Independent Press Profile: V&Q Books

In light of the recent lack of bookshops, I’ve started a new series in which I profile my favourite independent publishers. These are some of the most exciting addresses when it comes to finding original ideas, literature in translation and voices that are underrepresented in the mainstream. Each one is more than deserving of support – in times of crisis and beyond.

Fifth in the Independent Press Profile series is brand-new imprint V&Q Books.

V&Q Books
The inaugural titles from V&Q Books

Let’s start with the basics: when, where and who.

V&Q Books was founded by Katy Derbyshire, who has been working as a Berlin-based translator from German for many years. The imprint launches in September 2020 under the umbrella of independent German publisher Voland & Quist. Says Katy, ‘The imprint sprang from various frustrations with life as a freelance translator, followed by several inspiring conversations at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2018. The idea was to export some of the many excellent books that slip through the gaps and don’t make it into English translation, combining my expertise with our parent publisher Voland & Quist’s experience.’

Where have I heard that name before?

You possibly haven’t: V&Q Books is a new kid on the block and I for one am extremely excited about it. Parent publisher Voland & Quist, however, has been around since 2004, publishing young, contemporary writing in German with a focus on Eastern European authors and spoken-word or stage performance. Katy Derbyshire is one of the most prolific translators from German; as well as translating prize-nominated works like Clemens Meyers’ Bricks and Mortar, she teaches translation, moderates the Dead Ladies Show in Berlin, founded online translation magazine No Man’s Land, and can often be read in publications such as the Guardian, Tagesspiegel and Lit Hub.

What’s the publishing philosophy?

Quite straightforwardly, V&Q Books publishes ‘remarkable writing from Germany’. This means ‘it has to stand out through a strong voice and a deep sense of place, and of course excellent writing. We’re not interested in books that aren’t really set anywhere, but the setting doesn’t have to be Germany. So in future we’ll be publishing books set in Turkey, Croatia, Mozambique . . . and of course Berlin, Dresden, and so on.’ It’s an admirably holistic approach that’s bound to bring us many more exciting titles in the future.

What can I expect to find in the catalogue?

The catalogue currently is rather small – V&Q Books launches with three titles to its name, both fiction and non-fiction – but the quality is already extremely high. Katy explains that she chooses books based partly on ‘personal taste, books I loved with a passion when I read them in German. We’ve also talked to a few German booksellers to find out their favourites, kept an eye out for funding opportunities tied to certain books, and chosen titles we think will resonate with readers in Ireland and the UK – while attempting to skirt around the usual clichés associated with German books. Plus, we’ve tried to mix up the genres a little, not focusing entirely on literary fiction. The first three books are one personal pick, one booksellers’ tip, and one wild card to break the mould’. I strongly suspect this wild card of being the really quite staggering Journey Through a Tragicomic Century, which I reviewed earlier this week at Shiny New Books.

Perhaps a bit more about how the translation process works?

V&Q Books are ‘keen to work with the right translators for each individual book, and that doesn’t always mean the most established ones. [. . .] As a translator-led imprint, we have a good overview of which translators will make a good fit.’ That means in the future you can expect to see both co-translations and first novel translations, as well as work by more experienced and well-known translators. The team behind the imprint is relatively small, with tasks divided up between parent publisher Voland & Quist and a small team of freelancers working on the editorial and publicity sides. pingundpong design in Dresden is responsible for the beautiful appearance of the books.

Can I buy books directly from the publisher?

Currently no, but this is most definitely in the pipeline. In the meantime, you can order V&Q books from ‘any bookshop in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria or Switzerland, or you can get them online from our sales team Inpress. If you’re in the UK and would like to support independent bookshops but still order online, we recommend Hive.’ I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Any particular recommendations?

I’m pleased to recommend all the titles published by V&Q Books so far, my absolute favourite being Paula. This work of auto-fiction by prize-winning author Sandra Hoffmann is devastatingly beautiful, a slender but extremely nuanced look at the author’s relationship with a grandmother who was entirely silent about her own past. Also translated by Katy Derbyshire is Journey Through a Tragicomic Century, which is quite unlike anything you’ll ever have read before: in a uniquely witty take on biography, author Francis Nenik tells the life of forgotten author Hasso Grabner, incorporating all the absurdities and tragedies of twentieth-century European history. And finally, Daughters by Lucy Fricke, translated by Sinéad Crowe, is a road-trip novel with a difference – warm, honest and humorous, led by a cast of memorable women.

What’s on the horizon?

In spring 2021 you can look out for two new novels from V&Q Books: The Peacock by Isabel Bogdan, translated by Annie Rutherford, is ‘set in a Scottish castle . . . a gentle comedy and a delightful read’, while The Blacksmith’s Daughter by Selim Özdogan, translated by Ayça Türkoglu and Katy Derbyshire, is the first part of a trilogy exploring the lives of Turkish migrants in Germany, ‘a touching story of an everyday life, focusing on one of the many thousands of migrant workers who have previously been almost invisible in literature’. More books are lined up beyond these two, which tantalisingly include ‘a graphic novel and a Sebaldesque prose collection’. Importantly, V&Q Books aim to publish writing from Germany as opposed to written in German, meaning we can expect to find translations from Croatian (Ivana Sajko’s Love Novel), Arabic, and maybe even original English writing. As Katy puts it, ‘Like many countries, Germany is home to writers from all kinds of places, working in all kinds of languages, so the sky’s the limit.’

And the sky is indeed the limit – many congratulations to V&Q Books for launching with three such stellar titles in these difficult times. The world of literature in translation is all the richer for it.

If you have a favourite independent press you’d like to see profiled, please let me know in the comments – the best recommendations always come by word of mouth!

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