London Book Fair: More Content Over Form & Contentment Over Frustration

The final day of the London Book Fair takes place tomorrow and there is no doubt how low-key the event has been so far. The flight restrictions on overseas attendees due to the Icelandic volcano plumes has underlined that while this event is an international fixture on the publishing calendar, the general British press has paid little or no attention to the event, and ultimately, it has made its attendees direct a greater deal of attention on their own publishing industries in the UK and Ireland. Actually, it would not surprise me if in the coming weeks and months we get wind of quite a number of deals with Irish and UK publishers.

For me, Emma Barnes of UK award winning independent publisher, Snowbooks, summed up the general air of the London Book Fair this week when she blogged on Monday evening:

“The Fair was a bit odd because, hmm, where was everyone? Stuck in Dubai / Dublin / insert city of choice accessible only by plane. Rather handily, though, the clearing out of 30% of the expected population meant that a lot of people were just wandering round looking for something to do. A nice lady showed me photos of her baby. An important CEO stopped by to relieve the boredom. People who tried to avoid eye contact with me failed because there was no one else to hide behind, and so got pounced on by the catalogue-waving weirdo I was.”

Sometimes, conferences and book fairs are exactly like that. Like an author going to their first book signing; you turn up, mortified by the turnout, and yet your intensity and desperation makes you return home with something more than you ever expected had the halls, stands and shelves been packed to the rafters. The London Book Fair this week has thrown together people who had to be there, and people who no matter what, were going to be there come hell or high water. In the normal run of life, the twain could attend a thousand book fairs and never shall their paths cross or eyes meet.
No. This year’s London Book Fair will not be remembered by visionary presentations and speeches by some of the international luminaries and commentators of the publishing world from the USA, South Africa, the Middle East and other far-off places of publishing wisdom and lore, but it may be fondly remembered in these publishing waters, when down-to-god-damn-earth publishing really understood where it was, and without the gallant, inspiring, and mesmerizing speeches about digitalization of content, ebooks, agency models and the future of publishing.
This week, for a savoringly quite few days, Salt Publishing must have reflected how they are still here, still standing, and still vehemently committed to daring to celebrate poetry in a time when poetry and the language it uses in contemporary society seems so defunct, and so out of kilter in a chaotic world – the words they publish are almost romantically revolutionary. That Sparkling Books, as a recent publishing starter in 2009, dare to see the hallowed hardback as a gift to its readers, and intend celebrating and delivering it in that manner. That independents in the UK like Snowbooks and Two Ravens Press may not be looking for world domination–but possess a sharpened sword and a history as sharp as Bloodaxe–they would still have gladly jumped on the large platform Canongate and Faber have had these past three days at the London Book Fair.
Come tomorrow evening, I still believe the little guys will travel back to the North; Glasgow, Aberdeen and Newcastle; the midlands of Birmingham, Manchester and Leicester; the South of Plymouth, Southampton and Cornwall; even to Dublin if they can catch a ferry; all feeling that the London Book Fair 2010 somehow meant more than any other year.

Maybe there was a reason for all this. When they all get home; they will understand what it was.

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