Patrick Modiano | public novelist, private man

Writing is a strange and solitary activity. There are dispiriting times when you start working on the first few pages of a novel. Every day, you have the feeling you are on the wrong track. This creates a strong urge to go back and follow a different path. It is important not to give in to this urge, but to keep going. It is a little like driving a car at night, in winter, on ice, with zero visibility. You have no choice, you cannot go into reverse, you must keep going forward while telling yourself that all will be well when the road becomes more stable and the fog lifts.” So spoke Patrick Modiano − for whom the fog has most certainly lifted − at the Swedish Academy, Stockholm, on 7 December 2014. He is the eleventh French writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature.

A refreshing antithesis to the self-promoting writer blasting forth at every opportunity, Modiano is a private man and remains aloof from the Parisian literati. There is a big difference between writing − intensely personal − and doing a turn in front of a live audience. Writers who feel that the words on the page are the point and everything else − including the web − is a distraction, could well be heartened by Modiano’s words, “A writer – well, a novelist at least – often has an uneasy relationship with speech. Calling to mind the way school lessons distinguish between the written and the oral, a novelist has more talent for written than oral assignments. He is accustomed to keeping quiet, and if he wants to imbibe an atmosphere, he must blend in with the crowd. He listens to conversations without appearing to, and if he steps in it is always in order to ask some discreet questions so as to improve his understanding of the women and men around him. His speech is hesitant because he is used to crossing out his words. It is true that after several redrafts, his style may be crystal clear. But when he takes the floor, he no longer has any means at his disposal to correct his stumbling speech.”

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Lesley Blanch | Patchouli

Lesley Blanch was Features Editor of British Vogue 1937-45. During the Second World War, she was on the front line of women journalists covering a wide range of topics, and wrote about anything but fashion.

It was the best of perfumes, it was the worst; it was the trademark of the grande cocotte, it was worn by the femme du monde. It was the heaviest of scents, it was the lightest. It was the worst of taste, it was the height of fashion. It drove men mad, it tamed the beasts of the jungle. It was an aphrodisiac, it was an emetic. It came from India — from Haiti. It smelled of newly sharpened pencils; of Victorian boudoirs. It preserved furs from moth; it was something to eat. It was divine; it stank.

These were some of the ways patchouli was described to me when I set out to discover what precisely was the nature and history of this long-forgotten perfume which reached its apogee of popularity about a century ago — and which, suddenly, is in demand once more. Patchouli — pucha-pat to the India of its origin — belongs, in Europe, essentially to the mid-nineteenth century; it is the essence of its age, as frangipani evokes the eighteenth and musk and ambergris belong to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a time of perfumed gloves — and poisoned ones too. Each age has its characteristic expression, found as much in some minor aspect as in a heroic gesture, or great personality. A tune, a colour, a manner of speaking, like a way of moving, or standing, or a particular piece of clothing is as telling as a line of thought or a code of conduct. And nothing is more memorable than a perfume.
Patchouli was the quintessential nineteenth-century perfume, as the shawl was its quintessential garment. The two are indissolubly linked, for patchouli first came out of India because of and with the cashmere shawls which were then the cornerstone of every woman’s wardrobe.

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Authors’ Club Lunch #bookblast

Tuesday 15 September, 12.30 for 1pm, Lady Violet Room,
National Liberal Club, London SW1 2HE

The Authors’ Club is delighted to welcome Georgia de Chamberet to open its autumn season of events with a discussion of On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life, a collection of autobiographical writings by her godmother, the travel writer Lesley Blanch.

 ‘It’s a wonderful read and deserves its place in our Valentine’s window’ − Waterstone’s Piccadilly  
‘ Lesley Blanch was incapable of writing boringly or badly’ − The Spectator

Lesley Blanch was a scholarly romantic with a lifelong passion for Russia, the Balkans and the Middle East. Born in 1904, she died aged 103, having experienced times as both a household name and as a mysterious, neglected living legend. Blanch was writing about her erratic Edwardian childhood at her death and that work, never before published, now forms the beginning of this wonderful memoir.

Edited by her goddaughter Georgia de Chamberet, who was working with her in her centenary year, this book collects together the story of Blanch’s marriage; a selection of her journalism, which brings to life the artistic melting pot of London between the wars; and a selection of her most evocative travel pieces. The book thus conveys the story of a fascinating, bohemian – and at times outrageous – life that spanned the entire 20th century.
 
Georgia de Chamberet was born in Paris to an eccentric father and an artistic mother. As an editor at Quartet Books in the 1990s she published contemporary writers Tahar Ben Jelloun, Annie Ernaux, Juan Carlos Onetti, Daniel Pennac and Simon Leys (winner of the 1992 Independent Award for Foreign Fiction). She went on to found the London-based literary agency BookBlast in 1997, and to edit XCiTés: the Flamingo Book of New French Writing (1999). She has recently returned from travelling in Mongolia.

@AuthorsClub @sunnysingh_nw3 @SchulerCJ @Emily_BookPR 

The charge for the two-course lunch (main course, sweet and coffee) and a glass of club wine is £28.50 per person.

To book, phone 020 7930 9871 or email secretary@nlc.org.uk. Payment can be made by cheque, bank transfer or debit card. To avoid disappointment, please book no later than Friday 11 September