Interview | Toby Litt | Author of the Week

Toby Litt grew up in Bedfordshire. He has worked as a teacher, bookseller and subtitler. A graduate of Malcolm Bradbury’s Creative Writing M.A. at the University of East Anglia, Toby is a Granta Best of Young British Novelist and a regular on Radio 3’s The Verb. He edited the 13th edition of New Writing (the British Council’s annual anthology of the finest contemporary writing in fiction, non-fiction and poetry). His story ‘John and John’ won the Manchester Fiction Prize. He teaches creative writing at Birkbeck College. The author of over fifteen books, Toby Litt’s latest book, Wrestliana, is a memoir which interweaves reminiscences and an exploration of manhood.

How has Ampthill changed from when you were growing up there in the 1970s?
When I was five or six, there was a dairy a few doors along from our house. It had a Mynah bird, in a side room, in a cage, which would occasionally say a word: a word that shocked my mother, if I was lucky. The diary sold milk, butter and chestnut yogurts from a refrigerated glass display cabinet. When I remember details like this, I start to believe I grew up on the peripheries of a story by Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Continue reading Interview | Toby Litt | Author of the Week

Interview | Yan Ge | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in a small town outside of Chengdu, a major city in the southwest of China. And I grew up there. As a teenager, all I wanted was to get out of this place, this muddy, tiny, sleepy town. Years later, when I actually left and lived in Ireland, all I wanted is to go back and to live in the small town where I spent my adolescence. That small town has been lost. It has changed so much. There have been lots of constructions, new buildings, the industrial and high-tech parks and tones of immigrants. The government renamed it last year, making it a district of Chengdu city. My hometown is officially being archived in the history book — there’s no way I can go back now. So I write about it all the time in my stories.

What sorts of books were in your family home?
Both of my parents were Chinese teachers so we have a sizeable collection of Chinese classics, contemporary Chinese fiction, and translated books. I can’t remember I read The Journey to the West for how many times. And I cried a lot when I read Su Tong’s books as a teenager. My parents love Russian writers and I read Gogol and Gorky with them.

Continue reading Interview | Yan Ge | Author of the Week

Interview | Viviana Prado-Núñez | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and lived in Gurabo until I was five. After that, my mother moved to Maryland so I spent a lot of my time both there and in my father’s house in Puerto Rico. (And in airplanes. Lots and lots of airplanes).

What sorts of books were in your family home?
I’m not sure actually. I know my mother has several boxes of children’s books somewhere in the basement, but I don’t really remember those. Most of my books growing up were from the library. I’d go once a week, stick my nose in the corner of the fantasy section, and come out with an armful. I know it took several years of rereading before my mother finally gave me the Harry Potter box set for Christmas.

Who were early formative influences as a writer?
Sandra Cisneros — she was the first (and only) Latina writer I ever came across in a classroom growing up. After that I think came the epiphany of “Oh, I can use Spanish in my writing?” Also I still credit my fiction teacher at Brown University, Michael Stewart, for teaching me not only how fiction worked, but how to think about writing for myself.

Continue reading Interview | Viviana Prado-Núñez | Author of the Week

Interview | Gabriel Josipovici, author & critic

Gabriel Josipovici is a pre-eminent British novelist, short story writer, critic, literary theorist, playwright, and a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement. Georgia’s exclusive interview for BookBlast® celebrates the publication this week of his latest novel, The Cemetery in Barnes, (Carcanet).

You were born during World War Two in Occupied France, what are your memories of that time?
I was born in Nice but we escaped to La Bourboule and Le Mont Dore in the Massif Central during the war. They were spa resorts for people suffering from lung problems, and so were full of hotels – La Bourboule was for children and Le Mont Dore for adults.

My parents had arrived in France newly-married from Egypt. My father had done his studies in French and wanted to go to a French university so he got a place at the University of Aix-Marseille. They lived in Aix while he did his doctorate, and then bought a house in Vence. Somehow they failed to take on board all that was happening. War started and I was born in Nice in October 1940, on the last day they could have got out back to Egypt as they had tickets for a ship. Nice was not the zone libre, but it was under tutelage of the Italians who were good to their Jews.
Continue reading Interview | Gabriel Josipovici, author & critic

Interview | Selvedin Avdić | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Zenica.* I grew up there, inside a triangle consisting of a steelworks, a mine and a prison.
*[Bosnia and Herzegovina. ed.]

What sorts of books were in your family home?
We did not have a big library, my father preferred machines to books. But there were several nice books – among them the children’s book, Timur and his Squad, by Arkady Gaidar. I was so obsessed with the book that I named my son Timur years later. I read it again recently and it’s not as good as I thought in my childhood. Close to our house was a city library where I went almost every day. My neighbour was an actor, the first to play Hamlet in my town. He once interrupted me on my return from the library and advised me not to read randomly, but to choose a writer, read everything s/he wrote and then move on to another. That advice seemed crazy even then. I mostly avoided this neighbour afterwards.
Continue reading Interview | Selvedin Avdić | Author of the Week

Interview | Megan Dunn | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Invercargill, a small city at the bottom of the South Island in New Zealand. But my formative years (if they ever ended) were spent in Rotorua, a tourist town in the centre of the North Island. Rotorua – “Rotovegas” to the locals – is stepped in Maori history and is a geothermal wonderland known for strong wafts of sulphur, hokey motels and hotels, putt-putt golf. The McDonalds in Rotorua has Maori carvings on the walls.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
I grew up in a flat above an old peoples home with my single parent Mum, who was a night nurse for the elderly residents downstairs. The sign at the top of our drive read: “Residence for the Elderly,” I walked past it to school every day. Books: loads. From Men and their Mothers, and other pop psychology, to Sweet Valley High. At fourteen, I read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer on the back porch, while the elderly residents ate shortbread and drank tea in the lounge below me. They read Mills and Boons in large print, when they weren’t listening to the TV. Continue reading Interview | Megan Dunn | Author of the Week

Interview | Stuart Evers | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in a small market town in the North West of England. Its principal claim to fame is selling the town bible to pay for a bear to use for bearbaiting during its annual wakes. This claim is, however, not true: the townsmen decided to use the money they’d been saving to buy a bible (16 shillings) to purchase the bear.  I have a wary relationship with the town; I spent my teens desperate to escape, and most of my thirties writing about it.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
We had few books in our house: a dictionary of British history, in which I would look up Nelson and Scott (I had a thing for noble deaths); a book on the hunt for Tutankhamun’s Tomb; a family health bible, probably written by Miriam Stoppard; a dictionary used almost exclusively to settle Scrabble arguments; an incomplete set of Young Person’s Encyclopedias from the 1950s. We got all our books from the library. Its musty stacks and silence were probably the most formative influences on my life and my writing.

Continue reading Interview | Stuart Evers | Author of the Week

Interview | Lawrence Scott | Author of the Week

Lawrence Scott is a prize-winning Caribbean novelist and short-story writer from Trinidad & Tobago.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born on Petit Morne Estate, a sugarcane estate in southern Trinidad which my father managed for the Usine Sainte Madeleine Sugar Company owned at one time by Tate & Lyle.  I went to primary school in the nearby town of San Fernando.  I went north into the mountains for my secondary school with the Benedictine monks of Mount Saint Benedict. Before leaving Trindad, I had been in a Junior Seminary from the age of 15. I left Trinidad at 19 to go to England to join the Benedictine Abbey at Prinknash in Gloucestershire.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
My father read books like The Ascent of Everest by John Hunt. He had been educated in England at Shrewsbury Public School and was very attached to that story, especially as Hunt was himself from Shropshire.   My mother was educated by nuns in Port of Spain and was a pillar of the Catholic Church; however, she read Graham Greene and loved to discuss the controversies over his writing. She particularly loved Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter. She was aware of the fiction of the 1940’s and 1950’s  and a great storyteller herself.

Continue reading Interview | Lawrence Scott | Author of the Week

Interview | Linda Kelly, author

BookBlast® interviews Linda Kelly, biographer and historian.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Kent and brought up in the country, mostly in Hampshire. However I was also a wartime evacuee, from 1940-43, in the US: a Saturday Evening Post – Norman Rockwell kind of America, complete with freckle-faced kids and rocking chairs on verandas. It was an idyllic period from which I  date a certain independence of mind and a dislike of snobbery. 

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
Our house was full of books, both English and French, and my mother read a lot to us when we were small. Due to wartime paper shortages, there were few new books being published for children, so we were thrown back on the classics of our parents’ generation: Frances Hodgson Burnett, Charlotte Mary Yonge, Stevenson, Henty and Conan Doyle.  Perhaps because of my American experience, I particularly loved books like Little Women and What Katie Did, but I was more or less omnivorous and gobbled up anything from Agatha Christie to Walter Scott.

In your home, was the atmosphere for women emancipated?
I don’t think it was a subject which arose – I had two brothers and two sisters, and we all regarded each other as equals.

Continue reading Interview | Linda Kelly, author

Interview | Andrew Lycett, author

Andrew Lycett is the biographer of Ian Fleming, Rudyard Kipling, Dylan Thomas, Arthur Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Stamford, Lincolnshire, and was then spirited out to live in East Africa – what was then called Tanganyika where my father started and ran an English style prep school.

What sorts of books were in your house when you were growing up?
A wide range belonging to two well-read parents – the complete Dickens, some traditional poetry (many relics of my father’s time studying English at Oxford in the 1930s), a surprising number of thrillers, and several fascinating works of reference – all a bit out of date, as we lived in the colonies.

How did Oxford help shape your tastes in literature?  
I’m not sure that Oxford particularly shaped my tastes in literature as I was studying history. However I certainly read a lot while I was at university. The centre of the world appeared to be the United States so I read American authors widely: Updike, Mailer, Barth, Irving, Wolfe (Thomas and Tom) and someone who I’m not sure is much regarded today but I enjoyed at the time – Ken Kesey.

Continue reading Interview | Andrew Lycett, author