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.

Why do you write?  Your advice to new writers just starting out?
I began writing a journal when I was a young Benedictine Monk at Prinknash Abbey, and then I also wrote poetry and read fiction extensively. I studied philosophy and theology and enjoyed the brilliant monastic library. I was introduced to art and psychology, reading Freud and Jung. Introduced to D.H, Lawrence, I had never realised what literature could do before reading the The Rainbow which I read at 19, though I had had the experience of reading George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss eight times as a teenager. The monastic community had a very interesting number of monks like Dom Bede Griffiths, who was taught by C.S. Lewis. He left to go to India to found a Christian Ashram. There was Dom Sylvester Houedard who was a concrete poet of the 1960’s. He introduced many of us to the work of Allen Ginsburg and other Beat poets. Interest in Dom Sylvester’s work has recently been revived.  I wrote to express my ideas and feelings at this time. I really only began to write seriously for publication once I returned to Trinidad in the late 1970s and found there the territory for my writing with the island’s history, literature and music. The accumulative experience of this return is what has been the continuing stimulus for my writing. I was fortunate to befriend the novelist Earl Lovelace and to work in the theatre with Derek Walcott in Trinidad.  These encounters inspired me.

I would say to young writers be true to yourself and go for what is deeply meaningful for you, ask yourself over and over: What do I want to say?   Be as authentic to yourself and your subject as you can be.  Write every day.

Are there any other writers in your family?
No. But my wife, Jenny Green is my first reader and has written a memoir of her parents Somewhere Round the Corner.

How do you choose your subjects?
I chose to write about my birthplace, Trinidad, situated off the east coast of Venezuela with its extraordinary landscape, history and cultural mix created by African enslavement, Indian indentured labour and European conquest. It is a world where Islam, Hinduism, Christianity and contemporary secularism co-exist with some tensions, but in comparative harmony.

How do you move from research to writing; is it difficult to begin?
I tend to start writing early, perhaps too early, and then I begin to search for what I need for periods I am exploring. But once I have found my voice, my tone, my point of view, I am off. I research and write simultaneously during the first draft and then real writing begins in the re-writing, then more re-writing till it all begins to settle down, or not, and then there is more reshaping. It is an organic approach.  I have a plan always, but it changes. I then need new maps along the way.

As an author, what are you most proud (or embarrassed) of writing? Your views on success?
I have been lucky to have had everything published that I wanted to publish. I feel quite honestly that I have written as well as I can, as well as I could at each particular stage with each book.  Success? There are different kinds. My greatest pleasure is being understood, seeing that understanding expressed in an informed piece of writing by a critic, student, or another author and then, of course the responses by readers.  I valued and was moved by significant letters I received after the publication of Aelreds Sin. One of my loveliest pleasures was the endorsement by Derek Walcott for my last collection of short stories Leaving by Plane Swimming Back Underwater which he found “a delight,” and had noticed my development and now found me “accomplished.”  I value that hugely. I doubt that I could have written in the way that I have without his work inspiring me over the years. Likewise, the endorsement of my friend and mentor Earl Lovelace has been most encouraging.

When you look back at the books you have written, is there a favourite?
I love them all in different ways for different reasons. I think I have tried to be brave and to go for what I wanted and I have been lucky that I have found editors and publishers to work with me to facilitate what I wanted to write rather than telling me to write something else. My editor at Allison & Busby the late Peter Day was an early champion of my first novel Witchbroom and he also brought out Aelreds Sin, a brave book which I still think needs to be out there with what it is saying about homosexuality and religion among its other themes which explore aspects of colonialism. I am very fond of Night Calypso, a love story set in the Second World War on a small island off Trinidad, housing a convent of nuns, a leprosarium and an American base. It is also a story of childhood and trauma. I was given a wonderful opportunity when I was granted a fellowship at the university in Trinidad to research French Creole society. The outcome was my novel Light Falling on Bamboo which was inspired by the life and times of Michel Jean Cazabon, a mixed-race artist of the period. My first collection of short stories Ballad for the New World was my apprenticeship so I love many of those early stories, for instance, The House of Funerals which received the Tom-Gallon Award. My latest collection, Leaving by Plane Swimming Back Underwater gave Derek Walcott “delight.” It is a more mature collection beautifully published by Papillote Press, who, this month republished Witchbroom as a handsome, “sexy” volume. I have a soft spot for Witchbroom. I was audacious enough to write it the way that I did.  The result of a research project among ex-sugarcane workers on the estate of Golconda, collecting their stories and poems about their working lives in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s was enormously enriching. This is called Golconda our Voices Our Lives which I edited myself with a group of teachers.

Do you write every day; what is your writing process? Do you do many drafts?
I try to write every day.  How I allocate time depends on where I am in a particular novel. Poems get written in between and sometimes short stories as well. Each feeds off the other, many drafts, many, many. It all comes together in the re-writing.

What are you working on now?
A novel set in the 18th century.

Your views on book publishing?
It is so important to be able to have a close working relationship with an editor who knows exactly where you are coming from, who can be critical but also loves what you are trying to do, knows the world out of which you are writing and knows then how to access and build a readership. Taking risks is important. I value care with covers and the quality of paper, blurbs and that I am consulted all the way on everything.  It’s a very difficult world at the moment publishing, and working together is best.  I love the access to an editor that a small press allows. It is of course good to be paid along the way, but the big advance is not everything, or even the medium advance.  It’s the book and how the ideas are presented. I want what I am saying to be read.

Your views on how new technology has (or has not) changed your writing life? Do you enjoy reading ebooks?
No, I don’t read ebooks. I am happy to have my work published in that format. The new technology helps with advertising. I think it is word of mouth that works best. Technology allows word of mouth to spread more quickly and widely.

Your views on social media?
As I was saying above, I prefer to leave that to publishers and publicists rather than do any of that myself. I do not want the interaction with readers except at readings. I do reply to anyone who writes via my publisher or agent.

If you could go anywhere in time for one day, where would you go and why?
I am happy where I am in my back room in North London. I always need to go back to Trinidad. I love Italy, Spain and France or being in the countryside of England and South Wales. But here on my “swan’s nest” that scatter of books and papers in my book-lined small study is best for writing.

Who are the five people, living or dead, you’d invite to a party?  
I like best my friends I have made over years, like family, friends with a history of being friends, friends I made through teaching and writing.

Which characters in history do you like the most?
Hmmm … not thought about this like that before. I am intrigued by Emily Dickinson. I sought solitude when I was too young for it, and now I could want it more, but I can’t leave the one I love for it.

Your heroes in fiction? And in real life?
I did and do still love Maggie Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss, her tenacity as a child, her romantic nature.  I loved the Buendia in One Hundred Years of Solitude. They inspired my characters in  Witchbroom; Antoinette in Jean Rhys Wide Sargasso Sea; the McPherson brothers in Kent Haruf’s trilogy Plainsong, Benediction, and Eventide; Triton in Romesh Gunesekera’s Reef, the characters Aldrick and Pariag in Earl Lovelace’s The Dragon Can’t Dance.

I admire great poets: Constantine Cavafy, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Adrienne Rich, W.H. Auden.

Your chief characteristic?
Checking on things.

Your chief fault?
Not thorough enough about technical practical things.

Your bedside reading?
Right now, Alice Oswald’s  MemorialDerek Walcott & Peter Doig (poems and paintings); His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet. Mervyn Morris, the Jamaican Laureate’s Collected Poems, Peelin’ Orange.           

Your motto?
Don’t regret.

© BookBlast™ Ltd, London 2017 for The BookBlast Diary.

 

 

Media Release | Far To Go and Many To Love: People and Places, Lesley Blanch

This selection of early journalism and travelling tales by Lesley Blanch, edited by Georgia de Chamberet, published on 1 June by Quartet Books, forms a captivating sequel to On the Wilder Shores of Love:A Bohemian Life (Virago, 2015; PB 2017).

Savvy, self-possessed, talented and successful, Lesley Blanch was a bold and daring writer, travelling at a time when women were expected to stay at home and be subservient to the needs of husbands and children. She was an inspiration to a generation of women – Marianne Faithfull and Shirley Conran among them. This selection of her writings brims with her customary wit and sheds new light on an eternally fascinating – and truly inimitable – character.

Illustrated with photos and Blanch’s theatre portfolio from her time working with Russian émigré director/producer, Theodore Komisarjevsky; and featuring an insightful introduction. Far To Go and Many To Love brings together writings on subjects as various as Vivien Leigh, polygamy, the Orient Express and Afghanistan.

Praise for On the Wilder Shores of Love…
‘Sumptuous and captivating’ – Independent
‘This is a truly remarkable book’ – Daily Telegraph

Lesley Blanch MBE was born in London in 1904. She spent the greater part of her life travelling, to Russia, Central Asia and the Middle East. She published 12 books in her lifetime and was a prolific journalist. She died in 2007 at the age of 103. website: www.lesleyblanch.com twitter: @lesleyblanch

HB • 234x156mm • Literary Bio (BGL) • £25 •  9780704374348 • Quartet Books.

For further info or to interview the editor please contact
Grace Pilkington grace@quartetbooks.co.uk tel 0207 636 3992

Review | A Life of Disquiet, Gérard Garouste & Judith Perrignon | 3:AM Magazine 2009

Since 2004, Georgia de Chamberet has occasionally written for 3:AM Magazine

“I am the son of a bastard who loved me. My father was a furniture dealer who collected and sold the property of deported Jews … I had to dismantle that great lie which passed for an education, word by word. Aged twenty eight, I experienced a first episode of delirium. Others followed. I was regularly interned in psychiatric hospitals … For years, I have been but the sum total of myriad questions. Today, I am sixty three years old. I am neither wise, nor cured. I am an artist. And I believe I can pass on what I have come to understand.”

A Life of Disquiet: Self-portrait of an Artist, a Son, a Madman is a powerful account of a dysfunctional father-son relationship marked by aggression and conflict, and its consequences. The book has received wall-to-wall press coverage in France, and has been a word-of-mouth success with over 40,000 copies sold to date.

Continue reading Review | A Life of Disquiet, Gérard Garouste & Judith Perrignon | 3:AM Magazine 2009

Review | Ricarda Huch, The Last Summer | Book of the Week

We aged a hundred years, and this
Happened in a single hour:
The short summer had already died
The body of the ploughed plains smoked.

Anna Akhmatova

Letter-writing may be a lost art today, since we tend to email rather than sit down and write longhand to a loved one or a friend, however epistolary novels have been with us for centuries  — from Montesquiou’s Persian Letters, Choderlos de Laclos Dangerous Liaisons and Bram Stoker’s Dracula; to Stephen King’s Carrie and Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple — and are still popular. To read personal, private correspondence smacks of voyeurism, (etiquette dictates that to do so is unacceptable), hence the frisson of pleasure it affords. Suspense is created by what is revealed and concealed. The letters are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and dramatic irony keeps the reader hooked until the very end: Will ‘it’ or won’t ‘it’ happen? The Last Summer, superbly translated by Jamie Bulloch, is a welcome discovery thanks to Peirene Press.

Continue reading Review | Ricarda Huch, The Last Summer | Book of the Week

Interview | Jamie Bulloch | Translator of the Week

Jamie Bulloch is an historian, and has worked as a professional translator from German since 2001. His translations include books by Paulus Hochgatterer, Alissa Walser, Timur Vermes, Friedrich Christian Delius and Linda Stift. Jamie won the 2014 Schlegel-Tieck Prize for Best German Translation for Birgit Vanderbeke’s The Mussel Feast.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m forty-seven, married with three daughters and live in London, where I was born. Outside of books I love cooking, gardening and cricket.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
Like many children, I adored Roald Dahl’s work, and then came my first taste of translated fiction when I devoured the Asterix series. I read them over and over again. Later, when I went on a school exchange, I got the chance to read them in the original French. In my teens I was a big Stephen King fan.

Continue reading Interview | Jamie Bulloch | Translator of the Week

Georgia de Chamberet, The A to Z of Literary Translation | Words without Borders, 2008

The A to Z of Literary Translation by Georgia de Chamberet was posted on the Words without Borders blog in instalments from February to  May 2008. It was circulated at the Masters Class in Translation Studies which Alane Mason (W.W. Norton) and Dedi Felman (Simon & Schuster) team taught in at Columbia University in the City of New York in 2008. Founded in 2003, Words without Borders is a superb site which promotes cultural understanding through the translation, publication, and promotion of the finest contemporary international literature.
oOo

I contributed to the @wwborders blog from 2005-2009. Whilst writing about English PEN’s Writers in Translation committee of which I was a founder member—tapping into my experiences as an editor, agent and publicist—the idea of doing a fun, but far from definitive listing, The A to Z of Literary Translation came to mind.

Artistry and adaptation are essential to the process of literary translation, since translation is an act of writing. Also accuracy and avoiding short cuts based on the when in doubt, cut it out approach. Writers make good translators—obvious examples being Baudelaire (translator of Edgar Allen Poe) and Robert Graves (translator of classical Latin and Greek authors and George Sand).

Beyond words into the mystery of language, and its cultural hinterland, is where a good translator will carry the reader on a journey of discovery. Good literature is primarily concerned with human beings, and is cosmopolitan, traveling beyond national identity and a book’s original social and cultural context—the same goes for a good translation.

Continue reading Georgia de Chamberet, The A to Z of Literary Translation | Words without Borders, 2008

Indie Publisher of the Week | Clare Christian, founder, RedDoor Publishing @RedDoorBooks

Clare Christian has worked for a number of large publishing houses including Hodder, Orion, John Wiley and Pearson. In 2005 she co-founded The Friday Project where she published In Search of Adam by Caroline Smailes and bestselling non-fiction Blood, Sweat and Tea: Real Life Adventures in an Inner-city Ambulance by Tom Reynolds and Confessions of a GP by Dr. Benjamin Daniels. TFP was sold to HarperCollins in 2008 and Clare stayed on until 2009 before leaving to offer publishing consultancy services under the banner of The Book Guru. She has been developing RedDoor alongside The Book Guru since January 2014. She is a past winner of the UK Young Publisher of the Year award.

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Both my parents read quite a bit, my dad reads mainly non-fiction and Mum, fiction. I read everything from a young age. We made weekly visits to the library and the nice librarian would order in books from other libraries once I had worked my way through all of the books on their shelves!

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
No, my favourite subjects at school were the sciences and English. I did a degree in Zoology and was planning a PhD but time and finances ran out and I looked to combine my love of science and my love of books and decided I would go into publishing and publish popular science books. Of course publishing doesn’t quite work like that and I am yet to publish a popular science book.
Continue reading Indie Publisher of the Week | Clare Christian, founder, RedDoor Publishing @RedDoorBooks

#bookblastofficial 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 #bookblastofficial at the 2015 Bridport Literary Festival

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.

Continue reading Lesley Blanch and the Art of Narrative Non Fiction

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.”

Continue reading Boom not Bust: A new chapter in the story of translation in the UK