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

Interview | C. J. Schüler | Author of the Week

C. J. Schüler is based in London where he works as a writer and editor. He is the author of three illustrated histories of cartography: Mapping the World, Mapping the City and Mapping the Sea and Stars (Éditions Place des Victoires/Frechmann), and Writers, Lovers, Soldiers, Spies: A History of the Authors’ Club of London, 1891–2016. His travelogue Along the Amber Route: St Petersburg to Venice, is published by Sandstone Press today. He is an occasional reviewer for The BookBlast Diary. www.cjschüler.com

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Kingsbury, northwest London. Before the arrival of an Indian community transformed its high street into a brilliant array of sari shops, this was a very humdrum lower middle-class English suburb. With a German surname, less than two decades after the Second World War, it was hard to feel anything other than an oddity. After my parents divorced, when I was eleven, we moved to Hendon where, with its large Jewish community, I felt less conspicuous.

What sorts of books were in your family home?
Both my parents’ education was cut short, my mother’s by economic necessity and my father’s by the Third Reich. But they were keen readers, and our bookshelves held a range of classics by Jane Austen, Dickens and George Eliot, along with early twentieth-century works by writers such as George Bernard Shaw and J. B. Priestley. I still have a hardback copy of Nabokov’s Pnin from those days, though I can’t remember which of my parents chose it. Continue reading Interview | C. J. Schüler | Author of the Week

Interview | Natasha Lehrer | Translator of the week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I think of myself as a Londoner born and bred, but in fact I’ve lived all over the place since I was a child. I’ve lived in northern California, Manchester, Oxford, Jerusalem and now Paris.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
I was always turning up to live in a new place with a funny accent that I had to shed if I wanted to have a hope of making friends. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I loved stories about misfits who came from foreign lands, and odd little girls who didn’t fit in. The Secret Garden, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Bilgewater by Jane Gardam, The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden. And I adored the Norse myths. Continue reading Interview | Natasha Lehrer | Translator of the week