My first Frankfurt Book Fair was in, gosh!, 1995. I was staying in a hotel boat on a bunk-bed that swayed during the night. I learned pretty quickly not to repeat that experience.
I was trying to sign Jack Charlton, the great footballer and manager, at the time, and I remember waiting for his manager to call me for several months. Of course, he finally called me during my first meeting at my first Frankfurt. I’m afraid I took the call. I did sign him, so apologies to who that first meeting was with. But, you know, business...
When you have a hot book at the fair, you spend some of the time avoiding publishers who are seeking an urgent response to their offers, and some of the time feeling like a spare part—your colleagues in translation rights are in control now, and your job is not to spoil it for them. Having a hot book is like having a party where you have host anxiety; not having a hot book is like going to a nice party but not being sure why you are there and who invited you.
At the fair I enjoy doing the same as everyone else: the chance meetings and dinners, bumping into old friends. The search for the next big thing, the gossip, soaking up the atmosphere and vastness of the halls, and realising how insignificant we are.
The thing that makes FBF special is the effort people take to come here, to party and to drink, but always the obsessive need to discuss books. The coming together of experts in every field, from every country, is pretty overwhelming.
What strikes me often about parties at FBF is the difference in them, from informal bar gatherings, to formal parties in posh hotels, from seedy bars, to bad rooms in villas over the bridge.
I can’t say I’m in love with the area around the fair, but it is a city with many faces: beautiful, historical, suburban, seedy, industrial. And I can’t disclose my hidden gems—if I tell you, you’ll all go.
I would tell first-timers that everybody is there to meet and exchange ideas, so don’t rely on just the people you know. It is natural to gravitate to
them to begin with, but the real gems will be found in chance encounters in a corridor on the way to another meeting, or while joining in on conversations in the food line. There is no hierarchy and everybody is there to hustle. Drink a lot of water and carry a banana.
In 50 years’ time at Frankfurt, our holograms will be taking the meetings.