My Bologna Book Fair Diary 2018

Monday morning started early! As I boarded the train for Bologna, coffee in hand, I was excited to finally be heading to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, a mecca for illustrators and book lovers alike. My illustrator friend, Fiona Halliday (SCBWI Austria/Germany) and I had been talking of this for months!

After joining the queues of people entering the Fiere, we headed for the Bologna Illustrators’ Exhibition. The 77 chosen finalists’ work was showcased in rows of glass cabinets for everyone to enjoy and will be published in the 2018 Bologna Illustrators Annual to be shared across the publishing world— what great exposure!

Next were the illustrator walls! WOW! Business cards, flyers, and postcards of fabulous art adorned walls and doorframes everywhere! The walls oozed creativity, and so much talent! There was even one creative attracting lots of attention by wearing a hat dangling with business cards.

There were six halls to visit so comfy shoes were a must! Dotted through the fair were workshop spaces like the Illustrators Survival Corner, Illustrators Café, Authors Café, and Translators Café as well as approximately 1,300 exhibitors and 26,000 visitors! The Guest of Honour country this year was China, so there were displays, exhibitions, and stands promoting China’s publishing houses.

Fabulous books were everywhere and in every language! Publishers raced from one meeting to another and illustrators queued patiently to share their portfolios and new projects with potential publishing houses. A great tip for illustrators and authors is to sign up for meetings in advance, wherever possible. Some publishing houses required artists interested in reviews to connect with them a few weeks prior to the fair, but they had to act quickly as time slots filled fast. Other publishers had open sessions that were advertised on the day and the queues were long. For those whose timetables clashed, many stands had business card drop-off boxes.

I was delighted to meet with my US/Canadian publishers. It was great to connect faces to the people I had been emailing for many months, and begin to build more personal relationships. I also had the opportunity to meet with Suzie Mason, the illustrator of my board books Little Tiger and Little Panda, which will be released by Amicus Ink in spring, 2019.

photo 2 (2)(Suzie Mason and Julie at the Amicus stand)

The SCBWI booth was a welcome hub, and friendly faces greeted EVERYONE! The Duelling Illustrators competition took place here, as did some portfolio reviews and of course the BIG (Bologna Illustrators Gallery), in which one of my agency sisters was a finalist. Congratulations Cheryl Pilgrim!

But I mustn’t forget my ‘fangirl’ moment . . . the Drawing Masterclass with former Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell! He talked with great humour while drawing pictures on an overhead screen to a mesmerized crowd. He shared his books, his love of music, and the importance of daily sketch diaries—and he gave me an idea! I had an empty notebook with me, so I hung around afterwards and asked if he would like to be my first doodle. He willingly obliged and honoured me with his trademark mouse in a raincoat and my Doodle Diary was born . . . and what a great birthplace! There were super-friendly illustrators EVERYWHERE! I met them in queues, on crowded public transport, in restaurants, and on the stands—so watch out SCWBI illustrators . . . next time I see you I will surely have my Doodle Diary with me!

(Special Thanks to Chris Riddell, Roberto Innocenti and Elizabeth Dulemba for their doodles).

It was wonderful to see that children’s book publishing is thriving. Fiona and I spent two fabulous days at the fair. It was inspiring and exhausting, but we would definitely go again—and next time we’ll make sure we are there on the last day to take home a whole pile of books!

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