Tagholm's Take - the news in books at 22 March 2019

Roger Tagholm
News Friday, 22 March 2019

Roger Tagholm, in assocation with the London Book Fair, looks back at LBF


Inevitably, one subject was never very far from people's minds at the London Book Fair, aided of course by the presence of a Cafe Europe and the deliberate, special invitation to three European authors - Simone Buchholz from Germany, Stefan Hertmans from Belgium and Antoine Laurain from Belgium. Crime novelist Buchholz is from Hamburg, and asked how that city would vote, said: "Hamburg would be 'Remain'. We are a harbour city, an international city..." Looking at her fellow authors and the bustle of the fair around her, she added: "I think if we cannot be together politically, then at least we can be together culturally."

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As ever, the LBF week was another packed four days, beginning with the Quantum conference and taking in the LBF's International Excellence Awards - organised in association with the Publishers Association and slickly produced by Agile Ideas - as well as seeing Ian McEwan among authors taking part in the fair's first podcasts. It seems as if every corner you turned at Olympia there was something urging you to stop, watch and listen - all credit to director Jacks Thomas and the team for creating such a stimulating marketplace of ideas, challenges, declarations and solutions.

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Faber chief executive Stephen Page began the week by boldly stating that outside the EU, the power of Westminster to challenge the tech companies would be weaker. "Brussels has demonstrated greater appetite for this than Westminster," he told the Quantum conference. He also worries about the threats to territorial copyright in a post-Brexit world.

McEwan said that leaving the EU would be a "national tragedy", and One World's Juliet Mabey said Brexit made her worried about "a series of P's- ports, people, paper, the pound and price points". She said: "Paper will be more expensive because of the weak pound. I'm worried about delays at ports in and out. We can't alter price points on books because we get pushback from booksellers. UK employees at warehouses will want more money, and because of the weak pound, when we pay royalties to US authors we'll be paying less, so they'll ask for higher advances."

Penguin Random House (PRH) chief executive Tom Weldon described Brexit as a "massive issue [for the] supply chain", and said that PRH had been stockpiling books in the UK and looking at printing on the continent.

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When it all became too worrying, sanctuary was available at the fair courtesy of the curving, shell-like swirl of the Indonesia pavilion, where the market focus region displayed a cross-section of Indonesian literature and there were headphones playing Indonesian music to provide respite from the Brexit discussions below.

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The LBF's Lifetime Achievement Award for Swedish publisher Dorotea Bromberg at the LBF's International Excellence Awards was warmly received. Bromberg said: "When the award was announced I got a lot of nice messages from people in publishing, which was wonderful. But it was also in the media in Sweden, and I have had so many best wishes from readers. It doesn't really matter if the public knows who I am, because it is the author who matters."

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There was a warm reception too for Dr Alaa Hamdon, the lecturer at the University of Mosul in Syria, who talked passionately about the Mosul Book Bridge, his initiative in partnership with Book Aid which seeks to rebuild and re-stock the famous library that was destroyed by Da'esh. "It was like a lighthouse for our city," he said, "and it is my dream that it will shine again."

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Oren Teicher, the long-serving CEO of the American Booksellers Association, announced that he was to retire at the end of the year after almost 30 years with the organisation. His decision follows that of his UK counterpart, Tim Godfray, who stepped down as CEO last year and who was rewarded with his own blue plaque at the fair, courtesy of LBF.

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Away from the fair, there has been much comment on the decision by Arthur A Levine to leave Scholastic and set up an as yet unnamed independent. Levine is famous for bringing Harry Potter to Scholastic and for running an eponymous imprint - which will continue - since 1996. The new list will "centre on diversity, ideally with a mix of 75% minority creators, including people of colour, Indigenous people, and LGBTQ individuals. It will be focused on high-quality bookmaking and many of the things Arthur A Levine Books has been known for."

Among the many comments beneath the story in Publishers Weekly was this nice exchange with Nosy Crow's Kate Wilson. She said: "Wow! Big news! I love being independent. I hope you do too. Am available for chats and congrats." Levine replied: "I should only be as stylish and daring as Nosy Crow! Would love to have chats and congrats (and singing in French!)."

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