19.2.01

Bókadeild Føroya Lærarafelags 45 years


The Bókadeild Føroya Lærarafelag, a Faroese publishing house that’s been looking after the children for 45 years

NORDIC LITTERATURE 2001
BY BIRGIR KRUSE

The Bókadeild Føroya Lærarafelags, or The Faroese Association
of Teachers’ Publishing House (the B.F.L.), was
founded in 1956 in acknowledgement of the vital importance
of providing Faroese children with books in Faroese.

When the B.F.L. was founded, they didn’t only have
books for children and young people in mind: school textbooks
were a high priority, too. At that time almost all the
textbooks on the islands were Danish. But then a proper
Faroese educational publishing house was founded, the
Skúlabókagrunnurin, and from then on the B.F.L. gave up
publishing school-books and concentrated exclusively on
books for children and young people.

Right from the start, and for many years afterwards, a
board consisting of five teachers was in charge of all the
publications. All the work was done after school, and books
were published whenever they thought they could afford it.
As time went on, however, they began to be subsidised by
the Lagting, the Faroese parliament, so it became possible
to publish several titles every year, together with a children’s
paper, Barnablaðið (The Children’s Newspaper),
and a Christmas book, Mín jólabók (My Christmas book),
which was issued for the 50th time this year.

In 1985 they decided to hire a business manager – parttime
to start with – but only a year later the position was
upgraded to a full-time post to cover all their publishing
activities. At that point, the Faroese Lagting had decided
to increase the annual grant, and it paid off in the form of
regular publications, so that it was now possible to cover
the needs of the market for – especially – Faroese picture books.

Today there are two people on the staff, although
one of them is still not a full-time employee.
The present manager, Niels Jákup Thomsen, is a primary
and lower secondary school teacher, who trained at
Tórshavn College of Education. He went on teaching right
up until the time he was appointed as the manager of the
B.F.L. in 1996 – but he had actually already been associated
with the publishing house for ten years or so before
that. His assistant, Eydna Magnussen, is likewise a primary
and lower secondary school teacher.

– Niels Jákup, has the publishing house always made children
and children’s books its highest priority?


- Yes. We see it as our business primarily to publish books
for children and young people. But we do have some other
kinds of books in our program, to the extent that time and
finances permit – some non-fiction, for example, some
books on our history and culture, and even the occasional
novel.

- What is the volume of your output at the moment, compared
to the entire Faroese book market?


- Last year we published 43 titles, which corresponds to
over 25% of the Faroese book market. Our percentage is
usually somewhat higher, but 2000 was an unusually good
year for the book market generally: there was a total of 161
titles in Faroese, as against, say, 121 in 1999.

- How do you market your books? Do you have any special
arrangements?


- We have a book club, the Barnabókaklubbin, that
was founded in 1986, initially for the 3-7-year-olds, but
it was e xpanded later so that it now includes children of
all ages and young people. Today the book club has about
1, 650 members, divided up into four age groups: 0-2-
year-olds; 3-6-year-olds; 7-12-year-olds; and 13-year-olds
and upwards. The first three age groups get eight books
a year, the teenagers only four. The book club has actually
grown so much that it has become the financial basis
for all our publications. If it didn’t exist, it would be impossible
to publish the number of books for children and
young people that we do. The entire population of the
Faroe Islands is only about 47, 000 people, so it takes
something special to sell a run of 5-600 books. It can be
quite easy if you focus on a single book, but when you
have 30-40 titles it’s a very dif ferent story.

- Is it difficult to get hold of Faroese manuscripts?

- Both yes and no. We r eceive, on average, 4-6 manuscripts
a year. At present mainly manuscripts for picture
books and books for the 3-7-year-olds. But we need more
manuscripts for older children and young people. At the
moment, we know that two manuscripts for children’s
books are on the way. They are both by new author s,
Brynhild Andreasen and Liss Hansen. Last year we
launched another new author, Vivian Guðmundsson with
the children’s book Ýr. On that occasion, a young illustrator,
Annika Lávík, made her début too, and she has
since illustrated Maud Heinesen’s Í vøggustovu við Helenu
(In the chrêche with Helena).

- What do you do to encourage or motivate Faroese authors to
start writing?


- We have arranged competitions a couple of times –
the last time with rather a disappointing har vest. But that’s
a long time ago now – maybe we should try again. Otherwise
we give a lot of help and encouragement to those
author s who do try their hand at the job. Everybody on
the Faroe Islands knows that we are behind the publication
of practically all the books for children and young
people, so most of those who decide to try their hand at
writing books for children or young people automatically
contact our publishing house. Then we comment on the
manuscript and say whether we want to publish the book
or not. In connection with the Faroese Arts Festival, the
Listahátið Føroya, in the Scandinavian House on August
7th-19th this year, our contribution will include a widelyadvertised
short story competition – for adults. The idea
is to collect shor t stories that deal with and reflect presentday
Faroese society. When the manuscripts have become
available, we are going to release them on the f irst day of
the festival. A selection of the short stories, too, will be
read on the Faroese radio, the Útvarp Føroya.

- What has been your biggest success so far – what you are most
proud of?


- Two of our picture books, ólavur Michelsen and Erik
Hjorth Nielsen’s Rossini á Skoradali (The Faroese horse
1990), and William Heinesen and Edward Fuglø’s Veingjaða myrkrið
(The winged darkness 2000), were published
in collaboration with publishers in other countries
– in Denmark, Iceland and Germany. A good deal of work
went into both projects and, to crown it all, Rossini á
Skoradali was awarded the Scandinavian School Librarians’
Prize in 1991. But otherwise we prefer not to single
out any particular publication.

- What editions are forthcoming?

- Our Spring program contains only one original
Faroese title, Marianna D. Dahl and Guðrið Poulsen’s
Flosi fer í føðingardag (Flosi goes to a bir thday party), a children’s
book for the 5-7-year-olds. But we have a number
of other Scandinavian authors in our catalogue, including,
from Iceland, Andri Snær Magnason, Sagaen om den
Blå planet (The legend of the blue planet); from Sweden,
Liina Talvik, Doften af vanilj (The scent of vanilla), Ulf Stark,
Dårfinkar och dönickar (Suckers and bores), and Moni
Nilsson-Brännstrøm, Tsatsiki och morsan (Tsatsiki and
mum); from Norway, Torill Thorstad Hauger, Tord Illugeson,
and Erlend Loe, Kurt og fisken (Kurt and the fish); and,
from Denmark, Kim Fupz-Aakeson/Kirsten Bak, Mor
(Mummy).

And, of course, we try to keep ourselves up to date –
amongst other things by participating in the annual book
fair in Frankfurt. This year we also took part in the Children’s
Book Fair in the Øksne Hall, in Copenhagen.

We are presently working on several original Faroese
titles that will be published in the autumn, including the
two children’s books I mentioned, by Brynhild Andreasen
and Liss Hansen – and something as uncharacteristic of
our publishing house as a cookery book! It’s a book of
seafood recipes, Góður matur úr sjónum (Delicacies from
the Ocean), which students from the Fiskivinnuskoelanum
in Vestmanna have written. In addition, there’s a book
about the weather on the Faroe Islands over a period of
120 years, by the meteor ologist, Petur Skeel Jacobsen,
and the photographer, Alan Brockie.

Birgir Kruse is a cultural editor, Nordic Littertaure 2001