Interview | Sam Taylor, translator

Tell us a little bit about yourself
I grew up in England, worked as a journalist on The Observer for eight years, moved to France and wrote four novels, then translated my first novel (Laurent Binet’s HHhH) in 2010. Two years later, I moved to the US, where I now divide my time between writing and translating.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
The Lord of the Rings is the first book I remember loving. I was a big Italo Calvino (tr. William Weaver) fan as a teenager, Baron in the Trees in particular. I’ve always been attracted to fairytale-like stories that have aspects of the real world but also some magical difference.

How did your career as a translator come about?
Around 2009, I realized I could no longer make a living as a novelist, so I tried to think what else I could do to support my family. I was living in remote rural France, so journalism was out, but by then I could speak French fluently. So I asked my agent how I could become a literary translator. She put me in touch with editor Rebecca Carter (then at Harvill Secker), who advised me to write reader reports on French novels for UK publishers. The first one I wrote, luckily, was about HHhH. Continue reading Interview | Sam Taylor, translator

Podcast LIVE | In conversation with Michèle Roberts, Franco-British novelist

Michèle Roberts is the author of twelve highly-acclaimed novels, including The Looking Glass and Daughters of the House which won the W.H. Smith Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. She has also published poetry and short stories, and is Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and a member of PEN and of The Society of Authors.

I caught up with her by the telephone, on the eve of the Covid 19 lockdown, to talk about Negative Capability: A Diary of Surviving, her latest book out today with Sandstone Press, and much more besides. 

Continue reading Podcast LIVE | In conversation with Michèle Roberts, Franco-British novelist

Interview | T. J. Gorton, author

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

Interview | Gerald Jacobs, writer and critic

Gerald Jacobs is based in North London. The Literary Editor of the Jewish Chronicle, he has written for a wide range of newspapers and magazines. His books include Judi Dench: A Great Deal of Laughter; A Question of Football (with John North and the late Emlyn Hughes of Liverpool and England), The Sacred Games; and Nine Love Letters. His novel Pomeranski is published on 30 April. 

You were born in post-war Brixton? What sorts of books were in your family home?
I was actually born in Cheltenham, where my parents happened to be at the time but never lived there. I was brought up in the family home in Brixton. (I first made a conscious visit to Cheltenham when I was about thirty, and was very taken with it.)

We had a limited but varied amount of books on our two or three bookshelves. We made full, regular use of the local Carnegie Library. My father was not a great reader beyond books about the Second World War. There were a few, infrequently consulted religious prayer books and a Bible. My mother read novels and poetry. I loved reading a comic series called Classics Illustrated — picture-frame versions of Dickens, Dumas, Walter Scott etc. I also borrowed my mother’s Agatha Christie novels and read the wonderful comics consisting of pages of words without pictures: Wizard; Hotspur; Rover; and Adventure.
Continue reading Interview | Gerald Jacobs, writer and critic

Interview | Aneesa Abbas Higgins | Translator of the Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up here in London – my father is Indian and my mother English, and at the time we were a fairly unusual family to say the least. I was always a great reader – and music has always played a big part in my life too. I’ve lived in America and in France – and I’ve travelled quite a bit, but now I spend most of my time either here in London, or in a small village in France. I sing in a choir, and spend most of my time when I’m not working either reading or coaxing my garden to grow. My family is very important to me.

Did you grow up learning and speaking different languages? What fiction in translation did you read, or rather, was available?
My father’s language is Urdu – but I grew up speaking English. I heard Urdu spoken around me, but not enough to learn to speak it myself, although I have made repeated efforts and I have made some progress. But I fell in love with French as soon as I started it at school. After that, I added German and Russian, but French was the language I absorbed the most thoroughly. As for fiction in translation, I’ve always been a voracious reader. As a child I read everything I could lay my hands on and never thought about whether or not it was translated. I remember my father reading me stories by Prem Chand when I had one of the childhood diseases we all used to succumb to, and I started reading the Russian classics as a very young teenager. Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot made a huge impression on me. And I read Anna Karenina for the first time around then too.
Continue reading Interview | Aneesa Abbas Higgins | Translator of the Week