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Fair and loathing

In the first of a series of blogs, Jamie Byng, Managing Director of the independent publisher Canongate Books, offers some insights into why he´s

Friday – The Three Nicks

Day three and am struggling. Struggling with time, wishing it would stand still for 12 hours so I could have a quick nap, read one manuscript, eat...

Day three and am struggling. Struggling with time, wishing it would stand still for 12 hours so I could have a quick nap, read one manuscript, eat something and generally chill. Right now I’m in a calm cab, on my own, en route to the Frankfurterhof to meet up with Oscar van Gelderen, a great publisher and even better friend, who is throwing a small party for the brilliant Niccolo Ammaniti who we publish together along with about forty other publishers around the world.

It’s not often that we have authors at Frankfurt but this year I am delighted that three versions of nicholas will be here. Niccolo from Italy, Nikolai from Siberia (or Transnistria to be more precise) and Nick from Australia. Or Ammaniti, Lilin and Cave to give them their other names. They also share qualities as writers, exploring the darker sides of humanity through exceptionally powerful and distinctive tales.

It was in Frankfurt in 2003 that Oscar, Niccolo, Halfdan Freihow and I bonded in an extended session that resulted in Nic being published by Oscar in Holland. We were already publishing him at Canongate but this night forged a deep friendship between the three of us and tonight feels like an overdue reunion.

It was Oscar who first tipped me off to Nicolai Lilin having pre-empted the Dutch rights in his strange quasi-memoir, Siberian Education. This sharing of books is one of the aspects of publishing I like so much as it creates a kind of decentralised cohesiveness, a means by which stories travel and are shared. The conversations we have can change the way we understand what we read, helping us to plumb the depths of a book’s universality and many meanings. Selling a book into many languages can be financially lucrative but it’s about much more than the money. Each one teach one.

Which brings me to the third nick in this unholy trinity – the Caveman!  It was in Frankfurt last year that we started to really sell The Death of Bunny Munro internationally and so it is only fitting to have all 35 of his publishers meeting up at a small party we are throwing for Nick tomorrow night with his German publishers, Kiepenheuer and Witsch. The publication of his twisted and poignant and incredibly funny novel is one of the most exciting projects I have ever been involved in and it thrills me that it seems to be working so well in so many countries around the world. I’m also really proud because we have been extremely creative in the way we have launched Bunny, producing a groundbreaking audio version (read by Nick and with a stunning soundtrack by him and Warren Ellis), a gorgeously decadent 
flock limited edition, short films of Nick reading, a truly innovative App for the iPhone, a ten city theatre tour around Europe and a very effective website –  I think it’s the most joined up piece of  fiction publishing we’ve ever done and it feels truly twenty first century.

I’ve got to go as time is ticking and Nic has arrived and I want to get off this f’n iPhone!  But before signing off I wanted to say that we’ve got 5 pairs of tickets to giveaway for the party on Friday evening at which Nick cave will do a short reading. All you need to do is to answer correctly what the name of the last Bad Seeds studio album is and call 069-7591 2450.


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