I just got back from the London Book Fair. It's only the second time I've ever been, for some reason. Possibly because on my first visit, it felt a bit shoddy in comparison to the Frankfurt Book Fair. Much, much smaller, much, much scruffier, and I stay over at my mum's house which makes it infinitely less glamourous.
Now, however, they have a Literary Translation Centre. It says here it's "a hub for learning, debate and networking for all those passionate about the art and business of literary translation". And it so is! It's a little walled-in area for sitting around - with free sandwiches!! - and for attending excellent panel sessions. It's a place to go and relax and chat to awesome people and a place for inspiring input. Also they had a larger-than-lifesized photo of me on the wall because I won a translation prize - which was excellent in terms of giving a face to translators, etc. but also very freaky indeed, especially as complete strangers automatically thought I looked terribly familiar and kept smiling at me. All the time. The only bad thing about the LTC, as we in the know call it, is that it's too damn small.
So, these are some things I garnered from the discussions I saw:
- Publishers sort of appreciate sample translations to help them assess books' quality if they can't read the originals – but only if they're well done. If they're badly done by the writer's third-cousin who went to Wales on an exchange in 1993 they're worse than useless.
- When translators and writers work together closely (the lesson came from Maureen Freely, who translates Orhan Pamuk), they need to lay out the ground rules first. For me that would mean: the translator's in charge of the end product.
- Don't take the "villa in Tuscany" approach to marketing international literature, it's a big turn-off: "If you appreciate fine wines you'll like our vintage Serbian novel," said Boyd Tonkin, really gets on his tits. He didn't put it like that.
- Novels set in New York but not written by Americans are "not always horrible," said Barbara Epler of New Directions (NY). But they usually are, and she gets sent about a dozen of them every year.
The best comic moment was when a whole panel of people were slagging off AmazonCrossing for allegedly not editing and then one of the AmazonCrossing people stood up in the audience and said, "Thanks for mentioning us and by the way, we do use professional editors."
I had two other highlights: seeing Caitlin Moran, The UK's Coolest Woman, and attending a reception at the German Ambassador's Residence. It was exactly like this! Totally and utterly posh, with thick carpets (even in the ladies') and tapestries and oil paintings and drinks and nibbles brought round on shiny trays. My favourite nibble was the small frankfurters with a pot of mustard to dip them in - warm frankfurters, mind you. And at last a worthy excuse to be overdressed, with little birdies. For some reason the other ladies weren't quite as overdressed as I was, except for Meike Ziervogel from Peirene Press, of course, who gave me a run for my money in a gorgeous green number. Ah, and there was a reading and discussion beforehand by Meike's author Matthias Politycki, who seemed to have a lot in common with his interviewer Nicholas Lezard - most notably a love of pubs and black humour, which made for an entertaining event.
So after a while of everyone enjoying the schmoozing and free drinks and nibbles brought round on shiny trays, it got really quite good. Bonding was done, tipsy discussion of Helene Hegemann and absent publishing friends. They chucked us out at a respectable hour, sadly, with a bust of Willy Brandt frowning at us incongruously as we teetered down the carpeted stairs, apparently reprimanding us for not being able to take our free drink. And then we all went to the pub and got lost three times on the way, but it was worth it because I found out that all the foreign rights ladies from the German literary publishing houses are big buddies, which I found incredibly touching. Like translators, I pronounced drunkenly - we're sort of in competition but we all really love and appreciate each other.
In the end me and one of the foreign rights ladies left the pub by the back door, which felt incredibly louche, and headed for Knightsbridge station, at which point I reached the peak of my drunkenness and presumably regaled her with fascinating tales in my best drunken London accent. Sorry about that.
To sum up: if you're a British or indeed an American translator, you should go to the London Book Fair. And if you get invited round the ambassador's house, you should go.