Wednesday 7 March 2018

Compass Points 252

The number one news story this week is undoubtably the sensational account of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia who fell critically ill in Salisbury and who may or may not have been poisoned by the Kremlin. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it looks as if it is “another crime in the litany of crimes that we can lay at Russia’s door” and added the case had “echoes of the death of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006”. An ideal chance then, to sell some more copies (17,000 to date) of the Gibson Square exposĂ© Blowing Up Russia: The Secret Plot to Bring Back KGB Power (£9.99, pb, 978 1908096234) by Yuri Felshtinsky and Alexander Litvinenko – generally regarded as the book which got him killed and the only title by Litvinenko himself. As Andrew Marr said, this is “a book that should contain a very serious health warning on the cover.” Alexander Litvinenko served in the Russian military for more than 20 years, was arrested and imprisoned and then escaped from Russia and lived with his family in Great Britain, where he was granted political asylum in 2001. He was murdered in 2006 in a sushi restaurant in London. Yuri Felshtinsky is the author of several books on Russia and was one of the last people to speak to Litvinenko hours before he succumbed to radioactive poisoning by Polonium 210. This bestselling book has been described as “Frightening” Sunday Telegraph “Disturbing reading” Mail on Sunday “One of the severest attacks on the present Russian leadership in print” Tribune “Iconic” “Crucially important” Sunday Times and “As vivid condemnation of the Putin regime as has yet been written” Sunday Times. This news story is clearly going to run and run. Andrei Lugovoi, one of the prime suspects in the murder of Litvinenko, has now suggested that the apparent poisoning in Salisbury is part of a British campaign to demonise Moscow – you can read that in the Guardian here, meanwhile Litvinenko’s widow says of the Skripal case that “this looks similar to how my husband died” – you can read about that in the Mail here.  Blowing Up Russia was fully updated with a new foreword in 2016,  and is available from Gibson Square now.

This is definitely one of those cases where truth is more riveting than fiction – but what do you think are the Top Ten Novels about spies? Have a look here in the Guardian! Or the top ten films about spies? That’s here.

There is some absolutely fantastic publicity coming for Lily Bailey’s memoir Because We Are Bad: OCD and a Girl Lost in Thought (978 0993040740, £7.99, pb) which the Bookseller previewed as a “striking debut”, the Guardian called “extremely compelling” and is published by Canbury Press on Monday. Publisher’s Weekly wrote “London-based model and journalist Bailey offers an authentic and stunning account of her struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder in this beautifully-rendered memoir. Bailey is a vulnerable, vibrant, and courageous narrator.” Lily will be interviewed on Woman’s Hour on Tuesday, on ITV’s This Morning on Wednesday and in the Times Saturday magazine next weekend. There’s loads more too: The Jo Good Show on BBC London on14th March, Afternoon Edition on BBC Radio 5 on 21st March, The Last Word on Today FM, Ray D’Arcy on RTE, Radio 1, a feature in the April issue of Image magazine, reviews in the Spring issue of Psychologies magazine , the April issue of Glamour magazine, March Heat magazine and the Sunday Express with interest also from the Mail and the Sun – and lots online too with interviews with Lily in UNILAD, Fabulous (the Sun), Gozen Girls, Female First and more! And, what’s more it’s the Non-Fiction Book of the Week in WHS next week! So, if you haven’t already, I’d order Because We Are Bad pronto – I don’t need to tell you that mental health memoirs are having “a moment” and this intense, raw, heart-rending rollercoaster of a one of the best out there.

Big congratulations to Emerald Publishing, who yesterday won the Academic and Professional Publisher of the Year at the 2018 IPG Awards. You can see all of the winners here. Emerald Publishing was founded in 1967 to champion new ideas that would advance the research and practice of business and management. They are rightly proud of their track record in nurturing fresh thinking in areas where they feel they can make a real difference, which now includes health and social care, education and engineering. Their popular portfolio of 3,100 books is growing, and growing rapidly. More than 250 new titles each year are added – all carefully chosen to reflect the latest emerging trends from some of the leading names in their fields.

In her late twenties, Cait Flanders found herself stuck in the consumerism cycle that grips so many of us: earn more, buy more, want more, rinse, repeat. When she realised that nothing she was doing or buying was making her happy, she decided to set herself a challenge: she would not shop for an entire year. The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store by Cait Flanders (hb, £15.99, 978 1401954871) which has just been published by Hay House and documents Cait's life for twelve months during which she bought only food, toiletries and petrol for her car. Along the way, she challenged herself to consume less of many other things and at every stage, she learned that the less she consumed, the more fulfilled she felt. Cait recently spoke on Psychologies’ Facebook live about her book – superb publicity as the Psychologies Facebook page has over a million likes!

Many will be familiar with the tomb of the Unknown Warrior which occupies an honoured place in Westminster Abbey. Fewer will be aware of the story of exactly how one of the thousands of unidentified soldiers who fell during World War One came to lie there. The Flag: The Story of Revd David Railton MC and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior (978 1612004471, £20, hb) has recently been published by Casemate. In it, Andy Richards tells the story of the man who set the world-famous commemoration in motion. Guards Magazine reviewed it this month saying “We have waited nearly a century for Reverend David Railton's story, and this book does this humble and decent man a great service. It is an extraordinary story.” Reverend David Railton served as a chaplain on the Western Front between 1916 and 1918 supporting the soldiers burying the fallen, comforting the wounded and helping the survivors. He was with his men at many battles and received the Military Cross for rescuing an officer and two men under heavy fire on the Somme. It was Railton’s idea to bring home the body of an unidentified fallen comrade from the battlefields to be buried in Westminster Abbey, and on Armistice Day 1920, his flag covered the coffin as the Unknown Warrior was laid to rest with full honours. Although suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, he returned to work as a parish priest in Margate, where he took particular interest in supporting ex-servicemen who had returned home to the aftermath of a terrible war and crippling unemployment. While the story of the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior has been told before, this is the first book to explore David Railton’s life and war, and of ‘the padre’s flag’ he used as an altar cloth and shroud throughout the war. The flag was consecrated a year after the burial of the Unknown Warrior and hangs in Westminster Abbey to this day. This book explains how the idea came out of Railton's traumatic experiences on the Western front, and how he made his idea become reality, drawing on his letters and unpublished papers. There was a big feature in Britain at War magazine this week on this moving book. There will of course be much published on WWI this year, but I would urge you to make space on your shelves for this remarkable story.

Pop Quiz – which novel opens with a telephone call and the words “Remember you must die”? It is of course Memento Mori (978 1846974274, £9.99, hb) by Muriel Spark, newly published by Polygon as one of their Spark Centenary Editions. This month it is part of the Guardian Read Women season for March, which you can see here following its selection as a Guardian Book of the Month in February. Described by David Lodge as “her first masterpiece”, Memento Mori progresses with a circle of elderly men and women all receiving similar calls and soon everyone becomes a suspect. As the investigating police inspector muses: “Death, when it approaches, ought not to take one by surprise. It should be part of the full expectancy of life. Without an ever-present sense of death, life is insipid. You might as well live on the whites of eggs.” Tackling the indignities of old age, dementia and death, this novel is both profoundly compassionate and very entertaining!

Are wealthy baby boomers undermining younger generations? Or is the real enemy the politics of austerity sponsored by an elite? Biteback’s The War on the Young by John Sutherland (hb, £10, 978 1785903397) was the Guardian Book of the Day this week – you can read the whole article here. This self-described polemic is a quick and provocative read. Its central argument is that the young today have it hard, very hard, and that this is neither an unalterable fact of life nor an accident or blip: rather, the young are the victims of a concerted attack perpetrated by their elders, above all the selfish baby boomers who enjoyed goods (such as free higher education and affordable housing) that they now conspire to deny their children and grandchildren. It is a lively, timely and highly readable look at a ticking generational time-bomb.

Book bloggers are very much enjoying Alison Booth’s new novel A Perfect Marriage (£8.99, pb, 978 1910453490) which is published this month by Red Door. The Secret World of a Book Blog writes: “Powerful storytelling with a deliciously dark centre. A Perfect Marriage certainly covers a topic that needs to be spoken about a lot more, domestic violence.” Sally Lachlan has a secret that has haunted her for a decade, is it now time to let it go? A chance meeting with the charismatic geneticist, Anthony Blake, reawakens her desire for love and at the same time, her daughter, Charlie, shows signs of wishing to know more about her father. Both the past and the future are places Sally prefers not to think about but if she wants to move towards a new love, she will first have to come to terms with her long-ago marriage. 

Congratulations to Jamaican poet Lorna Goodison who has just been awarded one of the eight 2018 Windham-Campbell Literature Prizes. She will be honoured along with her fellow recipients at a ceremony and literary festival at Yale in September. The prize, which was judged anonymously over the course of the past year, includes an unrestricted grant of £119,000 and is intended to give its recipients the financial freedom to write, liberated from money worries. You can find out more in the Guardian here. Lorna Goodison: Collected Poems is published by Carcanet and resonates with a voice alert to histories and voices; how differently English sounds in the tropics and in colder lands, at seaside in sunlight and on prairies, mountains and in cities. Goodison’s instinct is to celebrate being alive in a world that is rich but in peril. “And what is the rare quality that has gone out of poetry that these marvellous poems restore?” asks Derek Walcott. “Joy.”

Online magazine Review 31 has just published a fantastic review of The Way of Florida by Russell Persson (hb, £14.99, 978 0995705203) on saying "This is English, but not as we know it. The novelist seems to have taken it back to the dawn of language, producing a newly-minted idiom that feels both antiquated and timeless." Relentless, urgent and above all musical, this expertly crafted debut novel retells the tragic story of the failed Narváez expedition to the Gulf of Mexico and is published by Little Island Press. You can read the whole review here.

Three cheers for Memphis 68: The Tragedy of Southern Soul by Stuart Cosgrove (pb, 978 1846974137, £9.99) which has just been announced as one of the seven contenders for the 2018 Penderyn Music Book Prize – the only UK-based book prize specifically for international music titles including history, theory, biography and autobiography. The shortlist also includes memoirs from musicians Peggy Seeger, Chris Difford of Squeeze, Billy Bragg and Cosey Fanni Tutti of Throbbing Gristle (a band who, I must admit, I am not familiar with); and independent publishers were behind the majority of the shortlisted books – hurrah! You can find out more about the prize here. The passionate and powerful title is published in paperback April by Polygon and the Bookseller have already tipped it as one to order in their Spring paperback preview.

International Women’s Day this week – and of course one of the things books do so well is to share experiences of what it is like to be a woman in a different world, culture or time. The Sea Cloak (978 1905583782, £9.99, pb) by Nayrouz Quarmout, is a collection of fourteen stories drawing from the author’s own experiences growing up in a Syrian refugee camp, as well as her current life in Gaza, stitching together a patchwork of different perspectives into what it means to be a woman in Palestine today. It is published in May and Comma Manager Becky Harrison previewed it thus: “Nayrouz Quarmout is a Palestinian author, journalist and women’s rights campaigner who we first published in our Book of Gaza in 2014. The Sea Cloak is her debut collection in English and the stories deftly weave the personal with the political to create a compelling portrait. We’re excited to publish Nayrouz’s full collection as she is definitely one to watch: not only are her prize-winning stories fantastic but she is a young, exciting writer whose stories offer a rare, local perspective to a city known as a global news story.”

Talking of International Women’s Day – here's an interesting piece by Annabel Abbs on why there is still a male bias in the literary media She writes: "Women buy two thirds of books. Women writers dominate the best seller lists and came out blazing in the 2016 Costa shortlists. So why doesn’t the literary media give us the editorial space we deserve?" Annabel Abbs is the author of The Joyce Girl (978 1907605871, £8.99,pb) which tells the story of Lucia Joyce, a dancer in 1920s Paris and the daughter of James Joyce. It won the 2016 Impress Prize and was a Guardian Reader Pick of the Year.

The shortlist has now been narrowed down to just three finalists in the inaugural €20,000 EBRD Literature Prize. They are All the World’s a Stage by Boris Akunin, Belladonna by Daša Drndic and Istanbul Istanbul (£8.99, pb, 978 1846592058 )by Burhan Sönmez, translated by Ümit Hussein from Turkish and published by Telegram. Chair of the judges, journalist and broadcaster Rosie Goldsmith described it as a “witty, wonderful and wise window on the world and on our flawed humanity but without leaving the prison cell.” The winner will be announced at EBRD headquarters in London on 10th April to coincide with the first day of the London Book Fair. Open to the public, it is billed as a “unique opportunity” to see all three finalist authors and translators discussing their books and the art of translation before the award is announced.” You can read more in the Bookseller here.

That’s all for now folks! More next week!

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