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.”

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Lesley Blanch Archive | Patchouli

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)

It was the best of perfumes, it was the worst; it was the trademark of the grande cocotte, it was worn by the femme du monde. It was the heaviest of scents, it was the lightest. It was the worst of taste, it was the height of fashion. It drove men mad, it tamed the beasts of the jungle. It was an aphrodisiac, it was an emetic. It came from India — from Haiti. It smelled of newly sharpened pencils; of Victorian boudoirs. It preserved furs from moth; it was something to eat. It was divine; it stank.

These were some of the ways patchouli was described to me when I set out to discover what precisely was the nature and history of this long-forgotten perfume which reached its apogee of popularity about a century ago — and which, suddenly, is in demand once more. Patchouli — pucha-pat to the India of its origin — belongs, in Europe, essentially to the mid-nineteenth century; it is the essence of its age, as frangipani evokes the eighteenth and musk and ambergris belong to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a time of perfumed gloves — and poisoned ones too. Each age has its characteristic expression, found as much in some minor aspect as in a heroic gesture, or great personality. A tune, a colour, a manner of speaking, like a way of moving, or standing, or a particular piece of clothing is as telling as a line of thought or a code of conduct. And nothing is more memorable than a perfume.
Patchouli was the quintessential nineteenth-century perfume, as the shawl was its quintessential garment. The two are indissolubly linked, for patchouli first came out of India because of and with the cashmere shawls which were then the cornerstone of every woman’s wardrobe.

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Media Release | On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life | Authors’ Club lunch discussion

Tuesday 15 September, 12.30 for 1pm, Lady Violet Room,
National Liberal Club, London SW1 2HE

The Authors’ Club is delighted to welcome Georgia de Chamberet to open its autumn season of events with a discussion of On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life, a collection of autobiographical writings by her godmother, the travel writer Lesley Blanch.

 ‘It’s a wonderful read and deserves its place in our Valentine’s window’ − Waterstone’s Piccadilly  
‘ Lesley Blanch was incapable of writing boringly or badly’ − The Spectator

Lesley Blanch was a scholarly romantic with a lifelong passion for Russia, the Balkans and the Middle East. Born in 1904, she died aged 103, having experienced times as both a household name and as a mysterious, neglected living legend. Blanch was writing about her erratic Edwardian childhood at her death and that work, never before published, now forms the beginning of this wonderful memoir.

Edited by her goddaughter Georgia de Chamberet, who was working with her in her centenary year, this book collects together the story of Blanch’s marriage; a selection of her journalism, which brings to life the artistic melting pot of London between the wars; and a selection of her most evocative travel pieces. The book thus conveys the story of a fascinating, bohemian – and at times outrageous – life that spanned the entire 20th century.
 
Georgia de Chamberet was born in Paris to an eccentric father and an artistic mother. As an editor at Quartet Books in the 1990s she published contemporary writers Tahar Ben Jelloun, Annie Ernaux, Juan Carlos Onetti, Daniel Pennac and Simon Leys (winner of the 1992 Independent Award for Foreign Fiction). She went on to found the London-based literary agency BookBlast in 1997, and to edit XCiTés: the Flamingo Book of New French Writing (1999). She has recently returned from travelling in Mongolia.

@AuthorsClub @sunnysingh_nw3 @SchulerCJ @Emily_BookPR 

The charge for the two-course lunch (main course, sweet and coffee) and a glass of club wine is £28.50 per person.

To book, phone 020 7930 9871 or email secretary@nlc.org.uk. Payment can be made by cheque, bank transfer or debit card. To avoid disappointment, please book no later than Friday 11 September.

Format, IP & content copyright © BookBlast Ltd, London. Photographs & graphical images copyright © their respective copyright holders. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise specified, the content herein is only for your personal and non-commercial use.

Spotlight | Georgia de Chamberet at Ways With Words Book Festival

Ways With Words Festival of Words and Ideas in Devon has been held annually for about two decades. It is extremely well run by friendly staff and the surroundings are idyllic. I stayed in a comfortable double room to one side of Dartington Hall, overlooking glorious trees and the garden, away from the central, medieval, listed courtyard. My well-attended talk about Lesley Blanch, ‘a bohemian abroad’, was held in the 14th century Barn Cinema.

On the evening I arrived, news reader and war reporter, Michael Buerk, talked about Reality TV. He was engaging, funny and ultimately pretty depressing about the future of ‘quality’ TV. Budgets for ‘traditional’ drama, documentaries and investigative current affairs programmes − Panorama and Dispatches are all we have left − are derisory, whereas around 750 producers were out in the Australian jungle for the particular show in which he featured of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! Thousands of hours of filming end up on the cutting room floor. Reality TV is more ‘fixed’ now than when it first began and is not as ‘real’ or cutting edge as you might imagine. Watched by 16 to 30 year olds it offers a modern twist on people being tested and mocked as in a morality play, or freak show. People are pushed to their limits in increasingly humiliating ways for fast shock results. Instead of being pelted with rotten eggs and vegetables in the stocks, nowadays contestants grapple with their phobias of creepy crawlies, rodents and serpents. He was honest about the lure of the sum of money he was paid for taking part, (naturally he did not divulge the amount!). Bad behaviour is rewarded and ignorance is cool. Celebrity is a goal in itself, without achievements or virtue being involved in any way. The ultimate punchline from the younger members of his own family was lighten up granddad it’s only a TV show.

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Lesley Blanch Archive | Ack-Ack A.T.S. and others, British Vogue, January 1942

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.

The scene is a wild stretch of coast. There are mountains inland, glimpsed nebulously through the icy, blanketing mists which lie low over the ragged, sodden fields. The cold appals. The most leathery-looking sergeant shudders. I am huddled inside a wigwam of topcoats. Stamping and shuffling in their battledress, the A.T.S. are blowing on their hands, waiting for the command to take over the gunsites.

This is one of the big practice camps where the Mixed A.A. Batteries, or gun teams, receive their final training before being sent to man the many defence posts. On the edge of the cliffs stand the great guns. Low overhead a practice or target plane rolls, swoops and spins with show-off brilliance. In the lee of a little glass-walled lean to hut where some remotely, beautifully academic-looking kine-theodolite girls are at work recording and checking the gunfire, a group of gunnery officers argue a point of tactics. Their scarlet capbands are sharp against the prevailing khaki of place and personnel.

Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | Ack-Ack A.T.S. and others, British Vogue, January 1942