London Book Fair 2019: Talent, talks and tote bags


london book fair

The publishing world descended on London again this week for the 48th London Book Fair! Amid the hustle and bustle, wheeling and dealing, Luke made his LBF debut and shares his thoughts on a long and busy day below. 

The sky painted a metallic grey enveloped the morning in a shroud of mediocrity as the overground train pulled into Kensington Olympia. This was quite at odds with the colourfully absurd vignettes Brautigan was sardonically imprinting on the inside of my skull. A quiet relief at the prospect of disembarking, followed by a frantic dash to do so, seemed to sweep over those maddened by the enclosed space. Moments later, passengers in all shapes and sizes alighted and dispersed like ants. Amongst the multitude of people were the usual suspects I imagined were to accompany me to our destination. There was no need of a detective to spot a tote bag with a gimmicky slogan. And I realised I perhaps arose likewise suspicion with Brautigan peeping out of my jacket pocket. Silently, or so it seemed to me, I tread the unfamiliar road onwards and upwards toward London Book Fair.

I have never been to a book fair of any kind. What I expected was both exactly how it turned out and yet somehow entirely different. Accurate expectations seem to share this uncanny quality – we can never truly know what something will feel like, even if we have a good idea of what it will. I eyed the canteen and considered food. I had not eaten but decided I could go without. Approaching the entrance doors, I caught a glimpse of a familiar face from what seemed like a past life. The comforting thought of what a small world it truly is played upon my mind like a record. The world is full of meaningful coincidences and meaningless platitudes. Deciphering which is which can be difficult at the best of times.

I smiled at the coincidence, and momentarily reflected upon the person I was, the person I am, the roads like tree branches we both must have traversed in order to find ourselves momentarily pretending not to have seen each other. I wondered if we would talk later on, or if she would disappear into the whirr of existence. But I had a feeling we would; and more importantly, I had a delayed hope that we would. A sense of detached irony reverberated throughout the day. I was scarcely in control of it.

Once inside, the bright lights and vibrant commotion exploded into a chaos and order unprecedented. It seemed everybody and nobody knew what they were doing. I headed toward the Canongate booth, which was vibrating with the infectious energy of commerce. Here I met with a colleague, a welcome friendly face in a sea of meaninglessness. I grabbed an overpriced water and a ham and cheese croissant, and she a coffee. We spoke a little and then ventured to a talk with an author we had never heard of. This momentarily sliced through the vacuity and dove into the essence of the thing: the fiery magic of the written word. I felt replenished. I could now face the day with my levels of optimism slightly renewed. The passage she read had resonated with me like a scar.

Budding authors and emerging talents, metadata and business relationships. A somewhat unsettling juxtaposition that seems to know nothing of form. But this is the skeletal make-up of the unlikely microcosm that is the world of books. And such was my experience of the book fair itself. The information we process in a day can scarcely be recounted; but an attempt at tracing the shape of events can be.

Chance conversations witnessed between young and old seemed to form a pattern in my mind between life and the essence of the fair. An attempt at real life connection resonated with me. Variety of experience and sharing (what could otherwise easily remain silent) of that experience, is to be extolled. A tale of the tapestry of a life sewn with toils, pains, hopes unfulfilled, wives and marriage, is dispersed with a handshake and a “nice to meet you”. What remains I do not know. What I do know is that the pulse of the future continues to thud like a sphere of light growing in and out of intensity, spiralling on toward the next excruciatingly exciting thing. But all this excitement does not deceive the cynic’s gaze. The façade fails to capture the nuance, the ambiguity, the meaning. A deaf poet in the poet’s corner attempts to restore my faith once more; and he sticks like a shard into my tangled mind whilst he recites verse to a captive audience. Perhaps he succeeded.

After a long and tumultuous series of events, a talk at the tail end of the day is teeming with bright hopes shaped like human beings, all in search of answers. How do I make my future the best it can be? Echoes of the hopes and the ability we have to turn such hopes into a reality awaken, but the importance of perspective comes most to the fore. I meditate upon the truth of platitudes and the lies of platitudes, enigmas to be resolved one day maybe, or simply come to terms with as is more likely. I see the same familiar face from the morning and I know at once that I’d like to speak to her.

Upon a perfunctory, though well-deserved round of applause, synchronicity seems to catch us up and we both make to leave at the same time. Destiny dictates I speak. And I do.  The presence of reality and loose string of the past leads me to a social event at a pub where the buzz of alcohol-fuelled conversations sets the tone. I talk. I laugh. I trace new faces with optimistic eyes. I participate in something of an evanescent surrealness until we decide to head home. London’s burning lights accompany us to the underground. Here, words from a previous night find me, the tube is a repository of farewells. We hug and say goodbye, and we’ll catch up soon. And maybe, we will.

Read more from Luke here!



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