Quagga Books

    Becky: The latest good news! Anne McNulty's Review of The Confessions of Becky Sharp for the
 Historical Novelists Association has just appeared. The novel now goes forward for a possible award in
 June. Watch this space!

Enver Carim's Latest Novel


Carim, Enver.  The Trouble with Sophie Gresham

Despite the title, there’s no ‘trouble’ with Sophie Gresham.  She is in fact, according to the narrator, Charlie Venn, the most beautiful and cultured creature this side of Paradise.  The trouble between the newly married young couple is not Sophie but her husband Charlie who has nightmares about his wife’s infidelity. 


From the start it is Sophie who sets the pace, not only of their Cambridge University life together but of their voluptuous nocturnal sessions between the sheets.  Sophie has promised herself that on her graduation day she will lose her virginity, and from their first meeting at the ceremony she takes the reins, booking  a flight and hotel rooms in Paris and giving her husband the cultural tour of Paris.  The bouquet of flowers she buys, however, is not for Charlie but is destined to be placed on the grave of Charles Baudelaire who died on May 5, 1857.  Therein lies the possible stumbling block to their seemingly blissful marriage, for while both are signed up atheists, Sophie is a student of literature, looking backwards; Charlie, by contrast is a geneticist committed to eradicating inherited diseases and slowing down the ageing process.


Charlie is bemused by his wife’s obsession with history and languages (she’s fluent in French and Arabic, especially Biblical studies) while Charlie is bent on analysing chromosomes and has even adopted an infant  bonobo chimpanzee as a research project in his work at the Institute of Molecular and Neural Genetics in Cambridge.  The Time-span of the action is ten years during which Sophie becomes a success as a writer of historical romances. 


It is only after Charlie witnesses an accident in which a boy is knocked off his bicycle and eventually dies that Sophie moves into writing contemporary fiction.  The unwitting agent in this transformation is the born-again Reverend Baldock who insists on Charlie and his wife attending a ‘resurrection ceremony’ for the dead boy.  Surprisingly Sophie is enthusuastic and the tragic death of the boy leads to her conversion not to spirituality but to a change in her attitude to her husband’s work that she once derided as ‘playing God.’  Sophie’s ‘trouble’ thus emerges not as sexual infidelity but failure to believe in her husband’s mission. 


This is the second novel I’ve read this month in which the conflict between female art and male science have threatened to undermine a marriage.  In David Nicholls’s Us Douglas’s work on the habits of the fruit fly is close to Charlie Venn’s genetic investigations.  In both books the thrall of science threatens to divide the partners, but in Carim’s novel the sexual imperative of youth is always uppermost - many pages being devoted to bedroom encounters - whereas the couple in Us were never quite a unit.   I suppose it’s a truth universally acknowledged that boys tend towards science, while girls prefer the humanities, but I still look forward to the novel in which a novitiate priest falls for a lady doctor.




I was somewhat surprised when a literary consultant found that every novel I wrote seemed to centre on an objectionable female character.  Was I really such a misogynist, I wondered?  I’d never intended to pillory women - quite the reverse, I thought.  But then, looking back on Paris Bound, Punching Judy and The Confessions of Becky Sharp and more recently The Scholar’s Tale, I found an element of truth in the charge.  Totally diverse as these works are in setting and characterisation, all of them centre on the destructive capabilities of powerful women.  Nadia Benbouzid, Judith Smith and Becky Sharp in their different ways are ultimately able to triumph over weaker male vessels.  Each girl has a plan, perhaps even a mission, to get what they need from very different male antagonists.  Looking back and ruminating, without knowing it I find myself back in the Garden of Eden, my heroes linked in fellowship with Adam, Samson, Mark Antony and other poor saps who had been seduced by the wiles and stratagems of clever women.

This set me thinking about the way in which male novelists have used women as the fulcrum of their stories. One thinks of the Victorian novel, awash with feisty but guilty heroines, of Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina, adulteresses who are pariahs of society. Even Bathsheba Everdene, although remaining maidenly pure, has desires beyond the marriage bed.  Before these Victorians we had Moll Flanders, and after them Molly Bloom, clever girls who are streetwise and who function as sirens who know as if by instinct how to cuckold and survive.   

But of course these females, no better than they should be, are the heart and soul of the fictional world that surrounds them. They are the catalyst for the action, the spark that ignites the flame of passion in their otherwise stolid male counterparts. These are the wicked girls we come to love and respect as warm but fallible creatures of the flesh. They are immoral but fun; they are dynamic and at the core of our imaginative novel-reading life.

I have recently (May, 2015) completed reading Warren Adler's novel The War of the Roses, which elucidates my theme perfectly.  Barbara Rose for some devilish reason  opts out of her marriage in later life - although she rationalises her decision - destroying her family in the process.  This thrillingly told narrative follows the escalation  of hatred on both sides, but each without reason, leading to ultimate disaster.  Is this a tract, I wonder, against the feminist movement?   Not really.  Adler is too wise to be a committed individual. Just, then, a comment on our modern age of acquiring goods at the expense of people?  Too glib, though contains a  truth, but to reduce a fine novel to a  mere concept is doing the book an injustice.  From a reader's perspective it's Barbara who provides motive and energy.  She is a bad girl, but a gift for the writer.

Anne McNulty's review of The Confessions of Becky Sharp from HNS Reviews

"Fans of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair and its unforgettable anti-heroine, Becky Sharp, will delight in David James’s smart, intensely readable, funny, and surprisingly moving take on that classic novel’s plot. In the pages of James’s novel, Becky Sharp (the semi-tragic Lady Crawley) jumps to center stage and tells her own story, culminating in her marriage to Rawdon Crawley, her disastrous affair with Lord Steyne, and her own take on the decidedly scandalous characterization Thackeray gives her throughout his book.

James fills the whole narrative with great pathos, glints of humor, and some very perceptive echoes and warpings of his famous template, all the while imbuing Becky herself with all the caustic intelligence Thackeray gave her, but a good deal more humanity. Without doing excessive violence to the continuity of Vanity Fair, he manages to give his unforgettable heroine the one thing Thackeray pointedly denied her: a kind of triumph. Readers who are familiar with Vanity Fair will love this book, but even readers who are not will find it an intelligent and fast-paced story. As a literary pastiche, it could hardly be bettered."

Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction


On the left you can see a selection of books entered for this year's Prize indicating a wide variety of exciting self-published fiction, ranging from historical novels and fictional biographies to poetic narratives.

As I have long suspected there is a wealth of genuine talent lying in wait for the adventurous reader.  By entering your book you are not only giving yourself a chance to win a handsome sum (£350 for the Quagga Gold Medal) but you are raising your profile as a serious writer.

If you are in any doubt about whether you book qualifies for the Prize do look at my blog 'What is Literary Fiction?' posted here and at my other blogs on Facebook, Good Reads and on www.davetherave2.com  In addition to the Gold Medal this year the Quagga Silver Award (£100) will be awarded to the best genre fiction book submitted.  There are also various runners-up prizes, and every entrant will receive a Judges Report.

Please encourage other writers to try their arm as potential award-winners of this innovative venture and do not hesitate to contact me on the penultimate button on the dashboard or for personal enquiries, suggestions and comments at my website www.quaggabooks.net or on Good Reads or www.davetherave2.com 

Entry for Quagga 2015 is open Jan-June  2015.  Thank you, I look forward to hearing from you and wish you all good luck and happy writing.


This is my latest venture, one I'm at present struggling with on my new laptop, a Rolls Royce of a machine, and far too sophisticated for little me.  

                    Interview with David James

What motivated you to become an indie author?

Having published commercially - and not too lucratively - I read Dan Poynter and received his Newsletter for some time. But indie publishing seemed a difficult and demanding process, and so I took the easier step of using a self-publishing service. This was satisfactory, but expensive and 3 books later I set up my own imprint, joined Alli and began using social media, meeting people at the LBF and at other writer functions.


How has Smashwords contributed to your success?

Not at all yet. I've only heard about Smashwords via Alli, but all I've heard has been positive.


What is the greatest joy of writing for you?

What I get most excited about in my writing is discovering that the ordinary words we use every day have in their new context a kind of magic. I now can find myself taking pride in writing a sentence.  I re-read and tinker as I go, knowing that there's always a better way if I wait.


What do your fans mean to you?

I wish I had fans, or even better, readers.  They would be my friends for life.


What are you working on next?

I'm working on a textbook for upper level pupils, taking school-leaving exams. The book so far has 100+ one-page chapters, each with a 'To Do' section.  It is essentially a working manual, a self-help book for those interested in the phenomena of language rather than the mechanics of sentence structure etc. The first chapter 'Sound/Word' discusses baby babble resulting in intelligible meaning; the final chapter discusses writing essays.


Who are your favorite authors?

I've always enjoyed Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, the Brontes and scores of moderns from Woolf to Wodehouse. When tired or miserable I open Proust at random and become transported to ways of seeing and feeling I'd never seen articulated before.


How far has reading influenced your writing?

Considerably. I live in a hermetically sealed world of books, words, phrases, notions that come indirectly from my reading of poetry, novels and drama. Because they are still and silent and always there they are ever reliable friends, the distilled essence, if you like, of the so-called 'real' world of sex 'n' shopping. Thus, when weeding the lawns, digging out the dandelions I may think of Wordsworth's Lesser Celandine or Whitman's affinity with animals.


When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?

I watch a great deal of footy on the telly, a more modest amount of cricket and in summer any tennis that takes my fancy. I also play soft tennis not quite weekly, but if asked. The internet has recently come to occupy much of my leisure time, a blessing but also at times a worry.


How do you discover the ebooks you read?

I read what others say, and then make a choice of likely books to order. Amazon Kindle samples are useful here.


Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?

Cannot recall juvenilia, but I remember my first published story in a Quartos competition for which

I was awarded five pounds for a comic story.  It was based on my experience of looking after my baby daughter while her mother was at work.  That daughter is now 25 and she helps me with my many problems with the infernal machine.


I tend not to like historical fiction, though have in fact done 2 novels that are historical - one on Dickens the Man and another the confessions of Becky Sharp.

I wish I had readers, buyers, fans or followers, but that is an idle dream. I just can't be bothered to become an entrepreneur, though I suppose in a sense I am. After all I am the promoter of the Quagga Prize which I dreamed up on the tube last December, when I read that the Orange Prize had packed up. Why not do good for a change?  It's cost me a hell of a lot - in time and money, but there are rewards – not least the satisfaction that there is in offering the small man a chance to become bigger, rescuing the good obscure writer. No ebooks though.  Not yet anyway.  I expected that I'd be overwhelmed, up till midnight reading junk. In fact the books entered for the contest I've read so far this year are pretty good, though not quite Booker or Folio.


Published 2014-08-19.


Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.  


Networking with novices: An evening in Sutton Library.


Last night (June 24) under the auspices of Sutton Council’s Take Part, Take Pride festival, Quagga Books promoted a networking and discussion group on self-publishing in the Meeting Room of Sutton Main Library.  Chaired by Quagga Prize promoter David James, the speakers were independent authors Jane Davis and Julie Round.

David inaugurated proceedings by emphasising the exponential rise in self-publishing over the past two years and the unique opportunities now available for new writers. Jane then recounted her self-publishing journey from her initiation into traditional publishing via her triumph in winning the Daily Mail prize for debutant novelists to her conversion to the self-publishing scene and subsequent commercial success as an independent author.   Julie’s route was considerably more parochial, her series of domestic novels being set in Sussex and aimed primarily at sedate ladies of a certain age.  Sales were modest but the target audience avidly demanded more, so Julie obliged, writing and hand-selling her novels at women’s groups and charitable events.


In the packed room – there was literally  not one vacant seat in the house – the audience revealed themselves as eager apprentices to the exciting enterprise of self-publishing.  Somewhat surprisingly none of them had yet self-published, but only one confessed to seeing the venture as being a fall-back choice to traditional publication.  In the book display at the rear copies of various journals on writing and publishing were eagerly snapped up, as was the occasional copy of a book by a contributor.  Nevertheless, there is clearly a hungry public, ‘somewhere out there,’ as we say, eager to exploit – and even be exploited in - the self-publishing land of opportunity.

New Cover for Confessions of Becky Sharp


The Confessions of Becky Sharp  has had a facelift for the new edition now available on Kindle and Amazon. 

Becky, lying abandoned in the woods of Northern France is both young and mature, mirroring the two perspectives embodied in the novel. Note that she has, perhaps typically, almost fallen asleep,  overcome by the weariness of recounting her amorous liaisons, simply to keep the wolf from the door.  As a social pariah, suffering from gout, being pestered by duns and lawyers put on by Lord Steyne, her former lover and protector, she is no doubt dreaming and planning her next move. How can she placate this last crop of predators?  The newshound Baverstock is after juicy gossip for his scandal sheet Courtly Capers; he promises cash, but how much should Becky reveal to him, how far dare she drag the fair name of Crawley through the mud?  Have her charitable subscriptions done enough to reconcile her with her pious son, Sir Rawdon Crawley, Bart?

Or is she still dreaming of those abandoned days when she 'broke out' with Angelique Fermin  the girl who tempted her to escape from the straightened life behind convent walls and to  express herself both  socially and sexually, thus laying the foundations for her life as a high-class courtesan?  Or could she, even now, cripple as she is. be considering throwing in her lot with that charming rogue  and lusty companion of earlier days, Vincent Loder?

As she says at the end of her Confessions: 'I know Vincent's plan only too well.  The very day after Rawdy's demise - from natural causes or by some nasty piece of Loder trickery - and once the funeral bakemeats have been consumed, the cunning beggar will propose marriage to me.  The way I feel now, I'd not be inclined to accept him.  But circumstances do alter cases, as I know, both to my cost and to my profit; for as the Bard says, there's no virtue like necessity.'

My Bookbaby: A Case Study


It occasionally disturbs me in the night.  They say it’s teething troubles, but surely it should be over that by this time. In fact, I must admit for the most part it’s quiescent and only bothers you if you bother it.  It usually sleeps quite soundly, tucked up in its pretty jacket, always with a ready smile for you in the morning when you creep up to its cot – just to take a look, you know; just to make sure it’s really there – and it really is yours, your pride and joy.

I remember the first pregnancy, one of my worst.  It was agony, Ivy, and I feared the poor thing would never come.  I had terrible traumas, nightmares, days of total paralysis at the desk when try as I would I could think of nothing else.  I’d heard of such terrible things that could happen – you know, breach births, oxygen starvation in the final stages of labour, even god forbid, mangled or aborted deliveries.  How could little me produce such monstrous – no, I mustn’t say it … such barely human creatures?

Now this latest one, I think it’ll be different.  I have the feeling everything’s going to be all right. It’s got potential, you can see by the glint in its baby black eyes.  It knows things, things I could never have guessed. It breathes easily, has a certain assurance about it.  It’s already a creature in its own right, one that I – don’t laugh! - one that I think could well change the world.  It could end up being another Shakespeare, or Dante, or Homer – though he was blind, wasn’t he, and I’d not wish that on anyone.  Though, come to think of it, he began it all, didn’t he – this story-telling lark?  Yes, I think I’ll call it Homer or even better Homera.

 The Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction


The big news this month is that The Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction is now seeking submissions from independent authors.  Details of how to enter are given under the Quagga Prize heading.




 Latest Publication- The Scholar's Tale




The next event will be the launching of The Scholar's Tale this summer (2014).  This is David James's sixth published novel, which began with Boy Among Men in 1988, and  belatedly announces the inauguration of the Quagga Press and my severing from self-publishing providers and, for the moment at least, trade publication.


An account of the book as given on the back cover and reads:


 An intimate diary of Roy Musgrave’s amorous exploits in  three continents                                                                              

'Man at his best is a lover – not of women, but of beauty, the idea of perfection.’  Thus Roy Musgrave, textual critic and maverick writer.  But Roy’s philosophy is put to the test when he is pestered by phone calls from an unknown woman.  The distressed caller emerges as Nadia Benbouzid, a Tunisian student once his mistress.  On impulse he shuns his New York conference and takes flight to North Africa leaving wife and job.  But winter in Tunisia is far from the paradise he has envisaged, though Nadia, feckless as ever, still beguiles him; moreover she needs him desperately and ‘would die for him.’  Returning home and now estranged from his wife, Roy takes consolation in the arms of Rose, his sister-in-law whom he invites to New York where he is researching.  But can Roy accept a settled life with the woman who loves him or will he be seduced by the eidolon of Nadia?


‘A very distinctive and enjoyable work.  It is a pleasure to read writing of such high quality.’

                        --Fiction Feedback 


‘A compelling portrait of a not-very-likeable man striving to live the life of the mind while obsessing over his baser impulses.’

                        -- Kirkus Reviews



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