Interview | Jane Aitken, publisher, Gallic & Aardvark

Ebury Street in London’s Belgravia: a quiet, residential, affluent area. The perfect place for a bookshop where readers can enjoy peaceful browsing away from the madding crowd, and dip into some of the best French writing available in English translation. However the Belgravia Books Collective is not just a shop, but also the home of independent publishing success story, Gallic Books. It has been very much on my radar and, at last, I am going to talk to one of the founders.

Jane Aitken and Pilar Webb met when they were both working at Random House children’s, and they went on to co-found Gallic Books in 2006. Headliners Muriel Barbery (trs. Alison Anderson), Antoine Laurain (trs. Emily Boyce & Jane Aitken), Michel Déon (trs. Julian Evans) and Yasmina Khadra (trs. Howard Curtis), have an enthusiastic following among discerning British readers who relish a good, well-written read from foreign shores. 

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Review | Lucien d’Azay: A French Man of Letters

Lucien d’Azay is a novelist, essayist and translator whose work has been published by Éditions Climats, Éditions Les Belles Lettres, Éditions Sortilèges and La Table Ronde. He divides his time between Paris and Venice.

Once upon a time in the West, marriage was a strategic alliance between families, and it was often between first and second cousins. Polygamy was common until the Church prevailed and monogamy became the status quo, although men enjoyed extramarital affairs. Only in the 19th century did love get a look in; and in the 20th the idea of marriage being a partnership of equals took hold.

Divorce rates around the world have rocketed over the last few decades and in the UK more than a third of people are single, or have never married. Yet the happily married couple is still  idealised. It is the domestic holy grail; the stuff of fantasy. ‘Brangelina’, ‘Kimye’, and ‘Billary’ are regular red-top fodder on to which we can transfer our dreams and desires, envy and  self-righteous outrage, all depending . . . Image, image, image but what really lies behind?

A happy marriage is a mirage, a miracle, or, according to Lucien d’Azay, a masterpiece. Two very different perspectives of marriage, desire and fantasy are offered to us, in his beautifully-written narratives, Sonia Stock and Ashley & Gilda. I just hope a canny British publisher picks them up and translates them into English, so that they can be savoured by readers on this side of the Channel.

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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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