Spotlight | International Translation Day 2015, British Library

It is rare for a single book let alone a translation to generate widespread excitement across the publishing industry. Joel Dicker’s thriller, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, published in 2012 by 87-year-old veteran, Bernard de Fallois, became the most talked-about French novel of the decade. Christopher MacLehose, the publisher behind Stieg Larsson, made an offer a few weeks before the Frankfurt book fair − pre-empting a stampede of publishers bidding for the rights to translate the novel into 35 other languages. Novels by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard and Turkish Wunderkind, Orhan Pamuk − agented by Andrew ‘the Jackal’ Wylie − are likely to be hot properties at this year’s Frankfurt book fair. And Scandi-Crime continues to be hugely popular.

Translators and their publishers are a bridge between worlds . . . between writers abroad and readers at home. Judging by the throng of professionals attending International Translation Day 2015 held at the British Library − the waiting list to get in was long and many were turned away – translation continues to be The Next Big Thing & Getting Bigger, as it rises in popularity and visibility. The insularity of certain mainstream sectors of the book trade come across as increasingly old-skool elitist like politicians quaffing Dom Perignon in the Westminster bar.

Continue reading Spotlight | International Translation Day 2015, British Library

Spotlight | Georgia de Chamberet at Ways With Words Book Festival

Ways With Words Festival of Words and Ideas in Devon has been held annually for about two decades. It is extremely well run by friendly staff and the surroundings are idyllic. I stayed in a comfortable double room to one side of Dartington Hall, overlooking glorious trees and the garden, away from the central, medieval, listed courtyard. My well-attended talk about Lesley Blanch, ‘a bohemian abroad’, was held in the 14th century Barn Cinema.

On the evening I arrived, news reader and war reporter, Michael Buerk, talked about Reality TV. He was engaging, funny and ultimately pretty depressing about the future of ‘quality’ TV. Budgets for ‘traditional’ drama, documentaries and investigative current affairs programmes − Panorama and Dispatches are all we have left − are derisory, whereas around 750 producers were out in the Australian jungle for the particular show in which he featured of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! Thousands of hours of filming end up on the cutting room floor. Reality TV is more ‘fixed’ now than when it first began and is not as ‘real’ or cutting edge as you might imagine. Watched by 16 to 30 year olds it offers a modern twist on people being tested and mocked as in a morality play, or freak show. People are pushed to their limits in increasingly humiliating ways for fast shock results. Instead of being pelted with rotten eggs and vegetables in the stocks, nowadays contestants grapple with their phobias of creepy crawlies, rodents and serpents. He was honest about the lure of the sum of money he was paid for taking part, (naturally he did not divulge the amount!). Bad behaviour is rewarded and ignorance is cool. Celebrity is a goal in itself, without achievements or virtue being involved in any way. The ultimate punchline from the younger members of his own family was lighten up granddad it’s only a TV show.

Continue reading Spotlight | Georgia de Chamberet at Ways With Words Book Festival

Interview | Florent Massot: Fine young radical of French publishing

Georgia de Chamberet talks to Florent Massot, French publisher of Virginie
Despentes, Kurt Cobain, Mike Tyson and Valérie Trierweiler. Baise-moi (Fuck Me), his first hit, published in 1994, sold 50,000 copies for éditions Florent Massot before being released by Grasset and J’ai Lu, nudging up to 200,000 copies.

Why publishing and not music or film?

I started work on my first book age 17 in 1982 about a group called Urban Sax. Why publishing? Because my generation went into music and film, but I’m not competitive, it’s not my way. For 15 years I was the youngest publisher in France and the only one of my generation. Publishers who are 50 now all began their careers 20, not 30, years ago. So for 12-13 years I was alone. My friends were all in music which was great, but I was the only young indie publisher which is why I carried on, since I don’t like having to be combative. I wanted to be the best publisher of my generation and was . . . the worst! . . . there was only me!

I had a go at journalism and published a magazine called Amazone in 1984, then Intox in 1990, but that world moves too fast. I like a slow burn, and am not speedy. In publishing you meet up, the project develops over 1-2 years, it takes time, isn’t fast and furious, all on the surface. A book can really make a difference, go deep, whereas an article is ephemeral.

Publishers are in the game for different reasons: for some it’s a love of words, for others because they want power. What interested me was to meet the movers and shakers. A friend said, “If you go into publishing you’ll meet the people making it happen, who are the zeitgeist.” He often spoke to Cartier Bresson on the phone because of a book he was working on about the great photographers behind photojournalism. I wanted to meet these people. Since then, over the last 32 years, I have met so many people from different walks of life, that publishing has been good to me on that level.

As an object, a book can be a bit fetishistic. For me it is neither the object, nor the words, but the encounters. A book is a meeting place for people and ideas.

Continue reading Interview | Florent Massot: Fine young radical of French publishing

Spotlight | Lesley Blanch and the Art of Narrative Non Fiction

Narrative non fiction: a new category

When Lesley Blanch wrote that “Journey into the Mind’s Eye is not altogether autobiography, nor altogether travel or history either. You will just have to invent a new category . . .” the label narrative non-fiction did not yet exist. Her autobiography about the early part of her life was published in 1968. She was ahead of her time. Like Rebecca West and Truman Capote, Lesley Blanch was experimenting with different forms and techniques to tell a damn good ‘true’ story.

Lesley Blanch claimed she could not invent, hence choosing biography rather than fiction, although her storytelling was underpinned by a vivid imagination and scholarly research. The Sabres of Paradise: Conquest and Vengeance in the Caucasus took six years to complete and required thorough investigation in Russia and Turkey.

What is narrative non fiction?

Narrative non-fiction is not just a convenient label used by publishers to help booksellers categorise their titles and display them, or a new genre fresh out of American writing schools for literary critics to argue about. It is favoured by clever young editors like Leo Hollis at Verso, or Richard Milner at Quercus, as a way to get across difficult, or dry, ideas in an engaging manner. People are most interested in other people and their experiences, not the dusty archives of research. To take the reader on a scientific, or philosophical, or historical journey of discovery by means of a series of a well-written scenes knitted together to form a compelling whole, as opposed to recounting how A then B then C happened in a cut-and-dried linear fashion, makes for a more exciting read and a saleable book.

Continue reading Spotlight | Lesley Blanch and the Art of Narrative Non Fiction

Spotlight | The seemingly unstoppable boom in literary festivals

Gone are the days when an author’s book promotion was simply about having a launch party, doing a few press and radio interviews, some bookshop signings and a talk at an appropriate venue. Now, in the UK, more books are published per inhabitant than anywhere else in the world: the scramble to get noticed is fierce.

What does a book promo package entail?

The full author book promo package now includes: having an author website, contacting personal Media contacts and those with specialist and local appeal, as well as international contacts; getting endorsements; writing for the press when and where possible; arranging speaking engagements, seminars, or workshops; connecting live ‘n’ direct with readers to build up a following via social media (facebook, twitter, youtube, pinterest); writing a blog, guest blogging and going on blog tours. It is immensely time consuming, but adopting a luddite attitude is ill-advised.

The literary festival circuit is a key component of book promotion. The more an author gets known the more likely it is sales will rise, ergo financial gain for all involved. Few writers would shun the opportunity to promote their latest book to potential punters, however many or few of them come to a talk and buy a book afterwards, with an autograph thrown in.

Continue reading Spotlight | The seemingly unstoppable boom in literary festivals

Spotlight | Boom not Bust: A new chapter in the story of translation in the UK

Translations on the UK market

In a piece for The Swedish Book Review published in 1997, I stated that, “Roughly 3% of the titles published in the UK every year are translations (as opposed to 30-40% in France and Germany).” It is a puzzling paradox that Britain is such a multi-cultural society yet so insular when it comes to ‘foreign’ writers in translation. Especially since book-buyers just want a good story and are not particularly concerned about its provenance.

Dr Jasmine Donahaye’s 2012 survey Three percent? Publishing data and statistics on translated literature in the United Kingdom and Ireland is unequivocal: “Literary translation in the UK and Ireland – whether assessed according to its broader definition or restricted to the genre categories of poetry, fiction and drama – is a little higher than the often-cited 3% figure. Indeed it is consistently greater than 4%, and, over the sample years, consistently increases.”

She gives the following statistics:
“The percentage of all publications that are translations: 2.21% in 2000 ; 2.65% in 2005 ; 2.43% in 2008.
“The percentage of poetry, fiction and drama that is translation: 4.37% in 2000 ; 4.51% in 2005 ; 4.59% in 2008.
“The percentage of all literary genres (the entire 800 Dewey range) that is translation: 4.17% in 2000 ; 4.20% in 2005 ; 4.37% in 2008.”

Continue reading Spotlight | Boom not Bust: A new chapter in the story of translation in the UK