Publisher at Sort Of Books on TOVE JANSSON
In early March this year, before lockdowns and social distancing began, I was thrilled to be able to attend the Suffolk Book League evening with Natania Jansz, publisher at ‘Sort Of Books,’ responsible for the UK publication of Jansson’s original Moomins books. Sort Of Books also published Letters from Tove, a beautifully edited collection of Jansson’s personal letters and Life, Art, Words, her authorised biography. Natania gave an illuminating talk, not only about the magic of Moomins and of Tove Jansson’s creative talents and personal life, but also about her own story of publishing Jansson’s books in the UK.
Natania and her partner Mark Ellingham, originally decided to set up their publishing company and publish a very small selection of books each year, focussing on producing them as beautifully as possible. Then, on a visit to Seattle, Mark was browsing in a second-hand book shop when he came across a rather weather-beaten edition of one of the Moomins books. He and Natania fell in love with the illustrations, the story and the characters and decided they must publish the Moomins in the UK. And that was where their relationship with Tove Jansson began.
Born in 1914, Tove grew up in a family of artists whose creative drive provided a perfect environment for the development of her own talents. She would grow up to be Finland’s most famous author- illustrator and her popularity around the world endures and increases year on year.
Natania also discussed Letters from Tove, an edited collection of Tove’s private correspondence which had recently been serialised on BBC Radio Four. The letters are to the people Tove Jansson loved in her life, her family, her companions, close friends and fellow artists. All her life, she wrote letters and saw it as a way of emotionally connecting to others. In one letter she states, ‘ While I am writing, I have you here,’ and it is this intimate tone which pervades the collection. Tove Jansson received a great many letters herself, in the form of vast amounts of fan mail. She attempted to answer every letter she received, an indication of her generous nature even, when writing to a friend, she mentions that she found this ‘an overwhelming daily task.’
Throughout Natania’s talk, her enthusiasm and admiration for Jansson was clear. Focusing on her adult fiction, she spoke powerfully about the beauty and philosophical riches found Jansson’s lyrical and evocative novels.
Natania was quietly passionate in her talk about a woman who also came across as quietly passionate in her life as writer and artist. Reading from one of Jansson’s adult novels Fair Play, a love story between two women artists, working and travelling together, spending idyllic summers on a remote island, Natania then went on to discuss Jansson’s love affair with Tuulikki Pietiläand, better known as Tutti, an artist who became a central figure in Jansson’s private life. Discussing the autobiographical elements of Jansson’s writing, she described Fair Play as ‘a peon to tact and discretion and an exquisite rendition of the joys and life-affirming complexities of relationships.’ She also spoke about Jansson’s The Summer Book, a novel which had enchanted her years before she even thought of becoming a publisher.
The evening offered a sensitive insight into Tove Jansson’s art, writing and personal life alongside a publisher’s passion for books. Natania discussed how important it is for publishers to care about the authors they publish and her own personal enthusiasm, literary knowledge and understanding of Tove Jansson’s work came across strongly. The evening was particularly pleasurable for an audience clearly beguiled and enchanted by the beautiful, gentle and curious Moomins, all of whom seem to have a little something of all us in their stories.
Written by Amanda Hodgkinson
Natania Jansz’s choice of books by Tove Jansson
Letters from Tove : edited by Boel Westin and Helen Svensson: trans. Sarah Death
(Sort Of Books 2019, hdbk)
This collection of letters by Tove Jansson, the world renowned artist, author and creator of the Moomins, offer glimpses into her bohemian and extraordinary life as it unfolds. To read them is to immerse yourself in a richer mind, a constantly curious and evolving one. The perfect tonic.
The Summer Book
(1972, Sort Of Books pbk, 2003)
A young girl spends a summer with her grandmother on a tiny island in the Gulf Finland. On the surface little happens yet, in the deceptive lightness of Jansson’s prose, we discover themes of love and mortality. An instant and enduring classic.
The True Deceiver
(1982, Sort Of Books pbk, 2009)
The perfect dark companion to The Summer Book, The True Deceiver glitters with a wintry light. In a snowbound hamlet an elderly illustrator opens her home to strange young woman. But who will deceive whom?
Ruth Rendell described this book as ‘cool in both senses of the word’.
4(1989, Sort Of Books pbk, 2007)
A book for mature lovers. Two women who respect each other’s creativity show their love in a multitude of natural gestures of tact, sympathy and attention. A masterclass in how to build an enduring relationship.
(1957, Sort Of Books hdbk)
A book that speaks to these self-isolating times; of a Moomin waking up to a world that is utterly familiar yet eerily changed, and discovering he has the resources to cope. This is a book I’m posting to all my friends stuck at home with young children right now.