Little Tales of Lost Identity

It is a strange land, devoid of normal human connections. What is normalcy anyway? We deal with estranged devices, people who are unmasked, lurking in lost identities. Cees Nooteboom’s Self-Portrait of an Other (translated by David Colmer, Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2012) is a terrifying tale of living ghosts, outside and within. When was the last time you remembered yourself?

Self Portrait

Strangers, lovers, enemies collide in a Kafkaesque maze of their own bodies. It is beautiful and it is very dangerous. Also there are images, images that are utterly wanton in nature, stripped off their dignity, stripped off their skin, crawling out of the sheer paper, laying bare for your eyes only. This book is the dark side of man’s consciousness, the dark side of the real moon. It assures of a quietness that you may not be accustomed to, but have been desperately seeking. You can only feel the disputed love, that I so abundantly feel, for this (un)prepared disrobing of life’s faux sweetness. Rare treat.

Sheenginee Bhattacharya 

The Man Who Found the Stories We Thought We’d Given Away

Before I met Ivan Vladislavic, the strapping Croatian South African author with an ominous forehead and gentle smile, I met Ivan Vladislavic, the man who wrote The Loss Library and Other Stories. I knew him as the man who had been published in scores of languages. I knew him as the man who once said that ‘getting lost is not always a bad thing.’

Meeting the Ivan that I had previously known through his pages felt like eating the same salad with a different dressing—amusing, and infinitely interesting. (I remember putting forth the above analogy to a friend a few days ago, to which she replied, ‘Honey, if you’re going to compare a writer like him to a salad, it better be the best salad you’ve ever tasted.’ Indeed, it was.)

He is so much more than the ink on his pages.

Ivan’s first brush with the written word didn’t fetch him a great book deal but it landed him an editorial position at a small publishing house in South Africa. This was during the days of the apartheid, owing to which literature depended on the ability of publishers to get controversial books ‘out’ (into the hands of the masses) before the government banned them for being ‘politically irresponsible’. He told us about how different the world was, then. He spoke of the tediously exhilarating ways in which manuscripts were edited and about now obsolete (but charming, nevertheless) methods of printing books.

‘When we published books, we published them to create revolutions and lend voices that needed to be heard a much needed platform. We didn’t care if we made money on them and we didn’t care if our books offended the politically correct—we had a vision, and we fought for it every day,’ he said, his eyes moist but twinkling.

He spoke of a time when books were sources of thought and opinion; when books transcended bestseller lists and motion picture tie-ins; when books fuelled fatwas and ended wars; and when books mattered more than red-carpet gowns.

He spoke beautifully, with the kind of passion only the passionate can display.

When I asked him how his publishing career helped his writing, he said, ‘working as an editor forced me to read books with the kind of intense care that I would not have devoted to them, otherwise. This opened up a whole new literary world to me. Storytelling met opinion and I stood back and watched them intersperse into something beautiful.’

Years later, he went back to his first love—writing. Armed with editorial expertise and bursting with eclectic ideas, he went on to write critically acclaimed books such as The Restless Supermarket, Double Negative and A Labour of Moles.

Ivan Vladislavic is a legendary man with a generous laugh and infectious wit. His session with us was a great source of encouragement for adventurous writers with a love for the editor’s red ink, like me.

I’m mighty glad I met him.

Manjima Ghosh

The Right Way

Imagine a world where we didn’t know about foreign literature and the world wouldn’t know ours. No Dostoevsky, no Grimm Brothers, no Günter Grass, no Harry potter in regional languages or any other language except English for that matter! Would such a world be liveable? To me, it would be like a horrendous nightmare that I would give anything to wake up from. We often overlook important aspects of book publishing like foreign rights but if they didn’t exist, we would not have such a diverse range of literature. Friederike Barakat’s master class helped us a lot in understanding this. She was absolutely delightful and ever so patient with us and our multiple spontaneous questions.

You would ask (and it is quite sensible to ask) what the benefits of foreign rights are and well, it would mean that you have a wider audience, the entire world to be exact. There is a massive potential for a book that gets picked up by publisher from another part of the world, or if an author decides to go global. Amazing things happen—take Iliya Troyanov, for instance. He is the author of The Collector of Worlds and Friederike worked with him. To make things simpler for us, she presented us with the example of how his book—originally in German (Der Weltensammler)—got published worldwide in various languages; how she had to make a foreign rights catalogue and entice the publishers worldwide to pick it up; and told us about how much it helps when the book has already been critically acclaimed and won a prestigious literary award.

The Collector of Worlds

She gave us a whole lot of reading material to go over; there was a memorandum of agreement and a copy of the contract that Carl Hanser Verlag (where Friederike is the Foreign Rights Director) had signed with Troyanov. It was very clear and easy to grasp as to how the entire process worked. To make it more fun for us, she gave us a small assignment—we had to think of an author, his/her work and give a small presentation on why this work should be translated and made available to foreign markets. It was an attempt to make us experience first-hand the process of selling rights and rather than worrying about how to do it, we were concerned (chewing nails and pulling at our hair in desperation) about our favourite authors and favourite books. Nonetheless, we all had a great time doing it. But more than that, it was Friederike who made it seem and sound so awesomely interesting that it was hard not to fall a little in love with her—it was evident how much she loved what she did.

All in all, loved this master class, loved having Friederike and her open and amazing approach towards teaching us something that we rarely ever gave much thought to before. It is amazing how big and wonderful opportunities foreign rights can offer, how much there is to know and do in this never-ending sea; onwards, always onwards.

Shambhavi Thatte

Looking Back

The day unfolded beautifully for me on the 2nd of January. One of the reasons being my best friend’s engagement and the other being the first day of training at the Seagull School of Publishing. Getting to know new people seemed to be a perfect way to start my new year. All in all, the day was pretty awesome and I couldn’t have asked for a better start.

The first thing I realized was that I was totally in love with the place where I had to spend the next three months. Initially there was some awkwardness; sitting in an empty room (since I am very punctual!), staring at my phone, I started rereading millions of year-old messages, refreshing facebook every few seconds on my uber-old phone and even slower GPRS, silently cursing my network service. Slowly rest of the room filled up. Naveen sir and the rest of the members of the Seagull family gave us a warm friendly welcome to be a part of their family.

The first few minutes included the ice-breaking session, getting to know everyone and everything about the work culture, the terrific master classes that were arranged for us, tough training sessions and so much more! It really seemed like a cool place. There were books everywhere, every kind, every shape, every size and every colour one could think of. We were also given our goody bags. Inside each, there was a file with a notebook, a pen and the schedule for the month and a few handouts. Sunandini ma’am talked about what would happen during the next three months. By the time she stopped talking I was her self-proclaimed fan.

There was a break after the introduction session where we were welcomed by yummy sandwiches and coffee. By this time we were all in our comfort zone. I already made friends, exchanged numbers, made a new group on social media and so on. It seemed like all of us knew each other. Post-snack I tried to find the AC switches, the canteen and the washrooms. Success! To my surprise we had a wonderful-looking kitchen instead of the regular canteen. The washroom survey revealed how deep-rooted art was in this place. Once the coffee break was over, all the ‘senior’ family members left us to unwind.

The school turned out exactly how I’d imagined it to be. All the faculty members seemed to be friendly. The start was good, and the journey should only get better.


Sharmishtha Chowdhury