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Saturday July 23rd, 2016

Interview with Barry Cunningham

"I play the role of the children"
Barry Cunningham, Cornelia's British publisher, invited us to his home. He tells you about his favorite books, his polar bear, a secret passion and his work as a publisher. '

It looks like a museum, junk shop, second hand bookshop and old record shop has exploded next door. Boom Everything flies through the air in a high arc and lands well mixed: in this room. Things don't just stand around. They surround you. No free corner, no empty place, always itching in the fingers: touch this time, turn that time, very close, to look, almost bump your nose. Stick to it, sink into it - a plastic fairy, yellowed pages of old books in woven baskets, a small picture with a skull and a desk that looks like it was made out of the planks of a pirate ship. Natural stone walls and a pavement that has been stepped smooth and greasy for centuries on the floor. Are we still in this world?

No, this is the study of Barry Cunningham, Cornelia's British publisher. And, let's get it over and done with mentioning that, the man who was the only one to give Joanne K. Rowling a chance to let Harry Potter escape his closet under the stairs into a published book. It was 1997; in the whole house, a really old box that stands in a Somerset cattle shop, it doesn't look much different. The toilet door, for example: you cannot close the toilet door at all, and behind this always open door a great Barack Obama explains the world to a little queen. While peeing you can discover that, the President of the United States as he faces the Queen, and a strange yellow submarine, of course, the Yellow Submarine of the Beatles, bubbles past the two. The plastic figures on the shelf opposite the toilet are as strong as an orcs army, in the hall there is a two-meter-tall polar bear, stuffed, just calm, stuffed, holding a bouquet of flowers, and in the room next to it a couple of dark wooden masks are hanging on the walls terrifying grimaces. What do you have, don't you like the Tibetan prayer flags? Do you hate it when Barry turns on the jukebox?

In the parallel world of his study, Barry Cunningham takes a seat in an armchair which, how could it be otherwise, is kept from tipping over with the help of a book under one of the decrepit legs. A can of diet coke within reach - there must always be a can of diet coke within reach - he crosses his legs and smiles. As if there was always a faint whisper in the back of his head that you can smile, because life - despite everything - is amusing. Well, the guy called the publishing house he founded in 2000 "Chicken House". Because he has an old chicken house in the garden. And is it the top pedestal? No, much too unpretentious!

"Do you remember which book was your favorite book as a child?"

"Yes, I can. As a little boy in school I was really bad at everything, really bad in class, I stared out the window, I was unable to study. And then only once did I win an award, an honorary award as they say. Which means nothing else than that they give you a price for at least making an effort. Even if that didn't lead to anything. The honorary award tells you at that moment: You're a real idiot, but we are know that you made an effort. "

He laughs. And tells of his life like a story that he himself does not like badly. To listen carefully. But be careful: if you take it seriously, you will not understand it. And if you don't take it very seriously, you will understand it even less.

"Back then, I chose a book as the prize. I went to the bookstore and, really by chance, I chose the Hobbit. And I really liked it. Then I read the Lord of the Rings. But I always found the Hobbit better because it is funnier and has a world full of ailing heroes - like me, hard at work but not particularly successful. "

Laughing again. Does he know he could pass for a hobbit himself? Not exactly a Lulatsch, disheveled hair, well-worn sneakers and so, yes, damn it, so harmless and friendly. You sit across from one of the biggest publishers for barely five minutes and the term that you can't avoid to describe him is: warm-hearted.

"I love this book and I still have my edition. It was my favorite book. It influenced me a lot and I don't know how often I've read it, very, very, very often. I like it as an adventure like that the front door, an adventure of the little things, and it's just so weird. "

"Your absolute favorite book? Not that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are children's books alone ..."

"No, they aren't. But my absolute favorite book belongs in the same book category as these two - books that children love as much as adults. Like many of Cornelia's books. My favorite book of all is ... Treasure Island. "

Carefully, quietly, almost shyly, he reveals this, as if he were worried that the many other books he likes might be sad or offended when they hear that he calls Treasure Island as his favorite.

"I love the spot when the pirate walks over the pavement and Jim can hear him in bed walking over the cobblestones and then knocking on the door - a really scary and exciting moment. And I like it because it is also is funny and adventurous, and - as in Cornelia's books - I think the villain is good. I love Long John Silver. But it would take ... Nowadays, so to put it quite presumptuously: If I were Robert Louis Stevenson's publisher, I would find the end moderate. "

Laughter, a sip of Diet Coke.

"I would send him to my desk again and say, boy, this is a real masterpiece, but in the end it just weakens."

"In the 1970s you traveled a lot with Roald Dahl and, as you say, learned the difference between what children like and what their parents say they like. Isn't the relationship between author and publisher very similar?

Let's just imagine Stevenson saying to you: This is my book, I like it just the way I wrote it. And then you say:
I like it too, but the ending is weak and you should come up with another one. "

"Well, nowadays, and it wasn't that different then, if an editor or publisher was supposed to represent the readers. That doesn't mean knowing all the answers, but it does know the questions. For example, do you really think that's a fitting ending Your story? Shouldn't it go on in a completely different way? I've never met a child who thinks a story ends on the last page. And I've never met one who doesn't spin the story further or thinks how It started before the first page. You are literally in these stories, and it is extremely important where and how an author ends. I would question Stevenson's decision for the end of Treasure Island. "

"So you mean that the author can decide for himself? Cornelia could disagree. She says it is her job as a storyteller to find one or rather the one best way through a story. And this is the way she has to go through the story consequences."

"I think I think that ...

Think about it, gain time.

... it's my job to find out which is the best way to go, and it is my job to help the writer get the story of the idea in his head down on paper. Sometimes that's just the question: Do you really think that should be the case, or have you just forgotten that your figure once wore pink pants because she's not wearing them right now? But sometimes that also means asking: Where did it start and are you satisfied with what has become of it? My job is to ask all of these questions. Not giving the answers. Although it would be tempting, of course, to give the answers that I myself would most like to hear. But no. My job is to play the role of children and ask questions. Very often - less with Cornelia - I notice that authors need these questions. It's all a very emotional process. "

A horse goes by outside, its hooves clatter in the street. A noisy school class follows. The children carry note boards and pens with them. The horse becomes uncomfortable, it speeds up its gait. Clack-clack, clack-clack, clack-clack.

"Authors are not exactly happy when you say about a figure who is close to them: She can
i don't suffer. But that's part of me, you would say, it's part of my personality. What do you mean, you don't like the figure. It happened that people too Roald Dahl said his characters are cruel and that in reality adults are never that ugly to children. And what did Dahl answer? Some already, he always said, some already. It was his job, he always said, to tell the children that they shouldn't trust anyone but themselves. "

It is at this point that Barry moves the cross-legged foot back and forth for the first time during the conversation. With the help of his hands he had been talking the whole time, he liked to dig himself as if he'd found the answers there, his fingers on his temples next to his bushy, bushy eyebrows. But here the foot for the first time: back and forth - like a subtle gesture of appreciation and deep respect for the stubborn hummingbone that Dahl could be.

"Is there a special way of writing a special style for children? Are there any rules or conditions?"

"Adults approach writing for children very differently. It is very different from writing for other adults. After all, you write for people who are there, sich to make a picture of the world and who wonder what to think of the world. They are just growing up and often they haven't had that much experience. Which is why books are so important to her that Cornelia's fans sometimes even put theirs under their pillows. It helps them see themselves and understand how they are and why they are like that. Like a secret conversation. That's why Cornelia calls herself the children's secret friend. Sometimes she may be their only point of contact when they are alone in bed, on the school bus, or wherever. It's very personal, it has nothing to do with a large audience, nothing to do with TV shows for everyone or even classmates. It's about you and only about you. This is when a writer becomes important to children when they are their secret friends. Sometimes, unfortunately, the only ones. "

What about him, Barry? Is he the man who is quietly happy to make these friendships sometimes? It is almost touching to hear him speak of children who are just adjusting to how they want to feel about life. As if he wanted nothing more than to make it a little easier, a little more pleasant for them. With a book that he publishes because it says between the lines: You can do it, you can do it. Take courage.

"When I sat with Cornelia or JK Rowling or Roald Dahl, it usually happened that children would come and tell them: Nobody had ever told me what I was reading, nobody knew about it except you. With authors for teenagers it is no different: Nobody dared to say it like that. Nobody else dares to say that you could hate your mother sometimes, nobody else dares to say, I hate it when you scream like that. Nobody would say so openly. Or if I'm very, very scared of something, who will tell me it's okay to be scared? This is where writing and publishing for children and teenagers is very different from writing for adults. Authors and publishers must have a different relationship than they do with an adult audience. "

Does he know that exactly from his own experience? Little Barry, who only had the books that told him it's okay not to break anything at school as long as it doesn't get too bad? It can be. He didn't have a long time to get to know his father. His father died of lung cancer when Barry himself was a child, six years old.

"In adult literature, if you will, there isn't that particular kind of connection, it's not so warm, not so authoritative, and not so respectful."

"Do you remember whether you believed as a child that real people were behind the stories in the books?"

"The authors or the characters in the books?"

"The authors."

"No, I don't suppose that I had them in mind as real people. It was even harder to imagine at the time. I always took them for parts of the characters in the book. So I thought Conan Doyle must be a bit something of Sherlock Holmes, and I thought Stevenson had to be like Jim in Treasure Island. No, I wasn't aware of the writers as people like you and I. Mark Twain was kind of Tom Sawyer. It never occurred to me that there Someone to email, or rather, a letter these days, I saw the authors as part of the fantasy world of books, and that is a world I have always preferred to the real world or what we think it is You remember: All I ever got in this reality was this honorary award for making an effort. In the fantasy world, on the other hand, I was of course much, much better off. "

Then he laughs again. His imagination leans over into the world of letters and stories. There Barry rides as a tall, dazzling and dragon-defeating knight Or would he be an unmatched sage like Yoda? Yes, and that makes him likeable without losing sight of himself in the real world. The loud crack of a can on the recorder - diet cola. And almost unnoticed: a lie? No, humility. Because in fact, the book award for unsuccessful attempts is not the only recognition that it has earned in this, the real world. In November 2010 he was awarded the “Most Excellent Order of the British Empire” in Buckingham Palace. One of the rare occasions he didn't show up in that loose pink striped brown suit, by the way.

“You are often said to be a child at heart. What are you in your head?"

"Hard to say! Childhood, I think, is a matter of attitude. And I think that's specialll men are masters at maintaining this attitude. Call it amazement or flow or whateverr. When I do something, read or listen to music, I do it as if there was nothing else in the world. I don't care about anything, I don't let anything come between me and this experience. I don't think about washing up or winning or thinking about my toenails being too long. In the moment there is nothing but the pure experience. That's it. Humor, I think, is very important in children's books. You see children laugh when they are scared and cry when they are happy. I can't think of anything in life that isn't also humorous on the inside. Life and death and everything else too. This is the heart of the child in me. I firmly believe that everything there is also part of something else. Everything that is serious is funny at the same time, everything that is sad is also happy and everything that is frightening is just as funny. I think this attitude helps me a lot in my work too. "

Incidentally, he knows exactly what he's talking about. Back in the days when Barry was still at Penguin Books, one of his jobs was to waddle across trade fairs and to booksellers dressed as a fat bird (the symbolic figure of the publisher's children's book division). Ambassador in bird costume, is that funny? Yes of course. If you take the matter too seriously, you end up believing you can fly with your clothes on and throw yourself out the window. He took the bird appearances with humor. Just like Harry Potter, he also took it with a sense of humor, he says.

"Humor is also the reason why I bought Harry Potter. Back then, the fantasy genre wasn't exactly known for top jokes. People took it very seriously. Harry Potter, on the other hand, is damned funny. They laugh in the face of great danger, and otherwise their community would not be able to hold together. If they could not laugh at this essential ridiculousness of the dangerous, they would never even be able to face this danger. That is exactly why I liked Harry Potter and bought it. Exactly that can also be found in Cornelias and other great children's books: Humor.Cornelia's stories have a lot of puns. "

"You claim to know the difference between what children really like and what others just want to tell them to do. So what really appeals to children, what do you think?"

"They react to all sorts of things. Humor, for example, is something very important. But the most important thing, I think, is ...

Break. Silence. Rummage in the heart for a long time, search, be on the move in his child consciousness, tear open cupboards under the sink, look behind doors and into dark corners, just to really find the most important, biggest, best ... And then: How he is quietly happy When he has found it and when he says it as if he wanted to show it off, proud and yet modest, a modesty that stems from the certainty that he never lost the child inside, never lost it. It has to be right. How else could he be such a joker and such a quiet wise person at the same time?

... to struggle with difficulties! Roald Dahl called it ..

Imitating Dahl, suddenly speaking louder, rougher and more emphatically, as if one were hitting the word against the bark of an old tree.

... BRAVE! This is what my books, Barry, BRAVE, be brave and stand by yourself is about. I am sure that all children have a vein for it: fight their way through difficulty and stay true to themselves. That speaks to them. Children are always in anger or feel misunderstood and therefore react very much when other children or heroes in a story are misunderstood or suppressed or fooled and when they still believe in themselves and find a way through the mess. Animals are something like that too. I imagine that most children believe that we totally misunderstand animals and that there are secret sides in the life of animals that we all know nothing about. At least I haven't met a child who didn't think a duck or a dog knew a great deal about us without ever telling us. In addition, children are interested in the representational nature of the world. I often tell people who start writing that they have to describe what people look like, the physical characteristics. And what they eat, for example. In a fantasy world full of glurps and gurgons, you would definitely want to know what kind of cake such creatures like to eat. Very exciting, gurgon cake, pretty important. "

"You once said that children love books almost as if they were living beings. How do you feel about your books?"

"I'm not picky about them. I lose some, give them away, spill coffee on them. And I like second-hand books, those that someone has already written something in, for example. I think it's good when you see one Book has already been used because it may have food stains or a shopping list is written down on one page. So I'm not squeamish about my books. But I was also one of those people who used to literally embrace their books, the way people do sees some girls standing in line to get Cornelia’s autograph. They really hug their books. Could be like hugging Cornelia. And they tuck the books under their pillows at night, definitely. There are because with Cornelia this quote that the magic of the story fulfills your dreams when you sleep with the book under your pillow. And who would doubt that it is really like that for children? "

"From books to animals. Which is your favorite animal?"

"What I always said was: dogs. Because I thought I was a canine person, I like dogs very much."

Barry's dog is called Marley. It's a dark Tibetan terrier who charmingly lays his head on his knee when he thinks he can dust off something to eat, only to bark at you five seconds later when he realizes that it doesn't work.

"When it's pouring rain and you say to your dog, come on, we'll hang up the laundry, he jumps up and is completely enthusiastic about the idea. Nobody has tried that yet, exactly, we go out and hang the laundry, let me go first, what a great idea, hang the laundry in the rain. "

As happy as a dog that is about to walk in the rain, he sits there grinning in the armchair. And if you see him like that, it is not beyond imagination that in the next shower he will really go out with the dog to hang the laundry in the rain. Just to have done it. His voice cracks almost like a little spaniel puppy chasing a ball and falling over its own feet, becoming a ball itself and rolling across the meadow. Wow! I fell and tumbled, did you see what a show! Where is the ball?

"Dogs can exude such optimism, and I love that. On the other hand, I have noticed that over the years I like my cat Mabel more and more. Cats tend to hang out with you a bit, and when they are tired of it, they disappear she. I'll be there for a while, says the cat, and then I'll run away again. "

"What about Giddy?"

"Giddy? Oh, Giddy, my giraffe! You know about Giddy! It's actually a secret. It's the only book I've ever written: Giddy finds a job. Well, it's about a giraffe who has a problem with." their size. And as a giraffe, I'm afraid it's really tough. "

"If you could be a child again for one day, actually, as if you had ridden the magical merry-go-round in The Thief Lord, what would you do? Where would you go?
What would you eat? "

"Well, eating and drinking is really easy. I would go back in time and eat my first serving of fish and chips again, the very first fish and chips. And with that I would drink a can of Tizer, a pretty sweet and bubbly stuff, that I was never allowed to drink before. A bit like Irn Bru in Scotland. And for dessert I would eat a whole pack of toffees by myself. It used to annoy me to death that I only ever got one. What I would do then would be , I would ... My father died when I was very young and there is one thing that we did together that stuck in my head to this day: my father took me to the Battersea festival Park in London and we spent a whole day at the fair and I wanted to go down the water slide with him again and again. It was a really high slide and I wouldn't stop, we would slide over and over and over and get wet except for that bone and we spent there all day together. We got into quite a bit of trouble when we got home. It wasn't until a few years later that I found out that my parents had a bad argument that day and my father had just taken me away without saying a word. So it wasn't really such a nice day, but I didn't know that at the time. And if I could now I would go back and make it a good day. And I'm not sure if there is anything else I wanted to go back for. "

A little sadness. Because he knows it won't work. But that doesn't have to mean that he stops dreaming that it is somehow possible.

"Can you remember what you wanted to be when you were a kid?"

"When I was about eight or nine I wanted to be an archaeologist. I had read this book and thought I just had to dig the back garden to find Tutankhamun. It would definitely be in the ground on the edge of Reading. So I dug up a whole one Lots of stuff from the garden and turned my room into a museum with little labels on the things: Metal splinters - possibly from a Roman chariot. Then came a time when everything about science seemed rather boring to me. Then I wanted to become a journalist first and later rather Rock star. "

"And then you became an archaeologist, somehow, because what you do is ..."

"Digging, that's right. I bring interesting thoughts out of people's minds. I uncover their imaginations and dig up their thoughts."

"Imagine if Mo from Inkheart offered you to read a character out of a book. Who would you choose? Long John Silver?"

"Possibly ... Long John Silver."

It comes very hesitantly. He probably doesn't know whether it wouldn't scare him too much after all.

"Really? You'd have to share your first fish and chips with him, and you might not get rid of him."

"But no, but no. Who would I want, huh? Wait. What should he read for me from a book in my life?"

He is overwhelmed by the question, at the same time enthusiastic about the possibility that floats in the room as a pure imagination. So for him: it is no less real than his diet soda can, which he has long since sucked empty.

"Someone from a book alive here with me? Wow, my god! Well, so it would be Cathy. From Wuthering Heights. Or would you prefer Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair?"

"First love?"

"Yeah, Cathy Earnshaw, Catherine from Wuthering Heights, I've been so in love with her all my life. And Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair, she's just a woman. Crazy! But, no, I would take Catherine from Wuthering Heights, no question about it. "


"The full pack of emotions! And she would go with me to this place in Wuthering Heights, where she was with Heathcliffe, to this place in the moor where the snow sometimes lies even in summer."

"Romantic affair?"

"Sounds a lot like it, doesn't it? So I think we should keep going!"

Not because he would be embarrassed, no, but his fantasy has already pulled him halfway into the moor and half to Cathy's side. And not that things are getting out of hand here. That the sly female characters would choose from a hundred-year-old company ham? These Cathy and Becky are not exactly dear little lambs with whom you are only too happy to share your toffees. You almost have to worry about him.

"What if it were the other way around, if Mo read you into a book?"

"Good question. Where would I like to go?"

"To Cathy?"

"Oh no, I guess I better not show up in Wuthering Heights. Where should I go?"

The forehead wrinkles, the wheels, the finger digs into the temple again, turn. With crossed legs in his old armchair, he travels in seconds - magic - through literary history, short stops in the Victorian period of the great storytellers, a detour to fantasy? Not funny enough, American realism certainly not. It would fit well in an early picaresque novel. But then, suddenly, he arrives:

"I've got it. Honestly: I would like to go to Hogwarts. I've been dealing with Harry Potter for so long, it wouldn't be bad to really come to Hogwarts. Just as one of the guys in the background, I would pass."

"What if there was no way back?"

"That would be right with me. After all, I know a little more about the story than anyone else, because I took a few chapters out of the first book, you know. So I could tell people a thing or two about it, what could have happened. "

"If you had to leave the house on the spot, we say like Meggie in Inkheart. When Dustfinger shows up, she and Mo have to leave the next morning. Five things that you would take with you."


If he only pokes out briefly, as if he wanted to complain about this unsolvable task, but then, without a moment of hesitation or hesitation, without a back or forth first thing:

"My iPod, I'm afraid. That should be because I have all of my music on it."

The man is a music madman, he loves what makes notes. He has six children, well, maybe, no, definitely for other reasons. But otherwise: music. Beatle's albums, empty, only the covers, hang on the walls of his office, records pile up meters long on the shelves, and in the kitchen the height of the CD tower is the size of the polar bear if you put all that fly around there on top of each other that Barry has in the hallway. Then a short ’Äääähm’ and number two comes up.

"A book called Staying Alive. It's a collection of poetry, and probably the best collection of poetry ever. Number three would be the cat. We get along so well. Two more stays. Hm."

Then comes the ’Hm’ that he didn't have to worry about for the iPod. And then the shock! What does he say? An impossibility, really, that one would never think of, the way he wears those worn out sneakers with Velcro fasteners. Well, maybe that's a clear indication of the slant that apparently pervades his being from top left to bottom right as he walks around, his hair as if the English wind had blown it for him, the brown of the single-breasted stripe broken by pale pink stripes, who, yes, bite with the red edge of the green cardigan underneath. So, he says:

"My cowboy boots. I love these cowboy boots."

A bizarre idea, this not exactly tall person, when he puts his feet in a pair of crooked cowboy boots. Isn't he too British to wear the kind of boots you'd see on a John Wayne guy? No?

"I like them so much because, you know, they can be very useful in difficult situations."

What does he mean by that? A car breakdown within a 15-mile walk to the nearest gas station or an invasion by an alien force from space that pulverize everyone who does not wear cowboy boots with special cannons?

"Hm, number five. Really difficult, isn't it?"


"Oh, because I had to get out of here, I'd take the car. Car, cowboy boots, Staying Alive, Mabel and my iPod. Guess that's all I need."

"The car is already outside the door. So that doesn't count."

He raises those mighty eyebrows, and this effort helps him stay calm for a moment. He actually wants to say shit, I thought I got it, and then this lousy number, damn it. But he remains polite, with himself and with us too, so he says:

"So the car is already outside, huh? Diet coke maybe? No. I would take my polar bear with me. No diet coke, my polar bear of course."

"Why is he so dirty?"

The bear stands crooked in the hallway with a silly red fez on its once white head. At least that's what one assumes, that the bear was once white, that's what they look like, the polar bears on TV and in the zoo. Polar bears are white bears, you think, don't you? But this one, stuffed in Barry's hallway, is brownish-gray like a curtain that has been gathering the dirt of lived life for too long on an old woman's bedroom window.

"Well, he, or rather she, because she actually is a lady, is not brand new anymore. I've had her since I was 21st birthday. She was in a candy store called Fox's Glacier Mints. When my sister asked me What I would like for my birthday, I just said that a two-meter-tall, stuffed polar bear wouldn't be bad. "

He says it again as lightly as he did years ago.

"I didn't waste a thought on that nonsense. Until, believe it or not, I got a two-meter-tall, stuffed polar bear for my birthday. And she's been living with me ever since Head upside down. Here she has the space she needs. But her paws are slowly drying out and I have to speak to a taxidermist to take care of her. Somebody from the British Museum of Natural History told me to put her in poke the bathtub to re-wet it, but, honestly, I can't really imagine going upstairs with this polar bear to get her a bath. "

"With a glass of champagne. Music. Candlelight."

"No, no, she's not that kind of bear."

"From which country or region would you like to publish a book?"

"There are a lot. I would like to publish a children's book from Japan, not a manga Indeed. I'm interested in the other way of telling stories. I've also looked at various things from Africa, written from an African perspective. Books that open up a different world of imagination, I would like to publish something like that. Books from Africa and India that are written in English often do not differ from our point of view. Everything is pretty much the same. But what I have read from Japan is so crazy and different that I would also like to discover a few children's books from there. Brazil is one of those cases. Most of the stories that we publish in English translation come from Germany or France, a few from Holland. "

He chuckles suppressed as if that were an incredibly absurd notion.And in a certain way it is: there is a whole world full of books and stories and ideas, all different, all so special, but so many ideas with which we feed our hunger for reading come from around the corner, purely culturally seen.

"Children all over the world have more in common than differences. It should be possible to publish a few more books worldwide. It's difficult because the translations are often useless and you have to imagine what a good translation of the story would be Like suspecting the sound of a symphony when someone whistles a lousy version of the melody. It takes a lot of trust to buy a book from Finnish without knowing exactly what it is about. Very difficult. But well, Japan fascinates me, the narrative culture and the culture in general. And that childhood has a different meaning there, plays a different role than it does for us, is interesting. "

"Chicken House, you said, likes to give new authors a chance. Isn't it strange that books and stories require imagination and openness, but the book industry is a rather closed and revolving world? Couldn't it be With new authors for Chicken House it is also about not having to pay them much, at least not as much as established authors?

"That's right, that's right. New talent always involves higher risks, but also promises higher revenues. This can be the right strategy for a small business. However, when it turns out that new writers are not the talent you thought they were If you buy a book by a well-known author, you don't make so much money with it, but you don't run the risk of losing that much either. It's an entrepreneurial balancing act, similar to that with new artists in music Risk, higher chances of winning because the authors can take less money because you are taking a higher risk for them. For the authors, the dangers are manageable. For us as publishers, maybe five or six books out of twenty are a total letdown, be it because we do them Have misjudged something or simply because of bad timing. As if we had launched a huge thing like Treasure Island in the wrong century. "

"Or with the wrong ending. Isn't it sometimes easier to work with new and unfamiliar people?"


It bursts out of him before he even hears the end of the question.

"When I worked for Penguin, almost all of the books I bought were already published. We bought the rights from small publishers and then it was all about marketing. I was marketing director at the time, and the question was about that the business turned was: How do we sell the books? Whether the stories were useful was of secondary importance for our daily work. How do we position the book on the market, how do we advertise it, which format do we choose, which price? That was it It was not an easy business, and not so creative, because there was nothing more to be done with the stories. Even with new authors, it is sometimes really difficult. You may ask for things that they cannot implement. And maybe a writer can only write one book, I used to be in the music business for a short time and there were a lot of artists who could only produce one album, they'd worked on it for years and they sc couldn't manage to add a second record fast enough. Likewise, many have problems writing a second book quickly enough after having sat on the first for too long. And today you can't take your time for so long. If the second book doesn't come out in three or five years, you're forgotten. So: It's riskier with new people, but also more rewarding, and not just financially. "

Say, as if it were a big, exciting game in which you lose and win sometimes. Maybe that's the frugal serenity of someone who has often won and yet hasn't forgotten that the game is about having fun.

"Have you ever thought of publishing a book that a child wrote?"

"Yeah, and we've worked with kids too, trying to get them to finish their books. I remember a girl who was often at Chicken House, the daughter of the down the street shopkeeper. Her stories were full of great ideas and she wrote really brilliantly so I encouraged her to keep going, I got her dad to drop her off at night, but then at some point she had a boyfriend and she went out and that was it with writing. I don't know if children can really keep an eye on their own lives. Many don't have their own voices and often imitate other authors when they write. Isn't it interesting and at the same time strange that the whole world of children's books is made by adults "It's the adults who ask themselves: What could the children be interested in? And that's the assumption that the whole business is based on. I believe, however, that I do." can actually assess quite well. And Cornelia also thinks that I have a good nose for it. Like JK Rowling. But did Roald Dahl see it that way too? No idea."

Well, Dahl probably thought so too, but would not have had the power to say it so openly. You didn't want to be considered a softie. Which Barry is clearly not worried about. Silly fuss. In the end, that's because adulthood really hasn't quite captured him yet and he has kept the child inside, even if that sounds like an empty phrase. How he sums up children's concerns, secret wishes, a guilty conscience, being small, being alone, insecure and not understanding. Wanting to discover and exist. How he dresses it in words, so that the peculiarity, the unique, the eminently important of the child - the important for the children and for the adults - shines through. Like the joy he takes in discovering books, letting stories develop and publishing them.

"Thank you Barry. Thank you so much."

"Please. Now come on and let's have lunch. "

Interview: Michael Orth and Insa Funke

Text, translation and photos: Michael Orth