Frankfurt Diaries: WEDNESDAY
Frankfurt Diaries: WEDNESDAY
Wednesday night ended in the Zouzou bar, where Jamie Byng threw a party for Matt Haig’s foreign publishers, and Clare Conville and Louise Allen Jones got a chocolate cake for their birthdays.
But even better: literary agent (and twitterer par excellence) Jonny Geller ended up in a brawl fight on the streets, exchanging punches with some unidentified locals…
A recap of Wednesday.
Let me first introduce to you: Stijn de Vries. This young and energetic editor foreign fiction at Lebowski is attending the Frankfurt Book Fair for the first time. Stijn is a relaxed dude, who likes to socialize and have a drink. When he started working at Lebowski as an editor, he ‘adopted’ Marlon James novel A brief History of Seven Killings and became its biggest fan: he kept on raving about it, championing the book wherever and whenever he could. He was pretty pleased with himself (and so was I, I must confess) when James won the Booker on Tuesday. And rightly so. On the picture you can see him with our scout Mary Ann Thompson. You would not guess they had never met before.
Oh, and his favorite author is Roberto Bolaño.
At the fair it’s hard to wipe the smile (or is it a smirk?) of my face. Opposite the Lebowski stand in hall 5, the good people of Cossee Publishers, Eva and Christoph, have theirs, and Christoph comes over to have a chat.
‘You know, Oscar, when Eva and I attended the announcement of the Deutscher Buchpreis on Monday night, and heard that Frank Witzel won the prize, I said to Eva: “This is the perfect book for Oscar. It’s a Knallbonbon. He will pre-empt on Tuesday morning”.’
I take that as a compliment, but it also leaves me worried a bit: have I become that predictable? I do think it's a perfect Lebowski book, and I did pre-empt on tuesday morning.
Best word of the fair so far: Knallbonbon.
Off to Jonas Axelsson, the sphinx-like boss of Partners in Stories, who runs something that combines agenting, producing and publishing. I like his innovative spirit, and we bought a book from him two Book Fairs ago: Lena Andersson, who who the Swedish Booker that year. His wife is into art, and so is mine, so that’s another plus for the Axe Man.
(Harper Lee on the right side)
Jonathan Burnham is not only a dear friend, but also a brilliant publisher. We talk about Harper Lee and other stuff, and reminisce about the days we both went to the Childrens Book Fair in Bologna, fifteen years ago. I had bought – while working at Vassallucci Publishers – Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer from him, when he was working at Miramax. The book sold brilliantly (we had quickly jumped on the Potter bandwagon) and we were thirsty for more. Only two problems: we both know (almost) nothing about children’s books, and we knew nobody at the fair, but just went there and offered $10000 on every YA-series that sounded good to us. Needless to say, the children’s books publishers were not that pleased with us.
Carrot soup for lunch.
The Fazi clan arrives at our stand and we talk about John Williams (Fazi published Stoner before us) and his upcoming biography, which is currently written by Charles Shields. We have world rights and they are keen to publish it.
Rosaria Carpinelli is in a good mood: Niccolò Ammaniti’s new novel Anna is the number one book in Italy at this moment, and we will publish it at Lebowski in January 2016. Niccolò is a big star in Holland too, sold almost half a million copies of his books.
Next in line are Nele Holdack and Gunnar Cynybulk from Aufbau Verlag. We share a love for classics (we acquired Rummelplatz from Werner Bräunig from them) and Gunnar tells me he is hesitant about the Marlon James’ novel (which has not sold in Germany yet), it being so many pages und so weiter und so weiter. I tell him that publishing is all about Knallbonbons, that we should not shy away from books that are over 500 pages, au contraire, that we should only publish long, ambitious, kaleidoscopic books. I am sure he will offer for it.
(Jane left, MAT right)
In the agent centre I exchange a bit of gossip with our UK scout Jane Southern, who tells me there is a hot book called I Love Dick. Yeah, right. No, seriously. It’s a French book, published in 1997 and mixes porn with Baudrillard. Turns out (or on) it’s sold to Leesmagazijn, a small but very smart indepent publisher in Holland. Fuck it.
Off to Nina Eidem, acquiring editor at Natur och Kultur in Sweden: we share a passion for classics (John Williams, Wallace Stegner, Lucia Berlin), and we also both acquired The Girls by Emma Cline, thé hot book of the fair last year. I think she is one of the smartest editors around.
Matthew Hamilton! Man, I like this guy, and we go way back. One of the hot books of the fair is the Johan Cruyff autobiography (MacMillan is selling, Jaap de Groot will be penning it), but in 1997, when Cruyff turned 50 years old, I published a book at Vassallucci called ABC: Ajax Barcelona Cruyff, written by famed television duo Barend & Van Dorp and authorized by Cruyff – and guess what, Matthew acquired it for Bloomsbury. He’s an agent now, working at Aitken Alexander and is doing very well. We talk about music books (I love indie music, he loves metal) and family stuff. Great guy!
Off to The Jackall aka Andre Wylie. First a pit stop at Luke Ingram’s table, a young man who looks he just run out of high school and who dresses accordingly. I like his understated way of conversation (books are not ‘on the horizon’, meaning: the author runs terrible late delivering the manuscript) and he is pleasure to work with. And he answers his emails 24/7.
With Mr Wylie and Sandra Chalfant I talk about Roberto Bolaño and how we can revitalize this amazing author in the Low Countries. We need some special effect to keep the fire burning. Why is the discours in Holland nonexistent while the rest of the world keeps on writing and talking about him?
I am almost depressed, but then remember we won the Booker Prize last night.
Wylie has been very persistent in getting to me to publish Philip K. Dick: after sending me a box with the complete oeuvre (342 books), which I returned on the same day, I finally got to read one book – The Man in the High Castle – and I must admit: this is a knallbonbon.
Off to the hotel to answer lots of emails from impatient people.
Like yesterday, there’s multiple invitations for dinners, so I need to plan this right. First I have a – terrific – pasta with my best friend in the business: Jamie Byng, who will never miss an opportunity the pitch you a book he is passionate about (and which you should buy from him). He has been doing so since I met him in 1995 and I am sure he will keep pitching when in the afterlife. After our dinner Jenny Todd (associate publisher at Canongate) and Matt Haig, author of Reasons To Stay Alive, which we have just published, join us. Matt and Jamie will come to Crossing Border in November, the best literary festival in Holland.
I take a taxi to the dinner of William Morris Endeavor: we buy many books from them, and I always try to join their dinners during book fairs. I talk about knallbonbons and other tricks of the trade with Raffaella de Angelis, Tina Bennet and Tracy Fisher. They just moved to a new offices and Tracy urges me to come and see it next time I am in New York: besides, she wants some advice regarding art on the walls. No problem.
In the meantime I can announce that we acquired the upcoming Ai Weiwei memoir, which will be published in 2017. It's big news.
Off we go again, to the tripartite party mentioned earlier above. At the Zouzou bar it’s way too crowded so we all shiver in the cold outside, talking and having a good time, until suddenly a fight breaks out in the street, with Jonny Geller involved in it. ‘Jonny! Jonny!’ screams Lee Brackstone from Faber Social – I am not sure whether he is cheering Jonny on or urging him to stop fighting. It’s over within ten seconds. Jonny looks cheerful, no sweat!
Time to go to bed.