Toby Litt grew up in Bedfordshire. He has worked as a teacher, bookseller and subtitler. A graduate of Malcolm Bradbury’s Creative Writing M.A. at the University of East Anglia, Toby is a Granta Best of Young British Novelist and a regular on Radio 3’s The Verb. He edited the 13th edition of New Writing (the British Council’s annual anthology of the finest contemporary writing in fiction, non-fiction and poetry). His story ‘John and John’ won the Manchester Fiction Prize. He teaches creative writing at Birkbeck College. The author of over fifteen books, Toby Litt’s latest book, Wrestliana, is a memoir which interweaves reminiscences and an exploration of manhood.
How has Ampthill changed from when you were growing up there in the 1970s?
When I was five or six, there was a dairy a few doors along from our house. It had a Mynah bird, in a side room, in a cage, which would occasionally say a word: a word that shocked my mother, if I was lucky. The diary sold milk, butter and chestnut yogurts from a refrigerated glass display cabinet. When I remember details like this, I start to believe I grew up on the peripheries of a story by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Continue reading Interview | Toby Litt | Author of the Week
Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
No, neither. My parents are more interested in the business side of things – as in, “does it make money?” I’m running out of synonyms for “not yet”! Instead, I have an incredible English teacher to thank for my impecuniosity. He went through the entirety of Paradise Lost with me, line-by-line.
Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
I think so, although it took me a while to realise it. I went around the houses first – journalism, academia, writing – but found that publishing was a good fit for my temperament.
Has your vision from when you started Little Island Press two years ago changed?
In that we now publish fiction and essays – yes, in a big way. I started Little Island with only poetry in mind, but could not pass on some incredible projects, and our purview gradually widened. Yet, in another, more fundamental way, nothing has changed. We’re still committed to bringing together the best in literary innovation, design and production. “Real books,” as some have commented. Continue reading Interview | Andrew Latimer, co-founder, Little Island Press | Indie Publisher of the Week
An article about sparring with Hemingway and the stamina required to be a writer fell out of Gael Elton Mayo’s copy of Robert Ruark’s Something of Value while rearranging the overfilled bookshelves in the hallway this morning. Gael wrote about 1950s Spain in the 1950s in her memoir The Mad Mosaic.
The American writer Robert Ruark was a friend of hers: “He wrote not (yet) bestsellers, but sports columns, that were syndicated and appeared in twenty newspapers at once all over America. We went to see him with Dennis, in his villa near Palamos. The atmosphere was very different from our village. Friends of the Ruarks had houses with floodlit lawns, beach houses, booze and boredom. But Ruark was as hospitable as Dennis, having people to stay, offering meals, drinks, leaving all his guests for a few hours then returning, rubbing his hands together, to announce he had just had someone killed off. He was referring to the novel that he was working on, about the Mau Mau, Something of Value. He had many Tahitian primitive paintings and played Hawaiian music. He drank mainly rum with Coca Cola, and much ice and lemon. He had two boxer dogs who went swimming with him, and a wife called Ginny who looked as if it had all got beyond her long ago.”
To box with Hemingway when he was in his prime was a rather unusual experience for a reporter who had been sent to interview him. I went to cover the arrival of the Pan-American Airways Clipper across the Pacific via Manila to find Hemingway buoyant with the success of his Spanish Civil War novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. He had just sold the film rights to Paramount for a record sum. Some months before the balloon went up at Pearl Harbour he had been sent to China to cover the Sino-Japanese war for Marshall Field’s now defunct paper, PM.
Continue reading BookBlast® Archive | Sparring with Hemingway, Robert Ruark | circa. 1954-55
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Chatham in Kent and grew up in the surrounding towns – called the Medway towns – so in and around Rochester, Chatham (on various estates), Gillingham. I left when I was seventeen and moved to London, but even though I’ve not lived there for a long time, Medway remains a potent influence.
What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
My mother and grandmother were avid readers, and I was taught to read and love books from a very early age; but they were busy, working class women who’d left school early so the books in our homes tended to be Catherine Cookson and romances, Mills and Boon etc. Having said that I had lots of classic children’s books and I had a couple of teachers who were pretty amazing in encouraging me to read widely. When I was teenager I skipped school to go the library in town and would read anything and everything curled up in a chair by a window that looked out over the River Medway. I read a lot of Dickens, Daphne du Maurier and Stephen King. I used to read any of the Penguin Classics, because that seemed to be a foolproof method of reading; I was hungry to learn, but hated school. I suppose my earliest influences that I was consciously reading to learn to write were Angela Carter, Plath and Sexton and John Steinbeck. I loved his work. Continue reading Interview | Heidi James | Author of the Week
BookBlast® presents our curated monthly top 10 reads, a little late because of taking time out in New York and Rhode Island.
Sex, Drugs, Rock’n’Roll
Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements by Bob Mehr (Da Capo, Boston) buy here
The definitive biography of one of the last great rock ‘n’ roll bands of the twentieth century. Though they hated punk bands that is how they were on and off stage.
Reclusive singer-songwriter Paul Westerberg, bassist Tommy Stinson, and the family of late guitarist Bob Stinson opened up to Bob Mehr. Described by Alfred Soto in The Chicago Reader as being “A roaring rock ‘n’ roll adventure, a heartrending family drama, and a cautionary showbiz tale,” the book features new interview material and 72 rare photos.
How To Set A Fire And Why by Jesse Ball (Text Publishing Company, Melbourne) buy here
Sixteen-year-old Lucia Stanton’s father is dead, her mother is catatonic in a mental institute, and she lives in an unheated garage with her elderly impoverished aunt. She’s all in black and angry at our materialistic, capitalist society. Expelled from school for pencil-stabbing a boy who invaded her space, she is intelligent, interesting and impossible to be with, which comes clear as she relates the events of her life in a series of diary entries. To Lucia, arson is a form of class warfare. “I . . . thought about the fire. I know it was just an abandoned building but I felt like something had happened, a real thing for once. My aunt’s stroke had felt pretty real too. I guess real things happen all at once, and then you go back to the false parade of garbage that characterizes modern life.”
These first two books are recommended by a bookseller&lover working at one of the best bookstores in NYC: The Strand, 828 Broadway (& 12th Street), NY 10003. Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | August 2017
Roberto Bolaño called novelist Alan Pauls from Argentina “one of the best living Latin American writers.” The Past, first published in the UK in Nick Caistor’s English translation, is about obsessive love, addiction and self-destruction, played out against a bewitching backdrop: Buenos Aires. It is a strange, unsettling read.
Protagonist Rimini is good looking and easy going; his partner Sofia is eccentric and strong. Their relationship seems inviolable and eternal to their friends, but “occasionally Rimini faltered. He wavered, ran away from Sofia, and then was enraged at his own weakness.” They split up after twelve years, but Sofia refuses to accept that they are no longer a couple, “two people like us cannot separate”. She writes letters and leaves messages on Rimini’s answering machine, obsessing about the importance of sorting through the hundreds of photos of their time together, but he is scared to look at them, “for fear of being sucked into an emotional whirlpool and drowning in it.” Sofia’s presence becomes ominous like that of a stalker. She clings on as he struggles to let go and make a new life.
Continue reading Review | The Past, Alan Pauls | booktrust.org.uk 2008
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.
Continue reading Interview | Samantha Schnee | Translator of the Week