A Writer Goes to the Fair - LBF 2005
15th March 2005
Here’s one reason for writers being so little in evidence at the London Book Fair – the £30 entrance fee. Publishers are cutting back on the freebies so it’s hard to make it up on free books. High marks to Canongate on that issue, with their free reading copies.
Another reason for an absence of writers is the sheer abundance of business thronging the aisles. Those sensitive moments of creation are trampled underfoot. The occasional reminder by speakers that writers were the heart of the business were lifelines, making me feel better than irrelevant. Rebecca Swift of the Literary Consultancy stood and posed the existence of writers to the panel of the main seminar of the day, looking into the next decade of publishing. Jane Friedman, CEO of Harper Collins, cooed back that authors were pre-eminent in her business. (I did shake her hand at the end, thanking her for the ‘moral stance’ she declared in publishing my In Search of the Divine Mother against legal attacks as she came into office in 1998 – she looked aside for someone more interesting as she thanked me for coming). Tim Hely Hutchinson told how the authors’ share of publishing income has risen year on year since he came into the business – interesting, though I do wonder whether that rise has not landed in the pockets of far fewer authors-cum-celebrities who benefit from mad advances. Amanda Ross, producer of the Richard and Judy show, was genuine in her enthusiasm for books, Stephen Page of Faber most convincing as a real friend and supporter of writers.
I challenged an earlier panel, ‘Original Voice or Commercial Compromise’ – I was cogent then, the editor of the Bookseller came up and asked me to write my question down as a letter which I may yet. Writers on the panel (Kate Moss, Toby Litt and Romesh Gunesekera) are the ones ratified and glorified by the industry (represented here my Caroline Michel of Harper); they don’t present any challenge and seemed to believe that any adventurous voice would get through. Meanwhile my agent tells me ‘publishers are ever more unadventurous’ and no-one in town would dare touch my new book, which has been sheltered and lauded as part of a PhD programme in academia. Writing and the business do seem quite separate constructs to me.
Still, it was very jolly to visit the stand of my new publisher, the Oxford-based Transita. It’s fun to be with a bright independent, coming to know the whole family of beings that form it. They are going out on a limb with their new imprint (aimed at women readers aged 45+), had formed a wonderfully professional stand. These shows are very hard to stand, but they stayed effervescent. It’s a fillip to be the one male writer on their list. My novel Slippery When Wet is due out from them in January 2006. My next step this week is a train ride down to our place in the French Pyrenees, a writing retreat of a few weeks to spin and weave the last edits into the book. Roaming up and down the aisles of the Fair, meeting a lot of good and enthusiastic people, was grand – but walking the mountain paths and roaming the ways of my imagination is the real secret of writers. That’s the other reason we’re not at the fair in greater numbers. We can get away with being elsewhere.