This book, Out of Touch, by debut author, Haleh Agar, has rocketed up my own 2020 Book Favourites List. This book is so good it needs to be shouted about.
Out of Touch was published at the start of April and in light of everything that’s happening we need to shout a little louder about new books.
I wasn’t planning to do a blog post until later this week but after reading this book all I wanted to do was write a review and put it on my blog. Then some Twitter magic happened and at short notice Haleh sent me her debut author Q&A. So, I have a cracking blog post for you.
PLUS Haleh Agar has done some great YouTube vlogs on writing, submitting to agents and dealing with rejection so I will have links at the end for that too.
Here’s the blurb
A powerful tale of betrayal and abandonment from a stunning new voice. When a brother and sister receive a letter from the father they haven’t seen in twenty years, they must confront long-buried tensions in ways that will change them for ever.
A man hit Ava with his car, a few miles from her bungalow. He brings her flowers in hospital, and offers to do her laundry. He also brings her the letter she dropped that night on the road.
In New York, Ava’s brother Michael receives the same letter. He thinks about it as he steps out of the shower into his curtainless bedroom. A naked woman stares at him from the apartment across. They both laugh and cover up with their arms.
Brother and sister cannot avoid the letter: their estranged father is dying and wants to meet. Can they forgive their father, and face each other after all these years apart? Will new unexpected friends offer the advice and comfort they need?
With sharp wit and sensitivity, Out of Touch is a deeply absorbing story about love and vulnerability, sex and power, and the unbreakable bonds of family.
Here’s my review:
I found myself totally immersed in this book. This is the story of two siblings; Ava and Michael who are estranged from each other and from their father. Ava lives in the U.K. and Michael lives in New York. A letter from their dying father makes Ava and Michael start to confront their past and their own actions. It also offers them the opportunity, if they want it, to reconnect and forgive their father.
Ava and Michael are interesting characters. No matter how hard they try to ignore the letter from their father it always seems to creep back into their thoughts. I love the way the letter kickstarts a chain of emotions for both of them and, with the help of some unexpected new friends, they both begin a journey of self discovery.
This is a story of family relationships, love, loss and betrayal. It’s so beautifully written, packed full of emotion and sprinkled with some wonderful wit. The author’s style of descriptive writing is so engaging and absorbing. I lost track of all time whilst reading this.
I’m a romance writer by trade so I was drawn to Ava’s friendship with Sam which began after a car accident. This was such an interesting way to bring characters together. The touching way Sam looked after Ava when she was on crutches warmed my heart.
I do think Haleh Agar is an author to keep an eye on. She’s writes such a good story and takes you on one hell of an emotional journey.
This book is definitely worth a read.
Firstly, please introduce your debut novel, OUT OF TOUCH. What’s it about?
Out of Touch is about a brother and sister who haven’t seen each other in over twenty years. Their father gets in touch to say that he is in trouble and now they must confront the past and each other.
What inspired you to write Out of Touch?
I love stories about families, especially siblings. We have no choice in who our family members are, which makes for intriguing relationships. I have two sisters myself, and we get along great. I’ve written about a brother and sister because I’ve always wondered about how gender socialization might affect the people we become in later adulthood, particularly in a household with a toxic male presence. The film Shame, initially inspired the idea of writing about a brother and sister.
Your novel explores the importance of touch. Ava longs to be touched, and sees that as meaning she is desired and loved. How do you think this novel will speak to readers when touch has become something loaded with danger?
I think more than ever, physical intimacy is on our minds. We are all trying to find a way to cope in this strange new reality of distancing. Ava clings to her self-help book on happiness. I think readers will resonate strongly with Ava’s longing for touch, and equally with her fear of intimacy when after her accident, she feels the vulnerability of her body.
You write movingly about illness, about bodies that don’t work as we hope they will. Was it important to you to make sickness and bodies that are different central to the book?
Absolutely. As someone who has been diagnosed with endometriosis and cardiomyopathy, I think a lot about the body. How do these labels of illness affect our identity? How do we cope emotionally when we are told that our bodies are ‘dysfunctional’? The question of how we see ourselves in relation to our bodies is central to my work.
I’d love to know a bit about your publication journey. What was it like?
Before querying agents, I had submitted fiction to magazines and journals and so had a few publications. I also entered competitions and won two. It’s not necessary to have a track record, but it can make your query letter stand out when you’re going through the slushpile.
I found the publication journey to be exciting. Every day held new possibilities. It’s important to have fun with it.
What is your favourite part of being a writer? And least favourite part?
The best part of being a writer is making no apologies for living in a dream world. Imagining, and creating a new reality is one of the most satisfying things in life. My least favorite part of being a writer used to be that feeling of isolation, but I had solved this issue by joining a co-working space. I miss my co-working buddies now, but we’re seeing each other every Thursday via Zoom where we do a quiz!
What was the moment when you first held your book like?
I had washed my hands, after opening the delivery box, & it was a beautiful moment when I held my book. I just couldn’t get over how gorgeous it looked. W&N have done such a wonderful job in making my book into a real thing—the editing, the cover design, the font! I just kept thinking, ‘Thank you.’
What are you currently working on?
When I’m in the right headspace, I work on my second book and on the series of vlogs I’ve started about creative writing and the publishing process. In these strange times, every day is up and down. To be honest, it’s not an ideal environment for creating!
Were there alternate endings you considered?
Absolutely! I’ve written many versions of the novel. The thing about creative writing, is that you often learn through the actual process and various drafts what the characters are like, and how things will pan out. Planning is great, but I give myself the flexibility of changing elements of the story as I go along.
Do you have any tips for writers?
Yes. Be kind to yourselves. Praise yourselves whenever you write, read, or even just when you’re engaged in an activity that inspires you—all experiences are important to writing. I’ve recently started a vlog for the writing community that covers a range of topics related to creative writing and the publishing process.
You can find information about my vlog on my website halehagar.com under the heading ‘Publishing Tips’. Here’s the YouTube Link – click here
Biography/About The Author:
Haleh is a novelist, short story writer and essayist. She has been published in literary magazines and journals, including Mslexia, Viva Magazine, Fincham Press and Lamplight Magazine. Her short story, ‘Not Contagious’ was recently Highly Commended by the Costa Short Story Award. She won the Brighton Prize for a piece of flash fiction, and her narrative essay ‘On Writing Ethnic Stories’ won the London Magazine’s inaugural essay competition.You can find her on Twitter: @HalehAgar