Blog Tour: Space Academy by Hannah Hopkins – Guest Post

Today I’m pleased to host Hannah Hopkins, author of Space Academy as she talks about writing women in fiction. I think we can all agree that often women are not fully realised in fiction, and I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

Writing women in fiction. How to help the feminist cause.

Hannah Hopkins

 It’s strange to think that not so long ago, women were not allowed to be writers. Our voice was stifled in so many ways, but the limitations on a woman’s career in the literary world was a huge disadvantage to feminism, with women forced to take up pen names that concealed their gender and focus on male ideals and values in their writing. Indeed, even J.K Rowling was advised to change her pen name from ‘Joanne’ in order to sell more Harry Potter books. Although she may not have specifically been told to hide the fact she is a woman in order to be successful, the undertones are certainly there!

 Now that we are finally (slowly) being allowed to use our voices, how can we use fiction and literature to further feminism? How can we use the written word in the fight against oppression? I’ve thought long and hard about what a ‘helpful’ portrayal of a female character means. There is a still a huge amount of debate around this topic, and in this post, I wish to express my own opinions only on what I think it means to create good representations of women in literature. 

 The first topic is one that has caused many debates between me and my friends. The simple question of whether male authors should write about feminism, or is it better for them to leave it to female writers? And further than this, can male authors write female characters that we can identify with, removing subconscious stereotypes that might slip through the net? My personal opinion is that male authors should allow the more complex issues of feminism to female writers, who have experienced oppression and sexism first-hand. 

 Similar to the issue of racism, which, as white authors, I don’t believe we should try and speak on with authority (but should instead try to make space for people of colour to tell their own story) I believe male authors would better ally themselves with feminism if they actively made room for women to use our own voice. It would be irresponsible to say that white authors should not include people of colour in their novels at all because they have not experienced racism. Instead, it is advised that they should do research, and seek to consciously unpick stereotypes from their mind that influence their writing in ways they don’t realise. It should absolutely be done, because omitting race from a novel (as I have learnt) is making just as strong of a statement as actively including it. The issue of race does, however, need to be handled with care and consideration. We all make mistakes, but being receptive to criticism and being conscious of our failings helps us to do better next time. With the same logic, I think it is important that any non-female identifying author should educate themselves around the topic before bringing their ideas to the page.

 A good place to start is to research different depictions of women and how well they were received. They then need to work at becoming self-aware, understanding how the patriarchy and society might shape their female characters in ways they do not intend, furthering stereotypes and misogyny without conscious intention. 

 I think it is possible for men to create relatable representations of women, and that it has been done on occasion, most likely as a result of research and sensitivity! One example that I personally enjoy is George R.R Martin’s representation of women in A Song Of Ice And Fire. In my opinion, his female characters are varied and complex, and are treated with the same intricacy as the male characters. 

 So, what do female readers want? What can authors do to create well-rounded characters that support feminism and produce good and varied representation? My personal belief is that we need to just let our female characters be human! Let them be complicated. Let them make mistakes without condemning them. Allow them to be sexual or prudish without shaming them. Allow them to be ambitious without portraying them as cold and unfeeling. Allow an older female character to be single without also making her bitter and resentful. Let women make the choice to be alone, instead of portraying it as a punishment for her flaws.

Give women agency over their own lives! Give them some interests that don’t revolve around relationships. Let them wear makeup AND be clever. Let them be fashionable and academic. Remove the boxes and the pigeon-holes. Remove the stereotypes for both cisgender and trans women, and anyone else who identifies as female, and allow them to grow and develop without constraint. If we begin to give our women such freedom in literature, it will begin to translate into real life. Fiction is a great tool for advocacy, and if we can start to imagine women living without shame or oppression, one day we hopefully wont have to imagine anymore!

In 2017, Hannah Hopkins released a self-published novel entitled ‘The Split’; the story of four teenagers navigating life after Earth as they journey through space to a new planet. Two years later, the book was picked up by ‘The Conrad Press’ and re-vamped as ‘Space Academy,’ with a new cover, new title and new additions to the story. ‘Space Academy’ was released in 2020, kickstarting Hannah’s career as a writer. 

Hannah is currently busy writing a historical fiction novel with a feminist twist. She spends the rest of her time working at a University and caring for her two young children in the UK.

You can connect with Hannah on her website, or via Facebook.

Space Academy by Hannah Hopkins

It’s the year 2100. Earth is dying. A young woman, Elsie, has risked everything to get her newborn son, Will, aboard ‘The Mayflower’ – a spaceship that will transport a select number of people to a new planet they can call home. Elsie’s luck takes a turn when she discovers the captain of ‘The Mayflower’ is an old friend. He allows her to board with her son, giving them a place on the luxurious Floor One, where they live amongst the most honoured of ‘The Mayflower’s’ passengers.

Thirteen years later, and Will is ready to start school at Space Academy, an institute specialising in subjects such as Alien Studies, Technology, and Rocket Control. While a pupil there, Will starts to uncover secrets about his father’s death, becoming wrapped in a mystery that he and his friends must solve if they are to have any hope of saving humanity from the threat that lies in wait.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of Space Academy by Hannah Hopkins. Why not check out some of the blogs below for exclusive content and reviews?

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Blog Tour: Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Recently separated Toby Fleishman is suddenly, somehow–and at age forty-one, short as ever–surrounded by women who want him: women who are self-actualized, women who are smart and interesting, women who don’t mind his height, women who are eager to take him for a test drive with just the swipe of an app. Toby doesn’t mind being used in this way; it’s a welcome change from the thirteen years he spent as a married man, the thirteen years of emotional neglect and contempt he’s just endured. Anthropologically speaking, it’s like nothing he ever experienced before, particularly back in the 1990s, when he first began dating and became used to swimming in the murky waters of rejection.

But Toby’s new life–liver specialist by day, kids every other weekend, rabid somewhat anonymous sex at night–is interrupted when his ex-wife suddenly disappears. Either on a vision quest or a nervous breakdown, Toby doesn’t know–she won’t answer his texts or calls.

Is Toby’s ex just angry, like always? Is she punishing him, yet again, for not being the bread winner she was? As he desperately searches for her while juggling his job and parenting their two unraveling children, Toby is forced to reckon with the real reasons his marriage fell apart, and to ask if the story he has been telling himself all this time is true.

What I Thought:

Why oh why is it so easy to dash out a few lines of a review for a book that you thought was ok, but so difficult to put across your feelings for a book you love? This is the dilemma I find myself in with Fleishman is in Trouble, a book that I was so glad I was reading on Kindle as there was so much to highlight and come back to.

It’s an unusual book in that, by the end, no-one really comes out of it well – put-upon Toby with the high-flying wife and distinct lack of ambition, Rachel, who works all the hours but fails to have a conversation with her husband, Libby the some-time narrator whose high hopes for herself have morphed into suburbia and Seth who has never done what everyone expects, but suddenly does a 180. All of these people are beautifully written to be the flawed people that we really all are on the inside.

A good two thirds of the book are from Toby’s perspective as he tries to navigate the dating scene – or the dating app scene – as a newly-divorced man, but really inhabiting the primary caregiver role that is normally taken by women. This is so clever, as we read about Toby’s adventures in parenting, and all the support he gets because he’s ‘playing daddy’ while knowing all the while that if a woman was going through the same thing it would be taken for granted and she would just be expected to get on with it.

Then, suddenly, we start hearing from Rachel and realise that many of the things that Toby has told himself, his family and friends, and colleagues about Rachel and their marriage is not really what was going on at all. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it is all his fault; it is more a reminder that we don’t talk to each other as often as we should.

My favourite character was Libby – magazine journo turned suburban mom who is just realising that women over forty are invisible. Not to get all gloomy or anything, but that is something I’ve very much begun to realise recently as I’ve moved into that age bracket. Libby’s worked, she’s had her kids and, aside from trying to guide them into being reasonably rounded human beings, just what is she good for now?

Most of my highlights in the book were on this topic, funnily enough!

They say that books find you at the right time and in this case it’s definitely true, and reassuring to know that my own muddled feelings on slipping into an invisible middle age are not unique to me. Many of this book’s reviews written by female readers touch upon this, so I’m working through them with interest. With that in mind, this would be a fantastic book club pick.

Having said the above though, I don’t want to present this book as only having value to women. The themes in it are universal and there are things that can be interpreted in so many different ways, so I would recommend it to all – although people of a certain age may find a few things ring very much more true for them!

Fleishman is in Trouble is published by Wildfire.

You can find out more about Taffy Brodesser-Akner on her website, or you can connect with her on Twitter.

Taffy Brodesser-Akner has also written a short sequel to Fleishman is in Trouble, which is a day in Toby’s life during COVID, Fleishman is in Lockdown, and it’s published on The Cut website.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the paperback release of Fleishman is in Trouble. Check out the blogs below for more reviews and exclusive content.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review via Netgalley. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

‘Awfully opinionated for a girl’ is what they call Hillary as she grows up in her Chicago suburb.

Smart, diligent, and a bit plain, that’s the general consensus. Then Hillary goes to college, and her star rises. At Yale Law School, she continues to be a leader— and catches the eye of driven, handsome and charismatic Bill. But when he asks her to marry him, Hillary gives him a firm No.

How might things have turned out for them, for America, for the world itself, if Hillary Rodham had really turned down Bill Clinton?

With her sharp but always compassionate eye, Sittenfeld explores the loneliness, moral ambivalence and iron determination that characterise the quest for high office, as well as the painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world ruled by men.

What I Thought:

What an intriguing prospect Rodham is. While alternate history is a really fun genre to read, I was slightly hesitant with this book as I don’t think I’ve ever read an alternate history book where the subject is a real person who is still living. Would the fact that Hillary Rodham-Clinton is still with us colour my enjoyment of the book?

Apart from the tiniest tickle at the back of your mind when you remember who the book is about, there’s nothing here to spoil your enjoyment of what is a fantastic read.

We join Hillary Rodham at Yale and go into detail as she meets Bill Clinton and moves to Arkansas to be with him as he takes his first run at being elected to Congress. But where the real Hillary and Bill married and became the ultimate 90s power couple, this story sees Hillary leave Bill, literally driving away into the sunset.

Fast forward 15 years and Hillary is now a law professor at Northwestern, butting up against workplace misogyny and considering her own political ambitions. Fast forward again, and Hillary is eyeing a run for President – is Curtis Sittenfeld going to give us the President the world deserved in 2016?

It’s a really canny choice for Curtis Sittenfeld to use Hillary Rodham-Clinton as the focus of the novel, precisely because we know how real life turned out, but really this book could be about any woman of Hillary’s age who has persevered in the face of direct and indirect bias in life and work, purely because of her sex. There are some really interesting observations that could only have been made by a woman, mainly based around how women are perceived as they age and the innate suspicion of any woman who chooses to remain single, childless or both.

You could highlight whole chapters of the book which show how female political candidates have to think twice as hard as their male counterparts about running in the first place, and then how they have to work twice as hard to be elected. I can’t think about the perfectly observed sections about how the press will criticise every facet of a female candidate, while ignoring huge red flags in her male opponents without rage. It’s all true and we see it every day in the media.

The alternate version of Hillary’s life is interwoven with real-life political events, which inspire her and others and also provide some shocking statistics – for instance, in 1991, only 2 women sat in the US Senate, and neither of those women were invited to serve in the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, despite testimony from a woman he had allegedly sexually harassed. This real-life event inspired several women to run for Senate the following year, of which five were elected.

This tying in of real-life events has made me want to grab Hillary Rodham-Clinton’s What Happened, just to see which events in her personal life were true and also what she thought of the events that inspired her alter-ego.

Rodham may be a book about one woman, but there is so much in it that speaks to all women. There are experiences in it that any woman could have experienced – even as far as wanting to go for a swim but forgetting to shave your legs. From the mundane to the monumental, there are lessons for us all here and it’s brilliant to be able to read them through the lens of what might have been.

2016 may be a year that Hillary Rodham-Clinton would rather forget but, still, #ImWithHer…

Rodham is published by Doubleday.

To find out more about Curtis Sittenfeld and her work, you can check out her website. Alternatively, you can connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of Rodham. To read more reviews and exclusive content, please do take a look at some of the blogs below:

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book via Netgalley for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Read With Me 2020 #27 – Book Review: Separation by Sally Emerson

A compelling and moving novel set in London about the pain of being separated from the children you love. 

Amanda is a high-flying management consultant with a loving and eccentric husband. Kate is her new baby and Sarah her mysterious nanny. And Alice is the child who lives by the river on the other side of London and who has recently developed a taste for fairy tales because everyone, in the end, gets exactly what they deserve.

As the novel moves towards its unexpected and shocking finale, the story wittily explores the dilemmas and sexual temptations of new parenthood and the zestful power of apparently vulnerable babies and children.

What I Thought:

I’ve read a few of Sally Emerson’s novels now since they have been re-released by Quartet Books and I think so far Separation is my favourite.

Having been published originally in the the early 1990s, it’s incredibly interesting to read these novels through the lens of our current society as so much remains relevant but it’s disappointing to see how much has remained the same, as I am in my forties, from a time when I was just becoming a teenager.

For instance, the central part of Amanda’s story is the conflict between motherhood and career which is certainly something that women still agonise over today. Regardless of the willingness of fathers to do their fair share of childcare (something incidentally that IS a big difference from the novel) the duty and the guilt still falls primarily on mothers.

On the other side of this most modern of dilemmas, you have Sarah who has – in an almost Victorian fashion – been completely cut off from her daughter by a cheating husband who wants revenge for Sarah daring to leave him. He doesn’t especially care for the child, Alice, but if it hurts Sarah, he will damn well keep hold of her.

Alice is a beautifully written character; despite not hearing from her mummy, she is so convinced that she will be coming for her that she keeps a suitcase packed and ready to go. She adores the fairytales that Sarah used to read to her, and when her situation looks hopeless, she takes things into her own hands – in an absolutely shocking fashion.

As I said, this is my favourite of Sally Emerson’s books so far as, despite the very human, domestic dilemmas in the story, it’s so deliciously dark! Under every seemingly innocent interaction, there’s something lurking, keeping you on tenterhooks and keeping those pages turning. Very much like the fairytales that are so childlike on the surface, there is often a murky undercurrent.

One thing I love more than a great book, is a great book that is being given a new life and Quartet are certainly on to something by introducing this fantastic book to a new audience – highly recommended from me…

Separation is published by Quartet Books.

To find out more about Sally Emerson and her books, you can check out her website. Alternatively, you can connect with her on Twitter.

Read With Me

Please note: I was sent this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: Monstrous Souls by Rebecca Kelly

What if you knew the truth but couldn’t remember?

Over a decade ago, Heidi was the victim of a brutal attack that left her hospitalised, her younger sister missing, and her best friend dead. But Heidi doesn’t remember any of that. She’s lived her life since then with little memory of her friends and family and no recollection of the crime.

But lately, it’s all starting to come back.

As Heidi begins retracing the events that lead to the assault, she is forced to confront the pain and guilt she’s long kept buried. But Heidi isn’t the only one digging up the past, and the closer she gets to remembering the truth, the more danger she’s in.

When the truth is worse than fiction, is the past worth reliving?

What I Thought:

Despite the absolute garbage fire that is the UK at the moment, one thing that does not seem to be suffering is the excellent supply of new books. One such is Monstrous Souls, a tense and twisty thriller by Rebecca Kelly and published today by Agora Books.

To say I enjoyed this book is, perhaps, the wrong word as it has some quite disturbing content once the mystery behind Heidi’s attack is slowly revealed – more like I was riveted by it. There is the central plot of the murder of one girl, a near-fatal attack on another and the abduction of a third, but there is also a hugely intricate plot surrounding organised child abuse and trafficking which is sometimes hard to read, but is handled in such a away as to emphasise the despicable nature of it without it being too horrifying for the reader – most of the horror is filled in by your own imagination anyway.

Although this delicate subject provides the backbone of the novel, the friendship between Nina and Heidi, in contrast, is intimate and beautifully captured. It provokes memories of younger days, secret hideouts, long summer days and silly in-jokes and makes what happens to these girls all the more tragic.

I really liked Heidi as a character – although her tendency is to live quietly due to her experiences, she has been able to overcome horrific circumstances in her own way. The descriptions of her life crashing down as she begins to remember some of the details of her ordeal are saddening to read.

Heidi’s voice is interwoven in the book with that of an anonymous person who is watching her, someone who has a vested interest in seeing that she doesn’t remember too much. This is a great device and these passages help us to see more fully what is going on – but still, the final moments are a complete shock.

This book is an excellent and gripping debut novel and I would be thrilled to read more from Rebecca Kelly.

Monstrous Souls is published by Agora Books.

To find out more about Rebecca Kelly, you can connect with her on Twitter.

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of Monstrous Souls. To find out more about the book, and find reviews and exclusive content, be sure to visit some of the blogs below:

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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