“You don’t travel in order to deck yourself with exoticism and anecdotes like a Christmas tree, but so that the route plucks you, rinses you, wrings you out, makes you like one of those towels, threadbare with washing that are handed out with slivers of soap in brothels. You leave far behind you the excuses or curses of your birthplace, and in each filthy bundle lugged about in crowded waiting rooms, on little station platforms appalling in their heat and misery, you see your own coffin going by. Without this detachment and lucidity, how can you hope to convey what you have seen?” — from Nicolas Bouvier’s The Scorpion-Fish
The Swiss writer and photographer, Nicolas Bouvier, (1929-98) was a traveller in the real sense of the word, navigating different worlds and writing about forgotten people and changed places. He gives us alternative perspectives on places like the Balkans, Iran, Azerbaijan, Japan, China, Korea and the highlands of Scotland.
He is unusual in the way he writes, at times, in a stream of consciousness about the world around him and how he feels in the instant so directly and openly. In The Scorpion Fish, his description of a bomb blowing up a bus and the grisly aftermath is not only very beautifully written but mirrors his inner collapse and sense of physical decrepitude. Continue reading Review | So It Goes – Travels in the Aran Isles, Xian and places in between, Nicolas Bouvier | Eland Publishing
T. J. Gorton’s debut novel Only the Dead: A Levantine Tragedy (Quartet Books) has been shortlisted for the Author’s Club First Novel Award. The winner will be announced tomorrow, Sunday 17th May, at the Authors’ Club LitFest Online 2020.
The narrative moves back and forth between civil war in Beirut and the Levant of 1915-18, as Vartan Nakashian, an Armenian from Aleppo, looks back over his tumultuous life, involving espionage, betrayal and revenge at a time of war and genocide. Here is an extract to give you a taste of the author’s style and voice. You can buy a copy of the novel HERE
“Dust motes danced in the sunbeams. Leaning back, he watched their senseless, ceaseless movement and for some reason thought again of old Bustros, the patriarch of a great Greek Orthodox tribe. He would be amazed to see his house today, nearly two hundred years after he built it; surrounded by roads and overlooked by an office block, its gar- dens bulldozed for another road that never happened, was never intended to happen. Turned into a no-man’s land where the militias dump bodies, sometimes burning them. Another reason to keep the windows shut, the oily smoke reeking of gasoline and barbecue. As though anyone cared to identify yesterday’s victims. It’s tomorrow’s they’re worried about. Continue reading Extract | Only the Dead: A Levantine Tragedy, T. J. Gorton
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
Saint Lucian Writers and Writing edited by John Robert Lee is an indispensable author index of poetry, prose and drama available from Papillote Press. His other publications include Collected Poems 1975-2015, Canticles and Elemental. A new collection of poems, Pierrot, will be published by Peepal Tree Press in Leeds in February 2020.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am Saint Lucian, lived there for most of my life, been involved with the arts, literature and media from the late 1960’s, from about nineteen. I attended the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill, Barbados from 1969, finished off my degree at Mona, Jamaica in the early 1980’s, began work with the library service in St. Lucia in 1979 after working as a teacher, cultural officer and radio announcer and producer. Literature, theatre, literary journalism, media (print and electronic), libraries and teaching have been my main interests and occupations. I am a practising Christian and Bible teacher and preacher with my local Baptist church.
When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
My mother encouraged me to read and memorize poetry, my father bought me books; I read the usual Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, William and Jennings books, Enid Blyton, fairy tales and many of the classics. Comics of course. I had an early exposure to newspapers, principally the Trinidad Guardian which my father got daily. My father and mother were readers and encouraged reading. A year or so before I went to university, I took A-level classes in Literature and became introduced to the moderns – Eliot, D H Lawrence, Philip Larkin et al – read many anthologies and these have had a lifelong impact and influence. Continue reading Guest Feature | Leila Sackur interviews John Robert Lee (ed.) Saint Lucian Writers and Writing
Leila Sackur is a recent graduate in History from the University of Cambridge. She is interested in everyday life, gentrification and urban space. At university, Leila was involved in the student press and politics. She is a freelance writer who enjoys reading and writing narrative-non fiction. @baby_____lei
As an intern at BookBlast, part of my role includes spending some time sifting through the archives of our online journal. What content have we put up recently . . . is there anything I can change or add to . . . would this or that article we published in 2017 be interesting to new Twitter and Facebook followers now, and who might have missed out? I like this activity. It’s interesting to spend time reading over our backlog of posts; piecing together the digital footprint of the work done for BookBlast Diary since it first went live in 2016.
We’re currently in an in-between phase where it’s been exactly one year since the first BookBlast 10×10 Tour, and a year to go until our next one. ICYMI, last year we collaborated with Waterstones to bring together ten independent publishers, their authors and translators, and showcase them across the UK in ten cities. Continue reading Guest Feature | Leila Sackur, Dispatches from the Intern’s Desk