Home from Bologna

April 4, 2008

Here’s a travel recipe to have your head flying off somewhere in space: sleep for 4 hours (waking in panic at intervals, sure you’ve missed the plane), get up at 5.45am, fly from Bologna to Munich, then from Munich to Washington DC – seated next to a three-month-old baby, and attended by two evil stewardesses who would have fitted well in the Russian gulag. Yes, that was my day yesterday. But here I am, more or less seated at my desk again and more or less raring to go!Bologna was a blast; I wish I could have blogged from there, but sadly the pace is much too frenzied and you really don’t get near a computer. I know some of you would love to go to the fair, so here’s what it’s like . . . Imagine lots of enormous warehouses/exhibition halls side by side, with grassy bits and benches in between, where people can stroll or sit and munch a hasty panini. In these halls just about every children’s publisher, packager etc etc in the world has a stand, with all the agents up in the Agents’ Centre at tables or in booths. If you’re an English speaker chances are you’ll spend most time in Halls 25 and 26, with occasional forays into the European areas. Everyone creates their own schedules, but most (like me) start at 9am and go through till 5.30 with appointments every half-hour (yes, that’s about 17 sessions per day), pitching your wares to all kinds of people. For me as a transatlantic agent, my time was divided between US and UK publishers, scouts from both territories, and movie people. Then there’s all the unscheduled meetings you have with old friends/colleagues/book cronies as you bump into them, heading rapidly to grab a cappuccino or stand in the endless bathroom queue. Yes, there’s a lot of hugging and kissing and some great reunions! The children’s industry is very small, so you tend to rediscover people in different incarnations – and lots of people were pretty interested in mine! I was pleased to be interviewed by Publishers Weekly, and the UK’s Bookseller and Publishing News. Not bad!

Come the end of the day, you head for a bus or taxi and bomb back to your hotel for (if you’re very lucky) a short rest, a change of clothes, then it’s out for drinks and dinner in one of the town’s glorious restaurants – again, either hosting or being hosted. I had various good evenings – with Harper US and UK, and with Pocket Jeunesse from Paris, plus a great drinks party thrown by Egmont US and UK in a fabulous old building converted into a contemporary bar. After too much great food and prosecco, you head ‘home’ to your hotel (rarely before midnight and often a good deal later), ready to fall into a coma for a few hours and start the whole thing again early next morning. Your jaw feels like it’s about to fall off after countless hours of talking, and your feet develop strange blisters from the walking, but it’s all an incredible experience. Bologna is a truly beautiful city – 16th century palazzi (is that the plural of palazzo?), the lovely old Piazza Maggiore, ancient little cobbled and colonnaded streets, top-end designer shops – and somehow even the bus drivers look like they’ve just stepped out of an Armani ad (how do Italians DO that?). And yet there’s a dark underside too: tons of graffiti, pickpocketing. But I still love it there.

So, it’s back to work now, in earnest. I had lots of great comments about my authors and projects and I’m looking forward to following up – and of course to finding those new gems. As one scout said to me, ‘It’s all a question of finding that must-have book’ – and that’s what it takes. It’s got to be MUST-HAVE for a publisher; something they simply can’t bear to turn down. With issues like the decline of the hardback in the UK and exchange-rate headaches, everyone’s under pressure and every dollar, pound or euro spent must be justified.

A small addendum. Apologies to anyone who spotted the sordid spam that appeared on my blog in my absence. I was mad as a hornet about it, and immediately contacted the web designers to clean things up. Sadly, this does now mean I shall have to ‘moderate’ what appears on the blog. Don’t stop writing comments (please!) but I now have to veto them before allowing them to appear. Isn’t it a pain? There’s always someone out there with abusive intentions, which is a great shame.

Back to my reading now – if I can overcome the jetlag for another few hours! It’s good to be home.