Lewis said she had gone out on a limb to publish Greengage Tree, not least because of the ‘‘significant’’ cost of getting the book translated from Farsi, in which the former refugee, who had been jailed in Iran, arrived here by boat in 2012 and spent six months months in detention, had written.
‘‘But I wasn’t thinking business at all,’’ Lewis said. ‘‘I was passionate about getting confronting amazing inspiring pieces out. It’s something we don’t see often enough in Australia. We took this ridiculous risk.’’
A risk that has paid off and rewarded Lewis and her partner’s initial judgment. Azar’s book was shortlisted for the Stella in 2018, the Queensland fiction book award, and this year’s Adelaide Festival awards. Last week it was named on the longlist for the Booker International Prize.
Lewis said the Stella shortlisting had been incredibly important. Wild Dingo sold world English-language rights (except the ANZ region) to Europa Editions, publisher of Elena Ferrante, and Italian rights, while the Booker listing had an immediate impact, bringing interest from publishers in Iceland, France and Egypt. ‘‘We wouldn’t have been able to cover our costs without the Stella,’’ Lewis admitted.
Azar is writing another book, to be published by the University of Queensland Press. ‘‘I have no problem with that,’’ Lewis said. She relishes having introduced Azar to the world, and is now looking forward to celebrating Wild Dingo’s 10th birthday. She will publish 16 books this year – not bad for someone who thought The Rugmaker was ‘‘a one-off’’.
Following the postponement of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and the cancellation of next week’s Leipzig Book Fair because of the threat of coronavirus there existed huge uncertainty over the London Book Fair that was due to begin on March 10. Amazon, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster and Hachette said they wouldn’t be sending anyone to London, which made things tricky for the organisers. Hachette and Pan Macmillan even said they wouldn’t send staff based in the British capital, and HarperCollins swiftly said it was considering the same action. Scottish publisher Canongate pulled out, Italian publisher Grupo Mauri Spagnol did likewise, as did Britain’s largest agency, Curtis Brown.
Earlier in the week Penguin Random House Australia publishing director Justin Ractliffe said he was still intending to go, despite the uncertainty. He said it would still be worth it. ‘‘I have a whole week of PRH publishers and agents meetings arranged. I had an incredibly full schedule organised and even without the Americans the ROI is still worth it.’’ But with the situation deteriorating, he too pulled out. Then LBF organisers made the inevitable decision to cancel the fair.
One publisher who has been a frequent attendee at LBF but wouldn’t have been there even had it been going ahead is Text’s Michael Heyward. But Text took the decision not to go to London last December. Prescient, or what? It was a decision based on using resources differently, on reducing its carbon footprint and the fact that the LBF was scheduled early this year and there would be five months until Frankfurt. ‘‘But had we planned to go, we probably would be pulling out,’’ he said.
Women’s Prize list
Plenty of big names are on the longlist for Britain’s Women’s Prize for Fiction (the former Orange Prize), including Booker winners Bernadine Evaristo, Anne Enright and Hilary Mantel. Full list: Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, Deepa Anappara; Fleishman Is in Trouble, Taffy Brodesser-Akner; Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams; Dominicana, Angie Cruz; Actress, Anne Enright; Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo; Nightingale Point, Luan Goldie; A Thousand Ships, Natalie Haynes; How We Disappeared, Jing-Jing Lee; The Most Fun We Ever Had, Claire Lombardo; The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel; Girl, Edna O’Brien; Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell; Weather, Jenny Offill; The Dutch House, Ann Patchett; and Red at the Bone, Jacqueline Woodson.