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.

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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.”

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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.

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Lesley Blanch Archive | Amazons, British Vogue, September 1940

Terrible and wonderful, the steely Amazons went to battle against Bellerophon, and Homer sang them to eternal fame. Boadicea led her woad-dyed hordes upon the unwary Romans at Londinium. Jeanne d’Arc stormed Orleans, a valorous mystic. Christian Davies of the Scots Greys, swaggered her way through the battle of Ramilies. Brandishing her cutlass, Mary Read joined Captain Rackham’s pirate crew. Théroigné de Méricourt led the pike-bearing furies on Versailles . . . their grandchildren, the Communards, rallied round Louise Michel, “the Red Virgin of Montmartre,” while all the bravura of the Polish Amazons was pitted against Tzarist-Russian oppression.

In the American Civil War, Mme. Velasquez posed as Capt. Harry Burford, with mock-moustachios to aid her alibi. At the battle of Mentana, Mme. Blavatsky abandoned astral preoccupations to fight for Garibaldi. In the October Revolution, the Women’s Battalion held the Winter Palace for Kerensky. Only yesterday, in Spain and China, thousands of unknown women fought bravely, bloodily . . . Terrible and wonderful, the Amazonian spirit lives on, manifest alike through ages of troubadours, whalebone or machinery; the clash of spears and sabres merge into the thunders of modern bombardment.
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Spotlight | James Reed’s Book Launch at The Idler Academy W11

From The Idler magazine and Clerkenwell Literary Festival, to The Idler Academy in Notting Hill: the coffeehouse and bookshop opened by Tom Hodgkinson and Victoria Hull in 2011 is a magnet for creative entrepreneurs who want to turn dreams into reality. It is a wonderful place to enjoy a snack and a browse in convivial surroundings, learn how to play the ukulele, or master business for bohemians. Their special events and book launches where you can meet fellow idlers constructively idling are well worth the effort. James Reed’s Why You? 101 Interview Questions was launched there yesterday evening.

How to . . . eat, work, love, play, give birth, get real, get spiritual, get a guru, die . . . the plethora of How to books on the market is dizzying. Within the genre is a subset which addresses the question, “Why didn’t I get the job?” This is something with which I am less  familiar, maverick bookblaster that I am, now out of the corporate game. The other idlers at the launch did not come across as being obvious buyers for the book other than for their children, perhaps, who hope to get work in a cold economic climate.
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Spotlight | Boom not Bust: A new chapter in the story of translation in the UK

Translations on the UK market

In a piece for The Swedish Book Review published in 1997, I stated that, “Roughly 3% of the titles published in the UK every year are translations (as opposed to 30-40% in France and Germany).” It is a puzzling paradox that Britain is such a multi-cultural society yet so insular when it comes to ‘foreign’ writers in translation. Especially since book-buyers just want a good story and are not particularly concerned about its provenance.

Dr Jasmine Donahaye’s 2012 survey Three percent? Publishing data and statistics on translated literature in the United Kingdom and Ireland is unequivocal: “Literary translation in the UK and Ireland – whether assessed according to its broader definition or restricted to the genre categories of poetry, fiction and drama – is a little higher than the often-cited 3% figure. Indeed it is consistently greater than 4%, and, over the sample years, consistently increases.”

She gives the following statistics:
“The percentage of all publications that are translations: 2.21% in 2000 ; 2.65% in 2005 ; 2.43% in 2008.
“The percentage of poetry, fiction and drama that is translation: 4.37% in 2000 ; 4.51% in 2005 ; 4.59% in 2008.
“The percentage of all literary genres (the entire 800 Dewey range) that is translation: 4.17% in 2000 ; 4.20% in 2005 ; 4.37% in 2008.”

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Lesley Blanch Archive | W.R.N.S. on the Job, British Vogue, November 1941

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.

It is an indisputable fact that occupations and professions breed their own particular type. There are occupational faces, as there are occupational diseases, except in the case of the bored, spoiled, overfed idler, now fortunately rarely seen, save at luxurious hotels in ‘safe’ areas, where the face, and its accompanying malaise, might be described as non-occupational.

The ostler cannot be mistaken for the chauffeur, though doctors and lawyers, like poets and scientists, often pair indistinguishably. But the soldier, the sailor, and the airman are each distinct and apart front each other.

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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.
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