The London Book Fair (LBF) will celebrate its 45th anniversary next month – and Malaysia will be joining the party for the first time in its history.
While the likes of Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand have had booths at the prestigious event for some years, Malaysia has never been represented. It finally took four independent publishers coming together to establish a local presence at the April 12 to 14 event in London.
And while the booths of most countries there probably have some form of government or corporate assistance, the Malaysian booth is entirely self-funded: Buku Fixi, Dubook Press, the Yusof Gajah Lingard Literary Agency and Clarity Publishing are doing this without any help from the public or private sector.
In response to questions over e-mail, Buku Fixi’s publisher Amir Muhammad explains how this venture came about.
Amir and Fixi are no strangers to the LBF, of course, having attended in 2014 when they won The Bookseller International Adult Trade Publisher Award (edging out fellow Malaysian nominee, Silverfish Books).
He had initially asked the organiser about setting up a country stand when he was at the LBF in 2015 as a trade visitor.
“They did say it’s unorthodox for private companies to handle one, as they are normally handled by government bodies or publishers’ associations.”
But after a few weeks of e-mailing back and forth, Amir and the organisers worked out a way that a small stand could be shared among a few Malaysian companies. The cost for the smallest booth, its decor, as well as flights and accommodations is over RM100,000.
Amir than put out an informal call on Facebook.
“Initially there were six Malaysian companies interested. But two of them pulled out due to lack of funds. So Fixi has to now pay for half rather than a sixth of the cost.”
Hence the idea for a fundraiser to help cover the extra cost: Fixi Novo, Buku Fixi’s English language imprint, is putting out a limited edition book of work by local writers.
Little Basket 2016 is the first of a planned annual journal of new Malaysian writing. This collection offers not only short stories but also an essay, comics and poetry from writers who have appeared in previous Fixi Novo anthologies. Only 3,000 copies have been printed, so this is a rare gem, indeed.
If you’d like to support this effort, you can order Little Basket 2016 online at fixi.com.my/produk/littlebasket2016 for RM26.50 (including Poslaju delivery costs). You can also order through the mobile phone messaging app, Whatsapp, at 011-2365 1972.
According to Amir’s Facebook post about the release, “This anthology will be made available to the many publishers, agents and journalists from around the world who will throng the LBF. We will also actively follow up with interested folks; there are many opportunities for collaboration. We want Malaysian writing to spread far and wide!”
Aside from Little Basket 2016, Fixi will also be launching three anthologies of new South-East Asian writing in London: Heat, Flesh and Trash.
“I am excited about this because this project involves about 50 writers and seven countries,” says Amir.
“They are launching at Daunt Books and will continue to sell at Daunt, a chain with six shops in London. We are also meeting other bookshops to see if they are interested – we have hired an international marketing communications manager and she’s fantastic. I see this as the first step to publishing more stuff from around the region rather than just Malaysia.
“And it’s also like a dream come true: as a student I spent hundreds of hours in London bookshops. Who would have thought that I would someday publish books that are sold in the same shops?”
We could “hear” Amir’s enthusiasm even in his e-mailed replies! Interest from official bodies, on the other hand, seem lukewarm at best. Why is that, we wonder, since this is arguably one of the biggest book fairs after the Frankfurt Book Fair, and Malaysia has actually produced international award winners in literature, such as Tash Aw and Tan Twan Eng.
According to Amir, the ostensible reason is because the dates are close to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy, which is April 4-7; LBF is April 12-14. Also, the Bologna fair is for children’s books, and there is a greater Malaysian interest in that market.
“But I think we have more than just children’s books to offer, which is why I think LBF is important,” says Amir.
“The same government agencies also don’t consider books published overseas by Malaysian (or Malaysian-born) writers to be ‘local’ enough to promote – it’s just tedious politics.
“Institut Terjemahan dan Buku Negara has now expressed an interest in joining us. I was magnanimous enough lah to give them shelf space, which they don’t have to pay for because they were already going to be present as trade visitors. So it’s like what I did last year when I used the Singapore booth to have meetings.”
Whether there is more support next year, Amir is planning on being in London again.
“The LBF is the first professional book fair I ever attended. Unlike, say, the KL Book Fair, it is not for consumers but for professionals. Even to get an entry pass is £35 (RM200). But that’s also the place that got me translation rights to books by Stephen King and Neil Gaiman (Fixi is the first company in the world to publish titles by these authors in Malay).
“So I hope to go every year – even if we can’t afford country booths every year!”