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July 2014

Teffi: the unsung great of short stories
28th July 2014 - 12 Midnight Gary Perry Read more »

 

As the notorious British resistance to the short story form, observed by Orwell in the 1930s, continues to crumble, it's not just contemporary writers who are seeing the benefit. Many little-known classic writers are now being brought back into print, including, Gary Perry from our Charing Cross Road branch is thrilled to note, Russia's Nadezhda Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya, better known as Teffi.

 

 

Subtly WordedWhat a year it's been for short fiction. Lydia Davis' latest collection arrived to great excitement, while Hassan Blasim, and his translator Jonathan Wright, seized the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. 3:AM Press and CB Editions proved there was life in the British short story with the publication of Joanna Walsh's Fractals and Will Eaves' The Absent Therapist respectively (the latter advertised as a novel, however). Great short stories have always been written but it's rare for them to garner so much media attention. As a self-confessed short story nut, this change makes me very happy.

 

And now Pushkin Press have published Subtly Worded, a selection of pieces from the career of Teffi, a writer who deserves to be as much a part of the literary landscape as her compatriots, Tolstoy and Chekhov. Her work, translated here by a group of translators including Anne Marie Jackson and Robert Chandler, is something truly special. It sparkles, tickles and charms. But, don't be fooled, there's a subtle melancholy at play. Take 'The Lifeless Beast', a child's eye view of parental break-up and neglect. The sweetness of the tale's telling only reinforces the sadness of the situation. It is a miniature masterpiece and one of many.

 

TeffiThis is a fine example of a nation's history captured between the covers of a book. Tsarist Russia and Rasputin, Civil War and Bolshevism, the Soviet Union and Parisian exile, Teffi exposes the absurdity of it all. In the title story, a letter-writer must adapt his missive to bypass Soviet censors - to comical and macabre effect. Society, the state and the absurd - this is territory mined by Gogol and Kafka. Teffi bears comparison to these writers. She shares their humour and their sadness. Those two elements are never far apart; comedy blends so easily into tragedy, after all.

 

Teffi's writing exerts its own gravitational pull. I lay a story down, only to pick it up again instantly. She is my favourite kind of writer: one who never ceases to entertain and enlighten. She is limitless. It is no exaggeration to say that I find it difficult to leave the house without her. Of course, the beauty of the edition helps. A Pushkin Press title is always a joy to behold and to handle, and this one features a wonderful cover from illustrator, Stuart Patience. The love and respect that both the translators and the publisher bear towards the writer shines throughout. What more could a reader ask for?

 

 

GUEST BLOG: Falling in love on Charing Cross Road
17th July 2014 - 12 Midnight Kerry Hudson Read more »

 

Kerry HudsonKerry Hudson's wildly original, bittersweet debut novel, Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma, drew on the author's upbringing on the council estates of Aberdeen. The book was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, the Saltire Scottish First Book of the Year and the Green Carnation Prize.

 

Kerry's second novel, Thirst, publIshed today, follows the wary friendship that develops between a young Russian woman duped by sex traffickers on her arrival in London and the security guard who later catches her shoplifting. Demons from their pasts are preventing these kindred spirits from creating their better lives they are hoping for.

 

As Kerry explains, moving to London was the realisation of her own dreams, with a certain bookshop on Charing Cross Road at the heart of her new life.

 

Follow Kerry on Twitter

 

In my second novel Thirst, Alena, a beautiful shoplifter with more secrets stored in the slats of her ribs than the KGB, leads Dave, through central London. Dave is a down on his luck security guard with a few painful secrets of his own and, instantly infatuated, he follows her through the teeming summer streets from Bond Street to Charing Cross Road 'the tips of his boots just touching the outline of her shadow, as though that were a way to measure a safe distance.'


It's no accident that when I wanted to capture the frenetic energy of the city I chose Charing Cross Road. In fact, if you read carefully, you'll even spot the old Foyles bookshop making a cameo in this unconventional love story. Charing Cross Road literally 'is' the city to me - all the colour, energy, art and history can be found on that street.

 

Blood BrothersMy own London history began with my first visit to Charing Cross Road. I was 14 and on a school trip from Great Yarmouth to see Blood Brothers at the Phoenix Theatre. I don't remember much about the show, but I remember hanging back from the others as we waited in line, watching ravenously as London sped past. In the interval I did the unthinkable, left my classmates and crossed the road to the tiny Italian hole in the wall café where I bought myself a giant pink iced doughnut. It was no more than a six-minute round trip, but as I took a sugary mouthful in the dark of the auditorium, I became certain that if I could get to London, things would be better. If I could just get back to that street, my life would start.

 

I wasn't wrong. If London is the place where all black sheep go then I had ended up in the right place. And if Charing Cross Road came to represent the freedom and possibility of London to me, then the cream and red fronted Foyles bookshop was at the heart of 'my London'.

 

At 21 I kissed my first love in the travel department as we impulsively decided to travel around the world together - we'd known each other for a month but stayed together a decade. At 23, working as street fundraiser on Charing Cross Road, I sneaked into the shop to look at the creative writing books. At 26 I finished my first short story sitting on a stool at the window of Ray's Jazz Cafe as the snow flurried past. At 29, with my first novel newly on submission, I went to a 'Vintage Day' event, I remember watching the authors speak and thinking 'that could never be me', how seemed impossible. And at 32, I got to read in that very same room when my first novel, Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma, was shortlisted for the Authors' Club First Novel Award.

 

Tony Hogan and ThirstI've lived in London for over ten years and the Charing Cross Road Foyles is woven, a bright red thread, through that time. The shop became a place I sought out when I needed comfort or when I wanted to lose myself for an hour or two. I'll admit now that when I knew my first novel Tony Hogan... was going to be published I would go into the shop, make a finger width slot where my book would one day sit, and slide in a penny in the space for luck. It started as a joke and then became a small ritual whenever I happened to be passing - it occurs to me now must have driven the booksellers mad (sorry). On the day the book was published on the way to my celebration dinner, I went to see the book on the Foyles shelf, as though seeing it there made it finally real.

 

So you see, it wasn't hard to imagine Dave and Alena, taking their first tentative steps towards love, away from hard things and towards something better, standing in the bright summer heat of Charing Cross Road, gently sheltered by the shadow of Foyles. And the lucky pennies? Well, they seemed to work well enough for my debut, I'm hoping they might do the same for Thirst.

 

The joy of Text
11th July 2014 - 12 Midnight Marion Rankine Read more »

 

Independent publishing is healthier than it has been for many years with small presses like Alma Books, Hesperus, Peirene and Puskhkin, with their diverse lists full of books in translation, undeservedly obscure gems and republished classics, seeing their books up for numerous prizes and claiming a growing proportion of book sales.

 

It's a trend not just confined to United Kingdom. Marion Rankine, from the Fiction Dept at our new Charing Cross Road shop, reveals how Melbourne's award-winning Text Publishing are finding new fans for many neglected Australian authors, both back home and now over here too.

 

 

A Girl Is A Half-Formed ThingHow wonderful are small publishers? If any further proof were needed, Eimear McBride's debut novel A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing has recently won the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. In case you missed its backstory (or Deputy Head of Fiction Gary Perry's interview with her here), A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing was rejected by publishers for nearly a decade before the tiny Norwich-based Galley Beggar Press published it in June 2013. Since then it's firmly established itself as - in Anne Enright's words - an 'instant classic', winning several prestigious awards and international publication to boot.

 

While there's much to be said for encouraging bigger publishers to take more risks ('I hope it will serve as an incentive to publishers to look at difficult books and think again,' McBride said of her Baileys' win) the story is a perfect illustration of the unique role small presses play in publishing and disseminating the 'difficult', the prickly, and the most experimental of literary offerings. Small publishers don't only support authors; they also support the reading public by ensuring these works are accessible and readily available. Sam Jordison, co-director of Galley Beggar, summed it up best when he wrote, "We saw printing [A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing] as a duty. We were prepared to go bankrupt in order to get it out there."

 

I could go on and on about my favourite small publishers but we'd be here all day. Instead I'll confine myself to just one: Text Publishing. Founded in 1990 and clearly still flourishing, Text Publishing have won Australia's Small Publisher of the Year award for the past three years running. As an expat Australian (yes, I did move here for the weather), I was thrilled to discover they are also distributed here in the UK, with an impressive selection on the shelves at Foyles. So thrilled, in fact, that we've put together a promotional table of their titles in the Charing Cross Road branch.

 

Michael HeywoodAlongside their vibrant and often quirky cover designs and an impressive catalogue of local and international authors (including Ruth Ozeki, MJ Hyland, Graeme Simsion, Peter Temple, and, coincidentally, Eimear McBride), Text also run an imprint called Text Classics. Instantly recognizable on any bookshelf thanks to their distinctive yellow spines, Text Classics represent some of the finest authors in Australian history, many of whom have long been out of print. Australia is notorious for a longstanding history of anti-intellectualism (which still pervades Australian culture today; Christos Tsiolkas was eloquent on the subject in a recent interview with Foyles) and a cultural cringe vastly out of proportion to the talents of its artists, writers, and intellectuals. As Text Publishing's Michael Heyward notes, the idea that there was 'no such thing as Australian literature' persisted well into the 20th century. Even today, some of the finest Australian novels are simply not taught in universities.

 

Part - although not, by any means, all - of this problem is that many of these books fell out of print. It's one of the vagaries of the publishing industry that Text Classics is doing its best to redress. Michael Heyward again: 'It takes a generation or two, sometimes less, for us to... put our books and writers on the high shelf of the past, where we forget about them. Imagine if our art galleries decided to banish the works of Brett Whiteley or Fred Williams to their darkened basements for a decade or two. That's what we routinely do to so many significant writers whose books are out of print.'

 

Text tableText Classics now have 72 titles (and counting) on their catalogue, with 5 more due out this year alone. From Barbara Baynton's unsettling short stories on life in the Australian bush to contemporary classics like Helen Garner's Cosmo Cosmolino and Stiff by Shane Maloney, Text Classics titles prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the brilliance, strength and vitality of Australian literature over the past couple of centuries - while ensuring that it continues to be felt and experienced by readers today.

 

I've been steadily reading my way through Text's catalogue, so by way of introduction - and in celebration of the Text display at the Charing Cross branch - here are some of my favourites. If you're already acquainted,
do tell us yours.

 

 

Swords and Crowns and RingsSwords and Crowns and Rings by Ruth Park

Please don't dismiss this book if I tell you that its author wrote a delightful children's series called The Muddleheaded Wombat. I nearly did, to my great cost and lasting humblement. Winner of the prestigious Miles Franklin Award in 1977, this astonishing novel charts the course of two young lives in Depression-era Australia. Jackie Hanna is poor, and a dwarf. Cushie Moy is from a wealthy upper-class family. They are deeply and irrevocably in love. Contrary to popular opinion, love does not 'conquer all'. It doesn't negate one's social and moral obligations to others, or snap the ties of class and poverty. Sometimes it must endure long separation or marriage to others. Jacky & Cushie will encounter the purest and foulest aspects of human nature in their struggle to live truthfully in a society which is antipathetic to their choices and, sometimes, their very existence. Brilliant and beautifully written, it's the story of a country in despair, and the characters who refuse to give in to it.

 

 

In Certain CirclesIn Certain Circles by Elizabeth Harrower

This book was originally scheduled for publication in 1971, but at the eleventh hour Harrower withdrew it. 'There are a lot of dead novels out in the world that don't need to be written,' she said afterwards. Luckily for the world, she's reconsidered. This is an elegant and intensely alive novel about two sets of siblings who first meet as teenagers in post-war Australia. Over the years their paths diverge and recombine, the course of each moulded subtly but indisputably by their backgrounds. A nuanced exploration of class in supposedly egalitarian circles, with finely-drawn characters and an impeccable sense of the drama inherent in everyday life.

 

 

The Young Desire ItThe Young Desire It by Kenneth MacKenzie

Published to great acclaim in 1937 and out of print for years, this novel was re-issued just last year to, possibly, even greater acclaim. This is the story of one boy's coming-of-age as he faces the peculiar torments of boarding school and his awakening adult consciousness. Amidst the demands of educational, familial and social responsibilities arrives a young woman he is fiercely attracted to. As they grow closer he must negotiate the conflicting needs of his mother, the lonely young schoolmaster who has singled him out for attention, and his own heart. Evocative, erotic, and shimmering with the heat and colours of the Australian landscape.

 

 

GUEST BLOG: The best of imaginary friends
5th July 2014 - 12 Midnight Sara Sheridan Read more »

 

England ExpectsSara Sheridan writes the highly-acclaimed Mirabelle Bevan Mysteries which are set in London and Brighton during the 1950s. Mirabelle has been called 'Miss Marple with an edge'.

 

England Expects, the third book in the series (following Brighton Belle and London Calling) is out in paperback now. Set during the heatwave of 1953 Mirabelle and her sidekick, Vesta, investigate the seemingly unrelated murders of a racing journalist and a cleaning woman. The trail leads them to Brighton Pavilion's crumbling passageways, to the quad of a Cambridge college and finally into the shady underworld of freemasonry in Brighton.

 

But what does it mean for a writer when a character like Mirabelle starts ton take on a life on her own? Sara looks what happens when readers start to have their say.

 

 

How to Be a HeroineSome characters stay with you from the moment they first appear on the page. Recently I read Samantha Ellis's How To Be A Heroine. This fascinating exploration of female characters with whom Ellis has connected over several decades will chime a bell with any bookworm. I've always been a swot. As a child, reading allowed me to escape my many difficulties and try on the happier lives of fictional characters or at least explore some solutions to my problems. Like Ellis I was transfixed by the fierce love of Kathy and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights and I longed for the sheer good nature of Anne in the face of her many challenges at Green Gables.

 

A book is a contract - a story delivery system that takes magic from the mind of the writer and deposits it into the mind of the reader. With fiction that contract has a curious dissonance: as a reader, you want to pick up a novel and disappear into the story. You long to believe every word of what you're reading. But the reality is you know from the outset that a novel is a feat of imagination. It isn't real. It doesn't matter if you like romances or literary fiction or historical epics - all readers want to feel the same way - drawn in inexorably to the story and subsumed into its world. That is the power of fiction. It stretches your imagination and the imagination is a very important muscle to stretch.

 

Rivers of LondonI write historical fiction over two periods. 1820-1845 and also a series of 1950s murder mysteries. If, as a reader, you are drawn into the world of a good book, as a writer you can double that effect. A book might take a few hours, perhaps a week or two, to read but it takes weeks and months to write and to write well you have inhabit a story's landscape. Writers have a reputation for being eccentric for a reason. There are times when I've walked into my own kitchen and found myself bemused at the sight of all the gadgetry because in my mind all cooking is done on a wood-fired range. When you're writing every imaginary detail becomes real and I've discovered that one of the joys of writing a series is that readers also live in that world and want to discuss it with you. Last year I spoke at an event alongside Rivers of London author, Ben Aaronovitch. I write historical crime but he writes fantasy crime. When we compared the feedback from readers (particularly the criticisms, for you always get some of those) we discovered the issues were surprisingly similar and the devil was certainly in the detail. I'd get people writing to me because they were sure tissues weren't available in 1951 (yes, they were) or because I'd written a police car putting on its siren (when although some cars had sirens by the 50s most still had bells). Ben was afflicted by readers writing in to criticize his system of magic. Apparently there's no way it could possibly work.

 

And then there are the people who love it. My character, Mirabelle, has spawned an array of fans and I wasn't prepared for that. I've always written stand-alone novels before and the interest with those tends to be in the writer rather than the main character. Mirabelle has taken on a life of her own over her three adventures (and counting). When we were preparing England Expects for publication I had a call from my wonderful editor, Alison.

 

'It's her bedroom,' Alison said, keen to get straight to what was on her mind. Mirabelle lives on the front in Brighton in a Georgian apartment. 'You have her sitting up in bed watching a yacht go by on the horizon.'

 

'Yes,' I was slightly mystified.

 

'Well, you can't see that from Mirabelle's bed. She's going to have to get up and go to the window.'

 

I hesitated.

 

'Let me just get this right,' I checked. 'My imaginary character's imaginary view from her imaginary bedroom isn't possible?'

 

'No,' Alison was in earnest. 'She's going to have to get up.'

 

'They're long Georgian windows,' I countered.

 

Alison wasn't buying it. It turns out she has had a clear picture of Mirabelle's bedroom in her mind since book one. In the end I wrote in Mirabelle getting up to look at the damn boat. Why not? But really that's the biggest compliment - when something you've written takes on a life of its own. It's like a child leaving home, It's that place where something that you've cherished meets the world and exists without you. It's letting your imaginary friends go and make friends of their own.

 

 

Read Sara's previous blogs for Foyles

 

Sara tweets about her writing life as @sarasheridan and posts on Facebook as sarasheridanwriter. Mirabelle has her own twitter account @mirabellebevan

 

GUEST BLOG: The cycling circus
2nd July 2014 - 12 Midnight Michael Barry Read more »


Shadows on the RoadMichael Barry's 14-year career as a professional cyclist took in all the elite races and saw him compete in three Olympic Games. His first book, Inside the Post Bus, was published in 2005 was presented as an insider's candid perspective on the US Postal Cycling Team spearheaded by Lance Armstrong. In 2012 he accepted a six-month ban for his involvement in the team's widespread doping scheme.

 

Michael joined Team Sky in 2010, giving him his chance to compete in his first Tour de France. His new book, Shadows on the Road shares his experiences of riding alongside giants of the sport such as Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome and explores the varied riding cultures of the different teams for whom he has ridden.

 

In this exclusive blog for Foyles, Michael shares the reality of finally competing in the race whose promise had fuelled his training sessions for so many years.

 

 

We were no longer chatting like colleagues at the water cooler. The banter had been replaced by ruthless aggression as the peloton swarmed toward the final climb. To be in position at the front of the peloton for the finale, we used every inch of tarmac. We rubbed elbows, we yelled, we swore. Some riders ploughed through the gravel shoulder, and jumped on to the sidewalks. Anything to move up. Like in every other race during the 10-month season, the panicked charge to the finish line had begun. Every rider knew that he needed to be near the front by the bottom of the climb and every team's directeur sportif, who were following the peloton in the team cars, barked at their riders over the two way radios we each wore. The order was the same from all of the nearly 200 riders: race into the front positions. The result was the ultimate bottleneck, which inevitably led to crashes, and more tension. But, to the fans at the roadside, and the television audience, distanced from the harried angst, we were racing beautifully past green pastures, through the idyllic towns and into the serene snow capped peaks. To them we were gladiators, lithe and courageous; our task was super-human. To us, in this moment, it was a job, and we had to meet expectations. This was the Tour de France, a race that captivated and inspired nations; for us it was also the race where the stakes were the highest.

 

Michael BarryIn the midst of the chaotic charge, I glanced to the left, as we raced through the small town of Bonne. We passed the antique shop where I had bought my father a vintage bicycle from the '40s, a Terrot, for his collection. We passed the patisserie where I would stop, shaky from the intensity of my training efforts, for a pastry and Coke. We sped past the farm where I spent afternoons in the sun with friends, my legs up on the chaise longue, trying to recover and rest for the next races. We were on a road, near Geneva, that was taking us up to the peaks. As a amateur 15 years earlier I had trained, alone or with teammates, several times a week on the Route du Fer a Cheval. Back then, as I pedaled my way up to the mountains, I imagined that I was in the Tour, racing into the hills to take the yellow jersey or win a stage. Now I raced up it in the Tour de France peloton.

 

The images fuelled my training sessions; I had a dream and a goal that took me from Canada to France, pushed me to ride on ice cold days, and to keep going when I was bashed up after crashing. Now, in the midst of the peloton, the goal had been accomplished, on the bike, in the race, with my teammates, with my work colleagues, many who were good friends, it felt like any other race in our long season. I had always imagined the Tour would be different, perhaps even a magical experience. But the physical demands were no different than the Giro d'Italia or Vuelta a Espana. The environment that surrounded the race, however, was electric and never seemed to relent. Even late into the night, as we slept, fans partied in the streets, journalists typed their reports on the victories, defeats, heroics and tragedies, barriers and banners were torn down and put up in the next town, and the mechanics worked away at our bikes. The Tour is an international circus, moving from town to town, rolling through France; the cyclists are the act.

 

As we ascended the final climb, I could hear a familiar voice cheering in a crowd of a hundred or more. The sun belted down. Shirtless fans ran alongside the group, the scent of beer wafting as they yelled. This was their picnic, their party, and their summer vacation and they had been on the slope for a day or more, waiting for our arrival. Eventually, I found the face to the voice. It was Gabrielle, with her husband Gerard. They had been my landlords when I lived in the area as an amateur. More than that, they had cared for me like a son. Seeing the joy in their faces, hearing the ebullience in their voices, and watching as they jumped with excitement, brought me back to my small apartment, to the conversations we had over the dinner table, to the hikes we did in the mountains I was now racing over. They, like so many others, had faced and were facing their own trials and difficulties as a family; for a moment, the Tour had eclipsed all of that, had brought them pure joy. And, that is what differentiated the Tour from the every other race.

 

 

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Latest Blog
Teffi: the unsung great of short stories
28/07/2014

With a number of short story writers winning awards recently, the form is finally winning favour with British readers. Gary, from our Charing Cross Road shop, celebrates Pushkin Press' new edition of stories from a celebrated Russian exponent.

GUEST BLOG: Falling in love on Charing Cross Road
17/07/2014

Kerry Hudson's new novel, Thirst, sees a young Russian woman trying to start anew life in London. She recalls how her first glimpses of London and Foyles were to prove inspirational in her own escape from a troubled background.

The joy of Text
11/07/2014

Marion, from our Charing Cross Road shop, looks at how indie press Text Publishing are bringing welcome attention to Australia's remarkably rich literary heritage.

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