Inside the London Book Fair: A Writer’s Eye View by Olivia Hope
There is a particular move that I mastered last week, in London. It’s a subtle one, but essential given the situation I was in. It requires Zen like focus and occurs at reflex action speed. It goes as such; first you scan an individual’s face, then quickly drop your eyes to read a name badge (without moving your head and heaven forbid, dwelling too long on anyone’s chest) and then quickly lift your eyes back to their face. The appropriate response is to then to either smile with familiarity, the other is desperately hide the fact that you were face-chest-face scanning in the first place, and move along. Unfortunately this technique did backfire gloriously on me when I recognised someone from another event last year, and she wasn’t wearing her badge. This lead to face – chest (what, no name badge?) – panic – face, and I inadvertently called her an entire publishing house instead.
The event was the London Book Fair and every year the great names in writing and publishing congregate in London’s Olympia (and most of them wear name badges). The noise level is the first thing that strikes you about an air hanger sized arena filled with bookish folks. I warrant a guess that it is possibly because so many of these people are used to long hours as hermits in quiet reading or writing, behind pages and screens, and given the chance to orate on books, boy, will these people sing from the hills.
And there was indeed much to talk about, particularly Chloe Esposito’s multi-million pound deal for her trilogy Mad, Bad and Dangerous, via superagent Simon Trewin, with further hints of a Hollywood film adaptation. (Simon Trewin will be at the International Literature Festival Dublin Getting Published Conference, run by Writing.ie and not to be missed – booking opening soon) A former paramedic, Daniel Cole, struck a six figure deal for his serial killer thriller, well known Great British Bakeoff Nadiya Hussain, is set to write fiction for Harper Collins and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, is set to have an authorised sequel by AG Roemmer.
But for someone who is not a literary icon or big hitter the London Book Fair is a chance to hear industry experts in peak flow with their ultimate audience. Panels did feature Irish writers Marian Keyes and Deirdre O Sullivan, and conferences addressed all areas of publishing and writing – retail, Children’s edutainment, the industry for authors and technology. As a children’s writer it was great to see that there was a whole section devoted my genre, although criticisms had been made that the London Book Fair was inconveniently timed, just one week after the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Principally the business of the fair is just that, business and the agents and publishers have back to back half hour meetings booked many months in advance, but in recent years the development of the Author HQ section has meant that authors too, are embraced.
Back to the face-chest-face manoeuvre. Thankfully it wasn’t required all the time, and there’s nothing like seeing a familiar face, which I imagine is what happens for many of the repeat annual attendees. Writing.ie’s Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin was there, multitasking like an octopus in a milliner’s factory, her hats worn during LBF covered publishing, rights, agenting and her own book (Little Bones under her pen name Sam Blake is out in just a few weeks). Two large lattes and a slab of chocolate later, I feel like we have covered a world of topics, and given each other more ideas, but I think that’s what keeps people coming back – the incidental chats where you aren’t selling your story, but talking about writing at a tangent – it incites creativity, and that must be the best reason to be there.
I had a meeting with my agent, (Clare Wallace at Darley Anderson Children’s Agency) and it was the first time we had met since she signed me. The agents’ one on one meetings with publishers, and their ability to sell a story is what gives LBF its buzz. The better the story, the bigger the buzz amongst the publishing beehive. It’s nonstop for them though, so agents should be given a dose of industrial strength tonic before they do LBF, and intense therapeutic massage afterwards (there were free massages available, but I feared that if I sat I might descend into a coma from the exhaustion of concentrating on face-chest-face encounters). With Clare it felt like we had worked on an amount of stories since last year, via emails and telephone calls, but there are things you cannot convey in words alone. It was much more immediate and involved talking through submissions and publishers’ feedback together, and happily, there are exciting prospects for three of my projects on the horizon.
The social aspect of the Fair is a given, many publishing houses have social events after hours for their writers, but it was an illustrators event organised by London Book and Screen Week on Thursday night that saw Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell and many other artists remind people that anyone can draw. And for me I got to speak properly to a lady who critiqued my first picture book three years ago, as part of the Authors for the Philippines charity – illustrator and writer tour de force that is Sarah McIntyre. I suppose you can never really thank the people who give you your first push to keep writing, and as a late starter, I possibly gushed too much in gratitude to her, so when she proceeded to draw me as I orated (see, book people can’t help it, I obviously don’t get out enough) I may have emitted a high pitched dog whistle hoot of joy. You’ll see why, top right.
So after a marathon few days of walking, face chest face scanning, chatting and generally enthusing about how wonderful books and book people are, I returned to the wilds of county Kerry. I genuinely enjoyed the London Book Fair, and will be back next year, with the lofty hopes of being a buzz in the beehive one day.
(c) Olivia Hope
Olivia Hope is a children’s writer from Killarney, Co. Kerry.
She recently signed with the Darley Anderson Childrens’ Book Agency, having written reams of picture books, mountains of poetry and has been working on the same middle grade book for the last three years (currently version 27).