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Virtual Book Fair

Liverpool's First Virtual Book Fair

19th July 2014 at the Central Library  

When I was first asked to coordinate a 'Virtual Book Fair' for Writing on the Wall, I will admit, I was slightly apprehensive. To the greatest extent of my knowledge, virtual books existed only on Kindles and iPads. The newest digital publishing innovation was only an updated model of a Kindle Fire, and there wasn't a massive deal to shout about in terms of 'Virtual Reading' and 'Digital Publishing' - What's all the fuss about? was my first thought.
But after doing my research I discovered what the fuss is all about, and begin to get excited about showing Liverpool the newest and most innovative developments that were happening within publishing and recruiting a fantastic line-up of the most knowledgeable people in the business to talk about them.
Pairing up with digital publishing, we were also keen to focus on self-publishing within the day's events. This is an aspect that has had a huge amount of publicity recently with début novelists now choosing to self-publish their work, instead of going down the typical agent/publishing house route, and achieving great success on their own.
Once I had got my head around the brief of the day, I decided it was time to dream big. And dream big we did. This was Liverpool's first 'Virtual Book Fair' ('With a physical presence' - as Madeline liked to say) - and we had to do it right.
Our chosen venue was the stunning fourth floor atrium of Liverpool's Central Library and with our custom designed iPhone signs, we were able to section off the areas for the different activities of the day.
'The Writer's Room' was a constant hub of the day. A sectioned off area from the main room, we screened a webinar in there which was made for us by Kjell Eldor. Kjell is the Digitial Publishing Manager at Blackwells but unbeknownst to me when approaching him, was also a previous trustee of WoW, and was very happy to be involved in the Virtual Book Fair. His webinar talked about the future of digital publishing, what was 'beyond the book' and the new interactive novels that are taking the publishing world by storm.
These interactive novel apps were probably my favourite part of the Virtual Book Fair, and mainly because I had no idea they even existed before beginning to plan the event. Apps such as 'Five Fables; Seamus Heaney' and 'TS Eliot's Wasteland', have taken reading to another level. With audio interactivity, images of the authors first notes and interviews with current authors - the level of immersion into the world of these books is something that has never been seen before.
We discovered the company Touch Press, who pioneered the interactive novel apps and made those mentioned above, along with a whole host of other exciting developments and were able to work with them to produce 'The Digital Station', a place at the Virtual Book Fair where people could explore these apps, have fun with them and see a different side to reading.
But my favourite part of the Virtual Book Fair, was without a doubt 'The Children's Pod' - because who wouldn't love a 10 foot wide inflatable igloo in the middle of a book fair? This monstrosity worked as the hub for the younger generation, and inside was The Wild Writer's; Mike Fowler and illustrator Chris Roddenhurst. Using the pod's projection screen and Chris's illustration tablet, they worked as a story telling duo and helped the children make up a story and illustrate it live. It was fantastic to see the children's imagination boldly going wherever they wanted, and watching Chris and Mike story-tell with a whole pod full of them!
The day's line-up for our Main Stage was so jam packed that Mike, Madeline and I were kept busy introducing and hosting an incredibly diverse and interesting line-up of speakers. Guests included a brilliant panel discussion with Mike Morris and the Salt Modern Dreams Novella Writers. Salt Modern Dreams is a great series of novellas which focus on the urban landscapes and realities of modern Britain, and features Liverpool's own Jon Gale. Jon, who won Pulp Idol back in 2012 has gone on to be featured in this series with his work 'Albion'. Along with Michelle Flatley, Deni Spencer and Jones Jones, Jon had a chat with WoW's; Mike Morris about their inspirations, their work with Salt and what they think is the future of publishing. It was great to have so many previously unpublished writers on stage, talking about their work. We also had a great Q&A and reading from Linda Bennett from Salt Publishing who showed us an insight into her publishing experience as well as giving freebies out to our audience!
My most exciting part of the day was the chat I got to have with Beth Reekles. When researching for the Virtual Book Fair, I stumbled across an article about Beth and discovered that she was, probably, the epitome of a self-published phenomenon. Using the online writing community site; Wattpad, Beth published her first novel 'The Kissing Booth' in stages, before being discovered by a Random House agent and signing a three book deal with them. The most incredible fact about all of this is that, she was just seventeen when this happened! A few years older now, she has just released her third book of the trilogy, is in talks of movie deals and is studying Physics at Exeter University. I read all this, and suddenly felt slightly like an under-achiever. I had to meet here. Thankfully Beth was charming, intelligent and modest 'in real life', and it was an absolute pleasure to have her at the Virtual Book Fair.
I could talk and talk and write and write about everything that happened at the Virtual Book Fair, and everything that I've learnt about the future of publishing and all the exciting things that are happening now and in the future. We had a fantastic day at the Central Library and all our activities such as our Writer's Surgeries with local authors; Caroline Smailes, Deborah Morgan and Jim Friel, our Twitter Haiku Competition with resident poets; Tim and Sinead and our Speak Easy spoken word platform with Curtis Watt got the public involved in writing, reading and interacting in a literary way.

Liverpool's first Virtual Book Fair - it was a big job, but WoW did it with style. The future is looking more and more exciting every day for digital publishing and self-publishing. Everyone knows the traditional book format will never be dead, but that doesn't mean we can't take risks, invent and explore the new formats and ways of reading and writing and interacting. The Virtual Book Fair showed Liverpool just that.

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Writing on the Wall believe in creativity, community, diversity, artistic excellence and social and economic justice. We are Liverpool’s longest-running writing and literary organisation and festival. We celebrate and inspire creativity and writing in all its forms through inquiry, debate, performance and publishing. Our annual WoWFest brings together local audiences with the best local, national and international writers, artists and social commentators.