By Claire Storey
I recently met with Emma Dai’an Wright from The Emma Press to talk books, translation and her future plans for The Emma Press. The weekend we met, it had just been announced that The Emma Press had been awarded a grant from the Arts Council England.
What with a large portion of UK publishing events taking place in London, it was refreshing to meet with Emma a mere 20 minutes from my hometown of Derby. While not a conscious decision to set up her business in Birmingham, as a translator working out of the Midlands it heartens me to see Emma’s business developing in this region. With the grant from the ACE Elevate scheme, this also now means that Emma will be able to employ two people in the Birmingham area.
The grant of nearly £100,000 is awarded to specifically address the under-representation of people with disabilities and those from BAME backgrounds across the sector. Emma explained: “I’ve been running the business on my own for some time now, and this funding will allow me to bring in a marketing and publicity manager and a production controller, freeing up my own time to pursue new ventures and really talk to people about my books.”
The scheme also aims to support the chosen business by helping to create a sustainable, resilient structure around it. To that end, Emma is starting to work with a mentor (Jenny Swann, founder of Candlestick Press) who is based in Beeston, Nottingham, and well as forming an advisory board around her to help her business grow.
All of this is great news for fans of World Kid Lit. While originally publishing poetry anthologies and pamphlets for adults, Emma ventured into children’s literature in 2015, and translated and world texts for children are now firmly cemented on her list. The Emma Press showcases a growing range of Latvian and Estonian poetry anthologies and picture books, as well as titles from Indonesia, Spain and the Netherlands.
It was fascinating to hear about the processes from finding a book in its original language and translating the text to creating and printing the final book. Many of these translated books have only been feasible thanks to grants helping to cover translation and printing costs and this really highlights the importance of these grants in the sector.
We also talked about some of her current translated books. The Adventures of Na Willa, by Reda Gaudiamo, illustrated by Cecillia Hidayat and translated by Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi Degoul and Kate Wakeling is an Indonesian chapter book. Na Willa is a curious little girl who really enjoys exploring and having adventures. While it can be read as a linear book, my nine-year-old son and I have been enjoying picking out individual chapters to read. It turns out these were originally written as individual mini adventures which explains why the book works so well in this format, as well as reading it from start to finish.
Look out for my full review of this book in the coming weeks.
Emma also brought with her some very exciting little books, called Bicki-Books. These are a series of short postcard-sized books. In their original Latvian, publisher Liels Un Mazs published 101 of them, asking different children’s illustrators to depict different Latvian nursery rhymes. The result is a fabulous mix of styles and designs. The Emma Press has currently chosen 12 of these stories to publish in English and they can be bought as a set of six or individually. I could very much imagine buying a set of these and putting the individual book into party bags or giving them as presents.
One book from the set caught my eye, I want a little puppy dog by Ilmārs Šlāpins with illustrations by Dārta Stafecka (top right). The pictures have all been embroidered by hand and then photographed. The result is incredible with each individual stitch visible to create the picture. The Bicki-Books are a really novel way for children to engage with translated literature. From hearing Emma talk about the books, her passion and belief in them is clear to see. If you are interested in hearing more, Emma will be speaking alongside WKL’s Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp on a panel at the London Book Fair.
With the new funding helping to build a resilient, sustainable structure around The Emma Press, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this passionate independent publisher.