Book Bloggers Panel with SELTA

Chair of SELTA, Ruth Urbom, gives an account of the book bloggers’ panel who spoke to our members after SELTA’s 2016 AGM.

On 1 November SELTA members were joined by a panel of three book bloggers who spoke to us about world literature, blogging and the unexpected benefits of sharing their interest in books with other readers. All three of our guest speakers – Ann Morgan, Stu Allen and Bookwitch – have a strong international dimension to their blogs.

The blogger known as Bookwitch, who originally hails from Sweden but has lived in the UK for quite some time now, posts in English as well as Swedish on books for children and young adults. Of books that have been translated from English into Swedish or vice versa, Bookwitch prefers some in Swedish and others in their English version, because the two versions can have slightly different voices and tones. She especially enjoys meeting and interviewing authors for both of her book blogs: a few days before her visit to SELTA, she had conducted an in-depth interview with the popular German author Cornelia Funke. There have been occasions when young readers have found an interview with a favourite author on her blog and mistakenly thought Bookwitch was actually that author herself!

Stu Allen’s blog has a clear focus on the literary end of the spectrum. Stu has been blogging about his interest in world literature for the past eight years and has built up an impressive record of over 600 reviews on his site. He enjoys identifying common themes and features among books from different places. For example, villages often have similar casts of characters no matter where they’re located in the world – you can recognise certain familiar types. Stu is active on social media as well. He originated the #translationthurs hashtag on Twitter, which helps users connect with others who share an interest in reading international fiction. Stu is enthusiastic about helping people to discover world literature and says you can find all kinds of ways in, such as books that feature a particular sport or are set in an interesting location.

When she realised she had read mainly books from the Anglophone world in the year preceding the London Olympics, Ann Morgan set herself a new challenge to read a book from every country in the world in a single year. She named her project A Year of Reading the World and by the time the year was over, her endeavour had taken on some exciting and unexpected dimensions. People from all over the globe got in touch to make suggestions, and Ann received a publishing deal to write up her experiences as a book of her own. Some countries’ writing proved difficult to obtain in English translation, but translators and readers pitched in to contribute stories for Ann to read and review on her blog. Even now, nearly five years after she launched the project, people continue to discover her blog and suggest their favourite books. Ann says there is clearly an interest and an appetite for books from around the world. People are generous and excited about sharing stories.

In the Q&A period following the panellists’ presentations of their blogging activities, SELTA members wanted to know what they do with all the books. All three bloggers said they’re regularly offered free books from publishers’ publicity departments and have to turn some down. Local libraries and charity shops receive some of the volumes after they’ve been read. Bookwitch sizes up children of her acquaintance in order to match young readers with age-appropriate titles. The panellists also asked us about our work as translators. SELTA members’ opinions were divided on whether it’s necessary to read a book all the way through before starting to translate it: one camp says it’s impossible to understand the text sufficiently without reading it first; according to the other school of thought, that’s what the second draft is for.

On behalf of SELTA, I’d like to thank all three of our guest speakers for travelling into London just to speak to us and for giving us some really interesting thoughts from their perspectives as readers and book bloggers.