Interview | Philip Mann, author

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Hanover the capital of Lower-Saxony, but grew up in West Berlin by the wall.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
My mother has always been an avid reader and my late stepfather was a fairly influential intellectual so there always were enormous amounts of books: the classics from Chekov to Turgenev, from Mann to Musil as well as Benjamin, Jünger, Gramsci etc. The earliest literary memories I have are my mother reading me first Pippi Longstocking, and then Tom Sawyer.  In opposition to this I myself only read comic books until I was about eight or nine. Those with an all-consuming passion though. The only book I can remember reading – three times at least – was Edgar Rice Bourroughs’ Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.

Why do you write?
Because I inexplicably missed out on being a film star.

Continue reading Interview | Philip Mann, author

Interview | Siân Williams, founder, The Children’s Bookshow

What is The Children’s Bookshow and how did you dream up the idea?
It’s a national tour which takes place each autumn in theatres across the country ranging from the Old Vic to the Liverpool Philharmonic – 15 venues in total. The tour takes writers and illustrators into those theatres to read their work to children, and to go to schools to do workshops afterwards and work with the children on their own creative writing. The idea came about because the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education for which I was doing some freelance publicity brought out a book – a compilation – called Simply the Best Books for Children. Since it was an institution rather than a publisher, it was very difficult for them to get distribution and I knew that having been a publisher. So I said, “If we can’t get it into the bookshops since they aren’t keen on books which are a bit out of the normal, what we’ll do, is promote it like Captain Corelli’s Mandolin which became famous by word of mouth.” And so we took the book into libraries and bookshops with some of the writers who were in the book. We had a marvellous first tour with Quentin Blake, James Berry, John Agard and others. That’s how it began. 

Have you always been an entrepreneur?
I suppose so, yes! In 1974 I was one of the founding members of Writers and Readers publishing co-operative founded on £250 and a prayer! The other members were Glenn Thompson, Richard Appignanesi and Lisa Appignanesi.
Continue reading Interview | Siân Williams, founder, The Children’s Bookshow

Interview | Linda Kelly, author

BookBlast® interviews Linda Kelly, biographer and historian.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Kent and brought up in the country, mostly in Hampshire. However I was also a wartime evacuee, from 1940-43, in the US: a Saturday Evening Post – Norman Rockwell kind of America, complete with freckle-faced kids and rocking chairs on verandas. It was an idyllic period from which I  date a certain independence of mind and a dislike of snobbery. 

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
Our house was full of books, both English and French, and my mother read a lot to us when we were small. Due to wartime paper shortages, there were few new books being published for children, so we were thrown back on the classics of our parents’ generation: Frances Hodgson Burnett, Charlotte Mary Yonge, Stevenson, Henty and Conan Doyle.  Perhaps because of my American experience, I particularly loved books like Little Women and What Katie Did, but I was more or less omnivorous and gobbled up anything from Agatha Christie to Walter Scott.

In your home, was the atmosphere for women emancipated?
I don’t think it was a subject which arose – I had two brothers and two sisters, and we all regarded each other as equals.

Continue reading Interview | Linda Kelly, author

Interview | Andrew Lycett, author

Andrew Lycett is the biographer of Ian Fleming, Rudyard Kipling, Dylan Thomas, Arthur Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Stamford, Lincolnshire, and was then spirited out to live in East Africa – what was then called Tanganyika where my father started and ran an English style prep school.

What sorts of books were in your house when you were growing up?
A wide range belonging to two well-read parents – the complete Dickens, some traditional poetry (many relics of my father’s time studying English at Oxford in the 1930s), a surprising number of thrillers, and several fascinating works of reference – all a bit out of date, as we lived in the colonies.

How did Oxford help shape your tastes in literature?  
I’m not sure that Oxford particularly shaped my tastes in literature as I was studying history. However I certainly read a lot while I was at university. The centre of the world appeared to be the United States so I read American authors widely: Updike, Mailer, Barth, Irving, Wolfe (Thomas and Tom) and someone who I’m not sure is much regarded today but I enjoyed at the time – Ken Kesey.

Continue reading Interview | Andrew Lycett, author

Interview | Susan Harris | wordswithoutborders.org

Georgia de Chamberet recently caught up with Susan Harris, editorial director of Words without Borders, (www.wordswithoutborders.org), to chat all things publishing, literature in translation and technology.

Why publishing and not education?
Never wanted an academic career, but always wanted to work in publishing.

Did you want to be a writer, or . . . ?
Of course. (The result was “or . . .”).

How did you end up working at Northwestern University Press?
I was very lucky. I did my undergrad there, and a few years later my advisor on my senior year project became the assistant director and editor-in-chief of the press, and needed a secretary; we’d stayed in touch, and I’d worked as a secretary between undergrad and grad school. So I started in that position and then moved into others as the press evolved.
Continue reading Interview | Susan Harris | wordswithoutborders.org

Interview | Melanie Schwapp, author

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I love life . . . the good, the bad and the messiness of it. I love the fact that we are all here bumbling our way through, and that each of our messes are the lessons that help to straighten out the jumbled lines. I live my life as such – I think that perfection is over-rated, so I do the things that make me happy, albeit imperfectly. I was never formally trained in landscaping or interior design, yet these are the occupations I’ve chosen because of my sheer love of plants, nature, sun, dirt, and families. The best part is, at the end of the day, I get to write about perfect imperfection.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A mother. I dreamt of the day when I would hold a tiny little being in my arms and build a home around it. Continue reading Interview | Melanie Schwapp, author

Interview, Proust’s Questionnaire | Lesley Blanch

Lesley Blanch (1904-2007) influenced and inspired generations of writers, readers and critics. Her lifelong passion was for Russia, the Balkans and the Middle East. At heart a nomad, she spent the greater part of her life travelling about those remote areas her books record so vividly.
She left England in 1946, never to return, except as a visitor. Her marriage to Romain Gary, the French novelist and diplomat, afforded her many years of happy wanderings. After their divorce, in 1963, Blanch was seldom at her Paris home longer than to repack.
Her posthumous memoirs On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life are published by Virago, Little Brown.

Where would you like to live?
It must be a warm country. If I really want to be coldly factual I must try to live where I can be looked after, but that’s a very dull answer only come on me now when I’m approaching one hundred. I should like to live in the Levant, somewhere in a Moslem country; the Moslems respect age. I loved Afghanistan passionately, but not the way it is now. I read, over and over again, the place names, just to get back there.

What is your idea of happiness on earth?
I want a garden and animal companionship and music.

What faults do you find most forgivable?
Temper. Rudeness. I forgive them very quickly. I don’t bear much malice because I’m too bored with it. Continue reading Interview, Proust’s Questionnaire | Lesley Blanch

Interview | Eileen Horne, author

Tell us a little bit about yourself
It is hard to decide which little bit is worth telling! For the purposes of this questionnaire: I am a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife, an American, a Democrat, a long term ex-pat living in Italy and London, and a former television drama producer turned author, editor and screenwriter.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
It changed throughout childhood: I am sure I wanted by turns to be an astronaut (which gives away my era), a ballet dancer (sadly without any talent for it) and an actress (ditto!) – but as time went on I decided the best job would be a librarian – imagine that, I told my mother, your whole day would just be books, books, books . . . what could be better? On my father’s recent death I found tucked away in his study a picture book I made for him as a child of eight or so, which ends with an author’s profile on the inside back cover, including a drawing of myself (big eyes, dark rimmed glasses, crazy hair) and the legend: “Eileen will be a famous writer when she grows up.” I guess I’m still coming of age. Continue reading Interview | Eileen Horne, author

Interview | Philip Mansel, author & historian

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a historian living in London. All my life I have loved travelling , learning about the countries I visit, trying to understand people and places, and explaining their connections through books. I am passionately European, have lived in Paris, Florence, Istanbul, Kuwait and Beirut, and loved the Middle East, before the current fanaticisms.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer or diplomat.

What books have had a lasting impact on you?
Nancy Mitford’s The Sun King. Robert Byron’s The Road to Oxiana. Alfred Duggan’s and Rider Haggard’s historical novels. The Greek myths. Sybille Bedford’s A Legacy. Continue reading Interview | Philip Mansel, author & historian

Interview, Proust’s Questionnaire | Gary Pulsifer, indie publisher

Gary Pulsifer has lived in the UK for 41 years. He has worked on both sides of the Atlantic – for Random House in New York and for a number of UK indies, including Writers & Readers, John Calder and Peter Owen. He founded the independent publishing house Arcadia books in 1996. Authors include: José Eduardo Agualusa (winner of the 2007 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize), Lisa Appignanesi, Michael Arditti, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Bonnie Greer, Shere Hite, Erica Jong, Dominique Manotti, Lucy Popescu, Luis Sepulveda, A. Sivanandan, Alex Wheatle.

Your favourite virtue?
Loyalty.

Your favourite qualities in a man?
Machismo is always a bore in men, so a little less of that is always welcome.

Your favourite qualities in a woman?
Men and women are very similar in many ways (naturally). Women often seem more clear-headed and hard-working than their male counterparts.

For what faults do have you most tolerance?
Ignorance.

Your chief characteristic?
Hard-working. A tolerance for fools is one, followed by a loyalty to them.

Your main fault?
Procrastination. Not being tough enough. (But once you’re out, you’re out for life.) Continue reading Interview, Proust’s Questionnaire | Gary Pulsifer, indie publisher