Gael Elton Mayo, Spain Revisited | Harpers & Queen Jan. 1985

Spain is a ‘place apart’ from Italy, France and the other Latin countries, with a very individual character, only partly explained by her language and history. The language contains many Arabic words; the Moors left much of their character in Spain after their defeat; Moorish mosques were converted into Catholic cathedrals; Romany lore is present in the flamenco songs of love which are always sad. But there is also a mystery — in the inhabitants’ pride, dignity and aloofness, and it is this inexplicable element that makes them so fascinating.

A traveller might start their journey into Spain by crossing the French frontier at Le Perthus, after which the first major town would be Gerona, standing out on the hillside, showing the coveted site for which it was so often besieged. Inside the old part of the town the streets are chasms too narrow for the sun to reach. The stranger feels compelled to stroll there, drawn into the core of a city where the Middle Ages seem to live on. “City of a thousand sieges”, it was called, from Iberian and Roman times until later, when its people organised several battalions against Napoleon, including one entirely of women.

Continue reading Gael Elton Mayo, Spain Revisited | Harpers & Queen Jan. 1985

Interview | Meike Ziervogel | Author of the Week

Novelist and publisher, Meike Ziervogel, came to London in 1986 to study Arabic language and literature, and received a BA and MA from SOAS. She speaks German, English, Arabic and French. She is married and has two children.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up? 
I was born in Kiel in the north of Germany, and I grew up near there, in a small town called Heide on the North Sea coast.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
My mother used to read us the Grimm’s Fairy Tales from a book with beautiful old paintings. I wanted to have hair like Rapunzel.

Why do you write?
Because I enjoy it. Creating stories also allows me to explore and emotionally understand topics and issues I might otherwise find difficult to comprehend.

Continue reading Interview | Meike Ziervogel | Author of the Week

Interview | Jen Hamilton-Emery, Salt Publishing | Indie of the Week

BookBlast™ catches up with Jen Hamilton-Emery, fiction editor and director of independent Salt publishing, based in Cromer, Norfolk.

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Yes, both my parents were (and still are) readers. Every week my mum would take me to the library and a treat was a trip to a bookshop. I’ve always had books in my life.

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
I’ve always loved books and reading, but working in publishing never entered my head when I was looking at career options. I left school in the early 1980s in Glasgow and knew no-one who had any involvement whatsoever in publishing. There was less of it about in those days!

Has your vision from when you started Salt 18 years ago changed?
No, not really. Our vision was always to publish interesting and brilliant books that were that bit different to the mainstream.  We may have shifted genres from poetry to fiction, but our aims haven’t changed.

Continue reading Interview | Jen Hamilton-Emery, Salt Publishing | Indie of the Week

Review | The Photographer, Meike Ziervogel | Book of the Week

Meike Ziervogel: “As long as you can keep disorder at bay you have control. You can see clearly, you know what step to take next. Albert can’t stand chaos. He used to be able to tolerate it. In fact, when he was young he never made a distinction between order and disorder. Never thought about it. That wasn’t how he perceived the world, neatly divided into two camps, with judgements attached: good or bad. But now he’s convinced, has become convinced over the last years, that chaos is the enemy of the people. Every now and again, for a brief moment, he looks longingly back to a time when he wasn’t so clear-sighted. He knows that this lack of a clear view helped him to take good photographs. He was open to surprise, to being surprised.

Being in a war changes a person for ever. The Photographer is a tale of betrayal, loyalty, sacrifice and survival. The evacuation of East Prussia is pivotal for the family at the centre of the story. By winter 1945, nearly 11 million Germans — mostly women and children — had fled the Eastern provinces of the Reich, heading west. Killings and rapes committed by the Red Army triggered fear and panic amongst the population.

Continue reading Review | The Photographer, Meike Ziervogel | Book of the Week

Interview | Lawrence Scott | Author of the Week

Lawrence Scott is a prize-winning Caribbean novelist and short-story writer from Trinidad & Tobago.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born on Petit Morne Estate, a sugarcane estate in southern Trinidad which my father managed for the Usine Sainte Madeleine Sugar Company owned at one time by Tate & Lyle.  I went to primary school in the nearby town of San Fernando.  I went north into the mountains for my secondary school with the Benedictine monks of Mount Saint Benedict. Before leaving Trindad, I had been in a Junior Seminary from the age of 15. I left Trinidad at 19 to go to England to join the Benedictine Abbey at Prinknash in Gloucestershire.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
My father read books like The Ascent of Everest by John Hunt. He had been educated in England at Shrewsbury Public School and was very attached to that story, especially as Hunt was himself from Shropshire.   My mother was educated by nuns in Port of Spain and was a pillar of the Catholic Church; however, she read Graham Greene and loved to discuss the controversies over his writing. She particularly loved Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter. She was aware of the fiction of the 1940’s and 1950’s  and a great storyteller herself.

Why do you write?  Your advice to new writers just starting out?
I began writing a journal when I was a young Benedictine Monk at Prinknash Abbey, and then I also wrote poetry and read fiction extensively. I studied philosophy and theology and enjoyed the brilliant monastic library. I was introduced to art and psychology, reading Freud and Jung. Introduced to D.H, Lawrence, I had never realised what literature could do before reading the The Rainbow which I read at 19, though I had had the experience of reading George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss eight times as a teenager. The monastic community had a very interesting number of monks like Dom Bede Griffiths, who was taught by C.S. Lewis. He left to go to India to found a Christian Ashram. There was Dom Sylvester Houedard who was a concrete poet of the 1960’s. He introduced many of us to the work of Allen Ginsburg and other Beat poets. Interest in Dom Sylvester’s work has recently been revived.  I wrote to express my ideas and feelings at this time. I really only began to write seriously for publication once I returned to Trinidad in the late 1970s and found there the territory for my writing with the island’s history, literature and music. The accumulative experience of this return is what has been the continuing stimulus for my writing. I was fortunate to befriend the novelist Earl Lovelace and to work in the theatre with Derek Walcott in Trinidad.  These encounters inspired me.

I would say to young writers be true to yourself and go for what is deeply meaningful for you, ask yourself over and over: What do I want to say?   Be as authentic to yourself and your subject as you can be.  Write every day.

Are there any other writers in your family?
No. But my wife, Jenny Green is my first reader and has written a memoir of her parents Somewhere Round the Corner.

How do you choose your subjects?
I chose to write about my birthplace, Trinidad, situated off the east coast of Venezuela with its extraordinary landscape, history and cultural mix created by African enslavement, Indian indentured labour and European conquest. It is a world where Islam, Hinduism, Christianity and contemporary secularism co-exist with some tensions, but in comparative harmony.

How do you move from research to writing; is it difficult to begin?
I tend to start writing early, perhaps too early, and then I begin to search for what I need for periods I am exploring. But once I have found my voice, my tone, my point of view, I am off. I research and write simultaneously during the first draft and then real writing begins in the re-writing, then more re-writing till it all begins to settle down, or not, and then there is more reshaping. It is an organic approach.  I have a plan always, but it changes. I then need new maps along the way.

As an author, what are you most proud (or embarrassed) of writing? Your views on success?
I have been lucky to have had everything published that I wanted to publish. I feel quite honestly that I have written as well as I can, as well as I could at each particular stage with each book.  Success? There are different kinds. My greatest pleasure is being understood, seeing that understanding expressed in an informed piece of writing by a critic, student, or another author and then, of course the responses by readers.  I valued and was moved by significant letters I received after the publication of Aelreds Sin. One of my loveliest pleasures was the endorsement by Derek Walcott for my last collection of short stories Leaving by Plane Swimming Back Underwater which he found “a delight,” and had noticed my development and now found me “accomplished.”  I value that hugely. I doubt that I could have written in the way that I have without his work inspiring me over the years. Likewise, the endorsement of my friend and mentor Earl Lovelace has been most encouraging.

When you look back at the books you have written, is there a favourite?
I love them all in different ways for different reasons. I think I have tried to be brave and to go for what I wanted and I have been lucky that I have found editors and publishers to work with me to facilitate what I wanted to write rather than telling me to write something else. My editor at Allison & Busby the late Peter Day was an early champion of my first novel Witchbroom and he also brought out Aelreds Sin, a brave book which I still think needs to be out there with what it is saying about homosexuality and religion among its other themes which explore aspects of colonialism. I am very fond of Night Calypso, a love story set in the Second World War on a small island off Trinidad, housing a convent of nuns, a leprosarium and an American base. It is also a story of childhood and trauma. I was given a wonderful opportunity when I was granted a fellowship at the university in Trinidad to research French Creole society. The outcome was my novel Light Falling on Bamboo which was inspired by the life and times of Michel Jean Cazabon, a mixed-race artist of the period. My first collection of short stories Ballad for the New World was my apprenticeship so I love many of those early stories, for instance, The House of Funerals which received the Tom-Gallon Award. My latest collection, Leaving by Plane Swimming Back Underwater gave Derek Walcott “delight.” It is a more mature collection beautifully published by Papillote Press, who, this month republished Witchbroom as a handsome, “sexy” volume. I have a soft spot for Witchbroom. I was audacious enough to write it the way that I did.  The result of a research project among ex-sugarcane workers on the estate of Golconda, collecting their stories and poems about their working lives in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s was enormously enriching. This is called Golconda our Voices Our Lives which I edited myself with a group of teachers.

Do you write every day; what is your writing process? Do you do many drafts?
I try to write every day.  How I allocate time depends on where I am in a particular novel. Poems get written in between and sometimes short stories as well. Each feeds off the other, many drafts, many, many. It all comes together in the re-writing.

What are you working on now?
A novel set in the 18th century.

Your views on book publishing?
It is so important to be able to have a close working relationship with an editor who knows exactly where you are coming from, who can be critical but also loves what you are trying to do, knows the world out of which you are writing and knows then how to access and build a readership. Taking risks is important. I value care with covers and the quality of paper, blurbs and that I am consulted all the way on everything.  It’s a very difficult world at the moment publishing, and working together is best.  I love the access to an editor that a small press allows. It is of course good to be paid along the way, but the big advance is not everything, or even the medium advance.  It’s the book and how the ideas are presented. I want what I am saying to be read.

Your views on how new technology has (or has not) changed your writing life? Do you enjoy reading ebooks?
No, I don’t read ebooks. I am happy to have my work published in that format. The new technology helps with advertising. I think it is word of mouth that works best. Technology allows word of mouth to spread more quickly and widely.

Your views on social media?
As I was saying above, I prefer to leave that to publishers and publicists rather than do any of that myself. I do not want the interaction with readers except at readings. I do reply to anyone who writes via my publisher or agent.

If you could go anywhere in time for one day, where would you go and why?
I am happy where I am in my back room in North London. I always need to go back to Trinidad. I love Italy, Spain and France or being in the countryside of England and South Wales. But here on my “swan’s nest” that scatter of books and papers in my book-lined small study is best for writing.

Who are the five people, living or dead, you’d invite to a party?  
I like best my friends I have made over years, like family, friends with a history of being friends, friends I made through teaching and writing.

Which characters in history do you like the most?
Hmmm … not thought about this like that before. I am intrigued by Emily Dickinson. I sought solitude when I was too young for it, and now I could want it more, but I can’t leave the one I love for it.

Your heroes in fiction? And in real life?
I did and do still love Maggie Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss, her tenacity as a child, her romantic nature.  I loved the Buendia in One Hundred Years of Solitude. They inspired my characters in  Witchbroom; Antoinette in Jean Rhys Wide Sargasso Sea; the McPherson brothers in Kent Haruf’s trilogy Plainsong, Benediction, and Eventide; Triton in Romesh Gunesekera’s Reef, the characters Aldrick and Pariag in Earl Lovelace’s The Dragon Can’t Dance.

I admire great poets: Constantine Cavafy, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Adrienne Rich, W.H. Auden.

Your chief characteristic?
Checking on things.

Your chief fault?
Not thorough enough about technical practical things.

Your bedside reading?
Right now, Alice Oswald’s  MemorialDerek Walcott & Peter Doig (poems and paintings); His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet. Mervyn Morris, the Jamaican Laureate’s Collected Poems, Peelin’ Orange.           

Your motto?
Don’t regret.

© BookBlast™ Ltd, London 2017 for The BookBlast Diary.

 

 

Interview | Polly Pattullo, Papillote Press | Indie of the Week

Papillote Press is based in Dominica and publishes fiction and non-fiction, including children’s books, reflecting the island’s rich culture and literary heritage.

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
We had books at home but I wouldn’t consider my parents as having been “great readers”.  I remember a long, low bookcase in the sitting room with the Encyclopedia Britannica gathering dust on the bottom shelf. The books were mainly non-fiction — illustrated tomes about art or classical Greece — and Readers’ Digest. I don’t remember my parents reading novels but I do remember some tut-tutting about the trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover — a book that certainly wouldn’t have been their bedtime reading. We lived in a school —  a boy’s preparatory school — which my headmaster father founded in Richmond after the war (then mainly a place of bedsits and residential hotels) and there was an interest in learning but it wasn’t an intellectual environment. Most of my early childhood seemed to be spent sitting at  the top of the school stairs watching life unfold below me, with small boys lining up outside my father’s study to be admonished (unusually for the time my father disapproved of corporal punishment). Being able to play in the classrooms and in a large garden (climbing trees and playing cricket) during the holidays was a bonus. I went to school in London and then on to Edinburgh University where I studied politics and began to think about things such as class and race and feminism, certainly not part of the domestic discourse.

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
No — but I did briefly and many years ago work at Heinemann’s in the Rights department where I had to type formulaic letters giving other publishers permission to use extracts from works (Graham Greene novels mostly) for which Heinemann held the rights. A fearsome boss had her office one floor below and an even more intimidating secretary shared my office. I left after one year — and went into journalism where I spent the rest of my working life. I was on the Observer for many years where I was features editor of the Magazine; my last job was on the obituaries desk of the Guardian. I published my first Papillote Press books when I was still at the Guardian.

Continue reading Interview | Polly Pattullo, Papillote Press | Indie of the Week

Review | Witchbroom, Lawrence Scott | Book of the Week

BookBlast™ reviews Witchbroom by Lawrence Scott.

Here at the window of the turret room, Lavren, at the sill of the Demerara window, Marie Elena behind him on her deathbed telling the last tales before the end of the world as bachac ants attack the rose bushes in Immaculata’s sunken garden, and woodlice eat their way through the pitchpine floorboards, and Josephine sits by the kitchen door shelling pigeon-peas: from this vantage point, Lavren can listen and write and tell the history of the New World.” So begins a hallucinatory Caribbean tale involving the imperialist land-grab, sexual anarchy, abandoned women, religious mania, “the destruction of the Amerindians, the enslavement of Africans and the indentureship of the Indians,” and culminating in self-rule and independence. “People were dreaming in the twilight barrack-rooms, in the kerosene-lit villages for the setting of the imperial sun.”

Lawrence Scott weaves a magical, lush tapestry of words and images, bringing alive local legends and family narratives; and redressing written histories. The impact of the events recounted still resonate in Caribbean society today. A quasi-historical novel, Witchbroom recounts the story of a colonial white enclave on an offshore island through muddled memories. The central narrator repeats what he remembers “from the distracted mind of his muse Marie Elena, and her art of telling stories while they eat Crix biscuits, rat cheese and guava jelly together in the turret room overlooking the Gulf of Sadness.” The stories are bewitching and highly disturbing. The reader surfs a tidal wave of addictive fascination like a Dickensian tricoteuse sitting beside the guillotine in Paris watching heads roll during the public executions of 1793-4.

puerto ayacucho bookblast

Continue reading Review | Witchbroom, Lawrence Scott | Book of the Week

Gael Elton Mayo, The Magnum Photographic Group | Apollo Magazine, 1989

Gael Elton Mayo (1921-92) was writer-researcher for the Magnum Photographic Group, Paris, 1950-56, working with Robert Capa, David Seymour and Henri Cartier-Bresson. She wrote Generation X (England) with Cartier-Bresson, later changed to Youth of the World. 

The Memories of a friend and colleague
Magnum, the only photographic agency of its kind, was at its height in 1950. The name Capa still stirs some of the young, though they may not know why — but it has left an aura. The original photographers have retired or died and the world has changed from the time when people did not watch television, hardly anyone owned a set, and magazine photos were the only way of seeing life, which in Capa’s case meant showing up war; to witness world events and bring them back alive—a pictorial service. The visual images could be seen in Picture Post, Match, Epoca, Vu, Holiday Magazine . . .

Founders of The Magnum Photographic Group

It was founded in 1948 by four photographers: Robert Capa, David Seymour (known always as Chim), George Rodger and Henri Cartier-Bresson, subsequently joined by four others; but the true inventor who conceived what was almost a philosophy was Capa. The headquarters were in Paris in an office run by Margot Shore. It was owned and operated by the photographers themselves. Cartier-Bresson was the only Frenchman, with Werner Bischof, Carl Perutz, Ernst Haas, George Rodger, Fenner Jacobs and Chim. Capa was the catalyst, the unofficial boss; he had ideas that covered the whole world, he organized the assignments, the group became like a brotherhood, with Capa encouraging, helping, sometimes even clothing, and all the time appearing to be merely a wild, good-time, hard-drinking man. Ernst Haas said of him, “He was the only master I ever respected.”

I worked as writer and researcher with Chim, Cartier-Bresson and Capa, but when any of the others appeared in the office or in the café downstairs at St Philippe du Roule there was a quality of belonging to the same family. In whichever country we might meet we would automatically sit or dine together. There was no unemployment pay for us as we were freelance: if the time between jobs was long and someone was broke, Capa gave them money: he did not lend, he gave; he did not want it back. Perhaps because it was a new venture, or perhaps because the war was still fairly recent, there was always a feeling; of excitement. Capa spent lavishly and believed that life was for living, though as his brother Cornell said of him, “He was born without money and died the same way.”

Continue reading Gael Elton Mayo, The Magnum Photographic Group | Apollo Magazine, 1989

Interview | Benjamin Myers | Author of the Week

Benjamin  Myers is the author of six novels – The Gallows Pole, Turning Blue, Beastings, Pig Iron, Richard, The Book of Fuck – a novella, Snorri & Frosti, and four collections of poetry. He is also a journalist contributing to various online and print publications. 

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Dryburn Hospital, Durham. I grew up three miles away in a suburb of the city.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Any particular formative influences?
We had all sorts of books, but especially a lot of fiction. From a young age I enjoyed Roald Dahl, the anthologies of suspense stories that Hitchcock put his name to, Stephen King novels, a lot of works that bridge the gap between adolescence and young adulthood – Dracula, Robinson Crusoe, Huckleberry Finn – but also a lot of female-orientated books too, especially by Judy Blume. I read all of her work, which of course went down with the lads in the north-east in the 1980s.

That was all probably under the age of twelve, at which point I got heavily into comics, particularly the counter-cultural underground, stuff like Robert Crumb and The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. Then I delved headlong into fiction: George Orwell, Laurie Lee, D.H. Lawrence, James Baldwin, William Burroughs, Harry Crews. Given that the average household in the UK purchases 1 or 2 books per year, I was very lucky to have access to the written word at all.

Continue reading Interview | Benjamin Myers | Author of the Week

Review | The Gallows Pole, Benjamin Myers | Book of the Week

BookBlast™ reviews The Gallows Pole.

The Yorkshire moors: wild and untameable. Land of the Brontës, Bram Stoker, Ted Hughes and David Hockney, that much I knew, until I read Ben Myers’ pungent and addictive novel,  The Gallows Pole, about a forgotten chapter of history. King David Hartley of Bell House was the leader of the Cragg Vale Coiners, “whose brutality had put the fear in many and whose wicked practices had damaged the trade of the common man, but whose efforts had rewarded the brave too, and whose rumoured generosity had put clothes on the backs and food on the tables of the starved communities of the upper moorlands when everyone else had failed them.”

bell house Mytholmroyd yorkshire bookblast review

In the 1760s, Hartley ran “the yellow trade,” creating counterfeit coins, from his “gloomy sky palace” perched on the lawless upper moorlands — Sowerby Bridge and Halifax to the east; Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall to the west. A place apart, it is well away from a changing England where the “wheels of industry turn ever onwards and the trees are falling still. Last week I did chance to meet a man right down there in Cragg Vale who told me that soon this valley is to be invaded. He spoke of chimneys and buildings and waterways and told of work for those that wanted it, but work that pays a pittance and keeps you enslaved to those that make the money. This man — he told me this land around us was soon no longer to be our land but that of those who want to reap and rape and bind those of us whose blood is in the sod. They’re pulling it out from beneath our feet like a widow shaking out her clippy mat. He said he had it in writing. Said it was legally binding.”

Continue reading Review | The Gallows Pole, Benjamin Myers | Book of the Week