My London Book Fair: Jonathan Atkins

My London Book Fair: Jonathan Atkins

Pan Macmillan's international development director Jonathan Atkins shares his top tips for London Book Fair and his memories of past fairs.

Don’t ask which number it is. Like birthdays, I try not to count these days. When LBF was in late March, it often used to coincide with my actual birthday. One year it not only conflicted with a significant birthday, but also the [1992] Cricket World Cup semi-final between England and South Africa which, because it was taking place in Australia, was screened here overnight. I rashly decided that entering my thirties wasn’t going to stop me from enjoying my birthday in the evening, watching the cricket from midnight, and going straight to the first day of the fair in the morning. Fortunately, England won, because I don’t think I was on top form for my appointments...

I like LBF because for three days it enables me to see interesting people from other countries here in London. It never disappoints. One such person in the mid-’90s was Therese Nasr from [Lebanon-headquartered distributor] Levant, then a wide-eyed first-timer from Beirut, now the smartest and most accomplished buyer in the world, and always scintillating company over dinner.

Some people question book fairs’ purpose, and after a series of inconsequential “business reviews” sometimes I do too. Then I bump into someone in the aisles who I haven’t seen for years, and I’m reminded how lucky we are to be in such a fantastic business, one full of smart, funny people.

My top tip for surviving the fair is to stay in town. One year I decided to commute, getting the first train in and the last train home to rural Buckinghamshire. By the end of that exhausting week, and after a very good leaving party for a very dear colleague the day after the fair, I found myself being woken up by Chiltern Railways cleaners on an empty train in the sidings of Aylesbury Station, having long ago missed my stop.

The book fair party I most remember was my first Pan Macmillan author party in 2010, with Ken Follett at the Mandarin Oriental. Sadly, an Icelandic volcano intervened and suddenly we had no international guests—except two hardy souls who had driven from Amsterdam—and no way of getting our money back from the hotel at such short notice. That included the pre-paid drinks bill, so we went ahead without our author but with most of the company and our two friends from [Dutch publisher] Van Ditmar. With no appointments the following day, it was a long night!

When the fair closes one of my favourite pubs is The Scarsdale Tavern, an old Penguin haunt from [former Viking offices] Wrights Lane days and still going strong.

As for restaurants, out of a sense of nostalgia, I still have a soft spot for Kensington Place and Julie’s Wine Bar in Holland Park.