It was finally time, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2023 had arrived, and I was going! I had all of my materials ready: portfolio, posters, small business cards and posters.
Oh, and one of my doll characters to show, and my knitting. One should never go anywhere without wool!
My suitcase was packed, my train tickets and accommodation booked. I had been contacting publishers, agents and portfolio reviewers before the fair and already had a few meetings lined up. Even more exciting was the number of friends and colleagues I was planning to catch up with over the few days I would be there. I felt organised and ready to tackle anything. I would meet everyone, photograph everything, sketch constantly, eat wonderful food, and come away laden with new contracts. The fair had already begun on the Monday and I was arriving first on the Tuesday, but I was sure it would make no difference if I missed the first day. Everything would be fine. High expectations? Perhaps…
My train left Trieste at 4:20 a.m. It was so early the station was even locked when I arrived! I had an entire carriage to myself so I got out my sketchbook to record the journey. It was pretty hard as there was nobody to draw and outside was completely dark except for the occasional light from a ship on the sea, or a lamp at a station platform. The rolling mist as we passed through the plains was very atmospheric in the early dawn.
Despite my enthusiasm, this was the first and last time I sketched on my trip to Bologna. I also barely took any photos. As it turned out, there was far too much else to do!
Bologna is a beautiful place to arrive early in the morning after a long train journey; open squares, intriguing alleyways, cafes, food markets, and plenty of good book shops. I marched my suitcase straight past these delights to get to the fair just as the doors opened on the second day.
The illustrators wall was the first experience of overwhelm for me and the first thing you come to after entering the fair. Here are a select few of the amazing illustrators whose work caught my eye there.
Andi Lovely has beautiful, dynamic work and a really great website
Michela De Spagnolis works with printed textures and gorgeous colour palettes. She makes her own sketchbooks like I do, but has a few gorgeous examples for sale.
Claudine Crangle works with a similar makerly approach to mine and I was so excited to see her work up on the wall that I arranged a space next to it to add mine. Even better, since her work was up at the fair then Claudine was possibly at the fair too… and she was! We had a chat in the sunshine outside and found we had so much to talk about. A made a new illustrator friend way from over the other side of the world!
The illustrators wall was endlessly inspiring; so much creative and varied work, it was exciting to find a corner to add my own poster and business cards alongside others. But here was another downside of arriving first on the Tuesday; the wall was SO full already, the prime spots were all gone and I had to squish in around the edges.
Exhibitions. There are really many many exhibitions at the book fair, and my favourite was the work of Suzy Lee. Beautifully expressive ink drawing mixed with collage and line to create heart-felt and immaginative images full of movement. These two pieces stood out for me as both are connected to music; another part of my creative makeup.
Talks! There are so many interesting talks that I couldn’t fit everything in! I listened to an inspiring talk about an annual competition for book illustration here in Italy, set up in memory of Livio Sossi, an illustration and children’s literature scholar from Trieste. The deadline is too close for me to apply this year, but maybe in the future… take a look all you illustrators out there: Premio Livio Sossi
People. Yes, I really met loads and loads of wonderful people. And I’m afraid I didn’t take photos of any of them! Here are two SCBWI friends and colleagues who took photos of us both and kindly sent them on to me; Peter Crawford author of the fabulous Professor Pea biology stories, here admiring the gorgeous textile work of Martin Smatana and illustrator Paul Morton of Hot Frog graphics and the Bug Belly stories. SCBWI had a great evening party in the lovely bookshop Libreria Trame where met other SCBWI members and industry professionals, and I rather inelegantly translated and read the beautiful Tutto in Una Noce for Paul. It’s a very moving story and was quite a challenge to read out loud!
Portfolio Reviews. Oh so much time passed waiting for portfolio reviews, and I would do it all again in an instant! Responses to my work included: “beautiful, but it’s not right for us”; “I like this illustration, could you do more this way?”; “I think you haven’t mastered these materials at all. Have you considered working digitally?” (yes, I really appreciated that comment); “I really love this, here’s my personal contact please send me these as PDFs.” You have to take the rough with the smooth! These illustrations from my portfolio gained the most interest, plus a picture book dummy that I’m keeping under wraps for the time being.
Some portfolio reviews are organised in advance of the fair but many are drop-in over an hour or two, and you just turn up (early) and queue. I met many really friendly and supportive illustrators in those queues. We shared work and business cards, swapped experiences and hopes, celebrated and consoled each other afterwards, and kept in touch beyond the fair. Here are just some of those lovely people:
The publisher stands are utterly overwhelming. There are so, so many and the books and games are just so gorgeous and inspiring. I came away with a big stack of business cards and catalogues, but these are some I also photographed.
Ludattica make gorgeous educational games with an environmental theme that resonated with me both fore their ethics and for their educational possibilities (I was once an early years teacher and still subconsciously look for the teaching potential in resources). Marie-Noëlle Horvath‘s stunning flower books caught my eye for the textile collage illustrations. I would love to make a book like these!
Baek Heena makes stunning illustrations by photographing 3D model characters in settings, all of which she builds herself. I was really hoping to buy a copy of this book on the Korean publishing stand but sadly they were not for sale. I think many people had asked as they put up a big handwritten sign; ‘books display only!’
More lovely textile collage and needle-felted work by Laura Bortignon, this copy made it home with me!
Another beauty from the Korean publishing stand by Hyunjoo Song. I think. Sadly I can’t find a link to offer you for this book, it may be my inept attempt at translation.
More 3D photographed images, again from Korea. This one by Lee Yeon-sil and Kim Hyan-soo. Please forgive my lack of Korean!
The children’s bookshop Libreria Giannino Stoppani is in the centre of Bologna, right in the base of a huge tower, and it is an absolute trove.
I completely loved the sliding book cases in the book shop; it was like revealing hidden treasure!
These are all the photos I took! That’s it!
The three days at the fair were wonderful and inspiring and exhausting and completely overwhelming. I stood in so many queues; for portfolio reviews, events, toilets and food. I met people all day long, more people than I thought possible, and still there were a couple I’d hoped to catch and didn’t manage. Obviously I didn’t come home laden with contracts (!) but I did make many new contacts with publishers, agents, colleagues and new friends and I have much exciting follow up to do full of new possibilities. Thank you for a great few days BCBF, I really hope to be back again next year!
For a really great summary of the fair, and a short interview with me amongst others, please do watch this wonderful video about the Bologna Children’s Book Fair made for SCBWI BI Words and Pictures by Tita Berredo, Gary Fabbri and Paul Morton.