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A day at the London Book Fair – Saba Ahmed intern at Jo Unwin Literary Agency

On entering the sunlit building of Olympia, London Book Fair 2015 is abuzz. You have to navigate your way through the constant chatter of different languages and bespectacled figures toting cloth bags supporting various independent book shops, to appreciate the incredible diversity of publishers, booksellers, foreign rights agents, scouts and booklovers touting the books they are passionate about and seeking the next hottest thing.

As a Creative Access intern, it’s a great opportunity to meet others who are gaining experience, whether at independent publishing houses like Canongate, or literary agencies like Aitken Alexander Associates or even the Society of Authors. As we ate lunch at the Publishers Association stand, we swapped anecdotes about embarrassing work stories (for example, today I accidentally set off the security alarm at the office and the police showed up…), eccentric work colleagues and arduous commutes, and offered guidance and encouragement to prospective interns hoping to secure placements.

This was followed by a seminar on ‘Building the Publishing Workforce of the Future’ run in association with Inspired Selection and chaired by Emma House, Director for Publisher Relations at the Publishers Association. The panelists discussed issues to do with barriers to diversity, envisioning a more innovative industry where traditionally valued skills such as intellect and a passion for books could be matched by more a modern and exciting skillset, one embracing social media, digital changes, and the ability to think as a consumer. New strategies such as job interviews that require applicants to record videos, rather than presenting the tired format of a CV, can allow people to let their personality shine through.

John Athanasiou, Director of People at HarperCollins, spoke about the importance of organisations like Creative Access and Women’s Industry Networking Group (WING) for widening access, encouraging the publishing world and the arts in a larger sense, to reflect the diversity of our culture in its workforce.

This was reinforced by the other panellists, Sanne Vliegenhart, booktuber and Digital Co-Ordinator at Hot Key Books and Mark Ryan, Director of Talent Development at John Wiley & Sons, as a way of shaking things up, seeing failure as room to grow and placing more of an emphasis on learning and mentoring.

As I wandered around the fair, it was fascinating to eavesdrop on exciting deals being struck with foreign publishers, pick up free swag (more tote bags), and attend seminars on literary journals which showcased the most radical translated literature.

It suddenly struck me just how important it is to listen to people’s life stories, no matter how different or alien or other they seem, and also to articulate you own – to think and work collaboratively.

Towards the end of the fair, we reconvened for drinks at the HarperCollins stand, meeting people who had successfully finished Creative Access internships to secure impressive positions, over brownies and pretzels. Heading out to the Rogers, Coleridge & White LBF party at the office, I left Olympia feeling inspired and energised.

Many thanks to Creative Access, The Publishers Association and to Harper Collins for their organisation and hospitality.

Saba Ahmed, intern at Jo Unwin @saba_a_ahmed