Archive for April, 2011

The Art of Living with Reality

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

A few weeks ago a phone call informed me that one of the Peirene titles had been long-listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. ITea Cup. Image by  MrsWoman was so excited that I couldn’t really listen to what the young man said. It was only  half way through the conversation that I realized I hadn’t registered the book title. I had to stop the conversation in mid-flow and enquire. After a brief baffled silence from the other end I was given the name of the book again: Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi.

Last Monday the shortlist was announced at the London Bookfair. When I woke up in the morning I told myself to keep my hopes on a tight rein. But of course by the time I arrived at the Translation Centre in Earls Court 2 my heart was thumping in excitement. Three of the judges were sitting on stage ready to announce the short-list and discuss it. Then the list was read out aloud. Beside the Sea wasn’t mentioned. Maddy and I looked at each other. We shrugged our shoulders and heaved a big sigh of disappointment. It wasn’t meant to be. Peirene stood to my right. She did not turn her head towards us. She remained rooted to the spot in utter silence, staring straight ahead. Her lips a thin line, her jaws pressed tight.

“I don’t believe it!” she eventually hissed into my ear. “What a conservative shortlist. Orhan Pamuk. What on earth!  Just because he won the Nobel Prize? He is such a boring writer.”

“Peirene,” I leaned towards her. “Be careful what you say. There are many ears around us.”

“And look at the publishing houses, it’s always the same houses that get shortlisted.”

“Because they put out well translated, good books.”

“But us too. And we are new, we need that support.”

“That’s not how the world works, Peirene.”

“I don’t care.” She was about to continue her rant but I stopped her short.

“Psst, did you hear this? Peirene Press has just been mentioned. The fact that we submitted three wonderful books but didn’t make the shortlist. You missed that praise.”

 For a while she kept quiet. Then she continued:

“Just one more thing I like to point out here: there is only one female writer on the shortlist, the rest are all men. In case you haven’t noticed.”

“Be quiet, Peirene.” I whispered angrily. “If you would listen, you’d realize that a member of the audience has just asked the judges that very same question.”

I am afraid, the reply from the judging panel didn’t please Peirene at all. Apparently they hadn’t received enough good submission by women.

“What? Did you hear that? What about Beside the Sea? Are they claiming that isn’t a good enough text? Shall I tell you my theory?”

“No, I don’t want to hear it.” I insisted.

“But I tell you anyway. The story was just too controversial …”

“No, Peirene, we’re not going to speculate.” And I grabbed her by the hand, dragged her out of the Centre, away from the crowd to a far corner of the exhibition hall. I sat her on a chair, bought her a large cup of mint tea and left her there to calm down, while I went to my next meetings alone.

Peirene has now lived with her disappointment for a few days. The impact of the trauma is lessening and a silver lining has appeared. “Our three submissions for next year are outstanding. In fact I think we will win the prize,” she announced this morning with a renewed smile.

I am not sure about the accuracy of her prediction but I am pleased I have a year to prepare her for the next reality check.

P.S. The Peirene Ladies will be taking a break over Easter, so I’ll be back with a new episode of The Pain and Passion of a Small Publisher at the beginning of May.

Image by MrsWoman.

Gender Issues

Sunday, April 10th, 2011


Women can multi-task. It’s one of the glorious advantages of our sex. We are born with it. It’s an integral part of us. I’ve been thinkinggeography-fieldwork-photos-085 about this assumption for some years and, taking myself as a sample of our species, studied it closely. I am now ready to publish my findings: the above notion is wrong.


Or, let’s put it differently, if it is true than I am a rare sample of our species. The Woman-who-cannot multi-task.


Or perhaps I might even be a man in disguise.


Like a man I can do one thing at a time. I concentrate on the task at hand, try to give my best and then move on to the next. Like a man I go into tunnel visions. And, like with men, that sometimes takes extreme forms. My right hand doesn’t know what my left hand was doing a second ago.


On Tuesday I sent out Peirene’s April newsletter which sports a great quote by Oscar Wilde. “Anyone can write a three-volume novel. It merely requires a complete ignorance of life and literature.” Perfect for the Nymph’s books. That evening I received a lovely email from a wonderful publisher colleague who also happens to be the publisher of the Millenium Triology. He congratulated me on the IPG award and then went on to say, that he will kindly overlook Mr Wilde’s remark. I read his email and reread it. In fact I read it a few times. Do I know a Mr Wilde and which remark? I couldn’t make sense of this email at all. So I wrote back. When I received the reply, I had to laugh. I realized that  Peirene’s April quote had gone straight out of my head the moment I had sent the newsletter


On Thursday I looked in my calendar in the morning. I noted that at 3pm the guest editor of the next Ms Lexia issue wanted to come to my office to interview me. I made a mental note in my head to leave my desk in time to wash my hair, put on some make-up and change from jeans and old T-shirt into something more respectable. Then I wrote my to-do-list for the day, put my head down and started to work. Suddenly the doorbell rang. I jumped up. Who might this be? I opened the door. The editor had arrived. It was 3pm. The appointment had totally dropped out of my mind.


But no harm done. The interview took place. The nice editor didn’t seem to mind my jeans. And actually Peirene has made some good progress this week. No 5, Tomorrow Pamplona, has arrived from the printers and I have finally bought an e-reader and downloaded all the manuscripts I need to took at. I also have decided to pay more attention to Peirene’s Facebook page. Not only have we started to run a weekly quiz, with the first winner already announced, but also the Nymph and I  have become film makers. “The Arrival of No5 – a haunting and lyrical exploration of The Book” is up on Youtube and Facebook. Forget Madmen and The Wire – PeireneDrama is the new thing.


And so, perhaps, I can multi-task after all.

“Frankly, I am pleased about that.” Peirene throws me an approving glance. “I wouldn’t have wanted a male publisher. He couldn’t possibly understand my desire for sophistication and good looks.”


Monday, April 4th, 2011

The grass has always been greener on the Continent. That’s a fact. Back in the 1950’s the Wheelers wanted to leave Revolutionary Road forDelicious. Image by  alsis35 (now at ipernity) France. Now the Nymph wants to leave Cheverton Road for Amsterdam.

Life is “vurrukkulluk” over there, she claims. Everyone cycles without helmets and for lunch and dinner one goes to restaurants and stays in nice hotels. Moreover, when you meet people they are happy to see you and in the morning you don’t even need to make our own coffee.

Frankly, I can’t blame her for that dream view of Amsterdam. Because this is what we experienced last week.

The Dutch Foundation for Literature invited Peirene and me to Amsterdam. We were flown out there, put up in the literary hotel of the town, The Ambassade, had dinner with translators and authors, including Peirene author No 5, Jan van Mersbergen, and during the day we met Dutch publishers, agents and booksellers. It was absolutely delightful and I came home with a long reading list of Dutch short novels and novellas.

Everything was arranged. I didn’t even need to book the air tickets. And only one thing was expected of me – to chat and network. And as an added bonus: I was unable to reply to my emails because my blackberry refused to let me do so. The world beyond Amsterdam went on without me. Heaven, to say the least.

Or, “vurrukkulluk”, pronounced: fy:ry:kky:lly:k. Best Dutch word I came across. It means “delicious”. It’s also the title of a classic Dutch novella from the early 60’s, one of these books everyone seems to know, has read in their youth and when you asked them about it, eyes lit up. Needless to say, it’s never been translated into English but the Dutch Foundation who archive any translation ever done of any Dutch book, hope that they can find an old German translation. If that is the case, I will read it and if I like it, “Verrukkuluk” might come indeed across the channel.

“There is one thing I do prefer here to Amsterdam,” Peirene conceded by the time we had arrived back home on Friday.

“And that is?” I was curious.

“The weather!”

True. Amsterdam was rainy and stormy while in London the sky was blue, the trees blossomed and people got their T-Shirts out. To celebrate the beautiful weather we ate strawberry and cream out in the garden yesterday lunch time – for the first time this year. Simply vurrukkulluk. I think Peirene is getting used to life in Cheverton Road again.

Image by alsis35 (now at ipernity).