Thursday, August 16, 2007

And now the end is near.. well, of my time as Director here at least, and as a Booktrust Blogger too.

Viv Bird is to be the new Director and I'm sure will be brilliant. James Smith, website editor, has already stepped into the blogging role. I'm off to be co-Director of the Institute for the Future of the Book, a do and think tank currently located in Brooklyn, New York and extending its activities in Europe.
I've had an amazing time at Booktrust, will miss the fantastic team here and am very proud of the range and quality of work we've been doing to bring books and people together. But mustn't get too mushy yet.
Before I go there's lots to do. And if you want to read my future bookfuture thoughts go

Bob Stein, Founder of the IFB with Ruth Borthwick of Planet Poetry

Thursday, June 28, 2007

To Norway on holiday.

Not content with being the most beautiful and friendly country in Europe, Norway also has its very own Hay-on-Wye book town (or bokbyen) - Fjaerland, on the Sognesfjord. I might move there.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

At the South Bank on Sunday to witness the relaunch of this national institution, I saw Billy Bragg, Alan Yentob, Richard Rogers and thousands of other artsy people. I watched street theatre from a garden shed, went Gormleyspotting - oh and saw one of those bags.

On Monday it was an absolute pleasure to MC the Children's Laureate announcement this week at BAFTA, despite having woken up that morning with a stinking cold.
Jacqueline Wilson has been superb in the role and her final round up of laureating activity was impressive. Michael is wonderful and will do wonders for children's poetry - which needs all the help it can get according to the judges of the CLPE prize awarded today to Julie Johnstone (editor): The Thing That Mattered Most. Scottish Poems for Children illustrated by Iain McIntosh (Scottish PoetryLibrary/Black & White Publishing). Our new laureate was there as was judge Ian McMillan, an old friend from Sheffield days.

Yesterday I met up again with the phenomenal Rachel Van Riel of Opening the Book, pioneer of Reader Development and scourge of floppy thinking, and Gary McKeone, the man we all miss at the Arts Council, currently working with the Reading Agency. We were on a panel with performance poet and web 2.0 enthusiast Jacob Sam-La Rose, talking to London librarians at the LLDA conference on their GET LONDON READING strategy - a good opportunity to urge everyone to rise to our own Get London Reading challenge. 'ReadDating' was one of the best ideas of the last GLR I thought: speed dating meets book talk.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Wednesday 6 June

To the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction and the Orange Broadband Award for New Writers ceremony at the refurbished Royal Festival Hall, prior to its official reopening.

Booktrust administers the prizes, which means sorting submissions from publishers; sending titles to the judges; attending longlist and shortlist meetings; and - perhaps most importantly - remembering to bring along to the ceremony the winners' cheques and the Bessie statuette. Our head of IT also plays a key role in maintaining and updating the Orange Prize website.

Kate Mosse, founder of the prize, generously praised us in her speech for the behind-the-scenes role we play.

The winner of the OANW was Canadian writer Karen Connolly, who gave an impromptu speech about the Burmese people who had inspired her and her book (The Lizard Cage), and also praised - in this era of digitisation - that perfect piece of technology: the book.

Then a huge cheer greeted the announcement of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as the winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction for Half of a Yellow Sun. Chimamanda's surprise was all the greater because her handbag had been stolen the day before (thanks, London), which she had convinced herself was a bad omen.

Spotted at the ceremony: Bianca Jagger; Gerald Scarfe and Jane Asher; India Knight; authors Romesh Gunesekera, Zadie Smith and Nick Laird, the lovely Joanna Briscoe and equally lovely Charlotte Mendelson.

By happy coincidence, it was also my 40th birthday, but Kate forgot to mention that ...

Friday, May 25, 2007

And the winner is ...

At a lavish ceremony at the Wallace Collection in London last night, the Rossica Translation Prize was awarded to Joanne Turnbull for her translation of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky's 7 Stories. Her publisher, Glas, was recognised as well.

And Robert Chandler was specially commended, both for his translation of The Railway and in recognition of the excellent work he has done over the years in bringing Russian literature to an English readership.

If anyone ever needed an example of how to run a superb event, this was it - a stunning setting, champagne and canapes, a warm welcome from Academia Rossica, a distinguished and witty guest speaker (Michael Frayn: 'translation is impossible'), a lucid - and note-free - summation of the merits of each shortlisted title by Peter France (one of the judges), and two very happy winners.

Huw Molseed, Head of Websites at Booktrust, at The Plantin-Moretus Museum, Antwerp.
This houses two of the earliest printing presses in the world, dating from the days of Jan I Moretus (1543 - 1610). The museum preserves the only complete set of Garamond's letter dies. The typographical collection of the Plantin-Moretus Museum is often called upon when old type fonts are digitized.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Economics of Attention by Richard A Lanham arrived at my house yesterday bought online and secondhand from Amazon , recommended by Professor Ronald Soetaert who gave a fascinating talk to members of the EUREAD reading promotion task force in Antwerp last week.

Soetart teaches teachers – his subject is the interconnectedness of different disciplines, and his talk was appropriately wide ranging. He spoke about research showing how a group of teenage Metal fans discuss their favourite music along very similar lines to academics discussing their field. Both groups frame their debate in the context of a canon of great work, a past golden age, an unappreciative general public etc.

Ronald also collects quotes from the many books which describe the great virtue of reading being that it gives one a ‘Second Life’. How come the same people who rave about the imaginary world of fiction find digital play so unnatural?

He’s interested in the complexity of computer games and the energy and intelligence that young people put into exploring them, without any encouragement from teachers or parents. It’s a bit like discovering your child has been locked away in his room secretly learning latin.

And he talked about Lanham’s work on the Age of Information in which what there’s a dearth of is not product but attention. From novelists to manufacturers, everyone is out to catch and claim your precious time. Reading Promotion organizations fly the flag for books not because we love ink, paper and cardboard but because we think reading fiction can capture the attention in a particularly imaginative and profound way. But if we focus on the issue of attention, we’re lead to look at other comparably grabbing activities, and to look at reading as it fits into the midst of our multi-modal lives.

Website editor's first entry:

To the London Review Review Bookshop for an evening of readings from books shortlisted for the Rossica Translation Prize. The prize, set up by Academia Rossica, recognises the best translations of books from Russian into English; crucially, three-quarters of the prize money goes to the translator and one quarter to the publisher. Certainly in the case of this year's shortlist it would be difficult to reward the authors, most of whom are no longer alive.

The six books in contention for the prize are: new translations of Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich and War and Peace; a travelogue about a road trip taken by two Russians across America in the 1930 (Ilf and Petrov's American Road Trip); Sonechka: a novella and stories by Ludmila Ulitskaya; Hamid Ismailov's The Railway, set in Uzbekistan; and a collection of surreal stories by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, who was only published in Russia decades after his death.

Introductions and readings from five of the books were given by the translators. Robert Chandler was moving about how privileged he felt to have worked on The Railway (Ismailov was at the event); Anthony Briggs' chose two episodes from War and Peace to illustrate Tolstoy's virtuosity, reading both with gusto; and Hugh Aplin read in measured tones about Ivan Ilyich's visit to his doctor.

Anne Fisher's rendering of the Russian into 1930s 'American' was the most modern of the evening, her accent - she is American - perfectly complementing her translation; and Arch Tait gave us a slow, composed reading from Sonechka about a deeply unsympathetic grandmother after telling us that he had completed his translation of Anna Politkovskaya's book on the day she was murdered.

Finally, the actor Andrew Sachs read one of Krzhizhanovsky's stories in its entirety, a surreal fable about a man whose box-like room magically expands when he paints a substance called Quadraturin on its walls. Sachs, a master of pacing and different voices, had already recorded Krzhizhanovsky's stories for BBC Radio 4 - this event gave him the opportunity to read one of them in its entirety.

Academia Rossica has done readers in the UK a great service with this award. Like the Independent Foreign Fiction prize, it reminds us that - surprise, surprise - people in other countries can write as well as 'western' authors. Durr.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

At the end of the week of the PM's stepping down, I'm making a slightly less historic step in opening up this blog to James Smith, website editor, and between us we'll be encouraging others at Booktrust to contribute their news, views and musings. I'm Director till September, but this curious handover phase is a good time to present different voices of Booktrust. And talking of handovers, I was glad to see that Gordon Brown's first interview took place with a shelf of books in the background.
Next week I'm going to Antwerp with Huw Molseed, web expert at Booktrust, to a meeting of EU*READ to talk to them about their hopes and fears for the future of the book in the digital age. I'm interested to discover whether the topic is generating such heat across Europe and what we can do together to explore the creative potential for readers and writers.
Meanwhile I've been reading Steven Hall's 'The Raw Shark Texts' - Moby Dick meets Roget's Thesaurus - and some fantastic graphic novels lately, all of which make best possible use of the black and white printed page, and challenge the notion that Real Readers don't mess with pictures. Marjane Satrapi's 'Persepolis' is an account of growing up female in Iran which has a wit and lightness of touch which makes the horrors hit home too.