Interview | Ra Page, Comma Press | Indie Publisher of the Week

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Absolutely, both of them. My parents hoarded books, and they read to us every night as kids. My mother is a voracious reader of novels (although she never allows herself enough time to read them). My dad came from that great working-class tradition of self-betterment, investing in his own education throughout his life. He stock-piled political and historical texts, was a huge fan of EP Thomson and Eric Hobsbawm in particular, and loved Strachey’s Eminent Victorians so much he named one of my brothers ‘Lytton’. He left behind a library of books about Nasser and Middle East history that none of really know what to do with. Dad was more of a history and non-fiction reader, Mum more fiction. There were some writers they both agreed on though: Lawrence, Hardy, Orwell.
Also, I have to say, in the context of our new release Protest, that this book is effectively my ‘thank you’ to my parents for the extraordinary political education I got from them. I was privileged to grow up in the eye of a whole cluster of political storms. As kids we stood on pickets lines outside coalfields in North Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, took day trips to Greenham, were greatly involved in the 1984 Chesterfield by-election that returned Tony Benn to parliament, marched with the country-long anti-Apartheid march that culminated in the two Free South Africa concerts; and saw a newly freed Mandela address the world at second of these. We were beyond lucky.
As well as being a thank you to them, this book is also a potted journey of protests that Mum, Dad and two grandfathers I never knew were involved in, as well as much earlier ones that I heard mentioned in hushed reverence. Mum and Dad got to know each other on an Aldermaston march; both were linked with the Hornsey sit-in, both were at the anti-Vietnam demo in Grosvenor Square, 1968 – where Dad was wrongly arrested and defended himself in court. My grandfather also marched with Jarrow marchers as they entered London in 1936, and fought against the blackshirts on Cable Street the same year. That’s the thing about this book, it’s not just me, scratch the surface and everybody has a connection to not one, but multitudes of these stories – because it’s our history, not theirs. To quote my friend, Dinesh Allirajah: “It’s political, but it’s always been personal.”

Continue reading Interview | Ra Page, Comma Press | Indie Publisher of the Week

Interview | Laia Fàbregas | Author of the Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Barcelona. When I was twenty three I went to the Netherlands for a couple of months and I ended up staying there for twelve years. Now I am back home for seven years already, but I still feel like I am a bit Dutch.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a teenager I saw myself as a teacher. As a child, I don’t remember.

What books have had a lasting impact on you?
When I was a teenager I read everything from Edgar Allan Poe and his tales made me want to write. Later on, when I was in art school in Barcelona, I read Opera aperta by Umberto Eco. That book helped me understand why I liked some books better than others. And when years later I started writing, it helped me see that I was doing it fine by doing my own way without thinking about who was going to read my words.

Continue reading Interview | Laia Fàbregas | Author of the Week

Interview | Samantha Schnee | Translator of the Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Scotland and moved to the US with my family at the age of four. We lived in the heartland of the US, in Nebraska, for several years, before moving to Texas, where we settled. I became an American citizen during my first year at uni. I started learning German, took lots of Spanish literature courses, and studied abroad in Berlin, Madrid, and Mainz, but in the end I became an English major because I wanted to access the creative writing courses offered by that department. I wrote a collection of short stories for my senior project. By the time I graduated I had gorged on literature for so long that I felt like I needed to do something completely different, so I went to work for a bank. I ended up in the Latin American group of an American bank, helping companies from Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil access the US markets. I loved the clients but I didn’t love the work itself, which was incredibly demanding — I didn’t have the time or energy to read a book for three years so I left that industry for publishing. I worked for Andrew Wylie as his assistant for a year, then for Francis Coppola, launching his literary magazine, Zoetrope: All-Story, finally settling at Words Without Borders, which published its first issues of writing from Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, six months after I began working there in 2003.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
It’s so lowbrow that it’s slightly embarrassing to admit, but I loved the Nancy Drew mystery series; I read every one, some multiple times. I think what appealed to me was the girl power — that these three young women were daring and fearless in the pursuit of truth and justice was quite inspiring. The book I probably read the most times was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Little Princess. I was captivated by the character Ram Das, who would sneak across the rooftops into the little girl’s garret with carpets and firewood, pillows and blankets, to make it a more pleasant place for her to live. It seemed utterly magical to me. I suppose I’m still rather fanciful.

Continue reading Interview | Samantha Schnee | Translator of the Week

Interview | Nicky Harman | Translator of the Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m based in Weymouth and in London. I go to China every year on visits. I speak and read Spanish, French and Italian but I only translate from Chinese. I have two kids, grown-up now, and two grandchildren. I keep reasonably fit, cycle, walk, swim and do yoga –– but all in moderation! And I love food.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
When I was very small, my father used to read us Grimms Household Tales every day after tea, and I loved that. Rapunzel (‘let down your hair’) was a particular favourite. This only happened in winter . . . my parents were farmers, and in summer, work went on till late in the evening. In my early teens, my father tried to wean me off children’s books and introduce me to the classics, and as a result, I went on strike and didn’t read any more fiction until I was in my thirties. After that, and somewhat belatedly, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens became big favourites. I wasn’t an entirely undutiful daughter: I carried around my father’s present of a leatherette-bound box set of Austen for twenty years without ever opening them, and then had to retrieve a couple of the volumes from houses in places like Sheffield and Wandsworth, where I had somehow mislaid them years before. I never did make headway with Trollope or The Brothers Karamazov, which my father kept pressing on me. Continue reading Interview | Nicky Harman | Translator of the Week

Interview | Heidi Perks | Author of the Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a mum of two small children and I live by the sea in Bournemouth. I spend many of the hours my children are at school writing, something I have always loved doing. Until four years ago when my youngest was born I worked in marketing. I left my job as a marketing director to spend more time with my family, and this was a perfect opportunity to start writing seriously.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I did always want to write a book, but as a child I don’t think I actually said I’d like to be an author. As with most children I flitted through a number of ideas. I wanted to be an air hostess (even though I hate flying now), and also a nurse (I would make a dreadful nurse, I am far too squeamish.) And for quite a long time I wanted to work in fashion as I loved textiles at school.

What books have had a lasting impact on you?
From an early age anything by Enid Blyton. I fell in love with the Famous Five and Adventure series books. Also as a child I really loved Last of the Really Great Wangdoodles, which I still have for when my daughter is a little older. As an adult the first book I remember being totally impressed by was Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. Whilst I always loved reading this was the first one I couldn’t put down and it was a bit of a turning point for me reading the amount I now do.
Continue reading Interview | Heidi Perks | Author of the Week

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 | Youssef Rakha | Author of the Week

The Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars by Youssef Rakha translated by Paul Starkey has been awarded the 2015 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation.
Paul Starkey & Youssef Rakha will be in conversation with Gaby Wood @woodgaby on Thurs 18 February at 6.30 for 7pm Waterstone’s Piccadilly Bookstore, London W1J 9HD @WaterstonesPicc It is a free event, but please reserve your place by emailing piccadilly@waterstones.com

Youssef Rakha is exclusively interviewed by Georgia for The BookBlast Diary.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am the only child of a disillusioned communist and a woman who struggled against incredible odds to go to university. I speak English with a slight accent and Arabic like a native Egyptian. I can think of at least three separate people I’ve been since I went to university in Hull, returning to Cairo once I graduated. All three worked in journalism and wrote, and the last two took pictures as well. I’m interested in the meaning of people’s words and actions, individually and in groups, in my part of the world: how the disorder and duplicity of human behaviour can resolve into something meaningful and also presumably beautiful. I’m interested in the way language can reflect and alter reality. I have a French-speaking three-year-old daughter I’m utterly besotted with. I’ve been urged to stop smoking cigarettes, which I do voraciously, and I’m planning on it but I haven’t yet.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
At a certain point I thought I was a prophet, a messenger of God. I must’ve fantasized about being a doctor and an architect and a spy, but all I consciously remember is wanting to be a writer. Continue reading Interview | Youssef Rakha | Author of the Week

Interview | Michel Moushabeck, Interlink Books | Indie Publisher of the Week

Michel S. Moushabeck is a publisher, editor, writer and musician of Palestinian descent. The founder of Interlink Books, he is also the author of several books including Kilimanjaro: A Photographic Journey to the Roof of Africa and A Brief Introduction to Arabic Music, Most recently, he contributed a piece to Being Palestinian: Personal Reflections on Palestinian Identity in the Diaspora.

He is the recipient of NYU’s Founder’s Day Award for outstanding scholarship (1981), the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s Alex Odeh Award (2010) and The Palestinian Heritage Foundation Achievement Award (2011). He serves on various boards – notably the board of trustees of The International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), an annual literary prize administered by the UK’s Booker Prize Foundation. He plays riqq, tabla and daff and his recording credits include two albums. He has performed at concert halls worldwide.

Michel Moushabeck is exclusively interviewed by Georgia for The BookBlast Diary.

Were your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Yes, both my parents and my grandparents were very bookish. They lived in Palestine, in the literary neighborhood of Katamon in West Jerusalem, until their forced exile from their home in 1948. I was born in Beirut and grew up there until age 19, when the 1975 Lebanese Civil War shattered my family’s life again and sent us in search for a new home. My parents ended up in Jordan, my brother in Athens and then California, my sister in Montreal, and I managed to find my way to Brooklyn, New York and then Massachusetts. Growing up in cosmopolitan Beirut, I was brought up on a healthy diet of good books, classical Arabic music, Oum Koulthum, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, The Beatles, Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, Egyptian cinema, and American westerns. Continue reading Interview | Michel Moushabeck, Interlink Books | Indie Publisher of the Week

Interview | Cheryl Robson, Aurora Metro | Indie Publisher of the Week

Cheryl Robson is a producer/director of several short independent films, most recently ‘Rock ’n’ Roll Island’ which was nominated for Best Short Film at Raindance, London 2015. She worked at the BBC for several years and then taught filmmaking at the University of Westminster, before setting up a theatre company. She founded Aurora Metro 25 years ago and the company has published over 150 international writers. As a writer, she has won the Croydon Warehouse International Playwriting Competition, and as an editor, she recently worked with Gabrielle Kelly on Celluloid Ceiling: Women Film Directors Breaking Through, the first global overview of women film directors.

Are your parents great readers?
My mother still is a great reader and I remember reading just about everything in my school library aged ten.

Did you want to become a publisher from the start?
I worked in TV for several years then ran a theatre company before trying publishing. I am also a writer and filmmaker − publishing has the advantage of being able to move deadlines back on projects. Continue reading Interview | Cheryl Robson, Aurora Metro | Indie Publisher of the Week

Review | BILAL: On the Road with Illegal Immigrants, Fabrizio Gatti | Editions Liana Levi

As a lobbyist for translation, I occasionally write reader’s reports giving an opinion on French books that have been submitted to a publishing company for consideration. Translations of good non fiction are rare compared to fiction, and fewer grants are available. As its the indies who tend to take risks on new writers-new translations, they have less funds and back up than the majors. So good books often get nowhere — very much the case for Bilal sur la route des clandestins by Fabrizio Gatti which I was commissioned to report on back in 2011. A university press with an endowment could be a possibility? Hence this post . . . The book would need updating of course, easily done.  For now it is available in Italian and French so if you can read those languages — buy it!

BILAL SUR LA ROUTE DES CLANDESTINS by Fabrizio Gatti (478pp Liana Levi 2008)  Winner of the premio Terzani in 2008

Fabrizio Gatti is a reporter for the Italian weekly, L’Espresso. Human rights defender and campaigner against organised crime, he has undertaken numerous undercover investigations. Ryszard Kapuscinski believed that news is all about political struggle and the search for truth, not profits and ratings as is invariably the case today. Gatti is a kindred spirit. He follows in Kapuscinski’s footsteps with this humane and heartbreaking book. Bilal, on the road with illegal immigrants is literary reportage at its best; an odyssey into the heart of darkness. Gatti is not only an excellent and courageous investigative journalist, but a real writer.

Continue reading Review | BILAL: On the Road with Illegal Immigrants, Fabrizio Gatti | Editions Liana Levi