Author of the Week | Meike Ziervogel

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 Author of the Week | Meike Ziervogel

Author of the Week | Lawrence Scott

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.

© Lawrence Scott, 9 May, 2017 for The BookBlast Diary.

 

 

Author of the Week | Benjamin Myers @benmyers1

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 Author of the Week | Benjamin Myers @benmyers1

Author of the Week | Laia Fàbregas @laiafabregas

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Barcelona. When I was twenty three I went to the Netherlands for a couple of months and I ended up staying there for twelve years. Now I am back home for seven years already, but I still feel like I am a bit Dutch.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a teenager I saw myself as a teacher. As a child, I don’t remember.

What books have had a lasting impact on you?
When I was a teenager I read everything from Edgar Allan Poe and his tales made me want to write. Later on, when I was in art school in Barcelona, I read Opera aperta by Umberto Eco. That book helped me understand why I liked some books better than others. And when years later I started writing, it helped me see that I was doing it fine by doing my own way without thinking about who was going to read my words.

Continue reading Author of the Week | Laia Fàbregas @laiafabregas

Author of the Week | Tony Chan

Tell us a little bit about yourself
Well, I’m the kind of person who finds these kinds of questions a tad difficult; perhaps that tells you enough about me!

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Pretty much the usual: pilot, football superstar … but also, for about six months, a hotel concierge.

What books have had a lasting impact on you?
Le Petit Prince has always held resonance, primarily for the way that it deals with distinction between a child’s and an adult’s ability to imagine things. From the canon, Joyce, Yeats, Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn and Catch-22 have all won my affection at some time. Also, there’s definitely something that has always grabbed at me, out of Steven M. Newman’s biographical Worldwalk – a copy of which I received as a young teenager, after my mother fished it out randomly from the bargain box of a low-end bookseller in Sydney.

Continue reading Author of the Week | Tony Chan

Author of the Week | Claudia Piñeiro

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Woman, writer, mother, honest, curmudgeon.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
My top three careers were: Sociologist, Ecologist, Mathematician. In other words, everything!

What books have had a lasting impact on you?
David Grossman’s To The End Of The Land.

Why do you write?
Because writing is part of who I am. It’s existential. I wouldn’t be who I am if I didn’t write.
Continue reading Author of the Week | Claudia Piñeiro

Author of the Week | Colin Spencer

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’ve been painting, drawing and writing , since I was a child, which means that I’ve been doing it for over seventy years. Paints and brushes cost money, so when I was in my early twenties it was cheaper to write, I was first published in a literary magazine aged 22 – The London Magazine – with a short story – Nightworkers.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
See above, I only felt alive when working, still do.

What books have had a lasting impact on you?
Djuna Barnes, Nightwood. Wuthering Heights (I first read it aged 10). War and Peace. Middlemarch. Madame Bovary. The great novels all go on echoing and singing throughout one’s life. Continue reading Author of the Week | Colin Spencer

Author of the Week | Alison Brackenbury @abrackenbury

Alison Brackenbury’s Carcanet collections include Dreams of Power (1981), Breaking Ground (1984), Christmas Roses (1988), Selected Poems (1991), 1829 (1995), After Beethoven (2000) and Bricks and Ballads (2004). Her poems have been included on BBC Radio 3 and 4, and 1829 was produced by Julian May for Radio 3. Her work recently won a Cholmondeley Award.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in what now seems almost like Victorian England, in the Lincolnshire countryside. I won a scholarship to Oxford, but quickly found that I preferred writing to academic work. So my First and I worked in a technical college library, then, for twenty-three years, in my husband’s metal finishing business. I had a child – and shaggy ponies – and too many cats. The planet heated. I had plenty to write about, and managed to produce nine poetry collections (and do a surprising amount of broadcasting on BBC Radio). Now I am a Retired Person, I at last have time to go round and give readings from all these poems . . .

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A successful writer of historical fiction, with an Irish wolfhound! I don’t regret not having written the fiction. I do wish I’d managed to keep a dog.
Continue reading Author of the Week | Alison Brackenbury @abrackenbury

Author of the Week | Heidi Perks @heidiperks1

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a mum of two small children and I live by the sea in Bournemouth. I spend many of the hours my children are at school writing, something I have always loved doing. Until four years ago when my youngest was born I worked in marketing. I left my job as a marketing director to spend more time with my family, and this was a perfect opportunity to start writing seriously.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I did always want to write a book, but as a child I don’t think I actually said I’d like to be an author. As with most children I flitted through a number of ideas. I wanted to be an air hostess (even though I hate flying now), and also a nurse (I would make a dreadful nurse, I am far too squeamish.) And for quite a long time I wanted to work in fashion as I loved textiles at school.

What books have had a lasting impact on you?
From an early age anything by Enid Blyton. I fell in love with the Famous Five and Adventure series books. Also as a child I really loved Last of the Really Great Wangdoodles, which I still have for when my daughter is a little older. As an adult the first book I remember being totally impressed by was Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. Whilst I always loved reading this was the first one I couldn’t put down and it was a bit of a turning point for me reading the amount I now do.
Continue reading Author of the Week | Heidi Perks @heidiperks1

Author of the Week | Youssef Rakha

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 Author of the Week | Youssef Rakha