Interview | Toby Litt | Author of the Week

Toby Litt grew up in Bedfordshire. He has worked as a teacher, bookseller and subtitler. A graduate of Malcolm Bradbury’s Creative Writing M.A. at the University of East Anglia, Toby is a Granta Best of Young British Novelist and a regular on Radio 3’s The Verb. He edited the 13th edition of New Writing (the British Council’s annual anthology of the finest contemporary writing in fiction, non-fiction and poetry). His story ‘John and John’ won the Manchester Fiction Prize. He teaches creative writing at Birkbeck College. The author of over fifteen books, Toby Litt’s latest book, Wrestliana, is a memoir which interweaves reminiscences and an exploration of manhood.

How has Ampthill changed from when you were growing up there in the 1970s?
When I was five or six, there was a dairy a few doors along from our house. It had a Mynah bird, in a side room, in a cage, which would occasionally say a word: a word that shocked my mother, if I was lucky. The diary sold milk, butter and chestnut yogurts from a refrigerated glass display cabinet. When I remember details like this, I start to believe I grew up on the peripheries of a story by Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Continue reading Interview | Toby Litt | Author of the Week

Interview | Yan Ge | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in a small town outside of Chengdu, a major city in the southwest of China. And I grew up there. As a teenager, all I wanted was to get out of this place, this muddy, tiny, sleepy town. Years later, when I actually left and lived in Ireland, all I wanted is to go back and to live in the small town where I spent my adolescence. That small town has been lost. It has changed so much. There have been lots of constructions, new buildings, the industrial and high-tech parks and tones of immigrants. The government renamed it last year, making it a district of Chengdu city. My hometown is officially being archived in the history book — there’s no way I can go back now. So I write about it all the time in my stories.

What sorts of books were in your family home?
Both of my parents were Chinese teachers so we have a sizeable collection of Chinese classics, contemporary Chinese fiction, and translated books. I can’t remember I read The Journey to the West for how many times. And I cried a lot when I read Su Tong’s books as a teenager. My parents love Russian writers and I read Gogol and Gorky with them.

Continue reading Interview | Yan Ge | Author of the Week

Interview | Viviana Prado-Núñez | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and lived in Gurabo until I was five. After that, my mother moved to Maryland so I spent a lot of my time both there and in my father’s house in Puerto Rico. (And in airplanes. Lots and lots of airplanes).

What sorts of books were in your family home?
I’m not sure actually. I know my mother has several boxes of children’s books somewhere in the basement, but I don’t really remember those. Most of my books growing up were from the library. I’d go once a week, stick my nose in the corner of the fantasy section, and come out with an armful. I know it took several years of rereading before my mother finally gave me the Harry Potter box set for Christmas.

Who were early formative influences as a writer?
Sandra Cisneros — she was the first (and only) Latina writer I ever came across in a classroom growing up. After that I think came the epiphany of “Oh, I can use Spanish in my writing?” Also I still credit my fiction teacher at Brown University, Michael Stewart, for teaching me not only how fiction worked, but how to think about writing for myself.

Continue reading Interview | Viviana Prado-Núñez | Author of the Week

Interview | Ian Holding | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Harare, Zimbabwe and have lived here all my life.

What sorts of books were in your family home?
As a family we belonged to a small municipal library up the road and every second Saturday, religiously, we would go to the library and browse books, make selections. I think this is where my love of books and reading was fostered, really. At home I always remember there being a great deal of Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, Roald Dahl and Gerald Durrell, amongst others; some would have been library books; some we owned (or where perhaps “former” library books!). Plus there was this whole other unreachable top shelf of alluring paperbacks I suspected at the time were not intended for the eyes of a young, inquisitive boy. When I was finally old enough to reach that shelf, its contents were actually, on the face of it, quite disappointing. Except there was a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but I was such a pathetic loser as a kid I could never seem to find the bits that made it so notorious! Continue reading Interview | Ian Holding | Author of the Week

Interview | Bridget Blankley | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Nottingham, as were my parents, but I grew up in Southern Nigeria. When we came back to the UK we moved around a bit before settling in Essex. I stayed there until I had my children.

What sorts of books were in your family home?
There was a real spread of genres. My sister read historical fiction, lots of it, we were always battling for space on our joint bookshelves. My Dad liked humour and detective fiction, the Father Brown Stories, Simenon’s Maigret, and Jeeves and Wooster. There were also quite a lot of autobiographies in the house, I’m not sure who brought them, probably mum, but we all read them.

I was lucky as a child, there was no limit on what we could read. If it was in the house anyone could read it. My dad believed that if it was too advanced for us we would lose interest in the book and put it back on the shelf. I think it probably worked. I never felt I had to finish a book that I wasn’t enjoying, but I never felt that any books were beyond me.

Continue reading Interview | Bridget Blankley | Author of the Week

Interview | Selvedin Avdić | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Zenica.* I grew up there, inside a triangle consisting of a steelworks, a mine and a prison.
*[Bosnia and Herzegovina. ed.]

What sorts of books were in your family home?
We did not have a big library, my father preferred machines to books. But there were several nice books – among them the children’s book, Timur and his Squad, by Arkady Gaidar. I was so obsessed with the book that I named my son Timur years later. I read it again recently and it’s not as good as I thought in my childhood. Close to our house was a city library where I went almost every day. My neighbour was an actor, the first to play Hamlet in my town. He once interrupted me on my return from the library and advised me not to read randomly, but to choose a writer, read everything s/he wrote and then move on to another. That advice seemed crazy even then. I mostly avoided this neighbour afterwards.
Continue reading Interview | Selvedin Avdić | Author of the Week

Interview | Megan Dunn | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Invercargill, a small city at the bottom of the South Island in New Zealand. But my formative years (if they ever ended) were spent in Rotorua, a tourist town in the centre of the North Island. Rotorua – “Rotovegas” to the locals – is stepped in Maori history and is a geothermal wonderland known for strong wafts of sulphur, hokey motels and hotels, putt-putt golf. The McDonalds in Rotorua has Maori carvings on the walls.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
I grew up in a flat above an old peoples home with my single parent Mum, who was a night nurse for the elderly residents downstairs. The sign at the top of our drive read: “Residence for the Elderly,” I walked past it to school every day. Books: loads. From Men and their Mothers, and other pop psychology, to Sweet Valley High. At fourteen, I read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer on the back porch, while the elderly residents ate shortbread and drank tea in the lounge below me. They read Mills and Boons in large print, when they weren’t listening to the TV. Continue reading Interview | Megan Dunn | Author of the Week

Interview | Heidi James | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Chatham in Kent and grew up in the surrounding towns – called the Medway towns – so in and around Rochester, Chatham (on various estates), Gillingham. I left when I was seventeen and moved to London, but even though I’ve not lived there for a long time, Medway remains a potent influence.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
My mother and grandmother were avid readers, and I was taught to read and love books from a very early age; but they were busy, working class women who’d left school early so the books in our homes tended to be Catherine Cookson and romances, Mills and Boon etc. Having said that I had lots of classic children’s books and I had a couple of teachers who were pretty amazing in encouraging me to read widely. When I was teenager I skipped school to go the library in town and would read anything and everything curled up in a chair by a window that looked out over the River Medway. I read a lot of Dickens, Daphne du Maurier and Stephen King. I used to read any of the Penguin Classics, because that seemed to be a foolproof method of reading; I was hungry to learn, but hated school. I suppose my earliest influences that I was consciously reading to learn to write were Angela Carter, Plath and Sexton and John Steinbeck. I loved his work.
Continue reading Interview | Heidi James | Author of the Week

Interview | Pete Ayrton | Author-Editor of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
Born in London and grew up in New York until I was sent to a public school in the UK at the age of 13; an unsettling experience.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
Lots of foreign writers. My mother was Russian and keen for me to read the Russian classics – which I did.

You founded Serpent’s Tail in 1986 and worked as a successful publisher showcasing writers from around the world for many years. How easy was it to transition to being a freelance writer-editor?
I was still working at Serpent’s Tail when I completed No Man’s Land, my first anthology which was on First World War writing. The transition was seamless; the anthologies contain many writers who should be republished including writers never before translated into English. I hope they function to encourage readers and publishers to search out the original texts that the extracts are taken from. Continue reading Interview | Pete Ayrton | Author-Editor of the Week

Interview | Clara Beaudoux | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up? 
I was born and raised in Paris.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
There were many books in my family home, and my parents were used to take me to the library when I was a kid. I remember Roald Dahl, a magazine for kids called Astrapi and some comics like Marion Duval.

Why do you write?
Writing helps me to think. Continue reading Interview | Clara Beaudoux | Author of the Week