London Book Fair buzzing

LONDON – It’s over for another year. The 36th London Book fair ended April 18 after three days of deals, exchanges, schmoozing and partying. The big business of the LBF is selling rights, but the proximity of thousands of publishers, agents, authors, booksellers, translators and other book professionals from around the world makes for a general ferment of business creativity. It is a prime opportunity to get the attention of one’s colleagues from abroad, and the National Book Center of Greece made the most of it with a stand promoting the upcoming Thessaloniki Book Fair (TBF). Last year’s move to Excel in Docklands after the fair had outgrown its old site at Olympia was less than popular, and not only because it was hard to get to. Most exhibitors welcomed this year’s choice of Earls Court. «Nice to be back on planet Earth, rather than Excel wasteland,» commented Gary Pulsifer of Arcadia Books. Catheryn Kilgarriff of Marion Boyars Publishers called the new venue «an excellent location.» To their credit, the LBF organizers under director Alistair Burstenshawe have taken on board the criticisms of the 2006 fair. The shift to larger, more accessible and blessedly smoke-free premises, arrangements for a greater variety of catering trolleys (as opposed to anything you want so long as its a sandwich), delivering snacks to beleaguered stand-holders who can’t leave their posts and a better layout with wider aisles were all distinct improvements. The usual extras were on offer – the British Council’s International Young Publisher of the Year Award and its Wicked Issues series of discussion on hot topics, plus seminars, master classes, book signings, author meetings and off premises parties. As for the buzz, Greek publisher Aris Maragopoulos, formerly of Hellinika Grammata, now editor in chief of a new publishing venture, Motivo, pinpointed one interesting feature of this year’s fair. «The best books,» he told Kathimerini English Edition, «were not novels but non-fiction. There were lots of good opportunities for Greek publishers in that field.» There were only a few really worthwhile novels, in his view, and he predicted stiff competition among publishers for them. Alexandra Buchler of Literature Across Frontiers, which promotes literature in translation, highlighted another aspect: «In comparison with only a few years ago, the LBF is now a truly international event with an interesting seminar program and visitors who are looking beyond the Anglo-American area. While the LBF has always been the place for prearranged meetings, it is increasingly becoming an event where exhibitors make a number of new contacts and this year was certainly productive for our organization.» What kind of impact did the Greek delegation make? «We made our presence felt,» said EKEBI director Catherine Velissaris. «We saw that everyone knows about the TBF, we made a lot of new contacts and we were delighted that Gary Pulsifer has undertaken to organize a collective stand in Thessaloniki representing almost 20 UK publishers.» Asked what British publishers hope to get from Thessaloniki, Pulsifer said: «UK publishers view the Thessaloniki Book Fair as an opportunity to reach new and growing markets, not only Greece and the Balkan countries, but places as far-flung as Algeria and Russia (who attend). It’s becoming, in its way, what the Gothenburg Book Fair is to the Nordic countries, but with a better climate. «It is also a good way of meeting the top Greek writers, for those of us who translate these writers into English. A manifestation of the fair’s success on the English market is that more and more Greek writers are being translated into English.» Kilgarriff, who has published two books by Greek author Vangelis Hadziyiannidis, noted: «Greek literature in translation has had a boost from the short-listing of by Vangelis’s ‘Four Walls’ [for this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Award]. We also had film interest in ‘Stolen Time’ which we will be following closely.» The European Network of Literature Centers will be in Thessaloniki. Buchler told Kathimerini English Edition: «We are very pleased to have 14 national organizations from 12 EU countries participating in our collective stand at the Thessaloniki Book Fair this year and to be able to bring their representatives, as well as distinguished translators of Greek literature, to meet with Greek publishers. «Our aim is to promote lesser-known literatures, and, with our wide network of partner organizations, we are ideally placed to encourage literary exchange between Greece and other smaller countries of Europe and open up new channels of communication.» And they mean business. As Buchler explained: «We’d like to discuss the reasons why so little contemporary Greek writing is available in translation into other languages and vice versa and we will be holding a panel debate on this subject at our stand. With the theme of the fair being travel, we would also like to introduce the countries participating in our stand in a wider sense with all aspects of their culture.» The stand will also offer discussions with distinguished translators, critics and promoters of literature and tastings of national drinks from Central Europe, the Baltic countries and the Iberian peninsula at the daily happy hour. This is precisely the kind of mixing and exchange of ideas that book fairs can foster and that Thessaloniki is well-placed to host. And the benefits go beyond the book world. Buchler puts it in a nutshell: «After all, literature opens the doors into our very lives and gives us insight into the lives of others, taking us across the boundaries of languages and culture.» The LBF, which attracts participants from 57 countries, certainly shows the way.

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