Sunday, 4 March 2012

Norway - a writer's paradise?

Last year I went to Madrid and Barcelona on a publicity tour to promote the Spanish edition of TAR. That was before this blog got going properly, so I didn’t write about it. Last week I was in Oslo for the release of the Norwegian edition and I thought I’d write a few words about the experience.

The two trips were very different in nature. In Spain I got blanket coverage in most of the national and regional press as well as radio and (cringe!) TV. In Norway I was doing a single in-depth and exclusive interview with VG, Norway’s biggest circulation paper. It’s always intriguing to know what questions you’ll be asked. In Spain much of the interest was to do with the politics of the book; in Norway, the alternative history aspect, violence and literary heritage of TAR were the main topics of conversation. I think it went well.

Me and the journalist Jon Rydne

After the interview, a photo shoot. Originally this was going to take place in the jungle house of the Botanical Gardens (I did something similar for my TV interview in Madrid) but when the Gardens learned the book was about Nazis (still a sensitive subject in Norway) they refused us permission. Luckily my publicist snapped into action and bought a load of plants to turn my publisher’s office tropical! Swastikas were also found as well as a bust of Hitler. You can see the photos on Facebook.

Afterwards, the sales manager took me round various bookshops in Oslo. There were piles of Afrika Reich everywhere. Particularly exciting was to walk past Norli, a flagship store, and find a stack of TARs in the window (check out the video below). Seeing my book like that is a bizarre experience. I find it funny to think that something I worked on for years, mostly in isolation, is now not only out in the world but in a place with snow on the ground, fjords barely half a mile away and city views totally unfamiliar to me.

Touring all the bookshops also made me think how different the Norwegian publishing business is to the UK. Their net book agreement has not been dismantled which means the industry is like ours was a couple of decades ago. There are over 600 books stores and half a dozen major chains – this in a country of 5 million. It’s rather damning that the UK with a population twelve times bigger can barely support Waterstones. Books are valued. Hardbacks retail at £30-40, there’s little discounting and no Amazon. Once a year the Norwegians have a nationwide book sale that gets people queuing round the block to pick up a bargain; about the only thing that generates this kind of interest at home is Next’s sale. What does that say?

There are also lots of publishers, more than a hundred. Some are very small but with such diversity there’s more opportunity for people to get published and more risky books get a chance. I’m not saying it’s perfect (the two biggest publishers, for instance, have vertically integrated businesses i.e. they not only publish but also own the distribution networks and bookstores) but to me Norway seemed liked a writer’s paradise!

A-Z resumes next week.


  1. What an uninspiring 'cover' for the video. Does anyone know how you can change it for a more interesting image from the footage? I couldn't see any obvious way to do it...

  2. The clip ends on a good cover - it shows the shop window with you books! I have no idea how to put a cover on a video clip but here is a youtube demo on how to put a cover on an mp3 clip - if that's the same thing!

    Oh wow! Norway sounds amazing - so many bookshops and a vibrant publishing industry! Great that they picked up your book then!

    I can't believe your publishers found a Nazi flag so quickly!! Is there an SS flag available - like the one on your book cover - the Palm Tree insignia - now that would be something!

    The flag - no - it's the swastika - is so potent! Frightening stuff. I so understand why the botanical gardens balked at hosting anything related to this - but they did realize your book is an alternative history and a work of fiction?? Oh dear! I hope whoever runs the place reads it then.

    I'd have surrounded Mr H with copies of your book (and given him devil's horns with my fingers LOL!).

    Will we be able to read your interview for VG (translated of course!)? Hope so!

    I can't wait for the next Next sale...!:-)

    Take care

  3. Kitty - yes, the interview will be available on Facebook in English when it arrives.

    G x

  4. When will this book be out in the US?

  5. Anon - the US edition will be available later this year. For the latest updates, including when exactly it will be published, please join TAR's Facebook page.

  6. I always felt the UK publishing industry took a turn for the worst when they got rid of the net book agreement. We were told it would be better for everyone: readers, writers, publishers. As it turned out I think only readers benefited in that books became cheap. Now there seems a race to the bottom with price, not helped by the huge discounts offered by the supermarkets and Amazon. Soon people will be expecting books for free. How writers will make a living then is a mystery. I would say that it will be the end of the business expect people will always be vain enough to think they have something to say and/or want to be writers, so will do it for nothing. Writers and publishers lost out quickly. Long term readers will lose out too. Assuming there are any of them left and they're not all plugged into facebook or computer games. In future years it will be interesting to look at other countries who didn't do away with their book agreements and see if they're publishing industries survived, or literacy rates are higher. I suspect the answer will be obvious.