Welcome to Suzi Feay's home on the web

I read over 100 books a year. Here are my thoughts on the best (and worst).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Book Bag at the Book Fair

Last year's London Book Fair was badly hit by the volcanic eruptions, which stopped many foreign publishers from attending. Judging from my visit yesterday it's business as usual, with a large Russian contingent and Europe generally well represented. It was quite hard to navigate the vast hall at Olympia as there didn't seem to be a list of exhibitors, so I just wandered about, drinking it all in.

I quickly found the Faber stand and had a chat with Lee Brackstone, who pressed two books and a July-December catalogue into my eager hands. Steve Sem-Sandberg's The Emperor of Lies is a vast saga about the leader of the Lodz ghetto during the war. Sem-Sandberg is well-known in his native Sweden, and Brackstone was passionate about his new find. It's out in July. The other book he gave me was Sebastian Barry's new novel, On Canaan's Side - I've already heard good things about this one. That's out in August.

As I wandered I bumped into a few people I knew, agents and editors, scurrying around in between meetings. I stopped by Verso's stand to chat to Rowan Wilson and to congratulate him on the publication of Intern Nation by Ross Perlin, which exposes the exploitation of young workers. It's a hot topic at the moment, so in the seminar on breaking into publishing it was a bit odd to hear several industry advisers uncritically recommending internships as the best way in. It was left to Danuta Kean, a shrewd industry-watcher and cultural commentator, to deliver a blistering denunciation of the practice. She pointed out that if you are told to come in at a certain time and given a specific task to perform, as many interns are, then the company is breaking the law on the minimum wage by expecting them to work for nothing.

Kean argued passionately that the practice, favouring London-based graduates who can be supported almost indefinitely by their parents, leads to an out-of-touch industry where the upper-middle-classes are disproportionately represented. She drew an intriguing analogy with newspapers, arguing that the recent catastrophic falls in sales are at least partly due to this class bias and the lack of reflection in staff of society at large. I personally think the prevalent shoplifter's mentality (I really want it, so I should have it for free) is more to blame for the current crisis in journalism, but it's an interesting idea.

Internships have certainly done a great deal of damage in newspapers, reducing wage bills and diluting the impact of the unions. As members of staff leave and are not replaced, more and more responsibility is placed on interns' slender shoulders. But the government has vowed to do something about it. 'It's going to get bumpy!' Kean warned. Judging by the throng of trainee publishers who surrounded her at the end, the message was a welcome one.

Danuta and I, together with agent Sarah Such, stopped off for a quick drink at the Omnibus stand, where an updated edition of Robert Shelton's No Direction Home: The life and music of Bob Dylan was being launched. It has been edited by Patrick Humphries and 'Elizabeth Thomson' - ie Liz Thomson of Bookbrunch, wearing her music expert hat. I got chatting to the fabulously funny children's author Andrew Donkin, who said my red coat made me look like 'a lady Doctor Who' (I think that was a compliment). A passing Australian publisher hunting vainly for the exit urged us to get over to the Scottish publishers' stand: 'They're handing out whisky!' but I was off to the Norwegian Ambassador's residence in Kensington for a special Book Fair dinner.

It turned out to be a wonderfully convivial affair, with some old pals in attendance: the critic, novelist and translator Paul Binding, the writer Christian House, just back from Oslo where he interviewed a 93-year-old Norwegian war hero, and the crime reviewer Barry Forshaw. The new ambassador, Kim Traavik, and Stein Iversen, the dynamic Head of Press, were on excellent form. After many toasts and cries of 'Skol!' the gathered throng wandered merrily down darkened Palace Green, giving hearty thanks for Jo Nesbo, Per Petterson and the second 'Viking invasion'.

1 comment:

  1. I tried to comment earlier but it wouldn't let me ... so I blogged instead: