Taking our Children’s Books to Bologna

UNESCO City of Literature Dunedin were offered an opportunity they couldn’t ignore: to bid to have a stand atthe Bologna Children’s Book Fair earlier this month. Ella West reports.

Hall 26, stand B/76 bis – that was Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature at this year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

We were there amongst the 1,200 stands which covered 20,000m² of floor space, with 98 countries represented and 35,000 people looking, from 3–6 April in a city in Northern Italy at the world’s largest international children’s book fair.

Dunedin, a UNESCO City of Literature since 2014, got invited as part of the Creative Cities Network by Bologna, a UNESCO City of Music, to put in an application for a free stand. Out of the 116 cities which could apply, we won it.

University of Otago College of Education senior lecturer Trish Brooking who, with Dunedin City of Literature director Nicky Page wrote the application, still can’t quite believe Dunedin pulled it off.

‘I came back from Christmas and there was the email from Nicky about it asking if we could do something,’ Trish said.

Trish Brooking, photo by Ella West

‘I ran it past a couple of children’s writers and illustrators and we started thinking. It was a very tight deadline, January 20 which was a Friday, and I remember thinking on the Friday it’s still only the 19th in Italy so we still had Saturday morning if we needed it. But we didn’t. We got it in.

‘And then we found out a week later we’d somehow won.’

‘We put a lot of late nights into it,’ Nicky said. ‘We were really hopeful but we were also really surprised to get it.’

Local writers and illustrators were invited to submit two titles each, along with business cards and information sheets. And we decided to celebrate the University of Otago College of Education Creative New Zealand Children’s Writing Residency, the only children’s writer residency in the country. This meant that Dunedin was able to showcase not only its amazing local writers, but also those from throughout the country who had held the residency in the past.

Although the 32m² stand at the fair was free (including daily cleaning), shipping the artwork and the 80 books that went was not and someone had to be there on the ground as well managing rights queries.

Dunedin was able to showcase not only its amazing local writers, but also those from throughout the country who had held the residency in the past.

The City of Literature office, which is part of the Dunedin City Council, coordinated the stand and packaged, freighted and insured the Dunedin books, and the artwork for the display was done in-house.

Authors’ publishing companies helped out as they could and the return freight bill was sorted by donating the books to either Bologna Library or the International Youth Library in Munich, making them also automatically in the running for a White Raven award.

However, there was no money for airfares for someone from Dunedin to go. Nicky started discussions with New Zealand literary agent Frances Plumpton, and later Sophie Siers of Millwood Press and Mary McCallum of Mākaro Press, who were going to be there but without a stand.

It became a happy collaboration.

‘It’s just amazing how it has all come together,’ Nicky said. ‘As a City of Literature, we want to extend to the rest of the country the opportunities presented to us wherever we can. It’s been great to include the whole country so it’s not just Dunedin’s stand, it’s a New Zealand stand.’

Unfortunately, Mary had to pull out but Frances and Sophie were there meeting international editors, publishers and agents.

Sophie Siers

‘There has been a steady stream of browsers, several with previous connections with Dunedin, and some interested in considering titles for translation into their languages,’ Frances said last week from the fair.

‘It’s been intriguing that several of the people we’ve had discussion with have had previous connections with titles on the stand, including the former Turkish editor who commissioned their editions of Janet Frame’s titles.

‘And we’ve had daily visits from the Bologna UNESCO City of Music director and staff. We’ve been very grateful for their support,’ she said.

‘Congratulations to Nicky Page for her dedication in providing such an eye-catching stand at the world’s premiere children’s book fair.’

Nicky said the photos from Bologna looked fantastic. ‘I think we can all be proud. We’ve heard that our beautiful pictures of Dunedin in the stand have really turned heads.

‘Although I know it can take months or sometimes years, my primary hope is that there will be some exciting developments for our wonderful New Zealand writers and illustrators because of it.’

‘It will be very interesting what the outcomes will be from Bologna,’ Trish said. ‘Hopefully authors will sell rights and New Zealand’s profile will be raised in Europe. The quality of the books that went there is certainly high enough.

‘The world’s children are our future citizens so for children around the world, through our presence at Bologna, to be influenced by our writing is immense.

‘Especially when you realise the opportunity just fell into our lap.’

Check out the Bologna City of Music website’s full description of Dunedin and our stand. ‘The city celebrates its wonderful writers of fiction and non-fiction, poets, oral storytellers, playwrights, screenwriters, and the prize-winning children’s authors and illustrators which capture the imaginations of readers everywhere.’

We are happy with what we have achieved, and look forward to future collaborations.

Hear Frances Plumpton, Sophie Siers and Nicky Page discuss the fair on Standing Room Only with Lynn Freeman.

Ella West

Ella West is a multi-award winning YA novelist who lives in Dunedin. Her last book Night Vision, won the LIANZA Young Adult Fiction Award in 2015, and was shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Award for Children and Young Adults. Her most recent book Rain Fall is a murder mystery set on the West Coast, and was released in January 2018.