I’ve been watching Fiona Mitchell’s progression from journalist to novelist with interest and was delighted when she announced that she had landed a book deal with Hodder to publish The Maid’s Room.
Mitchell has always written with empathy and insight, two skills that are evident in this novel about the plight of Philippino maids in Singapore. The story begins powerfully, with a description of the standard concrete room that passes for maid’s accommodation. A small airless space with a mattress on the floor and laundry equipment lining the walls.
Jules and David are a married couple who’ve recently moved to Singapore and they’re invited to a party hosted by a brittle mother of two called Amber. Mitchell captures the soulless nature of the experience for Jules by vividly describing the hard contours of the environment and people she meets. There’s a distinct lack of warmth that separates Jules from everyone else, enabling her to see the maid that discretely moves about the room in a way that the other women actively avoid doing.
How often do you think about the lifetime of a bench and the people who come to rest on it?
The Park Bench by Chabouté focuses on moments in time and what they reveal about the personalities who find the bench, from the carving attempts of two children that ends in one injury, to the tenderness of an old couple who share an iced bun at a set time on the bench each day. From the young man who comes to sit with a bouquet of flowers and waits, to the homeless person who attempts to take refuge only to be moved on by security.
Former con artist turned defence lawyer – Eddie Flynn – takes on a case to prove the innocence of Hollywood celebrity Robert Soloman, who has been charged with double murder, just as his own personal life takes a nose dive. Flynn is struggling with the compulsion to defend the defenceless, while recognising that the life he has chosen could endanger those he cares about.
Flynn struggles with this dilemma as he goes up against a ruthless killer who has found a way to be on the jury trial for the celebrity murder. He also has to deal with a renowned prosecutor who appears determined to win regardless of truth or innocence.
I did shed a few tears by the end of this wonderful novel which celebrates the love of a daughter for her mother and explores how a life can change for the worse or the better by accident or by design, and how everything can come down to choice made in a moment of time.
The book opens with Luna sharing her thoughts on the death of her mother, she describes the intensity of her loss and then describes the observer effect, how something can be transformed just by seeing.
The idea for the book came when Eve was looking for a gift for her father. He’d been having a difficult time and she wanted to give him something that would enable him to process what he was experiencing. As an author with decades of teaching creative writing experience, Eve knew that sharing stories can be cathartic but also understood the challenges that many people face when trying to find a way to express them, which is when she had an idea for a brand new way for anyone to tap into their memories and write, especially when they think they can’t write.
Eve went to Anthony Cropper with the idea and he was immediately supportive as he too could see the wider benefits of the concept. They developed a prototype and Eve gave it to her dad, saying that if he could do it anyone could.
Then she explained that when her dad was a little boy living in Cyprus he’d been removed from school at a young age to go and be a shepherd. His teacher did plead with his dad not pull him out but to no avail. He came to the UK with his wife after the Turkish invasion of Cyrus in 1974, started a family, ran a chip shop for years and had never written, which is why Eve wanted to find a way to help him to express what was locked away in his memories.