LIVEBLOG: Latvia at the London Book Fair

The Baltic states are joining forces at the London Book Fair being held March 14-16 to promote the region's writers and writing. LSM is along for the ride and will update you on all the latest literary happenings.

First of all, before launching into our own purple prose, let's do what any self-respecting book would do and begin with essential information. In our case that means a few official links.

First of all here's The London Book Fair itself. And its Twitter account @LondonBookFair is available via the link below.

Next here is a link to The Latvian Literature Center which is running the Latvian side of things. They also have a Facebook page where you'll also get a reminder of the #iamintrovert campaign which co-opts the notion that Latvian writers are all introverts. It may be post-modern or even post-post-modern, but more likely it is simply true.

You can read our previous round-up of it HERE.

It's also worth noting that this year's event is important partly as a preparation for next year's, as in 2018 the Baltic states will be the special focus of the fair (this year it's Poland's turn). 

Good morning from a grey and overcast London. Hmm... not exactly the exciting first line 'hook' with which they tell you to begin your novel. Forecasts of lovely English spring weather were accurate yesterday but with the UK government preparing to officially 'trigger' Brexit, possibly later today, the skies have darkened and are lowering gloomily above the London rooftops. No thunderbolts yet, but give it time.

The three Baltic states met up last night for a pleasant reception inside a large glasshouse perched atop a hotel perched atop a car park, perched atop a Victorian sewerage system designed by the amazing Sir Joseph Bazalgette, one of Britain and indeed civilization's greatest benefactors.

Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania will all be backing each other up at this year's London Book Fair, and I'll be talking to people from all three countries (and many more besides, I hope) over the next two days.

Prior to that reception I decided to get an early biblio-fix by sneaking into some London second-hand bookshops. Much to my surprise, almost the first thing I laid eyes on was a history of Latvia by Mara Kalnins. Sometimes you have to go a long way to wind up back where you started.

 

 

Let's get the Baltic states' solidarity marching onwards by noting that today is actually Estonia's Native Language Day or Emakeelepäev.

So happy Emakeelepäev, Estonian friends.

If you fancy a challenge, maybe you could try learning this simple Estonian phrase today:

"Vabandage, ma ei räägi eesti keelt. Kas Te räägite inglise keelt?"

(I'm sorry, I don't speak Estonian. Do you speak English?)

A brisk march along the Cromwell Road brings me to the Olympia venue, which despite its name is not located on top of a mountain.

The approaches to the exhibition center are festooned with various posters, prominent among them being our Baltic posters!

I just make it into the opening press briefing where the LBF director, Jacks Thomas (sic) gives a brief intro to this year's event - the 46th of its kind.

She's very impressed by Poland's stand - or rather FOUR stands, which she says constitute an amazing piece of design and come complete with hundreds of apples. Well, they do famously have rather a surplus of them.

Speaking of Poland, it's also 160 years since the death of Joseph Conrad, the Polish-born writer who became one of Britain's greatest novelists.

"Was he Polish, was he British?" asks Thomas, and reveals his work is currently being translated into Polish. 

I am a big Conrad fan myself. Not only is Heart of Darkness possibly the greatest short story ever written (I recommend another of his short tales called Il Conde too) but Conrad is particularly admirable as English was actually his third language, after Polish and French.

What have the Poles ever done for the UK? Well, Joseph Conrad, for one!

In other important news, there will be a "Kama Sutra ballet" later on (that may be worth a look!) and "Sweden and Italy are the winners" as far as translations into English were concerned during the last year.

Among the first to visit the Latvian stand is Ellie Steel of the major publishing firm Penguin Random House.

She kindly agreed to speak to LSM on what she looks for when searching out foreign works for the English-language market.

Ellie Steel, UK publisher

    And as Ellie said, she'll be exploring Latvian literature in more detail when she pays us a visit in a couple of weeks. Happy hunting!

    As it's Estonian national language day, what better way to mark it than with a poem in the Estonian language?

    Here is poet Veronika Kivisilla reading one of her own works for us. An exclusive - and a reminder that literature is about more than printed matter!

    A poem by Veronika Kivisilla

       

      A mysterious rack of black jackets has appeared on the Latvian stand and is beginning to attract a certain amount of attention from passers-by.

      What could it mean? Is it perhaps a metaphor for our existence, suggesting we are all merely glorified rags hanging in the coat rack of creation? Might these drab garments be a commentary on our own drab lives, a ceaseles battle to preserve ourselves against the inevitable rips and tears of human circumstance?

      I decide to commit fully to finding an answer and bravely don a jacket...

      All of a sudden I feel strangely introverted and yet... peaceful...

      So how's it going on the Latvian stand? I decided to ask Zanete Vevere-Pasqualini during a brief interlude in a series of meetings.

      Her assessment is upbeat and suggests that the hard work put in during previous years is finally starting to pay off.

      Zanete Vevere-Pasqualini of Latvian Literature Centre
         

        In an unexpected development, I have begun to bleed from the nose rather profusely. While this lends a certain color to proceedings (and unfortunately to my trousers as well as my too-slow handkerchief), and might at a glance be mistaken for the consumptive fit of a Romantic poet of genius, it makes further typing hazardous.

        So I'll call it a day here. More tomorrow, provided the haemorrhage does not prove fatal.

        I'm back, bloodied but unbowed! 

        Leaving the hotel for the book fair again, I notice a small demonstration of about 20 people outside. I ask them what it's all about and it turns out they are protesting against the UK's mental health policies.

        Nothing to do with the book fair, it is true, but adds a bit of color and shows there is more than books and Brexit in London right now.

        Demonstration about mental health issues in London

          As to the book fair itself, it is seems a little less manic and more relaxed than the first day, but there is still a steady stream of visitors to the Baltic stands.

          Let's see how things are going on with our Baltic brethren from Lithuania on their pristine white stand.

          Here are the thoughts of Ausrine Zilinskiene, director of the Lithuanian Culture Institute.

          Ausrine Zilinskiene on Lithuanian stand at London Book Fair

            Something absolutely wonderful just happened.

            I decide to check out the Russian stand, which is adjacent to the Estonian Baltic stand. In a secluded corner, a very smart and stylish author is giving an account of his latest work, a "Russian classical thriller" called The Coronation Of The Beast, all about unfettered power, manipulation of the population and a drift towards very dangerous times. You don't need to work very hard to see that this is something very contemporary and perhaps not quite what you would expect to be championed by Russia. In fact, it sounds very good indeed.

            The writer, Valery Bochkov, explains that this is part of a trilogy about "This terrible situation we Russians have created during the last 100 years" and was described by one critic as a "premonition of a tsunami."

            At the end of the discussion I approach Mr Bochkov to find out more, explaining that I am from Latvia.

            "Really?" he smiles, "That's wonderful - so am I."

            Bochkov was born in the small Latvian town of Krustpils, it turns out, and has a very fond opinion of the place. He is also extremely charming and speaks perfect English.

            So, without wishing to boast, I have discovered not only a Latvian writer, but a genuinely good one, writing books with mass appeal! All part of the service.

            You can listen to an interview with Bochkov about his life and work below.

            Valery Bochkov, Latvia-born Russian writer

               

              Perhaps the biggest Baltic hit of the book fair is the seminar given my three children's authors.

              The session on ways to create unique children's books, featuring Latvia's Ruta Briede, Lithuania's Kestutis Kasparavicius and Estonia's Piret Raud was absolutely packed and stimulated a lot of discussion.

              Apart from that, there's not too much to report. Writer Pauls Bankovskis will be giving a reading at the Latvian embassy this evening, but I have managed to arrange a sitcom-writing masterclass with two top British masters of the craft, which is where I'm heading now.

              That's all for the London Book Fair 2017 Liveblog. See you next year (perhaps).

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