Review | The Horseman’s Song, Ben Pastor | Book of the Week

The Horseman’s Song is the sixth in the Martin Bora series and follows on from the success of Road to Ithaca, Tin Sky, A Dark Song of Blood, Lumen and Liar Moon, also published by Bitter Lemon Press.

Bora felt kinship for the dead. The ancient and the new, the long buried and the exposed, those over whom people wept, and the dead whose name or gravesite no one knew. All of them claimed brotherhood with him tonight. It might be the balmy scent of the evergreens brushing against his boots, or the day closing like an eye, or knowing that Lorca was dead, as was Colonel Serrano’s son. The man from Mockau, too, was as dead “as all the dead of the earth”, in Lorca’s own words. It might be any of those things, but his narrow escape only made him kin to the bones of Spain.”

A whole generation was passionately entangled in the Spanish Civil War – politically, militarily and ideologically – preceding World War Two. Foreign volunteers actively participated, siding with different factions. Several countries defied the Non-Intervention Agreement, and also took sides, contributing arms, funds or fighters. Picasso’s Guernica is the most famous image of the 1936-1939 clash of bourgeois democracy vs. Fascist aggression. Continue reading Review | The Horseman’s Song, Ben Pastor | Book of the Week

Review | Unspoken Legacy, Claudia Black | Central Recovery Press

Human beings are violent creatures so exposure to traumatic events which leave an unspoken legacy is nothing new. What is new is 24/7 web browsing, social media, TV and online streaming creating multiple exposure and repetition, and endless cyber avenues of escape from a painful reality.

According to Nicholas Carr in The Shallows, not since Gutenberg invented printing has humanity been exposed to such mind-altering technology.

Different people react in different ways to similar events – not all people who experience the same traumatic event will be severely disrupted. It is estimated that 80% of those in rehab for addiction in the UK and US have been traumatised at some point.

If what happened has been forgotten or silenced, memory and feelings can live on, and be passed on down the generations. These emotional legacies are generally hidden, encoded in myriad ways, from gene expression to everyday language, playing a far greater role in emotional and physical health than has been realised until now, since discoveries have been made thanks to the revolution in neuroscience research. Continue reading Review | Unspoken Legacy, Claudia Black | Central Recovery Press

Interview | Print & Podcast | Maggie Gee, author

Maggie Gee was born to working-class parents, and climbed into an uneasy place between classes. She was educated at state schools, and won a major open scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford where she did an MA in English literature and an MLitt on Surrealism in England. She was one of the original Granta 20 Best of Young British Novelists in 1983.

Gee has published fifteen books, thirteen of which are novels, including her latest, which is published by Fentum Press, Blood. A new, extended and updated edition of her 2014 novel Virginia Woolf in Manhattan has just been published by Fentum in the US.

She is a Fellow and Vice-President of the Royal Society of Literature, a Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, and was awarded an OBE for services to literature in 2012. She is a Non-executive Director of the Authors’ Licensing and Copyright Society.

Hear the Podcast of our conversation if audio is your thing

You grew up in Dorset before moving to the Midlands. Tell us about your early years.
My first memories are of running on a beach, which is probably significant since I’ve always been drawn back to the sea. I had a brother so we ran around and I did boy’s things.
Continue reading Interview | Print & Podcast | Maggie Gee, author

Book 2 Review | The Governesses, Anne Serre & Now, Now Louison, Jean Frémon | Les Fugitives

The Governesses by Anne Serre | Translated by Mark Hutchinson | Les Fugitives

Published 25 March, 2019 | PB 120 pages ISBN 978-978-0993009396

Experience had shown you, however, that no pact lasts forever. You knew that the members of the household would once again be shuffled together like playing cards, and that when the next hand was dealt the alliances would fall out differently.”

The Governesses is a most unusual erotic fable about sex and power, illusion and eroticism, beautifully translated from the French into supremely elegant, languid prose. Its atmosphere is reminiscent of Alain Fournier and Julien Green.

Inès, Laura and Eléonore are governesses, responsible for four boys. The “mistresses of games and pleasure” they radiate a wild and frisky innocence, and have the run of the upstairs salons in the country house of Monsieur Austeur and his wife, Julie. “The excessive silence of the households they wait upon” may be “conducive to reading thinking and raising little boys who are champion hoop rollers, and to the elderly gentleman’s repose, and the waning love of Monsieur and Madame Auster,” but it is stultifying. Their employers’ home is “a boundless void.” The young women have nowhere to go, and there are no distractions. Continue reading Book 2 Review | The Governesses, Anne Serre & Now, Now Louison, Jean Frémon | Les Fugitives

Review | Bindlestiff, Wayne Holloway | Book of the Week

So, you get the picture. A town with a lot of flashing red lights floating above heads. That’s show business. Dead phone lines and a lot of blow jobs.”

From film classics like Sunset Boulevard  in which an unsuccessful screen writer is sucked into the fantasy world of a faded silent-film star, to Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Ape and Essence, and my all-time favourite, screenwriter George Axelrod‘s mischievous satire, Where am I Now When I Need Me? . . . Los Angeles has played a leading role in too many books and films to mention.  Continue reading Review | Bindlestiff, Wayne Holloway | Book of the Week

Podcast | Nicky Harman: Translating China & Top 10 Reads

Celebrating this year’s Chinese New Year of the Pig, I discuss translating China with Nicky Harman on the launch of Paper Republic’s roundup of the most recent publications in English translation. Their 2018 roll call features thirty-three novels, six poetry collections and three YA and children’s books.

Paper Republic is a unique resource you won’t find anywhere else on the web. Its co-founder, Nicky Harman, is a leading light of the translation community in the UK and a passionate promoter of Chinese literature and culture. She is co-Chair of the Translators Association (Society of Authors). Nicky is often away, but I managed to catch up with her for brunch on Valentine’s day to discuss the literature of a non-English speaking continent that is 4,834 miles away from this small offshore island.

Here is the Podcast of our conversation

Continue reading Podcast | Nicky Harman: Translating China & Top 10 Reads

Review | Fox, Anthony Gardner | Book of the Week

Frank and Anna’s day was one of mixed fortunes. They chased a great brute of a fox down to Chelsea Harbour, finally cornering it in the underground car park, though not before several of the residents had been reduced to hysterics; then they were called to the other end of the King’s Road, where a vixen had slipped on to a bus, bringing the traffic to a standstill as the passengers poured out on to the road. The vixen had escaped in the confusion; by the time Frank and Anna appeared on the scene, she had vanished with a chicken stolen from the Cadogan Rôtisserie.
‘Call yourself a huntsman?’ the manager shouted at Frank. ‘That’s the third fox I’ve had in here this week.’
‘Give them customer loyalty cards, mate,’ Frank replied cheerfully, ‘and don’t forget to ask for their addresses. We’ll catch them, roast them with some parsnips, and your clientele won’t know the difference.’”

What if . . . the British government struck a deal with the People’s Republic of China? And acquired new and ground-breaking technology enabling them to implant a surveillance microchip in every British citizen under the guise of having a routine injection against fox flu.

Continue reading Review | Fox, Anthony Gardner | Book of the Week

Interview | Anthony Gardner | Author of the Week

Where were you born and how did it feel to grow up between Ireland and England?
I was in London until the age of ten, and then in Tipperary with school and university in England. Going backwards and forwards between the two during The Troubles didn’t feel comfortable at all. As a writer I’ve come to appreciate the advantages of not belonging entirely in one place – always having an outsider’s eye.

What did you read as a child?
C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia; Kate Seredy’s The Good Master and The Singing Tree; John Buchan’s The 39 Steps; Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle’s Molesworth books

Who were early formative influences as a fledgling writer?
For poetry, W.B. Yeats; for prose, Evelyn Waugh and F.Scott Fitzgerald. Continue reading Interview | Anthony Gardner | Author of the Week

Review | The Book of Birmingham, Kavita Bhanot (ed.) | Book of the Week

The Book of Birmingham is the latest title to be published by Comma Press in their cities in short fiction series which serves as an excellent introduction to some superb contemporary writers. The ultimate in armchair city tours, the series is ideal for discovering other places, other lives.

The Book of Birmingham – focusing on the second largest city in the UK after London which “sits at the central crossroads of England, the industrial heartland of the country” – brings together short stories by some writers known to me, (Kit de Waal, Bobby Nayyar, C.D. Rose, Sharon Duggal, Kavita Bhanot), and some not, (Sibyl Ruth, Malachi McIntosh, Joel Lane, Jendella Benson, Alan Beard, Balvinder Banga). The city’s “working-class foundation is inseparable from the city’s literature, reflected in the voices of its best-known contemporary authors: Jonathan Coe, Catherine O’Flynn, Benjamin Zephaniah, Kit de Waal, Joel Lane . . .

The voices in this eclectic collection are all significant and have a powerful sense of engagement with the city. They convey a thoughtfulness and lyrical elegance imbued by anger as well as a tender melancholy. Continue reading Review | The Book of Birmingham, Kavita Bhanot (ed.) | Book of the Week

Review | The 10 Worst of Everything: The Big Book of Bad, Sam Jordison | Book of the Week

We live in an increasingly polarised mad and maddening world seemingly going from bad to worse. The hunger for “how to be happy” and “how to achieve more success in life” top tips type reading fodder is countered by our apparent preference for bad news over the good, (motivated by schadenfreude, a heightened vigilance for threats thanks to a daily Media diet of disasters, shock value . . . or so the thinking goes).

If it bleeds, it leads

Sam Jordison’s series Crap Towns became a cult hit. Now he has pulled another winner out of his hat – The 10 Worst of Everything: The Big Book of Bad. It is an entertaining and thoroughly-researched book of alternative general knowledge. Factual and informative lists ranging across the natural world, history, popular culture, sports, food, medicine, science, economics, politics, drugs, divorce and crystal-ball gazing balls-ups are seasoned with tongue-in-cheek personal asides. It is a particularly cheering read if your own life is in the doldrums, or for some Christmas fun and games. So quiz each other and laugh when no one knows the answers: there is invariably someone worse off than you! Continue reading Review | The 10 Worst of Everything: The Big Book of Bad, Sam Jordison | Book of the Week