Tag Archives: Felicity Harley
Felicity Harley has been previously promoted on my other blog, Reading Recommendations, and was also a guest on this blog, writing about book clubs. I recently assisted Felicity by beta-reading and polish-editing this latest novel of hers and was struck by the fact that she told me she was referring to it as “Science AND Fiction” rather than the better-known genre of Science Fiction, so I asked her to explain why.
I’ve always been a fan of science fiction. My favorite writers are Herbert, Asimov, Bradbury and Orwell. I tend to like science fiction writers who explore what happens to human beings within the context of societies like ours which divorce us from our essential humanity. That’s why I like Farenheit 451, 1984 and The End of Eternity.
I think Herbert was quite prescient when he wrote Dune, because he imagined a planet and human beings living there who had to exist without water. In fact, he was one of the first authors to popularize the importance of preserving our planet’s ecology. In my mind as well, all these authors in one way or another, examine the relationships between religion, politics and power, and also between bureaucracy and government.
Because of my own fascination with these themes, and because I’m also a student of social science by training, I set out to write a quartet of novels placing a group of humans in a futuristic society that had failed to stop runaway climate change. I was fascinated by Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything, and both she and her book served as inspirations to me.
Before reading Naomi Klein however, I had written what is now the fourth book in the quartet, My Quantum Life. This book was based on Michael Talbot’s book, The Holographic Universe. I have always been fascinated by the spiritual aspects of quantum physics, and Talbot’s book put the science of it all into perspective. It was very readable for a neophyte like myself, and it clicked.
The Burning Years is the first book in my four book series titled Until This Last and has just been published by Double Dragon Press. It explores a lot of hard science around space travel, bionics, and what is causing climate change. Besides Klein, my mentor for this book was Dr. Rachel Armstrong. On my site for the book you’ll find out all about her. She is a remarkable woman and a brilliant scientist. Dr. Rachel Chen, who in my novel is captain of the world ship Persephone, is based on how I imagine Armstrong to be. In my book, Persephone is a human ark; this actually exists, and is being conceived of right now by Rachel Armstrong and a team of scientists. It’s built around the idea of a renewable chemical technology called protocells. In the future, protocells could replace plastics and also animal products and will be essential in the preservation of our planet.
My ark explores Mars and Europa then sets sail for Alpha Centauri. The Australian scientist Wallace Thornhill was very helpful to me as I wrote these sections. He introduced me to an electrical universe and warm nuclear fusion technology, and I learned more from him on this subject than I ever thought I was capable. He would send me wonderful emails that took me several days to decode. His final words to me were, “Don’t worry about the science, leave that to scientists, use your writing as a springboard for your imagination.”
Besides hard science however, The Burning Years explores lots of ways we could live on a burnt out planet in the future, and it has two re-engineered transhuman beings who do just that. Introducing them as characters allowed me to explore the whole field of Artificial Intelligence and how two super humans, a male and female, might think and act. Again the social scientist at play. How would their biology, psychology and past influence them. How would their male and female genetics and gender-biases, play a part?
The arc of the plot is set against a U.S. government of plutocrats that has fled underground, who have saved themselves and a few others, the brightest and the best. Of course there are insurgents, and one of them is a female scientist who is heavily involved in geo-engineering the weather. The book takes place about sixty years in the future, just around the time when we may experience dramatic effects from climate change.
I deliberately did not want to write a dystopian book, but one that was full of hope based on our finer instincts as a species, our desire to return to smaller communities, and our current and future knowledge of technology. I am not good with violence, unlike George R.R. Martin who very skillfully explores all those dark sides of humanity and creates fabulous villains. My villains tend to be more grey and struggle internally with a lot of philosophical and moral dilemmas. My women are very strong, just like Martin’s, and my main female character, Inanna. would definitely be friends with Daeneyrs Targaryen.
Now I just have to figure out how to get people to take climate change seriously. I plan to use the book as a tool to get readers involved. The Burning Years is being published as an eBook by Double Dragon Publishing in April 2017. I chose Deron Douglas as my publisher because he loved the book on first read, and I just couldn’t take a chance waiting for other big-name SF publishers to give me an answer.
Please check out my site to buy the book and I would appreciate it if you review it on Amazon for me. And, while on my site, see how you can become involved with 350.org or any other organizations working to stop elements of man-made climate change, so as to keep our planet safe and livable in the future.
Felicity’s new novel has recently been promoted on Reading Recommendations. She is also a fellow-Bequian!
As I prepare the manuscript to be sent off for eBook formatting and online sales, I’m also receiving great blurbs about the new novel, One Woman’s Island, from advance readers who offered to write a review for promotion purposes.
Great news, Susan Toy fans! The long-awaited sequel to her acclaimed novel, Island in the Clouds, has finally arrived. With a sharp eye for description and a well-tuned ear for dialogue (and local dialect!) Toy tells how a recently widowed Canadian woman moves to the tiny Caribbean island of Bequia to find solace, only to discover it’s not quite the paradise she hoped for. A tasty meal of storytelling that comes with complementary recipes!
~ Brian Brennan, Postmedia newspapers best-selling author
One Woman’s Island blends up a splash of sun and fun, with a hearty dose of reality about island life and its people. Toss in a murder or two and you have the perfect recipe for a memorable visit in paradise. Susan Toy has once again toured us around the island of Bequia, where she’s shown us that all is not as it appears in this lush and tropical setting, and that people often hide their flaws and indiscretions not only from the world, but also from themselves. P.S. I think this book should come with a warning that snacks will be necessary to stave off the hunger incited by the contents!
~ Cheryl Schenk, author of The Stibil Forest Adventures: Little Synni’s Moonlight Mischief
I just finished reading One Woman’s Island and thought it was splendid. Once again, Susan Toy brings the real Bequia to a fictional world and uses that combination to great effect. Toy does a wonderful job with the characters’ emotional lives and backstories, using a certain level of implication about a lot of it, which I always like. This wasn’t just the main character, Mariana’s, romp in Bequia. It was a powerful effort to make sense of her life up till then and to figure out, in many ways, who she really is. It’s a character study and an exploration of a foreign culture, maybe on the order of Under the Tuscan Sun. Congratulations to Susan Toy on another feather in the Bequia Perspectives cap!
~ Kevin Brennan, editor and author of Parts Unknown, Yesterday Road, Occasional Soulmates, Town Father
Thanks to all reviewers! I’ll share more reviews and blurbs with you here as I receive them.
I’ve written about book clubs in the past and talked about their necessity and importance, not only for club members but also for we authors who are trying to get attention for our books. I don’t belong to a book club myself, but I did recently publish a guest post on my blog from Felicity Harley, titled My two book clubs and why I love them. Felicity pretty well sums up the reasons most readers join book clubs. I know the camaraderie and a shared interest in reading and books are the main reasons I’ve heard others have joined them. And definitely, having your book read by a book club, or being invited as a guest author to a meeting to speak about your book, are certainly the reasons why most authors I know love book clubs!
I was thinking about recommending books this morning, about how we as readers hear about “what to read next” and how book clubs figure into the bigger picture of promoting our books to more readers. My mind was working in the way it usually does (and I know bjH is probably nodding her head right now in recognition, thinking to herself, “Oh, no, Susan. Not again …) and one thought about book clubs and their members led to another thought of how those book clubs could help spread the word further than to just their immediate membership about the books they’ve enjoyed.
What if book clubs were to take their discussion another step and post a review of a book they’ve discussed? That review could be posted to Goodreads or Amazon or the local library’s website. Anywhere online, really, as long as it catches the attention of more readers. And this review could be whatever the club decides, by whomever wishes to write it. But it should be a consensus of the members’ opinions and perhaps include some of the more important points of discussion during the meeting.
This way the book club would receive some public recognition and, trust me, those authors whose books are reviewed would be tickled pink! It’s one thing knowing that 10 or 12 club members have enjoyed what you’ve written. But if the club chooses to also share the news of their enjoyment with the reading public in general .. Well, then! Let me just say that I for one would be ecstatic if I suddenly saw a review on Goodreads posted by a book club that chose to read and discuss my book! (Besides which, we don’t always know a club has chosen to read our books in the first place. Just knowing that has happened would make me happy!)
So, is this idea do-able? Are there book club members out there reading this now who would be willing to suggest my proposal to their club, and possibly act on reviewing books publicly that they’ve read and discussed previously?
Another place where I’d be more than happy to post positive reviews from book clubs of any Reading Recommendations-promoted authors they’ve discussed is on my review blog, reading recommendations reviewed. (Authors I’ve promoted on Reading Recommendations are listed here and here. I also recommend you check through those two lists if you’re looking for ideas on which books and authors to discuss next.)
Please do share this post online, through social media and your blogs, but especially directly with any book clubs you know that might take me up on my suggestion. I’ve noticed there are book club blogs online, as well. I think they might like this concept. And please remember too that many public libraries and book stores also host book club discussions!
I don’t need to tell anyone reading this blog post that we authors manage to survive and keep writing through receiving good reviews that attract more new readers to our work. A positive review coming from a group of happy readers would constitute a major endorsement for many of us.
(So what do you think, bjH? A good idea this time?)
While contest judges may not have considered my novel worthy enough to make their shortlist, I’ve just received far-better validation from a friend who offered to read and write an advance review I can now use in pre-publication promotion.
And what validation and praise it is, coming from an author who also intimately knows Bequia!
Thanks to Felicity Harley who I promoted previously on Reading Recommendations, and who sent me congratulations on Reading Recommendations‘ anniversary, and wrote a guest post about her two book clubs, and wrote a fabulous review on Amazon of Island in the Clouds … which is how we first “met” online, and since then in person this year while we were both on Bequia.
Here’s what Felicity has to say about One Woman’s Island:
Among its other virtues, One Woman’s Island beautifully captures the spirit of being on the island of Bequia. I also enjoyed the fact that the author’s ear for the local dialogue is faultless.
Besides its lush and exotic setting however, throughout its pages, the book accurately and with pathos reflects the end of an unsatisfactory marriage for narrator Mariana, who is constantly searching for something meaningful to take its place.
There are a slew of interesting characters in the book as well, including a talking parrot and the visitor from hell.
As Mariana tries to sort out her own life, she takes a young girl, Verity, and her two children under her wing, and is criticized about her “plan” in no uncertain terms by Al, one of the die-hard ex-pats who live there:
“I’m so sick and tired of you do-goodnik, butt-in-ski foreigners who come here with your socialist attitudes thinking life should be a bed of roses for everyone in the world. It’s not. What you don’t understand about Bequia is while it doesn’t have an organized social safety net like what you’re used to in pinko Canada, the people here do generally look after their own—maybe not to the level of your satisfaction, but there haven’t been any cases of people starving to death from neglect on this island lately, so far as I know. Am I right, Doc?”
Besides having interesting and believable characters, there is also a fast-moving plot that keeps the reader engaged, including several murders taking place over the course of the winter months Mariana is staying on Bequia.
Perhaps the heart and soul of the book is summed up at the end by Mariana and Tex, a fast-talking, larger-than-life guy with a heart of gold, and one of my favorite characters:
“When I came here last October, I thought Bequia was going to be paradise, Tex,” I said quietly.
“Here’s how I see it: any place you are can be paradise. It’s all in your mind; it’s whatever you want it to be.”
With its complex characters, fast-moving plot, authentic setting and underlying seriousness of questions so skillfully raised, One Woman’s Island is a book that should garner a wide readership, one far larger than those who are already familiar with Bequia.
But for those of us like myself who are familiar with the setting, we’ll enjoy the island the author presents in her book as one we’ve come to know and love, despite its all-too-human complexities.
I’d better get cracking and prepare that MS for ePublication! And I now have my “quotable quote” with that second-last paragraph. It’s perfect for advertising copy!!
Thanks, Felicity! I just can’t thank you enough!
When Felicity Harley was on Bequia recently we managed to get together a few times and talk about books and writing – of course! Felicity had mentioned that she enjoyed belonging to not just one book club but two, and that some members Skyped-in for their book discussions! Great idea, I thought, so I asked Felicity if she would explain how these two clubs worked. (Books, friendship, discussion, food, wine … what could be better? Readers, do you belong to an interesting book club that is different from the ordinary? Please tell us about your club in the comments below.)
My two book clubs and why I love them
by Felicity Harley
I am in two book clubs and I love them both. In the first, I am lucky enough to find myself in the company of a group of women, many of whom Skype in from all over the country and world, and who really enjoy discussing books in great detail. We also have a dynamic leader, Susan Hoffman Fishman, at whose home we always meet. She asks us to answer questions about the book we’ve most recently read, and also summarizes each meeting we have afterwards. In this club we read international books and choose them by consensus. Susan, an artist, writer and social activist prepares a list of potential books to which we all contributethen two or three times a year we pick six or seven books from it.
Over the next few months we’re reading the following:
Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli (Mexico)
“In part a portrait of the artist as a young woman, this deceptively modest-seeming, astonishingly inventive novel creates an extraordinary intimacy, a sensibility so alive it quietly takes over all your senses, quivering through your nerve endings, opening your eyes and heart. Youth, from unruly student years to early motherhood and a loving marriage–and then, in the book’s second half, wilder and something else altogether, the fearless, half-mad imagination of youth, I might as well call it–has rarely been so freshly, charmingly, and unforgettably portrayed. Valeria Luiselli is a masterful, entirely original writer.”
The Bone People by Keri Hulme (New Zealand)
In a tower on the New Zealand Sea lives Kerewin Holmes, part Maori, part European, an artist estranged from her art, a woman in exile from her family. One night her solitude is disrupted by a visitor—a speechless, mercurial boy named Simon, who tries to steal from her and then repays her with his most precious possession. As Kerewin succumbs to Simon’s feral charm, she also falls under the spell of his Maori foster father Joe, who rescued the boy from a shipwreck and now treats him with an unsettling mixture of tenderness and brutality. Out of this unorthodox trinity Keri Hulme has created what is at once a mystery, a love story, and an ambitious exploration of the zone where Maori and European New Zealand meet, clash, and sometimes merge.
The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vasquez (Columbia)
When Gabriel Santoro’s book is scathingly reviewed by his own father, a famous Bogotá rhetorician, Gabriel is devastated. Cataloguing the life of longtime family friend Sara Guterman, a Jewish German immigrant who escaped to Colombia during the 1930s, Gabriel’s book seemed an innocent attempt to preserve a piece of his country’s rapidly vanishing past. But as Gabriel pours over his research looking for clues to his father’s anger, he discovers a sinister secret locked in the pages. After his father’s death, and with the help of Sara Guterman and his father’s girlfriend, Angelina, Gabriel peels back layer after shocking layer of family history-from the streets of 1940s Bogotá to a stranger’s doorstep in 1990s Medellín-to reveal a hidden portrait of their past-dark, complex, and inescapable.
The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna (Finland)
A Finnish journalist and a photographer out on assignment one June evening suddenly hit a young hare on a country road. The photographer, ultimately unsympathetic, abandons his journalist companion Vatanen, who sets off to find the wounded hare. Vatanen develops a close bond with the hare and in their adventures together; they witness people’s avarice, inhumanness, hypocrisy, cruelty, participation in bureaucracy, and mere existence, rather than living, in the world. This last realization in particular is life altering for Vatanen: he quits his job, discards his hopeless marriage, sacrifices financial security, and sells his most prized possession (a boat). All this Vatanen replaces with a life of odd jobs and on-the-road experiences. This picaresque novel could simply depict a middle-age crisis, but it reaches beyond fantasy or fiction, becoming mythic in its universal themes. The story is inventive, satirical, and quite humorous. It is also refreshingly sentimental in the sense that Paasilinna reaffirms our connection with the animal world and our inherent need for happiness and freedom to maintain quality of life.
As an example of the detail we go into at our meetings here is the summary of our latest book, The Automobile Club of Egypt (**warning, spoilers here if you plan on reading this book):
“There was no examination of cars in our discussion last night of The Automobile Club of Egypt by Alaa Al Aswany (Egypt) but plenty of conversation on unequal power in cross cultural relationships and the demeaning and cruel impact of the British occupation on the servants (staff) who worked in the club and their families.
‘The novel begins with what we all agreed was a distracting and disjointed few chapters that briefly identified the inventors of the automobile and informed the reader that two of the characters in the book (Saleha and Kamel) would be telling their versions of this tale in their own words. Although the author does relate only their stories in the first person throughout the novel and the rest of the stories in the third person, we concluded that it was an unnecessary device that didn’t really add anything to the storytelling.
“We did agree, however, that Aswany’s depiction of how hard it was for most of those who lived under the oppression of British rule to sacrifice their sense of ‘security’ for the risky possibility of freedom was quite brilliantly done. Over and over, the staff of the club stated how they preferred stability and rules, even if those rules included beatings, to the chaos of the unknown. Some expressed the sentiment that “we need to be beaten” in order to function well and that the cruel Alku, the Egyptian representative of the British rule, was there to take care of them as a father takes care of his children. Alku’s overt belief in the white man as inherently superior and the servant as having ‘no value’ permeate the way in which the club operates. He says, “The enormous distance between the master and his servant reflects a universal truth as undeniable as the sunrise or the orbit of the moon.” And, the cross cultural relationships between Kamel and Mitzy, James Wright and Odette, Mahmoud and Rosa, Mahmoud and Dagmar and Saleha and Mitzy revealed what was ultimately possible and what was not under such conditions. Those who insisted on a measure of honor like Kamel and Saleha’s father, who expressed that he was not an animal, were brutally punished.
“Abdoun, Odette and other members of the secret organization fighting for the end of British rule, expressed quite eloquently what that rule represented: the ‘rape’ of Egypt, an ‘organized theft and that the British regarded the Egyptians openly as ‘dirty, stupid, filthy liars and thieves’.
“Just as the beginning of the novel was awkward, its abrupt ending also left us unsatisfied. Since the book was written so recently, we spent some time talking about its relevance to contemporary Egyptian politics and the author’s involvement in political activities there.”
In my second book club I am in the company of women who have been my friends for over 35 years. We rotate the meeting around our different houses and the host picks the books. We read a variety of eclectic fiction and non-fiction some of which I skim and some of which I read. The food is always excellent and amongst our group we have a chef who prepares the most delicious feasts for us.
I’m hosting in April and for my book I have picked Gloria Steinham’s autobiography. It’s a timely book especially with elections coming up this year and a potential first, well-qualified, female president of the US.
We’ve spent many a happy summer evening on our various decks sipping wonderful wine and eating chocolate brought by one of our members whose daughter lives in Turin. We love to discuss politics and since we’re mostly avid Democrats, it works.
Here are a couple of recipes to share from Melodie’s kitchen:
Pear and Cheese Crostini
16 3/8-inch-thick baguette-style French bread slices (I have the bakery department slice the baguette so I get perfect uniform slices)
8 ounces taleggio cheese, rind removed and sliced, or 4 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1 small bosc pear, cored and very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons honey
Place bread slices on a baking sheet. Broil 4 to 5 inches from the heat for 30 to 60 seconds or till bread is toasted. Turn each bread slice, and top with a slice of cheese. Broil 30 to 60 seconds more or till cheese is bubbly and bread is toasted. Top each bread slice with a pear slice, and lightly drizzle with honey.
Felicity Harley is a published journalist, author and poet, as well as a human rights and social activist. She has been previously featured on Reading Recommendations.
I haven’t actually “met” Felicity Harley in person yet, although we’ve shared the island of Bequia for many years now. I knew of Felicity locally through her philanthropy in conceiving of a couple of successful organizations that help the local people of the island help themselves. Then I discovered she was also a published author, so I invited her to promote her books on Reading Recommendations. And she has been a staunch supporter of me, of my writing, and the blog ever since! We try to keep in more regular contact now, especially whenever I’m on-island, so I can apprise her of all the local “news” … I’m happy to say we will finally have a chance to meet in person this winter when Felicity returns to Bequia for a visit. And we’re already discussing ideas of holding a writing retreat/readers’ con/some-such-gathering-involving-words on the island! More on that later, though. Here’s what Felicity wrote to celebrate Reading Recommendations 2nd Anniversry!
I’ve been thinking about how entertaining it was reading your book, Island in the Clouds, that takes place on Bequia. It was really fun to guess who your characters were! Thank you so much for your support of my writing, it has really meant a lot to me.
It’s wonderful to share such a beautiful place with a fellow writer, and so I send a few poems about one of my favorite places in the world and dedicated to our joint love of Bequia, sweet oh so sweet!
For a dear friend and neighbour, Lou Keane, who died this year
We met on the plane
coming over to Bequia
she’d been all the way to China
to see the terra-cota statues
and the Great Wall.
Now she’s coming back
to this nowhere place in the
middle of the Atlantic Ocean,
glad to be home
to smell the wild frangipanis
The feel of the heat under my feet
the sky like the underside of a shadow
the wind moving the sea-grape leaves
the spume of the ocean pushing up towards the rocks
the smiling boys I’ve known all their lives
diving into the surf like sharp arrows
coming up for breath, human flotsam
no separation between them and the white
and black of the ocean
that stretches as far as eternity.
A tree bent like an old women
held up against the wind
on a city street corner.
Silence and the wash of it
lonely and warm,
as I clasp my knees,
salt hair sticking against my lips,
knowing that I will always
remember the sound and smell of it.
Thank God for the rain
when it comes it pounds
the ground with heartbeats,
relieving the dry earth
till it runs rivers of soft, brown leaves
and dirt down the gullies
that breath a hot moist smell
that grows fecund
in the mid-afternoon
and the plants and trees
moan with delight
as it passes its silver blades
flashing across their green swell.
Flowers open to drink
and then it is gone
leaving the birds to sing joyfully
in the calm transparent afterlight.
Plastic tablecloth with poppies,
a whitewashed outdoor kitchen,
and a washing machine
that looks like it came from the sixties.
Water is scarce here,
so we dump the laundry
out after one cycle
and rinse it in a big steel tub
then in large white, plastic buckets
before we wring it and hang it on the line
at the back of the house.
She squeezes me orange juice
hot from the morning sun that has fallen
on the fruit’s skin as it brushes the walls of her kitchen.
A quick twist of her strong hands
and the glass is full of sweet
We sit in front of the house
with a view of boats far below in the harbor,
under a paw paw tree with maybe
twenty huge green fruit
that look like footballs of different shapes and sizes.
We chat of children and grandchildren.
Its far from my life at home
in front of a computer
inside my office all day,
when I come home, late at night.