Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Day at the Fair

Following up on yesterday’s post about meeting Dean Koontz (via Margaret Atwood’s remarkable LongPen device), I thought it would be useful and interesting to share some more impressions from my first day at this week’s London Book Fair (LBF).

I arrived during a sweltering midday at the Earls Court Exhibition Centre in West London. The hall (where I once saw Pink Floyd perform) was heaving with people--booksellers, book buyers, authors, reviewers, and so forth. Fortunately, I had pre-registered for this event, so all I had to do to get in the door was allow my lapel badge to be scanned. For a moment after that, I just stood and observed the mammoth throng with awe. The LBF long ago outgrew its original venue, London’s Olympia center; last year, it had to regroup at the ExCeL Exhibition Centre in the Docklands, but that site wasn’t popular--hence, its move to Earls Court. A far superior venue, according to attendees.

My first act was to do a scout around the hall’s main floor, check out where all of the publisher stands were located. I had no trouble spotting the French Hachette Livre companies (Hodder Headline, Hodder & Stoughton, Orion, and Little, Brown), as well as their non-Gallic rivals, including Random House, Faber and Faber, Penguin, HarperCollins, Canongate, No Exit Press, and the dynamic new house, Quercus. I visited all of their stands, to see what treats might be found in their catalogues of upcoming works. This also gave me a chance to chat with some of the publishers’ reps. I was most happy to speak with Suzannah Rich, from Peter Mayer’s Duckworth, who showed me the cover art from that house’s edition of Robert Littell’s 2006 novel, Vicious Circle, which I think looks good, and somewhat less brutal than the American cover. Rich also mentioned that Duckworth will be publishing Charles McCarry’s latest suspenser, Christopher’s Ghosts, next month. (Mark your calendars.) From there, I wandered over to the No Exit Press stand to meet Ion Mills. We laughed again about my unintended appearance (as a, well, “sex god”) in Gangsters Wives, but he still wouldn’t tell me who the pseudonymous author “Lee Martin” really is. He did, though, mention that Martin is writing a sequel. There is no telling what further damage that might do to my reputation.

After No Exit Press, I visited with the Mira Books folks, who publish M.J. Rose and Alex Kava, and are bringing out Paul Johnston’s new standalone novel, The Death List, in June. Then, with my colleague Karen Meek from the Euro Crime blog, I took in a seminar called “All About Evil: Noir Fiction.” Chaired by The New York Review of Books’ Edwin Frank, this panel discussion included John Banville, author (under the nom de plume “Benjamin Black”) of Christine Falls, and Christopher Priest (The Prestige). It was a fascinating discussion, with the panel agreeing that what’s thought of as evil in real life can actually be downright banal--not premeditated, and therefore quite boring. Hence, novelists manufacture elaborate events intended to highlight evil, but that could only happen in fiction. (Priest observed that even the one murderer he’d met turned out to be uninteresting, as well.) Banville went on to point out that often, people seen by others to be evil do not consider themselves as such; instead, they may believe they are endeavoring to improve the world in some manner. So evil becomes a point of view, rather than an absolute. Now, that’s frightening.

(Click here to see a short clip of Banville speaking on this panel.)

Afterwards, Karen trod off to meet a friend for drinks, while I went for some lunch with literary agent Teresa Chris, only to bump into crime novelist Sheila Quigley (Every Breath You Take) and her agent, Julia Churchill of Darley Anderson. Then it was away to the Theakston’s Harrogate Cocktail Party. Organizers there were in fine form, and expressed excitement over this summer’s Harrogate Crime Writing Festival program. My only quibble with the schedule, is that it follows by only a few days this year’s ThrillerFest in New York City. It might be tight, trying to squeeze Harrogate in amongst my family and work commitments. Shots editor Mike Stotter and I have given thought to attending on Saturday only, rather than participating over the full weekend, as we have in previous years. (Harrogate has given me much joy in the past, so it will be a disappointment to attend just one day in July.)

In any event, this cocktail party was extremely well attended, allowing me to mix with such notable authors as Mike Ripley, Laura Wilson, Mark Timlin, Peter James, and Natasha Cooper. I got in a few words, too, with publishing luminaries such as Jon Wood of Orion, Kate Lyall-Grant from Simon & Schuster, Thalia Proctor of Little, Brown, and the witty raconteur Paul Blezzard of Oneword Radio. But I was surprised to spot renowned critic, bookseller, publisher, and editor Otto Penzler arriving at this fête dressed in a dapper suit and a tie covered in book jackets--how apt. As I had never before met this major figure in the U.S. crime-fiction world--who, I’d only just read in The Bookseller, was instrumental in Quercus buying Thomas H. Cook’s Red Leaves--I was happy to spend a half hour with Penzler, chatting about books.

Not only did he and I agree on Cook’s quality of writing, but we were both astounded that Red Leaves hadn’t won last year’s Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award. We had to keep our voices low on this subject, though, as we noticed that Ann Cleeves--whose Raven Black beat Cook’s novel for that particular commendation--had joined this party. Regardless, we toasted Thomas H. Cook’s work, before Mike Ripley showed up to steal away his attention. (Penzler and Ripley are shown at right.)

I resumed my mingling, at one point speaking with the delightful Natasha Cooper (née Daphne Wright), who has secured Frederick Forsyth’s appearance at the Harrogate festival, which is remarkable because he doesn’t do many public events. And then Simon Theakston, the managing director of North Yorkshire’s Theakston Brewery, famous for its Old Peculier beer (the name describing how you feel after drinking a lot of it), took to the podium and welcomed us all. He went on to announce that his company has agreed to sponsor the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival for the long term--wonderful news, as Harrogate has turned into one of the premier events of its kind. This announcement provoked a big cheer from the assemblage.

After a bit more socializing (I am nothing, if not gregarious), I decided to call it a night, still warmed by my memories of talking with Dean Koontz and confident of meeting other people, as LBF progressed, who love books every bit as much as I do.

1 comment:

Maxine said...

Nice post, a very vivid account. Just to say, I'm the friend Karen went off to meet, and the "drinks" were a cup of tea (me) and a latte (her). Just in case anyone gets the wrong impression that we spent the evening propping up a bar ;-) (We'll leave that to the guys and gals on Crimespace.)