Visit to Frankfurt Book Fair 2016

Visit to Frankfurt Book Fair 2016, funded by Creative New Zealand in association with PANZ. Report from Fiona Kidman

I would like to express my appreciation for the opportunity to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair. It was a first for me and offered a major and enriching experience. My thanks go to Creative New Zealand for funding the trip, to PANZ staff for their meticulous organisation, and to individuals who helped smooth the path, in particular Kevin Chapman who could not have been more helpful.

I am grateful to Barbara and Stefan Weidle, my publishers in Germany (Weidle Verlag), who have just released my novel The Infinite Air under the title Jean Batten: Pilotin. They were the perfect hosts and saw to my every need while I was at the Fair, and on the tour to other centres that followed.

I would also like to say thank you for those who made my flights as comfortable as the budget allowed, and for the lovely hotel that I stayed in in Frankfurt. It provided the perfect base. My fellow New Zealand writer was Paul Cleave and we enjoyed some convivial breakfasts together.

Under the terms of my contract I was required to report daily to PANZ during the Fair. Unfortunately, my email failed, and took several days to repair, and although I did file some minor reports, and got Barbara Weidle to send regular photographs, I apologise for not giving fuller accounts. It was very frustrating.

There were numerous highlights. One was the opening ceremony, attended by the King and Queen of Holland and the King of Belgium. It was moving, and the speeches made were powerful, reflecting global concerns.

Weidle Verlag held a stand party in my honour and I met many people who expressed great interest in my work. It was a very pleasing day as I was named in the media as one of the top 10 writers at the Fair (others included David Hockney and John Burnside). I’m not sure whether it was on this account that I had a Protection Squad member detailed off to look after me. That was bit discomforting. No threat, I was told, just a precaution. From what, I didn’t discover!

Over the course of the week, I was on three panels, did three media interviews, and took part in a book store reading.. I would like to make special mention of my conversation on the Indonesian stand with the renowned writer Goenawan Mohamad. It was an honour to work with him, and the moderator, Atika Schubert from CNN made the discussion flow smoothly. I also very much enjoyed the Publishing Perspectives Stage conversation with Erin Cox. She was well-informed, warm and interested in what I had to say.

I attended the New Zealand stand Function on the Friday night. It’s clear that New Zealand is still very central to Fair goers awareness since the 2012 Guest of Honour, as there was a big crowd there. It was good to meet up with so many old friends there, and to meet new people who had come along as admirers of the NZ presence.

The bookshops, away from what at times I found an overwhelming crush of people, provided the venues that I truly enjoyed and felt most at ease. In the Frankfurt store where I read (with German translators in attendance), the bookseller had made a wonderful display, complete with miniature aeroplanes. In Bonn, where I travelled after the Fair ended, there was a large audience and a party that went on in a basement part of the store long into the night. The bookseller had set out tables laden with wine and food and it was a very convivial gathering. As an aside, this bookseller was one of the winners of a special prize that is now offered annually in Germany by the government as a reward and encouragement for good bookselling. I forget the exact details, but it is three tiered, the first level of a number of booksellers receiving 25,000 euros, the second tier, 15,000, and the third tier, 7,000. This was an initiative of Stefan Weidle while he was chair of the independent publishing association in Germany, a position I understand he held for many years.

Berlin, the last stop on my tour was just wonderful. The bookshop was a large, airy space, again filled with people, and the interest and sale of books went on until after midnight. This event was attended by our Ambassador to Germany, Mr Rod Harris, who spoke at the event. I’d be grateful if my appreciation could be extended to him. He, and other embassy staff, stayed until late. It was pleasing that on that day news of my New Zealand Heritage Prize for Fiction had arrived, and the Ambassador announced it with as much pizzaz as if it was the Booker! It felt quite special. On my last night in Berlin, the Weidles hosted a gathering of media and booksellers at their apartment.

I left for Paris the following day, where I stayed for 5 days at the home of the NZ Ambassador and his wife , James and Alison Kember (already personal friends). They hosted a dinner for friends of mine, who included my publisher, former Randell Cottage Fellows, and former French Ambassador to NZ, Michel Legras. I was able to consult with my translator of a forthcoming novel in French and this interlude was very helpful, both personally and professionally.

Altogether, I gained a great deal. Thank you very much for this wonderful opportunity.

Fiona Kidman
11 November 2016



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