Wind, snow and ice are perfect conditions for cosying up indoors and making the most of home sweet home. Our Winter Reads rounds up of some of the best new writing to catch the imagination and our latest encounters with some of the best independent publishers at work in the UK today . . . involving gods and African lions, revolution revisited, a memoir in tweets, strong women strolling with Pushkin, 1960s Damascus and Iran, Arabian aromas, translation as activism, Roger Pulvers and David Bowie in Japan, naughty valentines, French flair, and much more besides.
A BIG THANK YOU to all our readers and followers! We had 1,857 views on 20 February, our best day ever . . . and 26,763 views for the month of August in 2017 was followed in second place by 21,670 views in February 2018.
Calling all freethinkers !
Q: If you could go anywhere in time for one day, where would you go and why? A: “Probably 1922: year of Ulysses and The Wasteland. But equally, late 1950s New York. I like the tailoring and cocktails.” Neil Griffiths, novelist and founder of the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses, gave us an exclusive interview back in October to mark the publication of his magnificent, addictive magnum opus As A God Might Be (Dodo Ink). Writer and occasional reviewer, James Tookey, who works with Neil Griffiths, answered five questions about the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses.
To discover something of Pakistan as it once was before suicide bomb attacks, assassinations, kidnappings and civil unrest became the norm, read Travels in a Dervish Cloak (Eland) – a memoir travelogue to be savoured and relished. Its author, Isambard WIlkinson, foreign correspondent for the Financial Times and Telegraph, gave us an exclusive interview.
“Henrietta Rose-Innes writes an admirably taut, clean prose … a welcome addition to the new South African literature.” J.M. Coetzee. Here she is on her heroes: “I don’t think I go to fiction – or life for that matter – for heroes. However, into my mind come two great anticolonial champions: Makana (Makhanda) was a military and spiritual leader of the Xhosa, who led battles against the British in the early 19th century. He drowned while attempting to escape from Robben Island, a century and a half before Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment there.” Her novel, Green Lion (Gallic Books) speaks to us urgently of another kind of moral responsibility to that which we are used to receiving from South African writers, namely that of “understanding how we engage with the creatures who share our planet.”
Rising star Heidi James is heading stateside with her novel So The Doves (Bluemoose) due out in 2019. Q: What other authors are you friends with? How do they help you become a better writer? A: “I’m not very good at the networking thing so not many, but the few authors I’m friends with – Ben Myers, Adelle Stripe, Ford Dagenham, Lindsay Parnell, Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone, Lee Rourke – I’ve known for a long time and we’ve all supported each other in some way; either by reading early drafts, suggesting books and in Ben’s case, introducing me to my publisher. They help me become a better writer by being bloody amazing and writing incredible work. They throw down the creative gauntlet. It’s great seeing my friends succeed, and they deserve even more success.“
Fanography or fan fiction? Megan Dunn first read Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451, age 14, while attending Western Heights High School in Rotorua, New Zealand. Her father had driven cross-country selling books to libraries in his thirties. “’Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future,’ Ray Bradbury said. I agreed. I had written my first published short story in the Stoke Newington library.” Check out her novel Tinderbox (Galley Beggar Press), intertwined with Megan’s own struggles as a fledgling novelist, her interpretations of the life of Bradbury the author, and the making of the 1966 screen version by François Truffaut of his most successful book, starring Julie Christie.
Pete Ayrton founded Serpent’s Tail in 1986 with the specific remit of publishing fiction in translation. He handed over the reins of leadership in 2014 to transition to being a freelance writer-editor. Q: As a publisher, what are you most proud of publishing? A: “It was wonderful to publish the first novels by Colm Tóibín, David Peace, Neil Bartlett, Stella Duffy and Sapphire. And the first English translations of Michel Houellebecq, Elfriede Jelinek, Herta Muller, Alain Mabanckou, Virginie Despentes. I do regret not being able to continue publishing some of these writers.” His latest anthology, Revolution!: Writing from Russia 1917, is a series of superb literary and political snapshots which emphasise the surreal, dark comedy of chaos and grotesque horror show of human behaviour under extreme conditions.
Translation as Activism
For thirty years I have championed translation one way or another, in tune with shifting times and my maverick career. Once relegated to the ghetto, translated fiction now sells better than books originally written in English, particularly in literary fiction, according to Nielsen. Meet some of the translators driving the boom.
Doyenne of Francophone literature, Ros Schwartz was awarded the Chevalier d’Honneur dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for her services to French literature in 2009. Her lucid, concise prose brings alive the exceptional life of Mireille Gansel who has dedicated herself to translation as activism. Translation as Transhumance (Les Fugitives) is a rich and resonant read.
Freelance translator Fionn Petch lived in Mexico City for about twelve years, and now lives in Berlin. Q: Why do you translate? A: “I believe translation underlies all communication, both within and between languages. Language is what makes us most distinctively human, and translation is a celebration of that, insofar as it makes all humans intelligible to each other, bringing different life-worlds into proximity. Translators are walkers-between-worlds.“
Check out his translation of Fireflies by Luis Sagasti: a brief, existential history of the world in the form of eight essays knitted together by subtle connection points. The book is published by newbie on the scene, Charco Press, which specialises in new fiction from Argentina. Co-founder Carolina Orloff was good enough to give us an exclusive Q&A. “My father owned and ran a large bookshop right in the centre of Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I am from originally. It was a bookshop that had been in the family for three generations, and where the likes of Borges, the Ocampo sisters and Bioy Casares had current accounts. Both my parents were and are great readers and I grew up surrounded by books from a very early age. No doubt my love for literature grew from that. I even started writing at an early age, and had a book of poetry published when I was thirteen.” Charco’s title Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz is shortlited for this year’s Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses.
BookBlast Celebrates Independent Publishing
Our celebration of indie publishing which we kicked off over two years ago is still going strong. Meet gorgeous Sam Mills, publisher at Dodo Ink, “I’m unusual in that I’m from a working class family – not many of us working in publishing, or getting published, for that matter. ” Michael Wise, co-Founder with Ross Ufberg of New Vessel Press in New York, was at one point a foreign correspondent for Reuters and the Washington Post stationed in Vienna. “Nowadays the publishing world is changing so rapidly that I’d venture that we have just as much of a clue as to where things are going as more traditional, established houses.”
Galley Beggar Press have a title shortlisted in this year’s Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses – We That Are Young by Preti Taneja. Co-founder Sam Jordison says of their editorial policy in his exclusive Q&A for The BookBlast® Diary, “Our hope has always just been to publish the very best quality books we can. I guess the thing that has changed is that we now hope to really be able to nurture our writers and keep publishing them, and keep doing the best editorial and production jobs we can for them . . . So we’re looking at careers as well as individual books. But that was something we aspired to quite early on. I suppose the change is that we have a track record now, so don’t have that element of surprise or coming from nowhere. But I still feel and hope we offer something different.”
Cécile Menon at Les Fugitives also has a title shortlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize. In her Q&A she describes her selection criteria, “The work needs to speak to me as a person, with my personal history, my political view of the world, my personality. It’s got to be intellectually exciting and the writing needs to express a distinct voice. In all modesty I like to think I have only published masterpieces so far, so what constitutes a masterpiece? If we knew, everyone would be writing and publishing them of course.“
The directors of Eland Books have an “An enthusiasm for picnics, outdoor swimming and bonfires” when they are not busy finding and reissuing the best of travel writing.“
Our monthly top ten reads for October, November, December, January and February feature an eclectic medley of joyful satire from Saqi Books, poetry in the kitchen from Carcanet, storytelling from Wales, the life of a Chinese dustpicker, The Book of Tbilisi and Banthology: Stories from Unwanted Nations Ed. Sarah Cleave (Comma Press), Orwell on Truth by George Orwell (Gallic Books), Sugar, Sugar: Bittersweet Tales of Indian Migrant Workers by Lainy Malkani (Hope Road Publishing), Tales of Two Londons: Stories from a Fractured City Ed. Claire Armitstead (Or Books), The Travels of Ibn Fudayl (Darf Publishing), art as resistance in Palestine and much much more . . .
The Madeleine Project: Uncovering a Parisian Life is the first book I have read that is almost exclusively written in tweets, interspersed with nuggets of narrative. A life story in objects, it is both a pictorial biography and an illustrated catalogue of everyday things pulled together and listed at random. A slice of social history is conveyed through the life of an unknown woman who is not a celebrity – for a refreshing change! Clara Beaudoux: “I’ve been using new technology and social media since I was a teenager, so I think I’ve learned to write using them. I had a blog when I was young, and The Madeleine Project couldn’t exist without social media . . . I really think it allows a new kind of writing: Twitter of course with its 140-character limit, but also a new kind of multimedia writing with texts, photos, sounds, videos . . . and I really like how social media brings author and readers together.“
Our new year roundup top 5 French reads includes A Life Without End / Une Vie Sans Fin (Grasset) by journalist and French TV personality Frédéric Beigbeder who sets off to discover the secret to eternal life; The Disappearance of Josef Mengele / La Disparition de Josef Mengele by Olivier Guez (Grasset, Prix Renaudot 2017) which is a superb literary manhunt exploring the depths of evil; I want to burn all the time / Je Veux brûler tout le temps by François Jonquet (Le Seuil), a moving portrait of Valérie Lang, daughter of the Minister of Culture under President François Mitterrand, who was a shooting star of the French film world, and Joachim Schnerf’s novel Cette Nuit (Zulma) a mordant family drama by a rising young star on the literary scene.
Guest Reviewer C. J. Schüler reviews Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck, “Behind the meticulously observed banalities of everyday life – shopping lists, recycling bins, patio furniture – shimmer receding layers of past realities, and of alternative, unrealised present possibilities.”
Middle Eastern Flavours
On the Wilder Shores of Love:A Bohemian Life, the memoirs of writer, historian and traveller Lesley Blanch, out with Virago in 2015, are due out in Paris on 19 April chez La Table Ronde under the title, Croquis d’une Vie de Bohème. Her books are in print in the US with Simon & Schuster and (from July 2018) New York Review of Books Classics ; in the UK she is with Orion, Eland, Little Brown, Grub Street and BookBlast ePublishing. ILA have recently sold rights in her work to Turkey, China, Taiwan, Azerbaijan.
Mad about the Middle East Lesley’s writing conveys happier times before the terrorist bombs and daily slaughter of today. Here she is writing of Arabian Aromas in 1989, “Once upon a happy time, I journeyed about Syria, going from desert to oasis, from Damascus to Ma’loula, a rock village where an ancient language, Aramaic, rather than Arabic, is still spoken and is said to be the language spoken by Jesus.” Here she is describing the magic of Iran in the 1960s, “The Persia of legend, stands at the crossroads of the world, where the winds blowing across the wastes still carry echoes of Darius the Great and Tamerlane,” as well as describing its despots, royals and jewels.
Bohemian Europe in the 1950s
From the archive: Gael Elton Mayo gives a flavour of Hemingway’s Madrid in 1954, and interviews legendary French playwright, Jean Anouilh, “His recurring theory of the fate of pure love when up against the world (the world seeking jealously to destroy what cannot belong to it) is executed with such an upsetting mixture of hilarity, putrefaction and beauty — the ugliness shown up by acid undercurrent and never with heaviness, always precision, humour, proportion — that one wonders if certain plays (Colombe?) are not based on his own disillusions as a young man.”
Elton Mayo’s radio lecture delivered in 1932 is as relevant today as when it was first delivered, given the current crisis of extreme Capitalism. “By means of such researches in practical working situations, we must find an answer to the problem of working together in factories, in societies, in international relations.”
The copyright to all the content of this site is held by the individual authors and creators. All rights reserved. Enquiries: please use the contact form