Saturday, January 16, 2016

Nina Milton

Nina Milton is most well known for her crime fiction series The Shaman Mysteries Series, published by Midnight Ink Books: In the Moors (2013), Unraveled Visions (2014) and Beneath the Tor (2015).

She also writes for children and her short stories have appeared in many literary journals and anthologies. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. She works in the UK for the Open Collage of the Arts and is Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Milton was born, educated and raised her two children in Bristol UK but now lives in west Wales with husband James, where she grows veg and keeps chickens.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I've chosen “Marmite books” for Writers Read. I'll explain: Marmite is the UK’s favourite yeast extract spread, and it is said that people either love or hate it. Some books gain a similar response from readers, and here are the ones that I loved reading in 2015, but some others hated. As a writer of crime, I’ve chosen three books that can broadly be described as ‘crime novels’.

I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers

Control. That’s one of the skills I admire in writer, and Owen Sheers fourth novel has it in ice cream scoops. I Saw a Man is a tantalizing and intriguing read. I noticed that reviewers can’t make up their mind about what this book is – billed from literature to crime thriller, it defies categories.

In the first sentence of the book, we’re informed that Michael Turner will experience ‘an event that will change all their lives‘ when he walks into his neighbour’s house, and the pages turn as if the wind is playing on them while I read on, slowly edging towards that discovery.

Michael needs to collect an item he loaned to Josh next door. He finds his neighbour’s backdoor open, and the family seem to be out, so he decides he’ll just take the item back. He steps cautiously, because he’s muddy from gardening, but as he goes, he suddenly smells the scent of his dead wife.

Michael is in search of tiny screwdriver – a marvellous allegory for the slow, persistent turn of tension within the story. By the halfway point I understood all Michael’s deepest hurts, an acute contrast to Josh’s life as a Lehman banker with an adorable family. I was desperate to know what happens in Josh’s house that changes Michael’s already shattered life and Josh’s perfect one.

By the apogee of the story, when Michael finally witnesses the cruelly unnecessary event, we have also met Daniel, a retired US officer who now operates drones and is wracked with guilt over the death of Michael’s wife. These two men become further entwined by their equal understanding of what secrecy and culpability can do to a person.

Sheer’s writing is lyrical and probing, it grips and entangles the reader. He is adept at using symbols to emphasis what he wants the story to be about – Michael is writing a biography on the neurosurgical location of empathy in the brain, and I felt that that wasn’t just because Daniel, Michael and Josh needed to learn that lesson, but because the reader needs to, as well. None of the men in this book are perfect. They are human. All three made a single horrifying mistake and are paying for it. I didn’t have to like any of them, but, because of that, I did.

So why Marmite? The shocking change that comes mid-way isn’t for everyone. To some, it seemed the novel fell apart after this point, as if the denouement foreshortened the story. I believe those readers were not able to see far enough into what Sheers was trying to do with his book, and I commend him for taking risks and avoiding using the usual formulas to make his point.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

A second thing I like to find in the crime fiction I read is originality. Maud, who relates her own tale, is a woman in her late eighties who is finally falling victim to dementia. She can still function, but things are getting confused in her mind. The mysteries of the past are connecting illogically to those of the present…the shocking disappearance of her newly married sister, Sukie shortly after the end of the second World War, seventy years ago…and the odd disappearance of her friend Elizabeth, who is now no longer living in her house.

This book was loved by many readers, but others found the plotting too simplistic and perhaps a bit implausible. Healey uses the device of Maud’s forgetfulness to allow Elizabeth’s story to extend even though the explanation for her disappearance is fairly obvious, and the solution to Sukie’s story is revealed despite the long passage of time. But as someone who has cared for two ‘mums’ with Alzheimer’s, I could identify with so many of the characters and their experience of this awful disease. It’s easy to be impatient with an elderly person who is clearly living in a fantasy world, and this story demonstrates that sometimes, they do know what they are talking about, even when it’s gibberish.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

This fiction is partially historic; gunmen did burst into Bob Marley’s grand, colonial house in the nineteen-seventies and rain fire on those inside, seriously injuring, among others, Marley and his wife. This posse went on to control the crack trade of New York and Miami. But this isn’t a simple recounting of the facts, mostly because the facts themselves, even before they were fictionalized, are not simple.

Reading this book is like entering a nightmare you hoped you’d never have again. It spans generations, countries, and political intrigues. So many voices, including a ghost, a hooker and members of the CIA. James delves into the slums of Kingston Jamaica like a midwife with birthing forceps, dragging amazing characters from that womb to make them…sing, shout, whisper, weep, bawl, and scream right here, right now…to quote the book.

There is a divide between the people who loved and hated this book, in my opinion; the latter just need to read it again. Or read it all, this time, because there is no doubt that this is a dense, complex, sprawl of a story. It is inventive and ambitious and, therefore difficult to read. As I’m not Caribbean, the Jamaican voices often defeated me, but I found playing Bob Marley classics in the background really helped take me there.

I’m reminded of the great classics of the past: War and Peace, Dr Zhivago, Beloved. I think A Brief History of Seven Killings will join these books. In fact, if you, like me, possess a copy of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, then you might watch and wait for the upgrade, 1002 Books...because this novel, so worthy of the prizes it’s won, should be in it.
Visit Nina Milton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue