Thursday, 18 April 2013

My Highlights of The London Book Fair 2013

With the snow and the frost a mere shiver of a memory away, sunshine and a mild breeze accompanied me to the 42nd London Book Fair this week. I hadn't planned anything in particular as this year I'd decided to wander the stalls, stop for a coffee at the Literary Pen Cafe and linger at the Author Lounge whilst listening to whichever writer happened to have the microphone at the time.

The London Book Fair is the global marketplace for rights negotiation and the sale and distribution of content across print, audio, TV, film and digital channels. It takes place every spring and is great for exploring and learning about the innovations shaping the publishing world of the future. This year Turkey was the Market Focus country following on from China last year.

Author of the day on Tuesday 16th April was Elif Shafak who answered questions and spoke about her novel, Honour. Honour is her ninth novel and is about a Turkish-Kurdish family saga set in London. She writes fiction in both Turkish and English. Critically acclaimed as “one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary literature”, her books have been translated into more than thirty languages. Elif Shafak said, 'Stories make a difference in my country (Turkey) and all around the world. They connect us across borders. By giving voice to the voiceless, making visible the invisible, and challenging intolerance and bigotry, storytellers can mend the bridges that extremist ideologies smash, dividing humanity into islands of "us" versus "them." It is a pleasure and honour to have been chosen one of the Authors of the Day at the London Book Fair this year.'

I was drawn to the kobo stand having seen their new Aura HD ereader advertised. With it's adjustable lighting, 1-2 month battery life and being the highest resolution 6.8 inch screen on the planet, it had me coveting the little rectangular piece of plastic like nothing else at the fair!

For the first time ever at the London Book Fair, 'The Pitch' enabled unpublished authors to meet and network with literary agents and gave them the opportunity to present their book proposal to a literary agent, face-to-face, and get feedback on their ideas and submission material. I haven't heard whether a new author was successful in finding representation at the fair, but wouldn't it be wonderful if they had? It's great to think that someone has seen fit to help unpublished writers and to offer them this opportunity.

The great debate at this year's Fair was 'Amazon: Friend or Foe?' The wide-ranging poles of opinion were that Amazon was being 'unfairly maligned' or were 'destroying the competition.' Eoin Purcell, editor of New Island Books and Irish Publishing News defended Amazon by saying that it was only taking advantage of the natural properties of the internet and digital change. Jennifer Lee, publisher of Daily Lit agreed saying that Amazon were 'the one's who created a critical mass for digital reading.' She said that 'the company had also opened distribution for writers via self-publishing which had unleashed a new stream of creativity.'

Arguing against Amazon was Tim Godfrey, Chief Executive of the UK Booksellers Association. He said that 'Amazon has got so big, they are not competing but destroying the competition. Do we really want an environment in which there are virtually no book shops and far fewer publishers and agents? Because that is really where we're heading.' Robert Levine, author of Free Ride backed Tim Godfrey by saying that, 'If you're a writer, you usually want to sell books for money. Amazon wants to propagate a platform.' He also stressed the importance of controlling one's pricing, calling Amazon a 'hyper-efficient machine for dragging down prices.'

A vote was taken on whether or not Amazon was a positive influence in today's writing world.
For Amazon - 59 votes. Against - 117.

On a more light-hearted note, these were the two books I treated myself to. A gorgeous notebook (yet another!) decorated with buttons and which is far too lovely to stain with ink, and a one hundred year old copy of The Mill On The Floss by George Eliot.

I thought the final word could go to the English poet, writer and broadcaster Sir John Betjeman, who described himself in Who's Who as a "poet and hack". I took a photograph of the wonderful statue of him at St Pancras Station.

A Bay In Anglesey by Sir John Betjeman

The sleepy sound of a tea-time tide
Slaps at the rocks the sun has dried,

Too lazy, almost, to sink and lift
Round low peninsulas pink with thrift.

The water, enlarging shells and sand,
Grows greener emerald out from land

And brown over shadowy shelves below
The waving forests of seaweed show.

Here at my feet in the short cliff grass
Are shells, dried bladderwrack, broken glass,

Pale blue squills and yellow rock roses.
The next low ridge that we climb discloses

One more field for the sheep to graze
While, scarcely seen on this hottest of days,

Far to the eastward, over there,
Snowdon rises in pearl-grey air.

Multiple lark-song, whispering bents,
The thymy, turfy and salty scents

And filling in, brimming in, sparkling and free
The sweet susurration of incoming sea.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Skimming Stones

Surely only a handful of summers have passed
Since I jumped the white chalked squares
On the shiny black slugs of melting tarmac?
Long halcyon days filled with playgrounds and parks
In which hung a shimmering heat-haze
Which levitated above the hot speckled concrete.
Holidays of sipping iced-lemonade, with skin tinged pink
From the rays which danced in the palest of blues.
Surely only a small bouquet of nights have passed,
Each nocturnal hour filled with soft scents of blossom,
Since I read of the Famous Five by the landing's pale glow.

And now my reflection is patterned with lines of middle age.
How did I sink like a painted pebble into these murkey depths?
Did I skim that stone before it sank?
Polish it against my hip before hurling it
Seawards; to bounce and pirouette upon the surface?
And why does my mother's face look back from the mirror?
Is it a trick of the light? Her tired eyes, her lips,
Puckered with a life of coversation.
A private prank played on me by shadows, as
The poised pencil which draws the circle of life,
Rises, tick by slow tock, to meet its starting point.

By Angela Barton

Monday, 1 April 2013

A Room Of One's Own

Virginia Woolf once said that every woman should have a room of one's own to write fiction. I've shared a bedroom with my sister whilst growing up and then with my husband Paul and although I've shared quite happily, I'm very excited about having a room of my own. Paul is building me a writing room in the garden and I'm going to blog about its construction and its positioning onto an over-grown and neglected area at the front of the house. I hope to keep some greenery around the room to soften the edges, although it looks pretty bare at the moment thanks to our freezing Easter weather.

Writing spaces are so individual and it's fascinating to read about where writers feel most comfortable. Every month I buy Writing Magazine and Writers' Forum and love to read about writers' work spaces. Martin Baum has his Bournemouth beach hut, Terry Pratchett has an office with four computer screens in front of him and JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter in a cafe down the road from the university where she worked.

A writing space is definitely a luxury and not essential, after all, writers write; it doesn't matter if we're on a bus, in bed, tucked at one corner of the kitchen table or sitting on a park bench. If the ideas are flowing and a story demands to be written, then we reach for a notebook and we're off. But having said that, it would be wonderful to have my own space? A place to concentrate and escape into the make-believe lives and characters I write about. I could hang up my pin board full of facts and character traits, without cluttering up the kitchen. I could have a book-case to store the myriad of writing text books and vast collection of notebooks I've bought but don't want to deface any of them with a single word! I could also find a home for all these 'writerly' niks-naks I've accumulated and want to find a home for.

Here are the first photographs of my writing room under construction. The shell is up, the roof timbers have begun to be lifted in to place and the first-fix electrics have been put in. Thankfully it's fully insulated so I can write and read in it all year round. I thinks it's the best present ever!

Please keep popping back to check on progress as I up-date my blog.