My London Book Fair 2017 #LBF17

Three days of trudging around Olympia with an increasingly weighty bag of goodies is too long, according to my feet, even when they’re well prepared.

well-worn Converse trainers

But two days, as I found out this year, isn’t nearly enough. While the London Book Fair is industry orientated, there’s plenty for authors to do. Here are some of my highlights.

1 Catching up with friends and colleagues, many of them from ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors.

With fellow author Helena Halme

with fellow author Helena Halme

 

me with cover designer Jessica Bell

with ace cover designer Jessica Bell

Making new friends is part of the fun too. Book people come from far and wide for LBF, like Aussie writer Rebecca Lang from Sydney.

ALLi authors

from L to R: Jessica Bell, me, Rebecca Lang, Glynis Smy

2 Talks at Author HQ.

Author HQ at LBF

The varied fare is excellent, and this year the seats even had proper backs for weary spines. Too bad Author HQ is once again tucked away at the far end of the first floor. You may need GPS and Kendal Mint Cake for the trek.

3 Author of the Day sessions.

They’re at the PEN Literary Salon, which is where I met the inspiring Alaa al Aswany a few years ago. Sadly, this year Roddy Doyle had to cancel his appearance, so, instead of a capacity crowd, there were half-empty benches where people collapsed to eat their sandwiches. As ever, there’s a dire shortage of seating, which is why visitors have to perch on the displays.

following the Yellow Brick Road

4 Learning more about organisations like the Society of Authors, Gardners the wholesalers and distributors, or the Booksellers’ Association. There’s a whole world outside sitting at a desk writing.

the Grand Hall, Olympia

With a bit of planning, you can also arrange one-to-ones with agents or publishers. There are other ways of publishing too. I should have spent longer talking audiobooks.

5 Admiring awesome new books. There are 20 new books published every hour in the UK. Some of them might even be yours.

General Practice Cases at a Glance

at the Wiley stand

6 Haggling over a bagel.

The sticker said £2.75 but it was £4.60 on the price list. In the end, I got it for £2.60. Nothing is quite what you expect at LBF.

salmon bagel

7 The bottle of Veuve Cliquot I won. This was thanks to Byte the Book‘s legendary networking session on the Tuesday evening. I also collected a dozen useful email addresses and a temporary tattoo.

With many friends and colleagues, I only managed snatched conversations between one meeting and the next. Others, like writers from the Romantic Novelists’ Association, I hardly saw. Next year, I tell myself as I get on the train home, it’s back to a three-day marathon.

On the subject of travel, I can’t resist a digression to add that my novel Hampstead Fever will be on special offer in selected WH Smith travel shops throughout the UK from March 30. That’s buy one, get one half price.

Did you go to the London Book Fair? What did you think of it?

Inside the Dragons’ Den

What happens when aspiring authors have to brave not one but four literary dragons in front of a live audience? 

The London Book Fair (LBF2015 to the cognoscenti) had a demob flavour on its final session of the afternoon, but not in Author HQ where for ten hopefuls the serious stuff was just cranking up.

Seen Dragon’s Den? That’s how The Write Stuff was organized. Ready to breathe fire on the ambitious writers were agents Mark Lucas, Toby Mundy and Lorella Belli, plus non-fiction publisher Alison Jones.

They didn’t look that fierce from where I was sitting. As we waited for the start, I couldn’t tell if Belli and Jones were discussing books, designer shoes, or their team’s chances for the next season, but it all seemed quite jolly.

Alison Jones, left, with Lorella Belli

Alison Jones, left, with Lorella Belli

Then the real business began, with the contestants standing in front of the panel plus a packed Author HQ to sell themselves. Each had just one minute to say who they were, two minutes to pitch their book, and five minutes for questions and comments from the panel, who had already sampled their opening chapters.

This happened a few weeks ago now, but there were lessons that authors should remember for all time.

First up was Lucy Brydon, a young Scottish film-maker who presented a novel set in China where she had worked. While The Boy Who Died Comfortably was redolent of Chinese culture and highly filmic. Toby Mundy wasn’t so sure that, as a foreigner, the author had ‘a place to stand in this story.’

Toby Mundy

Agent Toby Mundy

Characters came under scrutiny when romance writer Catherine Miller pitched her novel Baby Number Two.  The panel was clearly impressed with her perfect title, as well as her blurb, her writing, and her Katie Fforde bursary. AND she’s a mother of twins.

Catherine Miller

Catherine Miller

They weren’t so keen on her characters’ motives, however. Alison Jones also felt she had shoehorned in too many topical subjects.

Caroline James also writes mainly for women. Coffee, Tea, the Caribbean and Me was aimed more at those in their fifties, and drew on her experience in the hospitality industry. ‘Highly relatable,’ thought Mark Lucas, relatable being the buzzword de nos jours.

agent Mark Lucas

Agent Mark Lucas

The authors received all the comments with good grace, though Olga Levancuka was a tad more combative.  There she stood in her full-length orange coat, looking every inch the Skinny Rich Coach (her alias). She responded feistily when the panel questioned her approach and her credentials.

Olga Levancuka, aka Skinny Rich Coach

Olga Levancuka aka Skinny Rich Coach

Mike Rothery had spent decades in the Navy, so no surprise his novel The Waiting-Pool involves an ocean voyage. And a jaunty hat.

Mike Rothery

Mike Rothery

It was a good thriller, thought the panel, but it took a bit too long to get started, and Alison Jones couldn’t bring herself to care that much about the characters. The protagonists had started life in another of Mike’s books, so getting the amount of back-story right may have been an issue. A tip here for anyone writing a series, I think.

Vittorio Vandelli

Vittorio Vandelli

Italian satirist Vittorio Vandelli presented a tub-thumping account of the dystopia of the Berlusconi period. What had happened in Italy was, he claimed, a dire warning to Western democracy everywhere. He soon digressed from his blurb and just gave us his tirade.  As entertaining as it all was, Vittorio and his book came on a little strong. Mark Lucas said he felt he was being smacked over the head with all the things he should be outraged about.

Caroline Mawer is a doctor, globe-trotter, photographer, and author of A Single Girl’s Guide to Modern Iran. The panel thought there wasn’t enough of herself in the work, and the title wasn’t faithful enough to the text.  Wouldn’t Skinny-Dipping in the Spring of Solomon have been more arresting? Maybe literally?

Caroline Mawer

Caroline Mawer

Up stepped Julia Suzuki. Her children’s book The Crystal Genie is, appropriately enough, all about dragons. The panel sat bolt upright. Was it about them? They all claimed to adore dragons. But it is no longer enough, apparently, for dragons to be green. Even the youngest readers must now have them in shades of grey. Alas, Suzuki’s characters were ‘a bit too black and white.’   

Julia Suzuki

Julia Suzuki

Lennox Morrison, an award-winning journalist from Aberdeen, offered a collection of short stories. Although she writes ‘like a dream,’ the consensus was that short stories are very difficult to sell on a grand scale.

The winner was another journalist, Sanjiv Rana, who pitched The Insignificance of Good Intentions. This first person novel is about a 33-year old virgin who’s sent to prison charged with rape. Sexual assault is a big problem in India, though, as the panel said, false accusations of rape aren’t usually the issue, so it’s an original angle. The panel agreed that Rana has a very original voice too. You think that stopped them comparing him to other writers? Think again. 

Sanjiv Rana receives his award

Sanjiv Rana and certificate

Rana won an appointment with Toby Mundy, and a framed certificate for slaying dragons. 

What did the other writers get out of it?  Olga landed herself an agent shortly afterwards, and Caroline Mawer did change the title of her book. Her thought-provoking take on The Write Stuff is well worth a read. It’s on Words With Jam right after my piece.

Meanwhile Catherine has completed her novel, and I for one am dying to read it.

 

A Stroll though Highgate Cemetery

My mate Gus was out one day;

Someone asked ‘Do you know the quickest way 

To Highgate Cemetery?’

‘You bet I do’ said Gus

As he pushed the poor fellow under a bus.”

There are lots of reasons for visiting Highgate Cemetery in North London. Here are just a few of them.

It’s a final resting place for many literary folk, among them Douglas Adams, Alan Sillitoe, George Eliot, Pat Kavanagh and William Foyle (who founded Foyle’s with his brother Gilbert).

Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams, with pencil tribute

 

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’s writer

 

Literary agent Pat Kavanagh

Literary agent Pat Kavanagh

 

One half  of W & G Foyle Ltd

One half of W & G Foyle Ltd

Then there’s this avid reader.  

Jim Horn 1976-2010

Jim Horn 1976-2010

Poor Harry Thornton didn’t survive the flu pandemic.  

Pianist Harry Thornton 1883-1918

Pianist Harry Thornton 1883-1918

I expect you know who Malcolm McLaren was, unlike the couple nearby who thought he had something to do with double buggies.   

Malcolm McLaren

Malcolm McLaren 1946-2010

Pop artist Patrick Caulfield plays a visual joke on the headstone.   

Patrick Caulfield

DEAD or alive? Probably dead if you look closely.

But Jeremy Beadle goes all serious with books.

Jeremy Beadle 1948-2008

There are war graves, mainly from World War One, and a 1930s monument to the London Fire Brigade. There’s also one very bad boy.

Mastermind of the Great Train Robbery 1963

Bruce Reynolds, the brains behind the Great Train Robbery

 You were expecting the big man? Oh, all right. Here you go.

Karl Marx 2

Funny how the communist gets the most lavish tomb, dwarfing those around him. Souls of lefties gather round, among them historian Eric Hobsbawm and Iraqi Communist leader Saad Saadi Ali, while a little further away lies Philip Gould, architect of New Labour.   

Eric Hobsbawm 1917-2012

Eric Hobsbawm 1917-2012

 

Saad Saadi Ali

Saad Saadi Ali

See? Ali is left-leaning even in death.

We were not alone, as we soon discovered.

we are not alone

These days you can still be buried in Highgate, though space is at a premium. The impressive statuary is packed close.  

angels

crosses

ivy on crosses

selection of statuary

statuary

Victorian tombstones

We’d only visited the East Cemetery, but, as the sun began to set, it seemed time to leave…  

open tomb 1

 

 

 

My London Book Fair aka #LBF14

At the end of day three at Earls Court, here are some things that stand out for me:

LBF 2014

  • Meeting lovely people I know only from social media, and finding them even better in real life
  • The lure of bacon sarnies first thing in the morning
  • Standing room only at seminars in Author HQ
  • Finding out what ‘domestic chillers’ are  (hint: Zanussi doesn’t make them)
  • The rallying cry to indie authors (and the brand new ALLi badge)
  • Terry Pratchett on video loop
  • Aching shoulders from accumulated bumf
  • Some cringe-making questions from the audience (“How does one start to write a book?”) and Katie Fforde’s incredibly courteous reply
  • An awesome open mic session at the indie fringe fest

ALLi 2nd birthday party

  • Agents emerging blinking in the light after days spent holed up in the International Rights Centre
  • Pizza with not enough pepperoni (Pizza Express, please look up ‘loaded’ in the dictionary)
  • It’s not just my London Book Fair. It’s also my London, so here I am standing with my book in front of the house where I was conceived.
34 Trebovir Road SW5

34 Trebovir Road SW5

You might also like to read these other author perspectives on this year’s London Book Fair

Alison Morton

Debbie Young

Orna Ross

Jessica Bell

Joanna Penn