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.
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 Replacementsby 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.
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.”
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.
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.