I returned from the Frankfurt Book Fair yesterday. I did not win the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis in my category, sadly, but I still had a good time. . .
I had never been to a book fair before. I have friends who have been to Bologna, but even they have not been to Frankfurt. Bologna seems to be a bit more author and illustrator friendly. Frankfurt is perhaps perceived as being a bit more cold-bloodedly about the business of publishing. I can't really say whether this is true or not. I can only say that my experience of Frankfurt was a very pleasant one.
I flew from Heathrow in bright sunshine, marvelling at the vast expanses of forest below as we started our descent into Frankfurt airport. The taxi ride from the airport was interesting. As soon as we pulled out onto the autobahn, I was shoved back into the seat by the g-force as we hurtled along. The only time I checked the speedo we were at 160 kilometres an hour - a shade under a 100 miles an hour. Brake lights twinkled in the sunshine as we weaved between lanes and I jabbed out at an imaginary brake with my foot whilst suppressing a whimper. After that I thought it best to look sideways at the blurred scenery.
I had no visual image of Frankfurt in my mind and was a little surprised by the mini Manhattan skyline on the horizon. I was determined that I was going to try and get a better look at the place if I could find the time.
I dropped my stuff at the hotel - a nice little place on the Liebigstrasse - and walked the short distance to the book fair to meet Emma Hopkin, the MD of Bloomsbury Childrens Publishing in the UK. Emma took me into the fair and to the Bloomsbury/Berlin Verlag stall in the German hall. We seemed to walk for about a mile, going in and out of buildings, up and down escalators. I knew the place was going to be vast, but nothing quite prepares you for how big it actually is.
There was a reception being held there for their authors and a little display with our books. For me, it was mainly a chance to meet my German publishers: Philip Roeder, MD of Bloomsbury in Germany, Natalie Tornai, editorial director, Dorit Engelhardt my editor, Beatrice Howeg who had clearly done such a great job translating Uncle Montague and Meike Blatnik from publicity who had arranged my trip and made everything run so smoothly. I owe them all a big thank you for making me feel so welcome. And to Emma Hopkin who looked after me so well while I was there.
There wasn't time for us to get over to the UK hall and come back in time to go to the awards ceremony and so we wandered round the German stalls until it was time to be taken over there by Natalie.
I had not heard of the Deutsher Jugendliteraturpreis until I was nominated, but I had already been told it was a very prestigious award and this was confirmed by the amount of people now milling about outside the auditorium. I had to get my name tag and be photographed and then we all took our seats. I think I'm right in saying there were about a thousand people in there.
In front of us was a huge stage with massive video screens above it. It all seemed so much more professional and glamorous than anything we have in the UK - or anything I had ever been invited to, anyway. Happily, the very first award went to Martin Baltscheit for his beautiful Bloomsbury-published picture book, Die Geschichte vom Fuchs, der den Verstand verlor. He went up on stage and received his award and then had to sit on a large white sofa on the stage for the rest of the evening, joined by each successive winner.
I suddenly became very aware that I did have a chance of winning and I had not really given any thought to what I would say and tried to remember all the people I would need to thank. Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror appeared on the giant screens, along with photos of me, David Roberts and Beatrice Howeg. But very soon after, the envelope was opened and I was relieved of the need for any kind of acceptance speech. The winner was Milena Baisch and her illustrator Elke Kusche, for Anton taucht ab published by Beltz & Gelberg.
The rest of the ceremony was a little opaque for those of us struggling to recall even the most primitive of sentences from our schoolboy German classes, but the slickness continued throughout. It was certainly a very impressively presented event.
Afterwards we milled about in the foyer where there was some wine and nibbles and then we went to a restaurant nearby, taking over most of the back room. Good food and very good company helped to make me forget how exhausted I was, having set off from the house at six in the morning. Just as when I went to Holland and met my Dutch publishers, I was in awe of how articulate and witty everyone was whilst speaking a foreign language. It is very humbling for we lazy Englanders. We left at about midnight and I flopped straight into bed when I got back to my hotel.
I got a text from Emma the next morning saying she had been up since five (she was flying out at seven). The horror! I'm not sure that anything would have got me up at that hour. I staggered downstairs at about 8.30 and had breakfast before checking out and setting off to see a bit of Frankfurt before I flew back in the early afternoon. I wandered about clutching one of those useless hotel maps where the type is so small you can't read it without an electron microscope. I walked through a very expensive shopping district, through the main square and along the river, wishing I had time to cross and investigate the other side. Eventually I ended up at the grand railway station where an anti-capitalist demonstration was beginning to form and head off, watched by knots of sullen looking policemen. 'We are the 99%' read one of the placards in English - a reference to the wealthy 1% of the world population who own most of it's riches.
The photographs here were taken on my iPhone so are not the best quality, but they give an impression of what was a very pleasant stroll through the city on a beautiful autumn day. I had slightly dreaded my trip to Frankfurt but I would happily come back if asked.
Maybe I will be nominated again.