When she reads a good book, Greet Pauwelijn retreats into a small place or ''little island'' in her mind. So when wondering what to call her new publishing company, Book Island seemed fitting.
In January, Kapiti-based Pauwelijn was translating a New Zealand children's novel - Barbara Else's The Travelling Restaurant - for the biggest publisher in her home country, Belgium, when she came up with the idea of starting her own company.
Many months of hard work later, Book Island - which will publish children's books initially - is about to be unveiled, giving New Zealand kids the chance to read well-loved stories from Europe translated into English.
Pauwelijn, nearly 40, grew up in Ghent - a picturesque university town in Dutch-speaking Flanders. Her parents and two siblings weren't interested in reading, but Pauwelijn was ''completely obsessed'' with books. In fact, when the teenager was home alone reading one day, she was so absorbed in her book that she didn't notice a fire nearly break out beside her. Her mother came home to find her daughter sitting at the kitchen table, still reading and totally unaware she was surrounded by smoke.
Pauwelijn also had an interest in languages and, along with her mother-tongue Dutch, became fluent in English and Polish, with a good knowledge of French and German. She went on to use these skills as a translator and interpreter, while lecturing in Polish at various tertiary departments in Flanders.
''At a workshop for literary translators in 2008, I was asked to translate a Polish historical crime novel into Dutch,'' Pauwelijn says. ''That opened the door to the literary translation world. I've translated five Polish books and one New Zealand novel into Dutch since that one. I'm now getting stories from Europe translated into English and publishing them myself.''
Pauwelijn met her Kiwi husband Scott at a hostel in Wroclaw, Poland, in 2003. She was there for a wedding and Scott was travelling around Eastern Europe while based in London working as a builder. They had a long-distance relationship for three years, until Scott moved to Belgium where they got married and had two sons, Ilias, 6, and Jacob, 4.
''Scott started to get very homesick, so we made the decision to come here to live with our two boys,'' Pauwelijn says.
''It's been a tough few years getting used to a new country and culture, but I'm feeling a lot more settled now and launching Book Island has really helped. I've also found people here incredibly supportive. When I talked about my idea to friends and people in the publishing field, they all said 'go for it!'.
''It was great getting such an enthusiastic response, especially as many publishers are experiencing hard times.''
After some thorough research, Pauwelijn discovered not all publishers were struggling, and ebooks did not necessarily mean the death of paper books.
''I think there will always be people who will pay for paper books, particularly children's books, because they like the tactile nature of turning over pages. A paper book shows the history of those who've read it. If it's well-thumbed and falling apart, it shows how much children have loved it. And a lot of people like the visual appeal of seeing books on a shelf.''
While setting up a publishing house might seem a daunting task, especially in a foreign country, Pauwelijn says New Zealand is an easy place to start a business. But it pays to understand a few languages and have a nose for a good read.
''Actually my two boys are a great help in that if they want me to read them a book over and over again, it'll probably be a winner with other children.''
Book Island's first titles will be three children's books - Sammy and the Skyscraper Sandwich, Bernie and Flora, and Sir Mouse to the Rescue - translated into English from Dutch.
''I'm really looking forward to bringing great stories from Europe to people here in New Zealand.''
Book Island launches today at 2pm at Raumati South Memorial Hall with activities for children, Belgian crepes and hot chocolate, and Dutch and Flemish children's songs. See bookisland.co.nz.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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