Two words sum up my first ever visit to the London Book Fair: inspiring and exhausting.

Everywhere you looked book titles and posters shouted at you from the wealth of publishers’ stands. I saw national displays from Armenia, China, Czech Republic, Iceland, Latvia, Slovakia and the Sultanate of Oman to name but a few.

I liked the Russian slogan: Read Deep, Read Moscow, Read Russia. I also liked the way the International Rights Centre, reached by a vertiginous escalator, was divided into sections: Austen; Chaucer, Dickens, Woolf.

I found my way to Author HQ and heard Orna Ross from the Alliance of Independent Authors saying she didn’t like talking about the marketing of books or of authors as brands. She much preferred to talk about authors reaching out to their readers.

She made an excellent point about using Twitter. If you went to a party you wouldn’t think to walk into a room and say ‘My book is £0.99 on Amazon. Buy it now!’ So don’t do that on Twitter. Get into a conversation with your followers.

At the English PEN Literary Salon Hermione Lee, the celebrated biographer of Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton and most recently Penelope Fitzgerald said:

‘Biographers should not make up dialogue. We weren’t there.’

Gaby Wood asked her how she found out stuff about her subjects.

‘You talk to as many people as you can who knew the author and you look at the work too.’

She cited Penelope Fitzgerald’s Offshore which is about a woman living in a barge on the Thames in the 1960s and Fitzgerald did indeed live on a barge in London at that time.

An author in the room said that she drew on incidents from life and put phrases she had heard friends use into the mouths of fictional characters. She would worry if a biographer extracted such details from her novel as a direct read out from her life.

‘Well you see we biographers and novelists are enemies’ Hermione Lee answered cheerfully.

At the Literary Translation Centre Boyd Tonkin and his fellow judges were talking about the six books which had made it to the shortlist of the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. This gives an equal split of prize money to the writer and to the translator. This session was the most inspiring of all and I left it determined to buy A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli translated by Sam Taylor and Revenge by Yoko Ogawa translated by Stephen Snyder.

Then up that escalator again for a lively chat with Laura Palmer, Editorial Director Fiction at Head of Zeus and Helenka Fuglewicz the Rights Director. And I got to meet my German publishers Piper face to face too.

I would recommend a visit. If you love books you can’t help but be inspired by all the energy, commitment and variety you will find in that huge exhibition space.


Jane Lythell is author of The Lie of You, a chilling psychological thriller about obsession, jealousy, and female identity.