8th October 2004

On Friday the eighth of October, I was sitting on my father & mother’s bed talking with them about our book and publishers.  I mentioned the Frankfurt Book fair, and my father told me a little about it.  My brother had suggested that it would be better to go once I was already published, and not go to seek out publishers.  My father said that actually it could be a good way of getting questions answered and receiving advice.

‘It’s on now, though,’ I said, ‘apparently.’

‘Why don’t you run upstairs and find out then?’ said my father.  ‘Quickly do an internet search.  If it is on at present, then we’ll have to act fast.  We need a synopsis, and some copies of the manuscript.’

I went to check and found out that the book fair was indeed underway and would continue for the next couple of days.  It had started on the 6th but was open to normal visitors on the 9th and 10th.

‘So, would you like to go?’ My father asked.

It sounded like another fool’s errand to me, and I automatically cast my mind back to memories of boarding a flight to Sofia, Bulgaria, alone, with a pounding heart, in the hope of being cast in a film last February. (Which resulted in my article appearing in The Wall Street Journal, but was otherwise a grim failure.)

After agreeing that it would be worth the trip, my father and I planned to leave the next morning. It was already approaching midnight and, after checking the timetable, I found that we had to catch the 05.59 train, the earliest to Frankfurt.

Late into the night I worked like a little hermit and had soon written a synopsis and cover letter, as well as making some quick corrections to the Bryn Bellyset manuscript.  We decided not to take the entire book with us but only the prologue and first chapter.  My mother printed out everything four times, as I had four main publishers in my sights: Macmillan, Hodder Headline, Doubleday Juvenile (Random House) and Bloomsbury.

By the time we got to bed, it was half past two in the morning.

Saturday 9th October 2004

Nearly three hours later, it was twenty past five and my father was coming up the stairs calling ‘we have to get ready, come on.’

I was surprised at the time, as I had put my alarm clock for quarter to five.  At once I sprung out of bed and into the shower.  Although time was short, I felt this shower was necessary to wake me up and I then jumped into some fairly smart clothes.

Suddenly it was ten to six; our train was going to leave in nine minutes – with or without us!  I quickly saved the whole of Legacy (as it was then known – now Conspiracy of Calaspia) onto a floppy disk, and ran downstairs to my father’s calls.  Why are we always so rushed?

‘Get a suitcase too.’  He tried to explain what he meant but I only started panicking. What kind of suitcase?  He motioned indecipherably.

‘Oh, you mean one you can pull …’ Yes, he did.  So I ran upstairs, got it, and returned to the ground floor.  We threw our things inside and headed for the car.  Originally we had planned to walk to the station but as it was so late we were going to have to drive if we wanted to make that train.  We would just have to ring my mother later to tell her to collect the car.

We arrived at the Bahnhof and my father parked the car.  It was all a mad rush – I bought the tickets, we grabbed the bags and ran.  The train had just pulled in and we ran up the slope to get to Platform 2.  So, we did manage to get the train.  We sat down in relieved silence.  Suddenly my father got up and started searching his pockets and our bags.  His wallet was missing.

‘We’ll have to turn back,’ he said after we had looked through everything several times.  We got out at the next station, Frauenfeld, and waited in a rubbish-strewn shelter on the platform (Switzerland isn’t what it used to be).  06.36 came, but the train to Weinfelden did not.  So we had to wait until 06.48, when we got the train at last.  It was a small miracle we weren’t checked on the way to Frauenfeld and back, but that day we were going to experience many more.

We were overjoyed to find my father’s evasive wallet sitting innocently in the car.  We had no chance of catching the next train since it had left while we were ringing our hands in Frauenfeld.  So we returned home – at least my mother wouldn’t have to pick up the car.  We searched the internet for information on the book fair which my father printed out and we checked for the next train to Frankfurt.  Before we knew what was happening, time had flown and we had to start walking down to the station.

We caught the train on Platform 4, going to Kreuzlingen first and then on to Konstanz, Offenburg, Frankfurt.  Ten minutes into the journey my father asked whether I had my passport … I did not.

We decided against turning back then, we would try our luck with my expired train pass from last year and with my fluent Swiss German, which swings the balance when talking to Swiss guards.  I could give them Waldi and Beni’s home numbers off by heart, and they, as respectable Swiss bankers and church organ players, could say that I certainly wasn’t a terrorist, and if I was, then a lousy one.  But this would only be helpful on returning to Switzerland.  We had to storm the German Zoll (Border) yet.

But as we arrived at Konstanz Bahnhof, the man just looked at us and didn’t ask for our papers.  I certainly felt like a culprit, and must have looked one, pale faced and jittery.  I was surprised to find ourselves already in Germany.  The next stop was Offenburg, which I had been to for Teenstreet in 2003.  We wandered the city for ten minutes before boarding the train to Frankfurt.

The journey took many hours.  On the way we talked, looked out of the window and read.  My father went over the synopsis, making lots of corrections, and said that we shouldn’t give it to publishers because it wasn’t good enough yet.  I hadn’t expected it to be of amazing quality, because it was done at an ungodly hour of the night.

We finally arrived at Frankfurt main station and set out in the direction of the “Messeturm“.  On the way we saw many people returning from the book fair.  We continued to the halls with big appetites and eagerness.

Massive; there is no other word to describe the book fair at first glance.  I have been to bigger events before, but for a book fair ….

We bought tickets—mine was 3.50, my father’s 9 Euros —and proceeded via bus to another hall.  Our bags were scanned for unwished items, like at the airport, and then we marched on to an escalator.  We got to Hall 5 where we dumped my father’s bag and jacket.

In the first few halls we found only international foreign publishers.  Then we got to the Agents’ area.  We climbed escalators and waited outside some doors.  A lady came out and started going down the escalators. I saw that she had a Bertelsmann bag and told my father that the company owned Random House Inc.

I ran after her and asked her if she was a publisher or agent.  She spoke German, and wasn’t anyone other than a tourist.

Our next endeavour took us to the International Publishers section in Hall 8.  On the way we passed through many French language publishers.  While walking along a corridor I suddenly noticed the front cover of Eragon, and stopped at the stand.  I told my father that this was the other young author from the US.  The front cover wasn’t on the book itself but a kind of preview.  There were two ladies eating lunch from plastic containers with plastic forks, and my father soon spoke to them about me and our book.  The lady sounded interested and asked whether we had a UK or US publisher yet.  We said no but that we could send her the manuscript.  She gave us her business card and we found out they were from “Bayard Jeunesse”; she was an editor, called Isabelle Bezard.

Finally we got to Hall 8 and found the English language publishers.  This was the biggest hall we had seen so far.

“This place is like a jungle, isn’t it?” I mused as we wandered to and fro, seeking out our next victim to approach regarding Bryn.

I was supposed to do the talking but was relieved when my father did.  I smiled shyly and tried not to look too pleased with myself when he talked about my publications and the employee looked impressed.

Well, not all of them looked impressed.  Many of them seemed to wear masks that bore a single, unwavering expression.  Pity, perchance?   “Yet another wannabe”?  Perhaps.  Especially at Random House the lady seemed too understanding for authenticity.  It looked as though my dad was telling her I had some incurable disease, and she was nodding sympathetically and suggesting various treatments and doctors.  She was, in fact, giving us the details of people working in various areas of Random House, such as Del Rey, the sci-fi / fantasy imprint.

However, I knew that Random House would only look at material submitted via an agent.  Why didn’t the lady say so at once, before handing us the names of editors?  Surely, if we had an agent, they would know where to send the manuscript …

At the end of the day we had several contacts, the most promising of which seemed to be Alexandra Pringle, the editor-in-chief of Bloomsbury, who we met personally as she was about to leave the stall. (28.2.07: At the time of posting this, I have just been at a literary festival and spoke on the same panel as her.)

Unpublished author travels to Frankfurt to attend the world’s biggest book fair

I was rather naïve, ignorant, idealistic, whatever. But it was fun.

Kind of. Oh, go on, then: yes.