Saturday, April 25, 2009

All’s Fair in London, Part I

(Editor’s note: This is shaping up to be a major book fair weekend. Not only is Mark Coggins covering the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books for The Rap Sheet, but UK correspondent Ali Karim has posted below his opening report from the 2009 London Book Fair. Karim’s next installment will follow within the next couple of days.)

The main hall at the London Book Fair

I enjoy all the madness of the annual London Book Fair (LBF), having attended it for several years now. But, man, it’s tiring! I missed the 2008 event due to work commitments, but managed to show up for last week’s opening at the Earls Court Exhibition Centre. As I made my way into town on a blisteringly hot day, I found myself reminiscing about having “met” author Dean Koontz via Margaret Atwood’s LongPen device a couple of years ago. That’s part of the fun of the LBF experience--you never know who you’re going to encounter when the world’s publishing industry descends upon the British capital.

On arrival, and while waiting to pick up my press pass, I bumped into editor Stephen Jones. It seems he’d read my interview with Michael Marshall (Smith) in The Rap Sheet and was very excited to talk more about the 2010 World Horror Convention--the first time the WHC will be hosted in Europe. There’s no person better qualified to handle the arrangements for next year’s convention than Jones, who is one of the leading figures in the international horror-fiction community. The roster of participants at WHC 2010 is building fast, with many luminaries from the genre already registered to attend. I, for one, sent in my registration early, and am very much looking forward to seeing Ramsey Campbell there. He was the first author I ever interviewed, back in the pre-Internet ’80s.

After saying good-bye to Jones, I headed into the Earls Court complex armed (as always) with my camera and tape recorder. I had missed the early morning keynote address by the prolific James Patterson; but as I’ve met Patterson before, I wasn’t too concerned. Besides, the headline news circulated at the LBF wasn’t about Patterson; it was about the coming release, in September, of Dan Brown’s next novel, The Lost Symbol. Say what you will about Brown’s writing abilities, I still see the debut of his follow-up to The Da Vinci Code as a welcome sign of confidence in the future of publishing. It’s sure to boost the profile of books in a world so dominated lately by DVDs, Internet pornography, Twitter, Facebook, and a multitude of other electronic distractions.

As I traversed the numerous LBF exhibits, it seemed to me that attendance was down somewhat. Maybe 10 percent to 15 percent off what I’m accustomed to seeing, presumably due to the world’s woeful economic situation. Yet there were still myriad book enthusiasts asking after future releases and collecting swag.

Among the people I bumped into was legendary UK publisher Christopher MacLehose. He was in jolly form indeed, buoyed by the phenomenal success of Stieg Larsson’s thrillers, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2008) and The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009), the former of which has picked up two significant literary awards over the last few months. MacLehose told me that talks with film producers in the States and the UK, all interested in turning the late Larsson’s books into films, are continuing. He’s hoping there will also be news soon of an English-subtitled version of the Swedish film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. A great deal of the credit for today’s Swedish wave of detective fiction in English translation belongs to MacLehose, who brought Henning Mankell into print for Harvill-Secker and Larsson for Quercus/MacLehose.

I finally wished MacLehose luck with Volume III of Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy” (due out in Britain this coming October), and then hied off to the LBF Press Room. I found it ably manned by my colleagues from Midas Public Relations, Amelia Knight (née Rowland) and Digby Halsby. It was Knight who helped me gain access--on extremely short notice--to last fall’s ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards ceremony, and Halsby was responsible for introducing me to novelist Vince Flynn. This day, they sent me away with a bulging press pack for the book fair, which I juggled as I tried to slurp my coffee and pay attention to what else was happening on the LBF floor.

All of the top crime-fiction publishers in Britain were represented: Random House/Transworld, Orion, Hodder Headline, Penguin, HarperCollins, Pan Macmillan, Little, Brown, Faber and Faber, Bloomsbury, and Mira Books. Many of the smaller houses had also mounted booths, such as Canongate, Allison & Busby, and Peter Mayer’s Overlook/Duckworth (the last of which, incidentally, has recently added my dear friend and traveling companion, Roger Jon “R.J.” Ellory, to its stable of authors). Overlook/Duckworth is an excellent independent house, notable as the publisher of Robert Littell, one of the greatest modern writers of espionage fiction.

This running around had given me an appetite, so I stopped for a traditional British lunch of sausages and mash, washed down with copious cold beers. That repast left me stumbling about a bit, however, and I ended up walking through a fire exit and into an area of the floor that was empty. It seems the credit crunch had reduced the size of the LBF this year and several first-floor units that might normally have held book stands were left bare and desolate. Searching for my way back to the festivities, I noticed another fire exit door, this one leading to the International Rights Centre (IRC). I wasn’t really supposed to be in there, but since this year’s LBF market focus was Indian publishing, and my skin color matched that of many of the people in the IRC, nobody stopped to question me. I just turned my press badge around, put on a pair of dark glasses, and walked with a limp-like gait. People assumed I was some eccentric Indian publisher with a shrapnel wound. I just hoped that no one would speak to me, because my Indian impersonation is worse than Peter Sellers’. My disguise allowed me to snoop around the IRC freely, though I did steer clear of several of my literary agent contacts, who were probably too busy to notice me, anyway.

Losing the glasses and phony stride, I returned to the LBF hall, where I promptly bumped into Little, Brown’s David Shelley. I’ve known Shelley ever since he worked with Allison & Busby. And I congratulated him on what he’s managed to do with American suspense novelist Jeff Abbott (Trust Me), catapulting him onto UK bestseller charts. After Shelley, I happened across Jon Wood, über crime-fiction editor and the publishing director at Orion Books. (The beauty of this fair is that it brings most of the big guns in British book publishing, as well as those in international publishing, to the city at one time, allowing somebody like me to network aggressively.) He thanked me for my continued support of Orion’s authors, especially Roger Ellory. Wood then asked me to accompany him to the Orion booth, where I found Ellory himself, smiling broadly. It was good to see Ellory, and we got straight-away to reminiscing about our time together at last fall’s Bouchercon in Baltimore, which offered extraordinary experiences, to say the least.

But before long, we retired to the Orion Suite, and I pulled out my tape recorder. Ellory had promised to give The Rap Sheet an interview, and I was ready to get down to it.

(Part II can be found here.)

READ MORE:London Book Fair 2009,” by Rhian Davies (It’s a Crime ... or a Mystery); “London Book Fair Opens Amid Optimistic Buzz,” by Alison Flood (The Guardian).

1 comment:

Ali Karim said...

A Coda, as my grip on reality shows its cracks -

Roger Ellory reminded me this morning that when things get too stressful; I can be heard muttering "Birdy Num-Nums" under my breath - which always makes me laugh recalling the first time I saw Peter Sellers in THE PARTY. One hell of a funny film.

Finally having the opportunity to impersonate Peter Sellers and mutter 'Birdy Num Nums" due to the Focus on Indian Publishing made my LBF, and for anyone who heard me mutter those memorable lines, a very 'Birdy Num-Nums' day to you all

"Birdy Num-Nums" Existentialist Man