Interview | Alastair Niven OBE LVO | Writer, lecturer & arts administrator

Alastair Niven is the author of four books and numerous scholarly articles on aspects of Commonwealth and post-colonial literature. A judge of the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1994 and of the Man Booker Prize in 2014, he was also for twenty years Chairman of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. He was director of literature at the Arts Council and at the British Council and is a former president of English PEN. His memoirs In Glad or Sorry Hours are published by Starhaven Press.

Where were you born and brought up? Were you a happy child? 
I was born in a nursing home in Edinburgh.  It is now a Hilton hotel, where the judging of the Stakis Prize for Scottish Writer of the Year took place in 1998.  I found myself deliberating with my fellow judges in the room in which I first saw the light of day.  I had come full circle.  As for a happy childhood – by and large, except when my father was on his daily rant about a misplaced towel or some crumbs on the carpet. Continue reading Interview | Alastair Niven OBE LVO | Writer, lecturer & arts administrator

Review | In Glad or Sorry Hours – a memoir, Alastair Niven | Starhaven Press

Why write an autobiography? Setting aside the ‘celebrity’ memoir, it is generally undertaken in a person’s later years, usually to give insights into how experiences have shaped them as a person . . . to preserve their life story for future generations . . . to shed light on an important moment in time . . . or to set the record straight.

Alastair Niven starts his engaging memoir, In Glad or Sorry Hours, in his early childhood, ending in the present, spanning a period of social and cultural innovation. He played an influential role, contributing to shaping the evolution of culture in England for over three decades: at the Africa Centre, the Arts Council, the British Council, as President of English PEN and at Cumberland Lodge. For twenty years he was Chairman of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Discerning and generous in using his power, he clearly deeply cares about the value and wellbeing that literature and culture bring to individuals and to society. Continue reading Review | In Glad or Sorry Hours – a memoir, Alastair Niven | Starhaven Press

Get a flavour of The Children’s Bookshow LIVE!

Michael Rosen will be kicking off this year’s bookshow on Friday 22 September, 10.30am & 1.30pm, Theatre Royal, Newcastle NE1 6BR.

Here he is presenting Jean-Francois Dumont’s book The Geese March in Step in 2015.

Continue reading Get a flavour of The Children’s Bookshow LIVE!

Interview | Ra Page, Comma Press | Indie Publisher of the Week

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Absolutely, both of them. My parents hoarded books, and they read to us every night as kids. My mother is a voracious reader of novels (although she never allows herself enough time to read them). My dad came from that great working-class tradition of self-betterment, investing in his own education throughout his life. He stock-piled political and historical texts, was a huge fan of EP Thomson and Eric Hobsbawm in particular, and loved Strachey’s Eminent Victorians so much he named one of my brothers ‘Lytton’. He left behind a library of books about Nasser and Middle East history that none of really know what to do with. Dad was more of a history and non-fiction reader, Mum more fiction. There were some writers they both agreed on though: Lawrence, Hardy, Orwell.
Also, I have to say, in the context of our new release Protest, that this book is effectively my ‘thank you’ to my parents for the extraordinary political education I got from them. I was privileged to grow up in the eye of a whole cluster of political storms. As kids we stood on pickets lines outside coalfields in North Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, took day trips to Greenham, were greatly involved in the 1984 Chesterfield by-election that returned Tony Benn to parliament, marched with the country-long anti-Apartheid march that culminated in the two Free South Africa concerts; and saw a newly freed Mandela address the world at second of these. We were beyond lucky.
As well as being a thank you to them, this book is also a potted journey of protests that Mum, Dad and two grandfathers I never knew were involved in, as well as much earlier ones that I heard mentioned in hushed reverence. Mum and Dad got to know each other on an Aldermaston march; both were linked with the Hornsey sit-in, both were at the anti-Vietnam demo in Grosvenor Square, 1968 – where Dad was wrongly arrested and defended himself in court. My grandfather also marched with Jarrow marchers as they entered London in 1936, and fought against the blackshirts on Cable Street the same year. That’s the thing about this book, it’s not just me, scratch the surface and everybody has a connection to not one, but multitudes of these stories – because it’s our history, not theirs. To quote my friend, Dinesh Allirajah: “It’s political, but it’s always been personal.”

Continue reading Interview | Ra Page, Comma Press | Indie Publisher of the Week

Interview | Eric Lane, publisher, Dedalus Books | Indie Publisher of the week

Established in 1983, Dedalus Books is a truly unique publishing house which is recognised for its quality and unorthodox taste in the esoteric, the erotic and the European. The press’s founder and MD, Eric Lane, is unashamedly intellectual. His tenacity and vision have kept Dedalus going through the lean times, and helped it to flourish during the good. Dedalus had two books on the Booker Prize longlist in 1995: Exquisite Corpse by Robert Irwin and Memoirs of a Gnostic Dwarf by David Madsen. The complete list of Dedalus prizewinners is at dedalus.com

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
No, neither of my parents were great readers. My mother grew up on a farm in southern Italy and my father in an orphanage in Surrey. They met at the end of WW2 when my teenaged mother accompanied a friend who went for a job at the RAF base in Naples. My father was doing the interviewing and offered the friend a job and also one to my mother who refused. As they were leaving my father said to his colleague, I’m going to marry that one – meaning my mother – which he did, in February 1946. My mother was nearly 20 and my father 25. My sister was born in November 1947 and I followed in September 1949. We lived in Finchley which my mother loved. We used to go every few years to Italy. In the end my mother used to speak to everyone in Italy in English with the odd word of Italian whereas my father spoke to everyone in fluent Neapolitan. My parents were very happily married for 25 years until my father died of a heart attack in 1971.Growing up I was a voracious reader but also loved sport, especially football.I was a very spontaneous child and often got in trouble at school for being ‘cheeky’.

Continue reading Interview | Eric Lane, publisher, Dedalus Books | Indie Publisher of the week