BookBlast® celebrates independent publishing | Why Independence Matters, Georgia de Chamberet

“Why this promotion leading up to the London Book Fair in April?” asked one indie publisher as she merrily jumped on to BookBlast’s celebratory bandwagon. Why indeed? Even the smallest publisher now has a website and a vital presence on social media, however visibility remains an issue. Added to which self-published authors riding high on the digital wave often call themselves independent publishers: confusion reigns!

SO MUCH is published! How can avid book readers, students on publishing courses, Media researchers and stumble-upon book browsers find the good stuff amidst the avalanche of words available online and piled high on bookshop tables? To separate the wheat from the chaff is becoming ever more essential. The need for well-informed curated recommendations is growing and growing . . .

When I first came into publishing in the late 1980s, commissioning editors held sway (as they still do at houses such as Gallimard across the Channel). They were respected for their knowledge and idiosyncratic flair in spotting potential new talent, much as a wine expert can identify a promising wine. Now it is the sales and marketing teams that hold sway in the ivory towers of corporate publishing. They follow trends, play with pie charts and algorithms, and pray daily at the hallowed altar of The Market. Of course there are still superb editors at the corporates − they are remarkably adept at surviving with steely determination in an environment which commodifies and monetises creativity remorselessly. It is a different mindset. Continue reading BookBlast® celebrates independent publishing | Why Independence Matters, Georgia de Chamberet

Review | Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of Syria’s Great Merchant City, Philip Mansel | I. B. Tauris

After four years of war, Aleppo is a city in ruins, bombed by the Syrian air force, threatened by ISIL, its population decimated. Bread queues, electricity and water cuts, rationing and road-blocks are part of daily life. “Rubble and rubbish fill the streets. Looting, hunger and sleepless nights are normal. Medical services have collapsed.” One of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, a thousand years of civilization have been reduced to wreckage.

aleppo Philip Mansel writes in his introduction, “Aleppo was a city with a rhythm of its own, challenging categories and generalisations. Lying between the desert and the sea, the mountains of Anatolia and the banks of the Euphrates, it was Arab and Turkish; Kurdish and Armenian; Christian, Muslim and Jewish. An Arabic-speaking city with a Muslim majority, under the Ottoman Empire Aleppo also became a centre of French culture and Catholic missions. Like many other cities in the region, it mixed East and West, Islam and Christianity. Until 2012 Aleppo was distinguished by its peaceful character. For 500 years, whatever their origin, its inhabitants had lived together relatively harmoniously. The reasons for this harmony, and for the current cataclysm, are the subject of this book.” Continue reading Review | Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of Syria’s Great Merchant City, Philip Mansel | I. B. Tauris

Interview | Philip Mansel, author & historian

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a historian living in London. All my life I have loved travelling , learning about the countries I visit, trying to understand people and places, and explaining their connections through books. I am passionately European, have lived in Paris, Florence, Istanbul, Kuwait and Beirut, and loved the Middle East, before the current fanaticisms.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer or diplomat.

What books have had a lasting impact on you?
Nancy Mitford’s The Sun King. Robert Byron’s The Road to Oxiana. Alfred Duggan’s and Rider Haggard’s historical novels. The Greek myths. Sybille Bedford’s A Legacy. Continue reading Interview | Philip Mansel, author & historian

Interview | Youssef Rakha | Author of the Week

The Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars by Youssef Rakha translated by Paul Starkey has been awarded the 2015 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation.
Paul Starkey & Youssef Rakha will be in conversation with Gaby Wood @woodgaby on Thurs 18 February at 6.30 for 7pm Waterstone’s Piccadilly Bookstore, London W1J 9HD @WaterstonesPicc It is a free event, but please reserve your place by emailing piccadilly@waterstones.com

Youssef Rakha is exclusively interviewed by Georgia for The BookBlast Diary.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am the only child of a disillusioned communist and a woman who struggled against incredible odds to go to university. I speak English with a slight accent and Arabic like a native Egyptian. I can think of at least three separate people I’ve been since I went to university in Hull, returning to Cairo once I graduated. All three worked in journalism and wrote, and the last two took pictures as well. I’m interested in the meaning of people’s words and actions, individually and in groups, in my part of the world: how the disorder and duplicity of human behaviour can resolve into something meaningful and also presumably beautiful. I’m interested in the way language can reflect and alter reality. I have a French-speaking three-year-old daughter I’m utterly besotted with. I’ve been urged to stop smoking cigarettes, which I do voraciously, and I’m planning on it but I haven’t yet.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
At a certain point I thought I was a prophet, a messenger of God. I must’ve fantasized about being a doctor and an architect and a spy, but all I consciously remember is wanting to be a writer. Continue reading Interview | Youssef Rakha | Author of the Week

Review | The Book of the Sultan’s Seal, Youssef Rakha | Book of the Week

Rakha’s tale of a man’s “transformation during twenty-one days from a Europeanized intellectual to a semi-madman who believed he could perform magic deeds to resurrect the Islamic caliphate” is a very readable feast — taking in love, friendship, work and (in)sanity . . . identity, faith and the nationalist movement . . . Ottoman Turkey, neoliberalism, politics . . . digital photography, the internet and Cairo café life . . . Amgad Salah’s conversion from a lost hobo into an unarmed terrorist . . . laced with a smattering of zombies, camels, masturbation and ecstasy (chemical or otherwise). The Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars is one helluva read.

Part confessional, part letter to a friend, part philosophical treatise and a journey of self-discovery: Mustafa Çorbaci’s stream of consciousness carries the reader along in a weird and wonderful coherent swirl of words that conveys his thoughts, impressions and emotions as his world is turned upside down. “My marriage had been a Greek tragedy, which begins and ends within twenty-four hours. Blink and it’s over.” A journalist for over a decade, “in the last seven years he hadn’t budged from in front of the screen.” He eventually leaves his job and travels, ending up in Beirut. Continue reading Review | The Book of the Sultan’s Seal, Youssef Rakha | Book of the Week

Interview | Michel Moushabeck, Interlink Books | Indie Publisher of the Week

Michel S. Moushabeck is a publisher, editor, writer and musician of Palestinian descent. The founder of Interlink Books, he is also the author of several books including Kilimanjaro: A Photographic Journey to the Roof of Africa and A Brief Introduction to Arabic Music, Most recently, he contributed a piece to Being Palestinian: Personal Reflections on Palestinian Identity in the Diaspora.

He is the recipient of NYU’s Founder’s Day Award for outstanding scholarship (1981), the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s Alex Odeh Award (2010) and The Palestinian Heritage Foundation Achievement Award (2011). He serves on various boards – notably the board of trustees of The International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), an annual literary prize administered by the UK’s Booker Prize Foundation. He plays riqq, tabla and daff and his recording credits include two albums. He has performed at concert halls worldwide.

Michel Moushabeck is exclusively interviewed by Georgia for The BookBlast Diary.

Were your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Yes, both my parents and my grandparents were very bookish. They lived in Palestine, in the literary neighborhood of Katamon in West Jerusalem, until their forced exile from their home in 1948. I was born in Beirut and grew up there until age 19, when the 1975 Lebanese Civil War shattered my family’s life again and sent us in search for a new home. My parents ended up in Jordan, my brother in Athens and then California, my sister in Montreal, and I managed to find my way to Brooklyn, New York and then Massachusetts. Growing up in cosmopolitan Beirut, I was brought up on a healthy diet of good books, classical Arabic music, Oum Koulthum, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, The Beatles, Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, Egyptian cinema, and American westerns. Continue reading Interview | Michel Moushabeck, Interlink Books | Indie Publisher of the Week

Review | Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema, Melody Bridges & Cheryl Robson (Eds.) | Book of the Week

Women continue to be statistically underrepresented in creative positions in Hollywood, at the centre of the US film industry. It is becoming increasingly shocking that the number of women at the top of the film industry remains so low, despite the 2009 best director Oscar going to a woman (Kathryn Bigelow for ‘The Hurt Locker’).

Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema is the first book to give an overview of early women filmmakers in the USA, Europe and beyond. It has fantastic b/w photos which will appeal to all lovers of the cinema and its early years.

marion wong Continue reading Review | Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema, Melody Bridges & Cheryl Robson (Eds.) | Book of the Week

Interview | Cheryl Robson, Aurora Metro | Indie Publisher of the Week

Cheryl Robson is a producer/director of several short independent films, most recently ‘Rock ’n’ Roll Island’ which was nominated for Best Short Film at Raindance, London 2015. She worked at the BBC for several years and then taught filmmaking at the University of Westminster, before setting up a theatre company. She founded Aurora Metro 25 years ago and the company has published over 150 international writers. As a writer, she has won the Croydon Warehouse International Playwriting Competition, and as an editor, she recently worked with Gabrielle Kelly on Celluloid Ceiling: Women Film Directors Breaking Through, the first global overview of women film directors.

Are your parents great readers?
My mother still is a great reader and I remember reading just about everything in my school library aged ten.

Did you want to become a publisher from the start?
I worked in TV for several years then ran a theatre company before trying publishing. I am also a writer and filmmaker − publishing has the advantage of being able to move deadlines back on projects. Continue reading Interview | Cheryl Robson, Aurora Metro | Indie Publisher of the Week

Spotlight | The Russians are Coming? They’re already here! | G de Chamberet

Russia: friend or frenemy? The Ukrainian crisis and Russia’s direct military involvement in the Syrian Civil War are generally reported with an anti-Russian bias. Britain’s phobia has its roots in the 19th century and fear of Russia’s rising power. Today, still, Russia asserting its national interests is presented as an act of blatant aggression. A Cold War mentality lives on. Yet Western militaristic aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya are portrayed as noble moral endeavours, bringing democracy to the unenlightened.

Colin Thubron opens Among the Russians (Picador 1995) with the words: “I had been afraid of Russia ever since I could remember. When I was a boy its mass dominated the map which covered the classroom wall; it was tinted a wan green, I recall, and was distorted by Mercator’s projection so that its tundras suffocated half the world.” Continue reading Spotlight | The Russians are Coming? They’re already here! | G de Chamberet