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Read All About It: 'No Certain Home' by Marlene Lee

Posted on April 19, 2016 by Yen-Yen Lu

In 1928, American journalist and activist Agnes Smedley left the United States for Shanghai. Rising quickly and travelling widely, she soon became the top correspondent on the Chinese Civil War for the Western world. 

Author Marlene Lee explores Smedley's life in her new novel No Certain Home, published by Holland House this month. She focuses on her experiences throughout her time in Northwest China; it is believed that she was the only Westerner living amongst the Chinese Red Army.

I spoke to the author about her process of writing this novel.

Tell me about Agnes Smedley and why she interests you. 

Like Agnes, I feel like an outsider and can identify with her.  She interests me because she turned her personal weaknesses and unfavorable circumstances into useful work wherever she was.  Her limited education (she dropped out of school at age 10) only spurred her to educate herself informally all of her life and to become a world-class journalist in demand not only for her writings but for her speeches about twentieth-century China.  Her challenges to the status quo were sufficient to attract the interest of the American FBI and, earlier, British intelligence.  All of this from the daughter of a Missouri tenant farmer/alcoholic coal miner!  Agnes Smedley never forgot her origins among the underprivileged.

How did your research influence your writing?

My research, both reading and travel, allowed me to see Agnes in context.  Because I visited Milan (Missouri), Trinidad (Colorado), Tempe (Arizona), San Francisco, San Diego, New York City, Berlin, Truro (Denmark), and Shanghai, Xian, and Yen'an in China, I could write scenes that brought the facts of her life into vivid, fictional reality.  She lived so many lives in so many locations! Following her through research was a breathtaking experience for me and put me in touch with the world, both outer and inner, that she inhabited.

What are your hopes for the book?

I'd like for readers to appreciate Agnes Smedley.  She has almost been forgotten, and she deserves to be remembered because of her progressive activities furthering social and gender justice.  Maybe readers of No Certain Home will think harder about how we view the weak and the poor among us.  I'd like for people to know more about China's history, too.  And I want people to enjoy Agnes' personality as well as the book itself!

No Certain Home is available now on our website.

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The Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 8

Posted on December 10, 2015 by Rebecca Robinson

To get us into the festive spirit here at Inpress we've been looking back at some of our favourite books from 2015. It's...

We were overwhelmed by the choice of Summer Reads in August!

Rebecca's Choice: The Last Roundhead by Jemahl Evans
 


Ancestor to Colonel Blimp, Sir Blandford Candy is an irascible old drunk with a hatred of poets and a love of hats. After an argument with his new neighbour Alexander Pope, he looks back on his life and the start of the Civil War.

Young Blandford sets off for London following an illicit affair with his brother’s betrothed and joins the army to fight the King, taking part in the battles of Edgehill and Turnham Green. As he bounces from battlefield to bedroom, Blandford unmasks Cavalier plots, earns the enmity of the King’s agents and uncovers an attempt to steal thousands.

All whilst dealing with murderous brothers, scheming sisters and puritan displeasure. Flashman meets the Three Musketeers in a picaresque romp through Stuart England at its nadir/through the Civil War. Buy it here

  

 
 
Yen-Yen's Choice: The Secrets I Let Slip by Selina Nwulu
 

From reflecting on the complexities of belonging to coming home early for a sandwich at the back of the fridge, The Secrets I Let Slip is a collection of poems that bounce between the personal and political. 

Inspired by themes of social justice, protest, identity and failed dreams of becoming a rock star, this debut pamphlet from Selina Nwulu considers the beauty and pain of living in a modern age.

Buy it here.

  
 
 

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In Conversation With... Jemahl Evans

Posted on August 05, 2015 by Rebecca Robinson

Jemahl Evans, author of The Last Roundhead, graduated with an MA in History, focusing on poetry and propaganda during the Wars of the Roses, and started writing this, his debut novel about the English Civil War, in 2013. Now spending his time teaching, reading history, listening to the Delta Blues, walking his border collie, and whining on Twitter about the government, he took the time to tell us a little more about the book…

Why the English Civil War?

My interest in the civil war was sparked very early on by reading Rosemary Sutcliff’s book Simon. The whole Seventeenth Century is a fascinating period of British history, and really the birth of our modern state. So much was changing, politics, medieval social structures, gender roles, religious control, science and mathematics, literature. I wanted to show it all through the eyes of someone who lived through it. There is also a real resonance today; iconoclasm, terrorism, brutal civil war, religious schism. They tore Britain apart three hundred years ago, but turn on the world news, and it’s everywhere. Samuel Butler’s poem 'Hudibras' -  the English Don Quixote - gave me the idea of an old man responding to his critics, and Butler’s own Civil War career led me into the story.

It’s also a period that doesn’t have a lot of fiction written about it, and Roundhead protagonists are even rarer.

What other books would you compare it to?

Well, I think the picaresque way it weaves through real history, with a footnoted structure, is similar to Flashman. I hasten to add Blandford is a very different character; he’s more Little Big Man. It has elements of The Three Musketeers and Tristram Shandy, but also more contemporary books like Bernard Cornwall’s Saxon novels, Simon Scarrow’s Eagle series, or Michael Arnold’s Stryker books.

It’s the first in a series… so what next?

Without giving away too many spoilers - he has a civil war to survive, a new world to visit, a theatre he can’t open, more civil war, Cromwell, the restoration; lots and lots. I have Blandford’s life sketched out up to the Great Fire and beyond. Book 2 is almost finished; it covers the period between the two battles of Newbury. Whilst the Roundheads are beginning to win the Civil War, life isn’t so good for Blandford.

For more information on The Last Roundhead click here. Reviewers may request the title on NetGalley.

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