The London Book Fair just finished and thousands of publishing people put their hands to their shrunken wallets in relief. Phew! Now we can go back to paying less than £3.50 for a small Coke. The highlight was obviously the Literary Translation Centre, where the events came thick and fast and there was free cake at lunchtime. The downside was that there were so many great people there that it was hard to concentrate.
I was duly inspired by a panel on promoting literature in translation - hell, why not suggest events to bookshops? I think I will. Susan Bernofsky, Rosie Goldsmith and Katrin Thomaneck had all sorts of other ideas that are still swishing around my head. I left after the beginning of the panel on What Publishers Want - because I decided I'd rather not know what publishers want. And I enjoyed the panel on innovations in literary translation, including some information on TL hub, an online tool for collaborative translations. It's free and sounded fairly flexible - if only I had a project to use it for.
Oddly, that particular event highlighted one of the difficulties of the Literary Translation Centre. It's part-sponsored by Amazon, who are making waves with their Amazon Crossing programme. Now Amazon is not all that popular at the moment so I can understand people in the audience raising issues with their editor during the Q&A. Certainly, talk of improving efficiency by speeding up the translation process sounded rather worrying, although it seemed to refer to the publisher's end rather than the translator's. And another point that wasn't answered was how translators can make measured decisions on whether to sign up for royalty-heavy deals if sales information is not provided. But I don't know whether one person from a huge corporation can be held to account for their tax payment practice, for example. I picked up a general sense of unease from many in the audience, while others were quick to leap to Amazon's defence. For me, it boils down to this: we can choose who we work for so if we don't like the conditions a large corporation offers we don't have to take them. Particularly in the case of Amazon, who invite people to "audition" for translations on a special platform rather than approaching them directly. Unfortunately, the centre itself doesn't seem to be bombarded with sponsorship offers. I'm glad it exists and I hope it continues to do so in future. I just wish we lived in a world where something as wonderful as the Literary Translation Centre could thrive without corporate sponsorship - because then there'd be more opportunity for open discussions on subjects like this without anyone getting scared.
The centre's other problem is that it's just too small and was constantly bursting at the seams. Presumably this issue can't be addressed until Bombay Sapphire offers to take over as sponsor.
What else happened? I moderated Clemens J. Setz at the Austrian Embassy, which was plush but had the world's smallest snacks. Clemens J. Setz was fantastic and entertaining and puzzling and very easy to moderate, requiring only a quick prod now and then to send him off into the next interesting reverie. Serpent's Tail will be publishing Indigo in Ross Benjamin's translation next year. Clemens read some of it and it was truly beautiful. There's a picture at Lizzy's Literary Life showing me looking bemused in my magical confidence dress. Lizzy was lovely and very glittery around the bottom half. There was some schmoozing over wine and miniscule snacks. Frisch & Co launched with a party I couldn't attend, but I hear it was very good. I also talked on a panel about how to become a literary translator, which was short but sweet. Organiser Danny Hahn very kindly announced - at the end, mercifully - that it was my birthday, at which point I was showered with wishes and even one impromptu gift from the obligatory strange person. I met lots of passionate people and got leaned on by a publisher with a different measure of personal space to my own. I saw a lovely baby bump that made me very happy. And I had a birthday G&T slightly too early in the afternoon, with one of the first people to put faith in me as a translator.
To round off, all this talk of birthdays may make me sound like a bit of a masochist. Who'd voluntarily fly to a book fair for their birthday? Two answers: firstly, it felt rather wonderful to have "arrived" to such an extent as to be invited onto a panel, which is a good feeling to have on a special date. And secondly, don't forget that London is where my family lives, so it wasn't like I was going back to a lonely hotel room and a chocolate cupcake. Also, I genuinely enjoy book fairs, at least up until the tipping point from which I loathe them.