March 27, 2017

The London Book Fair 2017: impressions and photos




Whoa! Time flies really fast when important things are happening. I’ve been busy lately!

Almost two weeks ago, I took advantage of the exciting opportunity to travel to London with a friend (Aleksandra Janusz-Kamińska – also a Polish speculative fiction writer) and visit the London Book Fair 2017, but it took me this long to write a blog post about our little excursion. We went to London to promote the work of a group of 10 Polish female speculative fiction authors, a new grassroots initiative I’m a part of. (The group is called Fantastic Women Writers of Poland. If you’re curious, you can visit our Facebook page, learn more about who we are, and download our catalogue, which contains descriptions of over 30 novels, ranging from science fiction and urban fantasy to literary fiction, all traditionally published by various Polish publishing houses. There are no self-publishers among us.*) 

The London Book Fair is a huge trade fair held annually, a mecca for publishers, booksellers, agents and authors (the stats for 2017: 25 000 attendees over 3 days, with 25 international pavilions displaying wares from over 60 countries!) This year, it took place at the Olympia exhibition center on March 14-16. Poland was the Market Focus 2017 (next year it’ll be the Baltic states), so several well-known Polish mainstream authors were there, participating in discussion panels and meet-the-author sessions: Olga Tokarczuk, Zygmunt Miłoszewski, Jacek Dehnel and others. We’re not in that league yet, so our time at the fair was largely spent chatting to people, getting introduced to people, exchanging business cards, and handing out catalogues. (The reactions were usually "Wow" or something similar, because the catalogue is quite eye-catching; if you download the pdf file from our Facebook page, you’ll see that the contents match the cover!) 

By the way – Aleksandra and I attended the LBF courtesy of the Polish Book Institute, so we were technically “Exhibitors”, not “Visitors”, which I found very cool. Even better, some of the books featured in our catalogue were displayed on our publishers' stands in the Polish pavilion. (E.g. the first four books on the upper shelf in the photo above.)

We took an early morning flight to London on Tuesday, March 14, arrived at the Olympia exhibition center on Hammersmith Road somewhere around noon, stayed there until closing time, and spent all of March 15 at the Olympia as well. On March 16, we only had time for some quick shopping in London before noon, so as not to miss our return flight from London Luton at 14:35. The trip was rather exhausting, especially for me (on March 13, I had to take an evening train to Warsaw and spend the entire night at the Chopin Airport), but the experience was absolutely worth it!

In the photo above, Aleksandra is the professional-looking lady on the left, and I’m the one with the patterned kerchief. Below is a handful of other photos taken during the fair. 






The Olympia exhibition center (centre, actually, since it's located in the UK...), with its two large galleries, was a maze of pavilions, stands and colorful signs. Even with a map, we felt a bit disoriented at first. 





The Polish pavilion looked quite impressive, with red neon signs, little pine trees, and light-colored plywood bookshelves showcasing recent titles from numerous large and medium-sized publishing houses (Nasza Księgarnia, Zysk, Grupa Wydawnicza Foksal, Znak, Muza, Agora, Rebis, Powergraph and others). 



In a stroke of genius, someone decided to use Polish apples as a marketing gimmick at the LBF. Yes, you read that right. Apples. Big, juicy, sweet apples from Polish orchards, much tastier than your typical supermarket-bought Granny Smith or Gala. Since the sandwiches, doughnuts, packaged salads etc. available at the Olympia were expensive, lots of people (myself included) decided a free apple isn't to be sneezed at!



Polish-to-English translation slam on Tuesday, March 14, featuring American translator Sean Bye, Polish translator Marta Dziurosz, and Polish journalist Ewa Winnicka.




On Wednesday, March 15, the panel discussion An Equal Share - Women's Writing from Poland chaired by Rosie Goldsmith from the European Literature Network drew quite a crowd (albeit the listeners were mostly women, which kinda shows how interested men are in women's writing...) One of the panelists was the famous Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk.





At the end of that panel discussion, Aleksandra stood up, briefly described our group and our aims, showed our catalogue, and got some enthusiastic applause!

Below are some more miscellaneous scenes, stands and books I photographed during the fair. Did I mention I enjoyed being there? I did. It was an exciting new experience, an adventure of sorts (I'd never visited London before), as well as a chance to strike up some contacts and gather valuable information about various initiatives involving literature and translations. I hope to participate again next year!









*) The ultimate goal of the Fantastic Women Writers of Poland group is to find publishers interested in acquiring the foreign language rights to our books. Some of us are bestselling authors in our home country, and/or have won numerous awards. Speculative fiction is a largely overlooked/undervalued niche in Poland, and female authors form a still smaller niche within that niche, but we’re determined to change that, and hopefully we will!


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