Tuesday, 8 April 2014

British Council Korea Cultural Programme / London Book Fair

The London Book Fair, one of the world’s most important marketplaces for publishers, starts today, March 8.  Each year, the Market Focus initiative puts the spotlight on links with a specified country or region, highlighting its publishing industry, and the opportunities for conducting book-related business between it and the rest of the world.

This year, Korea is being showcased. This reflects the country’s status as one of the top ten publishing markets in the world, and its expanding reputation within the international literary community, as exemplified by Kyung-sook Shin’s winning the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2011, with Please Look After Mom.

In conjunction with each year’s Market Focus, The British Council runs a cultural programme, to promote exchange between the chosen country’s writers and UK readers, writers, translators and editors. The Korean Cultural Programme, curated in partnership with The Literature Translation Institute of Korea (LTI Korea), will see ten of Korea’s most exciting writers, representing the depth and range of the country’s contemporary literature, involved in events in London, and across the UK.

Last November, in preparation for the Korean Cultural Programme, The British Council and LTI Korea, sponsored 6 UK literary editors to travel to Korea for a scoping and study trip.

Mary Doherty, The British Council’s spokesperson for the Korean Cultural Programme, answered my questions via e-mail.

Republic of Korea (South Korea) is the chosen country. Will North Korea feature at all? 

All the participating writers are from South Korea. However, while literature from North Korea will not be specifically explored, the writers are likely to talk about how the shared history and modern politics of the Korean peninsula influences their writing.

What was achieved by the editors’ trip to Korea? Have any of the participating editors since bought English language rights to Korean books for publication in Britain?  Have any such titles yet appeared in bookshops?

Six editors visited Seoul: Maria Rejt from Mantle (Macmillan), Laura Deacon (Blue Door/HarperCollins), Paul Engles (MacLehose/Quercus), Daniel Seton (Pushkin Press), Katie Slade (Comma Press) and Stefan Tobler (And Other Stories). We were very pleased to have a mix of representatives of larger and more specialist publishing houses in the UK who regularly publish fiction in translation. They met authors, editors, translators and publishers and made very exciting connections. We expect that they will follow up during the London Book Fair – it is too soon for books to be appearing yet.

Has there been a similar programme for Korean editors visiting Britain?  If so, how did it go and what were the results?

We organised a study trip for senior representatives of different parts of the Korean literature sector in the UK in October last year. All the literature professionals visited Edinburgh and Norwich as well as London and our programme was designed to introduce them to as many aspects of the British literature scene as possible including publishers, reader development organisations, arts and live literature venues and bookshops. We expect to see the results in the form of increased exchange of authors and books between Korea and the UK over the next months and years. Already, Fiction Uncovered has begun a partnership with Toji Cultural Foundation to bring UK writers to Korea to participate in residencies.

How and why were the guest Korean novelists selected?

The British Council and LTI Korea chose the writers for their artistic excellence and diversity, after wide consultation with partners, writers, readers and literature experts in both South Korea and the UK in order to find a selection that best represents the range of contemporary writing from South Korea. The group includes novelists and writers of poetry, graphic novels, short stories and children’s books, both established and emerging.

How have British writers responded to the opportunity to meet with their Korean counterparts?

We organised visits by three British writers to Korea last autumn and they were all excited by the opportunity to meet with Korean authors. The children’s writers Tim Bowler and Julia Golding visited the Paju Booksori and WOW Literary festivals in October 2013. Scottish author Kerry Hudson then spent a month in residencies in Korea, first in a traditional community in Gongju and then at Seoul Art Space -Yeonhui. Reciprocal residencies have been arranged for the authors Suah Bae and Kim Aeran who will be spending twelve weeks in the UK’s two UNESCO Cities of Literature, Norwich and Edinburgh respectively, in the spring and summer of 2014.

How have British publishers responded to the opportunity to meet Korean publishers? Are they more concerned with selling rights to the Koreans, than buying rights from them?

We had more applications for the editors’ trip than we had places and we understand that the diaries of Korean publishers visiting London are filling up with meetings where they might sell rights. Certainly those editors who travelled to Seoul in November came back with a real enthusiasm for buying rights to Korean works.

Do you have any events just for booksellers? Do you think booksellers will be supportive of Korean literature in translation in Britain? 

All the evening events are open to everyone, including booksellers, and will give an insight in to the breadth and depth of Korean writing. Because of its history and geographical position, Korea is a country that interests many people – even those who do not usually buy literature in translation. Modern Korean literature is window on contemporary Korean society and the recent past and it deserves to take its place with other novels in translation.


What do you hope the Korean cultural focus will achieve?

The Cultural Programme will do much to open doors, creating cultural connections and promoting greater understanding of the UK in South Korea and of South Korea in the UK. We know from previous cultural programmes we’ve run that many organisations and individuals will make the most of the opportunities we’ll present to develop longer-term partnerships between the UK and South Korea. 

The British Council’s Arts programme in South Korea is facilitating new ways for people in the UK and South Korea to connect and understand each other and share skills and innovations.  Our projects are designed collaboratively with partners, and in response to needs and opportunities in both countries.  This coming year we will be working with partners across South Korea and the UK on exciting projects to bring together writers and professionals through exchanges, festivals and professional development activities

Browse the Project

These are the ten writers featured in the Korean Cultural Programme.  Click on the names to check out the links.


·       Kim Insuk
·       Yoon Tae-ho
·       Hwang Sun-mi
·       Kim Young-ha
·       Yi Mun-yol
·       Hwang Sok-yong
·       Han Kang
·       Lee Seung-U
·       Kim Hyesoon
    Kyung-sook Shin

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