Alastair Niven is the author of four books and numerous scholarly articles on aspects of Commonwealth and post-colonial literature. A judge of the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1994 and of the Man Booker Prize in 2014, he was also for twenty years Chairman of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. He was director of literature at the Arts Council and at the British Council and is a former president of English PEN. His memoirs In Glad or Sorry Hours are published by Starhaven Press.
Where were you born and brought up? Were you a happy child? I was born in a nursing home in Edinburgh. It is now a Hilton hotel, where the judging of the Stakis Prize for Scottish Writer of the Year took place in 1998. I found myself deliberating with my fellow judges in the room in which I first saw the light of day. I had come full circle. As for a happy childhood – by and large, except when my father was on his daily rant about a misplaced towel or some crumbs on the carpet.Continue reading Interview | Alastair Niven OBE LVO | Writer, lecturer & arts administrator
Where were you born, and where did you grow up? I was born and raised in Belfast during The Troubles. My parents grew up in working class families and were determined to ‘better themselves’. When my older brother was eight they bought a newly built, three bed semi-detached house and moved from the central area of the city to what was then its outskirts. They still live there today. My sister and I were born after this move. My brother left home when I was six so I never really got to know him – he now lives in Australia. My sister and I both passed the 11+ exam and attended an all girl state run grammar school before going up to the local university. We continued to live with my parents, although I did move into student digs for around six months after yet another row about my behaviour – aged twenty I was staying out beyond my curfew and drinking alcohol. I suspect we all wish I could have afforded to stay away, but my part time job wouldn’t cover the rent longer term. Belfast felt parochial, cut off from what we referred to as the mainland due to the violence. We were expected to attend church and conform to a code of conduct that demanded we put on a front to the world of chastity and sobriety. It always felt that what I was seen to be mattered more to my parents than what I was or aspired to. Despite this I look back on a largely happy childhood. Certainly at the time I felt loved. My determination to leave Belfast and to be myself stems from the frustration of being guilt tripped into conforming to a wide range of strictures I didn’t agree with. Continue reading Blogosphere Interview | Jackie Law, Never Imitate, @followthehens
After generations of slaughter on its soil, Europe found peace and economic stability through the founding of the EU in 1957. In an idealistic, co-operative post-war world looking to the future, anything was possible. The writer Gael Elton Mayo covered England with Henri Cartier-Bresson, for Robert Capa’s brainchild, Generation X, which she describes in her autobiography, The Mad Mosaic, as “the name given to the unknown generation, those who were twenty after the war, and in the middle of a century. Capa wanted to choose a young man, and young girl, in each of twelve countries and five continents, examine their way of life, and find out what they were doing, thinking and hoping for the future.” (Holiday changed ‘Generation X’ to ‘Youth of the World’ when it was published; an abbreviated version also appeared in Picture Post in 1953.)
Half a century on, from the six founding members, the EU has enlarged to 27 member states, (with Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey in accession negotiations). Its impetus seems to be shifting as it morphs into an economic, political and cultural powerhouse. In the recent travel writing issue of Granta, Jeremy Treglown writes: “The British, with their mix of insularity and transatlanticism, can find it hard to grasp that so many continental Europeans, especially the young, are patriotic about being European.”
Here is our New Year round up of eclectic top ten reads for independent minds to delight and inspire you, happy new year, bonne année, felice anno nuovo, feliz año nuevo, ευτυχισμένο το νέο έτος, szczęśliwego nowego roku !
Listing in alphabetical order according to publisher @bitterlemonpub @commapress @Carcanet @CharcoPress @Istros_books @maclehosepress @NewVesselPress @orbooks @whitecrowbooks
Hell in Paradise
The Greek Wallby Nicolas Verdan Trs. W. Donald Wilson (Bitter Lemon Press)
“At the moment, he no longer knows why he is here in this spot alongside a national highway, outside this brothel on the very edge of the Schengen Area. Perhaps, instead of discussing the wall inside, he might find a body like Christina’s? Not her face, not, he wouldn’t recognise it in that place. But maybe her perfume? Just a woman’s perfume, a scent, just her scent, please, please tell me if there mightn’t be, here in this place, in the countryside, on the frontier of Europe, a girl wearing Rykiel Woman.”
A severed head is found on the Greek border near a wall planned to stop Middle Eastern immigrants crossing from Turkey. Intelligence Agent Evangelos wants the truth about the murder, human trafficking into Greece, and about the corruption surrounding the wall’s construction. More than a mystery novel and a political thriller, The Greek Wall evokes the problems of the West incarnated in Greece: isolationism, fear of immigration, economic collapse and corruption. Paradise for tourists can become a hell for immigrants.
Poetic, pungent and atmospheric, The Greek Wall is a good example of how compelling crime fiction gives insights into the detective and the society in which they live.
The issues dealt with by Nicolas Verdan in The Greek Wall are close to his heart: “As a journalist, I went to Turkey, the Balkans, Greece, the Middle East, Central Asia, following or crossing the roads of migrants. My Greek grandparents were confronted by forced emigration of sorts. When my mother was a baby, the Greek civil war had begun. There was no choice but to leave your village to go to Athens, if necessary on foot. An exodus like the people from Syria and Iraq leaving everything behind: home, family, friends, skies, landscapes, the brilliance of olive trees in the sun. My grandmother came back to her village in the Peloponnese ten years after leaving it. It was only 350 kilometres from the capital, but coming back to your abandoned homeland was like coming to a foreign country. Devastation, no time, no money. Such was life in the 1950s in Greece. We must never forget how much rural exodus has affected the mentality of modern Greece.” Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | January 2018
“The Duke of Westminster, the richest man in England, walked past, a cigar clamped between his teeth, in an out-at-elbow suit with corkscrewing trousers and his jacket pockets stuffed with tokens he had forgotten to cash in on his way out of the gaming room. A woman walked a step ahead of him, not turning round. She had an imperious expression and a very mobile face and wore a boater with a black ribbon. She was dripping with jewellery. Blanche said to her son, ‘Look. That’s Mademoiselle Chanel. Thanks to her we can cut our hair short without looking like servants’.” [Your Father’s Room, p. 36]
French novelist Michel Déon was born in Paris and died in Galway in 2016 at the age of 97. Admirers of Fournier and Flaubert and the world according to Proust would love his writing which is pared down and, although quintessentially French, has a universal resonance. The author of more than fifty works of fiction and non-fiction, and a member of the Académie Française, Déon was also a member of the 1950s French literary movement, ‘Les Hussards’, founded by Roger Nimier to oppose Existentialism and Jean-Paul Sartre. (The group was named after Roger Nimier’s novel Le Hussard bleu – The Blue Hussar). The distinguished and controversial right-wing novelist, Paul Morand, was an inspirational figure for the group. “They form a fascinating quartet of original, cosmopolitan, witty minds, far superior to their British contemporaries, the Angry Young Men,” poet, novelist and translator, James Kirkup wrote in The Independent in 2001.Continue reading Review | Your Father’s Room, Michel Déon | Book of the Week