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
Celebrating this year’s Chinese New Year of the Pig, I discuss translating China with Nicky Harman on the launch of Paper Republic’s roundup of the most recent publications in English translation. Their 2018 roll call features thirty-three novels, six poetry collections and three YA and children’s books.
Paper Republic is a unique resource you won’t find anywhere else on the web. Its co-founder, Nicky Harman, is a leading light of the translation community in the UK and a passionate promoter of Chinese literature and culture. She is co-Chair of the Translators Association (Society of Authors). Nicky is often away, but I managed to catch up with her for brunch on Valentine’s day to discuss the literature of a non-English speaking continent that is 4,834 miles away from this small offshore island.
Andrew Crumey: “Art is the expression of value and science is the explanation of phenomena . . . I’m interested in the borderline of the explanatory and the expressive.”
Alasdair Gray, James Kelman, A.L. Kennedy, Allan Massie, Val McDermid, Andrew O’Hagan, Ian Rankin, Ali Smith, Irvine Welsh, Alan Warner . . . the list of fine Scottish writers is a long one.
Andrew Crumey was in conversation with doyenne of translators, Margaret Jull Costa, and Eric Lane, founder of Dedalus Books at the opening event of the BookBlast 10×10 Tour at Waterstones in Gower Street, Bloomsbury, on 11 September. HEAR HERE
The publication of Amnesia Nights in the UK is a first for Quinton Skinner, the critically-acclaimed author of three novels and non-fiction books on fatherhood and rock ‘n’ roll. A former critic and magazine editor, he has written for publications including Minneapolis Star Tribune, Huffington Post, Variety, Glamour and Literary Hub. He lives in Minneapolis, USA.
Where were you born, and where did you grow up? I was born and grew up in a working-class area of Columbus, a university city and the capital of Ohio in the U.S.
What sorts of books were in your family home? There were quite a few. I remember The Ascent of Man, based on the BBC Series of the same name, because it captured my imagination conceptually. My father had a lovely bound series of all the Sherlock Holmes stories. I was preoccupied with an astronomy book in the home and spent a good deal of time as well with the encyclopedia and the world atlas. I also read mountains of age-appropriate stuff from the library down the street. I was the child always with his head down in some kind of printed matter.
Who were early formative influences as a writer? Virginia Woolf for her vivid interiority. Saul Bellow for compassion and ambition. Denis Johnson for the dark alleys and the byways. Martin Amis for materialism and humor. Of course the first was Dr. Seuss, who obsessed me with his knack for the sideways hidden dimensions both in language and the visual world, a sense of the uncanny that I recognized as familiar to me, and essential to the way I saw (and heard, and spoke) things. There was also a series of crime-solving books revolving around a character called Encyclopedia Brown, which may not be read anymore but which were essential crime procedurals for the under-10 set.Continue reading Interview | Quinton Skinner, author
Where were you born, and where did you grow up? I was born and raised in Belfast during The Troubles. My parents grew up in working class families and were determined to ‘better themselves’. When my older brother was eight they bought a newly built, three bed semi-detached house and moved from the central area of the city to what was then its outskirts. They still live there today. My sister and I were born after this move. My brother left home when I was six so I never really got to know him – he now lives in Australia. My sister and I both passed the 11+ exam and attended an all girl state run grammar school before going up to the local university. We continued to live with my parents, although I did move into student digs for around six months after yet another row about my behaviour – aged twenty I was staying out beyond my curfew and drinking alcohol. I suspect we all wish I could have afforded to stay away, but my part time job wouldn’t cover the rent longer term. Belfast felt parochial, cut off from what we referred to as the mainland due to the violence. We were expected to attend church and conform to a code of conduct that demanded we put on a front to the world of chastity and sobriety. It always felt that what I was seen to be mattered more to my parents than what I was or aspired to. Despite this I look back on a largely happy childhood. Certainly at the time I felt loved. My determination to leave Belfast and to be myself stems from the frustration of being guilt tripped into conforming to a wide range of strictures I didn’t agree with. Continue reading Blogosphere Interview | Jackie Law, Never Imitate, @followthehens
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
Gabriel Josipovici is a pre-eminent British novelist, short story writer, critic, literary theorist, playwright, and a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement. Georgia’s exclusive interview for BookBlast® celebrates the publication this week of his latest novel, The Cemetery in Barnes, (Carcanet).
You were born during World War Two in Occupied France, what are your memories of that time? I was born in Nice but we escaped to La Bourboule and Le Mont Dore in the Massif Central during the war. They were spa resorts for people suffering from lung problems, and so were full of hotels – La Bourboule was for children and Le Mont Dore for adults.
My parents had arrived in France newly-married from Egypt. My father had done his studies in French and wanted to go to a French university so he got a place at the University of Aix-Marseille. They lived in Aix while he did his doctorate, and then bought a house in Vence. Somehow they failed to take on board all that was happening. War started and I was born in Nice in October 1940, on the last day they could have got out back to Egypt as they had tickets for a ship. Nice was not the zone libre, but it was under tutelage of the Italians who were good to their Jews. Continue reading Interview | Gabriel Josipovici, author & critic
Theatre director and writing coach, Andrew Harmon, gives us an exclusive interview from his home near Palm Springs CA. He talks about 1950s Hollywood, writing for the screen and stage, producing ‘Improvisathon ‘85’ for Live Aid at the Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden, directing and teaching in Scandinavia in the 1980s, and the importance of Zen meditation to boost creativity. The ‘big mind’ process helped Andy to develop his ideas behind the Four Crises of Change and the Change Dialogue techniques which he uses with writers as well as at ‘small is beautiful’ executive development consultancy Actor’s Mind™.
His recently published book, Change Journey: Voices of the Creative Quest, moves through the four crises of authorship, and takes us through the landscape of dramatic storytelling, and the archetypes of mythic drama. Of the various ‘how to’ books available for writers who find themselves stuck down a structural and imaginative rabbit hole, Change Journey is one of the better and decidedly more original ones, offering insights and solutions in a concise and entertaining way.
Harmon’s ‘scientific fairytale’, Freud’s Golem, is a play inspired by Freud’s case studies of The Ratman and The Wolfman. It imagines the case, The Psychoanalysis of a Vampire.Continue reading Interview | Andrew Harmon, theatre director & writing coach
Where were you born, and where did you grow up? I was born in Hanover the capital of Lower-Saxony, but grew up in West Berlin by the wall.
What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences? My mother has always been an avid reader and my late stepfather was a fairly influential intellectual so there always were enormous amounts of books: the classics from Chekov to Turgenev, from Mann to Musil as well as Benjamin, Jünger, Gramsci etc. The earliest literary memories I have are my mother reading me first Pippi Longstocking, and then Tom Sawyer. In opposition to this I myself only read comic books until I was about eight or nine. Those with an all-consuming passion though. The only book I can remember reading – three times at least – was Edgar Rice Bourroughs’ Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.
Why do you write? Because I inexplicably missed out on being a film star.
What is The Children’s Bookshow and how did you dream up the idea? It’s a national tour which takes place each autumn in theatres across the country ranging from the Old Vic to the Liverpool Philharmonic – 15 venues in total. The tour takes writers and illustrators into those theatres to read their work to children, and to go to schools to do workshops afterwards and work with the children on their own creative writing. The idea came about because the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education for which I was doing some freelance publicity brought out a book – a compilation – called Simply the Best Books for Children. Since it was an institution rather than a publisher, it was very difficult for them to get distribution and I knew that having been a publisher. So I said, “If we can’t get it into the bookshops since they aren’t keen on books which are a bit out of the normal, what we’ll do, is promote it like Captain Corelli’s Mandolin which became famous by word of mouth.” And so we took the book into libraries and bookshops with some of the writers who were in the book. We had a marvellous first tour with Quentin Blake, James Berry, John Agard and others. That’s how it began.