Media Release | THE BOOKBLAST® 10×10 TOUR in association with Waterstones

bookblast official logo ®THE BOOKBLAST® 10×10 TOUR
A CELEBRATION OF INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING
11 SEPTEMBER – 15 NOVEMBER 2018

A Nationwide Festival of Independent Publishing!

A carnival of authors, poets, translators and publishers, under the banner of trailblazing agency BOOKBLAST® created by Georgia de Chamberet, will be travelling to major cities across England, showcasing some of the finest independent-spirited literature and poetry being published today.  

THE BOOKBLAST® 10×10 TOUR, in association with Waterstones, will visit nine regions of England, celebrating risk-taking publishers who fill a unique niche in discovering talent. The tour connects London and the regions.

This tour is about extraordinary writing. Writing that surprises, amazes and intrigues. Writing that challenges, disrupts and demands. Writing that is from the margins of culture portraying areas of life that the traditionalist mainstream often ignores. The tour will inspire readers, existing and new, to explore what’s happening in different parts of the world now, and to immerse themselves in the unfamiliar. Audiences will encounter writers from the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. With these events, BookBlast® aims to unite people in the spirit of friendship and exchange.

THE BOOKBLAST® 10×10 TOUR launches in Waterstones Gower Street, located in the heart of Bloomsbury, London, followed by a series of themed talks, each one chaired by a small independent publisher, held in flagship regional branches of Waterstones over 9 weeks. It promises to be a hugely exhilarating celebration of the most electrifying prose and poetry being created today. Continue reading Media Release | THE BOOKBLAST® 10×10 TOUR in association with Waterstones

Review | The Chilli Bean Paste Clan, Yan Ge | Book of the Week

Chilli bean paste was big business, had been for Gran’s family for four or five generations. Sichuan peppers, on the other hand, were the sort of thing any small trader could sell. All they needed was a place to set up their stall. But, humble though the trade was, the Sichuan pepper was as essential as chilli bean paste at all Pingle Town dinner tables [. . .] Dad had kicked around the chilli bean paste factory for over twenty years, learning the ins and outs of his trade under the tutelage of his shifu, Chen, and if it had taught him one thing, it was that people were born to sweat. You ate chilli bean paste, and Sichuan peppers, and ma-la spicy hotpot, to work up a good sweat, and screwing a girl made you sweat even more. The more you sweated, the happier you felt, Dad reckoned. He remembered the fiery heat that the sweat-soaked bed-sheets in Baby Girl’s house gave off.”

The Chilli Bean Paste Clan is essentially a rags-to-riches tale about a small-town Chinese family’s survival following on from China’s rapid industrial revolution during Mao Zedong’s rule, and the later economic turmoil of the 1990s. Economic growth entailed a rise in social corruption in all areas of life along with social alienation and a breakdown in moral values.

The Chilli Bean Paste Clan is in the tradition of the neighbourhood novel – a kind of literary soap. The big three authors of the genre are Naguib Mahfouz, William Faulkner and Vasco Pratolini (who did for Florence in the 1940s what Elena Ferrante has done for Naples today; Pratolini became a screenwriter, collaborating in films such as Paisà by Roberto Rossellini, Rocco e i suoi fratelli by Luchino Visconti and Le quattro giornate di Napoli by Nanni Loy.)

A Loving Family

Widowed matriarch, May Xue, is the archetypal grandmother of olden times who loves her family with steely resolve, an overriding concern with social status, and much meddling. She is the owner of the Mayflower Chilli Bean Paste Factory which is run by her youngest son, Shengqiang. His clever, handsome older brother, Duan Zhiming, is away at university being a brilliant Professor while his sister Coral Xue – the family peace-maker – lives in the big city with her family and is a successful TV news presenter. Narrated by Xingxing, the daughter of Shengqiang and Anqin, the tone is warm, sharp-eyed and irreverent.  

Shengqiang endured a harsh apprenticeship in the factory stirring the vat of chilli bean paste while his brother went off to university, but now in his forties he is very successful. Money is everything to him – as are regular sex, food and getting drunk with his friends since they make him feel good about himself. His wife is “the only woman in Pingle Town who is fortunate enough to have found a husband as rich and as generous as Dad.” Anqin plays mah-jong, reads novels, goes shopping using her husband’s credit cards and turns a blind eye to his succession of mistresses, until one falls pregnant . . .

Shengqiang was close to his older brother Zhiming when growing up, since “he got good marks, he could play snooker and he could pull the girls, [. . .] and was the coolest dude in Pingle Town.” But after Zhiming screwed Baby Girl in the notorious red light district, an intense rivalry had developed and intensified over time.

As Gran’s eightieth birthday approaches, the family comes together to plan a great celebration for her. Zhiming takes over organising of the event, reminding his brother Shengqiang that, “We’re the Duan-Xue family. It’s got to be grand, and really classy, but it mustn’t be tacky. The Prince’s Mansion Hotel or whatever, that’s fine, but getting signers along is just a way of throwing money around! The Duan-Xue family’s not like other families. Pingle townsfolk are really uneducated, right? . . . They just do things so-so . . . We’re going to make this a very grand occasion indeed.

Secrets and Lies

Since Grandad’s death, Shengqiang has been the head of the family, a role which he fills with alcohol-and-nicotine-fuelled capability and underlying irritation. He sets up his mistress Jasmine in an apartment in the same block as his mother, and helps out his brother in law, Liu, when he gets a mistress on the quiet. “That day, like a proper head of the family, he got out the keys and gave them to Uncle Liu. ‘I’ve paid six months’ rent in advance,’ he told him. ‘Now it’s down to you’.” Shengqiang does this despite his action being a betrayal of his sister; he realises that “this was the worst thing he had done to a woman in his whole life.

Debilitating secrets gradually emerge as preparations are made to hold Gran’s birthday celebration in the Mayflower Chilli Bean Paste Factory yard; programming all manner of festivities entails the involvement of various locals. As tensions build, Shengqiang feels increasingly put upon. His internal monologue comprising lurid thoughts and rude comments – indicative of his emotional immaturity – is both hilarious and bordering on the tragic since on the surface he continues to be the usual compliant son and brother. His frustration boils up to a fever pitch.

It turns out that Gran’s ruthlessness in furthering the family fortunes meant that she forced arranged marriages on her children. As skeletons rattle out of the closet, even she is not immune to the embarrassment of past misdemeanours coming to light.

Gentrification – Chinese-style

The dynamic tension of the Duan-Zue clan mirrors China as it enters the modern era. The fictional protagonists navigate the distinct social and economic peregrinations of where they live; with the neighbourhood playing a central role. The narrative is littered with references to limousines, hostesses, brothels, the County Party Committee, new apartment blocks, the single-child policy, Chinese Mandarin vs. Sichuan dialect, and other tidbits affording insights into Chinese life – as well as food glorious food! I felt increasingly hungry as I read: Sichuan cuisine is delicious, hot and spicy.

pingle ancient town yan geThere were no dirt roads left in Pingle Town, and you didn’t see many telegraph poles either. In 2000, or 2001, the powers-that-be got some mad idea into their heads that the town needed a facelift. Up went the stepladders, and the buckets of paint, and all the buildings on, and off; the four main roads were covered in white paint. They looked like they’d been plastered with stage make-up. After that, the stalls and pushcarts were driven out: the purveyors of cold dressed rabbit, chilli turnips and spring rolls, Sichuan eggy pancakes, riceflour shortbread and griddled buns filled with brown sugar, even the scissor-menders and knife-grinders, were all swept ruthlessly from the face of the town. All those old faces so familiar from his childhood just vanished. The few souls that remained retreated into their shells like tortoises and made do with shopfronts as narrow as the gap between your front teeth.”

A curse of capitalism the world over is the homogenising effect of gentrification: towns and neighbourhoods that are cleaned up means that the eccentrics, creatives and impoverished misfits are swept away out of sight and out of mind. This is a global phenomenon: from Ladbroke Grove W10 to The Marais in Paris and the Lower East Side in Manhattan – as in a small town near Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province, Money makes the world go around  . . .

Nicky Harman’s dignified, pacey, idiomatic translation featuring colloquialisms and colourful insults radiates erudite energy, drawing the reader into a world of muddle and intrigue, blending farce and nostalgia.

Yan Ge was a Chinese literary sensation age seventeen, and has twelve young adult books to her name. She is one of the most exciting writers to emerge from contemporary China. The Chilli Bean Paste Clan is one of a trilogy of adult fiction: what will happen next in Pingle Town, Sichuan Province?   

The Chilli Bean Paste Clan by Yan Ge, translated by Nicky Harman | Balestser Press 13.99GBP 18.99 USD trade paperback 270pp | ISBN 978 1 911221227 | Winner English PEN award

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Spotlight | Staging France: Beyond Words Festival of French Literature, London SW7

Cafés, books and debate are a mainstay of French culture in a uniquely seductive way, so to savour some French flair, head to the Institut français in London this week for the second Beyond Words Festival. Forty writers, translators, actors, musicians and journalists are taking part in talks and live performances, presenting iconic films, and engaging the broader public, not just Francophiles.

How Paris changed the world

Baudelaire looked at what being a bohemian meant and invented the word “modern”; Hemingway made Paris an obligatory destination for aspiring young American writers on their European Grand Tour; the French capital was home to Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco; and Nabokov was published there.

philippe gras photo bookblast diaryMay 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of May 1968 when French workers joined student protesters in Paris with a one-day general strike. Although the government was not overthrown, the protests ushered in a cultural revolution.

The Photo Exhibition AU COEUR DE MAI ’68 by the late French photographer Philippe Gras tells the story of May ’68, fifty years after the event. There is free access to the exhibition at the Institut français during La Médiathèque’s opening hours, until 19 May. Continue reading Spotlight | Staging France: Beyond Words Festival of French Literature, London SW7

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 | Andrew Harmon, theatre director & writing coach

Theatre director and writing coach, Andrew Harmon, gives us an exclusive interview from his home near Palm Springs CA. He talks about 1950s Hollywood, writing for the screen and stage, producing ‘Improvisathon ‘85’ for Live Aid at the Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden, directing and teaching in Scandinavia in the 1980s, and the importance of Zen meditation to boost creativity. The ‘big mind’ process helped Andy to develop his ideas behind the Four Crises of Change and the Change Dialogue techniques which he uses with writers as well as at ‘small is beautiful’ executive development consultancy Actor’s Mind™.
His recently published book,
Change Journey: Voices of the Creative Quest, moves through the four crises of authorship, and takes us through the landscape of dramatic storytelling, and the archetypes of mythic drama. Of the various ‘how to’ books available for writers who find themselves stuck down a structural and imaginative rabbit hole, Change Journey is one of the better and decidedly more original ones, offering insights and solutions in a concise and entertaining way.
Harmon’s ‘scientific fairytale’,
Freud’s Golem, is a play inspired by Freud’s case studies of The Ratman and The Wolfman. It imagines the case, The Psychoanalysis of a Vampire.
Continue reading Interview | Andrew Harmon, theatre director & writing coach

Spotlight | Close Encounters of a European Kind | 3:AM Magazine 4 Feb 2007

After generations of slaughter on its soil, Europe found peace and economic stability through the founding of the EU in 1957. In an idealistic, co-operative post-war world looking to the future, anything was possible. The writer Gael Elton Mayo covered England with Henri Cartier-Bresson, for Robert Capa’s brainchild, Generation X, which she describes in her gael mayo robert capa bookblast diaryautobiography, The Mad Mosaic, as “the name given to the unknown generation, those who were twenty after the war, and in the middle of a century. Capa wanted to choose a young man, and young girl, in each of twelve countries and five continents, examine their way of life, and find out what they were doing, thinking and hoping for the future.” (Holiday changed ‘Generation X’ to ‘Youth of the World’ when it was published; an abbreviated version also appeared in Picture Post in 1953.)

Half a century on, from the six founding members, the EU has enlarged to 27 member states, (with Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey in accession negotiations). Its impetus seems to be shifting as it morphs into an economic, political and cultural powerhouse. In the recent travel writing issue of Granta, Jeremy Treglown writes: “The British, with their mix of insularity and transatlanticism, can find it hard to grasp that so many continental Europeans, especially the young, are patriotic about being European.”

Continue reading Spotlight | Close Encounters of a European Kind | 3:AM Magazine 4 Feb 2007

BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | December 2017

December: a time of merry abandon, or seasonal reflection? Our round up of eclectic reads to delight and inspire you takes in both . . . Happy Christmas! Georgia @bookblast

Titles are in alphabetical order according to publisher @bitterlemonpub @darfpublishers @commapress @belgraviab @hoperoadpublish @hauspublishing @ibtauris @maclehosepress @pointedleaf @pushkinpress

Life without friends is like life on a desert island

friendships mark girouard bookblastFriendships by Mark Girouard (Bitter Lemon Press) buy here

Mark Girouard, the architectural writer, and authority on the country house, gathers together thirty letters of note and other communications from friends, alongside his writing about them. A few are or were famous, some are grand, and others not at all. The point of the book is that friendship has nothing to do with fame or success, but all to do with that sudden click of reciprocity, and pleasure in companionship that helps make life worth living. Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | December 2017

Interview | Jen Hamilton-Emery, Salt Publishing | Indie of the Week

BookBlast™ catches up with Jen Hamilton-Emery, fiction editor and director of independent Salt publishing, based in Cromer, Norfolk.

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Yes, both my parents were (and still are) readers. Every week my mum would take me to the library and a treat was a trip to a bookshop. I’ve always had books in my life.

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
I’ve always loved books and reading, but working in publishing never entered my head when I was looking at career options. I left school in the early 1980s in Glasgow and knew no-one who had any involvement whatsoever in publishing. There was less of it about in those days!

Has your vision from when you started Salt 18 years ago changed?
No, not really. Our vision was always to publish interesting and brilliant books that were that bit different to the mainstream.  We may have shifted genres from poetry to fiction, but our aims haven’t changed.

Continue reading Interview | Jen Hamilton-Emery, Salt Publishing | Indie of the Week

Review | Manuel D’Exil, Velibor Čolić | Editions Gallimard

Manuel D’Exil − comment réussir son exil en trente cinq leçons (A Survivor’s Guide to Exile in 35 Chapters) by Velibor Čolić

Both World War I and World War II originated in the Balkans. Central-Eastern Europe is a region that is terra incognita to most Brits. Prime Minister Chamberlain famously remarked about the Czechoslovak crisis in 1938: “How terrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.” Dictator Marshal Tito held Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, and others in a state of uneasy alliance until his death on 4 May, 1980. Ethnic tensions grew in Yugoslavia and war broke out in 1990

The Balkans are once again the crucible of crisis – this time as the main refugee route to northern Europe. Thousands have become trapped in Greece after Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia closed their frontiers. Continue reading Review | Manuel D’Exil, Velibor Čolić | Editions Gallimard