Writing is a tiring business requiring energy and sustaining snacks. Chekhov had a weakness for oysters, Proust knocked back espressos, Sartre went nuts for halva and H. P. Lovecraft relished spaghetti bolognese smothered in parmesan cheese.
In a postcard sent to Cecil Beaton some time during the 1970s, Lesley Blanch describes her daily life as she is writing the biography of Pierre Loti: “I get up at 7, go on all day til dusk − hardly an eye for the birds, yelling to be fed. I’ve disconnected the telephone, such bliss − don’t go out or see anyone, don’t ever get dressed. Some days restful sluttishness prevails. Djellaba over a nightgown is the only way to work, for me − and no hairdressers + all that tra-la-la. But the appearance suffers − so does the figure. I sit, sit, sit, + eat delicious brown bread with tidal waves of butter.”
Continue reading Spotlight | A writer’s diet, Grub Street eats & cooking #OnWilderShores
Narrative non fiction: a new category
When Lesley Blanch wrote that “Journey into the Mind’s Eye is not altogether autobiography, nor altogether travel or history either. You will just have to invent a new category . . .” the label narrative non-fiction did not yet exist. Her autobiography about the early part of her life was published in 1968. She was ahead of her time. Like Rebecca West and Truman Capote, Lesley Blanch was experimenting with different forms and techniques to tell a damn good ‘true’ story.
Lesley Blanch claimed she could not invent, hence choosing biography rather than fiction, although her storytelling was underpinned by a vivid imagination and scholarly research. The Sabres of Paradise: Conquest and Vengeance in the Caucasus took six years to complete and required thorough investigation in Russia and Turkey.
What is narrative non fiction?
Narrative non-fiction is not just a convenient label used by publishers to help booksellers categorise their titles and display them, or a new genre fresh out of American writing schools for literary critics to argue about. It is favoured by clever young editors like Leo Hollis at Verso, or Richard Milner at Quercus, as a way to get across difficult, or dry, ideas in an engaging manner. People are most interested in other people and their experiences, not the dusty archives of research. To take the reader on a scientific, or philosophical, or historical journey of discovery by means of a series of a well-written scenes knitted together to form a compelling whole, as opposed to recounting how A then B then C happened in a cut-and-dried linear fashion, makes for a more exciting read and a saleable book.
Continue reading Spotlight | Lesley Blanch and the Art of Narrative Non Fiction
Gone are the days when an author’s book promotion was simply about having a launch party, doing a few press and radio interviews, some bookshop signings and a talk at an appropriate venue. Now, in the UK, more books are published per inhabitant than anywhere else in the world: the scramble to get noticed is fierce.
What does a book promo package entail?
The full author book promo package now includes: having an author website, contacting personal Media contacts and those with specialist and local appeal, as well as international contacts; getting endorsements; writing for the press when and where possible; arranging speaking engagements, seminars, or workshops; connecting live ‘n’ direct with readers to build up a following via social media (facebook, twitter, youtube, pinterest); writing a blog, guest blogging and going on blog tours. It is immensely time consuming, but adopting a luddite attitude is ill-advised.
The literary festival circuit is a key component of book promotion. The more an author gets known the more likely it is sales will rise, ergo financial gain for all involved. Few writers would shun the opportunity to promote their latest book to potential punters, however many or few of them come to a talk and buy a book afterwards, with an autograph thrown in.
Continue reading Spotlight | The seemingly unstoppable boom in literary festivals
“Authors get the light, publishers stay in the shade – a famous twinned Tibetan concept, nyin and drib. But writers tend to overlook the fact that without the drib, there would not, could not, be nyin. There are well established conventions for celebrating scholarly achievement – the Festschrift – being the standard offering, while publishers can count themselves lucky if they can escape opprobrium and get away with obscurity.” So write Charles Ramble and Ulrike Roesler in answer to the question Why a Book? at the beginning of Tibetan & Himalayan Healing: An Anthology for Anthony Aris, published by Vajra Books, Kathmandu. “When we heard in June 2014 that Anthony was not in the best of health, an anthology on the subject of healing seemed like an appropriate gesture as a larger-than-life get well card.”
“Medicine Buddhas and Divination: Four Short Tibetan Texts on Healing”; “Melancholia in the Teaching on the Six Lamps”; “The Great Rite which Redeems for the Crosses of Malicious Gossip”; “A Frozen Stiff Upper Lip: The Maladies and Remedies of the Younghusband Mission of 1904”; “A Note on Tsha chu. The Therapeutic Hot Springs of Bhutan”; “How to Recognise a Useless Doctor: Excerpts from an Indian Yoga Comedy”; “The Call of the Cuckoo to the Thin Sheep of Spring: Healing and Fortune in Old Tibetan Dice Divination Texts” . . . Sixty contributions by leading luminaries are gathered in a single volume, opening a window on to some of the core therapeutic beliefs, traditions and practices that lie at the heart of Himalayan and Tibetan civilization. Embellished with superb illustrations, this collection is a most unusual and intriguing read for the uninitiated, yet curious, such as myself.
Continue reading Spotlight | Anthony Aris | A very special birthday party and book launch
Far To Go and Many To Love: People and Places by Lesley Blanch, edited and with an introduction by Georgia de Chamberet (Quartet, 9780704374348, hb illus £25, 1 June 2017)
On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life by Lesley Blanch, edited and with an introduction by Georgia de Chamberet (Virago, 9780349005461, pb illus £10.99, 12 January 2017)
Terrible and wonderful, the steely Amazons went to battle against Bellerophon, and Homer sang them to eternal fame. Boadicea led her woad-dyed hordes upon the unwary Romans at Londinium. Jeanne d’Arc stormed Orleans, a valorous mystic. Christian Davies of the Scots Greys, swaggered her way through the battle of Ramilies. Brandishing her cutlass, Mary Read joined Captain Rackham’s pirate crew. Théroigné de Méricourt led the pike-bearing furies on Versailles . . . their grandchildren, the Communards, rallied round Louise Michel, “the Red Virgin of Montmartre,” while all the bravura of the Polish Amazons was pitted against Tzarist-Russian oppression.
In the American Civil War, Mme. Velasquez posed as Capt. Harry Burford, with mock-moustachios to aid her alibi. At the battle of Mentana, Mme. Blavatsky abandoned astral preoccupations to fight for Garibaldi. In the October Revolution, the Women’s Battalion held the Winter Palace for Kerensky. Only yesterday, in Spain and China, thousands of unknown women fought bravely, bloodily . . . Terrible and wonderful, the Amazonian spirit lives on, manifest alike through ages of troubadours, whalebone or machinery; the clash of spears and sabres merge into the thunders of modern bombardment.
Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | Amazons
From The Idler magazine and Clerkenwell Literary Festival, to The Idler Academy in Notting Hill: the coffeehouse and bookshop opened by Tom Hodgkinson and Victoria Hull in 2011 is a magnet for creative entrepreneurs who want to turn dreams into reality. It is a wonderful place to enjoy a snack and a browse in convivial surroundings, learn how to play the ukulele, or master business for bohemians. Their special events and book launches where you can meet fellow idlers constructively idling are well worth the effort. James Reed’s Why You? 101 Interview Questions was launched there yesterday evening.
How to . . . eat, work, love, play, give birth, get real, get spiritual, get a guru, die . . . the plethora of How to books on the market is dizzying. Within the genre is a subset which addresses the question, “Why didn’t I get the job?” This is something with which I am less familiar, maverick bookblaster that I am, now out of the corporate game. The other idlers at the launch did not come across as being obvious buyers for the book other than for their children, perhaps, who hope to get work in a cold economic climate.
Continue reading Review | James Reed’s Book Launch at The Idler Academy W11
Translations on the UK market
In a piece for The Swedish Book Review published in 1997, I stated that, “Roughly 3% of the titles published in the UK every year are translations (as opposed to 30-40% in France and Germany).” It is a puzzling paradox that Britain is such a multi-cultural society yet so insular when it comes to ‘foreign’ writers in translation. Especially since book-buyers just want a good story and are not particularly concerned about its provenance.
Dr Jasmine Donahaye’s 2012 survey Three percent? Publishing data and statistics on translated literature in the United Kingdom and Ireland is unequivocal: “Literary translation in the UK and Ireland – whether assessed according to its broader definition or restricted to the genre categories of poetry, fiction and drama – is a little higher than the often-cited 3% figure. Indeed it is consistently greater than 4%, and, over the sample years, consistently increases.”
She gives the following statistics:
“The percentage of all publications that are translations: 2.21% in 2000 ; 2.65% in 2005 ; 2.43% in 2008.
“The percentage of poetry, fiction and drama that is translation: 4.37% in 2000 ; 4.51% in 2005 ; 4.59% in 2008.
“The percentage of all literary genres (the entire 800 Dewey range) that is translation: 4.17% in 2000 ; 4.20% in 2005 ; 4.37% in 2008.”
Continue reading Spotlight | Boom not Bust: A new chapter in the story of translation in the UK
Lesley Blanch was Features Editor of British Vogue 1937-45. During the Second World War, she was on the front line of women journalists covering a wide range of topics. She covered various aspects of Britain at war for the Ministry of Information, and documented the lives of women in the forces with her friend the photographer Lee Miller.
It is an indisputable fact that occupations and professions breed their own particular type. There are occupational faces, as there are occupational diseases, except in the case of the bored, spoiled, overfed idler, now fortunately rarely seen, save at luxurious hotels in ‘safe’ areas, where the face, and its accompanying malaise, might be described as non-occupational.
The ostler cannot be mistaken for the chauffeur, though doctors and lawyers, like poets and scientists, often pair indistinguishably. But the soldier, the sailor, and the airman are each distinct and apart front each other.
Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | W.R.N.S. on the Job, British Vogue, November 1941
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?
Your favourite qualities in a woman?
Continue reading Interview, Proust’s Questionnaire | Duncan Fallowell, author
The literary blogosphere is pullulating with writing and opinions on every imaginable subject, era, or school of writing; writers promoting books; readers offering an opinion or amateur reviews; and comment by informed book critics. Here are a few favourites . . .
– blogs for Francophiles
Paris Diary by Laure is ‘a very personal and subjective view of Paris life, like a morning phone call to my best friend’.
The Paris Review was founded in Paris by George Plimpton and friends in 1953 to introduce important writers of the day. The blog is great for readers wanting a shot of culture, but are short on time to read in depth.
Gallic Books publish some of the best French writing available in English translation. Publisher, Jane Aitken, was interviewed exclusively for The BookBlast Diary in November 2016.
– blogs for design aficionados
Browns Editions offer a design feast for the eyes and über-chic ideas.
Thames & Hudson has been an independent, family-owned company since it was founded in 1949 and its World of Art series of books is especially well known.
For that stylish LA look, you couldn’t do better than Mallery Roberts Morgan – a Los Angeles-based writer, curator and interior designer; and the Los Angeles correspondent of Architectural Digest France.
– blogs offering informed opinions
The Times Literary Supplement’s blog about books and ideas is a must-read regular.
Andrew Gallix is editor-in-chief of 3:AM Magazine, credited by The Guardian as being the first literary blog ever. He writes fiction and criticism, edits books, and teaches at the Sorbonne.
Maria Popova’s brain-pickings is a treasure trove of the heteroclite and the offbeat; an inspiring resource for browsing and sharing.
Continue reading Spotlight | BookBlast® on the blogosphere