Q&A with World Editions

Today I am delighted to welcome Judith Uyterlinde, publishing director at World Editions, an independent publisher set up to bring international literature to a global readership. This year World Editions is bringing the Netherlands’ Boekenweek (Book Week) to the UK by promoting three prize winning Dutch authors they have had translated into English. If you click on the covers below you may read my reviews of these books.

Judith has answered some question I put to her about World Editions. I hope that you enjoy finding out more about this publishing house.

 

Can you tell me a little about World Editions and why it was set up?

World Editions publishes and promotes high quality literary titles from all over the world in translation into English. We believe there are a lot of treasures to discover for English language readers. There are so many great books out there that haven’t been translated into English yet!

You publish books from around the world. With such a wide remit how do you select the titles you wish to acquire?

One has to read a lot and trust one’s taste. I believe I have a nose for good literature. And of course you need the help and advice of other people too. We have a broad network of agents and publishers, translators and authors all over the world. We visit book fairs in London, Paris, Frankfurt and other places all over the world, to find the most beautiful books to translate into English.

What is the most rewarding aspect of independent publishing, and the most challenging?

The most rewarding aspect is getting to know the most wonderful people and ideas. The most challenging is making sure that the books reach the wide readership they deserve.

Is your experience of marketing what you expected when you started out – how do you connect with booksellers and readers?

The books and the authors need to be visible: in the bookshops, at festivals, on (social) media, everywhere. We are a very young Publishing House – we only just got started with a brand new team in the UK and the USA, so there still is a lot of work to do!

There are a good number of small publishers out there publishing some great works. Do you consider yourself different and, if so, how?

We focus on translated books and we all read them ourselves. Coming from a small, international oriented country, the Netherlands, with a strong tradition in traveling, trading and translating, we have the advantage of reading many languages. Within our team we read French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Polish and English. And on top of that all of us have a lot of publishing experience from working for big international literary houses in both Europe and the USA before.

Latest trend or totally original – what sells?

Selling books is like winning a war – it’s only with hindsight that you can tell who the winner is. But you need to keep trusting that gut feeling and convince others of it!

Ebook or hard copy – what do your buyers want?

Hard copies are still most popular but E-books have their merit too in international publishing.

Do you consider World Editions to be niche or mainstream?

We are specialised in the sense that there are not many Publishing Houses which focus on international literature and translations as intensively as we do. But our ambitions and the quality of our books do not differ from those of the major literary houses.

When working with your authors are you collaborative or dictatorial?

Working together with the authors is one of the things I love most about publishing. There is no use or fun in being dictatorial.

Plans for the future?

To keep on publishing the best books from all over the world! To contribute to an intercultural dialogue. If books can change our view of the world, they can also change the world. Is that enough of an ambition?

 

Visit the World Editions website here.

You may follow them on Twitter: @WorldEdBooks

 

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Book Review: The Darkness that Divides Us

The Darkness that Divides Us, by Renate Dorrestein (translated by Hester Velmans), is a story of lives blighted by secrets surrounding a murder. Told from the points of view of the children most affected, it highlights the misunderstandings and frustrations that arise when adults charged with caring for young people forget that children speak a different language to them.

The book is set in and around a new housing estate in the Netherlands, a prototype that the government promised would allow families to grow amongst like minded people, detached from the problems and fears of inner city living. Young couples moved into these sterile and remote dwellings, and soon began procreating. As fathers had to travel longer distances to work, the mothers would get together to air their grievances. Thus their children got to know each other from the cradle.

Close to these new homes is an old rectory. Here lives Lucy, her bohemian mother and their two lodgers, Ludo and Duco. Lucy’s mother illustrates children’s story books. She reads Tarot cards for the other mothers. She doesn’t fuss if clothes are dirty or juice is spilt. The children love to visit her house and Lucy, always ready to suggest a daring and imaginative game, becomes the de facto leader of the preschool group.

When a new boy, Thomas, moves into a house on the estate Lucy chooses him as her special friend, deciding that they will become engaged. A party is held at her house to celebrate the occasion which turns inexplicably grim when Lucy’s mother discovers Thomas’s origins. She decides that her family can no longer live in the rectory, that they must move far from these people. Appalled, Lucy decides to run away.

On a stormy night Lucy sneaks out of the house, overhearing an argument between her mother and their two lodgers as she leaves. The next morning Thomas’s father is found dead.

The children are six years old and have only just started school. Their escapades and reasoning appear precocious, a reminder that adults struggle to empathise with young people at their level. Parents will think they know best and try to protect. Children observe the fickleness of adult friendships, the interesting facts they refuse to share, how their opinions are swayed by gossip and speculation.

Events of that stormy night change Lucy forever. The other children are frustrated by her sudden restraint and try to force her to react by tormenting her, desiring the return of their exuberant leader. Unbeknownst to them Lucy has been tasked with keeping a dark secret that over time she locks away in the recesses of her mind. She accepts years of vicious bullying believing it is her due.

Lucy’s mother goes to prison and her child is cared for by Ludo and Duco. The men are largely unaware of the torments Lucy suffers at the behest of her erstwhile friends. When her mother is released it becomes clear that their situation has become untenable. The four decide to move away.

The first part of the book is told from the point of view of one of the bullies, a child living in a supposedly ideal family unit. The second part, set on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, is narrated by Lucy. Here she must learn a new language and find a way to fit in with local children raised on the remote island. Although still only twelve years old, the damage caused by her childhood reverberates.

Ludo and Duco continue to offer Lucy their unconditional if somewhat gauche support. Lucy and her mother struggle to cope with what the other has become. Lucy is trying to move forwards, unsure of the truth of her memories from the pivotal night, unwilling to think too deeply about what happened and her role in events.

“The story that lay pressed between the covers of our mutual silence had best remain what it was; a closed book.”

The damage caused by her mother’s attempts to protect Lucy lead to her dealing with the island children’s taunts in a shocking way. She is terrified of once again becoming the victim of unrelenting bullying. She longs for the company of younger children who have not yet learned to torture those they perceive as not fitting in.

By the denouement Lucy has turned eighteen and is facing her future. Out in the world, away from the support of Ludo and Duco, she is forced to confront the way she has allowed the secrets of her past to shape how she thinks. The adults who cared for her may have had her best interests at heart but each person, child and adult, were affected in ways the others proved unable to comprehend.

This tale is in many ways chilling, not least because of the uncomfortable truths it lays bare. As adults it is too easy to think we know better than the children we interact with. We cannot control the events they will remember, the conversations and silences they will translate in unforeseen ways. The voices of the narrators are a reminder that, whatever our age, it is only possible to live inside one’s own head, unable to fully appreciate other’s perceptions, feeling at the moment and dwelling on whatever causes pain.

A complex and unusual story that, whilst heart-rending, is never sentimental. It is tense in places, thought provoking and engaging. A recommended read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, World Editions.

Book Review: You Have Me To Love

You Have Me To Love, by Jaap Robben (translated by David Doherty), is a tale of grief and loneliness set on a small, unnamed island in a remote region. The protagonist is a boy named Mikael who, at nine years old, watches as his father is lost to the sea. The boy blames himself for what happened, as does his mother, Dora. Guilt and recriminations fester as they skirt around each other, unable to provide the particular support each craves.

Also living on the island is Karl, a fisherman. There is a third house which lies empty following the death of an elderly lady, Miss Augusta, who was raised there by her parents. Mikail used to visit with his father who would sort any repairs or maintenance at Miss Augusta’s request. After her death the remaining residents help themselves to the contents of her home as it slowly decays.

Each fortnight groceries are delivered to the island by a boatman, Brigitta. Other than the policemen who come to investigate his father’s disappearance, and one trip several years ago to the nearest town on what they call the mainland, these are the only people Mikael has ever seen.

The story opens on the day Mikael watches as his father is taken by the sea. Afraid of being punished, he does not tell his mother immediately. Even when her husband was alive Dora had been volatile. In her grief at his loss she lashes out at her son creating a painful distance between them that will remain.

Mikael had been home schooled by his father, a task his mother cannot deal with. Thus his schooling ceases and another contact with the outside world is severed.

By the time he is fifteen Mikael is helping Karl, although Dora does what she can to prevent the boy leaving the island even for short fishing trips. She grows jealous when he chats to Brigitta’s son. She resents when he escapes her moods by spending time alone in Miss Augusta’s house. Dora is growing ever more unhinged, her plans for Mikael more than the boy knows how to deal with.

Life on the island is portrayed as one of contrasts. There is a harsh beauty alongside the dirt and decrepitude; a freedom from rules within the confines of the surrounding sea; a loneliness that demands self-reliance. Dora may be jealous of any person or thing that draws her son’s attention away from her, but Mikail is also intent on keeping his mother’s attention for himself.

There is an undercurrent of foreboding, a tension as the reader realises the grotesque direction Dora’s mind is taking. A powerful, parallel plot line with a searing relevance, revealed at the denouement, injects a moment of empathy for the woman whose maternal instincts have appeared so lacking.

A somewhat bleak but evocative portrayal of a life removed from the oft maligned compass of society. Although engaging throughout, the power of the story is the impact it leaves beyond the final page.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, World Editions.