Lesley Blanch Archive | Panto, British Vogue, December 1943

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, and wrote about anything but fashion.

It’s always On the Road to the Middle of Next Week: unless it’s Nowhere in Particular, with Past Events casting their Shadows before. It’s the Enchanted Cavern, the Flying Palace, the Wicked Wood, the Widow Twankey’s Kitchen, or the Fairies’ Home in the Heart of the Rose . . . It’s the Pork-Butcher’s Shop, It’s the Magic Transformation Scene, It’s the Harlequinade — in short, it’s the Christmas Pantomime.

And how we dote on every frantic antic; every time-honoured traditional rumbustious caper. This is our show, as national as a Union Jack. What do we care for progress or probability? We have always liked to see the broker’s men smashing up the Throne Room of the Golden Palace. We still like to see Dame Suet, in elastic-sided boots, at the Ball. Or the Widow Twankey, in emeralds and ermine, (after her boy Aladdin struck it lucky), yet still washing out his pants with maternal zeal and mountains of soap suds. We shall always want our Principal Boy to be a buxom blonde with plenty to her. We don’t care if she and her hips are forty, and look it. She’s Prince Charming to us. We love the pneumatic glossy curves of her tights. We wait for the moment when she’s slain the Dragon of Wantage, armed only with ostrich plumes and a top B flat, and comes downstage to give us a fruity rendering of “Half a Pint of Mild and Bitter”.

Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | Panto, British Vogue, December 1943

Spotlight | Georgia de Chamberet at the 2015 Bridport Literary Festival

The book has become a luxury item, production is costly, and then there is Amazon which has radically changed the publishing landscape. A prize, a gift, a gorgeous object: the book has an irresistible allure. Publishers have learned that it is well worth sending their writers on tour around the country to promote their work and engage with readers at live events.

While the bigger book festivals like Hay, Cheltenham or Oxford have something of a showbiz atmosphere, with audiences queuing to see their favourite ‘celebrity’ author, the smaller festivals like Bridport are more ‘real’ and benefit readers who can get more from an intimate event.

Continue reading Spotlight | Georgia de Chamberet at the 2015 Bridport Literary Festival

Spotlight | International Translation Day 2015, British Library

It is rare for a single book let alone a translation to generate widespread excitement across the publishing industry. Joel Dicker’s thriller, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, published in 2012 by 87-year-old veteran, Bernard de Fallois, became the most talked-about French novel of the decade. Christopher MacLehose, the publisher behind Stieg Larsson, made an offer a few weeks before the Frankfurt book fair − pre-empting a stampede of publishers bidding for the rights to translate the novel into 35 other languages. Novels by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard and Turkish Wunderkind, Orhan Pamuk − agented by Andrew ‘the Jackal’ Wylie − are likely to be hot properties at this year’s Frankfurt book fair. And Scandi-Crime continues to be hugely popular.

Translators and their publishers are a bridge between worlds . . . between writers abroad and readers at home. Judging by the throng of professionals attending International Translation Day 2015 held at the British Library − the waiting list to get in was long and many were turned away – translation continues to be The Next Big Thing & Getting Bigger, as it rises in popularity and visibility. The insularity of certain mainstream sectors of the book trade come across as increasingly old-skool elitist like politicians quaffing Dom Perignon in the Westminster bar.

Continue reading Spotlight | International Translation Day 2015, British Library

Review | Pêcheurs d’êponges, Yachar Kemal | Editions Bleu autour

Since I came to Istanbul in 1951, I have always said I was of Kurdish origin and that I had been sentenced to jail for being a communist. Later on, in interviews, I continued to say the same thing. I was one of the first writers to claim his Kurdish heritage. In 1997, I was questioned on this matter in Germany. I confirmed I am a writer writing in the Turkish language. I have never written a line in Kurdish, but I am Kurd. In many of my books, the heroes carry Kurdish names or nicknames. I never repudiated my Kurdish identity, part of my family comes from the Caucasus; they are Turkmen who fought against the (Russian) Tsar and later came as refugees to Turkey, first to Bursa, then to Van, where one of my grandfathers married the daughter of a Kurdish bey. As if that were not enough, there is also some Assyrian blood in my family, but all of Anatolia is like that. My advantage is that although many people in Anatolia don’t know the Kurdish language, I know it and speak it. But I cannot read and write it. When the writer Mehmet Uzun read me his book written in Kurdish, I understood everything, but I could not have read it for myself.” [Extract from an interview with Kemal Sadik Gökçeli published in The Middle East magazine, 2002]

Kemal Sadik Gökçeli worked as a journalist for Cumhuriyet from 1951-63 before turning to fiction. He wrote under a pseudonym: Yachar Kemal. As Turkey’s most prominent novelist, his books have been published in numerous languages, and he has been showered with international awards. In 1973 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature.

Continue reading Review | Pêcheurs d’êponges, Yachar Kemal | Editions Bleu autour

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.”

Continue reading Spotlight | Patrick Modiano: public novelist, private man

Lesley Blanch Archive | Patchouli, British Vogue, October 1967

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, and wrote about anything but fashion.

It was the best of perfumes, it was the worst; it was the trademark of the grande cocotte, it was worn by the femme du monde. It was the heaviest of scents, it was the lightest. It was the worst of taste, it was the height of fashion. It drove men mad, it tamed the beasts of the jungle. It was an aphrodisiac, it was an emetic. It came from India — from Haiti. It smelled of newly sharpened pencils; of Victorian boudoirs. It preserved furs from moth; it was something to eat. It was divine; it stank.

These were some of the ways patchouli was described to me when I set out to discover what precisely was the nature and history of this long-forgotten perfume which reached its apogee of popularity about a century ago — and which, suddenly, is in demand once more. Patchouli — pucha-pat to the India of its origin — belongs, in Europe, essentially to the mid-nineteenth century; it is the essence of its age, as frangipani evokes the eighteenth and musk and ambergris belong to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a time of perfumed gloves — and poisoned ones too. Each age has its characteristic expression, found as much in some minor aspect as in a heroic gesture, or great personality. A tune, a colour, a manner of speaking, like a way of moving, or standing, or a particular piece of clothing is as telling as a line of thought or a code of conduct. And nothing is more memorable than a perfume.
Patchouli was the quintessential nineteenth-century perfume, as the shawl was its quintessential garment. The two are indissolubly linked, for patchouli first came out of India because of and with the cashmere shawls which were then the cornerstone of every woman’s wardrobe.

Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | Patchouli, British Vogue, October 1967

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.

Continue reading Spotlight | Georgia de Chamberet at Ways With Words Book Festival

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

As features editor for British Vogue during World War Two, Lesley Blanch as 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