“So many books have been written with Paris as a character and there are so many clichés about its seductive beauty, as a writer you need to find your Paris and step away from the great dark magnet that it is. Often the dark Paris is what is most interesting.” Alicia Drake
The vision of Paris as an intellectual’s city with writers and artists chain-smoking on café terraces, arguing about literature, art and Existentialism has been consigned to the attic by most contemporary novelists at work today who are worth reading. Tatiana de Rosnay and Alicia Drake are two such writers whose vision of the City of Light is anything but a picture postcard. They graced the stage at this year’s Beyond Words French Literature Festival at the French Institute in South Kensington.
There is, of course, some superb non fiction on offer which gives a genuine, riveting, and rather more leftfield take beyond the usual stereotypical reads – my favourite being the memoirs of late, great John Calder who I was lucky enough to know. The Garden of Eros: The Story of the Paris Expatriates and the Post-war Literary Scene is essential reading for anyone curious about visionary entrepreneurs operating in the publishing industry of yesteryear, and the Paris-London-New York golden triangle.
A forgotten Paris is described by the late Lesley Blanch in her memoirs On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life (Virago) in which she describes Russian Paris of the 1920s with theatre director, Theodore Komisarjevsky, and the beleaguered capital in 1945 when she was there with her younger husband Romain Gary, ambitious and unknown. “Romain developed a hunger for the atmosphere of the studios where a circle of newer artists worked. Long evenings would be spent trudging along the icy ill-lit streets and interminable boulevards. Public transport was scarce, very few people had cars then, and we had no money for taxis, which were rare.“ Continue reading Spotlight | Tatiana de Rosnay, Alicia Drake & Daughters of Simone de Beauvoir | Beyond Words French Literature Festival 2019
I was delighted to be invited along to some of the key talks held at this year’s Beyond Words French Literature Festival at the French Institute in South Kensington. Beyond Words has become ‘The Big Event’ in London for the promotion of French books translated into English. The festival features bilingual live literature events, writers’ talks, musical performances, screenings of recent literary adaptations, staged readings and books galore – both classic and contemporary.
This is the first of two posts about just some of what was up for discussion at the #BeyondWordsFest
Translation: a success story
Since I researched and wrote Boom not Bust: A new chapter in the story of translation in the UK in March 2015, translated fiction has become an ongoing success story. Brexit fatigue has led to a surge in the sale of translated fiction in the UK – an unexpected boon. Reading writing from elsewhere is ever more crucial as Little Englanders tighten their grip on this offshore island which looks set to sink beneath delusions of grandeur, short of a miracle . . .
Continue reading Spotlight | Jonathan Coe, Olivia Rosenthal, Claudia Durastanti & Others | Beyond Words French Literature Festival 2019
“The flooding was not going to subside. Linden had turned off the TV. He had felt slightly nauseous. The Seine’s upwelling had upset him, but his parents’ state worried him all the more. The bad timing of their visit to Paris stupefied him. How could their family weekend have turned into such an ordeal?”
After a prolonged separation, the Malegarde family is set to celebrate the fortieth wedding anniversary of Paul and his wife Lauren, as well as his seventieth birthday. It is a shock for the elderly couple used to secluded rural life in the Drôme valley to arrive in a capital saturated by monsoon-like rain. Linden and Tilia, based in San Francisco and London respectively, join their parents in Chatterton Hotel in the 14th arrondissement. The family has not been reunited in such a way since they were teenagers.
Continue reading Review | The Rain Watcher, Tatiana de Rosnay | Book of the Week
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in the outskirts of Paris, and I grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, and in Paris, France.
What sorts of books were in your family home?
My father who is French read scientific books, but he loved Jules Verne, and my mother who is British initiated me to Daphné du Maurier.
Who were early formative influences as a writer?
Anne Frank, Edgar Poe, Enid Blyton, C.S Lewis. Continue reading Interview | Tatiana de Rosnay | Author of the Week
Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
JUDITH (Publishing Director): My father loves reading newspapers and history books. My mother loves reading novels. If I publish a book I usually ask myself if my mother would like reading it too―meaning that it shouldn’t be pretentious or unnecessarily complicated. My aunt was the person who stimulated me most though―she was a great storyteller herself, as well as a librarian, and somehow she always seemed to know exactly which books to give me to read.
LYDIA (Editor-in-Chief): Not while I was growing up, although I’m not sure how much free time they had. It was very much noted that I was a reader though, and was encouraged. I also quickly worked out that reading in bed meant I could stay up late by turning the light back on after my parents went downstairs. Continue reading Interview | Judith Uyterlinde & Lydia Unsworth, World Editions | Indie Publisher of the Week
The Horseman’s Song is the sixth in the Martin Bora series and follows on from the success of Road to Ithaca, Tin Sky, A Dark Song of Blood, Lumen and Liar Moon, also published by Bitter Lemon Press.
“Bora felt kinship for the dead. The ancient and the new, the long buried and the exposed, those over whom people wept, and the dead whose name or gravesite no one knew. All of them claimed brotherhood with him tonight. It might be the balmy scent of the evergreens brushing against his boots, or the day closing like an eye, or knowing that Lorca was dead, as was Colonel Serrano’s son. The man from Mockau, too, was as dead “as all the dead of the earth”, in Lorca’s own words. It might be any of those things, but his narrow escape only made him kin to the bones of Spain.”
A whole generation was passionately entangled in the Spanish Civil War – politically, militarily and ideologically – preceding World War Two. Foreign volunteers actively participated, siding with different factions. Several countries defied the Non-Intervention Agreement, and also took sides, contributing arms, funds or fighters. Picasso’s Guernica is the most famous image of the 1936-1939 clash of bourgeois democracy vs. Fascist aggression. Continue reading Review | The Horseman’s Song, Ben Pastor | Book 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
Human beings are violent creatures so exposure to traumatic events which leave an unspoken legacy is nothing new. What is new is 24/7 web browsing, social media, TV and online streaming creating multiple exposure and repetition, and endless cyber avenues of escape from a painful reality.
According to Nicholas Carr in The Shallows, not since Gutenberg invented printing has humanity been exposed to such mind-altering technology.
Different people react in different ways to similar events – not all people who experience the same traumatic event will be severely disrupted. It is estimated that 80% of those in rehab for addiction in the UK and US have been traumatised at some point.
If what happened has been forgotten or silenced, memory and feelings can live on, and be passed on down the generations. These emotional legacies are generally hidden, encoded in myriad ways, from gene expression to everyday language, playing a far greater role in emotional and physical health than has been realised until now, since discoveries have been made thanks to the revolution in neuroscience research. Continue reading Review | Unspoken Legacy, Claudia Black | Central Recovery Press
Find out about Extinction Rebellion and and sign up here, at rebellion earth
Last week, thousands of protesters paralysed parts of central London, blockading four landmarks in the capital in an attempt to force the government to take action on the escalating climate crisis.
I went to Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge to find out for myself what Extinction Rebellion demonstrators were up to. And I caught Dom Goetz, a leader in the making, give a succinct fifteen minute roundup of what faces us all if emergency action is not taken NOW. Inertia and denial will lead to irreversible climate breakdown and mass extinction.
Continue reading Breaking News | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | Extinction Rebellion
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