‘Actually, don’t tell anyone else about the idea. We’d like some time to think about it.’
Imagine the scene: I was at last year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, talking to Leif Greinus from the German publishing house Voland & Quist, perched on stools at their stylish black booth on the ‘Island of Independent Publishers’. I’d just told him my vague plan to start up an English-language imprint with a German publishing house. It was my first appointment at the fair, where publishers were mainly talking about money-saving measures such as cancelling their usual lavish parties. So Leif’s reaction surprised me.
Many meetings later, it’s autumn 2020 and we’re ready to launch V & Q Books. It’s a dream I didn’t know I had – we’ll be selling what we call ‘remarkable writing from Germany’ in the UK and Ireland. After years of pitching German books to UK publishers, I felt frustrated by the paucity and lack of diversity of translated fiction. In terms of German books, that means not only a gender imbalance among translated writers, but also a fairly restricted range of themes and subject matters. A lot of novels by old white men about Nazis, in other words. And now I have a chance to change that, to some extent.
Choosing our titles was the easy part; so little gets translated that we had a wealth of books to choose from. Our list – we’ve planned out the first two years in advance – is a mix of personal favourites that have slipped through the net, by Sandra Hoffmann and Selim Özdogan, for instance, and novels that German booksellers and readers love. We’re lucky to have persuaded bestselling writers Lucy Fricke and Isabel Bogdan to take a chance on us. What unites all our titles is a strong sense of place (though that place is not necessarily Germany), and perhaps a certain playfulness and love of exploration. The challenge now is to get British and Irish readers to pick up our books and take them home.
What we’re hoping for is readers who see themselves as Europeans, who want to retain intellectual links to the Continent, to keep their minds open and their imaginations receptive. Books for the forty-eight per cent? Something like that. I’m cynical enough not to believe that books can change the world, but I do think that reading fiction trains empathy, and understanding for others is something we can all use more of.
It’s a risk; but it’s a risk we think is worth taking. And the hard work is making me feel like I’m doing something to counter the chilling effect of Brexit Britain closing its doors. That something is small and not hugely significant, but it will bring a handful of writers to the UK and Ireland, helping a few readers to slip into fictional lives similar to and yet different from their own – be they Turkish migrant workers, southern German teenagers, Croatian actresses, concentration-camp librarians, Scottish lairds or daughters on a European road trip. I hope it makes a difference. And yes, after almost a year of not telling anyone about my idea, I’m now delighted to shout it from the rooftops – V & Q Books is born!
By Katy Derbyshire
For more details, see https://www.vq-books.eu/
Read The German Riveter in its entirety here.
Find the books from The German Riveter on the Goethe-Institut page.
Katy Derbyshire is a London-born, award-winning translator who has lived in Berlin for over twenty years. She is now also publisher at V & Q Books, and in 2020 will be the London Book Fair’s Literary Translator of the Fair.