Lucy Cruickshanks

Author of THE TRADER OF SAIGON (2013) and THE ROAD TO RANGOON (September 2015). Published by Quercus. www.lucycruickshanks.com

Category: Uncategorized

New fiction discovery website – Bookaxe.com

I’m so excited today to announce the launch of my brand spanking new fiction discovery website, Bookaxe, which makes it quicker and easier for readers to find books they’ll love.

It’s been born from some of my learnings and frustrations from my publishing experience, as well as my experience as a buyer on sites like Amazon and Waterstones. There are so many books to choose from but the ways in which retailers allow you to search can make it difficult to see beyond the names and titles that you already know, or those that are relentless marketed.

In a nutshell, Bookaxe changes the ways in which readers source fiction.

  • We categorise books more accurately by their content, allowing readers to be more targeted in their searches
  • We create a profile of every readers’ likes and dislikes, which we use to make more precise and reliable recommendations
  •  We’ve done away with one-to-five star reviews, instead only showing you the opinions of users with similar tastes

All this means that not only can you be sure of a novel’s content, you can be confident of its quality too. We want you to love every book you read.

The site is now live at www.bookaxe.com and we sincerely hope you find something you love. We’re keen for feedback too about what you’ve enjoyed and what you think could be better. You can contact me via Bookaxe, or by email at hello@bookaxe.com. We are also on Twitter and Facebook. Take a look and find your perfect read!

Lucy x

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99p Kindle Deals on Lucy’s books

Hooray! Both THE TRADER OF SAIGON and THE ROAD TO RANDOON are on sale on Amazon, at 99p each for Kindle copies. Snap one up while you can!

 

Author Q&A

Delighted to be featured on Anne Bonny Book Review’s blog this week, with her Author Q&A. Thanks for having me! You can read the interview and my guest post about the inspiration behind THE TRADER OF SAIGON, here. Bloggers are such great champions for fiction, spreading the word and supporting authors, and I’m always so happy to support them back too.

Drafts and redrafts

I got to leave the house today. Hooray!

I’ve been writing my socks off on Book 3 and making firm progress, so I went to London for lunch with my agent and his merciless red pen. He savaged the book, of course! Ripped it to tatters! But that’s what drafts are all about: working and reworking, finding flaws and unpicking them, tugging apart characters, plot and prose and then stitching everything back together to be more beautiful and powerful, and I can finally see the end as a speck on the horizon. It’s still a stretch away, but at least in sight.

The walk through London was grey and windy and more than a bit chilly, but I never tire of this wonderful view.

Wishful thinking

I’m feeling very jealous of my characters today, who are getting to hang out at Cambodia’s glorious Angkor Temples. It’s bloody cold in the UK and I’m wishing myself back! It can be a challenge, sometimes, taking your mind somewhere far away from where your body can’t be anywhere but rooted in reality, but it’s part of the adventure too. For me, writing is as much about discovering the world as reading is. My favourite author for capturing a magical sense of place and whisking me away is Amitav Ghosh – he’s the master. Who do you read to be transported elsewhere?

The stunning temples of Angkor, Cambodia.

Happy New Year

Well hello there, grindstone. I remember you!

First day back at my desk and I’m on a mission to get this thing done! Very many thanks for your continued support in 2016 and Happy New Year, all. Here’s to hard work, happiness and lots of adventures in 2017.

Progress!

Today Book 3 hit the 50,000 word mark – HOORAY! That’s 50,000 words I’m happy with (there’s three times as many on the cutting room floor) and since I’d been stuck in the damn 40s for what seemed like forever, this evening I’m feeling pretty pleased!

TRADER was 83,000 words and RANGOON was 118,000 so I’ve still got a way to go but writing a novel can be a long slog so it’s good to celebrate the little wins too.

Hope you’re all having a cracker of a week. I’m off to kick my boots through some autumn leaves! x

woohoo!

Book club meet and greets

I’ve been out and about lots recently, touring local book clubs and chatting to others via Skype. It’s always great to sit and chat with readers about their views on my novels, hearing the things they’ve enjoyed and connected with and their ideas of what they’d like to see my do in the future. So often author spend their days writing alone, so there’s no end of value to be found from speaking first hand with the people you’re really working for, and reigniting the imagination. It’s great talking about books in general, in fact, and I love that I always come away armed with a new list of books to try from other authors.

If you’re part of a book club and would like to read TRADER or RANGOON and chat reading, writing and all things in between, do get in touch. Give me a break from the trials of Book 3!

Another little pile of books signed for another bunch of lovely readers!

“I wouldn’t eat the fish”

My experience of pregnant travel in Myanmar

When I discovered I was pregnant with my eldest son, my trip to Myanmar was already booked. I was researching my second novel, The Road to Rangoon, and had been looking forward to going for months. This was my first pregnancy and I was nearing the end of a healthy first trimester, but more than one friend suggested the trip would be better postponed. It would be dirty, they said. The food would be dodgy. One even went so far as to suggest I’d be more likely to be involved in a car crash than at home. I couldn’t help feeling it was all a bit hysterical, but I did want to make sure that travelling was safe.

I began by searching the internet for accounts of women who had been to similar places, but I found very little reliable advice. Medical information focused almost exclusively on flying during the third trimester and visiting well-established Western resorts, not heading off the beaten track in developing countries.

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Breathtaking temples of Myanmar

My midwife had never heard of Myanmar and had little to offer beyond a rather baseless “I wouldn’t eat the fish”. Having found myself needing hospital treatment in a Cambodian backwater a few years earlier, my main concern was access to emergency care. She arranged to bring my scan forward to check that the pregnancy wasn’t ectopic before I found myself in the wilderness, but gently reminded me that given my stage of pregnancy, miscarriage was largely indiscriminate and were the worst to occur, there would be nothing to do but ride it out, so it made little difference what country I was in.

I spoke to my GP, too, about the risks. I was lucky that my travel vaccinations were up to date from previous travels, but anti-malarials were clearly out. Avoiding mosquito bites was the best I could hope for, but again, facts were hard to establish. When asking which insect repellents were safe, for example, I was met with only a grimace and a shrug.

I found the lack of quality information frustrating, but what my midwife had said about miscarriage struck a chord. Though I had age and good health on my side, the whims of pregnancy – as all in life – are unpredictable. I’d learned nothing to convince me that my friends’ concerns were justified. I resolved to let the fates decide.

As it happened, there were a few things that proved less than ideal about pregnant travel. I had rotten sickness throughout my pregnancy and every flight (of which there were many) was spent with my head in a paper bag. The weather in Myanmar was stiflingly humid, the air thick with the scents of heaving markets and overflowing drains. More than one fish curry found its way into a less than pristine squat toilet before I’d left the restaurant as I glanced at the waiters and sheepishly muttered “It’s not you, it’s me.” It was manageable, however, if it at time slightly wretched. The concessions I made, such as watching what I ate, were not too different from those I’d made at home.

So would I make the same decision and travel again? Without a doubt, the answer is yes. It was high in the hills of rugged Shan State that my choice became fully vindicated. Until that point, I hadn’t told anyone I encountered that I was pregnant. I wasn’t showing much and I didn’t expect or want special treatment. This trip was not about me. It was for finding out about Myanmar. I was having a fascinating time but becoming increasingly irritated by how little progress my research was making. Myanmar is staggeringly beautiful, but troubled, its people made wary by decades of military dictatorship and civil war. I found it impossible to engage in any conversation beyond pleasantries and often felt like the worst type of tourist – detached and voyeuristic – and so far from experiencing the country’s true soul.

Whilst walking with a local guide, however, we stopped to chat to a family outside their home. They produced rice crackers and my guide asked to show us where they were made. The family politely agreed, waving us into their home, but I felt like I was intruding and hung back. The guide insisted, saying the family would appreciate a few kyat in payment, and so reluctantly I went inside. The weather that day was blistering, pushing forty degrees, and the woman at the stove had a belly that was ready to burst. She was eight months pregnant, I discovered, sitting on the floor and dusty with ashes, still working at least a ten hour day.

My new friend and the house where she’d give birth

Shocked, I blurted out that I was pregnant too. The faces of the family instantly changed. Their smiles broadened, reaching their eyes for the first time. I was ushered to a seat and bombarded with questions. They were suddenly interested in me, genuinely so, and we ended up spending the afternoon there, sharing tea and stories about our lives. The woman told me how she would give birth at home, in the room where she worked with her mother and grandmother at her side, more than two hours by boat from the nearest medical facilities. When I left, I felt such a mix of emotions; elation that I’d forged my first real connection, and guilt for what privileged healthcare I received at home.

I mentioned my pregnancy much more often after then. I realised that being pregnant disarms people. It’s a leveller. It creates a connection between lives that are otherwise so different that the gap appears unbridgeable, starting conversations and finding common truths. It gave me a new glimpse into the generosity of human nature, too. There was the restaurant owner who sat at my table and went through his menu, telling me what he thought should eat for a healthy baby. (Stay away from bananas, he warned. Bad luck!) There was the taxi driver who insisted on turning off the meter and letting me sit in his air conditioner cab while a particularly heady bout of nausea passed. I was even given email addresses by people I met – a temple guide in Bagan who took me on a detour to see a local maternity hospital and a primary school teacher I met in a Mandalay café – and asked to send pictures when the baby was born. These are correspondences I maintain today. Everywhere I went, more than just providing a service or going through the motions of civil conversation, people cared. They were open and curious. They wanted to chat. Travelling pregnant was deepening my experience beyond anything I’d foreseen.

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A remote maternity clinic in Shan State

I’ve often thought about the woman I met in Shan State. My son’s birth had complications and I was profoundly grateful for the care I received, and to not to have been in a remote hillside hut. I’ve since learned that more than 99% of newborn deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, especially in Africa and South Asia, which includes Myanmar. It’s an appalling statistic. I hope she faced fewer issues than me. Whatever the outcome, meeting her strengthened my resolve to write about the subjects I do; the underdogs in precarious societies, those who are forced into a life of hardship through nothing more than the lottery of birth. This isn’t about me, I had thought to begin with, but I learned that being more willing talking about myself helped me find out about others, too. I’ll remember that on future travels, whether researching or relaxing, pregnant or not.

I’ve dedicated The Road to Rangoon to my son. It felt only fair since he’d taken so much of its journey with me, from that first scorching Burmese escapade, through draft and redraft as he slumbered by my desk. I’ve no doubt that without him my experience in Myanmar – and the novel that followed – would not have been so rich.

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Sunset over Inle Lake

Lucy Cruickshanks’ Top Ten Books on the East

I was spoilt for choice when H for History asked me to discuss my “Top Ten Books on the East” with them, this week. You can view my choices beside lots of other great bookish stuff if you have a Tumblr account, or have a nosey below, if you don’t!

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Ten of my favourite books on the East

By Lucy Cruickshanks

The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh takes the reader on an epic journey through more than a hundred years of Burmese history, chronicling the formation of a modern nation via the stories of three generations of intertwined families. It’s rich with cultural insights and colour, and with his ability to evoke a sense of time and place like few else, Ghosh deftly explores the complexities of colonialism, war, multiculturalism, dictatorship and the challenges to personal loyalties each brings.

Ambitious, charismatic and terrible, Balram Halwai realised young that success was rarely won through hard work and kindness and has instead risen through Indian society by an altogether more criminal route. In The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, Halwai recounts his journey with quick wit and a talent for self-justification, not so much describing how he navigated the country’s ambiguities and immoralities, as revelled in them. Winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2008, this is social commentary at its most caustic; a story of inequality, corruption and nation struggling to reconcile the glossy promises of modernity.

In Lost Horizon by James Hilton, troubled World War I veteran Hugh Conway’s plane is high-jacked. When it crashes in the remote mountains of Tibet, he finds his way to a curious utopian lamasery, Shangri-La, and is submerged in a paradise so ethereal and enthralling that the rest of the world can be forgotten, where tranquillity is only matched by beauty, but where as many questions are raised as answered and the peace may not be quite all it seems

Written by a former soldier in the North Vietnamese Army, Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong is a brave work of fiction that has been banned in Vietnam and seen the author imprisoned for her criticism of the government. The story follows a young Vietnamese woman on her journey into the 1980s Soviet Union in search of work. Stridently unsentimental and full of evocative imagery, the legacy of the American War weighs heavily, but this is a tale of a nation rebalancing, of the conflicts between tradition and progress, young and old, rural and urban, and the difficulties these cause for ordinary people.

Empire of the Sun by J. G. Ballard is a fictionalised account of the British author’s childhood in Japanese occupied Shanghai during the Second World War. When Jim is separated from his parents, he surrenders to the Japanese and is interned in a prisoner of war camp, learning to survive on his wits alone. Graphic and frank, and against a backdrop of death and deprivation, Ballard creates a coming-of-age story that feels honest and touching, in a world where uncertainty reigns supreme.

Set in Vietnam during the dying days of French rule, The Quiet American by Graham Greene uses the relationship between Fowler, a British correspondent, and Pyle, the quiet American of the title, to depict a complex world of post-colonial strife. Through masterful storytelling, poignant character details, perfect pacing and sharp, shrewd dialogue, Greene beautifully sets the romantic promise of Indochina against a prescient warning about the relationship between Vietnam and the West.

Fragrant Harbour by John Lanchester charts Hong Kong’s history since the 1930s through the eyes of four tangled but very diverse characters. With a love story at its heart, it traverses the whims of British colonialism, the horrors of Japanese occupation in World War II, the post-war exuberance and the uncertainties of the Chinese handover using clean, effortless prose and a sympathetic eye. Lanchester’s management of history is delicate, never impeding the story, but leaving the reader with a vivid insight into one of the world’s most vibrant cities.

Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle is a graphic travelogue that documents the year the author spent living in Myanmar’s capital, Yangon. While his wife travels the country working for Medicins San Frontier, Guy remains in the city with his young son and time on his hands. He’s baffled by the logic of the ruling military junta, clumsy at navigating cultural niceties and obsesses over rumours of an imminent bird-flu epidemic. Intelligent, affectionate, funny and surprisingly moving, this has to be one of the most original and perceptive accounts of contemporary Myanmar available today.

In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner is powerful fictionalisation of the author’s childhood experiences during the ruthlessness of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime. Narrated by seven-year old Raami, it tells of her family’s momentous fall from royal privilege, the murder of her relatives, the chaos of civil war and her survival through forced labour, sickness and starvation. Replete with myths and poetry, and as beautiful as it is harrowing, this is ultimately a tale of protecting childhood in a world of savagery, and the power of memories, resilience and hope.

In Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden, we learn about the life of Shin Dong-hyuk, the only person born into one of North Korea’s notorious prison camps to ever have escaped. His memories from inside the brutal totalitarian state are riveting and terrifying, and his adjustment to life outside, uncomfortable and sad. There’s an agonising sense of place that hangs over every page the memoir, which gives an unprecedented insight into the world’s most intensely secretive nation and will leave an indelible mark on your mind.