British-Qatari publishing venture gathers pace
A year after independent London publisher Bloomsbury and the Qatar Foundation signed an agreement to set up Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP), the joint venture is gathering momentum. A few days ago BQFP published its first catalogue, with a strong list of books in Arabic and English.
BQFP’s Consultant Publisher Andy Smart told Saudi Gazette that the joint venture has so far focused mainly on fiction for adults and children. By the end of the year its list will expand to include adult non-fiction, monographs and academic books; further down the line it is to add school and university textbooks.
Bloomsbury’s highest-profile activity in Qatar so far was the launch on 1 October, in partnership with the Qatar Financial Centre, of the free access online financial resource QFINANCE.com. It includes contributions from 300 of the world’s leading financial practitioners and others on the crucial issues facing finance managers and executives. QFINANCE is also available as an annually-updated reference book, which BQFP will publish in the Middle East.
Bloomsbury has enjoyed much success in its 23-year history, especially with J K Rowling’s extraordinarily lucrative Harry Potter series. But the ending of the Harry Potter series has been one reason for a decline in Bloomsbury’s profit, which in the first half of this year were down to £1.8 million, from £3.5 million in the same period of 2008.
Bloomsbury has sought to diversify into more stable sources of profit, and it described the formation of BQFP as “an important strategic partnership”. The BQFP agreement initially operates from October 2008 to June 2014, with a contract value of £7.55mn.
Smart says that BQFP is “unique in lots of ways”. It is a publisher that publishes in both Arabic and English equally, and it has the advantage of being a joint venture involving a very well-established publisher in London.
Another special feature is that it has two budget lines: the publishing side, and the “community development” side. An early appointment by BQFP was that of its reading and writing development director, Mohana Rajakumar.
BQFP’s first step in encouraging young readers and writers was organizing the first World Book Day Qatar on April 23 this year, in collaboration with Qatar University and UK World Book Day. To mark the day BQFP published its first book: a dual Arabic-English edition of Bloomsbury’s best-selling children’s picture book “The Selfish Crocodile” by Faustin Charles, illustrated by Michael Terry. There were readings from the book at events in local schools, and children were able to take copies home with them.
One way in which BQFP is nurturing new writing in Qatar and the region is by holding writing workshops in Arabic and English. “We hope to have an interactive BQFP website up and running by the end of the year” says Smart. As well as articles and coverage of events, it will include forums and blogs.
At the forthcoming Qatar Book Fair from 30 December to 9 January, BQFP is planning a venue known as “The Tent”, where kids will work with writers and illustrators to create their own books in English and Arabic. BQFP will also organize activities in poetry for young people at the Fair.
The Bloomsbury Qatar Literary Salon founded by BQFP in London and Qatar has proved to be a hit with attendees. The salon’s inaugural meeting was held in London on 30 July with Egyptian-British novelist Ahdaf Soueif, a Bloomsbury author, as the guest interviewee.
The second salon took place in Doha on 9 September at the BQFP villa in Education City. It took the form of an iftar with readings in Arabic and English by three local poets: Abdullah Salem, Maryam al-Subaiey and Rana al-Tonsi.
Last Wednesday the third salon, featuring the Lebanese novelist, short story writer and dramatist Hanan Al-Shaykh [pictured], was held at the House of St Barnabus in Soho, central London. Bloomsbury has published several of Al-Shaykh’s novels and recently issued her frank and moving memoir “The Locust and the Bird: My Mother’s Story”.
Al-Shaykh has clearly inherited the storytelling gifts of her late mother Kamila, and she captivated the audience with her perceptiveness and humor. As at the inaugural salon, the interviewer was Peter Florence, director of the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts.
Bloomsbury founder and chief executive Nigel Newton introduced the salon, and Andy Smart gave a welcoming address in fluent Arabic. Bloomsbury's editor-in-chief Alexandra Pringle was also present.
A major highlight of the newly-published BQPF catalogue is the anthology “Beirut 39: New Writing from the Arab World”, in English and Arabic editions. The book is edited by Iraqi writer Samuel Shimon, deputy editor of Banipal magazine, and has an introduction by the acclaimed Lebanese author Amin Maalouf.
The anthology is published in association with Beirut World Book Capital and the Hay Festival. The Beirut 39 project involves a panel of judges selecting the 39 most interesting Arab writers aged 39 or less from more than 350 submissions.
Another BQFP title that is bound to arouse much interest is the English translation of “The American Granddaughter” by the Baghdad-born writer and journalist Inaam Kachachi [pictured], who now lives in Paris. The novel was one of the six novels shortlisted for the 2009 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), known as the Arabic Booker
“Murad Murad” by Palestinian Suad Amiry, author of “Sharon and My Mother –in-Law: Ramallah Diaries”, is an intriguing-sounding true account of how Amiry disguised herself as a man and illegally crossed the border into Israel to seek work in Tel Aviv.
BQFP’s children’s titles include three books in English from the “Hey Fafa!” series, written by Egyptian Rania Amin and illustrated by Mohamed Sayed. Among the Arabic children’s titles is a translation of “Eliza and the Moonchild” written and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark and translated by Mahmoud Gaafar.
For Arabic-reading young adults there is a translation of “Where the Streets Had a Name” by lawyer Randa Abdel-Fattah [pictured] born in Australia to Egyptian-Palestinian parents. This book is highly topical given recent events: a 13-year-old Palestinian girl believes a handful of earth from her grandmother’s ancestral home in Jerusalem will save the grandmother’s life, and she is determined to get there despite the wall, checkpoints and other hazards of West Bank life..