Interview | Megan Dunn | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Invercargill, a small city at the bottom of the South Island in New Zealand. But my formative years (if they ever ended) were spent in Rotorua, a tourist town in the centre of the North Island. Rotorua – “Rotovegas” to the locals – is stepped in Maori history and is a geothermal wonderland known for strong wafts of sulphur, hokey motels and hotels, putt-putt golf. The McDonalds in Rotorua has Maori carvings on the walls.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
I grew up in a flat above an old peoples home with my single parent Mum, who was a night nurse for the elderly residents downstairs. The sign at the top of our drive read: “Residence for the Elderly,” I walked past it to school every day. Books: loads. From Men and their Mothers, and other pop psychology, to Sweet Valley High. At fourteen, I read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer on the back porch, while the elderly residents ate shortbread and drank tea in the lounge below me. They read Mills and Boons in large print, when they weren’t listening to the TV. Continue reading Interview | Megan Dunn | Author of the Week

Review | Revolution! Writing from Russia 1917, Pete Ayrton (ed.) | Book of the Week

The city is destroyed, plundered. A very interesting city. Polish culture. An ancient, rich Jewish colony. These frightening bazaars, dwarfs in hooded coats, hoods and side-locks, the aged, a school street, ninety-six synagogues, all half-destroyed, and stories – American soldiers were here, oranges, cloth, thoroughfare, wire, deforestation and wasteland, endless barren land. Nothing to eat, no hope, war, everyone is equally bad, equally foreign, hostile, inhuman, before life was traditionally peaceful” – from Isaac Babel’s 1920 Diary in which he describes his experiences with the Cossack cavalry during the Polish-Soviet war.

To actually feel what it was like to be caught up in the most momentous event of the 20th century, and to walk in the shoes of those who either stayed and wrote under the increasingly tricky conditions of censorship, or fled to become émigrés pining for a lost world, or visited from abroad wanting to see revolution in action . . . read Pete Ayrton’s anthology Revolution! Writing from Russia 1917. Of all the books marking this year’s centenary of the Russian Revolution, this is the one to go for. Continue reading Review | Revolution! Writing from Russia 1917, Pete Ayrton (ed.) | Book of the Week

Review | The Madeleine Project: Uncovering a Parisian Life, Clara Beaudoux | Book of the Week

I’d been drifting from one studio apartment to another for several years already. I didn’t feel at home anywhere. In July 2013 I ended up in this little place. And I never suspected that the secrets it concealed might one day lead to a book,” writes Clara Beaudoux in the preface to this unusual read.

The mixing up of genres and categories that is characteristic of the way we read online has gradually fed into new forms of writing ‘in print’. Daniel Glattauer’s Love Virtually (Gut gegen Nordwind, translated from the German by Katharina Bielenberg and Jamie Bulloch) tells the story of an internet love affair through the emails of Leo and Emmi. Other Ways of Seeing (Un Autre Regard) is based on blogger Emma’s comic strip. Her take on news stories and accepted “truths” challenges the status quo and questions what liberté, égalité, fraternité really means in France today. Shaun Usher’s blog ‘Letters of Note, an online museum of notable letters’, was published in book form in 2013 to international acclaim. The internet is a numbers game: if you hit the jackpot, it’s life-changing. Continue reading Review | The Madeleine Project: Uncovering a Parisian Life, Clara Beaudoux | Book of the Week

Interview | Clara Beaudoux | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up? 
I was born and raised in Paris.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
There were many books in my family home, and my parents were used to take me to the library when I was a kid. I remember Roald Dahl, a magazine for kids called Astrapi and some comics like Marion Duval.

Why do you write?
Writing helps me to think. Continue reading Interview | Clara Beaudoux | Author of the Week

Interview | Henrietta Rose-Innes | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
Born and bred in Cape Town, under Table Mountain. All of Africa to the north, Antarctica to the south, and an ocean on either hand.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
It was a bookish home – we were always retreating into fantasy in different corners of the house. My parents had various interests and they collected books on art, archaeology, rare plants, antiques, medicine, carpentry, bird-keeping . . . as well as poetry and certain kind of mid-century fiction that they discovered in their youth. I grew up reading Graham Greene and Hemingway and Carson McCullers and a lot of classic Science Fiction. It was an old-fashioned but solid education.
Continue reading Interview | Henrietta Rose-Innes | Author of the Week

Review | As a God Might Be, Neil Griffiths | Book of the Week

What was the grand plan? Build a clifftop church and then hurry away back to London when it was finished? Or was he to remain and become a spiritual guide of some kind? He didn’t know . . .” 

Midlife crisis, existentialist angst, spiritual awakening, burnout, soul loss . . . the list of labels is a long one, but whatever the inner crisis, transformation or degeneration are among the possible outcomes.

Proctor McCullough and his business partner Jim are consultants on catastrophe – “futurology at its most pessimistic“. They run an “independent agency that analysed behaviour during terrible events and helped businesses plan better resolution strategies . . . Their small client base included corporations, broadcasters, and now the government.” He and his partner Holly, a solicitor for asylum seekers, have been together for 13 years and have six year old twins, Pearl and Walter. They live in a semi-detached Victorian house in Wandsworth. Continue reading Review | As a God Might Be, Neil Griffiths | Book of the Week

Review | Travels in a Dervish Cloak, Isambard Wilkinson | Book of the Week

The next morning, standing in the doorway to see me off on my way to the north of Punjab, to the capital, Islamabad, the Begum strained with both hands to raise a heavy old leather-bound Koran under which I ducked to receive divine protection. She resembled a classical figure holding up a torch so that I might see the good in her country.”

Two great matriarchs loom over this memoir which flies over Pakistan like a magical flying carpet: Isambard Wilkinson’s grandmother, and her friend, Sajida Ali Khan a.k.a. the Begum, from Lahore in the Punjab. As a small boy visiting the Irish family home that is suffused with a “heady, dusty fragrance” and chock-full of Anglo-Indian mementoes dating back to the 19th century, a warm and intoxicating vision of another world offered an antidote to the cold austerity of boarding school. His first actual visit to Pakistan was with his grandmother in 1990, to attend a wedding of one of the Begum’s children; and then in 2006 as foreign correspondent. His desire to explore the country and live there eventually was cut short by kidney failure, dialysis and successful surgery when his brother gave him a kidney. Travels in a Dervish Cloak has been seven years in the making. Continue reading Review | Travels in a Dervish Cloak, Isambard Wilkinson | Book of the Week

Interview | Isambard Wilkinson | Author of the Week

Where were you born?
Southsea, which conjured exotic images of Pacific islands in my young mind. Then I discovered it was part of Portsmouth. I was born there because my father was in the navy.

 Where did you grow up?
After my birth, my father went off to sea to the Antarctic and my mother took me and my elder brother to our grandmother in rural Ireland. I went to boarding school in the UK at the age of seven ‘til 18. Ireland was our one constant for many years, as well as my parents’ Edwardian-bohemian home on the seafront in Deal, Kent, then an old smugglers town with a raffish air.

What sorts of books were in your family home?
My parents read lots and widely, from biography and history to novels of all stripes. My father’s favourite book is Lampedusa’s The Leopard, and my mother loved Nancy Mitford. There were also plenty of humorous books, including P.G. Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh. Continue reading Interview | Isambard Wilkinson | Author of the Week

BookBlasts® | Autumn Reads for Independent Minds

Good writing and good ideas of all kinds make the world go round! Since we first began our celebration of independent publishing in February 2015, seasonal newsletters rounding up our exclusive interviews and curated eclectic reads have been emailed to friends in the publishing and media industries in the UK, US and France. All the wonderful feedback  received over the years has been sustaining and heartening. For readers who have missed out on our latest activity, here’s a taste of what’s been happening . . .

To define is to limit” ― Oscar Wilde 

Dandy at Dusk published by Head of Zeus on 5 October, is hailed as a “future classic” by Nicky Haslam, the interior designer and founder of the London-based interior design firm, NH Studio Ltd. Meet the author, Philip Mann, to whom we asked, “Why do you write?” . . . Because I inexplicably missed out on being a film star.” He writes about Soho Bohemia, in his exclusive guest feature: “For thirty years I hid my fame in taverns“. Our other guest writer this month, freelance writer, journalist and cultural historian C.J. Schüler, writes about all things dandy.
Continue reading BookBlasts® | Autumn Reads for Independent Minds

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

Our monthly round up of deliciously eclectic, mind-altering reads to see us into the Autumn now that summer is over.

Uncovering a Parisian Life

The Madeleine Project by Clara Beaudoux, translated by Alison Anderson (New Vessel Press) buy here

A young woman moves into a Paris apartment and discovers a storage room filled with the belongings of the previous owner, a certain Madeleine who died in her late nineties, and whose treasured possessions nobody seems to want. In an audacious act of journalism driven by personal curiosity and humane tenderness, Clara Beaudoux embarks on The Madeleine Project, documenting what she finds on Twitter with text and photographs, introducing the world to an unsung 20th century figure. Along the way, she uncovers a Parisian life indelibly marked by European history. This is a graphic novel for the Twitter age, a true story that encapsulates one woman’s attempt to live a life of love and meaning together with a contemporary quest to prevent that existence from slipping into oblivion. Through it all, The Madeleine Project movingly chronicles, and allows us to reconstruct, intimate memories of a bygone era.

The BookBlast® Diary will be running a review and an exclusive interview with the Author at the end of the month.

Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | September 2017