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April 21, 2009

London Book Fair 2009

Yesterday was Day One of Book Fair, so I arrived keen to see if the books we sent months ago are actually on the stand, and to discover if the shelf is buried in obscurity or near to eye level. Once again, the Independent Publishers Guild stand was prominent and effective. I even forgot to take a photo of our shelf of Rucksack Readers. Next year we'll be 10 years old, which seems amazing.

One of the joys of Book Fair is being able to sit and talk to our partners from all over the world: Derek and Wayne of Hong Kong Graphics and Printing who make all our books these days, Craenen of Belgium who distribute in Europe and Interlink Publishing, Massachusetts, who distribute for us in North America. In fact it was this time last year that the idea of going back up Kilimanjaro by the Lemosho route was conceived at Book Fair in a conversation with Michel (who set up Interlink in 1987). Last June we all summited, and he and his partner Hildi have even created a gift book drawing entirely on this trip. I'd be truly delighted about that if it weren't for the fact that their book is likely to be out before my own, overdue guidebook, which keeps getting sidelined!

Today's main joy was listening to great novellists. I began with Umberto Eco, who is one of my favourites. A new novel from Eco is a rare event, about once in 8 years, and hearing about his full career as an academic historian, philosopher and teacher of semiotics and essayist, no wonder. Unlike most authors, he wasn't here to promote a new book, but to present an award to his editor. He spoke freely about the passionate battles between his editor and translators, sometimes days and weeks debating a single mot juste. Happily he scotched the rumour (spread in Wikipedia) that he would never write another novel, though he conceded he might be slowing down a little. Now in his late 70s, he seemed much younger, more energetic and full of humour as well as wisdom and patience.

Later I caught up with William Boyd talking about an unusual source of ideas for his novels. He lives beside the Thames, and had been struck by the little-known fact that over 50 bodies a week are recovered from its waters. How many of us could turn that into a best-seller? Sadly my business meetings that clashed with Vikram Seth, speaking this afternoon, whose novels "A Suitable Boy" and "An Equal Music" are some of my favourites.

April 23, 2009

Boris Johnson at the London Book Fair

I arrived at Book Fair yesterday unsure what to expect of the Mayor's keynote speech. So often, TV "personalities" are disappointing in the flesh. And Boris Johnson is strongly identified with the London Transport that let me down so badly on my journey to hear him: Victoria Line cancellation (strike action) discovered from notices at Brixton tube where I arrived with heavy luggage. After walking to the rail station, more stairs with luggage because of Penalty Fare notices demanding a new rail ticket. (My pre-pay Oyster card beats paying £4 for single journeys, but why can't it be valid on ALL forms of transport within the London area, especially after strike action closes the bit you need?) And the non-Victoria tube lines were even more crowded than usual because of the overspill, so it was an unpleasant journey.

But I needn't have worried about being late, as Boris was even later. Perhaps there was extra traffic on his bike journey from Islington. Once he started to talk, however, we forgave him everything. He was articulate, interesting and witty, a self-confessed "fogey" on the subject of Playstations and his sons, and although he had prepared his "keynote" he never read from a script and I suspect departed from his brief. The chairman wisely didn't attempt to summarise an address that ranged ecelectically over London's literary advantages. These included having twice as many bookshops as New York, being rich in libraries (363 of them), being custodians of the English language with its 500,000 words and (bizarrely, because of the weak pound) having the world's cheapest Big Mac (cheaper than the Ukraine and Brazil).

Boris's talk was well-informed, intelligent and good fun. As an author, he spoke to this LBF audience in its own language, starting with a witty aside about his agent getting the title of his novel wrong (by alluding to "42 virgins" - in place of 72 - the agent was reflecting deep discounting in the book trade.) He made much of birthdays – today is allegedly the day for both Shakespeare and St George – but it was his handling of questions that impressed me most. The first was a left-fielder from a Danish chap who wanted to know how Boris would combine proper celebrations of the Charles Dickens' bicentennial with the Olympics. Boris was understandably taken aback, but barely hesitated before confirming Dickens' dates as 1812-70, and spinning a brilliant fantasy of the Olympic opening ceremony as a Dickensian pageant. The audience loved it, the Dane was baffled.

Stripped of the glamour of TV, despite his heavily Eton/Balliol accent and persona, he came across as a genuine and approachable bloke. If I lived in London, I can even imagine voting for him. Although I've never yet voted Conservative, there are some politicians who seem to rise above party prejudices and to leave the baggage behind. Besides, the man has charisma. If Boris were a dog, he'd be a yellow labrador.

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Photo © www.contactmusic.com, with thanks

About April 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Jacquetta in April 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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