Lucy Coats, Contributing Editor to the Children’s Publishing issue of Publishing Talk Magazine, reports back from this year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair.
Judging by the huge queues to get in, Bologna 2015 was very much open for business. After negotiating my way past an officious jobsworth of a Fair official, (who refused to believe my Publishing Talk credentials because they weren’t written in Italian), I got my press pass from the office and hurried to my first Monday appointment with Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow (only one of 165 for her team over the four days of the Fair).
Wilson was keen to tell me about David Solomons‘s middle grade fiction debut, MY BROTHER IS A SUPERHERO, coming this July and already sold in seven languages pre-publication. Solomons was the screenwriter for Five Children and It, and the book tackles growing up, sibling rivalry and saving the world. Nosy Crow also has new series fiction from Paula Harrison (THE SECRET RESCUERS) illustrated by Sophy Williams, and from Pamela Butchart, winner of this year’s Blue Peter Book Award (WIGGLESBOTTOM PRIMARY) illustrated by Becka Moon. Picture books are a Nosy Crow strength, and I particularly liked POLES APART – the new Jeanne Willis illustrated by Jarvis. It’s a sweet tale about penguins who get lost and a polar bear who helps get them home – bringing the Arctic and Antarctic together at last! Yasmeen Ismail‘s CHRISTMAS FOR GRETA AND GRACIE, featuring a chatty older sister who always knows best and a nice Santa-based twist was another one which caught my eye. Wilson tells me that business was good in 2014, with a 42% growth in book sales. However, sounding a cautionary note, she says that the strength of the dollar vs the euro has meant that co-edition margins are harder to make work, and pricing is difficult, particularly for novelty books. Nonetheless, it is clear that a small company like hers can be fast, responsive and personal (in contrast to the behemoths, which can take months to respond).
Talking of behemoths, my next appointment was at the huge (and slightly confusing) joint Penguin Random House stand to meet Puffin Editorial Director, Ben Horslen. First up is David Hofmeyr‘s June debut UKYA novel, STONE RIDER, a dystopian love story described by Horslen as ‘THE HUNGER GAMES meets THE ROAD’, which will have a major transatlantic launch with Random US and is already in development as a film for Working Title. Forthcoming excitements for 2016 are another debut (first of an upper middle-grade trilogy) from Dave Rudden titled THE KNIGHTS OF THE BORROWED DARK. It lies in Eoin Colfer/Derek Landy territory, with black humour and an orphan hero called Denizen Hardwick. Sounds very promising. Also coming in 2016 is the final trilogy in the Sally Green‘s Half world – HALF LOST – in which Horslen promises ‘there will be blood.’ Having interviewed Green about the books recently, I believe him! Horslen feels that the biggest publishing challenge is still the debut book, that brands and large series continue to thrive, and that Waterstones is still ‘very very important’ in the UK book market. He’s a fan of UKYA, and says he is ‘always going to be building the next big thing – but it takes time.’
The sunshine was too much of a draw, so my next meeting with David Maybury – Commissioning Editor at Scholastic UK – took place outside. In December 2014, Maybury signed up teen pop, HuffPo and YouTube sensation Tallia Storm in a two-book deal to write a fictionalised story of her life. The first, STORM FEVER, is hitting bookshelves in October 2015. Maybury openly admits that this is a collaborative effort with a professional (unnamed so far) ghostwriter. ‘Tallia is only 16 – she needed help’, but says that the short story which will be released on May 10 to coincide with her new single was written entirely by the young singer. I think this could possibly be one to challenge Zoella’s supremacy at the top of the charts.
Diving back into the busy halls, I had coffee at the enormous white Bonnier stand with Matilda Johnson – Senior Editor at Hot Key and Piccadilly Press. Hot Key have teamed up with Disney to co-publish Daniel Kraus and Guillermo del Toro’s TROLLHUNTERS (described to me as ‘the Goonies meets Pan’s Labyrinth’) which sounds both amazing and disgusting at the same time (trolls throwing up their guts to be light enough to climb up a house, anyone?). It’s sure to appeal to both teens and adults. New author, Rachel Delahaye, brings a ‘whacky lighthearted’ middle-grade series to the Piccadilly stable. JIM REAPER hits the shelves in 2016 and is about a boy discovering that his dad is not really an accountant, but works instead for the creepy ‘Dead End Office’. If you’re a fan of alternative history, there’s Julie Mayhew‘s latest – THE BIG LIE – set in a present day Nazi England. I’ve now read the proof, and it’s a real cracker of a story, which I predict will be on prize lists. Last, but very much not least, comes a new direction for current Queen of Teen, James Dawson, with ALL OF THE ABOVE – a contemporary YA which ‘pushes the barriers of teen romance’. It’s bound to get a lot of coverage, with the long-awaited rise of LGBTQ lit in the UK.
Back to the Scholastic stable again, I met Barry Cunningham, MD and Publisher of Chicken House, minus his trademark tweed ‘Hat of Opportunity’ because of the growing heat. Cunningham tells me that this has been his best publishing year ever, with James Dashner‘s ‘cosmic’ MAZE RUNNERS selling 1,500,000 copies around the world and bringing in boy readers by the barrelful. When Cunningham (who has published no less an author than Roald Dahl) tells you that MG Leonard‘s darkly hilarious debut novel, BEETLE BOY, is ‘one of the best novels I’ve ever published’, you tend to sit up and take notice. He says the science is real and that it reminds him of Dahl’s ‘tough vigour’, billing it as ‘JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH meets 101 DALMATIANS – with exotic beetles’. The book has sold to twelve countries in two weeks – and Cunningham expects that to grow to thirty or forty. I wouldn’t like to bet against that.
Next up are those splendidly busy squirrels of Barrington Stoke, Sales Director Jane Walker and Publisher Mairi Kidd. In last year’s Bologna diary, I told you about the reading app they were developing for dyslexics. That’s now almost finished with beta testing, and will have its soft launch at London Book Fair. There’ll be six books available initially, and lots of extra content for parents. It looked incredibly impressive on Mairi’s iPad, and I only wish I’d had it when my own kids were small. Barrington Stoke is one of the most impressive indy publishing companies I see at Bologna, regularly attracting international names to their author list, which makes a big difference to the way both booksellers and buyers perceive them. They are consistently recording ‘best months ever’, and sales are up 40% at Waterstones this year. Some forthcoming highlights are GAWAIN GREYTAIL AND THE TERRIBLE TAB, a picture book tale of knightly mouseish derring-do by Cornelia Funke and Mónica Armiňo, and one of the most beautiful books I saw all Fair, a full colour younger novel from Eoin Colfer and Victor Ambrus, with rose gold edges and head and tail bands. There’s also a companion book to BROCK by Anthony McGowan (longlisted for the Carnegie Medal), called PIKE, which looks equally as good as its predecessor. Though progress has been made, both Walker and Cunningham feel that the trade ‘could do more to make books for dyslexics more available’, so shifting those perceptions up a notch to create a real ‘sea change’ is a big theme for Barrington Stoke in 2015.
Up the escalator to the Agents’ Centre and on to my second Barry of the day – Barry Goldblatt – US literary agent. Goldblatt always has a refreshingly honest opinion on the markets. Like Ben Horslen, he maintains that creating a bestseller takes hard work from all concerned. ‘Pick a book and get behind it,’ is his advice to publishers – but he’s also aware of luck and ‘how the dice fall’ having a big effect on sales. Children’s books in the US still make up the bulk of sales, but he has interesting things to say about UK bookstores and the YA phenomenon. He feels that until bookstores here decide to have dedicated YA sections away from the children’s book area, the sector won’t take off as well as it has in the US. ‘When Barnes and Noble did it in the USA, YA exploded. Teens just don’t want to be seen in the part of the store where the babies are.’ It’s a valid point, and one that UK booksellers might like to think about, though given the constraints of space in most indies, it’s unlikely to happen any time soon. Waterstones, are you listening?
By this time, I’m seriously in need of alcoholic sustenance and a snack, so it’s lucky that OUP Children’s provide the necessary prosecco and nibbles as well as Matty Long (whose SUPER HAPPY MAGIC FOREST is described to me as ‘Tolkien for toddlers’) doing cute live drawing of unicorns all over the stand. Then it’s a quick shower and change and off for a flying visit to the fabulous Palazzo Re’ Enzo (where the first ever Bologna Book Fair was held) for a vast drinks party with Scholastic. It was a pleasure to reconnect briefly with legendary Delacorte VP and publisher, Beverly Horowitz there, who I knew in my New York publishing days. After that there was a wonderful and laughter-filled dinner with the Nosy Crows, where the usual ‘Bologna feast’ was provided – course after course, and the nicest dessert I’ve ever eaten, a strange-sounding but wonderful panna cotta with salted pink grapefruit. Stuffed but happy, we made our way to the notorious SwineBar – heaving with publishing people at 11.30pm. It’s always fun to catch up with the gossip there – and to chat books, writing and pink hair with Laureate na nÓg, Eoin Colfer, who was in Bologna for the worldwide Children’s Laureate summit. Earlier in the day I’d managed to catch up with our own UK Children’s Laureate, Malorie Blackman – cover girl for the October Children’s Issue of Publishing Talk Magazine and accept a challenge from her to cosplay Ancient Egyptian-style at the forthcoming YALC conference in July at London Comic-con. What have I let myself in for?
Tuesday dawned clear and hot again, and (propping up my eyes slightly after a 2am bedtime) I rushed from the bus to meet Liz Cross, Head of Publishing at OUP Children’s. This is a publisher which continues to go from strength to strength, with the successful Sarah Macintyre and Philip Reeve partnership producing a new madcap adventure for September – PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH. Carnegie Medal-winner Reeve also has a new novel, RAILHEAD, which Cross describes as set in an ‘epic Reeves-esque universe, with sci-fi elements’. Film rights have already been sold to Warner Brothers, and I can’t wait to read this one, as I’m a huge Reeve fan. Roland Chambers – ex pastry chef and private investigator – hits the shelves with his debut MG adventure novel, NELLY AND THE QUEST FOR CAPTAIN PEABODY, with two-colour illustrations by Ella Okstad. Cross describes this one as having elements of Pippi Longstocking – and it looks promising. There are certainly more two-colour illustrated titles at the fair than I remember seeing for some time – it’s looking like a trend.
Onto the Random House Children’s Books side of the PRH stand this time, to see Children’s Fiction Publisher Annie Eaton and Editorial Director Ruth Knowles. The main excitement at RHCB is AREA 13 – the first in a totally new Joseph Delaney trilogy, set to be ‘as big as SPOOKS’ and described as ‘Percy Jackson meets THE HUNGER GAMES, with gladiatorial contests, evil monsters and a distincive Delaney twist’. Five foreign publishing deals had already been put together pre-Fair, including France and Brazil. There’s also a buzz aroud Laurence Anholt‘s first YA novel – THE HYPNOTIST – which Eaton and Knowles term ‘uncategorisable’, and describe as ‘NOUGHTS AND CROSSES meets THE HELP by way of GREAT EXPECTATIONS’. (You’ll have noticed by now that publishers are keen to use this sort of shorthand pitch to describe their offerings). Set in 1960s America, the novel features the Ku Klux Klan, a black boy adopted by white sharecroppers, and a hypnotic Irish psychotherapist overlooking all the drama from his house on the hill. Colour me intrigued! The book was sold to Mondadori at the Fair, and seems to me like the perfect teen/adult crossover. It will be published in Jan 2016. Eaton has also signed up debut Irish author Moïra Fowley-Doyle, whose THE ACCIDENT SEASON – an atmospheric standalone about strange first love – has already been sold to Penguin US and a German publisher. Described as a ‘modern I CAPTURE THE CASTLE with a curse’, I’m told that Fowey-Doyle has a voice as distinctive as Patrick Ness, with the darkness of Neil Gaiman. I very much look forward to seeing the proof of that when the book comes out in July.
My first visit to the gigantic Hachette stand is to see Anne McNeil, Publishing Director of Hodder.
It’s a little embarrassing to have to admit that McNeil made me cry, quite literally, over Mick and Chloe Inkpen’s newest picture book, I WILL LOVE YOU ANYWAY. It’s a touching and brilliant story about a naughty poo-rolling runaway dog, which definitely tugged at my heartstrings, and one I’ll be buying for all small children in my family this Christmas. There’s also a new Hiccup story, HOW TO FIGHT A DRAGON’S FURY – the twelfth in Cressida Cowell‘s HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON series, in which Hiccup is ‘alone and lost’. McNeil says the story has an epic arc of pathos, and a ‘big world vision’. Apart from that small hint, content is embargoed will a limited first release to selected child readers at Edinburgh Book Festival in August. Publication is in October.
Putting away my hanky, I scurry back to the Agents’ Centre, where I am hearing rebellious mutters from all concerned at the lack of dedicated loos and bottled water. When you’re an agent with back to back interviews, it’s unfair, if not inhuman, not to provide these, and a strongly-worded letter of protest was circulating as I sat down in the cafe for a coffee with Fiona Kenshole of the Transatlantic Agency. Kenshole has a unique perspective on the UK and US markets, having been Editorial Director at Harper Collins, as well as holding many other senior posts before she jumped into the agenting arena. She agrees with Barry Goldblatt that it is much more punishing to build an author in the UK – and to publish standalone novels. She also believes that we need more ‘maverick publishers’ with the bravery to take on a book that is different and unusual, rather than a safe bet. Hear hear to that!
It’s always interesting to talk to a brand new publisher – especially one from an emerging market. Last year I wrote about India as a growing force in children’s books, and while sales are slightly down for the import market, the appetite for children’s books perceived to be ‘value for money, informational and educational’, is expanding. I talked to Richa Jha of fledgling English Language indy publishers Pickle Yolk Books, based in Delhi. Jha is an ex-journalist and editor who is passionate about picture books. The trouble is, she says, that in the consciousness of ‘price-orientated’ middle-class book buying parents in India, picture books (because they have so few words) are NOT considered value for money. At the moment she is self publishing traditional print books, but as we sat in the Bologna sunshine, she outlined her hope to expand her list to include more home-grown Indian authors and illustrators. A laudable ambition, and one I very much hope she succeeds in.
It’s always a pleasure to arrive in the Edwardian drawing room that is Faber’s Bologna stand, sink into a maroon plush wing chair and be provided with life-saving chocolate by Commissioning Editor, Alice Swan. Swan tells me that Faber has won Alwyn Hamilton‘s debut YA – REBEL OF THE SANDS – in a four-way auction conducted by The Bent Agency (it went to Penguin US in an eight-way, and Swan will co-edit). Swan describes it intiguingly as ‘Wild West with genie magic, a gunslinger girl and a handsome foreign stranger’, and it will arrive on bookshelves here in February 2016. Slightly closer at hand is the launch of the Greenhouse Funny Prize winner Gavin Puckett’s debut – a rhyming middle-grade series, FABLES FROM THE STABLES. MURRAY THE HORSE will come in June. Another that caught my eye was Alexia Casale‘s new novel. Casale is one of the new wave of talent in UKYA, and her second book (to be published in August) is a coming of age story called HOUSE OF WINDOWS. I much enjoyed her debut, THE BONE DRAGON, and think Casale is one to watch.
After a quick detour to listen to the nine Children’s Laureates talk about their work (fascinating, and including an audience participation rap in Welsh by Aneirin Karadog, Y Bardd Plant Cymru), the last appointment of the day was back at the Hachette stand with Megan Larkin, Publishing Director of Orchard Books. Lauren Child’s CHARLIE AND LOLA series has been one of Orchard’s great successes – and ONE THING, the first C and L book for five years has the adorable duo tackling numbers and numeracy. I was lucky enough to bag an exclusive interview with Lauren Child at the Fair, and talked to her at length about the joy of numbers. You can read that interview here. [Insert link] Larkin was also keen to show me roughs of Fabi Santiago‘s debut picture book, TIGER IN A TUTU, which she says she bought on the strength of ‘one picture of a boy tiger on top of the Eiffel Tower’. Think Billy Elliott as a travelling dancing tiger – there’s a tiny flavour of Ludwig Bemelman’s MADELINE in the backgrounds, but the art is unique and entirely charming. Another picture book debut – SUPER STAN comes from Matt Robertson – a clever take on the ‘overshadowed sibling’ theme, with a great twist at the end. On the upper middle-grade end of things, New York Times bestselling author Chris D’Lacey is back in dragon territory with THE ERTH DRAGONS (WEARLE BOOK 1), which will be published by Scholastic in the US, and here in October. It sounds amazing.
Tuesday night brought more parties – the Irish always have whisky on hand, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on how much you consume. I chatted to Illustrators Ireland representative Margaret Ann Suggs, who had the idea for the fabulous showcards on the stand. Ireland is having a good publishing year, with author Louise O’Neill just having won the inaugural YA Book Prize for ONLY EVER YOURS. There’s also a fantastic new Irish monthly Twitter chat about all things YA, under the hashtag #YAie. Next up was a trip back to the Barrington Stoke party for prosecco, chat and more nibbly bits, before heading off to the depths of San Stefano for some delicious antipasti and a chat with my third US agent, Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown. Ginger alerted me to a fabulous sounding historical thriller coming from Macmillan in spring 2016. THE GIRL IN THE BLUE COAT by Washington Post reporter Monica Hesse, which she sold to Venetia Gosling pre-Frankfurt. With eight foreign deals so far, and an exciting-sounding plot set in 1943 Amsterdam revolving around a black market smuggler who has to find a Jewish runaway before the Nazis do, I think this one might go places. I’ll certainly be on the lookout for it.
Having stowed the luggage, it was off for the last day at the Fair, and a final trip to the Hachette stand to meet Fiona Kennedy, Publishing Director of Orion Children’s Books. Kennedy tells me that there is continuing interest in Liz Kessler‘s READ ME LIKE A BOOK, her first older YA novel about divorce, teen relationships and coming out, which will be published by Candlewick Press in the USA. I’ve read a proof already, and can confirm that it grips from the very first page. Phil Earle‘s DEMOLITION DAD is also proving popular, with both UK supermarkets and WH Smith taking it into stores. The main Fair news for Orion, though was that film rights to Lauren St John‘s book THE GLORY have been sold to Simon Brooks at Canyon Creek. Kennedy says they were ‘snapped up in an instant’ from St John’s agent, Catherine Clarke. The other very big deal is a partnership with the Born Free foundation, Virginia McKenna (actress from the original film) and Sara Starbuck to publish three real life animal rescue stories in June.
I have to confess to a personal interest when I mention newly created agency SHA, as Sophie Hicks, its founder, is my own agent. The extremely well-respected Hicks worked for the Ed Victor agency for twenty-five years, latterly as their Managing Director, and went solo last year. She tells me that being her own boss for the first time at Bologna is ‘brilliant – almost like starting again, but without the fear of the unknown.’ She also says that there has been a lot of goodwill, encouragement, and that people are generally very interested in what she has to offer (I’m not surprised – she’s great, and all her authors, including Eoin Colfer, chose to move with her). The just-published Sarah Bannan‘s WEIGHTLESS (Bloomsbury) has already sold to German and Hungarian publishers, and there’s also a lot of excitement around Emerald Fennell‘s (of Call the Midwife) YA novel, MONSTERS, which Hicks describes as ‘THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME meets THE SHINING’. Coming from Hot Key in September and set in the ever-popular Cornwall, it is a book ‘about two twelve year-olds that is definitely not for kids’.
Another ‘new kid on the block’ is Otter Barry Books, recently founded by Janetta Otter-Barry, previously of Frances Lincoln, and another well-known and well-respected face in the children’s books arena. The company won’t be publishing anything till mid next year, but there are some interesting things already on the cards. KANGAROO KISSES, a debut from acclaimed Indian film actress and UNICEF ambassador, Nandana Sen, illustrated by Pippa Curnick, looks a perfect book for procrastinating children who are unwilling to go to bed. There’s also DREAMER, a painterly and poetic book from Brian Moses and Bee Willey, which has an utterly beautiful text and an important ecological message.
My Fair wouldn’t be complete without a meeting with John McLay, who now scouts likely books only for UK publishers – as he puts it ‘flying the flag for Britain’. McLay always has a finger on the pulse of publishing, and gives the best overviews of the industry of anyone I know. This year, he’s noticed a ‘plethora of authors’ visiting the Fair, mostly publisher-funded. Could this be an indication of a recovering economy? Or is it just a fact of life that authors need to make themselves available for these kinds of events? Illustrators, of course, are ever present at Bologna, and even more so this year, with at least double the amount of ‘illustrator walls’ to showcase their work, and many publishers holding ‘open hours’ without appointments to trawl for new illustrative talent. I asked McLay what he thinks of the growing UKYA phenomenon. Does it yet provide a challenge to the overwhelming firepower of the US YA trend? Maybe not yet – but as McLay comments: ‘the more we read and prioritise UK authors, the more buzz we will create around UKYA.’ He is certainly doing his bit, saying that he is reading a great many submissions and seeing a lot of books very early from UK agents. This can only be a good thing. As for those trends – ‘there are still a lot of witches for young and old, realistic is still big, as is romance.’ But where that romance is set is key – he’s seen everything from Spain to space. Historical only works if it’s exceptional, and as always, ‘fantasy is ever present.’
The final meeting of the day was with agents Catherine Clarke and Amy Waite of Felicity Bryan. They were definitely having a good Fair, with Waite having bagged her first big deal with a tightly-contested auction for author Irena Brignull’s YA debut, THE BRIARWOOD PROPHECY, won by Orchard Books in the UK and Weinstein Books in the US. There are also deals with Holland, Germany and France for this ‘modern fairytale’ about a witch and mortal girl swapped at birth. As well as strong interest for new novels from UKYA success stories Jenny Downham, Clare Furniss, and Annabel Pitcher, Clarke has a new potential star on the books with a debut YA from Bath Spa MA graduate and director of a marine conservation charity Christopher Vick. Titled KOOK (meaning a rookie surfer), it has sold to Harper Collins in the UK and Clarke tells me there is already ‘strong interest’ from Holland and the USA. Since I have immense faith (proven over many Bolognas) in Clarke’s ability to spot a winner, this tale of hardcore Cornish surfers will be one to watch for in 2016.
So, another Bologna is over, and the halls are empty of children’s books till next year. What struck me this time was the amount of beautiful illustrated books we will NOT see here in the UK. There is so much talent around, especially in Eastern Europe and it makes me sad that (with very few exceptions) we generally only manage to know about and see titles from our own sector of the market. It’s a humbling experience for an author, visiting Bologna – but I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Viva children’s books and roll on 2016!
Lucy Coats’s YA novel Cleo is published on 7th May 2015.
Read Lucy’s exclusive interviews with children’s authors: with Malorie Blackman in the Children’s Publishing issue of Publishing Talk Magazine; and with Lauren Child at this year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair on this blog.