Thursday, 17 April 2008

Bologna Snapshots

Every Bologna is different they say, and so it proved this year. It was the second time I'd been to the Book Fair, the last visit being in 2004. Then I was merely a visitor, this time I was associated with the SCBWI Stand. Because of my recent disrupted circumstances for a long time I wasn't sure I'd even be able go, but the organizers were very understanding and accomodating, not least the main organizer, SCBWI International head, and friend Erzsi Deak, to whom I extend my deepest thanks .

I stayed with my good friend Doug Cushman, Paris-based US picture book author/artist. He'd reserved an apartment right under the twin towers and generously saved me a room which I ended up sharing with Leonard Marcus, the children's book writer, historian and critic. This turned out to be a great arrangement, we had plenty to talk about and stuck together quite a lot throughout the Fair. Leonard has recently completed a new book Golden Legacy, a history of Golden Books in the US.

First up was the 2-day Biennial SCBWI Conference.

This took placed within the Fair facilities on 29th and 30th March, just before the Fair opened. There were more people attending than I'd expected, over 150 I believe, ranging from pro's to newbies. The speakers were largely very competent (with the exception of me perhaps). There were 2 rooms, one main and a smaller room where the illustrator events were held. Catering was very well arranged, using an outside catering service, if anything there was more food than could be eaten and snacks provided throughout the 2 days. The bookshop desk sold copies of titles by attendees and the faculty.

Writer/Illustrator Talks
I can only comment on those events I sat in on, which naturally leaned towards the Illustrator-focused talks, so apologies to the agents, and writers who ran sessions in the other room - there's a good coverage of these on other blogs.

Doug Cushman, Paul Zelinsky and Jan Ormerod
Picture-Book illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky started the show and gave an excellent and amusing powerpoint presentation of his work, showcasing his astounding stylistic versatility from his first very tight work on Rumplestilskin through The Wheels on the Bus to his expressive recent books like The Shivers in the Fridge.

Following him web designer and writer Candy Gourlay gave an authorative talk on how writers can engage with the internet, full of amusing detail, anecdotes and information. She managed to cover a great deal of ground, with websites remember “It’s not about you it’s about them” (the visitors)... So know your audience.

Jana Novotny Hunter in the main room.
Jana Hunter’s talk covered the history of picture books and the lessons we can learn from them as authors and artists, and was very thorough, especially for those who may not have a solid grounding in the subject.








Pat Cummings' workshop for illustrators.
I particularly enjoyed Pat Cummings' confident and friendly picture book workshop, I'd seen her in action last year in New York and she was just as good here, critiquing submitted work from established pro's as well as newcomers.

Kathleen Duey was also full of strong advice for writers, though I unfortunately missed the beginning of her talk. Points I picked up on: Get the reader to care about the central character; the less narration the better; viewpoint is powerful; set your stage from the beginning.
Kathleen Duey

Official star of the show was picture-book author/illustrator Babette Cole (sorry, no pictures!), who had the whole room rolling in laughter. She talked a lot about the history of her career and love of horses, but ended on promoting efforts in the UK to regenerate interest in picture books through an event The Big Picture. As I was on the faculty I got to know these people very well, all of them were great to meet, many new friendships forged. Unfortunately I missed the agents and the writers talks as I was in the other room, but I heard they were all solid.

The illustrated talk on the character strip Ariol by comic artist and illustrator Mark Boutavant and his editor Pauline Mermet was absolutely fascinating despite the unfortunate non-show of the strip writer Emmanuel Guibert. In a series of powerpoint slides Mark showed his awesome talent and some rare insights into the working methods used by comic artists in France. Interestingly he insisted he hated doing comics and would much prefer single images, I know how he feels.

Editor/AD talks
The Editors gave robust talks. Scholastic Editor David Saylor's talk on graphic novels was inspiring enough to persuade me to dig out my old web-comics created in Japan. He talked a lot about the recent Bone comic he’d worked on, saying for submissions he’d like to see at least 32 pages of dummy plus a synopsis of the whole text. 6 x 9 trim is apparently the standard for Scholastic.

In the International Books for Pre-Readers talk British editors from Bloomsbury and Scholastic UK several times refered to the current predominant use of "blim" (use of sparkly glitter, silver laminate etc on covers) to sell books in the UK now.
Editors discuss their recent book projects - Sarah Odedina (Bloomsbury) and Catherine Halligan (Scholastic).
The illustration First Look critiques were interesting, consisting of a desk full of editors giving 3 minute comments on submitted artwork displayed on a screen.

On day 2 I gave my Illustrators International presentation, sharing the bench with veteran international Marie Wabbes, who formerly lived in Africa now based in Belgium, and Bridget Strevens-Marzo, the SCBWI International Illustrator Coordinator, who works for publishers in many countries while being based in France for many years. We each had just 15 minutes to run through our careers, I spoke of my 21 years in Japan and experiences working internationally for the US and UK. It wasn't really long enough to expand in any detail, but my current circumstances led me to be grateful for the conciseness. I had some good feedback from it anyway, some people thought my talk was too short and wanted to hear a lot more.

In the final event Why I Love this Book & Published It, chaired by Leonard Marcus, each editor chose a favorite book to talk about. It was interesting to see the difference in taste and opinion between editors of different countries.

At the end of the conference there was a closing party held at a bookshop in town. As it was the night before the Fair opened there were many publishers present, it spilled out into the street and went on to the early hours, with the bookshop owners husband dj'ing classic garage surf rock'n roll tunes.

Sorry I've no photos for a lot of the events mentioned, but Erzsi's Facebook page lists many more.

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