London Book Fair, day 3 – looking forward, looking back

The London Book Fair is over now, but the collaboration with Korea continues, for which a huge thank-you is due to the British Council and the Literature Translation Institute of Korea.

The Korean Minister of Culture invites UK to be guest country at Seoul Book Fair 2016
The Korean Minister of Culture invites UK to be guest country at Seoul Book Fair 2016, at the evening reception at BAFTA on 9 April

One thing I forgot to mention yesterday is that Britain (or was it the UK?) is invited as guest country at the Seoul Book Fair 2016, which will nicely extend the 18 month programme of literary collaboration that is in place between our two countries. The London Book Fair is the peak of that collaboration, but:

  1. Let’s not forget the visits that have taken place in the last 12 months, starting with the handover ceremony at last year’s Book Fair: the Korean authors who came as part of that handover, and the British writers and book professionals who have been to Korea since; and
  2. Let’s look forward to the continuing collaborations, with
    • Gong Ji-young coming to the Hay festival in May 2014
    • Bae Suah’s residence at the Writers’ Centre in Norwich, May-July 2014
    • Kim Aeran’s residence at the University of Edinburgh, June-August 2014
    • Kim Young-ha’s appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August 2014
    • ((Actually, someone told me there were five authors coming over after the London Book Fair, but I can’t find details of the fifth. ))

Continuing the look-back over the last day of the Fair (actually, there’s Kim Young-ha still to come on Friday evening, so I shouldn’t sound too valedictory too soon):

  • Congratulations to Yi Mun-yol, Hwang Sok-yong and Shin Kyung-sook who still managed to find new things to say on their third speaking engagement of the week in London (Kim Young-ha’s third appearance comes on Friday). They faced the same question at least once, but still sounded engaged and interested as if they were answering it for the first time. They’re actors as well as authors.
  • Today we learned that Hwang Sun-mi stood up for authors throughout Korea by refusing to accept a derisory TV deal from KBS, who like many TV broadcasters seem to think that they are doing you a favour by giving you airtime…
  • …but nevertheless she’s envious of Yoon Tae-ho’s revenue deals with the web portals who host his webtoons.
  • We have some great translations coming our way: two of Grace Koh’s SOAS students, Deborah Smith and Eugene Lee, gave us probably the most intellectually stimulating session of the Fair with their K-Lit Translation Battle.
Hwang Sun-mi
Hwang Sun-mi
  • Also today, I bagged my two favourite photos of the festival:
    1. Hwang Sun-mi looking adorable (above); and
    2. Shin Kyung-sook and her interpreter holding up copies of Please Look After Mother at Asia House (below).
Shin Kyung-sook
Shin Kyung-sook with Korean and English versions of Please Look After Mother

A quick personal thought. Over the past three days, making a huge generalisation, the authors fell into two categories: those who wanted to change the world through their books; and those who through their writing were looking deep inside themselves. So, picking up on the latter thread: why was it that I was so reluctant to get myself photographed with all these authors, and to get them to sign copies of their works for me? There was a very efficient German who came over specially for the Fair, whose in-flight baggage must have been way over the weight threshold: for each author appearing at the Fair, he had brought over as many books as he could buy in Germany, whether in Korean, German, English or whatever language, for them to sign. Why did I not bring in my library to be autographed by writers I have admired for years? Why did I only pose in front of the camera when someone else virtually forced me? (OK, I confess: with one author I *did* push myself forward, because no-one else was going to do it for me). There must be something very complicated, reserved and English going on.

Once again, thanks to the British Council, LTI Korea, the KCC and the various venues and supporters (such as English PEN). You managed to bring over two of the three Korean writers I first encountered 10 or so years ago: Hwang Sok-yong and Yi Mun-yol. (The third, Lady Hyegyong, I hope to meet in a multicultural afterlife, but at least the British Library gave her a mention on Tuesday via the wonderful manuscript in their collection). And you brought over to London writers who are already, or I hope will become in the future, our friends.

Thanks also to all the interpreters who did sterling work throughout the Fair, and the translators past, present and future who bring Korean literature to the English language.

As I said on Tuesday, I’m glad I took three days off work for the Fair. But I wish I’d taken off a couple of weeks, to write it all up.

More coming soon, or when I have time over/after the busy Easter liturgical season. Meanwhile, either on the London Book Fair or LTI Korea websites you’ll find videos of most if not all of the author appearances.

Now I need some rest, but unfortunately I have to go back to my day job.

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