To Bologna, London and back again: PhD student Megan Farr reports back from the book fairs this spring

This week on the blog, we welcome Megan Farr to share her experiences at the recent Bologna Children’s Book Fair and London Book Fair…

By Megan Farr

With the good news that Bologna Children’s Book Fair and London Book Fair were both going ahead this year, I leapt at the opportunity to build on my desk research to do some fieldwork and find out more about how the publishing industries in bilingual countries and nations around the world are funded and internationalise.

This opportunity marked a significant next step in my research journey after spending the past two years immersed in the intricacies of Welsh publishing. I would be able to meet and talk directly to representatives from publishers and literature promotion organisations from some of the countries and regions I had identified for my research, including Québec, New Zealand, Basque Country, Latvia, Scotland and Ireland and find out more about these children’s book markets and their translation and internationalisation strategies.

Bologna Children’s Book Fair

Bologna Children’s Book Fair takes place across four halls in the Bologna Fair District in the north of the city. The sun shined as visitors queued up to have their Covid and fair entrance passes scanned, masks obligatory. Inside the fair felt relaxed, reasonably busy but not crowded.

A space to leave messages of peace

Illustration is at the heart of this fair: the entrance hall exhibits illustrators from around the world, both formally and informally with walls where illustrators can promote themselves with posters and business cards. The Illustrator’s Café takes central stage with regular discussions about the world of children’s books, one of a number of stages with event programmes throughout the fair. This year there was also a space displaying books from Ukraine, and a dedicated wall where visitors could leave messages of peace.

Each hall is separated by a welcome outside area where people gather and chat in the sunshine and queue up for the piandina stall. Occasional drumming from the market focus country Sharjah filled the air, bleeding into nearby business meetings and panel discussions.

At the end of the fair people took the short bus ride, or a 40-minute walk, to the main piazza and surrounding streets filled with bars and restaurants to continue conversations about children’s books and publishing. This is where the real business chats take place.

My first day was filled with meetings with representatives from Québec, Ireland and Latvia. Simon de Jocas, Director of Editions Les 400 Coups explained that publishers in Québec receive both federal and province funding from the Canadian Book Fund which gives subsidy based on sales turnover, and the Canada Council for the Arts who give grants based on financial strength and future plans of the company. The decisions are made by a committee formed of publishers which changes every two years. Canadian authorship attracts funding which incentivises publishers to use Canadian authors and frequently source illustrators from around the world to internationalise their business. Les 400 Coups like all the other publishers in Québec publish exclusively in French and sell rights into other languages including English. One exception is Commes les géants who have recently set up Milky Way Picture Books, an English language imprint to sell directly into the Canadian and US market.

Elaina Ryan, CEO of Children’s Books Ireland and Tadhg Mac Dhonnagain, Publisher of the Irish language children’s publisher Futa Fata told me that independent Irish publishers produce around 25% of the books sold in Ireland. The sector is a mixture of Irish language publishers and larger independents such as O’Brien Press and Gill Books funded through annual grants from the Arts Council in Ireland. One key difference to Wales is that all four of the biggest UK publishers have an office in Dublin, commissioning authors and illustrators from Ireland. Futa Fata doesn’t let the Irish language stop them selling internationally and has published their books into 50 different languages to date. They don’t sell directly into the English market but translate and produce a limited run of proofs to help sell their books into international territories, a strategy the Welsh publisher Carreg Gwalch is beginning to use.

The Ukrainian Stand at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2022

Inga Bodnarjuka Mrazauskas, Executive Manager of Latvian Literature said that English was now the second main language of young people in Latvia, with Harry Potter being a big influence, as children would read the books in English before the Latvian translation was available. These days there is very little publishing into Russian, even before the current war in Ukraine. The Ukraine stand was near the Baltic Countries, left poignantly empty. Russia and the Russian language were nowhere to be seen but Russian illustrators were still present in the exhibitions.

Matthew Howard and Megan Farr

Matthew Howard from the Welsh publisher Graffeg had a table in the new Bologna BookPlus area, a new initiative at the fair with the aim of reaching a wider professional general trade audience across the global publishing industry. There is hope that there will be a Publishing Wales stand at the fair next year which will be the first time Wales has been formally represented at Bologna, helping publishers from Wales who publish children’s books to begin to make better connections with international publishers.

Day two was a day of panel events, where I absorbed information about the translation practice and international book markets of Italy, Spain, Greece and Latvia. In Spain, books in translation are separated out from domestic authors, in the UK they are displayed together. In Latvia and France translators are automatically paid royalties; in the UK this is still a right to be won. I walked around the Halls gathering literature about bilingual countries and regions I will be focusing on in my research including Basque Country, Catalonia, Slovenia.

Simona Scuri and Megan Farr

The last day of the fair included a fascinating chat with Simona Scuri, an expert on regional languages in Italy, who told me about the linguistic diversity of the country which has 31 indigenous languages recognised by UNESCO, 12 of which are protected by Italian law and funded regionally including Sardinian, Venetian, Sicilian, and Friulian.

London Book Fair

Two weeks later and I was on a train from Cardiff to London. In complete contrast to Bologna, Covid passes weren’t checked on entry (although they were the next day) and masks were a rare sight in the fair. Inside the fair was buzzing with energy and activity, the familiar halls filled with people happy to be reunited after three years. I made my way directly to the Publishing Wales stand, a welcome ‘cynefin’ in the buzz of the fair. Publishing Wales was created last year and represents both the English and Welsh-speaking publishing industry in Wales under one umbrella. The stand was a bright and elegant space with meeting tables and books from Welsh publishers on display. Meetings were in full swing and the team from the Books Council of Wales bustling and welcoming.

A welcome sight in London
The Publishing Wales Stand

I met with an old industry friend specialised in inclusion training for publishers and we strolled around the children’s publishers’ section, observing how few publishers there were this year. Afterwards I attended an inspirational panel event with representatives from Knights Of, CLPE and BookTrust discussing Happy Here, an anthology of 10 short stories by writers and illustrators of colour. The anthology aims to be an industry standard, with a copy gifted to all 18,000 schools in England along with teachers notes that will help embed representation and diversity into education and publishing.

Next was an event organised by Literature Across Frontiers in the Literary Translation Centre ‘Translating non-European literatures’ where I met my supervisors Elin Haf Gruffyd Jones and Alexandra Büchler and their colleague Casi Dylan, representing Wales Literature Exchange at the fair. Before leaving for the day I met Manon Steffan Ros, the best-selling Welsh author of Llyfr Glas Nebo/The Blue Book of Nebo, a softly spoken magician of words. Manon had taken part in a panel event the night before with the Catalan writer Pol Guasch as part of the Spotlight on Catalan Culture programme at the fair and this was Manon’s first time in London for 25 years.

The next day began with an exciting meeting with Alexandra Strick and Deborah Hallford from Outside In World. The organisation’s extensive collection of translated children’s books is now in the University of Portsmouth library and available for the public to borrow. The collection also forms part of a PhD project on translated children’s literature collections in the UK and it was good to connect with the PhD candidate Emma Page and exchange information about our research.

Panel discussion at the Literary Translation Centre on Questioning Neutrality with Sawad Hussain, Ayesha Siddqi, Eluned Gramich and Lúcia Collischonn

A fascinating panel discussion followed with translators around ‘Questioning Neutrality’ in the Literary Translation Centre, which included the writer and translator Eluned Gramich who spoke about her forthcoming essay ‘‘Decolonising’ Welsh Translation’, and reconnecting with the Welsh language and its strained relationship with English.

Later I had a good conversation with Lucy Feather from Publishing Scotland to find out more about their internationalisation strategies which include a collective stand at Frankfurt, London and Bologna book fairs, translation and author travel grants and a popular International Fellowship which encourages relationships between international and Scottish publishers

The last event of the day was drinks on the Publishing Wales stand, where I met Gerwyn Evans, the Deputy Director of Creative Wales and chatted with representatives from Welsh publishers and the Books Council before heading for my train with more notes and literature in my backpack, home to Wales, energised and excited to begin the next phase in my research.

Megan Farr

Megan Farr is Marketing and Publicity Manager at Firefly Press and currently researching into ‘Strategic Action for Internationalisation of the Children’s Publishing Sector in Wales’, as part of a creative industries PhD at the Mercator Centre at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David funded by the KESS II European Social Fund and sponsored by the Books Council of Wales.