Growing out of Olympia and into ExCel in Docklands

LONDON – The London Book Fair, now in its 35th year, is still growing – so much so that it has outgrown the old location at Olympia. This year, it transferred across town to the massive ExCel complex in London’s Docklands, where 1,996 companies from 59 countries took part in one of the publishing world’s major annual events. The LBF, which ran March 5-7, is for professionals – with more than 20,000 writers, editors and agents participating. But there are some parallel events for the public. One sure crowd-pleaser is the Masterclass series, where names to conjure with – such as Margaret Atwood, Monica Ali and Sara Paretsky – were among those who agreed to share the secrets of the word game with aspiring authors. Around 1,000 participants attended the two sessions last Saturday. Kathimerini English Edition sampled the afternoon master class, which illustrated what hunger there is among apprentice writers of all ages for enlightenment and nurturing, and what skill they already possess. The task of producing a short dialogue to order in 20 minutes produced a crop of polished texts and performances, as their authors read a sample aloud. Greek flavor Wine, pistachios, olive oil and a generous serving of kefi – or zest – greeted visitors to the party held at the Greek stand at the London Book Fair on Monday evening. It was a foretaste of this year’s Thessaloniki Book Fair (TBF), where the theme is to be wine and other delights. The Greek stand at ExCel, organized by the National Book Center of Greece (EKEBI), and the Panhellenic Federation of Publishers and Booksellers (POEB), was dedicated to promoting TBF, being held this coming May 25-29. It wasn’t all partying for the Greek contingent. Business was brisk throughout the fair, with an endless stream of publishers, printers, agents, authors and representatives of national organizations that promote books and translation calling in to get acquainted or do business. LBF is a prime opportunity for participants from smaller countries to find creative ways of securing greater global reach, and TBF offers attractive prices to encourage potential participants to team up with other publishers or organize national pavilions in Thessaloniki. Getting attention is part of the game at any fair and London helps by concentrating attention on a different country each year through its Market Focus promotion with a series of seminars on diverse aspects of publishing, writing and reading in the focus country, this year Mexico. And there was much more: The announcement of the long list for the Orange Prize for Fiction and Margaret Atwood’s launch of the pen she hopes will make authors’ lives easier by signing books at a distance – a few wrinkles still to be ironed out in that one, but it was a popular event. The International Young Publisher of the Year award, special events for librarians and booksellers, a rights workshop, author-of-the-day events and discussions about everything from marketing small businesses to the future of the book in the digital age were some of the attractions. The buzz The deals hammered out behind the scenes in the International Rights Center fuel most of the chatter but a large measure of the buzz comes from events open to all. On Sunday, in the British Council’s Wicked Issues series, Lee Brackstone, editorial director for fiction at Faber, and authors Andrei Kurkov and Louise Doughty discussed whether there was such a thing as a national literature in the 21st century. And on Tuesday, author and translator Peter Clark and author Fadia Faqir talked about translation from and into Arabic. Every new start entails adjustment and, predictably, LBF’s transition to the new venue had some hiccups. The main gripes were about toilet facilities, or the lack of them, long lines for food, and a stand numbering system of such obscurity that even the non-geographically challenged spent far too much time getting lost. The Professional Beauty Spa event being held in an adjacent hall led to confusion and occasional amusement as book people unwittingly signed up for massage sessions or nail treatments. Location was another bugbear. For those landing at London City Airport, the fair is a mere five minutes by light shuttle bus. But from Heathrow it’s a considerable hike across town. In fact, the venue is well served by a mix of the Underground and the light railway, but participants need help choosing convenient hotels. «I don’t think we should bitch about it too much,» Sofika Eleftheroudaki of the Eleftheroudakis book chain told Kathimerini English Edition. The fair is going to stay there and we have to make the best of it. It had grown too large for the other location.» To their credit, the organizers have been quick to acknowledge the glitches and vow to sort them out by next year. Let’s hope that the fair will have settled enough by next year to bring back favorite events such as the paired Lit Idol competition and author party that used to end the fair with a bang.