I’ve been shamefully absent from here for far too long. 2015 was an exciting, exhausting year, of ports and presentations, of steps forward and stumbles back, of births and, sadly, deaths, of reading new writers and returning to old ones, of writing new stories and revising work set aside, although nothing is ever finally set aside. With the publication of The Children’s Home, and all that goes with it, 2016 is shaping up to be more of the same. But I promise to make more of an effort to maintain this blog in some sort of working order over the next few months, so please bear with me. In the meantime, here’s a photo of someone I met on holiday.

2013-08-21 14.29.08

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The Children’s Home

I’ve been sitting on this for an uncomfortably long time (imagine a cushion filled with walnuts), but the news is finally official. Nan Graham and John Glynn at Scribner have just bought the North American rights to a new novel of mine entitled THE CHILDREN’S HOME. You can find out more about the deal, and the novel, here.

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Recording and retail opportunities

Just back from two days in London, where I recorded the audio book of With a Zero at its Heart. This is something I’ve never wanted to do with any other book of mine, and would have refused if I’d been asked, but Zero is special to me in a way (more personal, more intimate) that my other books haven’t been, and the idea of hearing any of it in some other voice (although Matthew Licht did a fine job in Florence earlier this year) was something I didn’t want to contemplate. It’s an easy book to read in some ways, divided as it is into bite-sized chunks of language, not that much longer than a decent breath (average time per section, just under a minute, I discovered), and with enough variety of tone to keep the reader alert. In other ways, as I also discovered, it’s not easy at all. One of the problems I had was that the microphone I was reading into was, well, just too sensitive. It didn’t hear only my voice, over which I had almost total control; it also heard my stomach, over which I had none. The man on the other side of the glass wall, the ever-patient, consummately professional Sam, would interrupt me alarmingly often with the words ‘A little bit of tummy on that one, Charles’. The greater my awareness of this became, the more my stomach decided to make itself heard. I ate a Kit-Kat, my first in decades, to no effect.  A banana. Likewise. Eventually, Sam gave me a large, thick cushion, which I held, pressed close to my tummy, to muffle its intrusive presence.

The other problem, if this is the right word (and I’m not sure it is; perhaps realisation comes closer), was in the nature of the text itself. I say above that it’s an intimate book, but I think I only became aware of just how intimate it is as I read it out loud to a single other person (long-suffering Sam), not quite visible behind a sheet of glass to my left, listening to the entire book, to every word (and every gurgle), with an attention that no one had ever given the book before last Thursday, in my presence at least. I felt myself exposed in a way, or to a degree, that I hadn’t expected; I’d thought that the insulating distance afforded by the act of writing would protect me, and, with a larger audience than one, it always has done. But sitting in that small room at the top of a building in Wardour Street, with a cushion pressed hard to my stomach, and the shadowy presence of another person only feet away, isolated and yet almost pruriently close, I found myself wondering exactly what I’d chosen to share. The act of reading it aloud for what I’d like to think of as posterity is another, further exposure, I half welcome, half fear. I think this may make the audio book worth listening to in a way that I can’t control. I’ll let you know when it’s available and I hope you’ll tell me what you think.

It took us a day and a half to record the book. Almost as soon as I’d finished (after an excellent dish of pork belly slow-cooked in a clay pot at Tre Viet, Mare Street) I was travelling back to Italy, via Stansted. Stansted always struck me as a relatively pleasant environment (relative to London’s other main airports). I liked the sense of air and light in Norman Foster’s original design, with the roof suspended on elegant white spokes branching out parasol-fashion to cover the space beneath. There was an extravagant emptiness about it, as though the business of air travel were less important than the aerial wonder of it. Well, that was then. In its latest refit, the airport has become the epitome of mall culture, with a claustrophobic snake-like passage squeezing its way between fragrance hawkers, armed with their little wands of scented paper and weary smiles. The perceived ceiling is low, the air unbreathably perfumed. We trip over one another’s carry-on trolley cases to avoid the hard sell, or succumb to it, as I did (Dior Homme aftershave, if you must know). WH Smith is a shadow of what it was (and it wasn’t much to start with), the food outlets are jammed up together at the end of the gauntlet, the whole place looks tawdry only months after opening. Oh yes, there is no longer a bookshop. Not one bookshop. The only books for sale beyond security are the top 20 fiction and non-fiction choices at WHS, and the airport specials, possibly the least attractive or practical format for a book to have been devised in the history of publishing (although those odd little horizontal flip books, something else you hardly ever see except at airports, come very close). If I were Norman Foster, I’d be seriously pissed off. As it is, I pull my case onto the shuttle and join the queue for the flight to Ciampino, watching Italian fellow-fliers pretend not to understand the word Priority, or assume that it automatically applies to them. And I think about the time I flew into Genoa airport over thirty years ago, and the walk from the plane to a sort of hastily constructed shed, where we picked up our luggage from a heap in the middle of the room. Simpler times.

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One morning.

Some time ago I was asked by the Italian Institute of Germanic Studies in Rome to contribute a story to an issue of their review dedicated to Kafka and edited by Giorgio Manacorda. The issue has now been published and is also available online here. You need to click on SOMMARIO (twice, for some reason) to get to the story, and to a host of other stories, essays and other pieces inspired by Kafka in one way or another, in a variety of languages. My own story was triggered by the kind of news story involving an abuse of power that people tend to describe as Kafkaesque; others have approached the author from different angles. I imagine though that we have in common the belief, or hope, that literature can be the axe to break the frozen sea within us, or at least chip away a few fragments at the edge of it.

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Occasioni di Morte

occasioni di morteAnd while I’m here, some news for those of you who read Italian, or would like to, or know people who do. The View from the Tower, the first in my trilogy of novels examining the darker side of Rome, has just been published in Italian by Voland Edizioni, in the impeccable translation of Isabella Zani. The Italian edition has the title Occasioni di Morte (Chances of Death), from the epigraph (from the original version of Spain by W.H. Auden):

To-day the deliberate increase in the chances of death,/The conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder.

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With a Zero at its Heart: Update (2)

zero coverBack with some recent links to ZERO-related stuff: two interviews, a review, a piece on the structure of the book in response to a request from Isabel Costello, and some news. The first interview, with Megan Taylor, appeared in the very fine online literary magazine The View from Here, sadly no longer with us. I talk about formal constraints, truth, lucky jockstraps and books that have made me cry. You can find the interview here.

The second interview is available in the first issue of the brand-new Rome-based magazine, Lotus-Eater.  (Le roi est mort, vive le roi!). Elizabeth Geoghegan asked me questions about format, being an open book, spirituality, the significance of the Coda and what I’m busy with at the moment. If you want to know what I said, you can find the interview by clicking on the link above, which will take you to the PDF file. The interview is on p. 58, but you really should take a look at what else the magazine has to offer. You won’t be disappointed.

The review comes from a blog I hadn’t come across before called The Only Way is Reading, run by Colin Stewart and well worth taking a look at, and not only because he loved ZERO. You can see what he has to say about it here. There’s also a photo of a mouth-wateringly good bacon and brown sauce sandwich.

Last week, Isabel Costello asked me to relax a moment on her literary sofa and tell her why With a Zero at its Heart is the way it is. And that’s exactly what I did.

Finally, it looks as though ZERO will be coming out as an audio book. What makes this particularly exciting for me is that I’ll be reading it myself. With any other novel of mine, I’d be more than happy to have someone else take on the task – I don’t do voices, I don’t do accents – but this book is special to me and I’m delighted that I’ll be the one to record it. More news about this later.

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With a Zero at its Heart: update

zero coverWith a Zero at its Heart was published at the end of May, almost four months ago now. They’ve been busy months, but it really is about time I produced a round-up of what’s been said about the book since then. This is an exercise that normally requires a little judicious editing by omission. You know, the ‘could have done better/different/nothing’ reviews that dog the heels of even the best-received books. But ZERO seems to have pleased everyone, either because of or despite its formal aspects. The most common response to the book (variously described as a novel, novella, short story collection, autobiography, etc.) has been to nod at the number-crunching aspect of it (120-word paragraphs, 10 paragraphs per theme, 24 themes, plus – although not many people have mentioned this – a one-paragraph coda to round the whole thing off), and then to say that, despite all this ingenuity, this Oulipian bravado, it’s actually very readable. For which, much thanks. Anyway, here are some links for anyone who’d like to see what kind of reception the book has had in more detail.

The Guardian: “… elegantly written and carries considerable emotional clout…”

Savidge Reads: “Highly recommended reading, one of the most original books I have read in a very long time.”

Mischief and Miscellany: “It’s quiet, and fragmented, but the feelings are whole and strong. It’s tender, melancholy and playful all at once.”

Writer’s Little Helper: “The search for the ‘book of the year’ is over.”

Tony’s Book World: “…a rigorous honest approach to conveying a life…”

Freeburner: “…the story is always fresh, with every little piece filled with a degree of surprise and wonder.”

A Spoonful of Happy Endings: “…a unique, incredibly intimate and gripping read.”

Polari Magazine: ” Cumulatively the effect is searingly honest and, as a result, rings emotionally, intellectually and morally true.”

BookCunt: “…just fucking lovely. Give it a whirl.”

A life in books: “The beauty of this book lies in Lambert’s language – his skewering of a particular sentiment with a pithy phrase, his evocation of an experience in a few striking words.”

Follow the Thread: “With a Zero at its Heart makes an interesting point of comparison with Knausgaard, in that both treat incidents from the author’s life as a way of exploring memory. But where (say) A Death in the Family creates a dense thicket of detail shot through with moments of transcendence, Lambert’s book is quite spare and crystalline; the experience of reading it is more a gradual accumulation of pieces that coalesce into a whole picture.”

Words around Books: “Lambert is a masterful writer and storyteller and With a Zero at its Heart is a testament to his thorough understanding and appreciation of both the human condition and the beauty of words.”

Girl, 20: “…sublime and poetic…reminded me of Milan Kundera…”

Out and About in London: “The cumulative effect of these fragments is quite stunning…”

Viv Groskop in Red’s 10 Best Summer Reads: “…an unusual and wonderful book…”




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