Gains in translation: how Irish writing is sold at the Frankfurt Book Fair

Peng Lun from Shanghai 99 Publishing House, Colm Tóibín and Emma Donoghue's Chinese publisher, visits the ILE stand to discuss our forthcoming translation workshop
The ILE reception desk
ILE staff discuss Irish literature with Sherif Bakr from Al Arabi Publishing House in Cairo
Publisher Micheál Ó Conghaile, translator Gabriele Haefs and Sinéad Mac Aodha discuss the forthcoming German translation of MáirtÍn Ó Cadhain's Cré na Cille

Here's a link to an article in the Irish Times about our experiences at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year. We seem to be getting busier every year!



Publishers, literary agents, writers, journalists and translators gather every October in the imposing trading halls of the Frankfurt Book Fair. The international book trade descends on the town to tout, talk and translate books. Deals are struck, information traded and new publishing plans hatched.

As the director of Literature Ireland, I am here to meet foreign publishers to develop international opportunities for Irish writers. Like the 40 other such agencies in attendance to promote their national literatures, Literature Ireland offers translation grants to publishers to incentivise the publication of Irish literature in translation.

Twelve Irish publishers are exhibiting on the Irish stand with us, all keen to secure co-publication and translation deals.

Our pitch this year in Hall 6 is ideal – the Irish stand is located in full view of the escalators which lead to the hallowed aisles of the literary agents’ centre where most major deals are brokered. Our billboards communicate an unambiguous statement to everyone passing by: Ireland – where great books are born.

My first meeting is with the editor Claudia Glenewinkel and the translator Hans-Christian Oeser. With our support, they’re planning to publish Colin Barrett’s short stories, Young Skins, in German. Another German publisher, Sabine Baumann, has just published Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing in German.

We meet Lucy Luck, possibly the most important literary agent representing Irish authors today. In addition to Barrett, her list includes Kevin Barry, Danielle McLaughlin and Eoin McNamee. Another agent, Sallyanne Sweeney, who represents Lisa McInerney, Celine Kiernan, Kieran Fanning and EM Reapy, also updates me on her authors’ many recent successes.

Publisher Micheál Ó Conghaile of Cló Iar-Chonnacht is particularly busy – his co-publication with Yale University Press of a translation of Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s novel Cré na Cille has aroused major international interest. Impressively, the Czech, Dutch and German translations will be done directly from Irish. Publisher Mara Joustra shows me their design for the Dutch jacket – it’s stunning. The German translator, Gabriele Haefs, is looking forward to tackling Ó Cadhain’s masterpiece. “A translation grant from Literature Ireland will make it viable,”she tells me.

An Egyptian publisher wants to invite writers to two festivals in Cairo. I introduce him to the O’Brien Press, which has been exhibiting in Frankfurt since the mid-1970s.We meet Gallimard, who have just published Beckett’s Collected Letters in French, and Joseph O’Connor’s French editor, who is planning a Paris launch of The Thrill of It All next spring.

Barry and Anne Enright’s Dutch publishers meet us. They mention that Sara Baume’s debut novel is just out in Dutch, another title for our archive.

Peng Lun, Colm Tóibín’s and Colum McCann’s Chinese editor, is publishing a selection of John McGahern’s stories. Another publisher arrives with a copy of William Trevor’s The Hill Bachelors in Chinese, a title which we have been delighted to support. She also shows us a collection of women’s short stories, including one by Claire Keegan. We are presented with some tea, a gift from the great editor and translator, Ma Ainong.

Our catalogue, New Writing from Ireland, a snapshot of contemporary Irish writing, is given to all our contacts. Months, and sometimes even years after the fair, publishers will contact us to follow-up with queries on titles that they plan to publish.

On Friday, about 200 book fair trade visitors attend the annual Irish networking reception, which is co-hosted by the Irish Embassy and Literature Ireland. It’s Mercier Press’s 60th Frankfurt Book Fair, making this event especially sweet for John Spillane and Mary Feehan. Our host, Ambassador Michael Collins, gives a generous and thoughtful speech.

And so another fair ends and it’s back to Dublin to follow up on Frankfurt book fair trade meetings that will help place Irish literature centre stage around the world.

Sinéad Mac Aodha is director of Literature Ireland which promotes Irish literature abroad

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