There has been a lot of talk, both in my classes and out of them in the last few months, about London Book Fair. Talk about how big it is, the idea that it might be overwhelming when you first see it, that there will be a lot of publishers there: not just from the UK but worldwide. Where will you stay? How long are you going for? What panels are you planning to go to? Which stalls do you want to visit? Do you have any meetings set up? No- do you?
Honestly by the time I got on the train last Monday morning I was sick to the back teeth of talking about London Book Fair (LBF). I just wanted to see it.
I was up bright and early (I didn’t even snooze my alarm once) and standing waiting in the queue to get in at 9am.
I grabbed myself a map and put on my game face. It was big – huge even – but that was ok, because I was expecting it to be. I had been expecting to be immediately overwhelmed by the giant exhibition centre, but I managed to keep my cool. It lasted around ten minutes until I realised that the place wasn’t quite as easy to navigate as I thought it would be – even with my map and LBF app combination.
Nevertheless, after a pit stop at The ‘Suffrage Century’ in Literature celebratory garden (a highlight of the trip for me!), I made it to my first panel: ‘Censor, Advocate, or Disruptor? The Role of Publishers in an Evolving Publishing and Media Landscape’. It was a series of talks by very impressive people. Dr Michiel Kolman Elsevier kicked off the proceedings and reminded the room how lucky we all are. We live in a country that allows freedom of speech and publishing. We were reminded that there are other countries where being a publisher is a dangerous line of work, people are imprisoned and even killed for doing their jobs. He finished his presentation with the striking statement that “publishing should not be a matter of life and death.”
It was a shocking start to my first London Book Fair. Honestly, I had, naively, never considered the idea that Publishing was something that was dangerous or taboo; certainly never life or death.
The next panel I attended was titled A Bookish Brexit and was one of the first panels that had jumped out at me while I looked through the LBF programme. It’s such a hot button topic that it was the first time I saw that people really do sit on the floor to sit in on full panels. The ‘Blueprint for UK Publishing’ which has been produced by The Publishers Association and is ‘ten priorities to ensure the UK remains the academic and creative centre of the world’. The panel was discussing the Debate about free trade and how establishing this was difficult because this is not an entirely new agreement. Britain already had an agreement with the European Union and it seems illogical for the EU to give Britain a better deal now that the UK is leaving the EU.
In the afternoon I went to what was my favourite panel of the day. It was entitled “Being Mental: Is there a right way to publish on mental health?”. All of the panel members were amazing and impressive speakers. The panel consisted of two authors, a charity founder, and a publisher. All of whom who had first-hand experience of the struggles that come both to individuals and to families when mental health issues become overwhelming.
Self-claimed ‘writer and activist’ Natasha Devon talked about how despite the fact that the English language has so many words –plenty more than other languages – it lacks words describing emotions and how this lead to people misusing clinical terms when grasping to explain how they feel. She managed to articulate an argument that I trip and stumble over whenever anyone uses the word ‘depressed’ as an emotion. Her up-and-coming book A Beginner’s Guide to Being Mental: an A-Z was immediately put to the top of my list of recommendations for my next Book Group.
After being reminded by Jonny Benjamin that people are more than just their mental illness (No one says ‘I’m cancer’ so why do they say ‘I’m depressed’?) the panel was wrapped up. As I wandered around, I was still filled with awe and excitement from the panel, and I let myself get lost amongst the stalls for an hour. I let myself appreciate all of the work that goes into bringing so many publishers from all over the world together in this conference centre. I had never before been surrounded by so many people who all cared about books as much as I did.
The best part about my first day at London Book Fair was that, as I walked back to my AirBnB for a much-needed cup of tea, I didn’t feel overwhelmed like I thought I would. I felt excited for more.