Monday, 12th April 2010: Having returned my hire car to Avis on top of a multi-level carpark in Manchester, UK, I caught my flight to Serbia, flying via Zurich. I had hardly landed when my phone rang and my nephew, Stephen Earle was telling me where to meet up with him. Getting through Immigration was a doddle and soon we were heading north to the city of Novi Sad.
The road was badly potholed, so Stephen had to swerve continually to avoid them. We stopped for an hour at a roadside bar for my first Serbian beer and my first Serbian word: Juvilee! (sp?) Cheers!
Stephen had settled in Serbia after finding the right timber there and cost-effective labour that he needed for his proposed window factory. Having worked to install windows with his uncle in the UK, he realised there was a market to fill in making the wooden windows and doors. The Serbian girl he met in London became his translator, and then his wife. I liked Jelena instantly, an intelligent woman with a good sense of humour who made me welcome in their little flat attached to the factory in the little village of Beocin on the bank of the Danube River. The following day we drove to another village on the river, where they had had their wedding reception, then to the Novi Sad Castle, an ancient bastion overlooking the river, where we had a traditional Serbian pork dish for dinner.
There was still the drab block-like architecture of the Soviet type everywhere, giving the country a depressing feel, but all very eye-opening for me.
Flying back to Heathrow on the Wednesday was fortunate as it was the day before Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland erupted and the subsequent ash cloud shut down Europe’s airspace for days. Again, I was welcomed to stay with my friend Brian Nicholson in Reading.
The ash cloud prevented a lot of exhibitors from flying in to be at the London Book Fair, which Brian and I trained to Earl’s Court to attend on Monday, 19th April. £40-00 may not have been a lot of money for the entrance for Brits, but it dented my Rand budget a bit. That year’s country of focus was my own South Africa, but here again the exhibitors were scarce. The books on display were there, having arrived well beforehand.
Our thriller writer Deon Meyer had been expected, but there was a bearded friend of his trying to stand in for him. A lot of stalls were simply empty.
A book fair is more about the publishers showing their wares, making deals, getting rights and so on, rather than for illustrators and authors. New sign-ups are as scarce as hen’s teeth.
Orion publishing director Jon Wood, said he believed the money was still there for established authors. “People who’ve got brands are desperately trying to hold on to them, and money is going up for the right author,” he said. “It’s the decisions at the bottom of the market, when you’re thinking ‘shall I bid or not’, where people are being very cautious. You’ve got to feel very passionate to buy. It’s risky because you can’t get books into shops without massive promotion budgets – and if you don’t get the promotion, you don’t sell the books.”