It’s now been a year since I finished the wonderful MA course at Cambridge school of art. And what a year it’s been. It’s not been quite the year any of us had in mind.
After handing in my final projects for my MA in late December I enjoyed my first glorious work free Christmas in years. After which, I began to prepare for both our final exhibition in London in February, and the long anticipated Bologna book fair, set to go ahead in April 2020.
This was to be our year on the CSA Bologna stand. Where publishers and agents would flick through the portfolios of recently graduated students, and browse the dummy books at leisure from the shelves on the stand. They would meet with staff representatives and often recruit fresh illustrators from their midst. My dummy books were made, marketing material produced, my portfolio prepared, flights and accommodation were booked.
However, 2020 had other plans, and as the Covid 19 pandemic took hold around the world, starting in China and then Italy, the gravity of the situation became clearer. The book fair was rescheduled, and subsequently cancelled as a physical event as the world began to close its borders and grapple with the devastating effects of the virus.
Events and meetings were moved online; and while it was lovely to be able to watch the events and discussions from home, via YouTube and Zoom, it was no substitute for being there in person.
Luckily for me, as a part time student, I’d had the opportunity to take part in the stand the previous year. In 2019, I’d been one of a handful of second year students who had work on the stand, and it was a brilliant experience. I’d been treating it like a dry run for 2020, but it turned out to be a gamble that paid off.
In the run up to Bologna 2019, I’d really struggled to juggle the preparations for the fair with the ongoing coursework, while also keeping up with my freelance client work. We had been warned that as current students it would be difficult, but having decided it was probably worth the risk. I managed to just about pull it off, redesigning the covers of one of my books at the last minute, and producing 3 dummies each of my previous two projects, ‘Curious Creatures’ and my ‘West Runton Mammoth’ graphic novel.
When April came, myself and two friends set off for Bologna, planning to meet our course mates out there. We went armed with our portfolios and a selection of promo material to give out at the fair. We had no idea what to expect, having read various blog posts and hearing many words of warning we were a little apprehensive.
However, when we got there there we had a wonderful time! The book fair was MASSIVE as we’d been warned, but to me, it felt like a hybrid between a trade fair and a festival. Aside from all the trade stands and business meetings there was a real festival atmosphere, with hundreds of talks, exhibitions and events to attend, all centered around the children’s book industry.
Amongst the crowds we managed to continue to bump into friends and people we knew and were introduced to more people.
Areas of the fair were set up specifically for illustrators, with the ‘Illustrators survival corner’ hosting events, talks, discussions and portfolio reviews by agents and industry bodies such as the AOI. The illustrators exhibition was incredibly inspiring and it was wonderful to see such a wide variety of stunning illustration work up close.
We attended talks from world renowned illustrators, picked up lots of industry tips from agents, publishers and the AOI, went to some panel discussions, heard talks organised by our CSA tutors, had our portfolios reviewed by well known illustrators and the MD of Nobrow had a look at our work too.
Bologna as a city was beautiful. I’ve never been to Italy, so had no idea what to expect. But we completely fell for its medieval charm, incredible bookshops and wonderful restaurants.
We returned from Bologna invigorated, with a newfound passion and enthusiasm for the industry that we already loved. We’d finally scoped out the fair and were very much looking forward to returning in 2020, with a plan of action to make the most of having the worlds publishers in one place.
While the global situation is still being brought under control, I imagine it will be a while now before we can return and fulfil our modest goals of world domination. We’ve all revised our short term plans for the meantime, and hope that one day soon we can fly out to Italy, worry free and loiter about in crowds again geeking out about kids books.