I think I must have "done" book fairs in the wrong order. I started with Frankfurt, which was incredibly overwhelming, moved on to lovely Leipzig, which is just the right size to be friendly but still exciting, and now London - which is, frankly, the Baby Bear of book fairs. A bit of a whippersnapper, stirring up a lot of noise, but just not big enough to stop anyone from wandering in and eating its porridge.
I'll stop that analogy right there, shall I? It was an interesting experience. Despite the Guardian's Guy Damman claiming it would be more reader-focused this year, it is nowhere near as interesting for readers as the literary lovefest that is the Leipzig Book Fair. It's all about rumours, hype and deals, says Joel Rickett in the Guardian books blog again. Interestingly, some of that hype seems to be about Feuchtgebiete, or Wetlands as it seems to have established itself in English.
But the seminar/events programme was excellent, I have to concede. Having scooted round the stalls reluctantly airing their wares inside of about an hour, I retired to the grubby "event suites" upstairs at Earls Court. Living in Germany makes you painfully aware of Britain's dirt and dinginess, and there was plenty of it behind the facades of the crumbling exhibition centre. It reminded me of our old local cinema, which went from a thriving home of cinematic fun - I think I saw Break Dance 2 (Electric Boogaloo) there - to a rat-infested flea pit to a snooker hall to a Bollywood movie temple to being pulled down for a block of flats. Only Earls Court doesn't smell of stale popcorn. And it has a lot more staff, all of them very friendly and helpful.
So what did I learn? I attended an event intruigingly entitled "Trans-Lit Trends" and found out that American readers are looking for spiritual and practical support - and that young editors are getting more enthusiastic about publishing translations - although others are wary, as the USA does not have a longstanding translation culture. I suspect that last comment was not entirely correct.
I broke off drinks with Germans (feeling way out of my depth anyway in the face of industry gossip, but at least not underdressed, which would have been worse) to find out "What UK Editors Want". The panel included Christopher MacLehose (the pronounciation is truly prosaic) - the man who champions 70-year-old translators and now has his own translation imprint. Not surprisingly, there was no holy grail of what to offer UK publishers to be had. But I did learn that they need you to capture their attention and that you need to make sure they're the right people to turn to. And that the seemingly highest-scoring method for getting into print is to attend dinner parties at editors' homes - and to take your toothbrush along, as my cynical friend added later.
And I went to an uplifting event on The Perils and Pleasures of Translation, manned by Edwin Frank, Robert Chandler, Will Hobson and the author Adam Thirlwell. It was slightly rambling, which was not helped by Will Hobson repeatedly losing the thread during long hymns to Ilja Trojanow, who he's translating. But it was, at last, an event about translation that didn't moan on about how little is translated into English. I found one of the most interesting points was Robert Chandler's about how he prefers to have his translations read by as many people as possible before publication - including some who don't speak the original language (in his case Russian). He noted that those capable of understanding the original often can't help but read the original through the translation, so to speak, and fail to spot a lot of problems in the English. Adam Thirlwell was interesting too, and has written a book about writers and translators called Miss Herbert. He made me feel incredibly stupid and I then found out he's five years younger than me and soon to be teaching at Princeton - but maybe I eavesdropped wrong there. He was nice though, if a little revealingly attired.
The sensual highlight, though, had to be the cooking presentations. It was smell-evision pure - a live TV chef with all the delicious aromas roaming free. I saw the Malaysian Chef Wan, who made something yummy and kept us amused with many quips and plenty of interesting information on the history of Malysian cuisine. Judging by the crowds of adoring fans, he's very good. Maybe my discovery of the book fair?
Having moaned all the way through this wee post, I have to say I think I'll go again next year. I hope I can have the chip surgically removed from my shoulder beforehand though.