This has been a really frantic week for us as we went up to the London Book Fair. This fair is the most important event in the publishers calendar and gives the world a chance to buy and sell rights for new titles, announce new authors, launch new products and generally get together and put the world to rights (or not, depending on how gloomy looking forward makes you – and to be fair booksellers do tend to be a backward looking lot).
We figured that the best way to prepare for 4 days in London would be to spend the Sunday on the beach and catching as many waves as we could. With our salt glands fully loaded we caught the sleeper and woke up to noise, dirt and heat. The Book Fair was fascinating and it was great to get a glimpse at the new releases, meet some authors and listen to the industry warnings about e-books. Boy, were there a lot of warnings and it’s probably fair to say, looking at the American trend, that within 5 years maybe 50% of fiction sales will be downloads rather than hard copy books. A truly alarming figure for those running bookshops but rather than harping back to the good old days (whenever they were) I think those that will weather the change will be those businesses that find a niche or a new angle and to be honest ‘twas ever thus!
As much as I enjoyed the Fair I enjoyed exploring areas of London that I didn’t know more. I’ve never lived in London so have never really had time to explore but this time we got some chances to escape. My first treasure was Brompton Cemetery, it was a beautiful place and whilst nowhere in London is really quiet it was very calm, full of tame ravens and squirrels, Victorian statues, crypts and overgrown tombstones. I used to love doing my revision in Norwich graveyard and found that this cemetery provided the same calming influence.
I then went on to explore the Inns of the Court of London, another oasis of peace and calm, beautiful gardens and stunning architecture laid out in academic quadrants connected by little alleys and hidden between the Thames, Fleet Street and the City of London proper. It was lovely to sit under a magnolia tree not yet in bloom watching a barrister dash past in wig and gown listening to a fountain behind me. It doesn’t beat Cornwall but it does beat being stuck in Starbucks at Piccadilly Circus.
I also discovered two mad museums both fronting onto Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The John Soane’s Museum is the home of a Victorian collector who filled his house with all and everything that he found on his travels. The place is full of pediments, Doric columns, Egyptian burial chambers, writing tables, vases, paintings and so on. It’s a full to the brim hotch potch of stuff. Almost directly opposite across the field is the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons. Again full to the brim of oddities but what oddities! The place is full of skeletons and pickling jars of human and animal bits and pieces. Many of the times the things I was looking at were mesmerising and beautiful and then I would look to the next item and recoil as I found myself eyeballing a rabbit foetus. There really were some truly bizarre exhibits, human skulls showing defects, or nervous systems removed and mapped out out wooden boards. Eventually I escaped into the Library, a place of leather armchairs and leather binding with the hushed, hallowed silence of a room that was not concerned for it’s future knowing that its role was forever secured.
Maybe, I too am someone who loves to look backwards.