Spotlight | A writer’s diet, Grub Street eats & cooking #OnWilderShores

Writing is a tiring business requiring energy and sustaining snacks. Chekhov had a weakness for oysters, Proust knocked back espressos, Sartre went nuts for halva and H. P. Lovecraft relished spaghetti bolognese smothered in parmesan cheese.

In a postcard sent to Cecil Beaton some time during the 1970s, Lesley Blanch describes her daily life as she is writing the biography of Pierre Loti: “I get up at 7, go on all day til dusk − hardly an eye for the birds, yelling to be fed. I’ve disconnected the telephone, such bliss − don’t go out or see anyone, don’t ever get dressed. Some days restful sluttishness prevails. Djellaba over a nightgown is the only way to work, for me − and no hairdressers + all that tra-la-la. But the appearance suffers − so does the figure. I sit, sit, sit, + eat delicious brown bread with tidal waves of butter.”

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Spotlight | Lesley Blanch and the Art of Narrative Non Fiction

Narrative non fiction: a new category

When Lesley Blanch wrote that “Journey into the Mind’s Eye is not altogether autobiography, nor altogether travel or history either. You will just have to invent a new category . . .” the label narrative non-fiction did not yet exist. Her autobiography about the early part of her life was published in 1968. She was ahead of her time. Like Rebecca West and Truman Capote, Lesley Blanch was experimenting with different forms and techniques to tell a damn good ‘true’ story.

Lesley Blanch claimed she could not invent, hence choosing biography rather than fiction, although her storytelling was underpinned by a vivid imagination and scholarly research. The Sabres of Paradise: Conquest and Vengeance in the Caucasus took six years to complete and required thorough investigation in Russia and Turkey.

What is narrative non fiction?

Narrative non-fiction is not just a convenient label used by publishers to help booksellers categorise their titles and display them, or a new genre fresh out of American writing schools for literary critics to argue about. It is favoured by clever young editors like Leo Hollis at Verso, or Richard Milner at Quercus, as a way to get across difficult, or dry, ideas in an engaging manner. People are most interested in other people and their experiences, not the dusty archives of research. To take the reader on a scientific, or philosophical, or historical journey of discovery by means of a series of a well-written scenes knitted together to form a compelling whole, as opposed to recounting how A then B then C happened in a cut-and-dried linear fashion, makes for a more exciting read and a saleable book.

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Spotlight | The seemingly unstoppable boom in literary festivals

Gone are the days when an author’s book promotion was simply about having a launch party, doing a few press and radio interviews, some bookshop signings and a talk at an appropriate venue. Now, in the UK, more books are published per inhabitant than anywhere else in the world: the scramble to get noticed is fierce.

What does a book promo package entail?

The full author book promo package now includes: having an author website, contacting personal Media contacts and those with specialist and local appeal, as well as international contacts; getting endorsements; writing for the press when and where possible; arranging speaking engagements, seminars, or workshops; connecting live ‘n’ direct with readers to build up a following via social media (facebook, twitter, youtube, pinterest); writing a blog, guest blogging and going on blog tours. It is immensely time consuming, but adopting a luddite attitude is ill-advised.

The literary festival circuit is a key component of book promotion. The more an author gets known the more likely it is sales will rise, ergo financial gain for all involved. Few writers would shun the opportunity to promote their latest book to potential punters, however many or few of them come to a talk and buy a book afterwards, with an autograph thrown in.

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Review | James Reed’s Book Launch at The Idler Academy W11

From The Idler magazine and Clerkenwell Literary Festival, to The Idler Academy in Notting Hill: the coffeehouse and bookshop opened by Tom Hodgkinson and Victoria Hull in 2011 is a magnet for creative entrepreneurs who want to turn dreams into reality. It is a wonderful place to enjoy a snack and a browse in convivial surroundings, learn how to play the ukulele, or master business for bohemians. Their special events and book launches where you can meet fellow idlers constructively idling are well worth the effort. James Reed’s Why You? 101 Interview Questions was launched there yesterday evening.

How to . . . eat, work, love, play, give birth, get real, get spiritual, get a guru, die . . . the plethora of How to books on the market is dizzying. Within the genre is a subset which addresses the question, “Why didn’t I get the job?” This is something with which I am less  familiar, maverick bookblaster that I am, now out of the corporate game. The other idlers at the launch did not come across as being obvious buyers for the book other than for their children, perhaps, who hope to get work in a cold economic climate.
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Spotlight | BookBlast® on the blogosphere

The literary blogosphere is pullulating with writing and opinions on every imaginable subject, era, or school of writing; writers promoting books; readers offering an opinion or amateur reviews; and comment by informed book critics. Here are a few favourites . . .

– blogs for Francophiles

Paris Diary by Laure is ‘a very personal and subjective view of Paris life, like a morning phone call to my best friend’.

The Paris Review was founded in Paris by George Plimpton and friends in 1953 to introduce important writers of the day. The blog is great for readers wanting a shot of culture, but are short on time to read in depth.

Gallic Books publish some of the best French writing available in English translation. Publisher, Jane Aitken, was interviewed exclusively for The BookBlast Diary in November 2016.

– blogs for design aficionados

Browns Editions offer a design feast for the eyes and über-chic ideas.

Thames & Hudson has been an independent, family-owned company since it was founded in 1949 and its World of Art series of books is especially well known.

For that stylish LA look, you couldn’t do better than Mallery Roberts Morgan – a Los Angeles-based writer, curator and interior designer; and the Los Angeles correspondent of Architectural Digest France.

– blogs offering informed opinions

The Times Literary Supplement’s blog about books and ideas is a must-read regular.

Andrew Gallix is editor-in-chief of 3:AM Magazine, credited by The Guardian as being the first literary blog ever. He writes fiction and criticism, edits books, and teaches at the Sorbonne.

Maria Popova’s brain-pickings is a treasure trove of the heteroclite and the offbeat; an inspiring resource for browsing and sharing.

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Media Release | International Women’s Day | Waterstone’s, Oxford, March 2015

As the highlight of this special event for International Women’s Day, Elisa Segrave examines stories from her mother’s hitherto hidden wartime experiences at Bletchley Park, Bomber Command and post-war Germany. Georgia de Chamberet takes a look at the life and many worlds of Lesley Blanch, a woman whose aura of seductive glamour and erudition inspired the generation that followed her. Chaired by Claudia Fitzherbert, books editor of The Oldie.

During the day there will be numerous author signings by women who write about women, including Dame Professor Hermione Lee and Amy Mason. So come along for a bit of book browsing and then stay on for the talk and a glass of wine afterwards.

Lesley’s memoir ON THE WILDER SHORES OF LOVE: A Bohemian Life is published by Virago. Elisa’s memoir THE GIRL FROM STATION X: My Mother’s Unknown Life is published by Aurum Press.

Tickets £5 / £3 For Waterstones Cardholders
At: Waterstones, Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3AF
Call: 01865 790212

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Media Release | Joe Boyd: White bicycles #OnWilderShores

Joe Boyd, the record and film producer, whose memoir White Bicycles: Making Music in the Sixties has sold 75,000 copies worldwide, interviewed the late Lesley Blanch for The Guardian in 2005. They shared a love of Bulgarian gypsy music.

He and a panel of guests will discuss The Wilder Shores of Love, Lesley Blanch’s “cult book which pioneered a new approach to history writing,” on BBC Radio 4’s A Good Read, 31 March at 4.30pm.

Here is Joe on YouTube talking about Amoeba Music and some of his favourite albums from the sixties.

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Guest Review | Philip Marsden | The Sabres of Paradise, Lesley Blanch

The Sabres of Paradise was first published in 1960, a hundred years after the story it recounts had ended, after the Russian conquest of the Caucasus was at last complete. Nikita Khrushchev was in the Kremlin. President Kennedy was running for the White House. Soviet power was at its height. The republics of the Caucasus were just another comer of the vast Soviet empire cowed into conformity by the brutalities of Stalin. The episode of Imam Shamyl’s thirty-year resistance to Russian expansion − perhaps the most dramatic story ever to emerge from the Caucasus (where dramatic stories are hardly in short supply) − had receded to its rightful place in ancient history. The days of small bands of mountain guerrillas raiding, hostage-taking, hiding up in the thick Chechen forests were long gone; whole divisions being tied down by such tactics was unthinkable in an age overshadowed by nuclear weapons.

Forty years on, the story looks a little different and a lot more relevant; now − post-Vietnam, post-Afghanistan, post-Soviet Union and post-September 11. Who, in 1960, would have dared predict that the heirs of the Red Army − that vast force which had done so much to shape the geo-politics of the late twentieth century, already humiliated by the Afghan mujahideen − should in 1996 be defeated, run out of its own territory by a band of lightly-armed Chechens which rarely exceeded a few thousand in number?

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Review | Two perfect his ‘n’ hers reads by Lesley Blanch

Lesley Blanch: always interesting, always flirtatiously alive, always passionate – Barnaby Rogerson, Country Life

Of Lesley Blanch’s biographies, The Sabres of Paradise: Conquest and Vengeance in the Caucasus was her favourite. Thorough research, a balanced approach and dramatic storytelling skills bring to life Imam Shamyl, the ‘Lion of Daghestan’, leader of the warring mountain tribes of Daghestan and Chechnya. From 1834-59 they fought to remain independent of Russia, strengthened only by the desire for an independent Caucasus and their religious faith. The Tzar took Shamyl’s eldest son as a hostage to St Petersburg. Shamyl captured two Georgian princesses (from the Tzarina’s entourage), a French governess and the children, and kept them in his harem until they could be exchanged for his son.

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