I was asked a couple of months ago by the publishers I work for if I wanted to visit the London Book Fair for a day. I accepted, as I've never been to a large-scale book fair and I hadn't been to 'The Big Smoke' in nearly ten years. My scheduled day was yesterday, so off I went.
The fair is being held at Earl's Court, where it's been for a number of years now. Six colleagues of mine were attending as well and we all met up at the train station in Oxford. Our train was on-time (wa-hey!) and we boarded around 9 a.m. Tickets and a tube pass were provided by the company. The journey was fairly quick, with only a few stops (Didcot, Reading & Slough) and I barely had time to listen to a few tracks on the iPod when we arrived at Paddington Station.
I admit I was a little creeped out by the thought that it had only been a few days since the announcement about that hapless BBC kids' TV presenter. We made our way to the tube platform and headed for the Earl's Court stop. I had never been to the Court and so didn't know how massive it is--it just dominates the street it's located on. It took us a little while to find the Gate B entrance and we were let in through a side door. The small corridor leading to the main floor reminded me of countless back-stage concert documentaries and for a split-second, I fantasized that I was in a band ready to take the stage. The floor area is as big as you'd expect it to be and was chock-a-block with publisher's stands. I felt quite a bit under-dressed, showing up in a T-shirt and jeans, as the place was basically a sea of business skirts and suits--with a Blackberry seeming to be the other ubiquitous fashion accessory.
We found "our" stand, after a cursory search, and hung around for a bit. There wasn't much for us to do, as these things mostly seem to be for the reps, who meet with their customers and arrange deals on books. A couple of people from my office were there and were helping out, but I guess they got the memo about the dress code, 'cos they were wearing suits as well. Us new arrivals stashed our coats (it's still quite chilly in England, despite nearly a month having passed since the equinox) in a cloak room/storage space at the back of the stand. After that, our boss bought us coffees (mine was a peppermint herbal tea) and we met back at the stand. The stand was pretty large--the company had obviously splashed out a bit on it, with nice tables and chairs for the wheeling and dealing.
A group of us decided to have a look around and set off into the labyrinth of stands. We didn't have much time to really stop anywhere and investigate the titles, so the fair became a bit of a blur of books and people sitting at tables. One company had some ace holographic postcards and bookmarks on display, but weren't selling them, otherwise I would've bought a bookmark. A lot of publishers had freebies at their stands, and some were pretty nice. I didn't take that much-- a couple of pens, a coaster with a photo of London Bridge embossed on it and a mouse mat. One of my colleagues got a 'cordless mouse' at another stand. I went back later and asked for one, but the one I was given has a cable that connects into the USB port of the PC. It's also not very sturdy-looking either, but it was free. I haven't tried it out yet.
We all met up again at 12:30 p.m. and my boss announced it was time for lunch. We joined the queue at Pizza Express, but it was moving quite slowly. Of course, it was standard 'lunch-time' and a lot of other folks had the same idea we did. It was decided that we would leave the venue for lunch, so our group trooped off down Earl's Court Road. Zizzi's was picked as the spot for munching and I ordered a Quattro Formaggi pizza (yum-yum!). I hesitated to order a beer, since lunch was on the company--but I think it would've been alright. By the time we had returned to the Book Fair, there was only a short time before we had to head back to the tube station. I visited the Omnibus Press stand (they publish a lot of music/band-related titles) and tried to buy the display copy of The Saga Of Hawkwind, but again, no dice.
Back at Paddington, we found out that our train back to Oxford had been cancelled. Luckily, another one on the same route was about to leave and there were empty seats aboard. The train sped back toward Oxford and arrived at the station just past 3:30 p.m. I didn't have to be back at the office, so I walked into town for a spot of CD shopping. The new Van Der Graaf Generator record has been released, so I thought I would pick it up. Unfortunately, the only choice now is with one of the chain shops. The dreaded Borders had it for the lowest price (£10.99), so I bought the VdGG and Sigur Ros' newest EP, Hvarf-Heim, for Pixie (well, and me, too). Reviews of those to possibly appear soon--I've checked out most of the VdGG and it's O.K., though I think it would've been much better with David Jackson's involvement. Ah well, it's still good to have the boys around.
I've read a few articles decrying the Book Fair and the decline of British publishing. It may be true, for all I know about the ins and outs and shake-it-all-abouts of publishing. Sure, the Fair may be more about pomp and circumstance, marketing and back-slapping--but it made a pretty cool day out for me. I could just be easily amused, though.