Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tim Parks on writing and publishing

English novelist and translator Tim Parks (60, lives in Milan: well, you would, wouldn’t you?) has a column on the New York Review of Books blog about books and the book world. These have now been collected into a book, called Where I’m Reading From: The Changing World of Books. More details here.

Melville House’s Mark Krotov and Alex Shephard interview Parks about it here. He is bracingly rude about the Nobel Prize (“obviously stupid”), condones the American literary world’s “healthy blindness” and sings the praises of CK Stead (“He is an absolutely brilliant guy. […] he’s a much smarter critic than I am. But, you know, who reads him? Nobody.”). He has a lot to say about publishing today. Very funny about Knausgaard and Murakami et al. Quote unquote: 
It was very different in the 1970s when I began to hazard a few words on paper. One was drawn in to this idea that there would be something noble about this profession, and that one might achieve a certain dignity. The more that goes on, the more life goes on, the more you feel how sick that project was. The whole publishing industry doesn’t really work in that way, and that kind of aim—which is just at the end a thirst for celebrity—is pretty depressing as an aim to pursue.

He also has views on how to make it as an international author. Two words: be American. Quote unquote:
About 70% of novels in Italian are translated, and about 70% of those are translated from America. So half what people are reading is American. They’re not reading from Czechoslovakia or Albania or Russia. They’re just reading from America.
So an American author actually doesn’t have to think about anything. He can just write and think for years for Americans—and in fact, everybody’s becoming Americans. So it’s not a problem for him. But if you’re in Holland, Norway, Sweden, even Italy, to a degree, then apart from the fact that you’ve grown up with the idea that lots of books came from other places and so there’s no reason my book shouldn’t go to other places— and apart from the fact that the number of people buying books in your country is much smaller—your chances of surviving on a book that’s totally in Italy is very small. There’s just a tendency to look outward more.

A NZ-born novelist friend who is big in Europe and has a high-powered New York agent echoes this: at that level, she says, publishers – and hence agents – want only novels that can be readily translated. Which makes it hard for a New Zealand writer writing about New Zealandy things in a New Zealandy way to crack the world. 


  1. Do you know how well Luminaries is selling in US?

  2. Be Scandinavian, especially if you write Crime.

  3. @Mark: no idea. I assume it was published there.

    @Paul: yes, being a Scandy gives one a headstart. I wonder if being Scottish does too, with the Ian Rankin (55 yesterday) effect.