Tuesday 30 November 2010

Masonic Night

Last Friday we all went to the Canonbury Tower, headquarters of the intriguingly named Masonic Research Centre, for a lecture / reading by Lindsay Clarke in front of a select audience who braved the adverse weather and was later rewarded with a meal at The Canonbury across the street. It was a lovely evening, and we met many interesting people such as Sacha Hamilton, Duchess of Abercorn, and her sister, as well as Sebastian Barker, the ex-editor of the London Magazine, who a lifetime ago sent me a lovely letter encouraging me to submit my poetry to some publishing houses and introducing me to the Long Poem Group.

The Tower itself – an unprepossessing red-brick building from the outside – was a true revelation. It appears to have survived unscathed (if much altered) for centuries in the heart of North London, surrounded by Victorian and Edwardian houses and more recent high-rise buildings. The room in which the reading took place, dating back to 1509, was a marvel of pre-Elizabethan wood carving. The wood panels had the texture of very old human skin, and I almost felt I could smell its antiquity. It certainly helped create an eerie atmosphere during Lindsay's reading – the highlight of which was when, asked if he believed in God, he received the first call on his mobile phone for the past ten years, to his consternation and to everyone's laughter.

After a busy weekend cooking a lavish meal for friends and giving the last touches to my Auden translation and an article for an Italian journal, the beginning of the new week was engulfed in a media-created (mainly by articles in the Sunday Times and The Daily Mail) "dispute" between our author Rosie Alison and Amazon. The mini-storm was finally straightened up by a level-headed article by Benedicte Page in the Guardian today. The Guardian also published a lovely review of Houellebecq's The Art of Struggle, as I found out tonight during the launch of the book at the Calder Bookshop.

I am now totally immersed in the edit of Dante's Purgatorio (I'm concentrating on the Italian at the moment), and I have just reached the half-way point. Every time I reread it I just wonder at the sheer quality of it and Dante's incomparable imagination. It's a shame people get stuck with Inferno – for my money (and Gordon Nichols's, the translator) it is the best cantica of the Divine Comedy.

The rest of the week will be as hectic as the first part of it. But I hope I'll be able to catch up with you later on this week.


Thursday 25 November 2010

First Chapter

My name is Simon Kerr. I’m guest-blogging for Alessandro today to draw the attention of aspiring authors to First Chapter. Alessandro is one of the three judges and expert mentors on the Lightship International First Chapter Competition. The other two judge-mentors are literary agent Simon Trewin and award-winning author Tibor Fischer. These three professionals are the sort of industry contacts that any aspiring author would kill to have in their email address book, and I’m really grateful for their support!

Like a lot of writers I tend to spend a lot of time in coffee shops, trying to think as I drink. The idea

for First Chapter occurred to me after my second Café Nero Grande Americano. I take three shots of espresso in my coffees, so it was a six-shooter head-rush. I conceived First Chapter as a writing competition – as a means of quality control, and a way of funding the scheme. I wanted the prize to be every writer’s dream: expert mentoring for a year by an awarding-winning author, a literary agent and a publisher. At the end of the mentoring process, if the winner has finished a novel that is as enthralling as their first chapter, I wanted the agent to sign them and the publisher to publish them, using First Chapter as a publicity platform to launch the debut novel into the market.

First Chapter is not the only international literary competition that the Lightship is running in 2010-11 – there’s a short story competition with a £1,000 first prize to be judged by Toby Litt, a poetry competition with a £1,000 first prize judged by Jackie Kay, and a flash fiction with a £500 first prize judged by Kachi A. Ozumba. We have some very distinguished patrons supporting Lightship: Christopher Reid (Costa Book Award Winner 2009), Sir Andrew Motion (former Poet Laureate), Lindsay Clarke (Whitbread Fiction Prize Winner 1989), and Hilary Mantel (Man Booker Prize Winner 2009). For more information or to enter the competitions please visit:


Thanks Alex!


Wednesday 24 November 2010

Hendon Library Event 25th November

Just a quick blog to reminder that tomorrow night, at Hendon Library (6.30pm), I will be discussing the challenges of translating modern Russian fiction (and, in general, translated fiction) in the UK. I will also address why there is a need for new translations of Russian classics, and talk about publishing Tolstoy’s works and, most recently, The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy, a hundred years after the death of Tolstoy.

To reserve a FREE place or for more information please contact Hendon Library on 020 8359 2628 or email Hendon.library@barnet.gov.uk Hendon Library.

Hope to see you there!


Tuesday 23 November 2010

Amazon launches in Italy

How long before Berlusconi owns it?

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Sorry if I have been too "reticent" and not "blatant" enough (to quote from yesterday's instructive talk by Susan Hill, Sarah Waters and Philip Hensher at the Royal Society of Literature) to evoke my own ghost over the past few weeks, but hell – especially the publishing one – can be really murky, and I had difficulties in finding my way to bed, let alone writing a daily blog.

What's been going on during this crazy time? I remember four wonderful days in Palermo – Palazzo Lampedusa in via Butera with Gioacchino and Nicoletta Lanza, dinner with Gea Schirò, twenty-four degrees centigrades, the Sarpotta stuccoes, the paintings in the Galleria d'Arte Moderna, sunshine in Monreale, a storm in Bagheria – then the premieres of La bohème and Don Giovanni, the launch of Lampedusa's Letters at the Italian Institute, dinner at Zafferano with Da Mosto and Ian Thomson, a couple dozen books sent to the printers, launches with Tim Parks, Alberto Manguel, Anne Sebba, AN Wilson, the Stephen Spender Prize, excellent reviews (Julian Barnes, Boyd Tonkin, David Gilmour), some editing work, the final word on my translation of Auden – what else?

Oh yes – all the crap that has been going on in Italy and the world – Berlusconi's government about to go down among an erupting volcano of garbage, the false "diaries" of Mussolini being published, the Pope edging towards and then away from condoms, Ireland going bust, the Eurozone shaking in their boots.

Well, my friends, I am back – and I hope I'll be able to post regularly in the coming days.

Going back to Amazon.it, it'll never work. I remember the story of some Italian migrants settling in Keighley (West Yorkshire) in the late 1980's and calling back home every night from a phone box. They had devised a rudimentary tool made of a 10-p coin and a cord to avoid having to feed more money into the phone slot.

It'll be the same with Amazon – some Italian geezer will find away to order books without having to pay, and then everyone else will do the same, making Amazon bankrupt.

Good night for now.