Thursday, 16 August 2012

Publishing People Who Publish

The German literary pages are up in arms over a journalist who wrote a crime novel under a pseudonym. The alleged big deal being that the fictional victim bears a resemblance to another journalist. But hey, I write quite a lot about translators here, so I suppose I can understand journalists' fascination with other journalists.

In the course of the brouhaha, Elmar Krekeler of Die Welt wrote a quite interesting piece about a new trend in German publishing: publishers inventing their own writers. (I'm not the first to point it out, but just for the record: writing under a pseudonym is hardly a new practice.) Krekeler has a lovely anecdote about a novel called Das Lächeln der Frauen, which is about a writer invented by a jaded editor (oops, spoiler!). And seeing as everyone's playing spot the pseudonym, Krekeler suspects that the writer Nicolas Barreau is an invention of the book's German editor Daniela Thiele. Sweet. Nino Haratischwili's wonderful debut novel Juja does a similar thing, by the way, on a very complex scale. Anyway, the theory is that publishers have had enough of all these troublesome writers with their egos and translators with their financial demands, and have decided to do it themselves.

This going on the assumption that one Jean-Luc Bannalec, author of a "Breton crime novel" is actually Jörg Bong, head of German-language fiction at the Fischer publishing house. I haven't read it but Kiepenheuer & Witsch say they're "in negotiation" to sell translation rights to France, so it must be good. And Krekeler also mentions Veit Heinichen, former Berlin Verlag co-founder, who writes crime novels set in Italy.

Rather than feeling uppity at having the wool pulled over my eyes, I'm quite impressed that these people find the time to write books alongside a career in publishing. Think of Hanser bossman Michael Krüger, who writes all manner of things after getting up at the crack of dawn every day and working his fingers to the bone, for instance this piece on burning books on the Seagull Books blog (I believe Seagull may be translating some of his poetry in future but I'm not entirely sure).

And the absolute case in point has to be Jo Lendle, who runs the DuMont publishing house. I seriously didn't want to enjoy his most recent novel Alles Land, because his German Book Office video got more clicks than my German Book Office video.* So I left it on the shelf for quite some time before grudgingly reading it, only to discover that it's actually genuinely excellent. A fictionalised life story of the man who came up with continental drift theory, geologist, meteorologist and polar explorer Alfred Wegener, only told in a very endearing and contemporary way - and so well written too! Obviously I couldn't possibly do him the favour of a proper review, but just so you know.  
I say: Doesn't it make a book even more fun when you can imagine the poor author scratching together an hour a day to write it after a hard day at the office, rather than gazing out at the view from their Tuscan villa in between paragraphs? I don't subscribe to the "we shouldn't care who writes the books, the literature is all that counts" view, because I for one don't find it possible to separate my curiosity about writers from my interest in their work, so I think it's unrealistic to expect others to do so. And I can imagine that editing other people's work and massaging writerly egos all day long really would make you want to just cut the crap and do it yourself. If the result is good writing, where's the problem?

*Of course, if you all go and click on it again that'll skew the statistics even more, so please click on mine as well just for the sake of my ego.


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