Interview | Ra Page, founder, Comma Press | Indie Publisher of the Week

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Absolutely, both of them. My parents hoarded books, and they read to us every night as kids. My mother is a voracious reader of novels (although she never allows herself enough time to read them). My dad came from that great working-class tradition of self-betterment, investing in his own education throughout his life. He stock-piled political and historical texts, was a huge fan of EP Thomson and Eric Hobsbawm in particular, and loved Strachey’s Eminent Victorians so much he named one of my brothers ‘Lytton’. He left behind a library of books about Nasser and Middle East history that none of really know what to do with. Dad was more of a history and non-fiction reader, Mum more fiction. There were some writers they both agreed on though: Lawrence, Hardy, Orwell.
Also, I have to say, in the context of our new release Protest, that this book is effectively my ‘thank you’ to my parents for the extraordinary political education I got from them. I was privileged to grow up in the eye of a whole cluster of political storms. As kids we stood on pickets lines outside coalfields in North Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, took day trips to Greenham, were greatly involved in the 1984 Chesterfield by-election that returned Tony Benn to parliament, marched with the country-long anti-Apartheid march that culminated in the two Free South Africa concerts; and saw a newly freed Mandela address the world at second of these. We were beyond lucky.
As well as being a thank you to them, this book is also a potted journey of protests that Mum, Dad and two grandfathers I never knew were involved in, as well as much earlier ones that I heard mentioned in hushed reverence. Mum and Dad got to know each other on an Aldermaston march; both were linked with the Hornsey sit-in, both were at the anti-Vietnam demo in Grosvenor Square, 1968 – where Dad was wrongly arrested and defended himself in court. My grandfather also marched with Jarrow marchers as they entered London in 1936, and fought against the blackshirts on Cable Street the same year. That’s the thing about this book, it’s not just me, scratch the surface and everybody has a connection to not one, but multitudes of these stories – because it’s our history, not theirs. To quote my friend, Dinesh Allirajah: “It’s political, but it’s always been personal.”

Continue reading Interview | Ra Page, founder, Comma Press | Indie Publisher of the Week

Review | Protest! Stories of Resistance, Ra Page (ed.) | Book of the Week

 “Our own, personal experience of the event – as it unfolded live in front of us – gets over-written, overlain with any narrative available that complies with Thomas Carlisle’s ‘Great Man’ theory, that ‘history is but the biography of great men’, that the rest of us, the ‘bystanders’, aren’t part of history. The short story rejects this version of events because, as a form, it has evolved to prioritise the non-heroes – the bystanders, the disenfranchised, the ‘submerged’ (as Frank O’Connor would say). And when it comes to ‘world events’, none are more suited to the short story than the protest. In a protest, we’re all bystanders, we’re all there because of some attempt to marginalise us; the bystanders are the people making history,” writes Ra Page, editor of Protest! Stories of Resistance.

The workings of the state when it is under threat are not pretty. One man’s system is another man’s nightmare. Protest! takes the long view. From the Peasants’ Revolt sparked by the Poll Tax of 1381 to the anti-Iraq War demo of 2003, the 20 movements featured in this superb book have parallels in terms of ideas and tactics and emotional charge. The framework of the anthology brings to life the events and the people involved. A short story like a snapshot in time is followed by an afterword by an academic who, in certain recent cases, was an eyewitness.

Prior protests loom large over present ones. This struck me forcibly while reading the stories and simultaneously following Westway 23’s facebook posts about the Grenfell Tower Protest in my neighbourhood. It is no coincidence that safe Tory seat, Kensington, went to Labour by a narrow margin for the first time ever in the recent snap election. The gruesome fire has illuminated years of institutionalised abuse and disregard for the law on the part of the corrupt powers-that-be. Establishment standard bearers The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Spectator have been accusing the ‘hard left’ of ‘hijacking’ the Grenfell fire tragedy for their own ends. Plus ça change.

Continue reading Review | Protest! Stories of Resistance, Ra Page (ed.) | Book of the Week

Interview | Stuart Evers | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in a small market town in the North West of England. Its principal claim to fame is selling the town bible to pay for a bear to use for bearbaiting during its annual wakes. This claim is, however, not true: the townsmen decided to use the money they’d been saving to buy a bible (16 shillings) to purchase the bear.  I have a wary relationship with the town; I spent my teens desperate to escape, and most of my thirties writing about it.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
We had few books in our house: a dictionary of British history, in which I would look up Nelson and Scott (I had a thing for noble deaths); a book on the hunt for Tutankhamun’s Tomb; a family health bible, probably written by Miriam Stoppard; a dictionary used almost exclusively to settle Scrabble arguments; an incomplete set of Young Person’s Encyclopedias from the 1950s. We got all our books from the library. Its musty stacks and silence were probably the most formative influences on my life and my writing.

Continue reading Interview | Stuart Evers | Author of the Week

Review | Howard Cunnell, Fathers & Sons | Picador

As subdivisions or departments of bigger publishers, imprints break up monolithic companies, give space to individual editors to stamp their list with a defining character and originality, and reassure authors that they are not disappearing into the corporate ether. What defines a Picador book is the author’s voice since the way the story is told is just as important as the story itself. Picador publishes fiction, non-fiction and poetry from all over the world.

“None of us have dads – not Johann or Steve or Ashley or me. None of us have dads and all of us are looking for something. Was there a connection? There had to be. It was Steve who gave me On the Road, and what are Sal and Dean searching for after all if not for their fathers – absent in death and life? If you didn’t have a dad who loved you, or who beat you when he came home drunk, I’m not stupid, then you were always looking for him, or something else . . .” writes Howard Cunnell in Fathers & Sons.

Continue reading Review | Howard Cunnell, Fathers & Sons | Picador

Media Release | Lesley Blanch & the 1950s Woman | Waterstones, Gower Street, London W1

Georgia de Chamberet & Elisa Segrave celebrate the 1950s Woman

Wednesday 5th July, 6.30 pm Waterstones, Gower Street, London W1 @gowerst_books @quartetbooks

Join us for a glass of wine to toast the publication of Far To Go and Many To Love: People and Places by Lesley Blanch — the sequel to her posthumous memoirs, On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life, published by Virago (2015).

Tickets include wine and are redeemable against books purchased.

SPECTATOR Lesley Blanch was incapable of writing boringly or badly
Continue reading Media Release | Lesley Blanch & the 1950s Woman | Waterstones, Gower Street, London W1

Review | Larry Tremblay, The Orange Grove | Peirene Press

BookBlast®  reviews Peirene No. 23 The Orange Grove.

UNICEF estimates that child soldiers are currently employed in thirty conflicts around the world. How are they swept up into a life of violence and used as instruments of war? [1]

Ahmed and Aziz found their grandparents in the ruins of their house. Their grandmother’s skull had been smashed in by a beam. Their grandfather was lying in his bedroom, his body ripped apart by the bomb that had come from the side of the mountain where every evening the sun disappeared.”

Continue reading Review | Larry Tremblay, The Orange Grove | Peirene Press

Spotlight | Oxford Translation Day at St Anne’s College

Translation does not simply jump from one language to another. It also ‘crosses’ languages in the sense of blending them, as you might cross a bulldog with a borzoi, or two varieties of rose . . . Translation can cross languages that have much in common – for example, English and French – and language that are very distant – like English and Malay; it can span languages that share the same script system (Japanese and Korean) and those that don’t (Japanese and Arabic or German); it can go between dialects (or between a dialect and a language) or between different words of the same language . . . Translation can be done by one person, or several, or hundreds – or by machine. It can be a matter of life or death, as in a war zone; or an ordinary part of everyday existence in a multilingual community.” Matthew Reynolds, Translation: A Very Short Introduction

bulldog britainIn short, language-learning and translation skills are vital in our global era. Ever more so for Brexit Britain: as links are severed with Europe, forging new links with faraway foreign countries will become crucial. How ironic that the prevailing mood is so bulldog British, with foreign language learning on a downward slide, and languages no longer being part of the core curriculum for 14 to 16-year-olds. To expect everyone else to speak English, the lingua franca spoken across the world, and no longer be embarrassed by being monolingual, is a deeply arrogant and short-sighted attitude. Language is the means by which one accesses a culture, and is the expression of a culture.

There are oases of hope. Thank goodness for those universities which run language courses and postgraduate degrees in translation – Westminster, Roehampton, SOAS, UCL, UEA and Portsmouth among them.

Continue reading Spotlight | Oxford Translation Day at St Anne’s College

BookBlast® Archive | 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 BookBlast® Archive | 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