6 - 20 October 2017

Chapter & Verse BlogChapter & Verse Blog

The Manchester Literature Festival Blog

Review: Fiction Debuts at Waterstones

Author James Wheatley with light shining on his golden hairJames Wheatley

  • Author James Wheatley with light shining on his golden hair

The one thing to know about these debut novelists is that they are all very different. Irish-Nigerian Gabriel Gbadamosi is known for poetry, essays and plays during five decades of writing. Marli Roode is a Fellow at Manchester University's Centre for New Writing, born and raised in South Africa. Whereas James Wheatley, from North East England, has training in various jobs and wrote his novel whilst living in the U.S. It's safe to say they have all come to writing from very diverse backgrounds.

However, the one aspect their novels all share is a strong sense of place. This not only weaves itself into their stories, but also into who they are, influencing their reasons for writing these books and how they speak of them.

In the Yoruba culture of Gabriel Gbadamosi's father, words are a powerful thing, therefore his motivation for writing Vauxhall was to capture his own voice for his children. He describes Vauxhall as a selection of interwoven stories like childhood flashcards, inviting the reader to share similar memories as they explore those of the main character.

Interestingly, Gabriel has no desire to write another book; just because he has written one doesn't mean he has to write another. Besides, he argues, there are too many books in the world.

Marli Roode's novel, Call It Dog, explores displacement and the difficulties of never quite knowing where home is supposed to be. It's important for her that the novel is set in modern South Africa, to demonstrate the ongoing xenophobia present after the switch from apartheid rule in 1994. However, Marli firmly asserts that it isn't intended to make a statement, but rather that the significance lies in the story itself. She is currently working on her second novel and Call it Dog was recently announced as a finalist for the Dylan Thomas award.

James Wheatley's Magnificent Joe began as a series of narrative sketches written when he lived abroad. Feeling more aware of the North East whilst away from it, his memories helped shape the story, with title character – Joe – being loosely based on someone from his teenage years. James admits he didn't research the learning difficulties faced by Joe, arguing such understanding wouldn't be significant to his characters therefore it wasn't to him. Magnificent Joe was built up over ten years and so James isn't sure about writing a second novel just yet, though he does have an idea for one.

During their readings it was clear they each have a unique voice. James was direct, raw and expressive, so much so I'd quite like him to read the entire book to me! Marli was melodic with some beautiful phrasing and a way of interspersing her dialogue with description that epitomises the father-daughter relationship in her novel. Finally, Gabriel's evocative, deep voice drew me in as he read the short, sharp sentences that characterise the young first person narrator in his novel. As a result, I'm looking forward to reading all three…

About the writer: Cat Lumb is an aspiring author, struggling writer and intrepid blogger. She is currently attempting to edit her first novel and plans to write another during the November challenge of NaNoWriMo! You can follow her writing journey at catlumb.com or via Twitter @Cat_Lumb