When I went to a publishing workshop and asked what I should do to become an editor of translations, I was told to start by going to the London Book Fair. It seemed like a bizarre suggestion to me at first, but as soon as I did some research I found out that the London Book Fair is not a book-buying and author-meeting event like BookCon, but three days worth of meetings and workshops for people in the publishing industry. Though it probably sounds terribly boring, it was actually an amazing experience.
There were so many events planned every single day that it took me ages to actually choose what to attend, and then once I had that figured out I had to actually find the right rooms. Let me tell you, the Olympia building is massive. And when everyone is wearing suits and hurrying about looking important, little old me with my cosy sweater and hiking boots didn’t really know what to do. But I made it to most of the panels (except when I got distracted in a bookshop, oops), and it was well worth getting lost a few times.
On day one I went to an event about promoting literature in translation, one about Indian literature, and finally one about what a career in publishing is like. I had planned to go to a discussion on whether books change culturally when they are translated, and an exciting translation slam which supposedly had different translators improvise to defend their translation choices – but, well, on my first ever visit to London I couldn’t just ignore all the bookshops there, could I?
On day two I decided to be more dedicated and attended five panels. The first one was all about why editing matters, and the last one was on how to get into publishing and ways of kick-starting your career and develop your skills. In-between were my favourite events of the whole Fair. The first one was a panel discussion with authors from London about how they write, what inspires them, and how London features in their work, and it was absolutely amazing. The featured authors were Hannah Berry, Laura Dockrill, and Kayo Chingonyi. Kayo in particular was a favourite of mine; he was born in Zambia but grew up speaking English, and he now writes poetry about the concept of having a ‘mother tongue’ and what that means to him. As someone who grew up speaking Italian at home and German in school, I thought his discussion was absolutely brilliant.
Another great event of that day was an interview with Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀. She is a Nigerian writer, and I had wanted to read her novel Stay With Me for quite a while when I saw that she was going to be at the Book Fair. She was absolutely lovely, and she ended up signing books after the interview, so guess who has a signed copy of her novel now!
And finally, I went to a panel on diversity in British literature. The conversation was all about writers of colour, reading and promoting them, and especially giving them a chance to get published. They made some really interesting points, and they stressed the fact that a lot of publishing houses seem to think that they can only have a few black writers and then have to stop, because otherwise it would be too much.
I wish I could have stayed for the third day of the Fair (damn you, seminars!), but within those first two days I learned a lot about what my future might look like, as well as what it is about the publishing world that interests me. I loved the discussions on translations, editing, and especially everything that was said about diversity in literature, and I look forward to going back next year.