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.