Books without baby in Copenhagen (again!)

I’m in Copenhagen for the Book Fair (BogForum) and the related programme of networking events for translators hosted by the Danish Arts Foundation. This year I’m even chairing a meeting for Danish-English literary translators (as part of my PhD I’ve been helping establish a network for translators).

This trip seems very symbolic to me as a marker of how far I’ve come since enrolling on my PhD last September. Last November’s trip to Copenhagen was my first overnight stay (4 nights, in fact!) away from my first-born. She was still breastfeeding so every morning while I was away I expressed some milk (for my comfort). It felt like a curious thing to be doing, waking up early and performing something so intrinsic to being a mother yet so far from home. When I returned we carried on for a couple more months.

This year and last year I undertook the same seismic shift from all-day childcare duties to being alone in a familiar foreign city within a few hours. The time alone was exhilarating, I got so much done every day and revelled in having the freedom to do what I pleased. My first blog post was about that trip, the sense of joy is tangible.

Now my daughter has just turned 2, it feels very different on a personal level. The context has changed. In my everyday life it feels like I get a little more time to myself, and taking care of her feels much less all-consuming than a year ago. Of course it’s still exhausting at times, but my PhD research has crept into the gaps in my days and my mind more and more. I’ve had many more nights away from her, mostly on trips related to my research. This trip to Copenhagen I have the headspace to feel a bit more like my “normal” self: nervous of having to speak a foreign language I hardly get opportunity to speak any more, nervous of the various events ahead of me this week… it feels less like a holiday than last year.

I’m worried the toddler will be more acutely aware that I’m gone, but she doesn’t yet have a great grasp of time and place so I doubt it’ll concern her, she’ll just be curious. I told her I’m going on a plane. She thinks planes are very, very small (she has only seen them in the air, far away!). We’re very lucky to have her wonderful grandparents taking care of her for two days, and my equally wonderful partner/her dad for the following two days, so she’ll have a great time. I’d like him to experience one of my more mundane days while I’m away doing something atypical – a morning at playgroup, for instance!

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Bookfairs and me

Since starting my studies last Autumn, I’ve attended three national book fairs: the BogForum in Copenhagen (November 2013), the London Book Fair (April 2014), and the BookExpo America (BEA) in New York (May 2014), and another book event called Crimefest in Bristol (May 2014). I spent the briefest amount of time at the BEA in New York, as it wasn’t officially open on the day I visited (but I attended a couple of seminars), so my impressions from this are limited. But here are some glib observations based on my experiences!

Size:

Naturally the Javits conference centre in New York for the BEA is huge. But that’s to be expected. When I visited the London Book Fair I was surprised by how big and empty it all felt, there were people milling about but it didn’t feel packed, but maybe that’s down to the size of the venue. I was most surprised by how large and busy the BogForum was – especially the amount of media attention it gets (on the morning television news, for example) and the huge number of stands and events, mostly focused around Danish authors and literature, not books in translation. Half-jokingly, one might think how can a country as small as Denmark have so many books?! It really brought home to me what a bookish nation Denmark is, despite regular paperback bestsellers costing the equivalent of around £20, it is a country of devoted readers.

Crowd:

The London Book Fair is primarily only for trade visitors, i.e. people who work in the publishing industry. In places it felt a bit surly and stand-offish to people like me just wandering around browsing; industry professionals arrange times to meet at each publisher’s stand and shake hands wearing suits. There were seminars, for instance I attended one on ‘Beyond Nordic Noir’ hosted by Nordic literary institutes hoping to widen interest in genres other than crime fiction from Scandinavia. But a cursory glance round the room revealed they were talking to themselves – a room of translators and people I recognised from other Nordic events, very little “outreach” to publishers or agents looking for something new! Denmark’s Bogforum is a huge national event, open to the public, and I saw many children and interactive activities for all ages and interests. The BEA falls somewhere in the middle – many of the exhibitors are there to talk business, but there were still book signings and book giveaways for the keen readers who attended. Crimefest was a lovely smaller event for real aficionados. I got the impression many delegates knew each other either from the social events surrounding the conference, or even from previous or similar get-togethers. There was perhaps a disproportionately higher number of older/middle-aged women than in other crowds, but I was surprised to see some younger delegates (in their twenties) too.

Position of translated literature:

London Book Fair‘s Literary Translation Centre was well-attended and got a fair bit of social media buzz, there are some good write-ups and videos around online of the seminars and discussions that took place there. For BEA, 2014 was the first year it had a section of the event called the Translation Market, devoted to books in translation, which is telling. I attended some seminars as part of the Global Market Forum ‘Books in Translation’ series, and – despite some excellent panellists – they felt a bit slapdash, rushed and marginalised, to be frank! Both BEA and the London Book Fair had stands for publishers from different countries (including Nordlit, see an earlier blog post of mine). Curiously I can’t remember the BogForum having the same, though it did have some publishers of translated literature, especially of non-fiction where related products could be marketed e.g. celebrity chefs. Crimefest had a remarkably well-attended and well-produced panel called Euro Noir, where translation was mentioned a number of times explicitly (including one translator being part of the panel!) and there were a lot of insightful and informed questions from the delegates. I also saw Swedish panellists Lars Kepler (a pseudonym for a husband-wife duo) interviewed in another panel on the same day, and the programme featured other Nordic Noir panels across the whole event.

Best coffee:

Back onto an inconsequential topic, Crimefest was near Park Street in Bristol which has a branch of Boston Tea Party, a lovely south west chain of coffee shops. At BEA I paid something silly like $8.00 for a regular Starbucks coffee, such is the mark-up at a conference centre! It was surprisingly hard to find coffee at London Book Fair, I arrived craving caffeine and wishing I’d taken advantage of the coffee cart outside on the way from the station. Bogforum had the best coffee – a few little espresso coffee carts dotted around with quick service at great value, a pleasant surprise.

Wonderful Copenhagen

I am just starting a PhD in Danish-English Translation Studies, looking at the contemporary marketing and reception of Danish literature in the United Kingdom. Rather than write a blog post about everything I’ve done so far, I’ll start with what’s foremost in my mind right now – my recent trip to Denmark.

Borgen

Borgen

Last week I attended the Copenhagen Book Fair (BogForum), and took part in the translators’ programme (oversætterbesøgsprogrammet) hosted by the Danish Agency for Culture (Kulturstyrelsen), who are funding my PhD studentship. I am not a literary translator – although it is an area that interests me, and I have done some commercial translation – so I wasn’t sure how I’d find the whole experience. As it turned out, the visit was incredibly beneficial, in many ways.

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Primarily, I enjoyed meeting translators from different parts of the world. We all conversed in Danish (though it soon became apparent that nearly all translators who speak Danish also speak English! For some reason this had never occurred to me). It was really good to dive straight into speaking Danish again, it feels very natural when in Denmark and of course it’s so hard to keep it up when at home in London. I haven’t spoken Danish regularly in, well… probably since my final year of my BA in 2008, despite the MA in Translation Studies following straight after! It was also an excellent opportunity to meet and talk with Danish-English translators as many of them have worked on the titles I will be discussing in my research.

Politigården

Politigården

The programme featured some excellent events, including pitches with Danish publishers and literary agencies (great insight for me as someone who is not very familiar with the publishing industry), a meal at Christiansborg (the Danish parliament aka Borgen), a tour of the central police station (useful for translators of crime fiction but open to all participants!). Everyone involved was incredibly warm and welcoming, it was lovely to meet people from Kulturstyrelsen so soon into my research. I have been tasked with setting up a more formal Danish-English literary translators’ network, so I’m glad I had some useful conversations with Danish translators from Germany and Russia who coordinate similar networks. I was also able to have a rather lovely lunch meeting with one of my PhD supervisors (who currently lives in Copenhagen).

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The BogForum was fascinating. I’ll qualify that by saying it was the first book fair I’d attended! But I observed that there were many more families and little children than I’d expected, and it was clearly a cultural event not just a commercial schmooze-fest. It’ll be interesting to contrast it with the equivalent in London and maybe other places in future. To see a literary culture flourishing in a country where bestselling paperbacks cost at least double the average price in the UK is really something.

I must admit I was nervous before I went. The baby has only just turned one and we’re still breastfeeding – thankfully only once or twice a day, but we still had to think about the practicalities of that. We jumped straight from me never having left her overnight to being away for 4 days/nights in a row! But we were both fine, of course. In fact, the hotel was lovely and I rather relished being able to wake up at a time of my choosing to a breakfast someone had made for me and being able to potter around doing my own thing. I also wasn’t sure if I would ‘fit in’ with the events as a PhD student (as opposed to a full-time literary translator), but my fears about that were soon allayed.

So, I emerged at the end of the trip feeling both happier about my linguistic aptitude and very ‘at home’ in this area of research. Incredibly grateful for the financial and practical support from Kulturstyrelsen too. Now I just need to keep up the momentum!