Review | Protest! Stories of Resistance, Ra Page (ed.) | Book of the Week

 “Our own, personal experience of the event – as it unfolded live in front of us – gets over-written, overlain with any narrative available that complies with Thomas Carlisle’s ‘Great Man’ theory, that ‘history is but the biography of great men’, that the rest of us, the ‘bystanders’, aren’t part of history. The short story rejects this version of events because, as a form, it has evolved to prioritise the non-heroes – the bystanders, the disenfranchised, the ‘submerged’ (as Frank O’Connor would say). And when it comes to ‘world events’, none are more suited to the short story than the protest. In a protest, we’re all bystanders, we’re all there because of some attempt to marginalise us; the bystanders are the people making history,” writes Ra Page, editor of Protest! Stories of Resistance.

The workings of the state when it is under threat are not pretty. One man’s system is another man’s nightmare. Protest! takes the long view. From the Peasants’ Revolt sparked by the Poll Tax of 1381 to the anti-Iraq War demo of 2003, the 20 movements featured in this superb book have parallels in terms of ideas and tactics and emotional charge. The framework of the anthology brings to life the events and the people involved. A short story like a snapshot in time is followed by an afterword by an academic who, in certain recent cases, was an eyewitness.

Prior protests loom large over present ones. This struck me forcibly while reading the stories and simultaneously following Westway 23’s facebook posts about the Grenfell Tower Protest in my neighbourhood. It is no coincidence that safe Tory seat, Kensington, went to Labour by a narrow margin for the first time ever in the recent snap election. The gruesome fire has illuminated years of institutionalised abuse and disregard for the law on the part of the corrupt powers-that-be. Establishment standard bearers The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Spectator have been accusing the ‘hard left’ of ‘hijacking’ the Grenfell fire tragedy for their own ends. Plus ça change.

Continue reading Review | Protest! Stories of Resistance, Ra Page (ed.) | Book of the Week

Review | Larry Tremblay, The Orange Grove | Peirene Press

BookBlast®  reviews Peirene No. 23 The Orange Grove.

UNICEF estimates that child soldiers are currently employed in thirty conflicts around the world. How are they swept up into a life of violence and used as instruments of war? [1]

Ahmed and Aziz found their grandparents in the ruins of their house. Their grandmother’s skull had been smashed in by a beam. Their grandfather was lying in his bedroom, his body ripped apart by the bomb that had come from the side of the mountain where every evening the sun disappeared.”

Continue reading Review | Larry Tremblay, The Orange Grove | Peirene Press

Interview | Meike Ziervogel | Author of the Week

Novelist and publisher, Meike Ziervogel, came to London in 1986 to study Arabic language and literature, and received a BA and MA from SOAS. She speaks German, English, Arabic and French. She is married and has two children.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up? 
I was born in Kiel in the north of Germany, and I grew up near there, in a small town called Heide on the North Sea coast.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
My mother used to read us the Grimm’s Fairy Tales from a book with beautiful old paintings. I wanted to have hair like Rapunzel.

Why do you write?
Because I enjoy it. Creating stories also allows me to explore and emotionally understand topics and issues I might otherwise find difficult to comprehend.

Continue reading Interview | Meike Ziervogel | Author of the Week

Interview | Jen Hamilton-Emery, Salt Publishing | Indie of the Week

BookBlast™ catches up with Jen Hamilton-Emery, fiction editor and director of independent Salt publishing, based in Cromer, Norfolk.

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Yes, both my parents were (and still are) readers. Every week my mum would take me to the library and a treat was a trip to a bookshop. I’ve always had books in my life.

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
I’ve always loved books and reading, but working in publishing never entered my head when I was looking at career options. I left school in the early 1980s in Glasgow and knew no-one who had any involvement whatsoever in publishing. There was less of it about in those days!

Has your vision from when you started Salt 18 years ago changed?
No, not really. Our vision was always to publish interesting and brilliant books that were that bit different to the mainstream.  We may have shifted genres from poetry to fiction, but our aims haven’t changed.

Continue reading Interview | Jen Hamilton-Emery, Salt Publishing | Indie of the Week

Review | The Photographer, Meike Ziervogel | Book of the Week

Meike Ziervogel: “As long as you can keep disorder at bay you have control. You can see clearly, you know what step to take next. Albert can’t stand chaos. He used to be able to tolerate it. In fact, when he was young he never made a distinction between order and disorder. Never thought about it. That wasn’t how he perceived the world, neatly divided into two camps, with judgements attached: good or bad. But now he’s convinced, has become convinced over the last years, that chaos is the enemy of the people. Every now and again, for a brief moment, he looks longingly back to a time when he wasn’t so clear-sighted. He knows that this lack of a clear view helped him to take good photographs. He was open to surprise, to being surprised.

Being in a war changes a person for ever. The Photographer is a tale of betrayal, loyalty, sacrifice and survival. The evacuation of East Prussia is pivotal for the family at the centre of the story. By winter 1945, nearly 11 million Germans — mostly women and children — had fled the Eastern provinces of the Reich, heading west. Killings and rapes committed by the Red Army triggered fear and panic amongst the population.

Continue reading Review | The Photographer, Meike Ziervogel | Book of the Week

Interview | Benjamin Myers | Author of the Week

Benjamin  Myers is the author of six novels – The Gallows Pole, Turning Blue, Beastings, Pig Iron, Richard, The Book of Fuck – a novella, Snorri & Frosti, and four collections of poetry. He is also a journalist contributing to various online and print publications. 

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Dryburn Hospital, Durham. I grew up three miles away in a suburb of the city.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Any particular formative influences?
We had all sorts of books, but especially a lot of fiction. From a young age I enjoyed Roald Dahl, the anthologies of suspense stories that Hitchcock put his name to, Stephen King novels, a lot of works that bridge the gap between adolescence and young adulthood – Dracula, Robinson Crusoe, Huckleberry Finn – but also a lot of female-orientated books too, especially by Judy Blume. I read all of her work, which of course went down with the lads in the north-east in the 1980s.

That was all probably under the age of twelve, at which point I got heavily into comics, particularly the counter-cultural underground, stuff like Robert Crumb and The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. Then I delved headlong into fiction: George Orwell, Laurie Lee, D.H. Lawrence, James Baldwin, William Burroughs, Harry Crews. Given that the average household in the UK purchases 1 or 2 books per year, I was very lucky to have access to the written word at all.

Continue reading Interview | Benjamin Myers | Author of the Week

Review | The Gallows Pole, Benjamin Myers | Book of the Week

BookBlast® reviews The Gallows Pole.

The Yorkshire moors: wild and untameable. Land of the Brontës, Bram Stoker, Ted Hughes and David Hockney, that much I knew, until I read Ben Myers’ pungent and addictive novel,  The Gallows Pole, about a forgotten chapter of history. King David Hartley of Bell House was the leader of the Cragg Vale Coiners, “whose brutality had put the fear in many and whose wicked practices had damaged the trade of the common man, but whose efforts had rewarded the brave too, and whose rumoured generosity had put clothes on the backs and food on the tables of the starved communities of the upper moorlands when everyone else had failed them.”

bell house Mytholmroyd yorkshire bookblast review

In the 1760s, Hartley ran “the yellow trade,” creating counterfeit coins, from his “gloomy sky palace” perched on the lawless upper moorlands — Sowerby Bridge and Halifax to the east; Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall to the west. A place apart, it is well away from a changing England where the “wheels of industry turn ever onwards and the trees are falling still. Last week I did chance to meet a man right down there in Cragg Vale who told me that soon this valley is to be invaded. He spoke of chimneys and buildings and waterways and told of work for those that wanted it, but work that pays a pittance and keeps you enslaved to those that make the money. This man — he told me this land around us was soon no longer to be our land but that of those who want to reap and rape and bind those of us whose blood is in the sod. They’re pulling it out from beneath our feet like a widow shaking out her clippy mat. He said he had it in writing. Said it was legally binding.”

Continue reading Review | The Gallows Pole, Benjamin Myers | Book of the Week

Interview | Kevin Duffy, Bluemoose Books | Indie of the Week

Kevin Duffy lives in Hebden Bridge with Hetha, co-founder of Bluemoose Books, his two sons and their dog, Eric.

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
My dad wasn’t a big reader, never read fiction, nor non -fiction for that matter. My mum read a lot, Georgette Heyer and Jean Plaidy, but there weren’t that many books in the house. There was a mobile library that came to our village every Monday evening and that’s where we got our books. My parents were both very religious so we had two sets of encyclopedias, Butler’s Lives of the Saints and The Encyclopedia Britannica.
Right, now for the Miss World answers: I’m fifty five, married to Hetha, with two grown up sons and live in Hebden Bridge. I’ve worked in publishing for 30 years, 25 of those in sales and marketing, for various publishers, fiction, non-fiction and academic. I started working life in a bakery, worked in a  jigsaw factory, was in a pantomime with Les Dawson and became a team leader at Burger King in Hounslow for 12 months too.
As a school governor we stopped the local authority from closing the school my lads went to and a few of us curtailed Whitbread’s ambition to demolish a 13th century coaching Inn and turn it into a Karaoke-in-a-basket fun pub.

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
No not really. I knew it existed of sorts because I read books, but it wasn’t on the radar as something that I would or could do. I worked for a library wholesaler in Hounslow and met lots of sales reps for publishing companies and then applied for a sales job at Headline books in 1987 when they had just started, got the job and it progressed from there.

Has your vision from when you started Bluemoose Books 11 years ago changed?
No. Our vision from the start was to find great new writers, nurture their talent and publish them, and that’s what we’re still doing.

Continue reading Interview | Kevin Duffy, Bluemoose Books | Indie of the Week

Interview | Jane Aitken, publisher, Gallic & Aardvark

Ebury Street in London’s Belgravia: a quiet, residential, affluent area. The perfect place for a bookshop where readers can enjoy peaceful browsing away from the madding crowd, and dip into some of the best French writing available in English translation. However the Belgravia Books Collective is not just a shop, but also the home of independent publishing success story, Gallic Books. It has been very much on my radar and, at last, I am going to talk to one of the founders.

Jane Aitken and Pilar Webb met when they were both working at Random House children’s, and they went on to co-found Gallic Books in 2006. Headliners Muriel Barbery (trs. Alison Anderson), Antoine Laurain (trs. Emily Boyce & Jane Aitken), Michel Déon (trs. Julian Evans) and Yasmina Khadra (trs. Howard Curtis), have an enthusiastic following among discerning British readers who relish a good, well-written read from foreign shores. 

Continue reading Interview | Jane Aitken, publisher, Gallic & Aardvark

Interview | Clare Christian, RedDoor Publishing | Indie Publisher of the Week

Clare Christian has worked for a number of large publishing houses including Hodder, Orion, John Wiley and Pearson. In 2005 she co-founded The Friday Project where she published In Search of Adam by Caroline Smailes and bestselling non-fiction Blood, Sweat and Tea: Real Life Adventures in an Inner-city Ambulance by Tom Reynolds and Confessions of a GP by Dr. Benjamin Daniels. TFP was sold to HarperCollins in 2008 and Clare stayed on until 2009 before leaving to offer publishing consultancy services under the banner of The Book Guru. She has been developing RedDoor alongside The Book Guru since January 2014. She is a past winner of the UK Young Publisher of the Year award.

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Both my parents read quite a bit, my dad reads mainly non-fiction and Mum, fiction. I read everything from a young age. We made weekly visits to the library and the nice librarian would order in books from other libraries once I had worked my way through all of the books on their shelves!

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
No, my favourite subjects at school were the sciences and English. I did a degree in Zoology and was planning a PhD but time and finances ran out and I looked to combine my love of science and my love of books and decided I would go into publishing and publish popular science books. Of course publishing doesn’t quite work like that and I am yet to publish a popular science book.
Continue reading Interview | Clare Christian, RedDoor Publishing | Indie Publisher of the Week