Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Bologna - The Book Fair

The four days of the Book Fair were the usual roller-coaster of ups and downs, hopes, lessons, delights, disappointments, inspirations, resolutions and finally, exhausted satisfaction. Here are my personal highlights, on the Facebook Bologna Connections page you can find a lot more photos and videos.


Successes for friends and associates were apparent from the first day. David Almond has won the Hans Andersen Award. Fantastic news, well done David! Equally amazing was seeing Holly Thompson's book Orchards emblazoned in prominent view on the Random House Stand. I've known David since he presented a talk for SCBWI Tokyo some years ago, an event hosted and co-organized by my dear friend Holly, the Tokyo Regional Advisor. Seeing them both exhalted at the Fair seemed to pull all the threads of my former life in Japan together.

I thought the US had some fine picture books on show this year, especially Chronicle, who published Jeremy Holmes' lovely There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, a Bologna Opera Prima winner. The UK Stands were quite eye-opening. The bigger established houses were all very busy, with a wide coverage of work. My upcoming non-fiction book with Frances Lincoln Outside-In was prominently displayed, apparently the rights have been sold to several countries.

I noticed many small independant producers from the UK that I'd not heard of before, often focusing on mass-market commercial or educational material. There seemed a clear dividing line at the Fair between books targeted directly at sales, and those for a more sophisticated collectors market. It's great to see the latter flourishing in all the economic gloom. Seeing award-winning books like Holmes' Old Woman, or Ronald and Marije Tolman's De Boomhut (The Treehouse) (Lemniscaat) really made me think that the future for picture books is looking bright.

I always find the European stands a great inspiration, and this year was no exception. Many people mentioned France in particular as very strong this year. "Great books, and they manage to sell them in a limited market" one US editor mentioned, "I wish I knew how they do it". I suspect it's a similar case to Japan, a comic-reading culture that's perhaps more closely atuned to graphic images than it's neighbours, and thus perhaps more supportive of creative picture books.

One of my great finds at the Fair (thanks to a tip-off) were some signed limited edition prints by Roberto Innocenti (from Pinocchio and The House),  he was briefly at the Fair, though I sadly missed him due to conflicting meetings. For exactly the same reason I also missed a talk given at the Illustrator's Café by Shaun Tan, another of my heroes. However I did get chance to meet Kveta Pacovska, her book The Little Flower King is one of my all time favorites. 

I think I established a presence at the Fair, the very first event at the SCBWI Stand was a showcase of my work. Perhaps a little early for most publishers to see, but nevertheless a neat display. Later the same day Doug Cushman and I ran a Sketching Duel event which seemed to pull in a good crowd. Susan Derks De Sola Rodstein "donated" an as-yet-to-be published picture book manuscript, Doug and I had to illustrate passages against the clock as they were read out. It was a tough challenge, but a lot of fun. 


The SCBWI Stand was busy with events and showcases throughout the Fair, international regions across the world staging increasingly elaborate and fascinating displays. We also had a Display Portfolio of illustrator's work which really promoted the wide range of talent in the regions. 


Almost the last highlight before I was obliged to head home earlier than expected (air ticket problems) was Leonard Marcus's talk in the Illustrator's Café on Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon, a book that revolutionised picture books in the mid 20th Century. Leonard's biography Margaret Wise Brown - Awakened by the Moon is a fascinating read, his talk was once more warm and captivating. 


I'll cherish many memories of this year's Bologna, though I've no particular book deal announcements to make (yet) it was a great success, I was enabled to get the most out of the occasion largely due to my friends in SCBWI, so special thanks to Kathleen Ahrens, Bridget Strevens, Erzsi Deak, Angela Cerrito and all the RA volunteers. 

Bologna 2010 - SCBWI Conference

Back from the delights and inspirations of Bologna. The books, the events, the meetings, the socialising, the food... where to begin?

Yes, Bologna was good this year, skedaddling away to Italy was a tonic to my work and outlook, a week of frenetic activity in a city and Book Fair that never ceases to inspire and encourage. Publishers seemed quietly optimistic compared to the gloom of last year, I sensed a real tone of confidence in the air from all around. For me Bologna was good before it even began, over these last weeks the approaching Fair was a deadline to focus my energies, hone my stories and produce some new book dummies.

This was my third visit to Bologna (the last time was in 2008), now as then SCBWI ran a biennial Conference/Symposium and had a Stand throughout the book fair. As one of SCBWI's volunteer "Team Bologna" the pace was hectic from the moment I arrived in the city.

First up was the SCBWI Conference on Monday. SCBWI Chairman Steve Mooser started proceedings with Why We're Here, a summing up of the Society, it's aims and goals, unfortunately co-chair Lin Oliver was recovering from illness and unable to make the trip from the US.

 My good friend Leonard Marcus gave the first talk, Who Takes the Prize? a fascinating discourse on English language children's book awards, including the Newbery, Caldecott, Smarties, Greenaway, NBA and regional prizes. Leonard, apart from being an incredibly gifted writer and critic, has a marvellous ability to draw the audience towards him, his warm softly spoken voice makes you feel you're sharing an intimate conversation rather than sitting several feet away in a hall full of people.

In Taking the Mystery out of Movie Deals, Fiona Kenshole of US based production company LAIKA explained the processes involved in developing books for film adaptations, focusing especially on her own work on the animated stop-motion film of Neil Gaiman's Coraline. Seeing the incredible amount of work involved during the production process was simply breathtaking, I assumed there was a lot of computer graphics involved in the making of the film, but apparently it was all stop-motion modelling on enormous sets.

Thereafter the attendees were split into events for writers and illustrators. I'd met writer Ellen Hopkins some years ago in Los Angeles and was disappointed to miss her workshop. However the illustrator's workshop Books without Borders was excellent. Frané Lessac is a widely travelled American illustrator now based in Australia. Working in a naive style perfectly suited to folktales, she explained how her many books have explored stories from the West Indies to the Australian Outback. For me her work on The Donkey of Gallipoli was especially impressive, the horror of the conflict and tragic pathos of the story is perfectly offset by her naive illustrations. I then joined Frané on a panel with Bridget Strevens, Doug Cushman and Dianne Wolfer to discuss the processes involved working for different publishers across the globe.

The Right Books, Right Now
was a presentation given by New York based writer Richard Peck. I shared the same hotel as Richard so already had chance to get to know him a little over breakfast, I hadn't been prepared for his amazingly crafted speech though, boy, this man can talk! Very very impressive. Candy Gourlay's blog Notes from the Slushpile has a more in-depth coverage of Mr Peck.

The illustrator's event in the afternoon was First Look, where a panel of art directors offered short critiques of submitted images by published attendees. Deirdre McDermott (Walker Books UK), Neal Porter (Roaring Brook US), Martha Rago (HarperCollins US) made up the panel, hosted by Bridget Strevens. Each artist had three images displayed, the critiques were fascinating, especially the slight difference in tastes for the US, UK and European markets.

The final discussion of the day was a publisher's panel, Publishing today: From idea to marketplace. On the desk were Deirdre McDermott (Walker UK), Gita Wolf (Tara Books, India), Sarah Foster (Walker AUS), Sara Grant (Working Partners, UK), Neal Porter (Roaring Book US), Stephen Roxburgh (Namelos US), and Tessa Strickland (Barefoot Books). Each responded to a series of prepared questions, ranging from the future of digital publishing to the market as a whole. All gave differing and very thought-provoking answers, Stephen Roxburgh was in particularly strident mood in promoting the future as a digitalised one. I'm personally not altogether convinced by ebooks, "that's because you don't have imagination" Stephen told me later. Argh! (I don't think he was refering to my pictures, he's one of my oldest clients).

Well, whether I've the imagination for digital books or not the day-long event certainly sparked my imaginative juices. It was the perfect prologue to the Book Fair, inspiring, full of promise for the future, in the evening our memorable party at Libreria Trame Bookshop put everyone in fine fettle for the following four days.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Bologna 2010

I'll be at Bologna for the Book Fair again this year throughout the week of 22nd-26th March, first helping out with the SCBWI Biennial Symposium on the 22nd, then at the Bologna Book Fair.

If any readers are planning on attending please do let me know, I'll be there until midday Friday 26th. SCBWI will once more have a Showcase stand at the Book Fair (Hall 26 A66) which I'll be closely associated with in a variety of activities.

Bologna is the premier showcase event for children's literature in the world. This year, despite all the doom and gloom for publishing I'm looking forward to the Fair, it never ceases to be fascinating and inspiring.