Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The big fat London Book Fair (by Helen Ducal).

I said in my piece on the London Book Fair that it wasn’t the place to say to someone, ‘I’ve written this great book, want to publish it?’ My guest blogger this week, Helen Ducal, with whom I had a very pleasant lunch there, proves that I was wrong. Here, in her own words, is what happened to her.

If there is one expression that has stood me in good stead over the years it has to be; You can’t just...
To which, my silent (usually) reply has been; Says who?
So when I saw there was to be a London Book Fair, I thought, I have a book or six, I’ll go. A published friend asked me if I had made appointments. Oh no, I replied, I am much harder to ignore in person.

As it turned out, getting there was far more nerve wracking than anything Earl’s Court could offer.

The Book Fair took place over three days.

Day 1. Set forth in borrowed car from Birmingham to London. Simples. So much more relaxing than the train...I spent the first sixty miles trying to tune in the bloody radio. Living in France, I miss only two things, Radio 4 and Neighbours. Sad but true. I stop at a service station. Starbucks coffee? Never. Strolling back to the car I spy, no aerial. Hence no radio. CD? Don’t be daft. This vintage vehicle has a cassette player but no cassettes.

Another twenty miles along the motorway and an orange warning light comes on, on the dashboard. I know enough about cars to know it isn’t oil, temperature or brakes. The shape outlined in orange is disturbingly shaped like a hand grenade! What to do? I am not going to stop on the hard shoulder; lots of nasty things happen there. I decide that as the car is still, a) moving, b) slows down when I brake and c) not overheating, I will continue. If the light starts flashing, I will stop and cry.

I have driven this route to Chiswick many times. It is very straightforward. So why am I...where is the...? Flaming hell, I am in London. With no radio to distract me in a good way I have been distracted by an unexploded orange object and missed the turning to Chiswick. So what’s with the red tarmac? Ye gods, I am in a bus lane. I am on dual carriageway with railings between the road and the pavement. What? I can’t get off. Beam me up Scotty. I normally have low pressure.

Do you want to hear the real irony? I see a sign for Earl’s Court. I also see a sign with the letter c in the middle. Uh-oh. Congestion charge. Where does that start? Where were the signs? Get OFF this road or you will be charged £60. Yep, the fine arrived four days later, on my birthday.

I stopped the car as soon as I could turn left. A traffic warden was on me like a shot.
You can’t park...
he stopped as I emerged from the car, shaking, with a crumpled map and a look so forlorn I could have beaten Bambi in a homeless contest. He pointed out where I could turn right, back towards Chiswick. That would be the traffic lights that clearly state, no right turn.

I eventually reached my destination. I never wanted to go out ever again.

Day 2. Got the train to Earl’s Court. Became mesmerized by the scale of the place. Met my cyber-writer-friends. Had a very nice pub lunch. Still no plan. Unless you count business cards and A4 prints of my book covers. Wandered round, wondering what on earth I was going to do, to make this trip worthwhile. I got the train back to Chiswick. I glared at the parked car.

Day 3. Mantra: I cannot waste this opportunity. Think positive, think retro. Paper not iPad. Independent Publishers Group. Sounds about right. Small, perfectly formed and proactive.

Hi, I am looking for a publisher...
Hi, I have written...
Hi, are you taking submissions...?

Tried all of the above and all I got was. Here’s our email address, and Get your agent to contact us. I even tried the ‘big boys’. Sorry, no one available to speak to you. Boo hoo. Then I spot a lady eating a sandwich. The French part of me cannot interrupt her impromptu lunch. I circle the stand...three times.

Last crumb, in for the kill.

Hi, you have an interesting cross section of books. I meant it. She glanced at my Blue Peter version of my book cover and my portfolio. She pointed at the chair opposite. She gave me her card. Send me your manuscript, she said.

I drove back to Birmingham in a soundless car with the occasional orange ‘malfunction indicator’ rearing its ugly head. It was malfunctioning all right. It had the power of a demented sewing machine.

Skip ahead two weeks. I post my manuscript to the nice lady in Brighton at 3pm and by 4.30pm the next day, I get an email that says. At first glance this looks very interesting indeed. GULP.

So, yes, going to the London Book Fair was worth it. And even if this meeting doesn’t change my life, it did reinforce what I already knew. You have to believe in yourself before anyone else can.

Watch this space.

Helen’s book is All Expenses Paid – her pitch for it is just ‘Granny sitting in the South of France for six months. What could be simpler?’ I’ve asked her to let us know how things develop.

You can read more of her musings on her own blog here.


  1. If her book is as amusing as this blog it deserves to be published and I wish her all the luck in the world.

  2. Looking forward to more from this writer.

  3. Couldn't agree more, Chris and Melanie. And I wish I had Helen's dynamism when it comes to PR.

  4. Wow - loved this post, Helen. After such a trip and having the courage to do something positive, you so deserve to be published. And we'll all buy your book!

  5. "I'm much harder to ignore in person." Love it! I agree with you, Helen. You have to go for it, though you were smart to wait until she finished her sandwich. ;) Fun, entertaining post, BTW -- just like you!

  6. Great post - and yes, you have to go for it, but all the same, very brave of you, Helen! Hope it pays off!

  7. To all of you above ^ . Thanks for your comments.
    The next installment is on its way,( in next two days) on my blog and maybe here if Bill can squeeze me in :-)
    Let's just say the publisher was not prepared to put her money where her mouth was, even after I let her finish her sandwich...I mean, really!
    So Plan B. There is always Plan B.

  8. Helen, the offer to squeeze you in is too good to refuse.

    Thanks again for the blog - as you can see from the responses, it was an entertaining and thought-provoking offering.

  9. Always be "In Pursuit Of Pleasure", stay true to your dreams H, X