Tag Archives: Tanya Landman

What colour?

I could never quite bring myself to ask Malorie Blackman what colour some of her characters are.

In Noughts & Crosses it was pretty obvious, because the plot required the reader to know whether someone belonged to the ruling blacks, or was an ‘inferior’ white person. What made your brain confused was to think of skin colour the other way round. Which, of course, is why Malorie wrote it like that.

In some of her younger books, about groups of children at school, maybe solving a puzzle of sorts; where they all black? And if I can’t tell – although why should I? – does it matter? There would tend to be one or more black children on the cover, which is important for black readers; to find themselves in literature.

This has been on my mind for years, and it wasn’t until the event with Tanya Landman and Reginald D Hunter the other week, that I suddenly realised that we’ve never asked whether Malorie is ‘allowed’ to write about white people. But of course she is.

And if the reader can’t actually tell, then someone must be getting things very right.

Besides, I feel really stupid writing this. What do I know? Why should we have discussions about whether or not someone has permission to write about what they are not. As Reginald said, stories have to be told.

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Little White Lies

Much to Offspring’s disgust and shame I am [was] the only person in the country who had no idea who Reginald D Hunter is. On that basis I had decided to approach his event with Tanya Landman completely cold and unresearched. I understood he’s famous, and on getting out my copy of Tanya’s Passing for White the night before, I discovered she had dedicated the book to him.

I believe breaths had been held as to whether Reginald was going to arrive on time, but he did. In a wheelchair, and I’m only saying this because I don’t know if that is permanent. I’m guessing not.

Anyway, there we all were at this sold out event called Little White Lies, which as the chair Daniel Hahn said is a ‘subject disappointingly relevant’ just now. You keep hoping it won’t be, but ‘this problem doesn’t go away.’ Telling Tanya that she’s white – she agreed – he asked why we were there. She told us the background to writing Buffalo Soldier a few years ago. She asked herself what she was doing, as a white, British, middleclass woman, writing from the point of view of a black, recently freed slave in 19th century America.

Tanya Landman

She felt she had no right, but had to write this. No one had to want to publish the book, or to read it, or to like it. (They did, though, and we did.) She based her character’s voice on Reginald’s, and now feels she simply can’t do readings from her books, because it doesn’t sound right. Tanya ‘stalked’ him on Twitter for long enough, saying that appearing with him like this was her fantasy Edinburgh event.

Asked what he thinks of white people writing about black people, Reginald replied that if it weren’t for certain white authors, then some stories would never be told, and compared it with how black music survives because white people fill the clubs, wanting to hear this kind of music. Authenticity matters; and he wouldn’t want a story seen through white eyes, but ‘we all bring some cultural bias.’ According to Reg’s dad, good food or good music is always good.

You need to think yourself into someone’s head, which you can do with a book. Films are generally less authentic; often whitewashed. Reg joked about a white version of the Martin Luther King story.

If you are used to privilege, then equality could seem like discrimination, and other people are seen as bad because they take something away from us. We are all the same; human. Intellectualism is a true interest, and the stories have chosen Tanya to tell them. The middle classes are dangerous because they are in the middle, close enough to both lower and upper classes.

Tanya Landman

Reginald said he never learned much black history at school, but got most of it from his family. Blacks are still not truly free, and the main difference from slavery is that now you have to get your own food. Unlike WWII (there were comparisons between Robert E Lee and Hitler), the Civil War never really ended. The blacks didn’t win.

For Tanya Reg is the perfect person to read her books aloud, but Daniel forced her to read a bit first, which is fine bcause we are ‘used to hearing authors read’ from their books. And then Reg read in the voice she loved so much from Songs of the South on BBC, when he told us he had mostly worried about snakes and mosquitoes…

At this point Daniel was told to get on with questions from the audience, because it was rather ‘toasty’ in the tent, and Reg had had someone faint on him the day before. He considered black remakes of white roles, but felt that there was only a limited amount of undercover work a black James Bond would be able to do.

A question for Tanya was how current affairs influence her writing. It’s her way of looking at history. There was a question on why having black Shakespearean actors works, but it’s so much harder to see black actors playing other than black characters. And there was much joking about how several of the Americans in the audience had also managed to escape the US.

Tanya Landman

The question, of course, is whether Reginald can answer for all black Americans. Maybe what he thinks is OK – or not – is merely his opinion. He used the n-word a couple of times, which felt refreshing, but I understand it offends a lot.

But it does sound as if Tanya can continue writing from non-white points of view. Some readers will always be offended, but these stories must out.

Day 2

That’s my day 2, not the Edinburgh International Book Festival, who were already on day 6. I’m pacing myself, as I keep telling people. It’s not that I’m lazy.

Press ducks

The sun shone again. My theory is that it’s pleased to see me. As I am pleased to see it. We kept each other company outside the yurt, eating, reading, watching famous people go by.

Photographed Siri Hustvedt, doing my best from behind the professional photographers. As you can see, I’m a little short.

Siri Hustvedt

Discussed Peter Høeg with someone on staff, as you do. Chatted to press boss Frances as we both enjoyed the lovely summer’s day on the pew outside, talking about the logistics behind the scenes. Watched Chris Close photograph Tanya Landman, and kept thinking he’d offer her the apple I could see. Turned out later it was for him to eat…

Chris Close and Tanya Landman

Talked with Tanya’s agent Lindsey Fraser, until we realised we’d better head over to queue for Tanya’s sold out event with Reginald D Hunter. Were joined by Elspeth Graham, who is practically Tanya’s neighbour at home.

Tanya Landman and Daniel Hahn

Hung out in the bookshop while Tanya signed her books, and said hello to Eleanor Updale, and was introduced to Lari Don’s mother who looked more like a sister, and finally met Kirstin from Barrington Stoke. Had some tea after that, but was a little disappointed with the scone. Encountered Carol Ann Duffy on my way to the Amnesty International reading. Not that we are pals or talked, obviously.

Daniel Hahn and Eleanor Updale

The Amnesty readings were not quite as harrowing as they usually are, by which I mean I didn’t burst into tears. The Thursday readers were Raja Shehadeh, Siri Hustvedt, Stef Penney and Denise Mina on the subject of ‘Love is a human right.’

Then I went out to dinner with Son and Dodo. We had tapas, followed by some enormous puddings (presumably to make up for the tapas-sized main course). Reckon if I display any more senior moments I will never be asked out again. It’s not easy getting old.

To finish the day we all went to an event with Michelle Paver and the very reclusive Peter Høeg, admirably chaired by Daniel Hahn. Again. He certainly gets around. And after that we hung out in the signing tent, where there was a satisfyingly long queue, and Son and Danny talked translations. Or something.

Peter Høeg, Michelle Paver, Daniel Hahn and Ian Giles

And then it was time to go home, to which I will add that it’s also high time ScotRail make enough trains and rolling stock available to dispatch all festival goers to their homes. What we get makes me long for the post-concert trains on the Continent where you don’t end a nice day out on the floor of a train. (And no, that wasn’t me. I had sharpened my elbows before I left, so got a seat. But plenty didn’t.)

Passing for White

Reading about a married couple, two slaves in the American Deep South in the mid-19th century, who manage to escape to freedom due to the fact that the woman could ‘pass for white,’ you’d probably admire the author’s way of solving a difficult situation for her characters, and mutter something about it being unbelieveable.

Tanya Landman, Passing for White

But as they say, truth can be stranger than fiction, and in this case Tanya Landman has based her story on a real life couple, who really did get away from their owner, purely because the woman had white skin. That, and the fact that they were hardworking and brave, as are Tanya’s fictional couple Rosa and Benjamin.

Written for Barrington Stoke, this short but strong tale is truly inspiring, showing us what people are capable of. Rosa is ‘white’ because she was fathered by her owner. She was then sent away from her mother, to a new owner who uses her in the same way her father did her mother. It seems they ‘all’ did this.

That alone means Rosa’s marriage to Benjamin can never be quite as real as you’d expect, nor can they live together. So it’s not only freedom they are escaping to, but they hope to finally be able to lead a normal life, to live together, to be sure whose baby they could be expecting, and much more.

Unlike fictional characters whose creators have allowed them to learn to read and write, for instance, Rosa and Benjamin don’t have these necessary skills, and that becomes a problem as Rosa is trying to pass herself off as her husband’s [male] owner. She doesn’t have the knowhow to be a white man. But there are good people out there, as well as really bad ones.

And it’s fascinating to see quite how racist the people who worked against slavery in the North actually were. There are setbacks and there are successes, and we know they will escape, but we can’t foresee what almost insurmountable problems they will face.

Passing for White is an essential read.

Beyond the Wall

Most of the major newspapers have been reviewing Tanya Landman’s new novel, Beyond the Wall, in the last few days, so why should Bookwitch do any different?

This is a fantastic book! It deals with the less common period of Roman Britain, as seen from the perspective of the slaves. Now, slaves are a bit of a speciality for Tanya, and this book does not disappoint. We’re on homeground, so to speak, and although it might seem to have been a long time ago, there’s a surprising number of situations for our heroes that could almost be today.

Tanya Landman, Beyond the Wall

Female slaves were often sexually abused by their masters, and it seems that many babies who were the result of this kind of behaviour, never had a chance of surviving, because they were not needed by the master. It is an absolute agony to think about.

Cassia is one such baby, with the difference that she’s permitted to live. In her mid teens she’s chosen to do for her master what her mother did before her, but somehow she escapes, with her master’s dogs giving chase and soon with a prize on her head.

She believes she must get to the north, past the wall, outside which people live free. And the person who ends up helping her is a young, good-looking Roman. She knows she should probably not trust Marcus, but she has no choice.

This could have been merely an exciting adventure story of how to escape an enraged slave owner, but it soon becomes so much more. You gasp as the tale takes – several – unexpected turns, and you fear for all your favourite characters. And you wonder if, or when, Marcus will show his true colours.

Beyond the Wall becomes a story about the Roman Empire, and not just a British runaway. It’s one of these all too rare unputdownable books.

Paint it black

It wasn’t an entirely traditional Easter Saturday, but I suppose it was all right.

The Resident IT Consultant drove across half of Central Scotland searching for black spray paint, and as soon as he brought some home I went outside and sprayed it all over the dining table. After enough cans had been used up, the table looks sort of finished. And black.

The [formerly green] grass is also slightly black.

And my arms hurt. Who knew paint-spraying was so tiring?

I also sprayed some tomato all over myself, causing a red-orange streak down my front. As we didn’t have a bonfire to grill sausages on, we made do with the grill pan in the kitchen. And I didn’t fly over the cooker on my broom, partly because of lack of space and partly because a witch needs a proper bonfire to be sent on her way. Daughter bought one of those foil barbecue things, but I absolutely refuse to broom over that as well.

In-between the countless black layers I read Tanya Landman’s new book. It’s so good I didn’t always want to put it down to attend to my painting.

Daughter decided to stretch Lent as far as she could, so made us Lent buns to have with our afternoon cup of tea. I reckon as long as it was before Easter Sunday it’s probably almost legal.

We watched Doctor Who, which we liked, and then we played The Great Penguin Bookchase, which we also liked, and which I lost.

Life-changing longlists

Immediately on reading through the Guardian’s longlist for its children’s fiction prize, I felt grumpy.

Yes, as people said on social media, it’s a really good list. They would say that, of course, and you noticed that I did too. That’s with only having read two of the longlisted novels; Malorie Blackman’s and Tanya Landman’s. And they are award material.

But I liked the description of most of the other books. And I did come across one of them at Yay!YA+ in April, where I heard Martin Stewart read the first chapter of Riverkeep about three or four times. It wasn’t out yet, at that time, and whereas it was available to buy early that day, you know me; I don’t buy books. And Penguin haven’t offered it to me. If I was Martin I’d want my first book to be mentioned to people.

Perhaps some of the other books are also only just out in the shops. That was certainly the case with my life-changing book, How I Live Now, in 2004. I read about it on the longlist, and then found I couldn’t buy it just yet, so had to wait. That turned out quite well for both me and Meg Rosoff.

Brian Selznick seems to have another book out, which is promising. Then there are two authors – Alex Wheatle and Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock – whom I have only heard of because they are in the Edinburgh programme this summer. The remaining two are completely unknown to me, and one of them has a book with a cover so tempting it’s all I can do to stay calm. That’s G R Gemin with Sweet Pizza, along with Zana Fraillon who’s written about refugees, which I also like the look of.

G R Gemin, Sweet Pizza

Hopefully one or two of these will find their way to me, and hopefully they will inspire me, and lead to great things for the authors. Just like in 2004. And hopefully I’m grumping now because no one has done publicity yet, and it’s all to come…