Interview | Linda Kelly, author

BookBlast™ interviews Linda Kelly, biographer and historian.

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.

Continue reading Interview | Linda Kelly, author

Interview | Andrew Lycett, author

Andrew Lycett is the biographer of Ian Fleming, Rudyard Kipling, Dylan Thomas, Arthur Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Stamford, Lincolnshire, and was then spirited out to live in East Africa – what was then called Tanganyika where my father started and ran an English style prep school.

What sorts of books were in your house when you were growing up?
A wide range belonging to two well-read parents – the complete Dickens, some traditional poetry (many relics of my father’s time studying English at Oxford in the 1930s), a surprising number of thrillers, and several fascinating works of reference – all a bit out of date, as we lived in the colonies.

How did Oxford help shape your tastes in literature?  
I’m not sure that Oxford particularly shaped my tastes in literature as I was studying history. However I certainly read a lot while I was at university. The centre of the world appeared to be the United States so I read American authors widely: Updike, Mailer, Barth, Irving, Wolfe (Thomas and Tom) and someone who I’m not sure is much regarded today but I enjoyed at the time – Ken Kesey.

Continue reading Interview | Andrew Lycett, author

Interview | Susan Harris | wordswithoutborders.org

Georgia de Chamberet recently caught up with Susan Harris, editorial director of Words without Borders, (www.wordswithoutborders.org), to chat all things publishing, literature in translation and technology.

Why publishing and not education?
Never wanted an academic career, but always wanted to work in publishing.

Did you want to be a writer, or . . . ?
Of course. (The result was “or . . .”).

How did you end up working at Northwestern University Press?
I was very lucky. I did my undergrad there, and a few years later my advisor on my senior year project became the assistant director and editor-in-chief of the press, and needed a secretary; we’d stayed in touch, and I’d worked as a secretary between undergrad and grad school. So I started in that position and then moved into others as the press evolved.
Continue reading Interview | Susan Harris | wordswithoutborders.org

Interview | Melanie Schwapp, author

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I love life . . . the good, the bad and the messiness of it. I love the fact that we are all here bumbling our way through, and that each of our messes are the lessons that help to straighten out the jumbled lines. I live my life as such – I think that perfection is over-rated, so I do the things that make me happy, albeit imperfectly. I was never formally trained in landscaping or interior design, yet these are the occupations I’ve chosen because of my sheer love of plants, nature, sun, dirt, and families. The best part is, at the end of the day, I get to write about perfect imperfection.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A mother. I dreamt of the day when I would hold a tiny little being in my arms and build a home around it. Continue reading Interview | Melanie Schwapp, author

Interview, Proust’s Questionnaire | Lesley Blanch

Lesley Blanch (1904-2007) influenced and inspired generations of writers, readers and critics. Her lifelong passion was for Russia, the Balkans and the Middle East. At heart a nomad, she spent the greater part of her life travelling about those remote areas her books record so vividly.
She left England in 1946, never to return, except as a visitor. Her marriage to Romain Gary, the French novelist and diplomat, afforded her many years of happy wanderings. After their divorce, in 1963, Blanch was seldom at her Paris home longer than to repack.
Her posthumous memoirs On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life are published by Virago, Little Brown.

Where would you like to live?
It must be a warm country. If I really want to be coldly factual I must try to live where I can be looked after, but that’s a very dull answer only come on me now when I’m approaching one hundred. I should like to live in the Levant, somewhere in a Moslem country; the Moslems respect age. I loved Afghanistan passionately, but not the way it is now. I read, over and over again, the place names, just to get back there.

What is your idea of happiness on earth?
I want a garden and animal companionship and music.

What faults do you find most forgivable?
Temper. Rudeness. I forgive them very quickly. I don’t bear much malice because I’m too bored with it. Continue reading Interview, Proust’s Questionnaire | Lesley Blanch

Interview | Eileen Horne, author

Tell us a little bit about yourself
It is hard to decide which little bit is worth telling! For the purposes of this questionnaire: I am a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife, an American, a Democrat, a long term ex-pat living in Italy and London, and a former television drama producer turned author, editor and screenwriter.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
It changed throughout childhood: I am sure I wanted by turns to be an astronaut (which gives away my era), a ballet dancer (sadly without any talent for it) and an actress (ditto!) – but as time went on I decided the best job would be a librarian – imagine that, I told my mother, your whole day would just be books, books, books . . . what could be better? On my father’s recent death I found tucked away in his study a picture book I made for him as a child of eight or so, which ends with an author’s profile on the inside back cover, including a drawing of myself (big eyes, dark rimmed glasses, crazy hair) and the legend: “Eileen will be a famous writer when she grows up.” I guess I’m still coming of age. Continue reading Interview | Eileen Horne, author

Interview | Philip Mansel, author & historian

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a historian living in London. All my life I have loved travelling , learning about the countries I visit, trying to understand people and places, and explaining their connections through books. I am passionately European, have lived in Paris, Florence, Istanbul, Kuwait and Beirut, and loved the Middle East, before the current fanaticisms.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer or diplomat.

What books have had a lasting impact on you?
Nancy Mitford’s The Sun King. Robert Byron’s The Road to Oxiana. Alfred Duggan’s and Rider Haggard’s historical novels. The Greek myths. Sybille Bedford’s A Legacy. Continue reading Interview | Philip Mansel, author & historian

Interview, Proust’s Questionnaire | Gary Pulsifer, indie publisher

Gary Pulsifer has lived in the UK for 41 years. He has worked on both sides of the Atlantic – for Random House in New York and for a number of UK indies, including Writers & Readers, John Calder and Peter Owen. He founded the independent publishing house Arcadia books in 1996. Authors include: José Eduardo Agualusa (winner of the 2007 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize), Lisa Appignanesi, Michael Arditti, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Bonnie Greer, Shere Hite, Erica Jong, Dominique Manotti, Lucy Popescu, Luis Sepulveda, A. Sivanandan, Alex Wheatle.

Your favourite virtue?
Loyalty.

Your favourite qualities in a man?
Machismo is always a bore in men, so a little less of that is always welcome.

Your favourite qualities in a woman?
Men and women are very similar in many ways (naturally). Women often seem more clear-headed and hard-working than their male counterparts.

For what faults do have you most tolerance?
Ignorance.

Your chief characteristic?
Hard-working. A tolerance for fools is one, followed by a loyalty to them.

Your main fault?
Procrastination. Not being tough enough. (But once you’re out, you’re out for life.) Continue reading Interview, Proust’s Questionnaire | Gary Pulsifer, indie publisher

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

Interview, Proust’s Questionnaire | Duncan Fallowell, author

Duncan Fallowell is an English novelist, travel writer and critic. He has also worked with the German group, Can, on musical projects. How to Disappear: A Memoir for Misfits − described as ‘brilliant and haunting’ by Alan Hollinghurst in the Guardian − won the 2012 PEN Ackerley Prize. Fallowell is at his characteristically provocative and entertaining best in Three Romes. His most recent publication is the long essay, The Rise and Fall of the Celebrity Interview. He has just been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Your favourite virtue?
Honesty, which is a motive. There is a world of difference between someone trying to be honest and someone trying to deceive. I also admire people who refrain from pontificating on matters of which they are ignorant.

Your favourite qualities in a man?
Beauty.

Your favourite qualities in a woman?
Bravery.
Continue reading Interview, Proust’s Questionnaire | Duncan Fallowell, author