“The history of the Authors’ Club is studded with famous names: Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy Rider Haggard, Ford Madox Ford, Graham Greene. Yet in the course of writing this history, I have learned that life, the culture, and often the very survival of the club have depended on others who are not so well remembered today. A healthy literary culture is not sustained by a handful of greats alone; it requires a significant number of dedicated, skilful practitioners who may not achieve critical accolade or vast commercial success yet persist in writing worthwhile, interesting books.” C J Schüler
Founded in July 1891, the aim being to “advance the cause of Letters”, the Authors’ Club was originally the social arm of the Society of Authors; admitting journalists, editors, men of science, dramatists and academics, and not only the writers of books. “While many clubs, including the Athenaeum and the Savile, had a number of literary figures among their numbers, none was specifically aimed at them. For an example of what he was trying to achieve, Walter Besant had to look across the Atlantic to New York, where an Authors’ Club had been founded in 1882, and included Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt and Andrew Carnegie among its members.” The Copyright act had just been passed, allowing British authors to receive royalties on American sales of their work. At the club’s inaugural dinner, Oscar Wilde raged at the Lord Chamberlain’s inspector censoring his new play, Salomé, with Sarah Bernhardt in the lead role.
Blood & Gold, and an earlier thriller by Leo Kanaris, Codename Xenophon, are perfect examples of how well-crafted detective fiction from another country opens windows on to a brave new world, and shows that there are more similarities than differences between us all as we get on with the business of living in failing Western societies.
As the post-war liberal bandwagon begins to roll backwards, overtaken by the populist demagogue’s juggernaut of lies, we need more cracking good crime stories like this one, to entertain, illuminate, and inform.
My mother, Gael Elton Mayo, the novelist, painter and ‘Girl Friday’ for Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson and David Seymour at Magnum Photographers in its early years, was introduced to Naim Attallah by Patrick Seale. Quartet Books published her autobiography, The Mad Mosaic, which sold unexpectedly well and was reprinted, leading to the later publication of her account of surviving cancer for twenty years, Living With Beelzebub.
Quartet was avant-garde, innovative and independent, rather like Canongate today. I was going nowhere fast after leaving university, so was sent by my mother to see Naim Attallah in his plush Poland Street offices. He hired me to work with Quartet’s production director, Gary Grant.
1990s avant garde indie publishing
So one Autumn day in 1987, I turned up at 27 Goodge Street, a Dickensian building in London’s West End. I was greeted at the head of the stairs by an intriguing and enigmatic individual, who disappeared into a small office piled high with books and manuscripts, making a remark as he did so about the bars on his office window and the Birdman of Alcatraz. This was Quartet’s editorial director, Stephen Pickles. His office on the first floor was at the back of the building, next to Gary’s and mine at the front, overlooking Goodge Street. Quartet had a good reputation for publishing lavish, high-quality art and photography books and Gary was an expert at overseeing such projects, when not in the pub across the road. Production was not really my thing, so I began to do occasional odd jobs for Pickles, which rather annoyed Gary. Initially I made telephone calls to Charlotte Rampling, Lothar Schirmer and Joanna Richardson.
This selection of Lesley Blanch’s early journalism and travelling tales edited by Georgia de Chamberet forms a captivating sequel to On the Wilder Shores of Love:A Bohemian Life (Virago, 2015; PB 2017).
Savvy, self-possessed, talented and successful, Lesley Blanch was a bold and daring writer, travelling at a time when women were expected to stay at home and be subservient to the needs of husbands and children. She was an inspiration to a generation of women – Marianne Faithfull and Shirley Conran among them. This selection of her writings brims with her customary wit and sheds new light on an eternally fascinating – and truly inimitable – character.
Illustrated with photos and Blanch’s theatre portfolio from her time working with Russian émigré director/producer, Theodore Komisarjevsky; and featuring an insightful introduction. Far To Go and Many To Love brings together writings on subjects as various as Vivien Leigh, polygamy, the Orient Express and Afghanistan.
Praise for On the Wilder Shores of Love… ‘Sumptuous and captivating’ – Independent ‘This is a truly remarkable book’ – Daily Telegraph
Lesley Blanch MBE was born in London in 1904. She spent the greater part of her life travelling, to Russia, Central Asia and the Middle East. She published 12 books in her lifetime and was a prolific journalist. She died in 2007 at the age of 103. website: www.lesleyblanch.com twitter: @lesleyblanch
“‘What a strange world this is,’ he said to me suddenly when the bus turned into Pulaski Street. ‘Before I’ve even had time to blink, they’re already calling me old, when inside I’m like an unripe fruit’.” – Wioletta Greg, Swallowing Mercury
Invasion, occupation, partition: Poland’s strategic location between Germany and Russia has made it a target throughout history. In 1990, after the fall of Communism, Lech Walesa became Poland’s first popularly-elected president. In 2004, Poland was one of ten new states to join the EU. Britain’s nationalist-minded tabloids make Poles the enemy, taking away jobs and homes. Post-truth politics thrive on ignorance, breeding fear and hate. We have much to thank Poland for – not least Chopin, Copernicus, Marie Curie, Joseph Conrad, Helena Rubinstein … and Häagen-Dazs ice cream!
Where were you born and where did you grow up? I was born in Kent and brought up in the country, mostly in Hampshire. However I was also a wartime evacuee, from 1940-43, in the US: a Saturday Evening Post – Norman Rockwell kind of America, complete with freckle-faced kids and rocking chairs on verandas. It was an idyllic period from which I date a certain independence of mind and a dislike of snobbery.
What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences? Our house was full of books, both English and French, and my mother read a lot to us when we were small. Due to wartime paper shortages, there were few new books being published for children, so we were thrown back on the classics of our parents’ generation: Frances Hodgson Burnett, Charlotte Mary Yonge, Stevenson, Henty and Conan Doyle. Perhaps because of my American experience, I particularly loved books like Little Women and What Katie Did, but I was more or less omnivorous and gobbled up anything from Agatha Christie to Walter Scott.
In your home, was the atmosphere for women emancipated? I don’t think it was a subject which arose – I had two brothers and two sisters, and we all regarded each other as equals.