Caroline Sheldon, founder of Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency and esteemed agent, shares her tips from almost four decades of attending book fairs in Bologna—prime among them, remembering where you are staying...
My first Bologna was nearly 40 years ago. I was, of course, bowled over by the experience: the fair and its excitement, the city and its restaurants. I stayed at the Hotel Roma just off the Piazza Maggiore. Old hands such as Klaus Flugge, Julia MacRae and Paul Langridge lamented the move to the new modern site, but there was still a welcome party for all in the Palazzo on the first evening, thrown by the communist council of Bologna. There was an enormous Fellini-like spread of food—I remember giant hams and lobsters, but it may have grown in the memory—and we publishers fell upon it like locusts.
On my last evening of my first fair, I made a wish by the statue Fontana del Nettuno in the Piazza Maggiore while looking up at the gorgeous roofscapes and the stars. I’m not telling you what that wish was, but every year before I leave, I go back to the Maggiore and make another.
The best Bologna party I’ve ever been to was thrown by Gallimard for one of its anniversaries. It was in the most beautiful Renaissance palazzo, which I will never find again, unless I ask Christine [Baker, the long-time Gallimard Jeunesse boss]. I would have travelled miles for the beauty of the frescoes on the ceiling. On top of being in one of the most beautiful buildings I had ever seen, one had a glass of prosecco in one’s hand, waitresses drifted by with mouthwatering canapes, and one stood chatting among the crème de la crème of children’s publishing, from all around the world. I was so happy to be a small part of that body. Could this be “work”? Truly a privilege.
I am notorious for not knowing or remembering the name of any restaurant. I did try a system of saving the names and addresses of the ones I’d been to the previous year, but somehow that list always got lost. So, shamefully, I usually rely on other people to fix the venue for dining.
My regrets? First, not speaking Italian. Second, the publisher at [Dutch indie] Leminiscaat offering me a lift to my hotel—and kindly driving me around for hours while I couldn’t find it or remember its address. Third, not giving enough time to the sights and culture of the city. I plan to do that one day.
In the absence of the fair, I’ve missed the welcome at the hotel, the welcome at the agents’ centre, the stimulation arising from meetings with publishers all over the world, finding the perfect slot for an author or illustrator, finding a meeting that one secretly thought wouldn’t be a good use of time to be fantastically exciting, the buzz to become more creative, the mesmerising lilt of the mantra “Hotel Carlton”, which rings out on taxis’ radios, the food, the food, the food, and the beauty of the city.
My top tips for the fair? Imbibe the excitement; love the commerce; eat, drink and be merry. And if possible, don’t stay too far out—taxis can be hell...