Jacks Thomas: A Few Words With London Book Fair’s Director

In Feature Articles by Mark Piesing

‘My personal highlight will be meeting the amazing Judith Kerr,’ Jacks Thomas tells us in a pre-London Book Fair chat. She’s readying, again, ‘a global platform’ for the books industry.
London Book Fair opens Tuesday at Olympia London's Grand Hall, having returned there from Earls Court last year.

London Book Fair opens Tuesday at Olympia London’s Grand Hall, having returned there from Earls Court last year. Image courtesy London Book Fair

No one juggles a trickier combination of behind-the-scenes decision-making and public hosting duties than the director of one of the major publishing trade shows. With a background that includes roles with the BBC, Simon & Schuster, Reader’s Digest, and Midas Public Relations, Jacks Thomas is familiar with all the key publishing and media players of her realm, and always manages a smile for each, even as London Book Fair rolls through its long week. You’ll see her mention a change of dates for next year: that’s 14-16, 2017. And she tells our Mark Piesing she can’t wait to read some of the 2016 Shakespearience authors’ work “when the Fair is over”: Light at the end of the barrel-ceilinged tunnel. — Porter Anderson

By Mark Piesing | @MarkPiesing

The Weekend Before the Storm
As the pace of preparations quickens, Publishing Perspectives has caught with up with Jacks Thomas, Director of the London Book Fair, to find out how arrangements are going.

Publishing Perspectives: How’s the run-up to the Fair looking this year?

Jacks Thomas: It’s looking great, but it’s busier than ever as events are starting earlier this year. The International Publishers’ Congress begins on Saturday with a reception at Foyles’ flagship bookshop in Charing Cross Road to show it off to our international guests.

It then gets really heavy on Sunday as the Congress gets into full swing, with the launch of Quantum after that on the Monday – and all of this is before the Fair opens on Tuesday.

PP: What events are you most looking forward to?

Jacks Thomas

Jacks Thomas

JT: On Tuesday evening, we host our International Excellence Awards Evening. Last year, the Literary Fair was the most popular category. This year, it’s the Bookstore of the World with more than 100 entries. It’s really interesting to see how important bookshops still are across the world.

Then of course there’s Julian Fellowes, creator of the hit TV series Downton Abbey, launching his Belgravia app during the week of the Fair. Belgravia takes place in London in the 1840s, but opens decades earlier at the famous ball that took place just before the Battle of Waterloo. The story will be told in episodes in a 21st-century update of a form of storytelling that Charles Dickens first popularized.

Editor’s note: Fellowes will be in conversation with Jacks Thomas on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. in the English PEN Salon. — PA

On the Tuesday evening, there’s An Evening With Julian Fellowes at the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge. [Belgravia is an area of central London roughly between Buckingham Palace and Knightsbridge, which includes Sloane Square and has always been famous among fashionable and wealthy districts of the city.]

After that, there’s the Shakespeare celebration, which departs from tradition by giving one whole day of the Fair – Wednesday – to mark the 400th year anniversary of his death, with three leading authors who have contributed to Hogarth Press’s recent Tales from Shakespeare which rework the Bard’s tales to make them more accessible : Howard Jacobson [Shylock Is My Name], Tracy Chevalier [an as-yet untitled work on Othello] and Jeanette Winterson [The Gap Of Time].

We’ll have a Shakespeare avatar wandering around reciting couplets, and you’ll even able to have your photo taken with a hologram of Shakespeare.

There’s also a purpose-built mini-Globe performance space where sonnets and extracts will be performed in eight languages during the Fair.

Our Author Of The Day programme is very strong as well, with Judith Kerr, Marian Keyes, and Prof. Nick Bostrom and I can’t wait to read the featured authors’ books like Shylock is My Name — when the Fair is over.

Coordinating Dates, This Year and Next

PP: What have the challenges been?

JT: Well, having the London Book Fair and the Bologna Book Fair back-to-back is a challenge for our children’s exhibitors.

PP: Will there be empty stands in London then?

JT: We don’t see the two events — or any other book fairs — as being rivals, but rather as complementing each other. So we’ve been mindful of the challenges involved in exhibiting at both. Those who are attending both are being allowed to leave Bologna first and set up last in London to give them time for their stands to be shipped over to London.

We also offered to make almost a copy of anyone’s stand for the London Book Fair if it was going to be impossible for them to bring it over in time. But I don’t think anyone took us up on that.

PP: What else is on the list of challenges?

JT: Well, two years ago we had to let everyone know that we were going to be moving from Earls Court to Olympia. And now we have make sure that everyone knows that the London Book Fair will actually be in March next year.

PP: In the end, is there one particular event that you are personally looking forward to more than others?

JT: My personal highlight will be meeting the amazing Judith Kerr, who is Author of the Day on Thursday. My children loved Mog, and Kerr overcame a challenging life to be able to write.

It will be great to give her work a global platform.

Following the International Publishers Association’s 31st Congress on Sunday and the Quantum Conference on Monday (those events are priced separately), London Book Fair runs Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at Olympia London. A visitor ticket is £35 through Monday, £50 starting Tuesday on-site. Full information is here.

Jacks Thomas Excellence Awards

About the Author

Mark Piesing

Mark Piesing is a freelance journalist (and teacher) based in Oxford, UK now writing mainly about technology, culture and the intersection between the two for some of the biggest brands in the UK media such as The Economist, Wired.co.uk, and The Guardian. He also contributes to Warwick Business School's Core magazine. WBS is one of the top business schools in the UK.