The first thing I saw on arriving at Frankfurt Book Fair was a woman in a skirt suit holding a bag of unbound proofs, bending to swap stilettos for luminous green trainers before rising – a look of intense, Olympian determination on her face – and sprinting off around the corner. Just as she reached the tram her bag fell off her arm and papers scattered up into the rain, landing smudgily in puddles, but she didn’t even stop. I like to think she arrived at her meeting just in time to snap up international rights to the Next Big Thing, proof pages be dammed.
Through glass doors into the hall, I ventured out of the rain into a space where the air hummed: caffeine was being inhaled on escalators while Reservoir-Dog-type cliques of publishers marched down echoing airport-style hallways clutching spreadsheets and editors jogged the bookish assault course of the fair. I’d imagined some whimsical Emerald City or Disney Land of books and wasn’t disappointed – giant book covers, enormous shelves of novels reaching up the ceiling, a Tolkien-inspired waterscape in the New Zealand pavilion – but almost more interesting was the sense of the cogs moving the clock hands, deals being made, the mechanics of the international book world setting stories in motion.
I was a voyeur in the nuts-and-bolts of book selling, there to celebrate the sixtieth birthday of my German publisher, Diogenes. I spent the afternoon at the fair eavesdropping on agents gossiping about who was drunker last night, watched roomfuls of publishers and reps holding meetings, heads bowed over spreadsheets and galleys, pens bobbing, arguments erupting. Then all the earnest meetings stopped for the party on Friday night, when a six hundred strong crowd of booksellers, publishers and authors turned up to celebrate.
As the Diogenes Owl logo bopped away in lights on the walls of the club, I met booksellers who worked in Vienna and Dusseldorf and everywhere in between. In a small bar above the dance floor they set up a mini-library so while the party thumped on and the lights spun downstairs, up in story-heaven everyone could lounge over booze and books, deciding which novels to take home with them. If all clubs promised libraries in their chill-out rooms I’d go out dancing way more often.
Rumor has it that Diogenes danced on until sunrise and wore sunglasses to the fair the next day, but I stumbled out at three in the morning, bending to swap my stilettos for trainers in the rain.
P.S. Pink Hotel has been getting press in Germany. There was an interview in Die Welt, and in Süddeutsche Zeitung’s online magazine, Jetzt.com. It’s been reviewed in Cosmo, Brigitte, Die Rheinpfalz, Welt Express, and by Christine Westermann on German TV. Liberatingly, I have no idea what any of them say….