Most town and cities in Spain hold some kind of book fair, but in Madrid it's a very special annual open-air event that attracts visitors from all over the country. What's more, the venue is terrific: the Retiro park, a gorgeous focal point in the centre of the city.
All along the wide avenues of the park, Spain's publishers - both indie and mainstream - set up their stalls. Every genre imaginable seems to have a niche, and kids are a key focus. Moreover, the fair has a dual role - there's a significant trade element, but direct sales to the general public are its driving force. Publishers reach out to readers: dozens of authors can be seen signing books and giving readings on a daily basis, all alongside classical music concerts and children's shows, etc.
And what about our own visit last Sunday? First of all, it was extremely hot! However, that didn't stop the crowds: thousands of people, especially families, had headed for the fair. There was a terrific atmosphere and my son had a great time choosing his books. He was so excited he even devoured one alongside his calamari at lunch. That's a great example of how this type of event can hook new readers. As for myself, I was lucky enough to meet Luis García Montero for the first time and even manage a brief chat!
Could we develop a similar event in the U.K.? Huge commitment would be required from the publishing world, but a legacy would be guaranteed. It was incredible to see so many people simply enjoying books last Sunday!
This is the fourth in the series of reviews I have been posting over the summer months of the 5 collections chosen for the 2017 Forward Prizes Felix Dennis...