London Book Fair 2022 highlights: From Derek Owusu to Booker Prize shortlist

After two years of waiting due to the pandemic, The London Book Fair returned to the capital on April 5 to April 7, to celebrate publishers and authors from around the world. Staged annually, the in-person event at Olympia London welcomed at least 25,000 publishing professionals over the three days to learn, network, and kick off their year of business.

From very modest beginnings in the Berners Hotel near Oxford Street in 1971 as the Specialist Publishers’ Exhibition for Librarians, The London Book Fair – as it took the name in 1977 – has grown to be an essential part of the international book trade calendar.

In conversation with Derek Owusu

The LBF also highlighted their partnership with one of the oldest human right’s organisations in the world. English Pen, founded in 1921, is a worldwide writers’ association with 145 centres in more than 100 countries. In their special literary salon, the likes of award-winning authors Maggie O’Farrell, Monique Roffey, and Derek Owusu spoke at length. I was fortunate to catch That Reminds Me author Owusu’s talk with fellow writer Tice Cin, in which he revealed parts of his new book Losing The Plot.

The book, which was acquired by Canongate, pieces together an imagined version of the writer’s mother’s journey as a Ghanaian immigrant woman striving to find her place in the world as she navigates a cold, hostile and often lonely environment.

“The young boy, he’s waiting for his mother to tell him about her life, which is never going to happen.”

Derek Owusu, author of That Reminds Me

In emotionally raw and tender prose and poetry, Owusu pens a poignant glimpse into the experience of a first-generation immigrant mother raising her second-generation children, told through the eyes of both mother and son. This is a window into the emotional turmoil which comes with leaving one’s home to create a new one in a place that may not always extend welcome, and the effects of this displacement on mental health across generations.

“When I was writing the plot, it dawned for me that realistically, I probably ruined my mum’s life. She could have done so much.”

Derek Owusu, author of That Reminds Me

Driven by a desire to understand his mother’s life before he was born, but confronted with his mother’s resistance to speak of the past, Owusu tell Cin: “The young boy, he’s waiting for his mother to tell him about her life, which is never going to happen. And she’s waiting for the moment where she can say, okay, I’ve done what I need to do. I can relax, but just from watching my mum and my aunties and things like that, that moment of relaxing never comes.”

Owusu talks candidly about mental health and his struggles growing up: “There was a period because I was putting foster care and stuff, after I was kind of diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, I really disliked my mum. I just thought it was her fault. She’s ruined my life because she put me in care, and now I have this disorder, blah, blah, blah, blah. But again, when I was writing the plot, it dawned for me that realistically, I probably ruined my mum’s life. She could have done so much.”

The second book is a novel set in the UK and Ghana, following the fortunes of a young writer in search of his family’s past. Losing the Plot is slated for Summer 2022, with the second book to follow in Spring 2025.

Catalan Culture Spotlight at LBF 2022

This year the fair showcased Catalan culture as part of the 2022 spotlight, which saw the Institut Ramon Llull (IRL) and the Catalan Institute for Cultural Companies (ICEC) deliver a programme of meetings between Catalan publishers and British and American publishers/agents as well as a series of events comprising Catalan Authors, Translators and Illustrators.

In this particular event with Spanish poet and writer Eva Baltasar Sardà, who wrote the book Permafrost, as well as Stubborn Archivist author Yara Rodrigues Fowler spoke about how gender and identity works its way into fiction.

“I’m still holding out for like a commercial fiction that’s about a queer Communist robbing a bank.”

Yara Rodrigues Fowler, author of Stubborn Archivist

Asked by the interviewer and chair Daniel Hahn whether she managed to find freedom through the form of writing during lockdown, South Londoner Rodrigues Fowler first jokingly thanked UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak for “providing the means to write full time” through the self-employment grant, adding: “I’m still holding out for like a commercial fiction that’s about a queer Communist robbing a bank.”

Stubborn Archivist is a novel about growing up between cultures, of finding your space within them and of learning to live in a traumatised body. In response to being questioned on why in her book that includes subtle nods to the MeToo Movement, she never mentions the sexual assault itself, Rodrigues Fowler said:

“What I was interested in both was the relationship of knowledge and domination, and with MeToo, this idea that you have to tell everyone your trauma and come out as a survivor or whatever. So I was very interested in the act of withholding information”.

She concludes that she wants people to read the book and feel solidarity with the characters, even if they do not share an identity with them.

International Booker Prize Shortlist

The six-title 2022 International Booker Prize shortlist was also announced on the final day. Naming the six fortunate shortlistees was jury chair Frank Wynne, who was serenaded by the entire gaggle at the Buzz Theatre with “Happy Birthday” on his 60th.

He made an intensely influential appeal last month in a BBC Radio 4’s Front Row appearance with the Booker Foundation’s handsome support and in concert with translator Jennifer Croft, who has just been shortlisted for a second translation of an Olga Tokarczuk work, this year for The Books of Jacob. With Tokarczuk, she was awarded the 2018 Booker International Prize for her translation of Flights.

The shortlist is dominated by independent publishers including Tilted Axis and Honford Star. It spans across six languages: Korean, Norwegian, Japanese, Spanish, Hindi and Polish, with settings ranging across Europe and Asia, from the mid-18th century to contemporary times.

This year, the total value of the prize goes up to £80,000 (US$105,368). The jump is thanks to an increase from £1,000 to a welcome £2,500 (US$3,290) for each of the award’s shortlisted authors and translators. The winning translator and author will split £50,000 (US$65,835). An announcement of those winners is anticipated for May 25 at London’s One Marylebone suite of event venues.

On-Demand from April 11 to April 29, The London Book Fair reunites the publishing community for three days of business, networking, and learning. 

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Published by suswatibasu

Suswati Basu is a writer, journalist, producer and feminist activist residing in London. She has written for the Guardian, Huffington Post and the F-Word blogs, and has worked for various media outlets such as the BBC, Channel 4 and for ITV News/ITN. She currently works as a senior intelligence expert.

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