The Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association (PBFA) is holding a new book fair at the Brighton Racecourse on October 30. Here ATG asks dealer and fair organiser Jeremy Carson about his plans for the event.
ATG: Why Brighton?
Jeremy Carson: The PBFA has long wanted to re-establish its fairs in the south of England and Brighton was an obvious choice. It’s an hour from London and there are almost a quarter of a million people living in the BN postcode.
There’s also a strong tradition of culture, arts and education in the city. The PBFA led the way with our virtual fairs and we’re all anxious to get back to the real thing. It’s worth remembering that we exist to ‘bring books to the people’ via physical fairs and we look forward to bringing that ethos to Brighton.
I can see the racecourse from my house! I’m honoured to be manager but organising a large fair at a new venue is a formidable task. Snippy comments about health ‘n’ safety are funny in the pub – less so when you’re legally responsible for the lives of thousands.
The small print makes ominous reading. ‘Have I personally approved the safetycertificates for any portable lighting?’ Well, no – but then again it’s 2021 and I’m not expecting any fizzing bakelite or hairy wires. Happily, there’s a 32-page book from PBFA head office to guide me through the labyrinth of preparation.
Why the racecourse?
It’s huge, modern, flat and you can park a car there which is something you cannot do easily or cheaply in central Brighton. For dealers it’s great; loading is a cinch.
Encouragingly, similar fairs at the racecourse have proved very successful for trade and visitors alike. I spoke to Donny Mann, organiser of the popular Love Antiques Fairs, who told me: “The racecourse has been the home of our Brighton Antiques and Vintage Fair since 2016 and has turned out to be the perfect venue. There’s plenty of exhibition space, lots of customer parking and a fantastic events team that are always prepared to go the extra mile to help.”
On the hand, it is not, I’ll admit, as easily accessible on public transport as some other venues but there are buses from the city centre. In fact, other big events at the racecourse have used a dedicated shuttle bus from the station; a tried and tested solution but another expense. I’ll look into it and try to gauge whether the increased attendance will cover the costs.
Will dealers be ready with stock given recent lockdowns?
Absolutely. Well-established members have scoured their store rooms and there’s only so much you can sell online.
I’m a general dealer but I want to sell exclusively Sussex items at this fair. I’m building up a good collection of books, maps and ephemera. Local auction houses such as Gorringe’s and Toovey’s are open again and that’s great timing as mixed lots of books are best examined before a bid.
I’m also adapting my website for a more local focus. Buying is picking up after the lockdown and our fairs begin again in July, with Northampton, so there are plenty of opportunities.
How do you cope with the uncertainty over Covid?
We have to have faith. October is five months away and we may be in the middle of lockdown number nine by then; on the other hand the worst of the virus could be well behind us by then. I’m pressing on regardless which is all one can do at the moment.
Our last big fair at York way back in January 2020 boosted attendance with a dedicated Facebook page and I’ll be doing the same. There’s a lot of interest in local history here and we can capitalise on that.
There’s a lot at stake because October is not the whole story. We’re planning a fair at the same venue in May 2022 which could turn into one of the biggest on in the PBFA calendar. It’s right in the middle of the Brighton Festival, the second largest in the country (after Edinburgh) and a magnet for 150,000 visitors.
What’s the plan?
A themed PBFA culture fair would be a perfect match and very popular with festivalgoers. For example, this year’s festival features performances of Wilde’s De Profundis and HG Wells’ classic War of The Worlds; our members offer all sorts of works by authors like these from first editions to theatre programmes and film posters.
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra string section will be playing Tchaikovsky at The Dome Theatre – I can offer Henry J Wood’s marked-up score for the first UK performance of Eugen Onegin, back in 1892. Tie-ins like that are effortless for us.
Our May 2022 fair will take place regardless of whether it becomes an officially sanctioned festival event – right now it isn’t but we’ll see what happens. That status depends on the festival organisers for support and that is not a given, especially in a venue to the east of the city. In the meantime, I’m focused on making a success of October.
Jeremy Carson runs books dealership The Antiquarian Book Company.
Brighton Book Fair is on Facebook