“So many books have been written with Paris as a character and there are so many clichés about its seductive beauty, as a writer you need to find your Paris and step away from the great dark magnet that it is. Often the dark Paris is what is most interesting.” Alicia Drake
The vision of Paris as an intellectual’s city with writers and artists chain-smoking on café terraces, arguing about literature, art and Existentialism has been consigned to the attic by most contemporary novelists at work today who are worth reading. Tatiana de Rosnay and Alicia Drake are two such writers whose vision of the City of Light is anything but a picture postcard. They graced the stage at this year’s Beyond Words French Literature Festival at the French Institute in South Kensington.
There is, of course, some superb non fiction on offer which gives a genuine, riveting, and rather more leftfield take beyond the usual stereotypical reads – my favourite being the memoirs of late, great John Calder who I was lucky enough to know. The Garden of Eros: The Story of the Paris Expatriates and the Post-war Literary Scene is essential reading for anyone curious about visionary entrepreneurs operating in the publishing industry of yesteryear, and the Paris-London-New York golden triangle.
A forgotten Paris is described by the late Lesley Blanch in her memoirs On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life (Virago) in which she describes Russian Paris of the 1920s with theatre director, Theodore Komisarjevsky, and the beleaguered capital in 1945 when she was there with her younger husband Romain Gary, ambitious and unknown. “Romain developed a hunger for the atmosphere of the studios where a circle of newer artists worked. Long evenings would be spent trudging along the icy ill-lit streets and interminable boulevards. Public transport was scarce, very few people had cars then, and we had no money for taxis, which were rare.“ Continue reading Spotlight | Tatiana de Rosnay, Alicia Drake & Daughters of Simone de Beauvoir | Beyond Words French Literature Festival 2019
Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
My mother was a reader. Of modern classics mainly. She used to go with her father to the local library in our small home town. There weren’t hundreds of books in the house as I grew up, but enough to spur my interest.
Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
Yes, I wanted to work in publishing, and in England, after obtaining my degree at Sorbonne Nouvelle. I had no connections whatsoever, I was a complete outsider. My MA tutor told me right away it’d take me 10 years to get anywhere in that milieu. I didn’t believe him but he was right. After 10 years, even after I had somehow managed to get hired by the venerable John Calder, Judy Daish and Clive James, I was nowhere near a proper start in publishing. Having said that I was never really good at holding down a job! Working for Clive James was obviously a unique experience with a long-lasting influence on me. Continue reading Interview | Cécile Menon, founder, Les Fugitives | Indie Publisher of the Week
What is The Children’s Bookshow and how did you dream up the idea?
It’s a national tour which takes place each autumn in theatres across the country ranging from the Old Vic to the Liverpool Philharmonic – 15 venues in total. The tour takes writers and illustrators into those theatres to read their work to children, and to go to schools to do workshops afterwards and work with the children on their own creative writing. The idea came about because the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education for which I was doing some freelance publicity brought out a book – a compilation – called Simply the Best Books for Children. Since it was an institution rather than a publisher, it was very difficult for them to get distribution and I knew that having been a publisher. So I said, “If we can’t get it into the bookshops since they aren’t keen on books which are a bit out of the normal, what we’ll do, is promote it like Captain Corelli’s Mandolin which became famous by word of mouth.” And so we took the book into libraries and bookshops with some of the writers who were in the book. We had a marvellous first tour with Quentin Blake, James Berry, John Agard and others. That’s how it began.
Have you always been an entrepreneur?
I suppose so, yes! In 1974 I was one of the founding members of Writers and Readers publishing co-operative founded on £250 and a prayer! The other members were Glenn Thompson, Richard Appignanesi and Lisa Appignanesi. Continue reading Interview | Siân Williams, founder, The Children’s Bookshow