Phew! That Bishop. Can the address be published? Why isn’t it on the tills now, next to those cool Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s tracts from Fourth Estate? A little gift paperback, perhaps The Power of Love…
It has been a fortnight of memorable speeches. Axel Scheffler, who was named Illustrator of the Year at the British Book Awards (BBA aka ‘the Nibbies’) may be a less demonstrative figure than Bishop Michael Curry, and even taking into account subsequent viewing on YouTube the audience for his BBA speech was a tad down on Curry’s estimated two billion at the Royal Wedding. But even so he still caught a moment. His heartfelt plea to make ‘room on the broom’ for those who are making a new home in the UK was moving – and as inspiring, in its own way, as the Bishop’s address, especially in the standing ovation for Judith Kerr.
The UK book industry’s own royalty was honoured at the BBA, with former Hachette CEO Tim Hely Hutchinson receiving an award for Outstanding Contribution to the Book Trade. One of his last speeches was at the inaugural Building Inclusivity in Publishing conference, organised by The London Book Fair in 2016. He called for a “kinder, more inclusive publishing industry” —one in which everyone “regardless of our respective genders, sexuality, ethnic, religious, social or other backgrounds” feels at home. It expressed sentiments of which both the Bishop and the Duchess would approve.
Positive news seems to have been in abundance this week, though how much of this can be attributed to the happy couple is unclear. Novelist Jojo Moyes has adopted something of the James Patterson mantle by stepping in to save Quick Reads from closure, offering to fund the £120,000-a-year adult literacy programme for the next three years. Patterson himself announced his fifth year of ‘holiday bonuses’ for independent booksellers in the US, bringing the total he has given to $1.1m.
There has been positive news for conglomerates too, with good results reported by Bertelsmann (highest first quarter for ten years), Lagardère (up 2.9% on first quarter) and HarperCollins UK (third quarter up 6% and Publisher of the Year at the Nibbies). Not enough to make the respective chiefs have a lap of honour in an open Ascot Landau Carriage, but not bad none the less.
Away from these shores, the International Publishers Association held its first Seminar on ‘Publishing for Sustainable Development – the Role of Publishers in Africa, co-hosted by the Nigerian Publishers Association and held in Lagos, Nigeria. This conference was a good example of international cooperation with support coming from The London Book Fair, the Frankfurt Book Fair and the Association of American Publishers, with particular help – and much behind-the-scenes organising – from Sharjah Publishing City in the UAE.
There was discussion of ‘safe corridors’ for non-pirated books – entry points that publishers and booksellers can trust – and numerous calls for “national book policies”. Sheikha Bodour al Qasimi, founder of Sharjah’s Kalimat, takes an interesting overview of developments in both Africa and the Arab World. She believes neither are happy with a single identity (often given to them by outsiders) and each are using culture, of which publishing is a part, to portray the diversity of their respective stories. “Readers globally are seeking out more diverse voices and books,” she says. “They are increasingly interested in other cultures, countries, ideas, lifestyles. Global readers are asking emerging publishing markets in Africa and the Arab World to provide alternative narratives to the single stories that are often told.”
But back to that tide of good feeling. Even the sadness at the passing of former Penguin CEO Peter Mayer was outweighed by the warmth of the tributes. Once again, the way publishing respects and honours its own is something of which the industry can feel proud. Here is one nice Mayer anecdote, among many. When he received the Lifetime Achievement Award at The London Book Fair in 2008, he recalled arriving in Britain during the Winter of Discontent in 1978 and, against a good deal of opposition, beginning the reinvention of Penguin.
He noted that there were precious few words of praise and encouragement for him because he was thought “un-Penguin and un-British”. So he was thrilled to be greeted warmly by a woman at Penguin’s old Harmondsworth warehouse who thanked him for improving life at Penguin, and said her husband and children were similarly grateful. Mayer asked what she did.
“The Returns room,’ she replied. ‘Returns are up, up, up, ever since you came,’ she added. ‘I get overtime nearly every day now’…”. Mayer continued: “I went to the canteen in search of hemlock….”
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.