Spotlight | 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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Media Release | On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life | Authors’ Club lunch discussion

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

Spotlight | Georgia de Chamberet at Ways With Words Book Festival

Ways With Words Festival of Words and Ideas in Devon has been held annually for about two decades. It is extremely well run by friendly staff and the surroundings are idyllic. I stayed in a comfortable double room to one side of Dartington Hall, overlooking glorious trees and the garden, away from the central, medieval, listed courtyard. My well-attended talk about Lesley Blanch, ‘a bohemian abroad’, was held in the 14th century Barn Cinema.

On the evening I arrived, news reader and war reporter, Michael Buerk, talked about Reality TV. He was engaging, funny and ultimately pretty depressing about the future of ‘quality’ TV. Budgets for ‘traditional’ drama, documentaries and investigative current affairs programmes − Panorama and Dispatches are all we have left − are derisory, whereas around 750 producers were out in the Australian jungle for the particular show in which he featured of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! Thousands of hours of filming end up on the cutting room floor. Reality TV is more ‘fixed’ now than when it first began and is not as ‘real’ or cutting edge as you might imagine. Watched by 16 to 30 year olds it offers a modern twist on people being tested and mocked as in a morality play, or freak show. People are pushed to their limits in increasingly humiliating ways for fast shock results. Instead of being pelted with rotten eggs and vegetables in the stocks, nowadays contestants grapple with their phobias of creepy crawlies, rodents and serpents. He was honest about the lure of the sum of money he was paid for taking part, (naturally he did not divulge the amount!). Bad behaviour is rewarded and ignorance is cool. Celebrity is a goal in itself, without achievements or virtue being involved in any way. The ultimate punchline from the younger members of his own family was lighten up granddad it’s only a TV show.

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Lesley Blanch Archive | Ack-Ack A.T.S. and others, British Vogue, January 1942

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. She covered various aspects of Britain at war for the Ministry of Information, and documented the lives of women in the forces with her friend the photographer Lee Miller.

The scene is a wild stretch of coast. There are mountains inland, glimpsed nebulously through the icy, blanketing mists which lie low over the ragged, sodden fields. The cold appals. The most leathery-looking sergeant shudders. I am huddled inside a wigwam of topcoats. Stamping and shuffling in their battledress, the A.T.S. are blowing on their hands, waiting for the command to take over the gunsites.

This is one of the big practice camps where the Mixed A.A. Batteries, or gun teams, receive their final training before being sent to man the many defence posts. On the edge of the cliffs stand the great guns. Low overhead a practice or target plane rolls, swoops and spins with show-off brilliance. In the lee of a little glass-walled lean to hut where some remotely, beautifully academic-looking kine-theodolite girls are at work recording and checking the gunfire, a group of gunnery officers argue a point of tactics. Their scarlet capbands are sharp against the prevailing khaki of place and personnel.

Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | Ack-Ack A.T.S. and others, British Vogue, January 1942

Review | BILAL: On the Road with Illegal Immigrants, Fabrizio Gatti | Editions Liana Levi

As a lobbyist for translation, I occasionally write reader’s reports giving an opinion on French books that have been submitted to a publishing company for consideration. Translations of good non fiction are rare compared to fiction, and fewer grants are available. As its the indies who tend to take risks on new writers-new translations, they have less funds and back up than the majors. So good books often get nowhere — very much the case for Bilal sur la route des clandestins by Fabrizio Gatti which I was commissioned to report on back in 2011. A university press with an endowment could be a possibility? Hence this post . . . The book would need updating of course, easily done.  For now it is available in Italian and French so if you can read those languages — buy it!

BILAL SUR LA ROUTE DES CLANDESTINS by Fabrizio Gatti (478pp Liana Levi 2008)  Winner of the premio Terzani in 2008

Fabrizio Gatti is a reporter for the Italian weekly, L’Espresso. Human rights defender and campaigner against organised crime, he has undertaken numerous undercover investigations. Ryszard Kapuscinski believed that news is all about political struggle and the search for truth, not profits and ratings as is invariably the case today. Gatti is a kindred spirit. He follows in Kapuscinski’s footsteps with this humane and heartbreaking book. Bilal, on the road with illegal immigrants is literary reportage at its best; an odyssey into the heart of darkness. Gatti is not only an excellent and courageous investigative journalist, but a real writer.

Continue reading Review | BILAL: On the Road with Illegal Immigrants, Fabrizio Gatti | Editions Liana Levi

Interview | Florent Massot: Fine young radical of French publishing

Georgia de Chamberet talks to Florent Massot, French publisher of Virginie
Despentes, Kurt Cobain, Mike Tyson and Valérie Trierweiler. Baise-moi (Fuck Me), his first hit, published in 1994, sold 50,000 copies for éditions Florent Massot before being released by Grasset and J’ai Lu, nudging up to 200,000 copies.

Why publishing and not music or film?

I started work on my first book age 17 in 1982 about a group called Urban Sax. Why publishing? Because my generation went into music and film, but I’m not competitive, it’s not my way. For 15 years I was the youngest publisher in France and the only one of my generation. Publishers who are 50 now all began their careers 20, not 30, years ago. So for 12-13 years I was alone. My friends were all in music which was great, but I was the only young indie publisher which is why I carried on, since I don’t like having to be combative. I wanted to be the best publisher of my generation and was . . . the worst! . . . there was only me!

I had a go at journalism and published a magazine called Amazone in 1984, then Intox in 1990, but that world moves too fast. I like a slow burn, and am not speedy. In publishing you meet up, the project develops over 1-2 years, it takes time, isn’t fast and furious, all on the surface. A book can really make a difference, go deep, whereas an article is ephemeral.

Publishers are in the game for different reasons: for some it’s a love of words, for others because they want power. What interested me was to meet the movers and shakers. A friend said, “If you go into publishing you’ll meet the people making it happen, who are the zeitgeist.” He often spoke to Cartier Bresson on the phone because of a book he was working on about the great photographers behind photojournalism. I wanted to meet these people. Since then, over the last 32 years, I have met so many people from different walks of life, that publishing has been good to me on that level.

As an object, a book can be a bit fetishistic. For me it is neither the object, nor the words, but the encounters. A book is a meeting place for people and ideas.

Continue reading Interview | Florent Massot: Fine young radical of French publishing

Lesley Blanch Archive | A writer’s diet, Grub Street eats & cooking #OnWilderShores

Writing is a tiring business requiring energy and sustaining snacks. Chekhov had a weakness for oysters, Proust knocked back espressos, Sartre went nuts for halva and H. P. Lovecraft relished spaghetti bolognese smothered in parmesan cheese.

In a postcard sent to Cecil Beaton some time during the 1970s, Lesley Blanch describes her daily life as she is writing the biography of Pierre Loti: “I get up at 7, go on all day til dusk − hardly an eye for the birds, yelling to be fed. I’ve disconnected the telephone, such bliss − don’t go out or see anyone, don’t ever get dressed. Some days restful sluttishness prevails. Djellaba over a nightgown is the only way to work, for me − and no hairdressers + all that tra-la-la. But the appearance suffers − so does the figure. I sit, sit, sit, + eat delicious brown bread with tidal waves of butter.”

Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | A writer’s diet, Grub Street eats & cooking #OnWilderShores

Spotlight | Lesley Blanch and the Art of Narrative Non Fiction

Narrative non fiction: a new category

When Lesley Blanch wrote that “Journey into the Mind’s Eye is not altogether autobiography, nor altogether travel or history either. You will just have to invent a new category . . .” the label narrative non-fiction did not yet exist. Her autobiography about the early part of her life was published in 1968. She was ahead of her time. Like Rebecca West and Truman Capote, Lesley Blanch was experimenting with different forms and techniques to tell a damn good ‘true’ story.

Lesley Blanch claimed she could not invent, hence choosing biography rather than fiction, although her storytelling was underpinned by a vivid imagination and scholarly research. The Sabres of Paradise: Conquest and Vengeance in the Caucasus took six years to complete and required thorough investigation in Russia and Turkey.

What is narrative non fiction?

Narrative non-fiction is not just a convenient label used by publishers to help booksellers categorise their titles and display them, or a new genre fresh out of American writing schools for literary critics to argue about. It is favoured by clever young editors like Leo Hollis at Verso, or Richard Milner at Quercus, as a way to get across difficult, or dry, ideas in an engaging manner. People are most interested in other people and their experiences, not the dusty archives of research. To take the reader on a scientific, or philosophical, or historical journey of discovery by means of a series of a well-written scenes knitted together to form a compelling whole, as opposed to recounting how A then B then C happened in a cut-and-dried linear fashion, makes for a more exciting read and a saleable book.

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Spotlight | The seemingly unstoppable boom in literary festivals

Gone are the days when an author’s book promotion was simply about having a launch party, doing a few press and radio interviews, some bookshop signings and a talk at an appropriate venue. Now, in the UK, more books are published per inhabitant than anywhere else in the world: the scramble to get noticed is fierce.

What does a book promo package entail?

The full author book promo package now includes: having an author website, contacting personal Media contacts and those with specialist and local appeal, as well as international contacts; getting endorsements; writing for the press when and where possible; arranging speaking engagements, seminars, or workshops; connecting live ‘n’ direct with readers to build up a following via social media (facebook, twitter, youtube, pinterest); writing a blog, guest blogging and going on blog tours. It is immensely time consuming, but adopting a luddite attitude is ill-advised.

The literary festival circuit is a key component of book promotion. The more an author gets known the more likely it is sales will rise, ergo financial gain for all involved. Few writers would shun the opportunity to promote their latest book to potential punters, however many or few of them come to a talk and buy a book afterwards, with an autograph thrown in.

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Spotlight | Anthony Aris | A very special birthday party and book launch

“Authors get the light, publishers stay in the shade – a famous twinned Tibetan concept, nyin and drib. But writers tend to overlook the fact that without the drib, there would not, could not, be nyin. There are well established conventions for celebrating scholarly achievement – the Festschrift – being the standard offering, while publishers can count themselves lucky if they can escape opprobrium and get away with obscurity.” So write Charles Ramble and Ulrike Roesler in answer to the question Why a Book? at the beginning of Tibetan & Himalayan Healing: An Anthology for Anthony Aris, published by Vajra Books, Kathmandu. “When we heard in June 2014 that Anthony was not in the best of health, an anthology on the subject of healing seemed like an appropriate gesture as a larger-than-life get well card.”

“Medicine Buddhas and Divination: Four Short Tibetan Texts on Healing”; “Melancholia in the Teaching on the Six Lamps”; “The Great Rite which Redeems for the Crosses of Malicious Gossip”; “A Frozen Stiff Upper Lip: The Maladies and Remedies of the Younghusband Mission of 1904”; “A Note on Tsha chu. The Therapeutic Hot Springs of Bhutan”; “How to Recognise a Useless Doctor: Excerpts from an Indian Yoga Comedy”; “The Call of the Cuckoo to the Thin Sheep of Spring: Healing and Fortune in Old Tibetan Dice Divination Texts” . . . Sixty contributions by leading luminaries are gathered in a single volume, opening a window on to some of the core therapeutic beliefs, traditions and practices that lie at the heart of Himalayan and Tibetan civilization. Embellished with superb illustrations, this collection is a most unusual and intriguing read for the uninitiated, yet curious, such as myself.

Continue reading Spotlight | Anthony Aris | A very special birthday party and book launch