I did my BA in English lit, and hated the restriction - I'd always read more in translation than not; coming from a working-class background, what I knew of as British literature - the writers who made big prize lists and/or were stocked in WH Smith, Doncaster's only bookshop until I was 17 - seemed incredibly, alienatingly middle-class. Then in 2009, just after the financial crash, I graduated with no more specific skill than 'can analyse a bit of poetry'.
There’s something very freeing about losing the anchors that have always defined you. Frightening, sad, but exhilarating in a poignant way, as well. You’re free to float to the moon and evaporate or sink to the bottom of the deepest ocean. But you’re free to explore. Some people confuse that with drifting, I suppose. I like to think of it as growing.
I've translated two of Bae's novels, A Greater Music and Recitation, which are coming from Open Letter and Deep Vellum in October and January respectively. A Greater Music is a semi-autobiographical book centred on a Korean writer moving to Berlin, learning to live and even write in a foreign language.
Simon Collinson, of digital publisher Canelo and über-cool Aussie mag The Lifted Brow, is our digital producer; Sarah Shin, Verso's comms director, is helping us out with press publicity; Soraya Gilanni, who mainly does production and set design for films and commercials, is our art director.
I was in the second year of my PhD when I first had the idea - I'd recently started working as a translator, which meant firstly that I was hearing about amazing-sounding books from other translators, and also that I was getting enough of an insider's view of the publishing industry to be aware of all the implicit biases that made it so difficult for these books to ever get published, especially if they weren't from European languages (harder to discover, editors can't read the original, lack of funding programmes, authors who don't speak English).
Alongside Han Kang, there's only one other author I've chosen to translate so far - Bae Suah. Her work is radical both stylistically and politically, influenced by her own translation practice (she's translated the likes of Kafka, Pessoa, and Sadeq Hedayat into Korean). Her language is simply extraordinary.
I read The Vegetarian and fell in love with it. A year later, I was invited to go and speak at the London Book Fair (which I'd never even heard of before), as they were gearing up for Korea being the market focus country in 2014. I met Max Porter there, Kang's editor at Portobello, sent him my sample, and the rest is history.
I suspected learning a language would be both useful and enjoyable (I love memorising lists of things), and would get rid of the embarrassment of being monolingual at 21. I'd been obsessed with reading for as long as I could remember, the only thing I'd ever thought I might want to be was a writer, but I was much better at crafting sentences than at stringing plots together.
There's no linear narrative - the structure is more like a series of variations on a theme (how identity is shaped by language), with the past constantly bleeding into the present, dreams into reality. And the language, while incredibly lyrical in places, also has this underlying dissonance, the sense of it having itself been translated.
Actually, I'm frequently described as the UK's only translator of Korean literature, but even that isn't accurate - Agnita Tennant is UK-based, Janet Poole is British though lives in Toronto, Brother Anthony was born here though is now a naturalised Korean citizen. There's also Chi-young Kim and Sora Kim-Russell, who are younger and do fiction for commercial houses.
Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay is a stylistically daring writer in love with surrealism, credited with being 'the woman who reintroduced hardcore sexuality to Bengali literature'. But though the (male) establishment used this label of erotica to dismiss her work, the sex scenes have exactly the same transgressive function as her use of chronology and narrative voice.
This and the small sample size inevitably leads to stereotypes - sweeping family sagas from India, 'lush' colonial romances from South-East Asia. Mother and daughter reconciling generational differences through preparing a 'traditional' meal together. Geishas. And even if something more exciting does manage to sneak through, it gets the same insultingly clichéd cover slapped on it anyway, so no one will ever know.
Hwang Jung-eun is one of the brightest stars of the new South Korean generation - she's Han Kang's favourite, and the novel we're publishing scooped the prestigious Bookseller's Award, for critically-acclaimed fiction that also has a wide popular appeal. She stands out for her focus on social minorities - her protagonists are slum inhabitants, trans women, orphans - and for the way she melds this hard-edged social critique with obliquely fantastical elements and offbeat dialogue.