In anticipation of Indonesia as market focus at next year’s London Book Fair, British Council Indonesia invited several UK publishers for a literature visit programme to Indonesia. The programme will aim to introduce delegates to the world of Indonesian literature and publishing, as well as to identify opportunities for Indonesian writers to be translated into English and lay foundations for rights sales to be made.
During the trip the publishers will visit Jakarta and Makassar - take place during the Makassar International Writers’ festival (www.makassarwriters.com) - which will include meetings with Indonesian editors and rights professionals, writers and festival programmers. Delegates will also have the opportunity to meet with Indonesian literary critics, writers and translators from the broader literary community.
At the end of the trip, we caught up with 2 of the 6 delegates from this literature visit; Juliet Mabey from Oneworld Publications and Shane Rhodes from Wrecking Ball Press.
Juliet and Shane spoke to us about things discovered during this trip, difference between Indonesian & UK's literature scene and what Indonesian books/authors that they recommend for UK public to check out.
Tell us about stuff you do at Oneworld Publications / Wrecking Ball Press
Shane: Founded in 1997 Wrecking Ball Press is an independent, international publisher of cutting edge poetry and prose. I am also the artistic director of The Humber Mouth Literature Festival in Hull as well as co-artistic director of Contains Strong Language Festival with the BBC.
Juliet: At Oneworld we publish about 75 new titles a year plus paperback reissues, with half our list focused on narrative non-fiction, mainly by experts for a broad audience with subjects ranging across global issues, history, popular science, nature, big ideas, religion and philosophy etc. The other half focuses on literary fiction, crime and young adult titles, all of which include translated fiction. We were very fortunate to win the Man Booker Prize in 2015 and 2016 with Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings and Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, and have been shortlisted twice for the Man Booker International with Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream (Argentina) and Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad (Iraq).
In our fiction list, we are particularly keen to showcase a really diverse range of writers and novels. Fiction opens windows onto other worlds, onto other people’s ways of looking at the world, their history, culture, and life experiences, so if you want to reflect humanity’s rich diversity, you can’t limit yourself to the English language and cultures based in the English–speaking world - you’d be missing out on so much. Our authors represent over 30 countries and almost as many languages, from Arabic, Japanese and Korean to Slovenian and Icelandic.
How is your process in acquiring a good book / author?
Shane: It is an organic process. As well as welcoming manuscripts being submitted to us, we also make contacts with writers through the festivals and events we are involved with such as the BBC's Contains Strong Language. Wrecking Ball Press has been around for 21 years and our reputation has grown a lot during that period.
Juliet: We acquire books from literary agents as well as from publishers all over the world, meeting at rights fairs like Frankfurt and London, and through scouting visits to New York and countries of particular interest such as Indonesia, Poland, Mexico, Lithuania, Denmark etc. Many of these are organised through the British Council in association with the London Book Fair. We also acquire books direct from authors, both in fiction and non-fiction, either from old-fashioned networking or from submissions via our website. For translated fiction, we often receive suggestions from translators or from our other authors about a good book that might suit our list, and we also work with cultural institutes in various countries who endeavour to bring their literary gems to the attention of publishers around the world.
What differentiates indie publishers from major ones according to you and how it can be beneficial to people in general?
Shane: I think we can give more time to the author as an individual because we don’t publish as many titles. We can work alongside the writers in the presentation and marketing of their books. We also have a strong emphasis on design quality which makes our books distinctive. We can also take more risks with titles which would not be considered commercial by larger publishing houses which are seeking to sell a bigger volume of books.
Juliet: Indie publishers tend to focus on niche areas and become experts in their fields, whether it be poetry, translated fiction or a specific subject. They can also be more nimble in their publishing, and with often lower overheads can take risks with less commercial projects that bigger publishers can’t take on. Translated fiction is a case in point, where you will see indie publishers featuring disproportionately on prize lists because this is an area in which they so often excel.
What are the similarities and differences of the UK’s and Indonesian literary / writing scene?
Juliet: In the UK, most fiction authors have agents representing them, attending book fairs on their behalf and selling their work to publishers all over the world. This is less common in Indonesia at the moment, as is also the case in many other countries like France, Mexico and Finland. However, in publishers like the Lontar Foundation and others, authors do have real champions of Indonesian literature to promote their work abroad.
Some literary genres like crime seem less developed in Indonesia, while short stories are probably more popular there than in the UK.
There is a very strong independent publishing scene in Indonesia, as there is in the UK, and many relationships will likely be forged between the two as a result of this visit and the London Book Fair Market Focus activities in March.
Finally, I was very interested to learn how important social media was to writers in Indonesia, as here, especially Facebook.
Shane: I have only experienced Jakarta and Makassar and from what I saw the scene is pretty similar to the UK. The festival was a similar set up but the big difference was the distance you had to travel between venues. As an independent publisher a large part of my income comes from Arts Council funding and I did not get the impression that there is a similar organisation in Indonesia. In the UK there is an emphasis on making literature more accessible to the public and widening participation in literature, and I had the impression that in Indonesia it was more part of the general culture.
New things discovered during the trip?
Juliet: Indonesia is a vast, sprawling country of some 17,000 islands, with more than 700 different languages and dialects, both of which make publishing and distributing books a real challenge for publishers.
However, it has a very vibrant publishing ecosystem, with a range of strong publishers, interesting authors and well-established literary festivals, and the upcoming London Book Fair Market Focus will provide an incredibly valuable opportunity to showcase Indonesian writers and literature to British and international publishers.
I was very interested to hear about the work of the Lontar Foundation. Their achievements in just over two decades are incredibly impressive. They’ve published over 200 titles translated into English, resulting in an extensive, varied body of work that showcases some of the very best writing from Indonesia, from classics to contemporary fiction, bringing it to the attention of publishers in other parts of the world and facilitating the development of university courses in Indonesian literature that would otherwise be difficult to establish.
Shane: Discovering new writers. I didn’t expect to find writers who would fit into Wrecking Ball’s ethos in Indonesia but I did. The enthusiasm for literature is not like anywhere else I’ve ever been. Our influences and inspirations are fundamentally the same. The human condition provides an endless source of material for writers.
Any Indonesian books/authors that the UK public should be checking?
Shane: Wrecking Ball Press are going to publish Mikael Johani’s We Are Nowhere and It’s Wow, so I hope they will be checking this out in the near future! I also came across and was blown away by Museum of Pure Desire, Nirwan Dewanto’s collection of poems beautifully translated by John McGlynn.
Juliet: Novels by Eka Kurniawan have recently been published, and several other authors have works in the process of being translated, such as Intan Paramaditha whose short stories and a novel are coming out with Harvill Secker this Autumn. In addition, I think authors like Ayu Utami and Leila Chudori definitely deserve to be more widely read outside Indonesia.
Your “must read before 2019” to date?
Juliet: Books I would really love to read this year include Lullaby by Leila Slimani and The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan, though I could go on and list more than a dozen.
Shane: I would recommend anything by Lucia Berlin an overlooked author while she was alive but now starting to gain the reputation she deserves.
With Oneworld Publications, Juliet has acquired and published numbers of award-winning books and list of authors whose work has covered topics from psychology to religion, politics and art.
Shane Rhodes is Hull-based editor who runs the Wrecking Ball Press and whose work is often influenced by music from the likes of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and the list goes on.