Interview | Philip Gwyn Jones, Scribe UK | Indie Publisher of the Week

Editor and publisher, Philip Gwyn Jones, has 25 years’ high-level experience at the heart of literary publishing in the UK. Most recently, he founded Portobello Books in 2004 and joined Scribe UK in 2014. He is a passionate and persuasive campaigner for great writing and has worked with both the conglomerates and the independents, as well as charities championing writing and writers, universities teaching the history and craft of writing and publishing, and literature festivals. @PGJpublishing @ScribeUKbooks 

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
My father read [and watched and listened to] only news, news, news. My mother was an aspirational reader and even more aspirational for her only child when he eventually arrived, and dutifully followed the advice in the women’s magazines of the 1960s-’70s from the likes of Kaye Webb about what books a child should be given to read. I ended up with a marvellous library of paperback kids’ books, mostly Puffins, from that time, which was largely ignored by my own children, and is now boxed up in the attic to be ignored by generations to come.

What was the book that made you fall in love with reading?
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which remains to me the greatest book of them all, containing, as it does, everything and its undoing and its explaining. Plus Asterix, in those puntastic Anthea Bell translations. Continue reading Interview | Philip Gwyn Jones, Scribe UK | Indie Publisher of the Week

Interview | Sophie Lewis | Translator of the Week

Sophie Lewis is a London-born writer, editor and translator from French (since 2005) and Portuguese (since 2012). She has translated works by Stendhal, Verne, Marcel Aymé, Violette Leduc, Emmanuelle Pagano, Noémi Lefebvre, João Gilberto Noll and Sheyla Smanioto, among others. She was Senior Editor at indie trade publisher And Other Stories from 2010 to 2016. In 2016 she co-founded Shadow Heroes, a workshop series introducing aspects of translation to GCSE-level students. She is now Managing Editor at the Folio Society. This Tilting World by Colette Fellous, published by Les Fugitives on 16 September, is her latest translation.

Where did you grow up? Have you always lived in London?
I grew up in Islington in North London. I’m happy to call myself a born and bred Londoner, though my parents were not from here, nor were their parents from where they grew up.
I spent my childhood and adolescence in London, and was back and forth between Oxford, Paris and London as a student. My big, very sensible adventure was a move to Rio de Janeiro at the beginning of 2011. My husband got a teaching job there and we took a weekend to decide this was a great plan, despite never having set foot on the continent before. It was a great plan. We stayed for four and a half years. Now we’re back in London we can’t help speculating about making another similar move, though to somewhere as different again. Languages play their part, of course. Continue reading Interview | Sophie Lewis | Translator of the Week

Review | This Tilting World, Colette Fellous trs. Sophie Lewis | Book of the Week

Tomorrow, yes, I will leave this house. I’ll abandon the village and the life here, all the faces that I love I will leave. The friends, the objects, the doors, the pavement slabs, the tall eucalyptus and the wild olive trees, the orange groves, the roads, the markets, the music, the fruit, the dancing, the window of blue, I’ll leave it all, no strength left.”

Looking out to sea, Collette Fellous remembers her 1950s Tunisian childhood, her father, and lifelong friend, the writer Alain, who “died like a Greek hero, with an unheard howl, in the middle of the Aegean Sea, at the helm of his yacht.” She looks at the past in attempt to understand the brutal present on which she wishes to turn her back.

I could talk about that death; I haven’t the strength to discuss the others. This tilting world, how can we talk about it, how make sense of it? Only by naming the appalling blow those deaths have dealt each one of us, the deep wound they have gouged which can never be healed, the birth of a new kind of warfare, and this terror that is taking root everywhere, even within our own bodies. Continue reading Review | This Tilting World, Colette Fellous trs. Sophie Lewis | Book of the Week

Interview | Dina Nayeri | Author of the Week

Dina Nayeri is the author of The Ungrateful Refugee, one of the most widely shared 2017 Long Reads in The Guardian. Winner of the 2018 UNESCO City of Literature Paul Engle Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts literature grant (2015), O. Henry Prize(2015), Best American Short Stories (2018), and fellowships from the McDowell Colony, Bogliasco Foundation, and Yaddo, her stories and essays have been published by The New York Times, New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, New Yorker, Granta New Voices, Wall Street Journal, and numerous others.  www.dinanayeri.com @dinanayeri

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Tehran, lived in Isfahan until I was eight, then spent sixteen months as a refugee, arriving in Oklahoma when I was ten years old.

Did, or do, your family ever talk about life in Iran before the 1979 Islamic revolution?
Constantly. The nostalgia around pre-revolutionary Iran was so visceral that it became a part of my growing up. All the joys and the rituals and the arts went underground or behind closed curtains, but we still had them. And our parents talked all the time about what Iran used to be.

What sorts of books were in your family home?
You had to be careful about what books you kept. So my parents kept very few novels, history books, or anything cultural, political, or even allegorical. Of course we kept the old poets: Rumi and Hafez and Sa’adi. There was The Shahnameh, of course. And lots of medical books. Shelves and shelves of medical books.
Continue reading Interview | Dina Nayeri | Author of the Week

Review | The Ungrateful Refugee, Dina Nayeri | Canongate Books

Unlike economic migrants, refugees have no agency; they are no threat. Often, they are so broken they beg to be remade into the image of the native.” 

A blend of memoir and reportage, The Ungrateful Refugee packs a powerful punch and should be recommended reading for secondary school aged children.

Dina Nayeri describes her personal experience intertwined with that of the people she interviews as they all flee from persecution and death. Boats are braved and seas crossed by people fuelled by terror, courage and hope. The refugees are rescued and pitied — often by the regimes that created the trouble and strife they are escaping from in the first place. This small but important fact is invariably overlooked as the new arrivals are demonised by populist rhetoric that is bolstered by polices that reek of organised selfishness. Refugees “need friendship, not salvation.”

Nayeri revisits her own chaotic past in 2016 when she becomes a mother.  “I had changed my face and hair, my friends, my education, my country and job so often, that my skin felt raw.” The five sections of her narrative — Escape, Camp, Asylum, Assimilation, Cultural Repatriation — recount the fate of individuals from different backgrounds as well as refugee support volunteers, lawyers and other decent human beings. The uniting theme is that refugees be given a voice, an identity, and that their stories be heard.
Continue reading Review | The Ungrateful Refugee, Dina Nayeri | Canongate Books

Interview | Kim Oliver, Literary Executor | Small Axes

On Wednesday 28 August, HopeRoad‘s new imprint, Small Axes, headed up by Serpent’s Tail founder Pete Ayrton, will celebrate by showcasing its launch title, The Nowhere Man, at the Nehru Centre in Mayfair. Kim Oliver, Kamala Markandaya’s daughter and literary executor, gave us an exclusive interview as a preview of the big night itself.

Kamala Markandaya’s pioneering novel The Nowhere Man, originally published in the 1970s, is reviewed HERE for The BookBlast Diary. It is a perfect read for this coming Notting Hill Carnival weekend.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Lewisham in south London. Our family home was in Forest Hill, and that’s where I grew up – in the same house from birth through childhood and teenage years. I still see my earliest childhood friend who lived next door – we have been friends for more than sixty years! When we speak of it, and think back, we realise we were born into very much a post-war world, in the 1950s. It seems very drab, looking back. I remember the paintwork upstairs in our house being a dark-grey gloss. I love grey now for decorating, but that grey was so dark and dreary! There wasn’t the choice there is now.
Continue reading Interview | Kim Oliver, Literary Executor | Small Axes

Book 2 Review | Wild Woman, Marina Šur Puhlovski & Under Pressure, Faruk Šehić | Istros Books

What can the novels Wild Woman by Marina Šur Puhlovski and Under Pressure by Faruk Šehić tell us about the breakup of Yugoslavia which caused such a tectonic shift in Balkan identity?

Each to their war and its troubled aftermath: one in the domestic sphere, the other out on the field and in the trenches. Both are informed by terror, brutality, power struggles and stubborn memories which refuse to go away. The gender split seems clear: survivors of domestic violence are primarily women and war veterans are mainly men each to their trauma.

Continue reading Book 2 Review | Wild Woman, Marina Šur Puhlovski & Under Pressure, Faruk Šehić | Istros Books

Review | The Nowhere Man, Kamala Markandaya | Small Axes

History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us,” James Baldwin

Pete Ayrton, editor and publisher, who in 1986 founded Serpent’s Tail which he retired from in 2016, has teamed up with Rosemarie Hudson, the founder of HopeRoad (2010) to head up a new imprint: Small Axes.

The publication and promotion of literature from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean which challenges cultural stereotyping is becoming ever more urgent in the face of rising authoritarianism in the US, UK and across Europe.

The Small Axes list will focus on republishing post-colonial classics that helped to shape cultural shifts at the time of their printing and remain as relevant today as when they were first published.

He lapsed into bitterness, as people tended to do now, despite some shreds of conviction that still remained that Britain was an honourable adversary. ‘Over three hundred lives,’ he said. ‘A hundred Indians for each Briton. That is their scale, the scale by which they value themselves and against which we are measured. That is what we are up against: not their greed, or their anger, nor land hunger, nor the need to trade, but their arrogance, the mentality that produces such policies and acts.’” Continue reading Review | The Nowhere Man, Kamala Markandaya | Small Axes

Review | A Country to Call Home (ed.) Lucy Popescu | Book of the Week

So refugee week is over. The fact that the UK is the only country in Europe where refugees who arrive looking for a safe haven are detained indefinitely, and are often sent back home to face persecution, torture or death, will be kicked into the long grass once again. Certain politicians continue to use the language of disaster and provoke fear by swelling numbers of arrivals, backed by box-ticking Home Office officials.

Refugees are individuals seeking asylum for humanitarian reasons and suffer trauma, broken dreams, love and loss as a consequence. They are not amorphous groups to be rendered and processed and imprisoned in detention centres like criminals. Such a hostile environment is anything but a welcoming new home, and some go crazy with grief.   Continue reading Review | A Country to Call Home (ed.) Lucy Popescu | Book of the Week

Interview | Lucy Popescu | Author of the Week

Lucy Popescu is a author, editor and arts critic with a background in human rights. She worked with the English PEN for over twenty years and was Director of its Writers in Prison Committee from 1991 to 2006. Her most recent anthology is A Country to Call Home which focuses on the experiences of young refugees (Unbound, 2018). Lucy is the chair of the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award; teaches creative writing at the Working Men’s College in Camden; curates literary evenings at Waterstones; is a Trustee of the JMK Award for Theatre Directors; and mentors refugee writers at Write to Life, Freedom from Torture’s creative writing group.

Tell us about your childhood and where you grew up
I grew up in Oxfordshire. My late mother was the children’s author, Christine Pullein-Thompson so I was put on a pony before I could walk. It’s a beautiful part of England and I loved hurtling round the woods and hills on a pony – following in my mother’s hoof steps – she grew up in Peppard. Years later, I found out that I had lived in a world that many horse mad girls envied.

Were your parents great readers? What were the books that made you fall in love with reading?
I come from a family of writers and grew up surrounded by books. I read hand me downs of Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies and E. Nesbit’s The Phoenix and the Carpet and loved C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books as a young child. I also read all my mother’s books and then the books written by her sisters . . . That took some time. I was a precocious reader. I wanted to know why, aged nine, I was banned from reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. I also read Wuthering Heights too young and thought Heathcliff was a romantic hero. I devoured JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye as a teenager. Continue reading Interview | Lucy Popescu | Author of the Week