Archive for the ‘Book Prizes’ Category

Nymph Award

Monday, December 12th, 2016

‘Meike, we need to have a word.’ The Nymph closes the office door behind her and invites me with a stern nod of her head to sit down on the sofa. She settles down opposite me in the chair. From her voice I can tell that this is going to be 16022-illustration-of-champagne-glasses-pva serious conversation.

She clears her throat. ‘Why wasn’t I nominated for a Best of 2016?’

For a split second I’m confused, while she continues:

‘James got a prize. Anthony got a prize. Even Baby Tamu,’ she rolls her eyes in utter disbelief, ‘received a prize. The only one who was left standing in a corner empty-handedly was me.’

The coin has dropped. She’s talking about our own Best of 2016 Awards. I laugh. ‘Peirene, there is really no need to be envious. These awards aren’t to be taken seriously. They are just a way for me to highlight our achievements of this past year.’

But Peirene is not in a jokey mood. ‘This can’t just be shrugged off. Awards are awards. Last year I received the ‘Best Nymph’ award. That was the least I expected this year too.’

‘Last year I struggled to fill the ten nominations,’ I admit. ‘This year we had so much more to celebrate: breach and The Cut, our first Booker nomination, the kickstarter campaign, the EU Open letter and our work with Counterpoints Arts. All new things. All so exciting. We’ve expanded our work considerably in 2016.’

Peirene leans back, folding her arms and crossing her legs. The tip of her right foot is kicking the air as she is obviously trying to reflect on what I just said.

‘I’m still not happy,’ she doesn’t lift her gaze. ‘Of course you are right to celebrate our new achievements. They show our commitment that good literature should engage with society. Still, you can’t just ignore my tender, artistic soul that yearns for public acknowledgement too.’

In the silence that ensues I become aware of my emerging guilt feelings. When I drew up the nomination list, I noticed the absence of Peirene. Suddenly I have an idea. I lean over to her and whisper:

‘How about this: Our office Christmas party is coming up on Wednesday. I will get pink Champagne and draw up a little speech in honour of your artistic soul and its inspirational powers. But you are not allowed to breathe a word to the Peirene team. Deal?’

Peirene’s face brightens like the rising sun. ‘Deal! And what a brilliant excuse to go to the hairdresser and maybe even buy a dress worthy of the occasion.’

A New Romance (and new boots)

Sunday, March 13th, 2016

‘Red top and white trousers? Or white top and red trousers?’ Peirene is holding up the various clothes turning in front of the big mirror.5341914496_353e666f07_z

‘I like the white top,’ I comment.

‘Hm? I think the red top is better.’ She drops the white one and puts the red on. ‘White trousers will work better with…‘ She doesn’t complete the sentence as she leans forward into the mirror, applying red lipstick.

‘What’s the occasion?’ I enquire.

‘I have a date.’ Peirene pauses. ‘A romantic date.’ She applies mascara and powders her face.

‘Whose the lucky one?’

‘Arsène Wenger.’ She’s completing her outfit with a red and white striped scarf and pom-pom hat.

I’m not sure about the hat. It somehow clashes with the rest of her otherwise elegant appearance. Still, I decide to keep quiet. ‘Arsène who?’ This is the first time I hear her mention this name.

She rolls her eyes. ‘Meike, where have you been? He is only the most important man in North London. The manager of Arsenal football club.’

I’m a bit confused. ‘Since when were you a football fan?’

‘I’m not. Women don’t love men for what they do. They love them in spite of what they do. And what’s true for women, is true for ancient Greek Nymphs too.’

I’m now intrigued. ‘So where will he take you?’

‘Well – ‘ the Nymph blushes. ‘He’s not really yet aware of me. But he will be soon. We are meant for each other. Not only is Arsène a Greek name – meaning a strong, virile man. More than that, Arsène and I, we have a deep connection.’ She places her hand to her heart and closes her eyes. ‘I feel it here.’ Then she opens her eyes again and explains with an earnest face: ‘Under Arsène’s management, Arsenal has been one of the top teams year in year out. But for ten years they have been unable to win the Premier League. This year their fortunes might turn. Same with us. Here we are again, longlisted for the Man Booker International prize. Which means that each year since we started we’ve been nominated for the most prestigious foreign literature prize in the entire English-speaking world. But we’ve never won. We’ve come close. But again and again we have just fallen short. Therefore – ‘ She bends down and pulls a new shoe box from underneath the bed, opens the lid and slips into shiny red boots. ‘It’s time I help our fate along. Arsène is a clever man. He’ll understand quickly that united, Peirene and Arsenal will be stronger. And unbeatable.’

She blows me a kiss and is out of the door. I smile to myself. So that’s why she decided on the white trousers. To show off her new, red, boots.

Image by Harsh Patel, creative commons.

An Outing without the Nymph

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

‘No one will agree with your short list.’ I’m packing up books and notes to head to the judges meeting for the Arts Foundation Literary Translation Prize 2016. Peirene has stopped working and is watching me.


‘Why not?’ I put on my coat and grab my handbag.

‘Because you used the wrong criteria,’ she announces with pursed lips.  ‘You didn’t just judge them on the quality of their translation, did you?

‘That’s right.’ I pause. I don’t really have time for a discussion. But then I continue: ‘They all submitted solid translations. The winner will receive £10 000 so we should reward someone who is willing to go the extra mile. A translator’s job doesn’t finish with creating an English text. If foreign fiction is to become part of our culture the best translators realise that they must perform, blog and organize events. Because there is no better advocator than the translator.’

‘Impressive.’ Peirene crosses her arms and legs. The foot on top bounces up and down. ‘But what if a translator doesn’t like doing any of that stuff.’

I shrug my shoulders. ‘In my view, it’s part of the job. And every job has aspects we like, and others we don’t.’ I’m suddenly irritated with the Nymph. Our attitudes usually coincide with regards to book promotion. So why is she being so antagonistic? Moreover, as soon as I sit in the cab I feel nervous. What if she is right and I have misunderstood the brief for the prize. I calm down by telling myself that my decisions are based on sound reasoning and I will be able to argue my point of view.

At the judges meeting, we draw up the short list in no time. We all agree on three out of four candidates. And we are also in harmony about the two who deserve to win. Opinions differ on which of the two should be the winner. But we finally reach a satisfying decision. It was an invigorating meeting.

‘I’m pleased the meeting went well, ‘ Peirene comments laconically as I walk back into the office.

I settle at my desk. ‘Why were you so negative earlier on?’ I eventually ask.

‘No, I…’

I interrupt her: ‘Don’t say you weren’t. I know you too well.’

‘Ok, I was.’ She pulls a face. ‘Because I wanted to be a judge, too. It’s always you who gets asked. Never me. And then you walk out of office in your high heels and lips stick. And I’m stuck here and can never dress up.’

‘Oh, Peirene. ‘ A warm glow for my little envious Nymph rises inside me. ‘We are a team. I didn’t realise you wanted to come. Next time I’ll take you with me.’

Image by Daniel70mi,  creative commons.

Fixing the Wheels

Monday, November 9th, 2015

‘We can no longer live together.’ Peirene popped out an hour ago without telling me where she was heading. Now she lays a stack of loose papers onto the coffee table. ‘I didn’t want to tell you until I had finalized  everything but…, ‘ she photo[1]unbuttons her coat ‘…I’m moving out.’

I’m sitting in the big armchair reading through the applications for the Arts Foundation’s Literary Translation Prize. I’m one of the judges this year. The judging meeting is on Monday and I still have a lot to get through.

‘Let’s discuss in three days,’ I suggest. The Nymph wants to leave me every few months. I’ve learned not to panic.

‘This time it’s different.’ She pronounces each word loud and clearly, as if talking to a little child. ‘I will continue to work for you, but strictly Monday to Fridays and, from now on, with a clear job description.’ She takes a deep breath. ‘And to ensure that you  stick to this new regime I will rent my own flat. I’ve just visited the estate agent. ’ She pushes the papers across the table towards me.

I sigh. It seems I have to pay my Nymph some attention after all.

‘Ok. Let’s talk now.’ I rest my forearms onto my knees. ‘Why do you want to move?’

She sits bolt upright. ‘I can’t believe you are even asking.’ Tears begin to fill her eyes. ‘No one is respecting my weekends. And no one understands my talents.’

I furrow my brow. I know we work a lot. But I also always thought we both enjoyed hard work.

‘I’m not a handyman.’ She burst into tears. ‘It’s all very well us running 30 stalls between now and Christmas and Jen ordering new, sturdier trollies for the book boxes. But then the trollies arrive. And the wheels still need to be fixed. And Jen isn’t in the office for the next few days. Then you tried and lost your patience.  And now I have to screw on trolley wheels even though it’s the weekend. And that’s not what a nymph does.’

Guilt suddenly overcomes me. ‘If we both try it together,‘ I propose with a reconciliatory smile, ‘will you reconsider moving out?’

I can see that she likes my proposal. But for a moment she pretends to hesitate. Then she nods. ‘But only if you assemble the trolley, while I hand you the tools.’

Running Shoes

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

‘No one is going to mess with my looks! Do you hear me: I said no one!’ The Nymph is beside herself. She rushes over to the bookshelf and pulls out a copy each of all our 18 titles. She lays them out on the floor. ‘They are so beautiful. High 6964264963_df9167f7eb_zquality. I fight tooth and nail to keep them that way. ’

I sit very still at my desk, bending my head low. I don’t want to aggravate Peirene even more.

‘Only once did I agree to put a sticker on the front cover,’ she continues, hyperventilating. ‘The Maya sticker on Beside the Sea. And as soon as we did it, I knew it was a mistake. It ruined the entire cover.’ She straightens up, places a hand on her heart. ‘I’m the custodian of our brand,’ she announces as if addressing a huge crowd. ‘And I will defend it with my life.’

That’s enough. The Nymph clearly needs some fresh air to clear her head. I send her out for a run. She borrows my gym shoes and slams the door. While she is gone, I email Sacha, our designer.

We have received a PEN Award for our next book, The Man I Became by Belgian literary super star, Peter Verhelst. This means we will receive a subsidy. Delightful news. There is only one drawback: We have to put the PEN logo onto the front cover. I’ve tried to argue with them. But PEN remained adamant. Money and logo. Or no logo, no money. Initially I, too, was upset and contemplated of returning the award. But only briefly. Then my business sense regained the upper hand.

Sacha’s response drops into my inbox. I take a deep breath before I open it. She also is a fierce defender of our brand, and I know she’d prefer not to have to deal with any extras on the cover. On the other hand: I need a solution, not another tantrum. Luckily, Sacha is a professional designer who turns challenges into opportunities. I stare at the cover images on my screen. Our beauty hasn’t been compromised and PEN has their logo on the cover.

I print the image and put it on Peirene’s desk.

She returns from her run in a much better mood. ‘I was wondering,’ she says as she walks into the office smelling clean and refreshed after her shower, ‘why don’t we see what Sacha says. She might have the perfect design solution.’ Her eyes fall onto the paper on her desk. For a moment she looks on in silence, while my heart misses a beat. Does she approve? ‘Oh my God!’ Peirene then sighs. ‘Sacha is a genius. This is really quirky, interesting and the logo adds an extra touch of style.’ She picks up the books from the floor and places them back onto the shelf. ‘Mind you, I was also wondering on my run… if PEN gives us money… I could really do with some designer sparkling running shoes.’

Image by Natalie Maynor, creative commons.

A Moral Tale

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

At my age I should know that day-dreams lead to disappointment. And an ancient Greek Nymph should certainly know it."The Joy" by Mike King

Well, I guess then that Peirene and I still have a few life lessons to learn.

Two days before the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize awards evening we both succumbed to our fantasies:  images of an applauding crowd as we climbed the podium with our winning author Birgit Vanderbeke and translator Jamie Bulloch to receive the prize. And afterwards interviews with star-struck journalists. After all, we had made history. For the first time ever a woman author had won the prize. Moreover, a woman author published by a woman publisher. The literary world was ecstatic.

In our dreams.

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the most prestigious prize for foreign fiction in the Anglo-Saxon world, went for the 24th consecutive year to a male author, the Iraqi Hassan Blasim for his fine book The Iraqi Christ, published my fellow indy publisher Comma Press.


For the first time ever in the prize’s history there was a runner up. A book that received a special mention. A book that the judges felt deserved recognition even though they didn’t grant it the prize: Peirene’s The Mussel Feast.

As we clapped the winner, I can’t deny it: For a moment the Nymph and I were a tiny bit disappointed as we saw our beautiful dream go up in a puff of smoke. I threw Peirene a worried glance as I half expected her to turn on her heels and march out of the room in indignation. I quickly handed her a glass of champagne. She took a couple of big gulps. Then she suddenly began to smile.

‘This is brilliant. Much better than receiving the official prize,’ she whispered into my ear. ‘Everyone now will know that we made the judges think twice. Prizes are always political. But the panel knew they couldn’t simply side step us. The Mussel Feast is too impressive.’

13 Peirene people went for dinner that night. Our author Birgit and her husband, translator Jamie and his wife, our roaming store manager Jen and my assistant Clara, our designer Sacha, Philip and Ellen who work at the stall, Maddy, my husband, the Nymph and I. And we all agreed: That evening we had received the official recognition that Peirene has become a force in the literary world.

So, the moral of the story: Let the fantasies run wild in your head and, maybe, reality will give you something different and almost as good.

Image: The Joy by Mike King.

How to Make Headline News

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Peirene is sitting on the floor, Saturday and Sunday newspapers scattered all around her. She is frantically leafing through them.Kheel Center, Cornell University

‘What are you looking for?’ I enquire, curiously.

Instead of an answer, she mumbles, ‘I can’t believe it, I just can’t believe it.’ She shakes her head, turning page after page. I wonder if she has heard me. ‘I’m reading the news.’ she eventually says.

‘I couldn’t have guessed that.’ I chuckle.

‘You are just as bad as any of them.’  With a wide, angry movement of her hand she points at the papers around her. ‘I have just made history… and not a word. The world ignores me.’

The penny suddenly drops. I know what she is talking about.

On Friday the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (IFFP) 2014 longlist was announced. This is the most prestigious foreign fiction prize in the Anglo-Saxon world. Peirene No 10, The Mussel Feast is on it. That means that since we started, a Peirene book has been longlisted. Four consecutive years. Moreover, the IFFP is notorious for male domination. The prize was set up in 1990 and not a single woman author has won it. This year – once again  – there are only five women on the 15-title strong longlist. One of them is our author Birgit Vanderbeke. AND from Peirene’s four longlisted authors over the last four years, three are women.

‘Show me another indy publisher who has pulled this off.’ The Nymph aims her index finger at me as if I had told the newspapers to ignore this story. ‘I – we – should make headlines.’ Her finger stabs me into the chest. I tumble over backwards, laughing.

‘I totally agree. And I am so proud of you. But unfortunately this isn’t headline material.’

Peirene looks at me in silence for a moment. Then a slightly mischievous grin appears on her lips. ‘So let’s open a bottle of champagne right away. This might be our only opportunity to celebrate. After all, statistically we  have little chance of making the shortlist. And who knows, a drunken Ancient Greek Nymph misbehaving in the workplace might make the headline material that will interest the editors.’

Image by  Kheel Center, Cornell University.

The Power of the Judge

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

Last Wednesday I attended the Society of Authors Awards Ceremony for the literary translation prizes. Various panels reviewed foreign fiction and poetry publishedPrize Winners. Image by The Pie Shops Collection in English translation in 2012.

Our No 9, Sea of Ink by Swiss author Richard Weihe translated by Jamie Bulloch won the second place of the Schlegel-Tieck German translation prize.

And I helped judge the Arabic Literary translation prize. My three fellow judges and I made history. For the first time ever, we agreed on a joint winner.

Azazeel by Egyptian Youssef Ziedan, translated by Jonathan Wright, is an historical novel: a smooth, informative read, a universally accessible story. It is well researched and well translated. It’s a book that travels effortlessly from one culture to another.

A Land without Jasmine by Yemeni Wajdi Al-Ahdal, translated by William Maynard Hutchins, is a novella: daring and ambitious. The story addresses issues of contemporary Arab societies, such as sexual oppression and corruption of public institutions – but does so in the guise of a thriller complete with multiple view-points. The book is exciting, the text feels alive. It’s an edgy read, a work of art where the author dared to question himself through the writing process.

Azazeel slots easily into the Anglo-Saxon book market. A Land without Jasmine presents a challenge to the western reader.

We had over 20 books to choose from. When our selection had narrowed down to these two books we needed to ask ourselves: What are literary prizes for? Are they meant to perpetuate the dominant canon, the common stories and thus give the reader what they know and recognize? Or should prizes draw attention to different forms of expression and thought.

Needless to say, the Nymph gave me high fives when I came out of the judging meeting. ‘I am so thrilled that A Land Without Jasmine made it. It’s different and breaks the mold of a homogenous Anglo-Saxon reading culture. And,’ she lowers her voice, ‘I thought Jamie Bulloch should have won the German translation prize.’

Peirene is, I’m afraid, somewhat biased. It’s fortunate that so far we haven’t published any Arabic literature – otherwise she and I will find ourselves back in the audience.

Image by The Pie Shops Collection.

On the Road to Hollywood

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Red lipstick, red fingernails, long red dress, golden shoes, fake fur shoulder throw. The Nymph looks stunning. Hollywood Sign. Image by Ryan J. Quick

‘Where are you off to?’ I ask. It’s Thursday afternoon.

Peirene twirls around her own axis. ‘No where,’ she replies. ‘Or at least not yet. I am preparing my outfit for the Oscars.’

I laugh out loud. I could have guessed. Because: The first Peirene book, our No 5, Tomorrow Pamplona, has been optioned by a UK film company this week. Thrilling news indeed. However, it’s still a long way to the Oscars.

‘Well, don’t laugh. ‘ Peirene crosses the room from one end to the other, swinging her hips and blowing kisses to an imagined audience to the right and left. ‘We are closer now than we were last week.’

She is right. But:

‘Even if Tomorrow Pamplona makes it to Hollywood, I don’t think you or I will be invited to the party.’

‘What?!’ She stops in mid-stride and stares at me, her eyes glimmering dark with disbelief. ‘We’ve made this possible. We brought the book to the UK. I personally stood outside Budgens with our Roaming Store in the cold, in the rain, where one of the people from the film company first encountered our books. Without me, none of this would have happened.’ She throws her head back, and turns on her heels.

For a couple of minutes I listen for sobs from next door. When everything remains quiet I turn my attention again to the work on my desk.

Half an hour later Peirene is back.

‘I’m going for a run.’ She’s all dressed in jogging gear. Now it’s my turn to stare incredulously at her. She doesn’t like running and whenever I ask her to accompany me to the Heath she tends to make excuses.

‘Are you ok?’ I ask.

‘Of course I am. I’ve worked out a plan. I need to get fit to audition for the main role in the film.’ She pauses then adds. ‘If I’m the star of the film, they have to invite me to the Oscars.’

I nod slowly, worried that what I say next might destroy her dreams yet again.

‘The main character in Tomorrow Pamplona is a boxer. A male boxer.’

She shrugs her shoulders.

‘If the film makers have any commercial sense, they’ll change the lead into a female character. A female boxer is far more interesting then a sweaty, male boxer. Look at Borgen, The Bridge, Spiral. People are fascinated by intriguing female role models.’ She waves at me with a smile. ‘Hollywood here we come.’

Image by Ryan J. Quick.

Short-list Drama at Peirene HQ

Monday, October 8th, 2012

The Nymph is in the dog house. I put her there to cool down. She’s been on my case all weekend long and frankly I need a break from her.Dog House. Image by ahbstrackz09

It started a few days ago when a totally unexpected piece of news reached Peirene HQ.

I have been short listed for the h.Club100 list – Time Out  and The Hospital Club’s search for the one hundred most innovative and influential people in the British creative industry.

This wonderful honour dropped into my inbox as a surprise. I did not put myself forward, I wasn’t even aware of this list. Needless to say, I am delighted.

The Nymph barely managed to congratulate me. Instead she threw one glance at the list and immediately claimed that it was partial and unfair.

‘Why,’ I wanted to know.

‘Because it has many omissions.’

‘For example?’

‘Me.’ She replied with a sullen face.

‘Your name is right next to mine.’ I corrected her.

‘But you are the one who is short-listed, I am just an appendix.’

My husband, too, has issues with the list and feels that some of the nominations have been unduly received. Especially when he considers my taste in films.

On Friday we decided to have supper in front of a DVD. I ordered the curry while he went out to get a film. ‘Something American, please. Not too much depth and lots of action and good looking men, ‘ I requested him to bring back. ‘ He returned with Distance by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, about two incompetent, not very good looking man in a wintery Istanbul. They hardly talk, in fact they hardly do anything. I watched the first twenty minutes while eating my curry, then I went to bed. My husband joined me two hours later. ‘A stunning film, a true cinematic experience,’ he told me the next morning. Then he added: ‘I don’t believe that one of Britain’s 300 most creative people couldn’t appreciate a great film.’ He has repeated this sentences a few times over the weekend.

So, by Sunday evening he was about to join the Nymph in the dog house. However, in the last moment he managed to redeem himself. The h.Club100 final list will now be decided by public online voting and my husband has voted for me. I, in return have promised him to give Distance a second change next weekend. I might have to order a coffee after my curry, though, to get me to the end.

Image by ahbstrackz09.