing Hapless Ally (Patrician Press, 2016), novella, The Life of Almost (2018) and poems and essays with Patrician Press and Emma Press. Books three and four out on submission at the moment. Anna is working on her fifth novel.

Style and Substance 

Style and Substance 
Three Poetry Collections from Valley Press
I had initially assumed this recent selection of three poetry collections from Valley Press to be indicative of their ‘house-style’ – a thematic focus on the landscape and related elemental wildness – but a quick inspection of their website reveals the absolute eclecticism of their output. Prolific publishers, Valley Press have a strong line of poetry as well as fiction, non-fiction and memoir on their list. So, in addition to their ‘distinctive, no-two-the-same’ book covers, what is it that shapes this small press into a coherent publishing brand? I suspect the answer is revealed in this representative selection, though not in anything so obvious as their themes, as I’d first imagined.
Earthy, mythic, mundane – each of these collections explores a deeply mined connection to the land, local lore, history, memory and culture. Di Slaney’s Reward for Winter, with its traces of life on a Nottinghamshire small holding, its lexicon of loam and straw giving voice to the landscape with its human and other inhabitants, its impeccably researched local history.  Jo Brandon’s The Learned Goose with tales of Tabu, tales without magic and tales of rebirth recounting both the magical and the mundane.  Malene Engelund’s The Wild Gods drawing on the vocabulary and landscape of the mythical Norse sagas.
‘With the slip of a vowel, my legend was lost’ Bildr’s Lament, Di Slaney
‘you wished
your tongue could read the air like mine,
I wished my eyes could talk.’  The Fall, Jo Brandon
‘Listen.  And you’ll hear their necks
unlocking, their bones shift and turn.’  Owls, Malene Engelund
Each of these expertly crafted poetry collections draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources including historical or archival research, classic works of visual art, legend, mythology, and landscape.  Each of the poets is, coincidentally, a Creative Writing MA graduate, although Valley Press publish just as many non-graduate writers, as far as I can see.  So while thematically these poetry collections share a number of rich connections, they can each be distinguished by the quality and individuality of their poetic voice and their specific concerns.
Slaney’s Reward for Winter is a collection of poems documenting her move from city life to smallholder, focused on the everyday observations and experiences she encounters in her new rural livelihood.  With a keen poet’s eye and the novelty of newness she is able to engage both critically and creatively with the realities of life on the small holding, presenting a series of pithy and touching details which many readers may not otherwise encounter. Structured in three parts, How to Knit a Sheep engages with the emotional and physical impact of committing to this new way of life, Washing Eggs gives voice to a laying hen in a series of three half-dozen ‘boxes’, and Bildr’s Thorp draws on detailed archival research of the surrounding landscape and community while Bildr’s Lament invokes the mythological by making lexical connections with the Norse god Baldr.
Brandon blends archival research with homely tales, each poem a mini narrative with richly visual and multi-sensorial detail. ‘Its hooves clattered like a sack of pans / thrown down the stairs’; ‘I have seen my innards flow like unwatered wine, / seen them part from me and suck in life’; ‘you hung like a bauble on a tree, a faded Robin maybe / whose claws should fold easily over the branches, rigid as tradition, / but has slipped upside down’.  Exploring a range of themes and voices, this first collection establishes a strong and sensuous writing style.
Engelund draws us into the darkness and depth of a Norse winter with her chill northern mythologies, sparse imagery and fragile evocation of loss. The concerns of these poems may be animal or human and Engelund’s playful and poignant experimentation with form and language in poems such as Air Song and (untitled) give voice to the voiceless in a variety of ways. November 31st creates a space in time for ‘the ones […] that we loved, but never had’.  Fiercely feminine in its strong and tender beauty, this short collection rewards repeated reading.
So I realise that it’s not the subject that unites these three books from Valley Press, but the style: deeply rich and enriching language and imagery, the creation of a flawless poetic voice, the subtle evocation of lives lived in the everyday magic of this world and its others.  These three collections are fine poetic works, sensitively crafted and distilled which speak to various experiences of life and the wildnesses of landscape and lore. These are works that, I imagine, highlight the unifying ethos of Valley Press in publishing works of elegant literary distinction across a variety of forms and genres.
About the Publisher:
Valley Press is an independent publishing house based in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, publishing poetry, including collections, pamphlets and the occasional anthology; fiction, including novels and collections of short stories; and non-fiction, including memoirs and travel writing.  Valley Press is built on one very important belief: great literature, and great publishing, is for everyone and anyone.
Review by Sally-Shakti Willow

Sally-Shakti Willow is researching for a practice-based PhD in utopian poetics and experimental writing at the University of Westminster, where she also works as research assistant for the Contemporary Small Press.  Sally’s poetry is included in the #NousSommesParis anthology from Eyewear Books; the experimental collection The Unfinished Dream by Sally-Shakti Willow and Joe Evans was published by Sad Press in October 2016.  @willowwriting

Internal Conflict

Internal Conflict

This Is The Place To Be by Lara Pawson: CB editions, 2016

‘I hate the way the news plasters over the rough edges of truth.’

How do you make the indescribable real to those who have never witnessed it? From dining with ambassadors to negotiating with armed guards, this uniquely revealing memoir provides a vivid insight into civil war in Africa from a very personal perspective. Written by former foreign correspondent Lara Pawson, This Is The Place To Be is a series of interwoven anecdotes and intimate snapshots of life in war-torn Angola and Ivory Coast; some funny, many unsettling, all written in a natural, spontaneous style.

This is a fragmented account reflecting the chaos of war. The crossover between war and peace is explored, as some semblance of routine is maintained in a war zone whilst violence can and does erupt in times of peace. Pawson is like a voyeur witnessing both joyful and horrific moments in other people’s lives while trying to make sense of her own.  Fierce yet compassionate, her strong connection with the African nations she reported from emanates from every page. Having built cross-cultural relationships, she analyses the impact of the people who have entered her life and their imprint on her memory. We witness war’s continuing effect upon her in present-day London as past incidents resurface, revealing the parallels that are present in life even under starkly different circumstances.

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The reliability of the mainstream media is called into question and Pawson is open in her struggle to capture the whole story. Having previously worked for the BBC, she describes how she became cynical about the nature of journalism as the news is presented as a revelation of facts when in reality there is often no such certainty. Uncomfortable truths about the UK are brought to the surface, exposing how little its citizens really know due to the media’s ability to manipulate events.  Her experience has obviously instilled in her the desire to communicate clearly and directly but her frustration is evident as it is simply not always possible to persuade people of the truth as you know it. Everything is open to interpretation.

Such an honest approach could potentially alienate the reader at times and it is inevitably not always easy to empathise.  There is both an abhorrence of and exhilaration for the dangers involved in her job and she sometimes seems brave verging on reckless, expressing a certain thrill at coming close to death.

As a white, British woman in a male dominated role, Pawson describes her own internal battle for identity, exploring how gender and race are concepts which can unite and divide us and occasionally succumbing to the pressure society places on women to conform to set ideals of femininity. She tells the story of having lunch with a governor who was ‘generous and gentle’ to her but later turned out to be a key perpetrator in a violent purge.

‘I’d been advised that it was worth showing powerful men a bit of leg’.

This is an explosive book encapsulating the kind of innovation that is characteristic of the contemporary small press scene. Despite her assertion that ‘I don’t feel brave, I feel angry’, Pawson demonstrates a courageous lack of self-censure and an unflinching desire to reveal all, resulting in an intensely powerful and compelling read.

‘Although I have come to understand that the violence of war affects families for generations, I continue to fear the apathy produced by peace’.

Click here to buy Lara Pawson’s This is the Place to Be direct from CB editions.

About the publisher

CB editions specialises in short fiction, poetry, translations and other work of value with a distinctive message. It is run solely by Charles Boyle and publishes unique new titles by brave and talented voices. The Guardian describes it as having ‘the air of a guerrilla operation…great sincerity, good faith and almost quixotic single-mindedness’.

Review by Becky Danks

Becky Danks is an avid reader, creative writer, dog lover, poet and reviewer of books. Amongst other things.

 This review was updated on 21 October replacing the inaccurate title ‘former war correspondent’ with ‘former foreign correspondent’.

The Elephant and the Bee: Reading and Q&A

The Elephant and the Bee: Reading and Q&A

The Elephant and the Bee by Jess de Boer

Reading and Q&A in conjunction with the Contemporary Small Press and Institute of Modern and Contemporary Culture, University of Westminster

Join us at 6pm on Thursday 26th May for an inspirational evening with Jess de Boer, whose memoir The Elephant and the Bee is published by Jacaranda Books

The Elephant and the Bee: On saving the world and other triumphant failures

The memoirs of a young Kenyan girl with Oprah-esque dreams whose lifelong quest to change the world leads her deep into the unknown, round the bend and then back again.

As a child, young Kenyan Jess de Boer knew that one day she would save the world. Leaving behind the comfort of home she sets out make her dream a reality. Many continents, adventures and a few hilarious mishaps later, Jess returns to Africa to dedicate herself to a new passion – beekeeping. Follow the beautifully illustrated misadventures of a young, modern-day explorer as she tackles the enormous challenges of aid in Africa, environmental concerns and conservation issues – often with humorous and dramatic results. When Oprah says, “Be all you can be” and “Live your best life” Jess believes the former and is dedicated to the latter. An insightful memoir from a twenty-something girl with big dreams, this book is a hurricane of energy; at times funny, ridiculous and educational, it is a sobering compendium of hard fought lessons and instructions for anyone out there who believes in their ability to stand up, shout out and make a difference.

Jess de Boer is a young Kenyan beekeeping expert, CSR consultant and cofounder of Barefoot Solutions Kenya. She is dedicated to promoting and producing sustainable, ethical practices in agriculture and food production and is a regular speaker on issues of permaculture and sustainable livelihoods. Jess was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya to a privileged Dutch family in the region. In 2014 Jess won The Africa Book Club Short Reads competition with her story The Honey Man. That same year, she represented Kenya in the Women’s Triathlon at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. She continues to work as a beekeeper in Kenya and is still on a mission to one day save the world. The Elephant and the Bee is her first book.

Jess de Boer will be reading from her memoir and answering questions at The University of Westminster, 6-8pm Thursday 26th May: Westminster Forum 32-38 Wells St, London W1T 3UW.  Jess will be introduced and the Q&A facilitated by Sally-Shakti Willow, PhD researcher at the University of Westminster and Research Assistant at The Contemporary Small Press.  Please email contemporarysmallpress@gmail.com for more information.