Spotlight | The Fifties Woman #OnWilderShores @AuthorsClub lunch @MsRachelCooke

The stereotypical view of the fifties woman is reflected in vintage postcards on sale at stalls in Portobello Market, featuring colourful ads for hoovers, OMO, ‘Empire’ baby pants, or Kenwood chef food processors alongside an immaculately dressed housewife with perfect hair and varnished nails beaming a pillarbox-red lipsticked smile as she does the chores.

Rachel Cooke’s book, Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties, flies in the face of the clichéd view of the fifties housewife stuck at home ― an appendage to her husband. It may have been the case in American suburbia of the time, but in Britain women had got through the war without their husbands, brothers or fathers. Some had joined the ATS, or WAAF, or WRNS and drove ambulances, or worked in a government ministry. Others ended up at Bletchley Park. When Elisa Segrave came upon her late mother’s diaries, she discovered that her mother had excelled at her work as an indexer in Hut 3, then in Hut 3N, at Bletchley Park, from 1941-43; and was promoted to 4th Naval Duty Officer during Operation Torch, the Allied Invasion of North Africa. She had several jobs in Bomber Command and later saw its effects in the ruined towns of Germany where she had her last job in the WAAF. On her days off she travelled in a weapon carrier with her American boyfriend. The Girl From Station X is an illuminating read.

The war had a liberating effect: women were hardly about to exchange their newfound freedom in peacetime for baking cakes and a life cushioned by nappies. Cooke stressed how the old and the new were pulling against each other in fifties Britain, which was on the cusp of modernity ― heralding the sixties. Women were expected to settle down, marry and have kids, yet having had a taste of freedom,  they wanted to do their own thing and be independent. The way women today juggle home and career and feel guilty about it was not the case then, when women just went for it and did not consider the consequences. The term ‘latchkey kid’ dates from the fifties. Continue reading Spotlight | The Fifties Woman #OnWilderShores @AuthorsClub lunch @MsRachelCooke

Guest Review | Philip Mansel | Pierre Loti: Travels with the Legendary Romantic, Lesley Blanch

Born in France, Pierre Loti loved the East. No one could understand his desire to exchange the greyness of France for ‘the far horizons of a sailor’s life’ better than Lesley Blanch, author of such celebrated evocations of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Russia as The Wilder Shores of Love, The Sabres of Paradise and Journey into the Mind’s Eye. In this haunting biography she shows herself a sympathetic historian, consulting manuscript letters and diaries as well as Loti’s innumerable publications. Her book is a labour of love, an enquiry into a very complex man, as well as one brilliant escapist writing about another. Who, then, was Pierre Loti?

Loti-Viaud
Loti in yet another change of costume. Syrian or Algerian, the bedouin or the Effendi … all were escapes into another life.

Loti was born in 1850 as Julien Viaud, son of a respectable Protestant family living in the port of Rochefort on the Atlantic Ocean. His father was an official in the Mairie. In 1867 he entered the French navy, in which he would continue to serve until 1910. This extremely unconventional man proved a good officer. Most of his superiors appreciated his ‘agreeable character, very good education’, and later his literary fame, though some fellow officers noticed a cold manner.

The French navy was sufficiently broad-minded to employ an officer who wore rouge, dyed his hair and adopted disguises. More unsettling even than dressing as an acrobat, a Turk or a Bedu, Loti often wore the uniform of a rating rather than an officer. Moreover his friendships with handsome sailors, (Julien, Leo, Samuel, many others}, which such clothes facilitated, were no secret. As his daughter-in-law told Lesley Blanch: ‘Loti loved both men and women passionately and if there had been a third sex he would have loved that too.’

Continue reading Guest Review | Philip Mansel | Pierre Loti: Travels with the Legendary Romantic, Lesley Blanch

BookBlast® Archive | Empire Windrush, Onyekachi Wambu (ed) | Victor Gollancz 1998

BookBlast® was founded in 1997 to give voice to new or neglected writers, and to showcase world writing. The agency was one of the first in the UK to adopt online technology — the company website went live in 2000. It was selected by the curators of Bodleian Electronic Archives and Manuscripts, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, as being of lasting research value and worthy of permanent preservation in the Web Archive of the Bodleian Libraries in March 2015.

At a young age, I was introduced to writers, stories and imaginary worlds from many lands.   To cross cultural boundaries and explore alternate ways of seeing and being is a great gift to give a child.

Sorting through the BookBlast agency archive has thrown up happy and sad memories, not only in terms of the projects and writers I have been lucky enough to collaborate with, but also the visionary commissioning editors who backed untried-and-tested writers and projects.

Continue reading BookBlast® Archive | Empire Windrush, Onyekachi Wambu (ed) | Victor Gollancz 1998

Spotlight | International Translation Day 2015, British Library

It is rare for a single book let alone a translation to generate widespread excitement across the publishing industry. Joel Dicker’s thriller, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, published in 2012 by 87-year-old veteran, Bernard de Fallois, became the most talked-about French novel of the decade. Christopher MacLehose, the publisher behind Stieg Larsson, made an offer a few weeks before the Frankfurt book fair − pre-empting a stampede of publishers bidding for the rights to translate the novel into 35 other languages. Novels by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard and Turkish Wunderkind, Orhan Pamuk − agented by Andrew ‘the Jackal’ Wylie − are likely to be hot properties at this year’s Frankfurt book fair. And Scandi-Crime continues to be hugely popular.

Translators and their publishers are a bridge between worlds . . . between writers abroad and readers at home. Judging by the throng of professionals attending International Translation Day 2015 held at the British Library − the waiting list to get in was long and many were turned away – translation continues to be The Next Big Thing & Getting Bigger, as it rises in popularity and visibility. The insularity of certain mainstream sectors of the book trade come across as increasingly old-skool elitist like politicians quaffing Dom Perignon in the Westminster bar.

Continue reading Spotlight | International Translation Day 2015, British Library

Spotlight | Patrick Modiano: public novelist, private man

Writing is a strange and solitary activity. There are dispiriting times when you start working on the first few pages of a novel. Every day, you have the feeling you are on the wrong track. This creates a strong urge to go back and follow a different path. It is important not to give in to this urge, but to keep going. It is a little like driving a car at night, in winter, on ice, with zero visibility. You have no choice, you cannot go into reverse, you must keep going forward while telling yourself that all will be well when the road becomes more stable and the fog lifts.” So spoke Patrick Modiano − for whom the fog has most certainly lifted − at the Swedish Academy, Stockholm, on 7 December 2014. He is the eleventh French writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature.

A refreshing antithesis to the self-promoting writer blasting forth at every opportunity, Modiano is a private man and remains aloof from the Parisian literati. There is a big difference between writing − intensely personal − and doing a turn in front of a live audience. Writers who feel that the words on the page are the point and everything else − including the web − is a distraction, could well be heartened by Modiano’s words, “A writer – well, a novelist at least – often has an uneasy relationship with speech. Calling to mind the way school lessons distinguish between the written and the oral, a novelist has more talent for written than oral assignments. He is accustomed to keeping quiet, and if he wants to imbibe an atmosphere, he must blend in with the crowd. He listens to conversations without appearing to, and if he steps in it is always in order to ask some discreet questions so as to improve his understanding of the women and men around him. His speech is hesitant because he is used to crossing out his words. It is true that after several redrafts, his style may be crystal clear. But when he takes the floor, he no longer has any means at his disposal to correct his stumbling speech.”

Continue reading Spotlight | Patrick Modiano: public novelist, private man