Lucy Popescu is a author, editor and arts critic with a background in human rights. She worked with the English PEN for over twenty years and was Director of its Writers in Prison Committee from 1991 to 2006. Her most recent anthology is A Country to Call Home which focuses on the experiences of young refugees (Unbound, 2018). Lucy is the chair of the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award; teaches creative writing at the Working Men’s College in Camden; curates literary evenings at Waterstones; is a Trustee of the JMK Award for Theatre Directors; and mentors refugee writers at Write to Life, Freedom from Torture’s creative writing group.
Tell us about your childhood and where you grew up I grew up in Oxfordshire. My late mother was the children’s author, Christine Pullein-Thompson so I was put on a pony before I could walk. It’s a beautiful part of England and I loved hurtling round the woods and hills on a pony – following in my mother’s hoof steps – she grew up in Peppard. Years later, I found out that I had lived in a world that many horse mad girls envied.
Were your parents great readers? What were the books that made you fall in love with reading? I come from a family of writers and grew up surrounded by books. I read hand me downs of Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies and E. Nesbit’s The Phoenix and the Carpet and loved C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books as a young child. I also read all my mother’s books and then the books written by her sisters . . . That took some time. I was a precocious reader. I wanted to know why, aged nine, I was banned from reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. I also read Wuthering Heights too young and thought Heathcliff was a romantic hero. I devoured JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye as a teenager.Continue reading Interview | Lucy Popescu | Author of the Week
Author, BEN PASTOR, lived for thirty years in the United States, working as a university professor, before returning to Italy to write historical thrillers. Bitter Lemon Press have published six of her novels to date.
Where were you born, and where did you grow up? I was born in Rome, and grew up in the hill country southeast of the city. Ten elements typified our small town: Roman ruins; rainy springs; olive groves; sparkling red wine; farm women dressing in beautiful traditional garb on holidays; the Thursday fair; more steps than streets (a problem and a good exercise for my family doctor father); a tall church steeple from where you could glimpse the sea in the far distance; cats, dogs, and farm animals of all kinds; the feeling that the world was orderly, cyclical, and safe.
What sorts of books were in your family home? All sorts (except pornography) and too many to count. As children, my sister Simona and I used to read avidly, and then have a picnic on top of the tall bookshelves of the family library. Years later, we found mummified little pieces of sandwiches behind the furniture when we moved out. Mother had a passion for nineteenth-and-twentieth-century literature: the great French, English, Spanish, Russian, Italian, American authors . . . Father loved geography, history and mysteries; all of us had a fondness for poetry and art. From The Epic of Gilgamesh to Nicholas Nickleby, from Blood and Sand to Dead Souls, the steps to culture and to our picnic place were all there!Continue reading Interview | Ben Pastor, novelist | Author of the Week
Maggie Gee was born to working-class parents, and climbed into an uneasy place between classes. She was educated at state schools, and won a major open scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford where she did an MA in English literature and an MLitt on Surrealism in England. She was one of the original Granta 20 Best of Young British Novelists in 1983.
Gee has published fifteen books, thirteen of which are novels, including her latest, which is published by Fentum Press, Blood. A new, extended and updated edition of her 2014 novel Virginia Woolf in Manhattan has just been published by Fentum in the US.
She is a Fellow and Vice-President of the Royal Society of Literature, a Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, and was awarded an OBE for services to literature in 2012. She is a Non-executive Director of the Authors’ Licensing and Copyright Society.
Hear the Podcast of our conversation if audio is your thing
You grew up in Dorset before moving to the Midlands. Tell us about your early years. My first memories are of running on a beach, which is probably significant since I’ve always been drawn back to the sea. I had a brother so we ran around and I did boy’s things. Continue reading Interview | Print & Podcast | Maggie Gee, author
What sorts of books were in your family home? My childhood home was packed with books. There were a lot of scripts and poetry collections as well as books that my parents used for research. I remember flicking through a book about witchcraft when I was about six or seven and asking Mum if I could take it to school. I imagine at the time my father was doing a production of ‘the Scottish play’ as he’d call Macbeth.Continue reading Interview | Lucy Tertia George | Author of the Week
Celebrating this year’s Chinese New Year of the Pig, I discuss translating China with Nicky Harman on the launch of Paper Republic’s roundup of the most recent publications in English translation. Their 2018 roll call features thirty-three novels, six poetry collections and three YA and children’s books.
Paper Republic is a unique resource you won’t find anywhere else on the web. Its co-founder, Nicky Harman, is a leading light of the translation community in the UK and a passionate promoter of Chinese literature and culture. She is co-Chair of the Translators Association (Society of Authors). Nicky is often away, but I managed to catch up with her for brunch on Valentine’s day to discuss the literature of a non-English speaking continent that is 4,834 miles away from this small offshore island.
Where were you born and how did it feel to grow up between Ireland and England? I was in London until the age of ten, and then in Tipperary with school and university in England. Going backwards and forwards between the two during The Troubles didn’t feel comfortable at all. As a writer I’ve come to appreciate the advantages of not belonging entirely in one place – always having an outsider’s eye.
What did you read as a child? C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia; Kate Seredy’s The Good Master and The Singing Tree; John Buchan’s The 39 Steps; Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle’s Molesworth books
Andrew Crumey: “Art is the expression of value and science is the explanation of phenomena . . . I’m interested in the borderline of the explanatory and the expressive.”
Alasdair Gray, James Kelman, A.L. Kennedy, Allan Massie, Val McDermid, Andrew O’Hagan, Ian Rankin, Ali Smith, Irvine Welsh, Alan Warner . . . the list of fine Scottish writers is a long one.
Andrew Crumey was in conversation with doyenne of translators, Margaret Jull Costa, and Eric Lane, founder of Dedalus Books at the opening event of the BookBlast 10×10 Tour at Waterstones in Gower Street, Bloomsbury, on 11 September. HEAR HERE
Where were you born, and where did you grow up? Mill Road hospital Liverpool, and then in Liverpool (built on the site of a Victorian workhouse), until moving to London in my early twenties. I now live in Liverpool and work in London.
What sorts of books were in your family home? My dad was an autodidact, acquiring a good collection of books through joining various book clubs. As a result there was an impressively wide range of books on our shelves at home, from history (The World at War;The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire; The Third Reich), fiction (The Lord of the Rings, all the novels of Thomas Hardy), complete Shakespeare and most useful for my development as a writer and poet, the works of Dylan Thomas and James Joyce.Continue reading Interview | Chris McCabe @mccabio | Author of the Week
Meet Jenny Lewis in person at the tenth and final BookBlast 10×10 Tour talk at Waterstones, Manchester, Deansgate @waterstonesMCR 6.30 p.m. Thursday 8 November. Theme: Claiming the Great Tradition: Women Recalibrate the Classics. In conversation with Michael Schmidt @Carcanet, chair, and poet & translator, Jane Draycott. Book Tickets
Where were you born, and where did you grow up? I was born in Pembury, Kent and grew up in London.
What sorts of books were in your family home? Milton, in his Areopagitica, advises us to read “promiscuously” and, as a somewhat lonely, post-war London child, I did just that, reading voraciously anything I could lay my hands on from my grandmother’s leather bound classics (Shakespeare, Dickens, Tennyson …); dictionaries; encyclopedias; my father’s old medical books; the modern novels I found on my mother’s bedside table (The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham, A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute) to children’s books such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, comics (The Beano, The Dandy) and, of course, Kellogg’s Cornflakes packets and, most memorably, tins of Tate & Lyle’s Golden Syrup with the picture of a lion surrounded by bees and the legend “Out of the strong came forth sweetness” which puzzled me. Was the lion dead or just sleeping and why were the bees swarming over him? One of life’s great moments was when I realized there were such things as libraries where there were thousands of books to be borrowed. From then on, I half lived in the Hammersmith Library near where we lived. Continue reading Interview | Jenny Lewis, poet