Postcard from Frankfurt

Ned Thomas reflects on his visit to the Frankfurt Book Fair, October 2011

This year's Frankfurt Book Fair is taking place in golden October weather. It is warm enough to sit outside and drink coffee. Years ago I used to come here as a publisher, chained to the stand most of the time, waiting for callers. But this time I'm here as an author- what the Germans call a freier Schriftsteller – and free to wander.

Iceland is the guest country this year. A small country with a long literary tradition. They have made a big effort and the atmosphere at their party is memorable. Photographs of bookshelves and people quietly reading line the walls, more than life-size. We move around in the dusky light of a northern country in mid-winter, while through a window you can see the ice-floes sailing by. Then suddenly, someone in a photograph will turn a page and raise her eyes from the text. It was not a photograph after all but a video.

But I'm here to promote my own book Bydoedd (Worlds). Robin Grossman from Wales Literature Exchange is doing the same for Welsh authors in general and in particular those whose titles have been selected for this year's Bookcase. The office in Aberystwyth has been busy for months preparing synopses and other materials. I go with Robin to visit publishers who his research or earlier experience suggests might be interested.

Wales Literature Exchange offers translation grants to foreign publishers, and thank goodness for that. Even then it is difficult enough to persuade a publisher who has no knowledge of Welsh at all that my volume is worth looking at. But one publisher from Austria with whom I spoke had a friend who read Welsh. That was pure luck. He would ask that friend's opinion of my book.

I find that I know quite a number of people here from European networks I have worked with over the years – not publishers but people with some connection to the book trade. They are very ready to help with the names of possible translators and publishers – very often companies that are not represented directly at Frankfurt.

I had come to the conclusion that the best an author could hope for from Frankfurt was to open up avenues for subsequent follow-up. But then, last night, a publisher from far outside Europe suddenly offered to publish my volume in three different language versions. It happened during a small informal party on the Irish stand, but he seemed stone sober and pretty definite. I shall be looking out for my post when I get home.


Y Diweddaraf