Posts Tagged 'books'

Dream Land review

very nice review here of Dream Land from Bookwitch.

I never thought Dream Land was such a sad book really – it ends pretty positively, and I knew Crimean Tatar families were indeed succeeding to build good new lives for themselves. But as Bookwitch points out, that was before recent events in Crimea.

I add an E

Riding Icarus and Dream Land, my two novels with Walker books, are now available not just as paperbacks, but as eBooks at Amazon (Kindle), Waterstones, Kobo and iTunes iBookstore.

Dream Land, set in Crimea, is based on the true story of one of the Second World War’s more forgotten atrocities: the deportation of the Crimean Tatars; and their return home over fifty years later.

Riding Icarus is an urban fairytale introducing younger readers to a surreal world of witches riding trolleybuses and mafiosi driving Mercedes’ in modern-day Ukraine.

Back in print

Dream Land is back in print, after a short period of being unavailable. So if you have been trying to get hold of it recently and failing, please try again!

...and it now has the Amnesty logo on the cover!

…and it now has the Amnesty logo on the cover!

Anyone not wishing to support a certain Internet giant which doesn’t pay its taxes, but lacking a local English bookshop to turn to, now has the option of ordering Dream Land from cornucopia.net. ‘Cornucopia’ is a beautifully-produced magazine about Turkish (and Turkic) art, history and culture; its excellent current edition is dedicated to Crimea.

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I’m so pleased to see my novel about the Crimean Tatars in the company of books dedicated to all things Turkish and Turkic. Turkic influence is only one aspect of the Crimean Tatars’ story, but I do feel that Dream Land sometimes gets  a bit lost on general YA fiction shelves amid all those future dystopias and paranormal romances…

Eating or reading the wrong thing

Ive posted on ABBA today about the Flower Fairy books, and how if my niece had read them she probably would have been spared a nasty experience after eating some poisonous arum or lords-and-ladies berries (they were green, and she thought they were peas. At least she knew that peas do actually grow somewhere, and are not born frozen in a supermarket; it’s just a pity she didn’t know that they grow in pods).

It’s got me thinking about some of the classics of children’s fiction I grew up on, like Richard Adams’ Watership Down or The Sword in the Stone by TH White, where absolutely accurate, close observation of the natural world informs and indeed forms an imaginative narrative.

I can’t think of any contemporary children’s fiction that is based so comprehensively and accurately around observation of nature – which seems odd, considering our preoccupation with threats to the environment, Can you?

The lords-and-ladies fairy, from Flower Fairies of the Autumn by Cicely Mary Barker

Mother tongue

Хаял мекяны, the Crimean Tatar translation of my book Dream Land, is making quite a splash in Crimea. There has been plenty of TV and newspaper coverage; I have even, to my amazement, been recognised on the street. It’s all a bit overwhelming. Coverage here and here for Crimean Tatar speakers, here and here in Russian.

My favourite headline, from Голос крыма, reads ‘Now Lily Hyde is a daughter of the Crimean Tatar people’

Dream Land is the first and, so far, only fictional retelling in any language of the Crimean Tatars’ return to Crimea in the 1980-1990s. To my mind, its translation into the mother tongue of the Crimean Tatars is a unique and important event. If only it has not come too late.

I spent a lot of time with Crimean Tatar families between around 2000 and 2007. To me they spoke Russian, because I don’t speak Crimean Tatar. But between themselves they spoke Crimean Tatar.

Revisiting some of those families just a few years on, I’m struck by a big change. Their children have grown older, and are spending more time in school or college or work – and they are bringing Russian language home with them. Just a few years back, the whole family spoke Crimean Tatar with a sprinkling of Russian words. Now it is the other way round.

The older people, and many younger ones too, feel this is a tragedy. But it’s one they don’t know how to reverse. One mother told me she wants to keep her son back a year before sending him to school, because she’s afraid that as soon as he goes to school he will start forgetting Crimean Tatar. Two university students told me they hope that when they have families, their children will know Crimean Tatar. They told me this in English, which they speak quite fluently. Neither of these girls speaks their own native language beyond a very basic, household level.

I wondered even as I gave them copies of Хаял мекяны, whether they would not find it easier to read Dream Land in the original English. I couldn’t bring myself to ask.  But all the interest in the Crimean Tatar translation gives me hope that it is not too late to save this language from extinction.

What happens next

is the question I’ve been asked most often in the last few days.

I’ve been in Crimea for the presentation of the Crimean Tatar translation of Dream Land, my novel about the return of the Crimean Tatars to their homeland in the 1990s. This entire nation of people was deported from Crimea, then part of the Soviet Union, in 1944, and fought a peaceful campaign for fifty years for the right to return.

People want to know if I’m pleased about the book translation (I’m absolutely delighted – I blogged about it previously here), why I decided to write the book in the first place (because I thought it was a fascinating, compelling and important story that begged to be told) but most of all they want to know ‘Are you going to write a sequel? What happens next to Safi?’

It’s always gratifying when readers want to know what happens to your characters outside the pages of the book. I myself find it hard to abandon characters after I’ve created them. The heroine of my first novel, Riding Icarus, so grabbed my imagination that I went on to write two more novels about her.

It’s a bit more complicated with Safi, because although she’s a fictional character, her story is closely based on real events. Dream Land ends in the summer of 1992 on a moment of hope, that Crimean Tatar families like Safi’s will be able to build houses with permission from the Ukrainian authorities and settle in to a new life in Crimea with support and acceptance from their Ukrainian and Russian neighbours. And in truth, this is by and large what has happened, although no one can pretend that prejudice and discrimination do not still exist. I never planned a sequel to Dream Land. I thought that if readers really want to know what happens to Safi, all they have to do is read a newspaper or visit Crimea.

Safi would be thirty-three now, if she really existed. Does she stay in Crimea or does she emigrate? I’ve been asked over the last few days. Does she remember the stories she heard from her grandfather in Dream Land? Does she teach her children Crimean Tatar language? What about her brother Lutfi – does he marry a Russian girl like the one in the book, or does he get involved in radical Islam?

I don’t know the answers. All these things have happened to my friends in Crimea, the ones whose lives in the 1990s inspired Dream Land. It would be nice if I could create happy and fulfilling futures for all these people I love and admire. But this is real life, not fiction.

There’s a fascinating, compelling and important story still to be told about the Crimean Tatar national movement since 1992. About political and social change, about the steady loss of the Crimean Tatar language, and the continuing struggle to uncover and declare the truth of what happened in 1944.

I’m amazed and honoured and touched that so many people have asked me for a sequel. But I’m not sure I’m the person to tell this story. My friend’s daughter in Crimea has just started writing stories. She’s Crimean Tatar, and around the same age now as Safi is in Dream Land. Perhaps she will be the one to write What Happens Next.

The Crimean Tatar cover of Dream Land

The Crimean Tatar cover of Dream Land

This post also appears on ABBA today

Translated again

This time into Korean, in the anthology Under the Weather (originally published by Frances Lincoln).

All the stories, by such great writers as Miriam Halahmy, Candy Gourlay and Linda Newbery, deal with the subject of climate change.

Funnily enough, my story, ‘Climate [Short]change’, is also about mistranslation. It’s set in remotest Siberia where the reindeer outnumber people, and deals with an encounter between Western European Climate Change scientists and Nenets fishers and herders.

I love the fact that my text, telling in English of the misunderstandings and friendships that arise between Russian and German speakers, now has a whole new existence in yet another language. And it’s heartening to know that all the stories in the book, about the future of the planet and its children, are now going to reach a new audience on the other side of the world.

Gained in translation

The first I knew was when I got an e-mail from someone called Leila. She wrote that she had translated my novel, Dream Land, and wanted to publish the translation.

With someone else, my pleased but surprised response would have been to refer her straight away to my agent to deal with permissions and fees. But Leila is different.

‘Like the heroine of your book, I was born in Samarkand in exile’ she wrote. ‘My childhood was often darkened by shadows, because of the deportation of our people. In 1989 we were able to return to our homeland. I lived through everything that you describe in your book. You’ve managed to perceive and impart the reality… I want to tell you that I’ve translated it into Crimean Tatar. I thought that this novel about our tragic fate should be read by every Crimean Tatar.’

Dream Land is about the ethnic group Leila belongs to: the Crimean Tatars, who inhabited Crimea (now part of Ukraine) until 1944, when the entire nation was forcibly deported. It is estimated that up to 46 percent died on the way to labour camps in Central Asia and the Urals. Those that survived had to rebuild their lives from scratch. They were banned from speaking their own language. They were discriminated against in education, employment, housing. And they were not permitted to return home to Crimea until fifty years later, when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Dream Land is based very closely on the stories people told me; what happened to them before, during, and after the deportation; their sufferings and struggles and dreams. The book is fiction in that I made up most of the characters. But their fictional lives are an amalgam of the many real ones I encountered. I tried to imagine myself into the lives of the Crimean Tatars, to understand how they feel and where they come from, to be as true as possible to what they told me.

I was aware, though, that not only do I myself not speak the Crimean Tatar language, I was writing this book in English, for a British young adult audience who in all likelihood have never heard of the people it is about.

Moreover, I realised that the majority of Crimean Tatar young adults would not be able to read it. I don’t know what percentage speak English well enough to read a novel, but in my experience it is fairly small.

I do know how many Crimean Tatar children are estimated to speak their own language of Crimean Tatar. It is five percent.

Crimean Tatar is recognised by UNESCO as a ‘severely endangered’ language. During their fifty years of exile, the Crimean Tatars fought ceaselessly to keep their identity alive. It is a sad irony that now the central right for which they fought – to live once again in their own country – has been won, something else is being lost. A physical home gained for a mental home lost, perhaps.

If only five percent of Tatar children speak their native tongue, is there any point in publishing Dream Land in Crimean Tatar? I believe so, and I want to support the campaign to keep Crimean Tatar alive. Barbara, a volunteer at the Gasprinskiy Library in Simferopol, writes here about what the loss of a language means. She sums up:

Their songs would go unsung, their poetry only read by language scholars, the wealth of their literary heritage only known in translated form. As my counterpart at the library, Nadjie Yagya, said to me when I first came to the library: “If a person does not know the language of his ancestors, the spiritual losses are irreplaceable, and he cannot fully understand the culture of his people.”

The French Edition of Dream Land

 Leila, and everyone else informed about the situation, agrees that ultimately, Dream Land should also be translated into Russian, to reach not only more Crimean Tatars but also the Ukrainians and Russians who now make up the vast majority of the Crimean population. As Barbara wrote to me:

The longer I live here [in Crimea], the more I am aware of the tremendous discrimination the Crimean Tatars face and the undercurrent of ignorance and prejudice from much of the Russian speaking population. Having a Russian version of Dream Land available to school children would give them another side of a story they perhaps hear in a twisted version.

We’re looking for funding for a small print run of Хаял Мекяны – the Crimean Tatar title – and then, we hope, for Земля Мечты in Russian. But I want to say thank you to Leila, for translating this book. And to Taner, who is translating it into Romanian, so that the Crimean Tatar Diaspora there can share the story with their Romanian neighbours and perhaps through it more understanding and tolerance can be built.

Dream Land is just a novel, and one I had many fears about writing – that I would get it wrong, that I was appropriating a culture and story in a crass act of cultural imperialism. But I’m so excited and humbled by these translations. It feels like the Crimean Tatars are taking the book back and making it into something bigger, and more important, and their own.

(this post also appears over on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure today)

How we make history

I picked out The Vanished Pomps of Yesterday, while clearing a friend’s bookshelves, just to laugh at the title.

It turned out to be the 1919 memoirs of Lord Frederic Hamilton, a British diplomat stationed in, amongst other places, St Petersburg around 1880.

I’m writing a novel about Russian revolutionaries in the lead up to 1905 and 1917. The 1870s and 80s were a key period in Russia. This was the time of the Narodnik revolt, when peasants were encouraged to oppose the government by middle-class sympathisers, and were brutally punished; of the formation of both Narodnaya Volya, the first revolutionary terrorist organisation, and the Okhranka, the Russian secret police force which was supposed to repress revolutionary activity but was from the outset implicated in terrorist violence. Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 by Narodnaya Volya. I eagerly grabbed The Vanished Pomps to read.

Unfortunately, Hamilton is not at all interested in revolution.

He was in St Petersburg when Alexander II was assassinated. He tells us that the bombs were painted white, to look like snowballs, and that “Lady Dufferin… had heard the explosion of the bomb, and seen the wounded horses led past, and was terribly upset in consequence.” The next thing we know is that she has recovered enough to watch the funeral procession (“like so many things in Russia, it was spoilt by lack of attention to details”) and to attend, along with Hamilton, the funeral, where “… the only detail of the funeral which struck me was the perfectly splendid pall of cloth of gold.”

Alexander II on his death bed, by K.E.Makovsky

For six months after the assassination, social life in St Petersburg stopped, Hamilton notes. (All civil liberties were curtailed, and police repression massively stepped up, which he notes not at all). He plunges into a long description of all the fun things he nevertheless managed to get up to: mostly shooting and fishing parties on the Gulf of Finland. “It will be seen that in one way or another there was no lack of amusement to be found around Petrograd, even during the entire cessation of Court and social entertainments”, he informs us after ten pages of sporting larks. Phew, what a relief!

Hamilton’s longest comment on terrorism and police involves a ball given by the French ambassador for the newly crowned Nicholas II (“of unfortunate memory”). Just before the ball began, the Okhranka searched the embassy for a bomb thought to have been hidden in a flower pot. “They made a frightful hash of things and not only ruined the elaborate decorations but so managed to cover the polished floors with earth that the rooms looked like ploughed fields, dancing was rendered impossible, and poor Madame de Montebello was in tears. As the guests arrived, the police had to be smuggled out through back passages. This was one of the little amenities of life in a bomb-ridden land.”

The only reason factories (the revolution was largely fomented among factory workers in Moscow and St Petersburg) are mentioned at all is because their wealthy, often foreign owners attend the same clubs as Hamilton does. Peasants are there to provide a picturesque backdrop to his bear-hunting expeditions. Politically-active members of the intelligentsia feature once, when he derides ‘Madame O’ for lack of political acuity in criticising the current regime. “Poor dreamy, emotional, hopelessly unpractical Russia! Madame O–’s theories have been put into effect now, and we all know how appalling the result has been.”

Hamilton and his circle of aristocrats, diplomats and wealthy industrialists remind me of Marie Antoinette eating cake. Of Nero fiddling while Rome burned. How can he not have been aware of or interested in what was going on? He was there, in communication with ministers and emperors, watching history being made  – and all he noticed was shooting, fishing, dressing, dancing, eating, drinking. And, two years after the revolution of 1917, when his book was published, that’s all he wants to tell us about. It’s frankly infuriating. It makes you think they deserve what they got, those blinkered posh twits.

But then again, how many of us are aware at the time of what the future will prove to be significant? And, perhaps more relevantly, how many of us want to be aware? If someone from the future were to pick up a UK newspaper from today, what might she conclude? That we were mostly blinkered twits led by blinkered posh twits, too interested in the latest TV series or fashion or banker’s bonus to want to notice that our society is falling apart.

It’s pretty obvious from the book’s title where Hamilton’s sympathies and interests lie. And yet I feel I can glean something from it for a novel about revolution. The detail about the bombs being painted to look like snowballs, for instance, or the gleam of the cloth of gold covering Alexander II’s coffin: it is touches like this which make a historical novel come alive.

And the overall tone of the book invokes in me a dim echo of what those revolutionaries must have felt like: what gave them their fervour, made them mad.

(The only thing Wikipedia really has to note about Lord Frederic Hamilton is that he introduced skiing to Canada. Enough said.)

I can be found elsewhere

today, on Katherine Langrish’s wonderful blog, Seven Miles of Steel Thistles, doing pretty much my favourite thing – rambling about fairy tales.

Anyone with the smallest interest in folk tales, myths, fantasy and children’s literature, or just beautiful, thoughtful writing, should check out this blog (and of course Katherine’s books too, the well-travelled Troll Fell and its sequels).

Not only does Katherine herself write so well, she has also invited a humblingly stellar list of guests to contribute to her Fairytale Reflections series. It’s a real honour for me to be included there. Thank you, Katherine!

More travel rambling coming soon…


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A novel about the Crimean Tatars' return to their homeland


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