Guest Feature | Leila Sackur, Dispatches from the Intern’s Desk

Leila Sackur is a recent graduate in History from the University of Cambridge. She is interested in everyday life, gentrification and urban space. At university, Leila was involved in the student press and politics. She is a freelance writer who enjoys reading and writing narrative-non fiction. @baby_____lei

As an intern at BookBlast, part of my role includes spending some time sifting through the archives of our online journal. What content have we put up recently . . . is there anything I can change or add to . . . would this or that article we published in 2017 be interesting to new Twitter and Facebook followers now, and who might have missed out? I like this activity. It’s interesting to spend time reading over our backlog of posts; piecing together the digital footprint of the work done for BookBlast Diary since it first went live in 2016.

We’re currently in an in-between phase where it’s been exactly one year since the first BookBlast 10×10 Tour, and a year to go until our next one. ICYMI, last year we collaborated with Waterstones to bring together ten independent publishers, their authors and translators, and showcase them across the UK in ten cities. Continue reading Guest Feature | Leila Sackur, Dispatches from the Intern’s Desk

Interview | Charlotte Collins & Ruth Martin | Translator(s) of the Week

The Eighth Life (for Brilka) by Nino Haratischvili translated by Ruth Martin & Charlotte Collins, is published by Scribe UK on 14 November, 2019. @the_germanist @cctranslates @ScribeUKbooks

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
RM: I grew up in Cornwall, and did a first degree in English and a PhD in German literature. I’ve been a full-time translator for about eight years now, working on both fiction and non-fiction titles.
CC: I did a degree in English Literature, then went to drama school. I worked in theatre on and off for quite a long time. A schools tour took me to Germany in 1996, where I lived for nine years. I’ve also worked as a radio journalist, and started translating full-time in 2010.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
RM: My dad used to read the Just So Stories to me when I was quite little; he did the voices of all the animals. I think he enjoyed it as much as I did. Reading aloud to children is one of the best things a parent can do, in my opinion. I loved anything by Roald Dahl, too – he had a big influence on my sense of humour. Saturday was library day in our house and I would read my allocation of books, then my brother’s, then I’d start sneaking books off my parents’ piles and reading them in a tree at the bottom of the garden where I wouldn’t be found for a couple of hours.
CC: I was obsessed with Peter Pan. I was convinced that if I thought beautiful enough thoughts I’d be able to fly, even without fairy dust. My grandmother had to have a serious talk with me because I kept launching myself down the stairs. I had wonderful books – The Chronicles of Narnia, Maria Gripe’s Hugo and Josephine series (translated by Paul Britten Austin), Tom’s Midnight Garden, (I used to play in that garden; a schoolfriend lived in Philippa Pearce’s old house.) I loved Andrew Lang’s coloured fairy books; Yellow and Violet were my favourites. There were a lot of time-slip books, a lot in which a lonely child finds a friend, a lot with absent fathers who miraculously return. I can’t remember who started me off on the Brontës, but I read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre when I was about eight and would nag my poor grandparents to take me to Haworth every summer. Francis Spufford’s memoir The Child that Books Built beautifully explores the way we’re shaped, as children, by the books we read, the way we escape into their worlds. Continue reading Interview | Charlotte Collins & Ruth Martin | Translator(s) of the Week

Interview | Sophie Lewis | Translator of the Week

Sophie Lewis is a London-born writer, editor and translator from French (since 2005) and Portuguese (since 2012). She has translated works by Stendhal, Verne, Marcel Aymé, Violette Leduc, Emmanuelle Pagano, Noémi Lefebvre, João Gilberto Noll and Sheyla Smanioto, among others. She was Senior Editor at indie trade publisher And Other Stories from 2010 to 2016. In 2016 she co-founded Shadow Heroes, a workshop series introducing aspects of translation to GCSE-level students. She is now Managing Editor at the Folio Society. This Tilting World by Colette Fellous, published by Les Fugitives on 16 September, is her latest translation.

Where did you grow up? Have you always lived in London?
I grew up in Islington in North London. I’m happy to call myself a born and bred Londoner, though my parents were not from here, nor were their parents from where they grew up.
I spent my childhood and adolescence in London, and was back and forth between Oxford, Paris and London as a student. My big, very sensible adventure was a move to Rio de Janeiro at the beginning of 2011. My husband got a teaching job there and we took a weekend to decide this was a great plan, despite never having set foot on the continent before. It was a great plan. We stayed for four and a half years. Now we’re back in London we can’t help speculating about making another similar move, though to somewhere as different again. Languages play their part, of course. Continue reading Interview | Sophie Lewis | Translator of the Week

Review | This Tilting World, Colette Fellous trs. Sophie Lewis | Book of the Week

Tomorrow, yes, I will leave this house. I’ll abandon the village and the life here, all the faces that I love I will leave. The friends, the objects, the doors, the pavement slabs, the tall eucalyptus and the wild olive trees, the orange groves, the roads, the markets, the music, the fruit, the dancing, the window of blue, I’ll leave it all, no strength left.”

Looking out to sea, Collette Fellous remembers her 1950s Tunisian childhood, her father, and lifelong friend, the writer Alain, who “died like a Greek hero, with an unheard howl, in the middle of the Aegean Sea, at the helm of his yacht.” She looks at the past in attempt to understand the brutal present on which she wishes to turn her back.

I could talk about that death; I haven’t the strength to discuss the others. This tilting world, how can we talk about it, how make sense of it? Only by naming the appalling blow those deaths have dealt each one of us, the deep wound they have gouged which can never be healed, the birth of a new kind of warfare, and this terror that is taking root everywhere, even within our own bodies. Continue reading Review | This Tilting World, Colette Fellous trs. Sophie Lewis | Book of the Week

Interview | Dina Nayeri | Author of the Week

Dina Nayeri is the author of The Ungrateful Refugee, one of the most widely shared 2017 Long Reads in The Guardian. Winner of the 2018 UNESCO City of Literature Paul Engle Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts literature grant (2015), O. Henry Prize(2015), Best American Short Stories (2018), and fellowships from the McDowell Colony, Bogliasco Foundation, and Yaddo, her stories and essays have been published by The New York Times, New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, New Yorker, Granta New Voices, Wall Street Journal, and numerous others.  www.dinanayeri.com @dinanayeri

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Tehran, lived in Isfahan until I was eight, then spent sixteen months as a refugee, arriving in Oklahoma when I was ten years old.

Did, or do, your family ever talk about life in Iran before the 1979 Islamic revolution?
Constantly. The nostalgia around pre-revolutionary Iran was so visceral that it became a part of my growing up. All the joys and the rituals and the arts went underground or behind closed curtains, but we still had them. And our parents talked all the time about what Iran used to be.

What sorts of books were in your family home?
You had to be careful about what books you kept. So my parents kept very few novels, history books, or anything cultural, political, or even allegorical. Of course we kept the old poets: Rumi and Hafez and Sa’adi. There was The Shahnameh, of course. And lots of medical books. Shelves and shelves of medical books.
Continue reading Interview | Dina Nayeri | Author of the Week

Review | The Ungrateful Refugee, Dina Nayeri | Canongate Books

Unlike economic migrants, refugees have no agency; they are no threat. Often, they are so broken they beg to be remade into the image of the native.” 

A blend of memoir and reportage, The Ungrateful Refugee packs a powerful punch and should be recommended reading for secondary school aged children.

Dina Nayeri describes her personal experience intertwined with that of the people she interviews as they all flee from persecution and death. Boats are braved and seas crossed by people fuelled by terror, courage and hope. The refugees are rescued and pitied — often by the regimes that created the trouble and strife they are escaping from in the first place. This small but important fact is invariably overlooked as the new arrivals are demonised by populist rhetoric that is bolstered by polices that reek of organised selfishness. Refugees “need friendship, not salvation.”

Nayeri revisits her own chaotic past in 2016 when she becomes a mother.  “I had changed my face and hair, my friends, my education, my country and job so often, that my skin felt raw.” The five sections of her narrative — Escape, Camp, Asylum, Assimilation, Cultural Repatriation — recount the fate of individuals from different backgrounds as well as refugee support volunteers, lawyers and other decent human beings. The uniting theme is that refugees be given a voice, an identity, and that their stories be heard.
Continue reading Review | The Ungrateful Refugee, Dina Nayeri | Canongate Books

Interview | Kim Oliver, Literary Executor | Small Axes

On Wednesday 28 August, HopeRoad‘s new imprint, Small Axes, headed up by Serpent’s Tail founder Pete Ayrton, will celebrate by showcasing its launch title, The Nowhere Man, at the Nehru Centre in Mayfair. Kim Oliver, Kamala Markandaya’s daughter and literary executor, gave us an exclusive interview as a preview of the big night itself.

Kamala Markandaya’s pioneering novel The Nowhere Man, originally published in the 1970s, is reviewed HERE for The BookBlast Diary. It is a perfect read for this coming Notting Hill Carnival weekend.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Lewisham in south London. Our family home was in Forest Hill, and that’s where I grew up – in the same house from birth through childhood and teenage years. I still see my earliest childhood friend who lived next door – we have been friends for more than sixty years! When we speak of it, and think back, we realise we were born into very much a post-war world, in the 1950s. It seems very drab, looking back. I remember the paintwork upstairs in our house being a dark-grey gloss. I love grey now for decorating, but that grey was so dark and dreary! There wasn’t the choice there is now.
Continue reading Interview | Kim Oliver, Literary Executor | Small Axes

Interview | Lucy Popescu | Author of the Week

Lucy Popescu is a author, editor and arts critic with a background in human rights. She worked with the English PEN for over twenty years and was Director of its Writers in Prison Committee from 1991 to 2006. Her most recent anthology is A Country to Call Home which focuses on the experiences of young refugees (Unbound, 2018). Lucy is the chair of the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award; teaches creative writing at the Working Men’s College in Camden; curates literary evenings at Waterstones; is a Trustee of the JMK Award for Theatre Directors; and mentors refugee writers at Write to Life, Freedom from Torture’s creative writing group.

Tell us about your childhood and where you grew up
I grew up in Oxfordshire. My late mother was the children’s author, Christine Pullein-Thompson so I was put on a pony before I could walk. It’s a beautiful part of England and I loved hurtling round the woods and hills on a pony – following in my mother’s hoof steps – she grew up in Peppard. Years later, I found out that I had lived in a world that many horse mad girls envied.

Were your parents great readers? What were the books that made you fall in love with reading?
I come from a family of writers and grew up surrounded by books. I read hand me downs of Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies and E. Nesbit’s The Phoenix and the Carpet and loved C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books as a young child. I also read all my mother’s books and then the books written by her sisters . . . That took some time. I was a precocious reader. I wanted to know why, aged nine, I was banned from reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. I also read Wuthering Heights too young and thought Heathcliff was a romantic hero. I devoured JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye as a teenager. Continue reading Interview | Lucy Popescu | Author of the Week

Spotlight | Jonathan Coe, Olivia Rosenthal, Claudia Durastanti & Others | Beyond Words French Literature Festival 2019

I was delighted to be invited along to some of the key talks held at this year’s Beyond Words French Literature Festival at the French Institute in South Kensington. Beyond Words has become ‘The Big Event’ in London for the promotion of French books translated into English. The festival features bilingual live literature events, writers’ talks, musical performances, screenings of recent literary adaptations, staged readings and books galore – both classic and contemporary.

This is the first of two posts about just some of what was up for discussion at the #BeyondWordsFest

Translation: a success story

Since I researched and wrote Boom not Bust: A new chapter in the story of translation in the UK in March 2015, translated fiction has become an ongoing success story. Brexit fatigue has led to a surge in the sale of translated fiction in the UK – an unexpected boon. Reading writing from elsewhere is ever more crucial as Little Englanders tighten their grip on this offshore island which looks set to sink beneath delusions of grandeur, short of a miracle . . .
Continue reading Spotlight | Jonathan Coe, Olivia Rosenthal, Claudia Durastanti & Others | Beyond Words French Literature Festival 2019

Review | The Rain Watcher, Tatiana de Rosnay | Book of the Week

The flooding was not going to subside. Linden had turned off the TV. He had felt slightly nauseous. The Seine’s upwelling had upset him, but his parents’ state worried him all the more. The bad timing of their visit to Paris stupefied him. How could their family weekend have turned into such an ordeal?

After a prolonged separation, the Malegarde family is set to celebrate the fortieth wedding anniversary of Paul and his wife Lauren, as well as his seventieth birthday. It is a shock for the elderly couple used to secluded rural life in the Drôme valley to arrive in a capital saturated by monsoon-like rain. Linden and Tilia, based in San Francisco and London respectively, join their parents in Chatterton Hotel in the 14th arrondissement. The family has not been reunited in such a way since they were teenagers.
Continue reading Review | The Rain Watcher, Tatiana de Rosnay | Book of the Week