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Kay Farrell: Finnish Literature Exchange

Last week I was fortunate enough to take part in the Finnish Literature Exchange (FILI) Editor’s trip to Helsinki. It was wonderful to be there and lovely to see such exchanges restart after the pandemic closed such programmes down.

These trips, run by literature institutes throughout the world, were a delightful surprise to me as I did not know about them when I first went into publishing but play a crucial role when publishing books in translation. They offer a unique opportunity to visit another country and meet their publishers and authors, hear about the country’s literary scene and get a feel for the culture of the host country. All of these factors play a role in deciding which books are a good fit to be translated and find a place on our list.

Though a country with a small population, Finland has a thriving literary scene. The Finlandia Prize is awarded each year to celebrate the best in literature, and experimental literary fiction is thriving – though crime fiction tends to top the bestseller lists, as it indeed does here. Interestingly, it seems that during the pandemic, the country went ‘knitting mad’ as books on the subject gained huge popularity. Nordic knitting is beautiful and no doubt very important in a country which still had huge ice sheets on the ground even in mid-March.

Editor’s trips also afford the visitors the chance to compare notes and learn about the situation in each country. I learned, for example, that audio books have not really taken off in France but are huge in Finland. YA books are phenomenally popular in Poland, and in the Netherlands bookshops all across the country collaborate on promoting key titles. These differences in the market and book cultures of each country are the kinds of details that help us understand in turn which countries our own books might fit well into, and enable us to disseminate our own books throughout the world.

Scotland, too, has an International Fellowship Programme run by Publishing Scotland which brings publishers from across the world to meet and hear about Scottish books. The next cohort will be with us in August and I cannot wait to meet them and tell them all about our country and its own unique literature.

-Kay Farrell