The Elephant in the Room, London Book Fair 2019

by M-L Patton

Before the words had even left her lips my hand shot into the air. I thought I’d have to fight one of my fellow volunteers for this job.

When I volunteered at London Book Fair 2019 with my MA Publishing Media course, I didn’t realise my duties would extend to playing dress up. Not just any old kind of dress up, no – hardcore, Disney Land-esque method acting dress up.

Beloved children’s classic Elmer, the iconic patchwork elephant we all grew up with celebrated its 30th birthday this year and iconic writer, illustrator and Elmer creator David McKee was the star attraction of the ‘Children’s Hub’ at London Book Fair. It just so happened that this was where I was volunteering and so I got the gig of wearing the Elmer suit for the big happy birthday celebration. This was going to be my biggest role since playing Shepherd #3 in my year 2 Christmas nativity. 

The Elmer café was the heart of the ‘Children’s Publishing’ section of the fair, right down to the patchwork rainbow carpet. My job was to clamber into the suit (kindly dressed by the marketing team of the London Book Fair) and amble into the crowd to pose with McKee himself for the birthday cake grand finale. Honestly, it was the best fun and ultimately the highlight of the fair for me, albeit rather hot inside a giant elephant suit. 

I think my celebrity peaked then, as an array of photographers yelled ‘Elmer, over here!’ at me. I knew this was what stardom felt like. 

The rest of my time at the fair wasn’t as glamourous, but was just as fun and involved ushering guests in and out of the wide range of talks across a diverse selection of topics at the ‘Children’s Hub’: from advice for illustrators on how to get a publishing deal to the Indonesian children’s publishing scene. I learned so much and met a lot of very interesting people. 

There was even time to stroll round all the stalls of some of my favourite publishers, from Faber & Faber to Thames & Hudson and Usborne (who are always on top form with their ‘treehouse’ stand). Set against the background of London Olympia, the hall has such an exciting atmosphere and it’s so brilliant just to be able to soak up it all up and know you’re in a room full of fellow bibliophiles. 

I’m lucky to be on a course that has the exclusive opportunity to volunteer at the biggest publishing event in the UK and even luckier that my hand shot up the quickest to be Elmer. I mean I was featured in The Bookseller, does it even get much better?

About the author of this article

Originally from France/England, Marie-Louise Patton (M-L) is an MA Publishing Media student at Oxford Brookes University and has a degree from the University of Strathclyde in English Literature, Journalism and Creative Writing. When M-L isn't wearing giant elephant costumes she enjoys reading, travelling and 35mm photography. Upon completion of her MA, M-L is hoping to work in publicity in the publishing industry. 

Edited by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 07 Apr 2019 around 7pm

Last edited: 08 04 2019