Dark Mermaids Shortlisted for Cross Sports Book Awards

dark mermaids anne lauppe-dunbar cross sports book awards

The Cross Sports Book Awards today announced their shortlists, and Anne Lauppe-Dunbar’s powerful debut novel Dark Mermaids is on the shortlist for the New Writer of the Year category.

The Cross Sports Book Awards is a major annual promotion for Sports Writing & Publishing; the awards exist to highlight the most outstanding sports books of the previous calendar year.

Dark_Mermaids_Web72Dark Mermaids is a shocking story of the horrors of a political system that doped its youngsters to sporting superhero status, and then left them to fend for themselves. Shortlisted for the Impress and Cinnamon First Novel Prize, this East German noir thriller is set in 1990, a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Unhappy West Berlin police officer Sophia is called on to investigate the murder of her childhood friend Kathe; after her beaten body is discovered in Sophia’s local park. Sophia is forced to return to the hometown she fled as a teenager with her enigmatic father Petrus, and Mia – a frightened child who turned up on her doorstep. She must investigate Kathe’s murder and care for a mother she believed abandoned her.

As she reluctantly delves into the sordid Stasi secrets of those she grew up with, Sophie uncovers a web of horrors about her own abusive past as a child-swimming star in the former GDR. But her hunt for the truth has not gone unnoticed by those close to her, people who still have too much to hide.

You can see the full New Writer of the Year shortlist, as well as the other category shortlists, on the Cross Sports Book Awards website.

Santa Baby, Slip a Story Under the Tree

Christmas is on its way, and we have some recommendations for you whether you’re looking for a present for someone else, or you’re looking for something to ask Santa for this Christmas!

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For Thriller Lovers:

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If you or someone you know loves a good crime story, why not try Jo Mazelis’ Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize-winning Significance, or Anne Lauppe-Dunbar’s debut Dark Mermaids?

For Historical Fiction Lovers:

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Francesca Rhydderch’s debut, The Rice Paper Diaries, which won the 2014 Wales Book of the Year Award and Tiffany Murray’s chilling Sugar Hall are perfect for readers who like their stories old school. So old school they’re practically history.

For Sci-Fi/Fantasy Lovers:

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If you’re after something weird and wonderful for you or a friend this festive season, then you can’t go wrong with one of our New Stories from The Mabinogion; The Meat Tree is a brilliantly bizarre sci-fi retelling of the Blodeuwedd myth, perfect for readers who love stories that are literally out of this world. But if you’re after something a little closer to home, why not pick up a copy of Mary-Ann Constantine’s fable-esque debut, Star-Shot? This novel is a real treat for readers who are familiar with Cardiff.

For Short Story Lovers:

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For lovers of the oft forgotten art form that is the short story, why not pick up New Welsh Short Stories, an anthology featuring a wide range of Welsh authors from Carys Davies to Jo Mazelis, or Graham Mort’s latest collection, Terroir. These two look quite charming together, so if I were you I’d get both.

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For Non-Fiction Lovers:

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Jasmine Donahaye’s memoir, Losing Israel, has been stunning readers since its publication earlier this year; part memoir, part travel writing, part nature writing, it’s the perfect gift for any non-fiction connoisseur. Mike Rees’ Men Who Played the Game is the ideal book for any sports fan, and as we commemorate one hundred years since the First World War there’s no better time to read it than right now.

For Poetry Lovers:

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Here at Seren we’d be nothing without our poetry, so why not pick up a copy of Kim Moore’s hugely popular debut collection, The Art of Falling, or Jonathan Edwards’ Costa Award-winning debut collection, My Family and Other Superheroes – we promise they won’t disappoint you! Or if someone you know likes to keep on top of the latest poetry, a subscription to Poetry Wales magazine would make for a fine Christmas present, if you ask me. And I suppose you must be asking me if you’re reading this…

You can find all these books and more on our website, so treat the readers you know to some well-chosen words this Christmas!

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Criminally Good Reads

I don’t know about you, but when the colder months roll around I always find myself more inclined to pick up a thriller or a good ol’ fashioned whodunnit. There’s a strange kind of comfort in cracking open a book featuring thieves, drug dealers and serial killers whilst snuggled up under a warm blanket with a lovely mug of hot chocolate, knowing that no matter how bad life might seem at times you’re at least better off than whoever you’re reading about.

If you’re anything like me, dear reader, and you do enjoy a bit of detective work at this time of year then you’re in luck! Here at Seren we have a few books that might just peak your interest.

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Dark Mermaids

by Anne Lauppe-Dunbar

Unhappy West Berlin police officer Sophia is called on to investigate the murder of her childhood friend Käthe, after her beaten body is discovered in Sophia’s local park. Sophia is forced to return to the hometown she fled as a teenager with her enigmatic father Petrus, and Mia – a frightened child who turned up on her doorstep. She must investigate Käthe’s murder and care for a mother she believed abandoned her. As she reluctantly delves into the sordid Stasi secrets of those she grew up with, Sophia uncovers a web of horrors about her own abusive past as a child-swimming star in the former GDR. But her hunt for the truth has not gone unnoticed by those close to her, people who still have too much to hide.

Read our interview with Anne!

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The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Bullseye Killer

by Steve Wilkins with Jonathan Hill

The story of Operation Ottawa, the cold case detection of John Cooper for two Pembrokeshire double killings: the Scoveston Manor murder of Richard and Helen Thomas in 1985 and the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path murder of Peter and Gwenda Dixon in 1989. Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Wilkins tells how he gathered a specialist team to review the murders, used cutting edge forensic techniques to prove Cooper’s involvement in the crimes, and how the tv programme Bullseye led to a crucial identification. The dramatic timeline involves psychological profiling, intimidation by Cooper, the relationship between police and media in the arrest and the predicament of the victims’ families during the long years when the cases remained unsolved.

The combination of painstaking evidence gathering, new forensics, psychological profiling, and careful detection made Operation Ottawa the template for subsequent murder enquiries. Now, for the first time, the lead detective tells the story of how a vicious killer was brought to justice.

Disturbance – Ivy Alvarez


Disturbance

by Ivy Alvarez

Disturbance is a novel in verse by Ivy Alvarez that chronicles a multiple homicide, a tragic case of domestic violence, where a family was gunned down by the husband and father. 

The book features poems in a kaleidoscope of voices from all the characters involved. We first meet the family itself and witness how the father’s controlling attitude gradually escalates into violence. Then we get the aftermath: the authorities, police and neighbours, who all might have helped to prevent this tragedy. This is a very dark book, but a courageous one, ultimately about evil and its presence in our everyday lives. The fact that this family was relatively well-to-do, seemingly prosperous and well-connected, adds another layer of intrigue and mystery. There is some graphic violence, but the emphasis is on the characters and their motivations.

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Significance

by Jo Mazelis

Lucy Swann is trying on a new life. She’s cut and dyed her hair and bought new clothes, but she’s only got as far as a small town in northern France when her flight is violently cut short. When Inspector Vivier and his handsome assistant Sabine Pelat begin their investigation the chance encounters of her last days take on a new significance.

Lucy’s death, like a stone thrown into a pool, sends out far-reaching ripples, altering the lives of people who never knew her as well as those of her loved ones back home.

Find all these titles and more on our website where, if you order two books, you’ll receive a free copy of Christmas in Wales!

 

Remember, Remember

Our Marketing Assistant, Jess, discusses the relationship between history, identity and literature.

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

It’s been 410 years since Guy Fawkes tried to blow up parliament and we’re still talking about it. Granted trying to blow up the Houses of Parliament (with the king inside) is a pretty big deal, and it’s fascinating to think what Britain might have become if Fawkes had succeeded. Would it even be much different to the way it is now?

We have this idea that we must remember the important moments in history because if we do they won’t happen again. If we remember that Hitler was a bad man we’ll be able to prevent anyone like him from rising to power again, and if we remember that trying to prevent interracial marriage is just plain silly we’ll be a better society. Of course that’s not quite how the world works. Sadly there are still plenty of horrible people in politics, and it’s only in recent years – this year in the case of the United States – that gay marriage has been legalised.

Basically, we never learn, and this is true of our own histories too.

No matter who we are, where we go or what we do, we always find ourselves drawn back to our pasts; our decisions and experiences creep up on us like waves, slowly advancing until we’re caught in the tide and pulled back to something we’d forgotten, whether by accident or by choice. It could be anything from a faint whiff of perfume that reminds you of your grandmother’s old house, or a song you hear that takes you right back to your school days because it was playing everywhere and dammit now it’s stuck in your head again. You’ll be humming it for weeks.

This is particularly true of writers, or at least that’s what I’ve discovered in my experience. Authors can write a huge amount of different stories in their lifetime, but no matter how different the story is, no matter how different the characters or the setting are, there will always be those themes that authors just can’t help going back to.

It’s true of our authors, too. In Anne Lauppe-Dunbar’s debut novel, Dark Mermaids, published earlier this year, our protagonist Sophia finds herself haunted by her past no matter how hard she tries to run from it. Set in Germany, the book itself is something of a link back to Anne Lauppe-Dunbar’s own family history; I interviewed Anne here about her startling debut, and wasn’t at all surprised to discover that she’s working on another novel set in Germany. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Anne in person, and it’s clear from the way she talks about her writing how passionate she is about these Germany-based stories.

Francesca Rhydderch’s prize-winning debut, The Rice Paper Diaries, also draws on personal family history, and the characters in Mary-Ann Constantine’s debut, Star-Shot, just can’t help being drawn to the National Museum Cardiff, a building that is literally full of our history.

Then we have our New Stories from the Mabinogion. Our authors took the tales from The Mabinogion and placed them wherever, and whenever, they saw fit, leaving us with stories set during the Second World War and stories set in outer space. Fairy tales, folktales and legends are the first stories we’re ever introduced to, and we continue to come across them even when we might not realise it. What is Pretty Woman if not a slightly updated Cinderella story? What is The Phantom of the Opera if not yet another spin on Beauty and the Beast?

Try as we might we can’t stop returning to these old stories, whether they’re stories everyone knows or stories from our own personal histories. They just keep coming back, and all we can do is keep telling them.

An Interview with Anne Lauppe-Dunbar

We had a chat with Anne Lauppe-Dunbar about her debut novel, Dark Mermaids, which is out today!

Anne Lauppe-Dunbar is a Creative Writing tutor at Swansea University, where she also studied for her PhD. She had a short story published in Sing Sorrow Sorrow (ed. Gwen Davies) and has had stories, essays, papers and poems published with Cinnamon Press, Seventh Quarry and New Welsh Review. Dark Mermaids is her first novel.

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A shocking story of the horrors of a political system that doped its youngsters to sporting superhero status, and then left them to fend for themselves. Shortlisted for the Impress and Cinnamon First Novel Prize, this East German noir thriller is set in 1990, a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Unhappy West Berlin police officer Sophia is called on to investigate the murder of her childhood friend Kathe, after her beaten body is discovered in Sophia’s local park. Sophia is forced to return to the hometown she fled as a teenager with her enigmatic father Petrus, and Mia – a frightened child who turned up on her doorstep. She must investigate Kathe’s murder and care for a mother she believed abandoned her. As she reluctantly delves into the sordid Stasi secrets of those she grew up with, Sophia uncovers a web of horrors about her own abusive past as a child-swimming star in the former GDR. But her hunt for the truth has not gone unnoticed by those close to her, people who still have too much to hide.

How did you become so interested in the East German doping scandal? What about it compelled you to write?

I was researching my mother’s family in the former GDR. The family were wealthy but lost everything under the communist regime. My mother managed cross over the border over ‘no man’s land’ in 1949. I was looking at maps when I stumbled across something called ‘Complex 08’, and clicked on the link to reveal a monster named ‘State Theme 14.25’. The more I read, the more complex and vile a beast I saw. I knew then I simply had to write about the GDR Doping Scam Theme 14.25. But I needed a fictitious angle, a way in which to tell the story, and that’s when I created Sophia and Mia because I wanted more than a hunt for clues. I wanted a story about a woman finding out who she was by going back and claiming her true self.

You must have done a lot of research while writing the novel. Did you ever worry that it was going to turn into non-fiction or did you achieve a healthy balance of fact and fiction from an early stage of the writing process?

I became completely obsessed with detail and research. I have boxes of Stasi files ordered from the Ungeleider Archive in the University of Austin, Texas. Fascinating reading, as they list the drugs given to each athlete, the side effects, the results. I found myself absorbed reading about clandestine meetings between informers, doping doctors, sport coaches and the Stasi. My knowledge of medicine is basic, so I read up on what steroids might do, how, why, and what were the worst scenarios – all proven by further reading and research: bones not holding muscle, liver failure, children born with clubbed feet, reminiscent of the thalidomide horror, former athletes in pain from chronic muscle fatigue, sex changes. The more I read, the more I had to write.

I went to Berlin and walked around the area where I wanted Sophia to live, so that I could really know her. I drew from my research into my mother’s East German home town and wove the story around solid fact. I tried to speak with former athletes and found silence. Finally I was permitted to visit Kienbaum, a sports training camp outside Berlin. Here I began to live my protagonist’s life. I have never been as electrified by research as I was over those three days. I wrote and found myself entering Sophia’s mind, her broken heart, her longing for escape and something other than the sum of swimming, drugs, sex, winning.

I fixated on how a swimmer would swim. How she might be the water, and become a thing that lived inside water – a mermaid, fierce, loyal to a fault, yet mistrusting. All of the research, the mermaids, the Stasi meetings, how to move hands to swim faster, how to breathe, stopped narrative flow. All those careful (utterly precious) lists I’d thought vital, were boggy research, not needed. So I had to let it go. Gillian Slovo told a group of us, at a long ago Cheltenham Literary festival, how research must be a gossamer curtain, so pale it can hardly be seen, yet key to the landscape of the novel. Stevie Davies put it in a nutshell: ‘Mermaids are secondary. Narrative is primary’.

Nowadays there are so many more women – authors and characters – in the crime/thriller genre, from Kate Atkinson to Gillian Flynn to our very own Jo Mazelis. What is it that attracted you to the genre? 

I love thrillers that grab you by the throat and don’t let go, yet far better are those rare thrillers that do all of that, but so much more. They teach you something about a specialized world, or portion of history. Take Boyd’s novel Restless. A book that uncovers a past we would never dream of. Fiction? Thriller? Yes, but so much more. In every spy story, every thriller, then is an element of truth. From Larsson’s, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, to Brown’s, The Da Vinci Code. All stories create (to a greater or lesser extent) a believability through their characters quest for truth, riches, revenge. I loved having the freedom to write about something dark. A Minotaur lurking is frightening, ugly, yet so beautiful. The hardest thing I found was to write Sophia’s truth, not to focus on a thriller that withheld every reveal to a pre-plotted reveal. The trend now is for plot to be a frontal device. I knew if I manipulated Sophia to perform in a pre-plotted narrative I would have a puppet, not true character (like each one of us) who is a complexity of contradiction. I followed, allowing her to find and search. To anguish over things half remembered, to fall in love with a child when she was unable to love herself. I think this was the hardest of things, as the idea of a literary historical/thriller is difficult to sell.

Were you wary of writing about an unhappy police officer in a genre that seems to be brimming with miserable detectives? What is it about Sophia that made you want to tell her story?

I was in Berlin to see a screening of Katharina Bullin, ‘And I Thought I was The Greatest’, followed by a panel of German experts on doping and the court case the athletes brought against the state that harmed them. The film was about a former GDR volleyball player. Katharina was there. As the audience fired rapid questions at a panel after the viewing, I watched her. How she sat, moved, whispered to her companion: the film maker and director Marcus Welsch. She wore a flat felt cap, pale blue with a brim. Her clothes were army fatigues – dark soft green. Men’s clothes. She was tall, built like a man, gentle and rough at the same time. We went for a beer. Katharina refused to speak with me, even though Marcus introduced us, and then I had her – my character. Sophia is fragmented by her past. If that means she is miserable, so be it. She’d been taught to be grateful for a chance to be noticed, trained, and fed with fresh produce – hard to get in the GDR. Her parents would have had a car, a TV, holidays that not many were permitted. She had to be tough. Perfect. A winner. And then the people who’d made her turned their backs on her and would have preferred if she’d died. Getting her to open up was hard. The more I wrote her, the more enigmatic she became, until I couldn’t see her. She was, I realized later, a version of me. Difficult, at times. A perfectionist, a loner who needed people but was never truly easy in her own skin. I had to find her again, and I did this by allowing Mia into her life, and by allowing Sophia to recognize and let slip that she did care, feel pain and longing, even though she does her best to pretend she does not. By allowing her to be broken, a woman who lives only a portion of her life in the real world; I give her the possibility joy, a chance at living inside her skin and feeling her way into a new future.

What will you be working on next?

I am writing a novel, a thriller if you like, about Hitler’s ‘tears of the wolf diamonds’ and the child terrorists he named Werewolves. A German musician is searching for these diamonds in Germany, as he has (supposedly) been able to decode the music sheet on which the runic signs tell where these diamonds are hidden. My story is in two timelines. Aachen 2015; the city in which the Mayor (post WW2) was assassinated by a group of young werewolves. The second story line is set in April 1945 as the Russians and Americans began their assault near the Elbe into what would become the GDR. There are two protagonists. Kat is thirteen when her mother is raped and murdered by Russian soldiers. Sasha is twenty-five and living in the shadow of her own mother’s death. Both deaths are linked to the diamonds and the werewolf movement.

Finally, what’s the best book you’ve read so far this year? We’re always on the lookout for recommendations!

Anna Funder, All That I Am
Douglas Botting, In The Ruins Of The Reich
Murial Spark, Loitering With Intent
Stevie Davies, Awakening
Petra Hammesfahr, Die Mutter
Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend

Books I love:
Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
Annie Proulx, The Shipping News
Anna Applebaum, The Gulag
Mark Roseman, The Past In Hiding
Steven Ungerleider, Faust’s Gold
Kristin Carshore, Bitterblue
Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces
And many many more…

Order Dark Mermaids from our website.