David Abbott selected for Culture Show‘s New Novelists Programme
As reported in the Guardian this Saturday, David Abbott has been selected for the BBC2 Culture Show‘s programme showcasing first-time authors for his novel The Upright Piano Player, due to be published in paperback on March 31.
New Novelists: Twelve of the Best From the Culture Show will be broadcast next Saturday, and will include an in-depth panel discussion chaired by John Mullen.
David Abbott (top left) with his eleven fellow "New Novelists"
Abbott is one of 12 authors selected from 57 submissions from publishers for inclusion in the programme.
David Abbott‘sThe Upright Piano Player(MacLehose Press) is not unlike a nocturne in its tone and mood; it is a melancholy and evocative treatment of a man’s post-retirement crisis. Henry Cage is sketched with just enough subtlety, and allowed just enough sympathy – no more, no less – to make his failings devastatingly real.
To date, David Abbott is the only British writer to publish a first novel with MacLehose Press, and we are all delighted that he has been recognized in this way.
Booktrust Interview with Christopher MacLehose and Katharina Bielenberg
Catharine Mansfield has interviewed Christopher MacLehose and Katharina Bielenberg for the Booktrust Translated Fiction website:
Last Monday morning I arrived at the London Review of Books’ bright, airy café to meet with Christopher MacLehose and Katharina Bielenberg of MacLehose Press. Just down the road from the Quercus headquarters in Bloomsbury Square, the café has become something of an unofficial office for these two big names in the world of translated fiction publishing. When I arrived they were just finishing one meeting and when I left it was time for the next. After all, the LRB café is a fitting meeting place. The adjoining bookshop has always showcased the best of translated literature and many MacLehose titles feature amongst the tempting collection of books on display. This is just one sign of the spectacular success experienced by the imprint since its first titles were published in 2008 . . . (read more)
Miska, the canine senior editor for MacLehose Press was not available to be interviewed, nor was he photographed for the online feature. So to redress the omission:
Miska on the "the Mountain"
Miska at the Palu Literary Festival in Croatia after one of his readings
Phantoms on the Bookshelves
Phantoms on the Bookshelves, by Jacques Bonnet, was reviewed to great acclaim before the turn of the year, and has now found favour with Paul Duguid, writing in the TLS:
From vaunting arguments about how books furnish the democratic mind, it is a relief to turn to Jacques Bonnet’s wittily written and elegantly translated reminder that, as Anthony Powell told us, they also furnish a room. It is tempting to call works like this “charming”, but that would misrepresent the enjoyably sharp edges in Bonnet’s account. A bibliomaniac rather than a bibliophile, he recognizes that his “monstrous” obsession is indefensible (while casting around broadly to find other obsessives in fact and fiction) and that reading may be no more than a means to keep tedium at bay. It’s enjoyable to find someone so roundly read discussing The Twilight Zone in detail. The Phantoms of the Bookshelves is a book that reinforces its intent, rather than undermines it. Self-deprecating throughout, it opens with a nice story about Pessoa and ends bathetically thumbing through a Portuguese–French phrase book. And in support of the argument that the coherence of a private library is primarily a function of its owner, Bonnet leads us confidently from book to book, however dissimilar each may be from the one before.
Bonnet’s incurable – and commendable – bibliophilia is further illustrated by this photograph of one of his outhouses:
If you have any photographs of your own overflowing or idiosyncratically ordered bookshelves you would like to send us, we will be delighted to present them on our forthcoming website and blog.
On March 31st, MacLehose Press will publish the paperback edition of The Upright Piano Player by David Abbott, which came out in hardback last year. Longlisted for the Desmond Eliott Prize, it is Abbott’s first novel. David Abbott has worked for many years in the advertising industry, and was a founding partner of Abbott Mead Vickers, now the largest agency in the UK
David Abbott: I didn’t know that I was going to write this specific book, but I always knew that one day I would try to write a novel. I put it off for forty years because I had a job as an advertising copywriter and, frankly, that exhausted whatever creative juices I had. I also wanted to be a good copywriter and I didn’t think I could be, if I did it only to pay the rent, while my heart was really engaged with fiction. So, I waited until I retired and then I started keeping a notebook. In 1999, on the eve of the Millennium, my wife and I actually made the homeward journey that Henry Cage makes in the book. Of course, I wasn’t attacked, but that walk was the genesis of the book.
Paul Engles: When you started writing The Upright Piano Player did you have a good idea of how it would end, or was writing it a journey of discover for you?
The plot pretty much developed from the character of Henry Cage. I had no clear idea of the action other than I knew I would have to put him under some kind of pressure. I gave him a business background because I believe business is rarely treated accurately in contemporary novels. If the characters work in industry, they are invariably stupid or evil. That wasn’t my experience. I often came across intelligence, discernment – and even honour. As to the ending, I had that in my notebook. On holiday in Florida in 2002, I clipped a small item from a local newspaper, which detailed a similar tragic death. Putting the end at the beginning of the book was a big decision and several people advised me not to, but I felt it was too strong to end the book. As a reader, I would have felt manipulated and cheated. It had to be at the beginning.
Paul Engles: Can you tell us a little more about the character of Bateman? Have you ever come across anyone so malicious?
David Abbott: Bateman is entirely imagined – thank God. I had the idea of making him a little like Henry, the reverse in some ways of the same coin. For example, they both like photography. They are both fastidious. They are both slightly out of step with the world they live in. But, of course, Colin is unhinged, a violent and immoral man. A Daily Telegraph reader who can hammer a nail through a dog’s skull. There is no accounting for him.
Paul Engles: I think that more than a few people will mistake the painting on the cover of your novel for a Hopper. Who is it by, and how did it come to be on the cover?
David Abbott The painting is called “Rue des Boutiques Obscures – Scene 1.” The artist is Denis Fremond, a contemporary French painter. I bought the work about six years ago in Paris. I loved it at first sight, not only because it reminded me of Edward Hopper, but because of the subject matter. I spend countless happy hours reading books in such places and since I had given Henry Cage the same habit, it seemed natural to use the painting on the jacket of the book. Happily, the gallery, the artist and Christopher MacLehose agreed.
Paul Engles: The Upright Piano Player has now been sold to quite a number of foreign publishers, in the USA, France, Holland, Russia and beyond. Which sale
pleased you the most? Have you had much contact with your translators?
David Abbott: I am delighted to be published anywhere. I was not really involved with the Dutch edition that was published in August. In Holland, the book is called “The Grandson” as the English title does not translate. With the German edition, I have worked closely with Patricia Reimann at DTV, the publishers. There, the novel is called The Late Harvest of Henry Cage and is due in April. In America, the English title was retained and The Upright Piano Player will be published there on June 7th. I am looking forward to buying it in Crawford Doyle, my favourite bookshop in New York where over the years I have bought Cheever, Tyler, Yates, Salter and the like. It will feel like a miracle when my book appears on the same shelves.
Paul Engles: After spending so much time with the novel, what was it like working with an editor?
David Abbott: I loved it. I am a compulsive reviser.
Paul Engles: You are very well known in the advertising industry, first as a
copywriter and then as creative director and founding partner of Abbott Mead
Vickers. How do you think copywriting prepared you for writing
David Abbott: In advertising, even when telling a story, you have to keep things short. When I wrote the J.R. Hartley commercial for Yellow Pages, I had less than 30 seconds to work with. (If memory serves me right, I used 82 words.) Even a long copy press ad rarely runs to more than 500 words. On the whole, I think this brevity is a good discipline to bring to fiction and I can’t see myself ever writing a doorstep novel, but I did have to learn how to give each scene more air and texture. Strangely, as a copywriter I wasn’t that interested in the niceties of writing. Naturally, I had to express myself precisely and persuasively and I tried to make the words vivid, but my main responsibility was to have relevant and noticeable ideas. Often, these would be visual ideas not involving words at all. When I was writing the first part of The Upright Piano Player I saw it as the opening scene of a film, right down to the location and the background music. When I write, I read the words out loud to check the flow and I picture the scene in my head. I suspect I haven’t really answered the question, so, yes, I do think advertising is good training for fiction. To succeed in either, you have to be fascinated by people and eager to find out what makes them behave the way they do.
Paul Engles: Do you have any favourite writers?
David Abbott: There are many, so I will limit myself to one man and one woman. James Salter is the man – for his novel Light Years and for his recollection Burning The Days. There is just something about the tone of his writing that makes me smile with pleasure. Elegant, spare and moving – the absolute master of telling detail. My woman writer is Elizabeth Bishop, for the exactness and feeling of her poetry and the richness of the letters in ‘One Art.’
Paul Engles: MacLehose Press mainly publishes authors in translation. What is your favourite novel in translation?
David Abbott: I guess it would be tactful to choose a Christopher MacLehose production? In that case, I will be nostalgic and choose Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow. A wonderful book, and still available.
Paul Engles: There is a section in The Upright Piano Player where Henry Cage visits an independent bookshop to browse. Is bookshop browsing one of your favoured pastimes?
David Abbott: I am addicted to bookshops, but I don’t merely graze, I chomp and have to smuggle the bought books back in to my home when my wife is not looking.
John Sandoe Books in Chelsea, the real-life bookshop which Henry Cage visits in the novel
Paul Engles: I once saw you clutching a copy of Phantoms on the Bookshelves a book about book collectors. Do you have a large library at home?
David Abbott: I have never counted my books. I fear I have several thousand.
Paul Engles: Are you working on a second novel? If so, is it another outing for Henry Cage, or something different?
David Abbott: I am working on a second novel, but it isn’t about Henry. Though I do plan to write more about him one day. He still lives on in my mind.
It’s Valentine’s Day! So what better way to start the MacLehose publicity round-up than with LOVE VIRTUALLY, which has had a bumper crop of reviews this weekend, starting with a 4-star review in the Mirror on Friday:
‘This was a massive, million-plus bestseller in Glattauer’s native Germany, and it’s easy to see why. Short, striking and snappily written, Love Virtually explores the brilliant premise of love by accidental email.’ Henry Sutton
‘It’s the beginning of a modern romance… The end is as unexpected as it is inevitable. The book is translated from the German, but the whole thing is tout à fait.’ Ian Sansom
Star Magazine gave our favourite Valentine’s read 4 stars… and lots more more bloggers have given it the thumbs up, beginning with David Hebblethwaite:
‘I warmed to the ebb and flow of the exchange, which is a kind of courtship dance that creates personae for the two correspondents whilst occasionally offering glimpses of the real characters underneath… Whatever reservations I might have had towards the beginning, by the end of Love Virtually I was gripped, wanting to know what happened. The ending is judged perfectly, and paves the way for the sequel, which will receive its English-language publication later in the year.’
‘Pleased to say it does something I have wanted to see in Literary fiction for a long time and that is use modern tech as a drive or device for a book in this case it is e mails so he has also dragged the Epistolary novel in to the 21st century with much style and vigour, like Samuel Richardson in the 18th century it is love that is the driving force of this novel’
Essentials magazine gives books to their readers and asks them to review them, and here is one for THE FOLDED EARTH in their March issue:
‘It’s a beautifully written and unique insight into life in a remote community’ Denise Manzor (44, Glasgow)
The Sunday Times also reviews:
‘A gently perceptive story, half comic and half poignant.’ Nick Rennison
‘A quiet, lyrical coming-of-age novel… The Last Brother is a book of questions, a sweet and sad riddle of two boys — with two very different histories — brushing up against each other ever so briefly in some faraway, forgotten land. The book is rich with metaphor, the language ripe and evocative. And even if the tale itself is doomed to tragedy, Appanah’s telling of it is shot through with bursts of light and transcendence… The Last Brother is that rare book that’s able to explore grand and sweeping themes of history with a masterfully light touch.’ Anderson Tepper
‘What is pure fact? Chil Rajchman gets close. Treblinka is his spare memoire of ten months in a place devoted exclusively to execution, where 800,000 people were murdered… It is as ‘unliterary’ as language can be, dry and concise. As Samuel Moyn notes in his insightful introduction, ‘Treblinka is bleak and discomforting, not redemptive and uplifting.’ The events are enough. The author is cutting a woman’s hair. (no one knows what happened to the tons of hair collected in the camps.) She has minutes to live… I quail before such passages and find them nearly unendurable to record.’
Jonathan Mirsky goes on to mention Grossman’s own essay on Treblinka (which is included in this book) and confessing that it had been hard to write about the camp:
‘Why write about it, then?’ some may ask. It is the writer’s duty to tell the terrible truth, and it is the reader’s civic duty to learn this truth.’
‘It’s clear from reading these early experiments and drafts what a modern writer Duras was. A novelist determined to pinpoint the truth, she was fascinated by the interplay between memoir and fiction. For her, real life always lay somewhere in between.’ Emma Hagestadt
‘Somehow this book collector’s memoir captures the feel of dusty Left-Bank bookshops with their intriguing yet to most of us impenetrable piles of books in other languages which describe other cultures and events long-forgotten. Written as one man’s story of the books on his shelves, this is also the story of the books on all our shelves.’ Robert Gwyn Palmer
Nicolette Praça, Head of Publicity for Quercus and MacLehose Press
Last February we published Geoffrey Strachan’s translation The Last Brother by Natacha Appanah, a young French-Mauritian writer of considerable talent who won the FNAC Fiction Prize for the French edition, also shortlisted for the Prix Femina and Prix Medicis. The Last Brother gathered a string of excellent reviews, and was relased in paperback just a few days ago. The paperback’s publication coincided with its realease over the Atlantic, where it is already causing quite a stir.
Graywolf Press is an independent not-for-profit publishing company based in Minnesota. It is now in its thirty-seventh year of publishing and remains committed to fostering creative and imaginative writing that reflects America’s diverse cultural makeup. Recently, were delighted to welcome them as co-pubilshers for two of our translations: The Last Brother and Child Wonder by Roy Jacobsen (translated by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw, released here in May).
Judging by how often it was mentioned on Twitter, I gained the impression that the good folk at Graywolf were quite excited about Appanah’s wonderful, lyrical little novel. So I asked Marketing and Publicity Manager Erin Kottke to fill me in:
I’ve been telling everyone who will listen to me how this is one of my favorite books we’ve ever published—and, for that matter, one of my favorite books of all-time, not just Graywolf’s—which is a bold thing to say. I love all of our books, but I can’t tell reviewers and booksellers that “no, this one is my favorite now” about every book, because they won’t trust my opinion if it’s always the same. But I feel quite confident about the universal appeal of The Last Brother; my love for the book comes from the reader side of me, not the publicist side. The love between Raj and David is just so sweet, so innocent, and so pure—I’ve been calling it “human,” though perhaps “humane” is the better word—that it’s impossible not to be deeply moved by their story. The Last Brother may be a slender novel, but it packs an emotional wallop that lingers long after you’ve finished the book. It’s one that has stuck with me like few others have.
Perhaps because the novel struck such a deep chord with me as a reader, I’ve found it particularly gratifying that independent booksellers read the advance copies of the book I sent to them and have responded with great enthusiasm. Several influential book buyers—including Paul Yamazaki from City Lights in San Francisco, which was named Publishers Weekly’s 2010 Bookseller of the Year—have given us blurbs for the book, which have in turn generated interest from other renowned indies across the country. Bookstores are upping their orders, and word-of-mouth is spreading. It’s been an honor to be a part of it.
What the Critics Are Saying
“Appanah’s is a beautiful new voice, one that, like David’s, makes “a kind of music.” If the song it sings is sad, well, it’s all the more lifelike for that.” Dalia Sofer, New York Times
“The Last Brother is that rare book that’s able to explore grand and sweeping themes of history with a masterfully light touch” Anderson Tepper, Words Without Borders
“With the lightest of touches, the author movingly conveys a child discovering his own mysteries, then navigating those of a baffling, larger world.” Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company
‘Roy’s attention to individual words pays off as she conveys the full texture of experiences. Who else would think of mountains as ‘fingers’ or call the sky a ‘fluid blue’? Even minor characters are evoked with inventive idiosyncrasy… her prose is so tight with life.’ Laura Silverman
‘The plot is enticing… a beautiful story of trying to get over the hill from the past to the present. No matter how difficult Maya’s life becomes, her strength and determination to push forward is an inspiring one. A good read to experience new culture and way of life.’
LOVE VIRTUALLY has hit the Irish media this week with a review in Image magazine:
‘A romantic story by Vienna-born journalist Glattauer, translated by husband and wife team. Oh, to have been a fly on that office wall when it came to Emmi’s marital indiscretion…’
LOVE VIRTUALLY is also still picking up plenty of website reviews and this recent one, on The Complete Review, also lists lots of other reviews, as well as kindly linking back to our site (and that of our partners, SilverOak).
Whilst the reviewer (who read the book in its original German, as opposed to the English translation) is not crazy about the book, he does note:
‘The concept of such a virtual relationship is also an interesting one to explore… Of course, ‘virtual love’ surely must, in the final analysis, be fundamentally unsatsifying, too, so in a way Glattauer has achieved a certain measure of success… Love Virtually has been a phenomenal (and multi-national) success, a bestseller that has been translated into dozens of languages. I have no idea what chord it is striking (or how it is doing so), but apparently it works for a lot of readers…’ M.A.Orthofer
It may not have been The Complete Review‘s favourite ever book, but bookmonkeyscribbles was overwhelmed:
‘When I picked it up and saw the cover and read the blurb, I thought there was no way this book was for me! I’m certainly no fan of ‘chick-lit’ or anything remotely ‘girly’ so the idea of another soppy romance novel didn’t really entice me. But I decided to give it a go due to it’s massive success overseas, and boy am I glad I did! Leo and Emmi are two fantastic characters whose comical banter just had me giggling away to myself. This is definitely not your typical romance novel! It is so original and incredibly well written in e-mail format that it keeps you turning page after page – never wanting to put it down!
This is definitely recommended for fans of Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife) and David Nicholls (One Day). It really is a great read that will keep you hooked til the end!’
THE BREAKERS is reviewed in U Magazine in Ireland (Ireland’s equivalent of Grazia):
‘This is so atmospheric it transports you straight to the storm-lashed fishing village full of strange characters with old gripes still looming over their relations… it seethes with loss, intrigue and secrets.’
‘Villages at the end of the earth share a degree of uniformity in that through their inhospitable settings and eccentric communities, they have an ability to offer solace and redemption to those haunted by or needing to escape the world.
In The Breakers, Gallay has stuck to the template, but managed to create a distinct version: French, rough hewn from an interminable and unforgiving sea, a place where the wind ‘tears the wings off butterflies’ and where the village is built from the wood of infinite shipwrecks… Gallay etches a solitude and disconnectedness into each character and each sentence. Yet despite its aloof, abandoned-lighthouse-like tone, the story has heart. There is an appealing complexity in the relationships, rather than the individual characters, of the odd and curious village community.’ Renée Rowland
‘This atmospheric novel is set in the small French village of La Hague on the Normandy coastline. I like the fact that the energy of the sea contrasts so greatly with the desolation and apathy of both the setting and the inhabitants… Overall, a great read that lives up to its French hype.’ Kelly Selby-Jones
The Frenchpaper has also reviewed Gallay’s exquisite book, giving it 4 stars:
‘This book won several prizes in its original French language edition, and has been beautifully translated. It is an evocative mystery… A very French style, beautifully written and, not surprisingly, film rights have been taken up.’ Sandie George
‘…beautiful, concise novel… Inspired by the largely unknown story of 1,500 Jews who fled Europe only to be imprisoned in Mauritius from 1940 to 1945 after their ship was refused entry into Palestine (then under British rule), the novel recounts the heartfelt friendship between two boys: David, a Czech orphan, and Raj, an Indian-Mauritian grieving for the two brothers he lost in a flash flood.
In conversational prose that brings to mind a grandfather unburdening himself of an anguished memory… The Last Brother explores grief and the inadequacy of language to address it. Yet if no single word can capture the devastation of bereavement, Appanah shows how the simple power of storytelling can come close… The burden of solitude is central to this novel. Appanah frequently, and skillfully, contrasts weight and lightness — the sorrow of loss versus the joy of love, the horrors of war versus the beauty of friendship, the harshness of nature on some days and its caress on others… the novel, despite its grave content, reads like a whispered fable. Irony has no place here.
The Last Brother is Appanah’s fourth novel, the second to be published in English. Strachan’s translation is faithful and limpid, preserving in large part the rhythm of the French. Appanah’s is a beautiful new voice, one that makes “a kind of music.” If the song it sings is sad, well, it’s all the more lifelike for that.’
‘Told by Raj as an old man, The Last Brother is a story of childhood resistance to a violent and vicious adult world. But it’s also the story of the larger fight against all injustice, whether it be state-inflicted genocide or parental abuse… As Raj looks back on the escape, Appanah exposes just how much his soul has suffered – from his father’s violence, from the death of his brothers, and from his brief and tragic friendship with David. But that friendship was also the source of redemption for Raj. The power of love is a stronger force than we could ever know.
The whole thing is beautiful – from the picture of suffering souls, through the lush descriptions of an exotic island, prey to invincible forces of nature, to the rare and beautiful moments of friendship that are never forgotten. It’s both extravagant and economical – not a word is wasted – and so it’s gorgeous and sad, sophisticated and simple, all in equal measures. The translation is impeccable, too. I found it deeply moving, completely absorbing, and I cried for both boys. Highly recommended’ Jill Murphy
SCHOOL BLUES is still bringing in the odd review as more and more people pick it up and realise just how brilliant it is. This time we have a review in Peace News:
‘Most of his pupils were children and teenagers with varying degrees of learning difficulty, who presented similar symptoms to his own – no self-confidence, no motivation, a predilection for lying, involvement with gangs, drugs and alcohol. He helped them through by taking them seriously, relating to them as individuals and having high expectations. Violence in the French industrial suburbs had led to the condemnation of all teenagers from that sort of area as an evil threat, yet when he went into schools he was amazed by “their liveliness, their laughter, their earnestness, their thoughts and, more than anything else, their vital energy.” A great deal of violence stems from failure at school, and failure at school can be avoided or even overcome if children and young people are treated with the respect they deserve, listened to seriously and, as Pennac eventually dares to put into the mouth of his juvenile self, loved.’ David Gribble