Today I attended my first London Book Fair. It often happens that a much anticipated event that has loomed large in one's imagination for some time disappoints. The Book Fair did not disappoint, exactly. I was not expecting a queue of agents waiting to sign me up at the door. Nor did I expect to sell my next book. And no, I could not spy any visible press coverage. Although I did see two old blokes chatting next to a cam corder - look out You-Tube...
But a decent coffee would have been something, given I am back on instant after yet another cracking Bodum experience. A decent coffee in an emporium that large (think of the show-bag pavilion at the Brisbane Ekka - "Exhibition" - circa 1982 and you will comprehend the scale of this event) is not asking too much, is it? I did score a free pen, stale shortbread biscuit, holder for my travel card (thanks to Lexis Nexis for that!) and an orange cream Roses chocolate (possibly the high-point). I learnt that the Fair ("LBF) is largely about publicity and publishing, rights and distribution and various other intellectual property concepts that can be monetised by the players in the Book industry. And there were, admittedly, a variety of interesting workshops and discussions for authors, e-publishers and illustrators, largely scheduled for after 3pm (most book trade people evidently not being charged with school pick up duty).
So yes, the LBF was worth attending.
However, wandering through the hall pretending to no one at all that I knew where to go, I felt, as I often do, like an extra in the film of someone else's life. Or a nameless face in the crowd in a book with no title. Usually, I do have some clue as to who the film or book is about (admittedly mostly me, but sometimes Mr Springgirl, a larger than life friend, one of the Off-Spring), but today, and I dare say at any industry show or convention on this sort of scale, I could not discern just what the story was. Perhaps this is a metaphor for how we all move through our lives. If the story is ours or that of a person or place we know or care about then the action can unfold as it will. But to pick up a book and begin half way through and have no idea what is going on? There we struggle.
If this metaphor is not working for you, imagine weird three walled rooms full of books as the backdrop to dozens of speed dating couples in deep conversation and you will get an idea of the atmosphere at the LBF.
Bewildering. It is reminiscent of returning to work after maternity leave. No one is going to throw one out, but...
The task for me now, given my intent to market my book/s, to appear winning and charming and to win readers and clients over on the strength of a 2 minute impression, is to manage this in a mindful fashion. I am at heart a mindful person. I negotiate most interactions in a present and mindful way. For example, I am aware in the moment that I have no idea what is going on at an event. I am aware during a conversation that my audience has switched off, or that I, the audience, may have done so. I am aware while being ignored by an acquaintance in the street that I am being ignored by an acquaintance in the street, I watch myself acquiesce to that and I am aware of any (not much) emotional response to the episode.
Are we all like this?
Admittedly, I am a slow burn sort of character. The film of the book of my life will probably be a long drawn out affair - going straight to tv and run over several nights during the football off-season, over five or six years...
So yes, while in many regards I am a self starter, full of boundless energy, when it come to small talk and networking I never really enter the room to begin with. Sure, I can do the dinner party chit chat with strangers, the gossip with the mums at the tennis court (under duress), and the lunch table at the work conference. Those are fine - the implied welcome, the shared purpose, help break the ice. I can chat to my neighbour on a plane, though hopefully only for a few minutes every hour. I can chew the fat at the water cooler, if push comes to shove. But walking into a room full of strangers and starting a conversation is just not my strong suit. Classic self limiting behaviour and as a perceptive lawyer turned coach I am the first to "own" it.
And from where does this come? Having thought long and hard about it, it seems that I cannot think of a single thing worth saying. This is the real issue.
It is not a lack of confidence - though a better hairstyle might help. No, it is a sense of futility; a feeling that it has all been said before. We know too much now. Virtually everything ever written can be accessed in our living rooms. I am overwhelmed, indeed awestruck at the extent of human knowledge and understanding. A brief perusal of Wikipedia alone can leave me speechless.
And so cast adrift in this ocean of information and connectivity and activity, I flail about looking for something to cling to; a mast to pin my colours to, a rock or a safe harbour, while I search for the gossamer thread of originality and optimism and oomph.
There are plenty of buoys, plenty of sharks, shoal upon shoal of fish.... But where are the floral sails, the gingham surfboards, the silver crested waves that will bring us home to shore?
So where was I...
Oh yes - the to do list:
new haircut (new shoes while I am at it)
list of small talk topics
subscription to Hello, Spectator, Private Eye and Sky HD