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May 13, 2009

Caroline Michel

By Spear's

To celebrate the Spear’s Book Awards on June 30th, Caroline Michel, one of the country’s top literary agents and CEO of the PFD agency, has written the Spear’s Diary for the forthcoming summer issue.

To celebrate the Spear’s Book Awards on June 30th, Caroline Michel, one of the country’s top literary agents and CEO of the PFD agency, has written the Spear’s Diary for the forthcoming summer issue.

To see the Spear’s Book Awards longlist, click

What was it Dennis Potter said about the ‘frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be’? Well, it has been that kind of week. Just as one was about to descend into the bowels of Earls Court, for one of the two huge events of the year for the publishing industry, the London International Book Fair, spring arrived with all its heart-stopping beauty, moods lifted as the skies cleared, smiles appeared with the sun, talk of recession in the industry became like a disappearing vapour trail, and everything seems possible — even with three days in front of you with appointments every half-hour, the mood can only be one of joyous optimism.

And what’s not to love about my job? Talking about one’s passions — the writers, the books, the projects to publishers and film companies from around the world… the new Simon Schama, the new Norman Stone, Max Hastings, Philip Norman, and James Palumbo’s first novel, Tomas, which Niall Ferguson has described as ‘Rabelais meets Tom Wolfe’.

The talk of the fair wasn’t really about the cuts in publishing or the fall in the level of advances, but more about what this whole digital revolution is going to mean to the publishing industry after we have seen the devastation it has wreaked in the music and film businesses.

The worry, of course, is the protection of territories and copyright — a very real worry — but there is also so much opportunity. Sitting where I sit, looking at the ever-expanding range of channels of distribution for our authors’ work, as long as they are paid and protected, I feel nothing but excitement — and impatience — and a longing to explore everything, to do deals in sectors we never dreamed would be there even just five years ago.

We are not talking of the death of the printed book — I think we all feel that books will be there for ever — but readers will migrate to digital books in many forms where there may be enhanced text, with perhaps video games for children, moving images, music, interviews with authors. So much possibility.

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I have always been an abject failure at that thing they call work/life balance. The two are so intertwined, and this week the balance has been seriously off-kilter. My son asked me the other night whether I was actually a vampire, as I never came home until well after dark.

As well as the fair, there has been breakfast with Ffion Hague at Barclays — Ffion will be a truly great historian, she writes so well — and, the following morning, one of Julia Hobsbawm’s insightful Editorial Intelligence breakfast debates on the economy and how the press have reported it: the FT better than anyone seemed to be the conclusion.

And the dinners this week with charming, clever European publishers with names like something out of a Visconti movie — Leonello Brandolini, Gianni Ferrari — and the looks to match. I did manage to escape a couple of evenings, once dragging a French publishing mogul of fierce demeanour and whose English is slight to a screening at the BFI of the gripping State of Play.

Anthony Minghella had a dream that Britain would one day have a film centre as important and as iconic as the National Gallery, or the Tate, a place to show, celebrate and teach about our moving image heritage, a home for the highly successful BFI London Film Festival — a centre for one of our greatest and most dynamic of cultures.

Britain has one of the largest film archives in the world, containing some of the greatest and most innovative film and television, and much of it is curated, restored, shown on screen and made available to the public by the British Film Institute, which Anthony chaired until his death.

The wily and persuasive Greg Dyke is now chair and is leading the campaign to build this much-needed film centre at the South Bank, and basically to move the current BFI Southbank out from under Waterloo Bridge — not the best place to house your national film centre and all its screens as the traffic rumbles overhead — to a place that can hold red-carpet screenings as well as teach schoolchildren about film-making while surrounding them with and immersing them in the richness, culture and history of film.

I try to get to the BFI at least once a week to see the films on show; or to visit the Mediatheque, which offers compulsive viewing of footage from the BFI archive of just about anything that was filmed from the moment the medium was created; or to wander round the exhibition — it is just so alive and yet just a speck of what it could be, but it all needs money, and if indeed, dear reader, you are so inclined to help carry this torch for our film heritage and culture, do email

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