Ghassan Fergiani, tell us a bit about yourself. Are (were) your parents great readers?
My father was a teacher, a bookseller and a publisher. He was a reader. I grew up around books in our family house. My mother was not a reader of books, more of magazines, but I remember growing up listening to all the stories she told us at night time.
Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
Growing up in Tripoli, I spent most of my time after school at my father’s bookshops, sometimes at the Arabic bookshop and sometimes at the English Language bookshops. I wasn’t the only one, my siblings and cousins were there too, so it was a bit of fun and a bit of work. When I was young I did think I would be in the book life.
Has your vision from when you started Darf Publishers 35 years ago changed?
I didn’t start Darf Publishers myself, It was started by my late father after he had to leave Libya when he was not allowed to continue his business there by the government. Darf Publishers was publishing reprints of books about the Middle East and North Africa from the late 1800s and early 1900s. After my father passed away in 2011, I had to make a decision about continuing with same line, or going into a different direction. I wanted to help bring Arabic literature into the English-speaking world, especially from smaller Arab countries. We started with publishing translated novels from countries like Libya, Eritrea, Sudan and Yemen. Now we think we don’t want to be limited only to the Middle East, but we are looking to bring books from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe among others. There are also plans to bring children books in translation.
How do you balance originality and profitability publishing general-interest trade rather than educational or technical books?
We care about the books we choose to publish and we believe that translated fiction can bring closer understanding between seemingly different people. We believe fiction can shed a light to the others’ lives in terms of the shared human experience in a disarming way and without preaching or lecturing.
Your views on writing?
I believe that writing is special gift that some people are blessed with. It is a creative process like painting or writing music and it can provide inspiration and joy and understanding through sharing.
What makes you decide to publish one writer, and not another?
The first thing is that you have to like the work itself and you don’t need anyone to convince you of that. When I am reading a book in Arabic, I am always trying to imagine it in written in English, or try to imagine if it can be related to by the English reader.
Technology and the rise of Kindle and iPads etc have revolutionised the publishing industry. How have publishers adapted to industry changes?
Publishers have to use all the technologies to their advantage. All the Kindle and ipads and other forms of technology are but a different medium for us to make our books available to more readers. The printed book format will always be there for us, and these technologies are just an add on.
Do you think the physical book will die away eventually?
Your views on marketing and distribution?
Marketing and distribution are the hardest part of the book industry for us. There is so much competition for space in the bookshelves of the bookshops which makes it that much harder to small publishers to gain place in bookshelves. It is catch 22, bookshops want to have good selling books by big name authors or well-advertised books, a small publisher especially one who publishes translated fiction, or supports new and aspiring writers, won’t be able to compete with their limited budgets.
How do you deal with your colleagues – are you very involved, or do you just let them get on with it?
Personally I think of myself to still learning in this business and I rely on my colleagues help a great deal in getting these books ready.
How do you relax?
Cooking, walking, playing with my children and I enjoy watching TV.
Your chief characteristic?
Patience and consideration.
Your chief fault?
At times not trusting myself on some decisions.
Your bedside reading?
I don’t read in bed.
Your favourite prose author?
Naguib Mahfouz, I also like Isabell Allende for her book of short stories: The Stories of Eva Luna.
Your favourite poet?
Your favourite heroes in fiction?
The only heroes in fiction I call favorites are from my childhood Superman, Batman etc.
Your favourite heroines in fiction?
Your heroes in real life?
My father and both my grandfathers.
Your favourite heroines in real life?
Your greatest achievement?
I consider myself to be a lucky person to be able to bring life to some of the books that we have published.
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