Publisher Janet Garton on Norvik Press’ Three Decades of Translation

In News by Dennis Abrams

‘Publishers weren’t interested in translations from Nordic literature or studies from Nordic writers,’ says Garton, so she and James MacFarlane created Norvik.

By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

‘Some Wonderful Translators Involved’

Norvik Press logo linedAt the Swedish Book Review, Janet Garton talks about independent publishing house Norvik Press‘ 30 years in business.

Garton is professor emeritus of Scandinavian studies at the University of East Anglia and a founder of Norvik Press, which is based at University College London and specializes in Nordic literature.

Highlights from the interview:

Swedish Book Review: In 1986, you set up Norvik Press with Prof. James McFarlane. What motivated you?

Janet Garton

Janet Garton

Janet Garton: To a considerable extent it was frustration with the commercial publishing world; publishers weren’t interested in translations from Nordic literature or studies from Nordic writers, unless they were called Ibsen, Strindberg or Anderson.

My colleague James McFarlane was a pioneer of desktop publishing and had recently taken over not only the editing but also the production of the literary journal Scandinavica, so we decided that we’d have a go at publishing the books we wanted to see in print.

We set up an office at the University of East Anglia with one (very) part-time secretary. We had no idea what we were doing to begin with; it didn’t occur to us to set up a company until we discovered that we could otherwise be considered a partnership, and be personally liable if we got into financial difficulties.

SBR: In 2011, Norvik Press launched “Lagerlöf in English,” a series of new English translations of works by Selma Lagerlöf, edited by Helena Forsås-Scott. The titles published so far have been very
well received. What are the special challenges of publishing classics such as these and what are the plans for this series?

JG: We’ve now published eight books in the Lagerlöf series, and more are on the way, including the autobiographical Mårbacka series. Lagerlöf has not been served well by previous translations, and we’re fortunate to have some wonderful translators involved.

The particular challenge is funding. As a small not-for-profit publisher we’re dependent on translation and production grants, and although the Nordic countries are most generous in their support, they tend to prioritize living authors, and grants for re-translations of classics can be hard to find.

SBR:. How do you choose which contemporary titles to publish and which are your bestselling books?

norvik-2JG: For contemporary titles, it’s largely a matter of our own enthusiasms and assessment of books which merit an international readership; we’re fortunate in that our board consists of experts in the mainland Nordic languages, so that we can form our own judgments. Proposals from trusted translators and foreign publishers sometimes play a part as well.

We’re frequently surprised by which books sell well.

norvik-3Our all-time bestseller is the Faroese novel Barbara by Jørgen-Frantz Jacobsen, translated by George Johnston, which Tórshavn bookshop sells to tourists every year.

The Norwegian poet Hans Børli’s We Own the Forests, translated by Louis Muinzer, has been reprinted twice too.

From Swedish, Hjalmar Söderberg’s Short Stories (translated by Carl Lofmark) and P.C. Jersild’s A Living Soul (translated by Rika Lesser) have done particularly well.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.