November 24, 2011

Book review: That awful mess on the Via Merulana by Carlo Emilio Gadda

Hersilia Press @ 3:36 pm

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

That awful mess on the Via Merulana is a classic of Italian crime fiction and only recently I managed to close this terrible gap in my knowledge :-) so at risk of being considered a philistine by many experts, here are my thoughts on it.

It was published from 1946 (in serialised form) so I was prepared to contextualise the writing and the plot to its historical setting. The first 50 pages really had me in stitches: the use of the Roman dialect and the description of people is really amazing. However, despite two murders happening in the book, it is a bit of a stretch to call it a crime fiction book. It is more a snapshot (and a long one at that) of life in the Roman suburbs in the fascist period. It might spoil the plot to say that the culprit is not found, despite the best efforts of the investigators.
And the book does feel like it’s unfinished, especially in the last page.

I do appreciate the masterful use of language and its historical importance (Gadda echoes other masters of Italian literature like Belli especially in the use of dialect). However, frequently the author launches into “soliloquies” where even a native speaker is baffled at the use of words, and which do not seem to me to have much purpose except for showing off such mastery of language.

The plot really is very thin but this is perhaps a characteristic of Italian crime fiction, much more based on the insight into characters than rollercoaster action – and undoubtedly Gadda was one of the founders of this particular style.

All in all, I find it very hard to express a non-contradictory opinion: it is indeed a translator’s nightmare, and the use of language is second to none (perhaps only Umberto Eco comes close). But, perhaps because of the different historical setting, there are a lot more aspects which I value in a book: plot, consistency and flow, which seem to be somewhat lacking in this one.

November 15, 2011

Submissions now accepted!

Hersilia Press @ 5:46 pm

Hersilia Press was set up with the primary aim of publishing crime fiction in translation from Italian. However, we have recently taken the decision to expand our remit and publish crime novels with an Italian theme although written originally in English.

Therefore, Hersilia Press now accepts submissions either directly or via agents. Our requirements are very simple: please email the first chapter and a synopsis, as a word document, to submissions@hersilia-press.co.uk

We will try to reply to all queries within two weeks. We are happy to consider simultaneous submissions but please let us know if this is the case.

Please look at the type of books we publish before making a submission: we publish crime, detective, noir in the widest sense of the term but all books have to either be set in Italy or have a strong connection with Italy (it is not enough to say that your grandmother came from Italy in the 1950s).

Please bear in mind that publishing a book involves many weeks of editing, discussing, and sometimes agonising over options. It is not something we take lightly. This is why we take pride in our personal connection and support of our authors in what they do.

We can only publish a small number of books per year, therefore please don’t feel discouraged by a rejection, as the editorial line is dictated by the personal taste of those who choose the books informed by with commercial considerations. Even if it doesn’t work for us, your book may be a perfect fit for another publisher.

Thank you. We look forward to hearing from you.

Filed under: crime fiction,submissions

September 23, 2011

An interview with Keith Walters

Hersilia Press @ 3:20 pm

Keith runs a wonderful blog at http://booksandwriters.wordpress.com/ which is one of the best sources for all things crime fiction. Since he’s used to interviewing authors I thought I might ask him to be on the other side and answer a few questions, which he very kindly agreed to: that will give you an idea of the busy life of a crime blogger. Crime *fiction* blogger, I mean….

What’s the strangest thing that happened to you in an interview?

Maybe not the strangest, but certainly the most memorable.
A few years back (quite a few in fact as was in my college days, writing horror film and book fanzines – yes this was pre-internet!) I had the privilege of being asked to interview Jay Clarke (one of the Canadian team of lawyers that write collectively as Michael Slade) over lunch at Langhams Brasserie.

A great lunch and a lovely chat with a very like-minded guy.  But, perhaps too like-minded as we both loved horror movies and when we got to discussing those and the magazine, Fangoria, his publicist admitted to feeling a little green around the gills and left us to get on with it :)

The day was topped off by the fact that, as we’d had such a great conversation, in the evening at the launch party, Jay spotted me amongst the crowd of the much more professional press guys and called to me. I was a bit gob-smacked, but not as much as those in the room who were clearly wondering who the hell was this ‘kid’ amongst them.

It was great to interview CJ Box over breakfast at Harrogate this year – but I was so embarrassed when a few other attendees (including author David Jackson) were about to sit with us and then I had to ask if they would mind giving us a while.  They were very understanding and gracious – I must get a bigger tape machine as I don’t think they realised I was interviewing at the time.

What’s the best perk of being a crime blogger?

Where to start? I don’t think I could single one out.

Obviously it’s great to receive free books – that’s a given. To get them in advance of publication is a greater bonus and an honour too, and there’s nothing better than somebody telling you via twitter or on a blog comment that they are going to or have bought the book based on a review you’ve written.

Then there are the book events, the launches and the special memories – those at Goldsboro Books in London are always fantastic and draw great crowds, and when there’s something a bit different, such as the Jack the Ripper tour walk for the launch on SJ Bolton’s ‘Now You See Me’, it will stay in the mind for years to come as a really memorable and fun evening.

Meeting crime writers in general is always a great time guaranteed – genuinely the nicest bunch of people you could hope to meet.

And, of course, without the blogging (and twitter, plus the support of many) I wouldn’t have won the ‘blogger in residence’ gig at this year’s excellent Harrogate Crime Writing Festival.

We may not have won the quiz, Ilaria, but we can’t have everything :)  [I have to butt in here and add that Keith and I were on the same quiz team.... we didn't win, but we didn't do too bad...]

Crime fiction blogging seems to spin off into all sorts of  other things I never would have had the opportunity to do before – this year I attended and took part in the World Book Night launch, attended the filming of three episodes of the TV Book Club, and have written for the We Love this Book website – so, all good and thoroughly enjoyable stuff.

Conversely, what’s the worst aspect of being a crime blogger?

I wouldn’t really necessarily call it the ‘worst’, but maybe the most difficult, if that’s okay to twist things a little? That would be time – or lack of it.

There really are so many great books out there that, with the full time sales job I hold down to pay the mortgage, bills and keep the kids in shoes, sometimes a few chapters and I’m asleep on the sofa far too early some evenings.

This is all, without a doubt, self-inflicted, however, particularly as I also delve into YA books every now and again (something my 11 year old daughter is now assisting with on our JNR version of the blog), so some days more YA books arrive than crime fiction titles to review.

It’s also a bit of a challenge to make sure a balance is being struck and that all the lovely folk who look after us bloggers are getting an even spread of reviews – there’s nothing worse than a site that looks like every review is a book from the same publishing house.

I have invested in a dry wipe board, just to keep a better track on what I’m doing so that I can switch off from the day job in the evenings and take a look at what I ‘really’ want to be doing.

A great hero or a great villain? [IM: I am indebted for this question to the wonderful Dan Holloway, author of The Company of Fellows as one of his 'how long is a piece of rope']

In life, the great hero would have to be my Dad.  If I can be half as good a Dad to my kids as he is to me then I would have done a pretty good job.

In crime fiction, my author hero would likely be the late great Ed McBain – I love the ensemble work of the 87th Precinct novels and the man was so prolific – my bookshelves of his work shout at me to get my own books written.

For a crime fiction character, my hero would probably be Charlie Parker from John Connolly’s excellent novels – he has just the right balance of being a haunted character whilst also being tough and ready to do his bit when required – and I just love the way those books tread the border between crime and the supernatural.

For a villain - I will avoid real life and authors and go with a character only, and here’s where I go more horror than crime I guess, with Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s masterpiece Misery. Although, I guess the title villain may not strictly apply in that case as she clearly believes she is only acting in the best interest of the author Paul Sheldon and his work – as chilling as that becomes.

What’s the book plot you’d rewrite? 

Ooh – good question.

To be honest, I wouldn’t profess to thinking I could do anything to improve on anyone who’s actually had something published.

But, there are lots of books where I guess I would have preferred the ending was different of the plot changed in some way.

In some ways, although I absolutely loved Justin Cronin’s The Passage, I was sad when the first section of the book ended and I felt rushed years ahead as I wanted to stay in the first section for longer – maybe for that whole book – especially as it was the first of a trilogy.

What’s the best idea you’ve had which has gone (so far) unappreciated by everyone else?

Well, nothing that I’d take to Dragons’ Den if that’s what you mean.

In terms of writing, I have completed NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the past few years.  Two years ago my children expressed an interest and wanted to know what I was writing, so I changed tack and chose to write a childrens’ fantasy book featuring them. It meant that, every night at bedtime, I got to read them a few pages and then got their feedback and ideas as to where the story would go next – cheating in a way, but I felt that was a pretty good idea to keep them happy and to get the book written.

If I’m allowed two, then I also changed the design on the architects’ plans when we had a loft extension a few years back, to put a turn in the new staircase rather than a straight run – this resulted in me gaining a lovely little office and reading space – a bit selfish, but I thought it was a good idea :)

Tidy desk or messy desk?

A bit of both really.

I like nothing more than getting organised.

Today for example, my desk (which is actually now our dining room table) is covered in paperwork from the day job to file away for next week along with the work laptop, calculator, car keys, work bag and several phones, along with a pile of books received today, this laptop and paperwork relating to book-ish things.

So, right now it’s very messy, but I will no doubt spend a couple of hours this evening getting everything organised in the expectation that this will be the weekend where I get stuff done. Then my wife will come home, the kids will start fighting, washing up in the kitchen needs doing and dinner to be sorted out – and my nice tidier desk will sit like that until it’s time for Monday to hit with vengeance.

Most stupid question you’ve ever been asked? (no, you can’t answer with “this one”!)

That’s not a stupid question, but it is the toughest of the bunch.

It doesn’t relate to books or writing, but to somebody taking dictation (from a cassette machine) at a place I used to work.

The guy on the tape had asked the temp to type a quote (we repaired shop signs) and he’d said ‘Two engineers attending site and carrying out repairs…’. The temp actually asked me if what she’d typed was correct, clearly not engaging brain before showing it to me.

She’d typed ‘Two engineers attending site and carrying out some bears’ !

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