Friday, April 30, 2010

London Book Fair 2010: Day One

Antonia Byatt, director of the UK Arts Council chaired this discussion this morning. She was joined by Isobel Dixon, poet and litearry agent, Kate Mosse, author of the best-selling Labyrinth, who founded the Orange Prize 15 years ago, and Alison Samuel, who joined Chatto and Windus in 1985 and was publishing director at Secko from 1998 until retiring recently.

Book publishing is a gamble, all agreed, but the role of the independent presses is not be discounted, said Mosse. Four out of the six Orange Prize shortlisted authors are from independent publishing houses. "Prizes matter more than ever," she said, citing the recognition that these awards bring.

However all also agreed that although British literature hasn't become risk averse, the book buying public has, retailers have as well as publishers. Said Dixon, "There's a lot more caution now compared to ten years ago. If your books haven't sold, it's two strikes and you're out."

"Let's be pragmatic," said Samuel, "All publishers have to make money, it's a business, an industry." She added, "Publishers are mad, when you consider that four out of five books don't even hot their budget sales, so what would you conclude from that?"

Lamenting the demise of book reviewing pages, it was agreed that from blogging to Twitter to Facebook, the networks still exist to spread the word about books. "I have no idea what is going to happen," said Samuel, "since I was in publishing I've been hearing about the death of the novel, but the words will still always be there."

(First published here)

London Book Fair 2010: Why Buy South African?

What emerged from the Why Buy South African seminar is that South African books have "panache" as Isobel Dixon put, from cover design to content - it seems perhaps better to ask: Why not buy South African work?

Joining Dixon, literary agent and well-known poet were crime writer Deon Meyer "crime writers are here as comic relief", South African novelist and short story writer Henrietta Rose-Innes, and Rebecca Servadio Kenan, scout for South African works for publishers, "the ears and eyes of publishers".

Meyer agreed that South African writing has exploded in the last 5 years, and there is a blossoming in the arts generally, spreading from literature to music. Rose-Innes agreed that since 1994 there has been a "wild proliferation of fiction, and a growing sense of fun and play that was never a characteristic of South African writing before". Further hope: Dixon pointed out that Foyles. the UK bookstore, has 1.6million customers per year while the South African reading public number 800 000 - not bad for a country with a significantly lower reading public!

Talking poetry and short stories - two orphans of the literary world. Rose-Innes mentioned publishers are generally reluctant to publish single author story collections with pressure from publishers to get off the training bike of the story and onto the grownup bike of the novel. True enough. She did mention that Colleen Higgs of Modjaji Books is bringing out several collections of short stories, including Meg Vandermerwe's and my own - and praised Colleen Higgs in this regard. Servadio Kenan said she uses short stories as a scouting tool, "I read a lot of short stories in literary magazines," she said. Dixon pointed to the existence of the Caine Prize for short stories as a welcome platform for writers.

Talking poetry - Dixon said that poetry was part of South African culture and that SA has a great online community and bookshops which regularly hold reader and book-related events, including poetry readings.

And finally, a mention of the Not the SA Book Fair event held at The Book Lounge last night .... pointing to the resilience of South Africans. All the absent, stranded authors are sorely missed here .... but how amazing to make the most of an ashy situation. Looks like you all had a ball.

(First published here)

London Book Fair 2010: Day Three

Day three, and it's all beginning to blur. Information overload has overtaken me. Really enjoyed hearing Ian Rankin chatting to a good-sized audience yesterday. Talking books and reading and how at the age of 17 "the best thing to be was in my room, reading, writing and listening to music." Lovely to hear of Rankin's early days as a struggling writer - well encouraging to hear that we all have to start somewhere. He made us laugh with his descriptions of moving to France with his wife, with no money and trying to make it as a a writer. He's just finished a graphic novel, which he describes as hard work, working with an illustrator and having to explain everything. "I could have written three novels in the time it took me," he said.

Then listening to Lisa Appignanesi talking about English PEN objectives with Robert Sharp and the changes that PEN has been able to effect and still wants to effect. Today I went to hear the Irish children's writer Eoin Colfer, once a teacher, "It's a young person's game" chatting about conjuring up the 80s by listening to Kate Bush.

This morning I caught up with PEG, the South African Professional Editors Forum, who held a seminar in the South African networking pavilion. Taken by John Linnegar, head of the organisation who outlined its objectives, namely to promote high standards of editing and proofreading and to show that South African editors are a favourable option for UK publishers. We use the same English, more or less, same time zone more or less and offer value for money when you consider the exchange rate. See a list of editors at John also mentioned the first ever editors conference to be held at the Franschoek Festival in May. I'll be there chatting on editing non-fiction narratives.

Quick chat with travel writer and photographer David Fleminger and Chuma Nwokolo,of African Writing Online, nice to meet after all these years .... and then ....

And then a dash off to a talk on the future of e-books. As Beverly Tarquini, publisher and chair mentioned, five years ago the question would have been IF there is a future for e-books, today, of course there are so many, it's not a question of IF. It's a question of which one will win out in the end, which format and how to protect copyright. From Adobe Jonathon Ferman spoke about the latest InDesign improvements and how these will help e-books. Textbook publisher Alison Jones spoke about how there once was a time when people thought e-content should be free, but we've come a long way. Meanwhile publisher Robin Harvie agreed that publishers were making a lot of mistakes, but "we also need to celebrate those mistakes. To see what is possible".

(First published here)

London Book Fair 2010: World Cup discussion at the Southbank Centre

"I may have kissed a few guys I didn't know the day that Seth Blatter that envelope," said writer Zukiswa Wanner at the Southbank on Wednesday night. The discussion on what some South African writers feel about the 2010 World Cup as "referrreed" by Mark Gevisser. It was an interesting and lively discussion, despite Henrietta Rose-Innes and Nadia Davids declaring that they both weren't sport mad. Also joining the panel was Andrew Feinstein, who said that he was a passionate football fan and felt that although the World Cup will provide short-term jobs, the event will either be "disastrous or exceptional".

Rose-Innes confessed she hadn't wanted to be part of the panel, having even left her note-taking for the discussion for the last minute. She mentioned that she had been published in "Elf", a German-language book of short stories on the World Cup by 11 South African writers - and yet no South African publisher was interested in printing it in English and there was no interest from the government. The arts seemed to have been neglected in reference to the World Cup.

Nadia Davids was similarly uninterested in football although she professed an intense patriotism, even when just hearing Nkosi Sikelel' iafrika being sung.

She said she was cautious about the World Cup - that we're spending millions making the country comfortable for foreigners, yet there is still so much inequality in South Africa.

Njabulo Ndebele said he had been a soccer player in "my great days" and said that the country had to put up a great show. "We're the first in Africa, and we've got it now. It's got to work. It's about our self-respect, and making the best of it in a sustainable way." His words kept echoing with their truth: "If we don't win maybe it will make us stronger and more focused on achieving."

Davids added that the mythology of the rainbow nation meant that there were huge expectations on South Africa. She remembered talking to a Zimbabwean man who had told her: "We need you to succeed. All eyes are on you."

The discussion moved on to the fracas that erupted over choosing musicians for the opening concert and how so many local musos were sidelined. Wanner added that artists and small traders had not benefitted from the World Cup with Fifa imposing limitations on who can and cannot sell goods in or near the stadiums. Feinstein added that it's the poor who will have to deal with the economic consequences of the event -for example, Joburg is bankrupt with building the stadium.

But the evening ended on a positive note. Feinstein said it wasn't the best way to spend resources, but to make the best of it, while Rose-Innes said she found happiness was a "valid initiative". Davids cautioned that some of that will is needed elsewhere, as in building houses. Gevisser had the last word: "The must be a balance between dignity and happiness. Hopefully we will see a vision about what itmeans to be South African emerging from this event."

(First published here)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Arja Salafranca and Chuma Nwokolo: London Book Book 2010

Arja Salafranca with Nigerian novelist Chuma Nwokolo at the London Book Book Fair, April 2010.
Photo coutesy of BookSA