Last week I went to Helsinki for an international editors week. The Finnish Literature Exchange invited 12 international editors to meet Finnish publishers.
I’ve never been to Helsinki before. Here is a list of highlights:
Finnish rain gutters: They are awe-inspiring, envy-making beauties. I live in a classical London Victorian terrace house with damp walls and flimsy rain gutters. The Finnish rain gutters, on the other hand, are massive. Effective and efficient, they move tons of waters within seconds from roof-tops to drains. I was so impressed I even made a video of them.
A naked swim: Urjönkadun Uimahalli is a 1920s art deco public bath house with a beautifully clean 25 meter swimming pool and wood fired sauna. But best of all, in the Uimahalli you swim, walk and talk naked – men and women on alternate days. Up to last week, I only ever swam naked in the cold Hebridean Sea – the Uimahalli offers a less masochistic experience.
A compliment: The majority of the international editors last week came from medium to large publishing houses. I was eager to impress and told them first about our prizes and then about the sale of the rights of Peirene No 3 to the prestigious US publisher Farrar Straus. “I have the English World Rights for all the Peirene books,” I added proudly. “Do you have children?” one of them suddenly interrupted me “Why?” I was slightly taken aback by this question. “With your impressive work load, I assume you don’t” “I do.” I contradicted my colleague with a smile. “Two in fact. I have English World Rights and two children.” I had never thought of myself in those terms. But what a brilliant tag line. From now on I will describe myself as the woman who has English World Rights and two children.
“It’s all very well you going out into the wide world while I held fort here in London.” Peirene was in a foul mood when I returned. She had been upset from the start about this invitation because I went without her. Now she reminded me of a toddler throwing a tantrum to punish the mother for her absence, “Have you totally forgotten about literature?” she continued. “I am sure the Finnish Literature Exchange didn’t pay for your flight and hotel so that you could spend your time fishing for compliments. Have you come across any interesting books we might be able to publish? And, please, give me some women. I am tired of publishing men. Out of our nine authors, only three are women, in case you haven’t noticed.”
Of course I have notice and I totally agree with Peirene that we should publish more female authors. But it isn’t that easy. A lot of women write genre – crime, chick lit and historic novels. Far fewer specialize in short novels and novellas. However, even on that account, my trip was a success.
“There are a number of female authors who sound really interesting.” I informed Peirene. “I can’t wait to have a look at their texts.”
“I am pleased to hear it.” Peirene said with a slight sarcastic undertone. “Otherwise, I might have suggested that you leave the literary world and go into the rain-gutter business.”