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
“I noticed that the pigeons have completely lost their faith in people. It is impossible to get nearer than five metres to any one of them.” [p. 38]
Because of the war in Syria, an estimated 12.5 million people are displaced, and refugees seeking asylum in Europe invariably develop depression, anxiety and PTSD. The world is facing the highest levels of displacement ever in history, with 65.3 million people forced from their homes by war, internal conflicts, drought or poor economies. The walking traumatised are becoming a major challenge of the twenty-first century, requiring a global plan.
The Bosnian war of 1992-95 resulted in some of the worst atrocities seen in Europe since the Nazi era. More than 100,000 people were killed and, according to a recent report by Al Jazeera, twenty years on many survivors suffering from trauma are not getting the help they need.
“I am solitary and depressed. A man with no one to look after him . . .” The narrator has spent nine months and three days in bed after his wife walked out on their five-year marriage. It is 7 March 2005, it is snowing, and he is coming back into life. He plays the Rolling Stones and watches the world outside his window. Continue reading Review | Seven Terrors, Selvedin Avdić | Book of the Week
Tell us a little bit about yourself. I dropped out of university in the early 1970s and ran away to Paris where I spent eight years soaking up the French language and culture. I enrolled at the radical university of Vincennes and did various jobs, from telephone operator on the SNCF enquiries line to picking grapes, milking goats and teaching English in companies. When I came back to the UK in 1981, I found that I was unemployable, so I announced myself as a translator.
When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you? I lived in a house full of books. My father collected books and had very eclectic tastes. We used to go to Portobello Road market together every Saturday and he taught me how to identify a first edition. I had unrestricted access to his entire library. We lived in a small suburban house where there was no privacy. I shared a bedroom with my sister and the only place I could be alone was the loo. During school holidays, I think I spent most of my waking hours locked in the toilet with a book. I was a serial reader, so I’d find an author and then read everything by them. I graduated from Enid Blyton to Angela Brazil – I loved boarding school stories – and Agatha Christie. As an older teenager, it was Sartre and Camus, Zola and Isaac Bashevis Singer.Continue reading Interview | Ros Schwartz | Translator of the Week
Tell us a little bit about yourself. I spent half my childhood in eastern Australia, on the edge of the Coral Sea, where I went to a school whose motto was “Every pupil a good swimmer”. That sub-tropical beginning, living barefoot, catching lizards, going to the beach every week, meant that when my parents brought me back to foggy, suburban south London, to an undreamt-of land of rain, shoes and no lizards, I was instantly on the lookout for another somewhere to run away to. Luckily I was sent to France at the age of thirteen on a school exchange, and that was it. I found languages easy to learn – French and German first – and I followed that relaxed path through school and 3 years at Cambridge, but as Søren Kierkegaard says, life is understood backwards but has to be lived forwards, so while I was successfully getting out of England as often as I could, I began to understand that easy didn’t necessarily mean the same thing as satisfying. So I tried other things: I wrote (in secret), I pestered a publisher for a job, I interested myself in what was being written in France and Germany. When I became a publisher’s editor and bought the rights to a French novel by Michel Déon called Un Déjeuner de soleil, I awarded myself my first translating job. Later, when I started writing more determinedly (i.e. wanting to get published), I realised what a really useful starting-off point translating had been. Looking back much later, I see that I’ve been incredibly lucky: languages seem to have taken me everywhere I’ve wanted to go. Continue reading Interview | Julian Evans | Translator of the Week
Tell us a little bit about yourself. I grew up in Canada and came to Japan when I was 20 without knowing any Japanese. After a year of studying the Japanese language in Kyoto, I entered a university in Tokyo where I majored in Cultural Anthropology. My first job after graduating was translating project reports from Japanese into English for a Japanese-based consulting engineering firm. I worked there for 3 years, learning how to translate on the job. During that period, I got married to a Japanese architect and, just after our first child was born, we moved to the island of Shikoku. I began translating freelance while raising two children and have continued translating in a variety of fields ever since.
When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you? From a fairly young age, I read anything and everything I could get my hands on, which in our house was a lot as my grandmother was once a children’s librarian. Books were my escape from the reality of school life, which I found quite unkind at times, so I read a lot of fantasy, adventure stories and historical fiction. Books I particularly remember and that I kept going back to include The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, The Earthsea Cycle, Alice in Wonderland, especially all the crazy poetry, The Last Unicorn and The Once and Future King. I also loved things like Ann of Green Gables, Emil and the Detectives, Heidi, Paddington, Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O. Mitchell, and Russian Fairy Tales, as well as such authors as Margaret Lawrence, Farley Mowat, Gerald Durrell, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Madeleine L’Engle, and Patricia McKillip. I could go on and on so I will stop here!!Continue reading Interview | Cathy Hirano | Translator of the Week
Tell us a little bit about yourself. I was born in Scotland and moved to the US with my family at the age of four. We lived in the heartland of the US, in Nebraska, for several years, before moving to Texas, where we settled. I became an American citizen during my first year at uni. I started learning German, took lots of Spanish literature courses, and studied abroad in Berlin, Madrid, and Mainz, but in the end I became an English major because I wanted to access the creative writing courses offered by that department. I wrote a collection of short stories for my senior project. By the time I graduated I had gorged on literature for so long that I felt like I needed to do something completely different, so I went to work for a bank. I ended up in the Latin American group of an American bank, helping companies from Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil access the US markets. I loved the clients but I didn’t love the work itself, which was incredibly demanding — I didn’t have the time or energy to read a book for three years — so I left that industry for publishing. I worked for Andrew Wylie as his assistant for a year, then for Francis Coppola, launching his literary magazine, Zoetrope: All-Story, finally settling at Words Without Borders, which published its first issues of writing from Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, six months after I began working there in 2003.
When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you? It’s so lowbrow that it’s slightly embarrassing to admit, but I loved the Nancy Drew mystery series; I read every one, some multiple times. I think what appealed to me was the girl power — that these three young women were daring and fearless in the pursuit of truth and justice was quite inspiring. The book I probably read the most times was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Little Princess. I was captivated by the character Ram Das, who would sneak across the rooftops into the little girl’s garret with carpets and firewood, pillows and blankets, to make it a more pleasant place for her to live. It seemed utterly magical to me. I suppose I’m still rather fanciful.