Sharjah Book Fair

The Sharjah International Book fair is one of the largest book fairs in the world,

and preceding it each year the organizer arrange what they call Matchmaking

sessions, to bring together publishers and agents from different countries to buy

and sell rights in books which might otherwise pass unnoticed by the largely

Anglophone publishers who rarely read books in any other language. It’s a bit

like what I imagine speed dating to be, but with a wider range of nationalities,

ages, genders and interests. I was there to try to sell rights in a few Skyscraper

books, but also to look out for possible books to translate from their writer’s

language to English. Thanks to the generosity of the Sharjah organisers, there

were translation grants available to help defray the costs of translation of books

that visiting publishers might like to acquire.

With a list that contains Middle Eastern content but written in English, we were

keen to find possible translation deals, and managed to get initial offers to

translate Britain in Palestine into Arabic, as well as – surprisingly – Is There

Anybody There?, our collection of essays on assisted suicide, which attracted the

attention of an Egyptian publisher. But the biggest surprise was the large

number of books which, at least on paper or by the descriptions of agents and

publishers, sound as if they deserved translating and publishing in the UK and

the US. At this stage I was just expressing interest, but there were intriguing

novels from Turkey, Holland and Italy, as well as a riveting-sounding true crime

book from Finland, and a political prisoner’s harrowing tale of life in an Egyptian

prison. Of course, with all of these it is good writing we are looking for, and with

a book written in another language this depends at least as much on the

translator’s ability to write as it does on the original author.

Publishing being the risky business it is, I hesitated to rush into doing deals for

every book I liked the sound of. But I’ve a hunch that the Skyscraper list for 2017

will contain a few translations which started life in Sharjah in autumn 2015.

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