Interview | Quinton Skinner, author

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

Blogosphere Interview | Jackie Law, Never Imitate, @followthehens

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

Interview | Gabriel Josipovici, author & critic

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

Interview | Andrew Harmon, theatre director & writing coach

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

Interview | Philip Mann, author

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.

Continue reading Interview | Philip Mann, author

Interview | Siân Williams, founder, The Children’s Bookshow

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. 

Have you always been an entrepreneur?
I suppose so, yes! In 1974 I was one of the founding members of Writers and Readers publishing co-operative founded on £250 and a prayer! The other members were Glenn Thompson, Richard Appignanesi and Lisa Appignanesi.
Continue reading Interview | Siân Williams, founder, The Children’s Bookshow

Interview | Linda Kelly, author

BookBlast® interviews Linda Kelly, biographer and historian.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Kent and brought up in the country, mostly in Hampshire. However I was also a wartime evacuee, from 1940-43, in the US: a Saturday Evening Post – Norman Rockwell kind of America, complete with freckle-faced kids and rocking chairs on verandas. It was an idyllic period from which I  date a certain independence of mind and a dislike of snobbery. 

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
Our house was full of books, both English and French, and my mother read a lot to us when we were small. Due to wartime paper shortages, there were few new books being published for children, so we were thrown back on the classics of our parents’ generation: Frances Hodgson Burnett, Charlotte Mary Yonge, Stevenson, Henty and Conan Doyle.  Perhaps because of my American experience, I particularly loved books like Little Women and What Katie Did, but I was more or less omnivorous and gobbled up anything from Agatha Christie to Walter Scott.

In your home, was the atmosphere for women emancipated?
I don’t think it was a subject which arose – I had two brothers and two sisters, and we all regarded each other as equals.

Continue reading Interview | Linda Kelly, author

Interview | Andrew Lycett, author

Andrew Lycett is the biographer of Ian Fleming, Rudyard Kipling, Dylan Thomas, Arthur Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Stamford, Lincolnshire, and was then spirited out to live in East Africa – what was then called Tanganyika where my father started and ran an English style prep school.

What sorts of books were in your house when you were growing up?
A wide range belonging to two well-read parents – the complete Dickens, some traditional poetry (many relics of my father’s time studying English at Oxford in the 1930s), a surprising number of thrillers, and several fascinating works of reference – all a bit out of date, as we lived in the colonies.

How did Oxford help shape your tastes in literature?  
I’m not sure that Oxford particularly shaped my tastes in literature as I was studying history. However I certainly read a lot while I was at university. The centre of the world appeared to be the United States so I read American authors widely: Updike, Mailer, Barth, Irving, Wolfe (Thomas and Tom) and someone who I’m not sure is much regarded today but I enjoyed at the time – Ken Kesey.

Continue reading Interview | Andrew Lycett, author

Interview | Susan Harris | wordswithoutborders.org

Georgia de Chamberet recently caught up with Susan Harris, editorial director of Words without Borders, (www.wordswithoutborders.org), to chat all things publishing, literature in translation and technology.

Why publishing and not education?
Never wanted an academic career, but always wanted to work in publishing.

Did you want to be a writer, or . . . ?
Of course. (The result was “or . . .”).

How did you end up working at Northwestern University Press?
I was very lucky. I did my undergrad there, and a few years later my advisor on my senior year project became the assistant director and editor-in-chief of the press, and needed a secretary; we’d stayed in touch, and I’d worked as a secretary between undergrad and grad school. So I started in that position and then moved into others as the press evolved.
Continue reading Interview | Susan Harris | wordswithoutborders.org

Interview | Melanie Schwapp, author

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I love life . . . the good, the bad and the messiness of it. I love the fact that we are all here bumbling our way through, and that each of our messes are the lessons that help to straighten out the jumbled lines. I live my life as such – I think that perfection is over-rated, so I do the things that make me happy, albeit imperfectly. I was never formally trained in landscaping or interior design, yet these are the occupations I’ve chosen because of my sheer love of plants, nature, sun, dirt, and families. The best part is, at the end of the day, I get to write about perfect imperfection.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A mother. I dreamt of the day when I would hold a tiny little being in my arms and build a home around it. Continue reading Interview | Melanie Schwapp, author