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Katharina Dittmann, MLitt in Publishing Studies 2016-17

October 28th, 2016 by katharina_dittmann | Posted in Student Profiles | Comments Off on Katharina Dittmann, MLitt in Publishing Studies 2016-17
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ProfileThe thought of going into publishing first crossed my mind when I was about sixteen years old. Books had been my constant companions ever since I could remember and I was, and still am, fascinated by the way stories can transport meaning and move people in so many different ways. Some of the books that initially made me consider this career path were J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (sorry for the cliché, but it’s the truth) and especially German authors like Cornelia Funke and Kai Meyer, whose beautiful language and exuberant imagination never cease to amaze me. So, in hindsight, a career in publishing seems to have been inevitable. Nevertheless, my decision to apply for the MLitt in Publishing Studies at the University of Stirling was rather spontaneous.

During my last two years at school, the idea of working with books took a firm hold on me. However, I wasn’t sure if I had what it took to start a career in the publishing sector. Instead, I decided to follow my other interests, which were English language and literature, resulting in a degree in English and Cultural Studies at the University of Kiel in the far north of Germany. Over those four years in Kiel I considered several career paths, amongst others in cultural works, marketing and the museum sector. In 2015, I did an internship at a local museum where I was responsible for composing a small exhibition about scales and weights. Although the subject was “terra incognita” for me, I accepted the challenge, turning my time at the museum into a very valuable experience. It made me realise how much my studies have helped me in developing competences in areas such as research, flexibility, and self-management. Nevertheless, the part of me that wanted to work in publishing kept pushing itself to the fore. Books simply played far too big a role in my life to simply ignore that voice inside my head.

Luckily, when it was time to make a plan for my life post-bachelor, I got the chance to attend a seminar on editing held by the commissioning editor of children’s books of the Carlsen publishing house in Hamburg. He introduced us to the different departments involved in book publishing and gave us some insight into the editing process. This might sound cheesy, but it is thanks to him that I am here in Scotland today. His enthusiasm about his job is what inspired me to finally follow my dreams and apply for a master’s degree in this field. I am really excited about what the following year has in store for me. I can already say that I have made the right decision, meaning studying publishing in general, and doing it at the University of Stirling in particular.

 

 

Visiting Speaker: 404 Ink’s “Nasty Women”

March 30th, 2017 by katharina_dittmann | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speaker: 404 Ink’s “Nasty Women”
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On March 23, the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication and the Stirling Centre for Gender and Feminist Studies organised a launch event for 404 Ink’s first book publication, Nasty Women. We welcomed our very own Laura Jones and Heather McDaid, founders of alternative indie publisher 404 Ink, as well as Claire Heuchan and Laura Waddell, two of the authors featured in Nasty Women. They came to talk about the idea behind the book, discuss issues of class and diversity within the publishing industry and offered some advice on working in publishing.

404 Ink’s Nasty Women 

Nasty Women is 404 Ink’s first book, published on International Women’s Day 2017. It is a collection of essays on the experiences and the issues women face in a world in which right-wing populism, racism and misogyny seem to be on the verge of becoming socially acceptable once again.

Heather and Laura talked us through the idea behind the book and the adventurous publication process: The essays in the book are meant to “celebrate and showcase women’s voices” and to give a platform to those women whose experiences are often marginalised in the mainstream media. The idea was to represent current issues (especially in the light of Donald Trump being elected as President of the United States), which led to a heavily shortened publishing schedule. Setting the publication date on International Women’s Day left Laura and Heather about four months to commission, fund, edit, and produce the book. The overwhelming demand for a book that gave voice to the experience of contemporary women became clear when the project was fully funded on Kickstarter within three days and widely exceeded the initial goal.

Panel Discussion

After Claire Heuchan and Laura Waddell read extracts from their essays titled Black Feminism Online: Claiming Digital Space and Against Stereotypes: Working Class Girls and Working Class Art, respectively, the panel discussed possible crises of confidence and the feeling of imposter syndrome. This was related to both the issue of diversity in publishing as well as Nasty Women’s unconventional publication process.

In publishing, following your intuition is almost always a good idea, and if your gut (and experience) tells you that there’s a market for your project, seize the opportunity and get to work! From an author’s point of view, Claire says that faith in your own work is derived from how it is received in the public context and that the commission for Nasty Women was “incredibly validating”. When it comes to the relationship between publisher and author, trust is the most important factor. According to Laura Waddell, it is very reassuring to work for a publisher who believes in the project and is committed to their authors. Basically, everybody suffers from imposter syndrome from time to time, you just have to push through it and keep learning.

On the subject of tackling issues of class and diversity, the panel discussed the problems of gatekeeping and how it can narrow the level of representation within publishing. When commissioning the essays for Nasty Women, Heather and Laura were careful not to tell their authors what to write, but to respect their voices and to interfere with the content as little as possible. Their policy is to put the author first and to give the whole publishing process a sense of transparency, which benefits both publishers and authors alike. Claire says that writing for Nasty Women has given her the opportunity to “hold the doors open for other people” and encourage other marginalised voices to make themselves be heard as well. While gatekeeping is still a big issue in the publishing industry, 404 Ink shows that it is possible to have a relationship of equality between publishers and authors.

Some final advice

After answering questions from the audience, the discussion ended with Laura, Heather, Claire and Laura offering some advice for starting out in publishing:

  • Don’t do the work all on your own! It is easier to share responsibilities and take advantage of other people’s skillsets.
  • Look at the structure! If you want to make an impact in editing, start by paying attention to how things are composed.
  • Be authentic! Be true to yourself and keep your main objectives in mind.
  • Things will go wrong! People make mistakes, so don’t take anything to heart and just work through it.

By Katharina Dittmann

Secret Identity: Community Comics and Cultural Identity

November 29th, 2016 by katharina_dittmann | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Secret Identity: Community Comics and Cultural Identity
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facebook_hashtag-ecaf_logoAs part of Book Week Scotland 2016, the Edinburgh Comic Art Festival took place on 26 and 27 November. Infected by several comic book enthusiasts in our class, I jumped at the opportunity and immersed myself in the glorious world that is comic art. The festival, which was situated in Summerhall, offered free talks and workshops as well as a comic book fair where local artists presented their works. In short, it had everything a comic book lover’s heart desires.

For this blog, I chose Paul Bristow’s talk on Secret Identity, which explored the link between community comics and cultural identity. Paul is part of Magic Torch Comics, an arts and heritage group from Inverclyde, who have made it their mission to work with communities and schools to reconnect people with their local heritage. According to Paul, restoring community heritage can reshape the view of a community and strengthen its identity by winning back its self-esteem. Involving the members of a community in the research means recognizing their authority and insider knowledge that “can be just as valid as academic research” (quote Bristow). As a result, Magic Torch approach their project with a “dig-where-you-stand” mentality, which means that they let students and/or other members of the community look for traces of history and folklore in their immediate surroundings.

img_20161128_145426-minAs an example Paul chose his collaboration with the community of Greenock, a historic industrial town once well-known for its shipyards. Although the area can look back on a rich cultural history, the community’s heritage was overlooked in favour of progress and future development. Magic Torch brought their project to local schools and asked students to research historical events that had happened near them. The team then helped them to create the characters and develop their stories. The result was 4,000 copies of a 64 pages full-colour graphic novel that, thanks to funding, could be distributed for free to schools and other places in Greenock.

Apart from the focus on heritage, Magic Torch’s collaboration serves another purpose: improving students’ literacy and language skills. This has resulted in comic books about a Space Princess written in French (Le Mystère de la Princesse Sorcière) and the comic adaptation of a Gaelic song about a shinty match back in 1877 (Camanachd Ghrianaig). All of these works are available for download on Magic Torch’s website.

by Katharina Dittmann

Glasgow’s Historic Literary Societies- Book Week Scotland 2016

November 29th, 2016 by Kanika Praharaj | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Glasgow’s Historic Literary Societies- Book Week Scotland 2016
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For Book Week Scotland, Katharina Dittmann and I decided to nerd our little hearts out. And where did we decide to go, you ask? To the library, of course! Specifically, the beautiful Mitchell Library in Glasgow, where we attended a talk given by Lauren Weiss, a PhD student at our very own University of Stirling.

21-11-2016 quiz

The talk started off with a quiz. Needless to say, we now have ample proof that we would not fit into the nineteenth-century literary crowd.

According to Lauren, Glasgow has always been a city of readers and writers. In the 19th century men (and later women) got together to talk about books and reading. A ‘typical’ nineteenth-century literary group would meet up once a week. Reasons for joining a literary group usually had less to do with a love for literature and more to do with networking — networking isn’t just for us publishing students! Becoming a member of one of these groups would enable a young man to meet other people in a new place, people who could help him find a job and a place to live. This does not mean that there wasn’t an emphasis on the act of reading. Members were required to read for at least half an hour every day.

Many such societies had their own manuscript magazines. However, membership to a society wasn’t always needed to contribute to its magazine. These magazines weren’t quite as ‘literary’ as one might imagine. There were a variety of topics that people chose to write about. For example, a more traditional piece of literature like a sonnet could be followed by an essay entitled ‘Ants and Their Ways of Life’. Members weren’t always sticklers when it came to deadlines, making the editor’s job the hardest of all. In fact, the editor would quite often have to include last-minute contributions just as they were. Magazines would21-11-2016 then be passed on from member to member, who would all critique their fellow members’ works.

Between 1800 and 1914 Glasgow had at least 140 literary societies — less than ten of those are still running. A dismal figure until one thinks of all the reading groups (read: with wine) that people are a part of in today’s Glasgow. Reading is still a big part of the culture there, just in slightly different forms.

At the end of the talk, Dr Irene O Brien, Senior Archivist, and Patricia Grant, Library Collections Manager, spoke to us about the Mitchell’s unique collections. Fascinated by the wonders that the Mitchell holds within itself, we completely forgot what time it was and almost missed our train!

by Kanika Praharaj

‘India at 70’ at the London Book Fair, 2017

March 22nd, 2017 by Kanika Praharaj | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on ‘India at 70’ at the London Book Fair, 2017
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14th March, 2017: It’s my birthday and I’m at the London Book Fair. I am also nursing a horrible headache. I make my way to the English PEN Literary Salon for what is the first seminar I will be attending at the LBF. Friends and classmates OtienoKatharina, and Lenka come along with me. I sit up front and psych myself up for what I think will be a drab discussion. Boy, am I wrong.

Chaired by Jonathan Morley, the ‘India at 70’ seminar had doctoral researcher Somrita Ganguly, writer and activist Bidisha Mamata, poet Mohan Rana, and translator and editor Arunava Sinha as speakers. The aim of the talk was to discuss the multilingualism that characterises India and the role of literary translation in the Indian publishing sector.

Mohan Rana started off the seminar by talking about growing up in one language and living in another. While he writes in Hindi, he believes that the translation of his poems opened up new worlds for his words. His poems have now been translated into Spanish, Italian, Norwegian, German, Dutch, Marathi and Nepali. He lives in the UK now, and is comfortable with “being a Hindi poet in a space that is totally occupied by English.” He then read out a section of his poem ‘This place is enough’, which is now available as a part of a collection in a bilingual chapbook.

Bidisha took the floor next as she stressed the need to “honour the variety of the world” and a contemporary Indian writing which panders to no stereotypes. She talked of the recent drive amongst Indian writers to write in Indian languages instead of privileging only English. She then cited the examples of writers such as Rushdie and Naipaul who write in English not because they’re trying to increase their readership but because their privileged upper-class educations have made English a language of their own. She also talked of the Indian writers of yore who are now being reclaimed and put back into the Indian literary canon. However, she warned against creating a new hierarchy that replaces English with a chosen few of India’s many languages. According to her, the question that needs to be answered here is “what do we want to say and how do we want to say it?”

Arunava Sinha then provided a history of the sub-continent and its languages, essential for those in attendance who weren’t that well-versed in the same. He pointed out the fact that India is extremely diverse when it comes to its languages and people and that it would make more sense to say the “literatures of India” instead of Indian literature. India makes for a large market for English language content, which brought in major international publishers into the picture. These publishers began by translating Indian writing into English, which isn’t happening that often now. According to him, publishing works with a more utilitarian perspective now, changing books into what he calls “book-like objects”. He believes that smaller publishers (such as Seagull Publishers, whom he works with), however, can afford to be more “whimsical” in what they publish. He finished by saying that English is a very convenient “bridge language”, which makes it the language that is generally chosen when it comes to translation.

Next, Somrita Ganguly picked up where he left off as she talked about the politics of the mother-tongue. English, she claimed, is her first language. While it is important to promote Indian languages in the country, it isn’t an act of betrayal if one chooses to speak in English. We need to be wary of the politics of assigning a mother-tongue to a child who grows up in a region where another language is the lingua franca, as many do in India. She pointed out that English is considered by many to be a “caste-less” language, which meant that marginalised sections of the Indian populace decided to opt for it instead of Sanskrit which they were not allowed to speak. English is no longer considered to be a foreign language in India, with plenty of upwardly mobile people using it in their day-to-day lives.

The session was brought to a close with Mohan Rana reading out another poem of his, ‘The Photograph’.

What all the speakers agreed on was the fact that a single, cohesive India doesn’t exist. Neither should it. The complexities and contradictions that make up the country make it a fertile ground for all sorts of writing and publishing to thrive. While we may not agree with all that the speakers have said, it is important to keep the discussion going. There is plenty of potential in the creative industry in India to fuel decades of successful publishing, if we choose to work towards fulfilling this potential.

Kanika Praharaj