Interview | Youssef Rakha | Author of the Week

The Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars by Youssef Rakha translated by Paul Starkey has been awarded the 2015 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation.
Paul Starkey & Youssef Rakha will be in conversation with Gaby Wood @woodgaby on Thurs 18 February at 6.30 for 7pm Waterstone’s Piccadilly Bookstore, London W1J 9HD @WaterstonesPicc It is a free event, but please reserve your place by emailing piccadilly@waterstones.com

Youssef Rakha is exclusively interviewed by Georgia for The BookBlast Diary.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am the only child of a disillusioned communist and a woman who struggled against incredible odds to go to university. I speak English with a slight accent and Arabic like a native Egyptian. I can think of at least three separate people I’ve been since I went to university in Hull, returning to Cairo once I graduated. All three worked in journalism and wrote, and the last two took pictures as well. I’m interested in the meaning of people’s words and actions, individually and in groups, in my part of the world: how the disorder and duplicity of human behaviour can resolve into something meaningful and also presumably beautiful. I’m interested in the way language can reflect and alter reality. I have a French-speaking three-year-old daughter I’m utterly besotted with. I’ve been urged to stop smoking cigarettes, which I do voraciously, and I’m planning on it but I haven’t yet.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
At a certain point I thought I was a prophet, a messenger of God. I must’ve fantasized about being a doctor and an architect and a spy, but all I consciously remember is wanting to be a writer. Continue reading Interview | Youssef Rakha | Author of the Week

Review | The Book of the Sultan’s Seal, Youssef Rakha | Book of the Week

Rakha’s tale of a man’s “transformation during twenty-one days from a Europeanized intellectual to a semi-madman who believed he could perform magic deeds to resurrect the Islamic caliphate” is a very readable feast — taking in love, friendship, work and (in)sanity . . . identity, faith and the nationalist movement . . . Ottoman Turkey, neoliberalism, politics . . . digital photography, the internet and Cairo café life . . . Amgad Salah’s conversion from a lost hobo into an unarmed terrorist . . . laced with a smattering of zombies, camels, masturbation and ecstasy (chemical or otherwise). The Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars is one helluva read.

Part confessional, part letter to a friend, part philosophical treatise and a journey of self-discovery: Mustafa Çorbaci’s stream of consciousness carries the reader along in a weird and wonderful coherent swirl of words that conveys his thoughts, impressions and emotions as his world is turned upside down. “My marriage had been a Greek tragedy, which begins and ends within twenty-four hours. Blink and it’s over.” A journalist for over a decade, “in the last seven years he hadn’t budged from in front of the screen.” He eventually leaves his job and travels, ending up in Beirut. Continue reading Review | The Book of the Sultan’s Seal, Youssef Rakha | Book of the Week

Interview | Michel Moushabeck, Interlink Books | Indie Publisher of the Week

Michel S. Moushabeck is a publisher, editor, writer and musician of Palestinian descent. The founder of Interlink Books, he is also the author of several books including Kilimanjaro: A Photographic Journey to the Roof of Africa and A Brief Introduction to Arabic Music, Most recently, he contributed a piece to Being Palestinian: Personal Reflections on Palestinian Identity in the Diaspora.

He is the recipient of NYU’s Founder’s Day Award for outstanding scholarship (1981), the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s Alex Odeh Award (2010) and The Palestinian Heritage Foundation Achievement Award (2011). He serves on various boards – notably the board of trustees of The International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), an annual literary prize administered by the UK’s Booker Prize Foundation. He plays riqq, tabla and daff and his recording credits include two albums. He has performed at concert halls worldwide.

Michel Moushabeck is exclusively interviewed by Georgia for The BookBlast Diary.

Were your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Yes, both my parents and my grandparents were very bookish. They lived in Palestine, in the literary neighborhood of Katamon in West Jerusalem, until their forced exile from their home in 1948. I was born in Beirut and grew up there until age 19, when the 1975 Lebanese Civil War shattered my family’s life again and sent us in search for a new home. My parents ended up in Jordan, my brother in Athens and then California, my sister in Montreal, and I managed to find my way to Brooklyn, New York and then Massachusetts. Growing up in cosmopolitan Beirut, I was brought up on a healthy diet of good books, classical Arabic music, Oum Koulthum, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, The Beatles, Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, Egyptian cinema, and American westerns. Continue reading Interview | Michel Moushabeck, Interlink Books | Indie Publisher of the Week

Review | Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema, Melody Bridges & Cheryl Robson (Eds.) | Book of the Week

Women continue to be statistically underrepresented in creative positions in Hollywood, at the centre of the US film industry. It is becoming increasingly shocking that the number of women at the top of the film industry remains so low, despite the 2009 best director Oscar going to a woman (Kathryn Bigelow for ‘The Hurt Locker’).

Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema is the first book to give an overview of early women filmmakers in the USA, Europe and beyond. It has fantastic b/w photos which will appeal to all lovers of the cinema and its early years.

marion wong Continue reading Review | Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema, Melody Bridges & Cheryl Robson (Eds.) | Book of the Week

Interview | Cheryl Robson, Aurora Metro | Indie Publisher of the Week

Cheryl Robson is a producer/director of several short independent films, most recently ‘Rock ’n’ Roll Island’ which was nominated for Best Short Film at Raindance, London 2015. She worked at the BBC for several years and then taught filmmaking at the University of Westminster, before setting up a theatre company. She founded Aurora Metro 25 years ago and the company has published over 150 international writers. As a writer, she has won the Croydon Warehouse International Playwriting Competition, and as an editor, she recently worked with Gabrielle Kelly on Celluloid Ceiling: Women Film Directors Breaking Through, the first global overview of women film directors.

Are your parents great readers?
My mother still is a great reader and I remember reading just about everything in my school library aged ten.

Did you want to become a publisher from the start?
I worked in TV for several years then ran a theatre company before trying publishing. I am also a writer and filmmaker − publishing has the advantage of being able to move deadlines back on projects. Continue reading Interview | Cheryl Robson, Aurora Metro | Indie Publisher of the Week

Spotlight | The Russians are Coming? They’re already here! | G de Chamberet

Russia: friend or frenemy? The Ukrainian crisis and Russia’s direct military involvement in the Syrian Civil War are generally reported with an anti-Russian bias. Britain’s phobia has its roots in the 19th century and fear of Russia’s rising power. Today, still, Russia asserting its national interests is presented as an act of blatant aggression. A Cold War mentality lives on. Yet Western militaristic aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya are portrayed as noble moral endeavours, bringing democracy to the unenlightened.

Colin Thubron opens Among the Russians (Picador 1995) with the words: “I had been afraid of Russia ever since I could remember. When I was a boy its mass dominated the map which covered the classroom wall; it was tinted a wan green, I recall, and was distorted by Mercator’s projection so that its tundras suffocated half the world.” Continue reading Spotlight | The Russians are Coming? They’re already here! | G de Chamberet

Spotlight | The Fifties Woman #OnWilderShores @AuthorsClub lunch @MsRachelCooke

The stereotypical view of the fifties woman is reflected in vintage postcards on sale at stalls in Portobello Market, featuring colourful ads for hoovers, OMO, ‘Empire’ baby pants, or Kenwood chef food processors alongside an immaculately dressed housewife with perfect hair and varnished nails beaming a pillarbox-red lipsticked smile as she does the chores.

Rachel Cooke’s book, Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties, flies in the face of the clichéd view of the fifties housewife stuck at home ― an appendage to her husband. It may have been the case in American suburbia of the time, but in Britain women had got through the war without their husbands, brothers or fathers. Some had joined the ATS, or WAAF, or WRNS and drove ambulances, or worked in a government ministry. Others ended up at Bletchley Park. When Elisa Segrave came upon her late mother’s diaries, she discovered that her mother had excelled at her work as an indexer in Hut 3, then in Hut 3N, at Bletchley Park, from 1941-43; and was promoted to 4th Naval Duty Officer during Operation Torch, the Allied Invasion of North Africa. She had several jobs in Bomber Command and later saw its effects in the ruined towns of Germany where she had her last job in the WAAF. On her days off she travelled in a weapon carrier with her American boyfriend. The Girl From Station X is an illuminating read.

The war had a liberating effect: women were hardly about to exchange their newfound freedom in peacetime for baking cakes and a life cushioned by nappies. Cooke stressed how the old and the new were pulling against each other in fifties Britain, which was on the cusp of modernity ― heralding the sixties. Women were expected to settle down, marry and have kids, yet having had a taste of freedom,  they wanted to do their own thing and be independent. The way women today juggle home and career and feel guilty about it was not the case then, when women just went for it and did not consider the consequences. The term ‘latchkey kid’ dates from the fifties. Continue reading Spotlight | The Fifties Woman #OnWilderShores @AuthorsClub lunch @MsRachelCooke

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

Guest Review | Philip Mansel | Pierre Loti: Travels with the Legendary Romantic, Lesley Blanch

Born in France, Pierre Loti loved the East. No one could understand his desire to exchange the greyness of France for ‘the far horizons of a sailor’s life’ better than Lesley Blanch, author of such celebrated evocations of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Russia as The Wilder Shores of Love, The Sabres of Paradise and Journey into the Mind’s Eye. In this haunting biography she shows herself a sympathetic historian, consulting manuscript letters and diaries as well as Loti’s innumerable publications. Her book is a labour of love, an enquiry into a very complex man, as well as one brilliant escapist writing about another. Who, then, was Pierre Loti?

Loti-Viaud
Loti in yet another change of costume. Syrian or Algerian, the bedouin or the Effendi … all were escapes into another life.

Loti was born in 1850 as Julien Viaud, son of a respectable Protestant family living in the port of Rochefort on the Atlantic Ocean. His father was an official in the Mairie. In 1867 he entered the French navy, in which he would continue to serve until 1910. This extremely unconventional man proved a good officer. Most of his superiors appreciated his ‘agreeable character, very good education’, and later his literary fame, though some fellow officers noticed a cold manner.

The French navy was sufficiently broad-minded to employ an officer who wore rouge, dyed his hair and adopted disguises. More unsettling even than dressing as an acrobat, a Turk or a Bedu, Loti often wore the uniform of a rating rather than an officer. Moreover his friendships with handsome sailors, (Julien, Leo, Samuel, many others}, which such clothes facilitated, were no secret. As his daughter-in-law told Lesley Blanch: ‘Loti loved both men and women passionately and if there had been a third sex he would have loved that too.’

Continue reading Guest Review | Philip Mansel | Pierre Loti: Travels with the Legendary Romantic, Lesley Blanch

BookBlast™ Archive | Empire Windrush, Onyekachi Wambu (ed) | Victor Gollancz 1998

BookBlast™ was founded in 1997 to give voice to new or neglected writers, and to showcase world writing. The agency was one of the first in the UK to adopt online technology — the company website went live in 2000. It was selected by the curators of Bodleian Electronic Archives and Manuscripts, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, as being of lasting research value and worthy of permanent preservation in the Web Archive of the Bodleian Libraries in March 2015.

At a young age, I was introduced to writers, stories and imaginary worlds from many lands.   To cross cultural boundaries and explore alternate ways of seeing and being is a great gift to give a child.

Sorting through the BookBlast agency archive has thrown up happy and sad memories, not only in terms of the projects and writers I have been lucky enough to collaborate with, but also the visionary commissioning editors who backed untried-and-tested writers and projects.

Continue reading BookBlast™ Archive | Empire Windrush, Onyekachi Wambu (ed) | Victor Gollancz 1998