London Book Fair 2024 Spotlight

london book fair 2024 bookblast diary wrap up feature

At London Book Fair this year romantasy and all things cosy and escapist were still the upward trend. However – as award-winning independent publishers like Fitzcarraldo, Galley Beggar, and others have proved – to take risks on fresh, original writing not fully tried and tested in a busy market place, as opposed to buying the same commercial predictable stories and ideas, is becoming ever more crucial in an industry that is in a never-ending state of change; with volume sales down this year, and 60% of all books being bought online. The increased costs of paper and production, and the cost-of-living crisis, weighed on the minds of quite a few publishers I chatted with. I was told during one meeting, “Short books are a good thing!” It was a relief hear that compared to other forms of entertainment, consumers still regard books as good value! Three of the bestselling authors of 2023 were Richard Osman, Holly Jackson and Prince Harry.

A couple of European publishers I met up with were concerned about the rise of English-language book exports since these directly affect sales of translation rights, and the size of the advances offered to authors by European publishers, especially in countries where a high percentage of the population is fluent in English. In February, The Bookseller published The English Channel by Paul Sebes – a literary agent and co-owner of Sebes & Bisseling Literary Agency – about how Northern European readers are reading more and more in English, a trend that is unlikely to be reversed.

“Research by the EF English Proficiency Index shows that year on year, out of the countries where English is not the first language, the Dutch speak it the best: 95% of Dutch people can hold a nuanced conversation, negotiate a contract, read a book in English and watch English-language films or television without subtitles. Scandinavia follows closely behind (Denmark ranks fourth, Norway fifth and Sweden sixth). Recently, however, Germany has been following the same trend (although ranked tenth in the Index), a fact that UK and US publishers are also waking up to.” (Paul Sebes)

Talk, Talk, Talk . . . Life’s What You Make It

As always, a variety of excellent panel discussions were held at the Literary Translation Centre and the English PEN Literary Salon. For example: the European Union Prize for Literature and making fiction travel; supporting literary translation across Europe; writing against violence and Palestinian literary voices; cultural resilience and the war in Ukraine; creating a culture of reading for pleasure; power vs freedom of expression, how the rich and mighty exploit the law to avoid scrutiny . . .

The buzz of agents, scouts and publishers meeting face-to-face in the International Rights Centre to discuss upcoming projects, negotiate deals, and build professional relationships added to the excitement in the air.

I always like to ask an old friend who is a scout over every year from New York what caught her eye, and some of the books people were enthusing about. So here are six English-language titles for different tastes.

I Spy – Fiction

Nigerian-born British poet and Booker-winning novelist, Ben Okri, has a new novel coming out with Head of Zeus in 2025. Set in a château in the South of France, a party of revellers await the arrival of a world-renowned clairvoyant and fortune-teller, Madame Sosostris.

When Sleeping Women Wake by Emma Pei-Yin (Summer 2025) is set in 1941 during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. It tells the story of three interconnected women, as they embark on a journey of sacrifice, resilience and survival.

The Passenger Seat is the debut novel of Vijay Khurana, a writer and translator from German. It follows two disillusioned young boys on a self-destructive road trip across North America that turns into a spiral of self-destruction. It was shortlisted for the 2022 Novel Prize and is forthcoming in 2025.

I Spy – Non Fiction

Olivia Laing’s The Garden Against Time, due out in May, is about her attempt to create the beautiful garden of her dreams, and investigating ideas of paradise and utopia.

The Scapegoat: The Brilliant Brief Life of the Duke of Buckingham (October 2024) is by the superb writer, Lucy Hughes-Hallett. Her biography The Pike: Gabriele d’Annunzio, Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War is essential reading as autocracies that look like democracies are on the rise . . .

The Extreme Brain by cognitive scientist at King’s College London, Dr Nafees Hamid, is a blend of personal memoir, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, political economics; and fieldwork with jihadists, white nationalists, and QAnon devotees. He shows how people develop and act on extremist beliefs, why more of us are creeping towards the edge of political violence, and what we can do about it.

BUY The Pike

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About Georgia de Chamberet 377 Articles
Bilingual editor, rewriter, anthologist, French-to-English translator. Has written for 3am magazine, words without borders, The Independent, The Lady, Banipal, Prospect Magazine, Times Literary Supplement. Currently writes for The BookBlast Diary. Founder (1997) of London-based writing agency BookBlast.

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