BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | July 2017

BookBlast® @bookblast presents the first of its monthly Top 10 reads, showcasing the internationalist diversity of indie publishers. There’s something for everyone – enjoy!

FANTASY & SHAMANISM

Lin Man-Chiu | The Ventriloquist’s Daughter (trs. Helen Wang) | Young adult fiction, Balestier Press ISBN 1911221050 buy here | Review, Global Literature in Libraries Initiative | @BalestierPress @HelenWangLondon

Move over Hollywood and all those creepy doll horror movies! This sours-weet story is compellingly weird and shamanic. When Luir’s mother dies, her father, a thwarted artist working as a doctor in the family hospital, is overcome with grief. He goes abroad to study and promises he will bring home a doll for his six-year-old daughter, Luir, who is left in the care of her grandparents. But the doll brought home from Peru by daddy is a menacing presence in the house, causing strife within the family.

The Ventriloquist’s Daughter was longlisted for the 2014 Found in Translation Award.

TARANTINO ON THE PAGE

Quentin Mouron | Three Drops of Blood and a Cloud of Cocaine (trs. Donald Wilson) | Crime fiction, Bitter Lemon Press ISBN 1908524836 buy here | Review, Crime Time | @bitterlemonpub @QuentinMouron1

This fast-paced and entertaining thriller is cocaine-fuelled Tarantino on the page. “Gomez lifts the top of the sheet. McCarthy is dumbfounded. He has seen dead bodies in Watertown before – the tragic residue of drunken brawls outside bars or nightclubs, victims of muggings committed by drug-starved addicts or illegals awaiting deportation; he has also had to deal with the settling of scores between motorcycle gangs; he even saw the lifeless corpse of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston bomber, before the Feds took it away. Bodies with their throats cut like Jimmy’s aren’t rare. Yet this is the first time he has been confronted with a corpse with the eyes slashed, the tongue cut out, and the cheeks gashed up to the ears.”

Swiss poet, novelist and journalist, Quentin Mouron won the prix Alpes-Jura for his novel Au point d’effusion des égouts in 2011.

Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | July 2017

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

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

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

Review | The Photographer, Meike Ziervogel | Book of the Week

Meike Ziervogel: “As long as you can keep disorder at bay you have control. You can see clearly, you know what step to take next. Albert can’t stand chaos. He used to be able to tolerate it. In fact, when he was young he never made a distinction between order and disorder. Never thought about it. That wasn’t how he perceived the world, neatly divided into two camps, with judgements attached: good or bad. But now he’s convinced, has become convinced over the last years, that chaos is the enemy of the people. Every now and again, for a brief moment, he looks longingly back to a time when he wasn’t so clear-sighted. He knows that this lack of a clear view helped him to take good photographs. He was open to surprise, to being surprised.

Being in a war changes a person for ever. The Photographer is a tale of betrayal, loyalty, sacrifice and survival. The evacuation of East Prussia is pivotal for the family at the centre of the story. By winter 1945, nearly 11 million Germans — mostly women and children — had fled the Eastern provinces of the Reich, heading west. Killings and rapes committed by the Red Army triggered fear and panic amongst the population.

Continue reading Review | The Photographer, Meike Ziervogel | Book of the Week

Interview | Lawrence Scott | Author of the Week

Lawrence Scott is a prize-winning Caribbean novelist and short-story writer from Trinidad & Tobago.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born on Petit Morne Estate, a sugarcane estate in southern Trinidad which my father managed for the Usine Sainte Madeleine Sugar Company owned at one time by Tate & Lyle.  I went to primary school in the nearby town of San Fernando.  I went north into the mountains for my secondary school with the Benedictine monks of Mount Saint Benedict. Before leaving Trindad, I had been in a Junior Seminary from the age of 15. I left Trinidad at 19 to go to England to join the Benedictine Abbey at Prinknash in Gloucestershire.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
My father read books like The Ascent of Everest by John Hunt. He had been educated in England at Shrewsbury Public School and was very attached to that story, especially as Hunt was himself from Shropshire.   My mother was educated by nuns in Port of Spain and was a pillar of the Catholic Church; however, she read Graham Greene and loved to discuss the controversies over his writing. She particularly loved Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter. She was aware of the fiction of the 1940’s and 1950’s  and a great storyteller herself.

Continue reading Interview | Lawrence Scott | Author of the Week

Interview | Polly Pattullo, Papillote Press | Indie of the Week

Papillote Press is based in Dominica and publishes fiction and non-fiction, including children’s books, reflecting the island’s rich culture and literary heritage.

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
We had books at home but I wouldn’t consider my parents as having been “great readers”.  I remember a long, low bookcase in the sitting room with the Encyclopedia Britannica gathering dust on the bottom shelf. The books were mainly non-fiction — illustrated tomes about art or classical Greece — and Readers’ Digest. I don’t remember my parents reading novels but I do remember some tut-tutting about the trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover — a book that certainly wouldn’t have been their bedtime reading. We lived in a school —  a boy’s preparatory school — which my headmaster father founded in Richmond after the war (then mainly a place of bedsits and residential hotels) and there was an interest in learning but it wasn’t an intellectual environment. Most of my early childhood seemed to be spent sitting at  the top of the school stairs watching life unfold below me, with small boys lining up outside my father’s study to be admonished (unusually for the time my father disapproved of corporal punishment). Being able to play in the classrooms and in a large garden (climbing trees and playing cricket) during the holidays was a bonus. I went to school in London and then on to Edinburgh University where I studied politics and began to think about things such as class and race and feminism, certainly not part of the domestic discourse.

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
No — but I did briefly and many years ago work at Heinemann’s in the Rights department where I had to type formulaic letters giving other publishers permission to use extracts from works (Graham Greene novels mostly) for which Heinemann held the rights. A fearsome boss had her office one floor below and an even more intimidating secretary shared my office. I left after one year — and went into journalism where I spent the rest of my working life. I was on the Observer for many years where I was features editor of the Magazine; my last job was on the obituaries desk of the Guardian. I published my first Papillote Press books when I was still at the Guardian.

Continue reading Interview | Polly Pattullo, Papillote Press | Indie of the Week

Review | Witchbroom, Lawrence Scott | Book of the Week

BookBlast™ reviews Witchbroom by Lawrence Scott.

Here at the window of the turret room, Lavren, at the sill of the Demerara window, Marie Elena behind him on her deathbed telling the last tales before the end of the world as bachac ants attack the rose bushes in Immaculata’s sunken garden, and woodlice eat their way through the pitchpine floorboards, and Josephine sits by the kitchen door shelling pigeon-peas: from this vantage point, Lavren can listen and write and tell the history of the New World.” So begins a hallucinatory Caribbean tale involving the imperialist land-grab, sexual anarchy, abandoned women, religious mania, “the destruction of the Amerindians, the enslavement of Africans and the indentureship of the Indians,” and culminating in self-rule and independence. “People were dreaming in the twilight barrack-rooms, in the kerosene-lit villages for the setting of the imperial sun.”

Lawrence Scott weaves a magical, lush tapestry of words and images, bringing alive local legends and family narratives; and redressing written histories. The impact of the events recounted still resonate in Caribbean society today. A quasi-historical novel, Witchbroom recounts the story of a colonial white enclave on an offshore island through muddled memories. The central narrator repeats what he remembers “from the distracted mind of his muse Marie Elena, and her art of telling stories while they eat Crix biscuits, rat cheese and guava jelly together in the turret room overlooking the Gulf of Sadness.” The stories are bewitching and highly disturbing. The reader surfs a tidal wave of addictive fascination like a Dickensian tricoteuse sitting beside the guillotine in Paris watching heads roll during the public executions of 1793-4.

puerto ayacucho bookblast

Continue reading Review | Witchbroom, Lawrence Scott | Book of the Week

Review | Leo Kanaris, Blood & Gold | Book of the Week

BookBlast™ reviews Greek crime novel in translation, Blood & Gold.

Blood & Gold, and an earlier thriller by Leo Kanaris, Codename Xenophon, are perfect examples of how well-crafted detective fiction from another culture opens windows on to a brave new world, and shows that there are more similarities than differences between us all as we get on with the business of living in failing Western societies.

As the post-war liberal bandwagon begins to roll backwards, overtaken by the populist demagogue’s juggernaut of lies, we need more cracking good crime stories like this one, to entertain, illuminate, and inform.

Continue reading Review | Leo Kanaris, Blood & Gold | Book of the Week