Alastair Niven is the author of four books and numerous scholarly articles on aspects of Commonwealth and post-colonial literature. A judge of the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1994 and of the Man Booker Prize in 2014, he was also for twenty years Chairman of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. He was director of literature at the Arts Council and at the British Council and is a former president of English PEN. His memoirs In Glad or Sorry Hours are published by Starhaven Press.
Where were you born and brought up? Were you a happy child?
I was born in a nursing home in Edinburgh. It is now a Hilton hotel, where the judging of the Stakis Prize for Scottish Writer of the Year took place in 1998. I found myself deliberating with my fellow judges in the room in which I first saw the light of day. I had come full circle. As for a happy childhood – by and large, except when my father was on his daily rant about a misplaced towel or some crumbs on the carpet. Continue reading Interview | Alastair Niven OBE LVO | Writer, lecturer & arts administrator
TJ Gorton lives between London and SW France, when not locked down. He had a brief academic career teaching Arabic at St Andrews, before being lured into an unloved career working for oil companies, mostly in the Middle East. Since retiring, he has published seven books, from translations of Classical Arabic Poetry, to anthologies of travel writing about Lebanon, Beirut, and Jerusalem. His biography of a 17th-century Druze prince Renaissance Emir: A Druze Warlord at the Court of the Medici by Ted Gorton and debut novel, Only the Dead: A Levantine Tragedy, shortlsited for the Best First Novel Aard, are both published by Quartet Books. Author website. @tedgorton1
Where did you grow up, and what sorts of books were in your family home?
I was born in Texas to a military family, beginning an itinerant life which went on to include spells in Turkey, Japan, Argentina, Turkey again, Beirut, Paris, Oklahoma, and Oxford. Growing up, there were not a lot of books around, though my mother subscribed to the Reader’s Digest so I would read that and anything else I could scrounge.
What books had the greatest impact on you?
One seminal one (early teens) was The Wisdom of the West by Bertrand Russell, who explained the mysteries of Greek philosophy in brilliant graphics and exquisitely clear prose; I still rummage through it from time to time. But the one book that blew my mind at about age 18 was Joyce’s Ulysses. Coupled with a superb English teacher, it opened my mind to the infinite possibilities of literature for remaking the world. Continue reading Interview | T. J. Gorton, author
Gerald Jacobs is based in North London. The Literary Editor of the Jewish Chronicle, he has written for a wide range of newspapers and magazines. His books include Judi Dench: A Great Deal of Laughter; A Question of Football (with John North and the late Emlyn Hughes of Liverpool and England), The Sacred Games; and Nine Love Letters. His novel Pomeranski is published on 30 April.
You were born in post-war Brixton? What sorts of books were in your family home?
I was actually born in Cheltenham, where my parents happened to be at the time but never lived there. I was brought up in the family home in Brixton. (I first made a conscious visit to Cheltenham when I was about thirty, and was very taken with it.)
We had a limited but varied amount of books on our two or three bookshelves. We made full, regular use of the local Carnegie Library. My father was not a great reader beyond books about the Second World War. There were a few, infrequently consulted religious prayer books and a Bible. My mother read novels and poetry. I loved reading a comic series called Classics Illustrated — picture-frame versions of Dickens, Dumas, Walter Scott etc. I also borrowed my mother’s Agatha Christie novels and read the wonderful comics consisting of pages of words without pictures: Wizard; Hotspur; Rover; and Adventure.
Continue reading Interview | Gerald Jacobs, writer and critic
C. J. Schüler is based in London where he works as a writer and editor. He is the author of three illustrated histories of cartography: Mapping the World, Mapping the City and Mapping the Sea and Stars (Éditions Place des Victoires/Frechmann), and Writers, Lovers, Soldiers, Spies: A History of the Authors’ Club of London, 1891–2016. His travelogue Along the Amber Route: St Petersburg to Venice, is published by Sandstone Press today. He is an occasional reviewer for The BookBlast Diary. www.cjschüler.com
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Kingsbury, northwest London. Before the arrival of an Indian community transformed its high street into a brilliant array of sari shops, this was a very humdrum lower middle-class English suburb. With a German surname, less than two decades after the Second World War, it was hard to feel anything other than an oddity. After my parents divorced, when I was eleven, we moved to Hendon where, with its large Jewish community, I felt less conspicuous.
What sorts of books were in your family home?
Both my parents’ education was cut short, my mother’s by economic necessity and my father’s by the Third Reich. But they were keen readers, and our bookshelves held a range of classics by Jane Austen, Dickens and George Eliot, along with early twentieth-century works by writers such as George Bernard Shaw and J. B. Priestley. I still have a hardback copy of Nabokov’s Pnin from those days, though I can’t remember which of my parents chose it. Continue reading Interview | C. J. Schüler | Author of the Week
Ivana Dobrakovová is based in Turin where she works as a freelance translator from French and Italian and is the translator of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels into Slovak. She is the author of three short story collections First Death in the Family, Toxo and Mothers and Truckers; and one novel, Bellevue.
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Czechoslovakia, in Bratislava, and I grew up there as well, in a very nice residential district above the castle.
Were the members of your family big readers?
Well, my father was a mathematician, I have never seen him with a novel (although my mum told me he enjoyed Flaubert’s Madame Bovary when he was young), but my mother is still a big reader. She is also a mathematician and she doesn’t like fiction much (although she has read more novels than me); she usually reads all the biographies, books of interviews, historical books and whatever else she can grab hold of.
When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
I read a lot when I was little girl and during adolescence, but different things, not necessarily fiction. I went through all kinds of phases – for a while I read only fantasy, then books about movies and film-making and critiques (Hitchcock, Truffaut), then I caught Monty Python fever. This was followed by two years of reading only Franz Kafka. My mum tried to guide me, she wanted me to read more conventional books, or what was appropriate for a girl, like Gone with the Wind, or Russian classics, but I disobeyed her and just read what I wanted. I started reading fiction a great deal in my last year at university, which was a very happy time – I remember my amazement at discovering Julio Cortázar´s short stories – and the urge to copy him and try to understand how he “does” it. I started to read contemporary French literature since after school I decided to translate French authors. Ernesto Sabato’s novel On Heroes and Tombs was very important to me during my adolescence, and the section Report on the Blind was my first encounter with madness and paranoia in literature. Continue reading Interview | Ivana Dobrakovová | Author of the Week