Interview, Proust’s Questionnaire | Lesley Blanch

Lesley Blanch (1904-2007) influenced and inspired generations of writers, readers and critics. Her lifelong passion was for Russia, the Balkans and the Middle East. At heart a nomad, she spent the greater part of her life travelling about those remote areas her books record so vividly.
She left England in 1946, never to return, except as a visitor. Her marriage to Romain Gary, the French novelist and diplomat, afforded her many years of happy wanderings. After their divorce, in 1963, Blanch was seldom at her Paris home longer than to repack.
Her posthumous memoirs On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life are published by Virago, Little Brown.

Where would you like to live?
It must be a warm country. If I really want to be coldly factual I must try to live where I can be looked after, but that’s a very dull answer only come on me now when I’m approaching one hundred. I should like to live in the Levant, somewhere in a Moslem country; the Moslems respect age. I loved Afghanistan passionately, but not the way it is now. I read, over and over again, the place names, just to get back there.

What is your idea of happiness on earth?
I want a garden and animal companionship and music.

What faults do you find most forgivable?
Temper. Rudeness. I forgive them very quickly. I don’t bear much malice because I’m too bored with it. Continue reading Interview, Proust’s Questionnaire | Lesley Blanch

Interview | Eileen Horne, author

Tell us a little bit about yourself
It is hard to decide which little bit is worth telling! For the purposes of this questionnaire: I am a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife, an American, a Democrat, a long term ex-pat living in Italy and London, and a former television drama producer turned author, editor and screenwriter.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
It changed throughout childhood: I am sure I wanted by turns to be an astronaut (which gives away my era), a ballet dancer (sadly without any talent for it) and an actress (ditto!) – but as time went on I decided the best job would be a librarian – imagine that, I told my mother, your whole day would just be books, books, books . . . what could be better? On my father’s recent death I found tucked away in his study a picture book I made for him as a child of eight or so, which ends with an author’s profile on the inside back cover, including a drawing of myself (big eyes, dark rimmed glasses, crazy hair) and the legend: “Eileen will be a famous writer when she grows up.” I guess I’m still coming of age. Continue reading Interview | Eileen Horne, author

Interview | Colin Spencer | Author of the Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’ve been painting, drawing and writing , since I was a child, which means that I’ve been doing it for over seventy years. Paints and brushes cost money, so when I was in my early twenties it was cheaper to write, I was first published in a literary magazine aged 22 – The London Magazine – with a short story – Nightworkers.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
See above, I only felt alive when working, still do.

What books have had a lasting impact on you?
Djuna Barnes, Nightwood. Wuthering Heights (I first read it aged 10). War and Peace. Middlemarch. Madame Bovary. The great novels all go on echoing and singing throughout one’s life. Continue reading Interview | Colin Spencer | Author of the Week

Interview | Alison Brackenbury | Author of the Week

Alison Brackenbury’s Carcanet collections include Dreams of Power (1981), Breaking Ground (1984), Christmas Roses (1988), Selected Poems (1991), 1829 (1995), After Beethoven (2000) and Bricks and Ballads (2004). Her poems have been included on BBC Radio 3 and 4, and 1829 was produced by Julian May for Radio 3. Her work recently won a Cholmondeley Award.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in what now seems almost like Victorian England, in the Lincolnshire countryside. I won a scholarship to Oxford, but quickly found that I preferred writing to academic work. So my First and I worked in a technical college library, then, for twenty-three years, in my husband’s metal finishing business. I had a child – and shaggy ponies – and too many cats. The planet heated. I had plenty to write about, and managed to produce nine poetry collections (and do a surprising amount of broadcasting on BBC Radio). Now I am a Retired Person, I at last have time to go round and give readings from all these poems . . .

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A successful writer of historical fiction, with an Irish wolfhound! I don’t regret not having written the fiction. I do wish I’d managed to keep a dog.
Continue reading Interview | Alison Brackenbury | Author of the Week

Interview | Heidi Perks | Author of the Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a mum of two small children and I live by the sea in Bournemouth. I spend many of the hours my children are at school writing, something I have always loved doing. Until four years ago when my youngest was born I worked in marketing. I left my job as a marketing director to spend more time with my family, and this was a perfect opportunity to start writing seriously.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I did always want to write a book, but as a child I don’t think I actually said I’d like to be an author. As with most children I flitted through a number of ideas. I wanted to be an air hostess (even though I hate flying now), and also a nurse (I would make a dreadful nurse, I am far too squeamish.) And for quite a long time I wanted to work in fashion as I loved textiles at school.

What books have had a lasting impact on you?
From an early age anything by Enid Blyton. I fell in love with the Famous Five and Adventure series books. Also as a child I really loved Last of the Really Great Wangdoodles, which I still have for when my daughter is a little older. As an adult the first book I remember being totally impressed by was Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. Whilst I always loved reading this was the first one I couldn’t put down and it was a bit of a turning point for me reading the amount I now do.
Continue reading Interview | Heidi Perks | Author of the Week

Interview | Philip Mansel, author & historian

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a historian living in London. All my life I have loved travelling , learning about the countries I visit, trying to understand people and places, and explaining their connections through books. I am passionately European, have lived in Paris, Florence, Istanbul, Kuwait and Beirut, and loved the Middle East, before the current fanaticisms.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer or diplomat.

What books have had a lasting impact on you?
Nancy Mitford’s The Sun King. Robert Byron’s The Road to Oxiana. Alfred Duggan’s and Rider Haggard’s historical novels. The Greek myths. Sybille Bedford’s A Legacy. Continue reading Interview | Philip Mansel, author & historian

Interview | Youssef Rakha | Author of the Week

The Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars by Youssef Rakha translated by Paul Starkey has been awarded the 2015 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation.
Paul Starkey & Youssef Rakha will be in conversation with Gaby Wood @woodgaby on Thurs 18 February at 6.30 for 7pm Waterstone’s Piccadilly Bookstore, London W1J 9HD @WaterstonesPicc It is a free event, but please reserve your place by emailing piccadilly@waterstones.com

Youssef Rakha is exclusively interviewed by Georgia for The BookBlast Diary.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am the only child of a disillusioned communist and a woman who struggled against incredible odds to go to university. I speak English with a slight accent and Arabic like a native Egyptian. I can think of at least three separate people I’ve been since I went to university in Hull, returning to Cairo once I graduated. All three worked in journalism and wrote, and the last two took pictures as well. I’m interested in the meaning of people’s words and actions, individually and in groups, in my part of the world: how the disorder and duplicity of human behaviour can resolve into something meaningful and also presumably beautiful. I’m interested in the way language can reflect and alter reality. I have a French-speaking three-year-old daughter I’m utterly besotted with. I’ve been urged to stop smoking cigarettes, which I do voraciously, and I’m planning on it but I haven’t yet.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
At a certain point I thought I was a prophet, a messenger of God. I must’ve fantasized about being a doctor and an architect and a spy, but all I consciously remember is wanting to be a writer. Continue reading Interview | Youssef Rakha | Author of the Week

Interview, Proust’s Questionnaire | Gary Pulsifer, indie publisher

Gary Pulsifer has lived in the UK for 41 years. He has worked on both sides of the Atlantic – for Random House in New York and for a number of UK indies, including Writers & Readers, John Calder and Peter Owen. He founded the independent publishing house Arcadia books in 1996. Authors include: José Eduardo Agualusa (winner of the 2007 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize), Lisa Appignanesi, Michael Arditti, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Bonnie Greer, Shere Hite, Erica Jong, Dominique Manotti, Lucy Popescu, Luis Sepulveda, A. Sivanandan, Alex Wheatle.

Your favourite virtue?
Loyalty.

Your favourite qualities in a man?
Machismo is always a bore in men, so a little less of that is always welcome.

Your favourite qualities in a woman?
Men and women are very similar in many ways (naturally). Women often seem more clear-headed and hard-working than their male counterparts.

For what faults do have you most tolerance?
Ignorance.

Your chief characteristic?
Hard-working. A tolerance for fools is one, followed by a loyalty to them.

Your main fault?
Procrastination. Not being tough enough. (But once you’re out, you’re out for life.) Continue reading Interview, Proust’s Questionnaire | Gary Pulsifer, indie publisher

Interview | Florent Massot: Fine young radical of French publishing

Georgia de Chamberet talks to Florent Massot, French publisher of Virginie
Despentes, Kurt Cobain, Mike Tyson and Valérie Trierweiler. Baise-moi (Fuck Me), his first hit, published in 1994, sold 50,000 copies for éditions Florent Massot before being released by Grasset and J’ai Lu, nudging up to 200,000 copies.

Why publishing and not music or film?

I started work on my first book age 17 in 1982 about a group called Urban Sax. Why publishing? Because my generation went into music and film, but I’m not competitive, it’s not my way. For 15 years I was the youngest publisher in France and the only one of my generation. Publishers who are 50 now all began their careers 20, not 30, years ago. So for 12-13 years I was alone. My friends were all in music which was great, but I was the only young indie publisher which is why I carried on, since I don’t like having to be combative. I wanted to be the best publisher of my generation and was . . . the worst! . . . there was only me!

I had a go at journalism and published a magazine called Amazone in 1984, then Intox in 1990, but that world moves too fast. I like a slow burn, and am not speedy. In publishing you meet up, the project develops over 1-2 years, it takes time, isn’t fast and furious, all on the surface. A book can really make a difference, go deep, whereas an article is ephemeral.

Publishers are in the game for different reasons: for some it’s a love of words, for others because they want power. What interested me was to meet the movers and shakers. A friend said, “If you go into publishing you’ll meet the people making it happen, who are the zeitgeist.” He often spoke to Cartier Bresson on the phone because of a book he was working on about the great photographers behind photojournalism. I wanted to meet these people. Since then, over the last 32 years, I have met so many people from different walks of life, that publishing has been good to me on that level.

As an object, a book can be a bit fetishistic. For me it is neither the object, nor the words, but the encounters. A book is a meeting place for people and ideas.

Continue reading Interview | Florent Massot: Fine young radical of French publishing

Interview, Proust’s Questionnaire | Duncan Fallowell, author

Duncan Fallowell is an English novelist, travel writer and critic. He has also worked with the German group, Can, on musical projects. How to Disappear: A Memoir for Misfits − described as ‘brilliant and haunting’ by Alan Hollinghurst in the Guardian − won the 2012 PEN Ackerley Prize. Fallowell is at his characteristically provocative and entertaining best in Three Romes. His most recent publication is the long essay, The Rise and Fall of the Celebrity Interview. He has just been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Your favourite virtue?
Honesty, which is a motive. There is a world of difference between someone trying to be honest and someone trying to deceive. I also admire people who refrain from pontificating on matters of which they are ignorant.

Your favourite qualities in a man?
Beauty.

Your favourite qualities in a woman?
Bravery.
Continue reading Interview, Proust’s Questionnaire | Duncan Fallowell, author