Interview | Quinton Skinner, author

The publication of Amnesia Nights in the UK is a first for Quinton Skinner, the critically-acclaimed author of three novels and non-fiction books on fatherhood and rock ‘n’ roll. A former critic and magazine editor, he has written for publications including Minneapolis Star Tribune, Huffington Post, Variety, Glamour and Literary Hub. He lives in Minneapolis, USA.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born and grew up in a working-class area of Columbus, a university city and the capital of Ohio in the U.S.

What sorts of books were in your family home?
There were quite a few. I remember The Ascent of Man, based on the BBC Series of the same name, because it captured my imagination conceptually. My father had a lovely bound series of all the Sherlock Holmes stories. I was preoccupied with an astronomy book in the home and spent a good deal of time as well with the encyclopedia and the world atlas. I also read mountains of age-appropriate stuff from the library down the street. I was the child always with his head down in some kind of printed matter.

Who were early formative influences as a writer?
Virginia Woolf for her vivid interiority. Saul Bellow for compassion and ambition. Denis Johnson for the dark alleys and the byways. Martin Amis for materialism and humor. Of course the first was Dr. Seuss, who obsessed me with his knack for the sideways hidden dimensions both in language and the visual world, a sense of the uncanny that I recognized as familiar to me, and essential to the way I saw (and heard, and spoke) things. There was also a series of crime-solving books revolving around a character called Encyclopedia Brown, which may not be read anymore but which were essential crime procedurals for the under-10 set.
Continue reading Interview | Quinton Skinner, author

Interview | Boyd Tonkin | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up? 
In suburban North London near the end of the Northern Line, in a small maternity home at the top of Hampstead Heath which later became a NHS nurses’ residence.

What sorts of books were in your family home? What did you read as a child?
Plenty, and an eclectic mix, but not entire walls or rooms of them. Always a fresh haul from the local library. My mother’s shelves had one of the very first Penguins: André Maurois’ Ariel (about Shelley). My father’s included rows of Pevsner’s Buildings of England, which always accompanied us on country walks and holidays. He knew German, went to German conversation classes until the end of life, so there was also some German literature in the original.
I vacuumed up the contents of the library (my first was Friern Barnet, not long ago saved from closure by a community campaign). I was a scattergun bookworm although I did early on develop a taste for classic science fiction (Verne to Bradbury). Also piles of books about cricket (again, always from the library). Somehow I fell in love with a collection picked up for a few pence from a jumble sale: Best Modern American Humour, in effect an anthology of the great New Yorker wits: Parker, Thurber, Benchley etc. I loved them then. Still love them now. Continue reading Interview | Boyd Tonkin | Author of the Week

Review | The 100 Best Novels in Translation, Boyd Tonkin | Book of the Week

Since the ages of Enlightenment and Romanticism, the champions of translation – such as Goethe and Madame de Staël – have urged its necessity, if only as an inferior substitute for the true polyglot’s command of several tongues. That case still needs to be made, especially in English, whose position as a planet-spanning lingua franca may trick native speakers into the delusion that their language, or any language, may encompass the whole world of thought and art.” – from the Introduction 

Great novels help us to understand what makes people tick and offer glimpses into the human psyche; they are as illuminating as psychology books. Translated fiction gives a whole added dimension, opening windows on to other worlds and ways of being and perceiving, which is ever more important now that Britain is being forced to re-evaluate its place in the world.   

In 2001 when he was literary editor of The Independent, Boyd Tonkin revived the Independent Foreign Fiction Award – first won in 1990 by Orhan Pamuk for The White Castle (trs. Victoria Holbrook). He was one of the five co-judges until 2015 when it merged with the Man Booker International Prize. The prize has not only been a huge boost for quality translations and translators, but has also paved the way for other prizes – the TA’s translation prizes which recognize outstanding translations from works in Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish; the TA’s first translation prize; and the Warwick prize for women in translation.  Continue reading Review | The 100 Best Novels in Translation, Boyd Tonkin | Book of the Week

Interview | Ian Holding | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Harare, Zimbabwe and have lived here all my life.

What sorts of books were in your family home?
As a family we belonged to a small municipal library up the road and every second Saturday, religiously, we would go to the library and browse books, make selections. I think this is where my love of books and reading was fostered, really. At home I always remember there being a great deal of Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, Roald Dahl and Gerald Durrell, amongst others; some would have been library books; some we owned (or where perhaps “former” library books!). Plus there was this whole other unreachable top shelf of alluring paperbacks I suspected at the time were not intended for the eyes of a young, inquisitive boy. When I was finally old enough to reach that shelf, its contents were actually, on the face of it, quite disappointing. Except there was a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but I was such a pathetic loser as a kid I could never seem to find the bits that made it so notorious! Continue reading Interview | Ian Holding | Author of the Week

Interview | Bridget Blankley | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Nottingham, as were my parents, but I grew up in Southern Nigeria. When we came back to the UK we moved around a bit before settling in Essex. I stayed there until I had my children.

What sorts of books were in your family home?
There was a real spread of genres. My sister read historical fiction, lots of it, we were always battling for space on our joint bookshelves. My Dad liked humour and detective fiction, the Father Brown Stories, Simenon’s Maigret, and Jeeves and Wooster. There were also quite a lot of autobiographies in the house, I’m not sure who brought them, probably mum, but we all read them.

I was lucky as a child, there was no limit on what we could read. If it was in the house anyone could read it. My dad believed that if it was too advanced for us we would lose interest in the book and put it back on the shelf. I think it probably worked. I never felt I had to finish a book that I wasn’t enjoying, but I never felt that any books were beyond me.

Continue reading Interview | Bridget Blankley | Author of the Week