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Bologna Bonanza 2024

Speed book dating in my trainers. Loved it.


I love Bologna Children’s Book Fair. It’s one of my favourite times of the year for meeting real people in publishing and being inspired by creatives from around the world. It gives a sense of what this whole making books business is all about…FUN.

And I like the food. And the sunshine. This year was extra special though…



I had a wonderful time showcasing my books on the Cambridge School of Art MA graduates stand, where we invited publishers and agents for meetings to see our work. An epic opportunity I’d looked forward to for years.


I got some really juicy feedback and great engagement with my work, I’m super chuffed.

I also took part in the DPictus Unpublished Picturebook Showcase stand because my book ‘Why I Swim’ was selected as one of the 75 books to showcase from this year’s competition. Cool.


Here are my main takeaways from an incredible week:


1.Picking priorities


As I took part in 2 stands this year I decided to focus my time on squeezing these lemons hard.



I didn’t worry myself with visiting other stands, and allotted Thursday as the nice quiet day at the end of the week to browse a couple of exhibitions. V.chill, in a busy kind of way.

Highlights for me were the hanging books, the silent books contest, and the Bologna Illustrators Exhibition.



Inspiring books from the hanging books exhibition. Andrea Antinori's stunning work. Ruby Wright Lino's fluoro exhibition entry. And a cardboard cheetah.


I went to a few talks this year and left some as they weren’t as top notch as usual, but I did love hearing Neil Packer sharing his scatty mind and crazy complex creative process.


2. Publishing is like dating


On the DPictus stand I got to sit in informal meetings with 10 publishers who had voted on the showcase. It was magic to feel how they each cared about books in their own unique way. Some were obsessed with the physicality of the book. Some with text placement. And others with the feel or emotion of the illustrations.


I received so much useful feedback on ‘Why I Swim’ from publishers who loved the cover, colour, and tactile feel of the watery illustrations, to those who thought that swimming in cold water was insane.



This really brought home for me how much publishing is about finding the right match. My job is to find my ‘dream man’, not to please everyone.


This was my biggest takeaway this year and really settled me back into making books to please myself. Aaaaaand relax.


3. Wearing nice clothes


I’m super proud of my packing this year. Instead of my usual ‘pack the night before’ approach, I checked the weather and planned layered outfits a few days in advance. Mum would be proud. Starting each day in Bologna with a climate-appropriate swarve get-up really helped me to feel my best for my big week.



Bright dresses and running trainers - Bologna's best in fashion.


4. Save your feet


I wore running shoes. And I loved it.


A typical day is around 15,000 steps. Getting there, walking around the massive fair, and then pootling into town for evening frivolities can make for very sore souls.


This year I also loved riding a movibike (electric bike hire app) to and from the fair. It was only £1.80 per ride and my feet and energy levels thanked me for it.


5. Fun with friends


I stayed at the Combo hostel with my MA buddies and we had such a blast eating brekkie together and walking into the fair. And we normally met up in the evening for drinks and dins.


These are people I have laughed and cried with a lot. Friends. For. Life.


I scheduled meet ups with some other illustrator friends, bumped into my MA Children’s Publishing students from BSU, and enjoyed the Good Ship Illustration gathering in the courtyard (like a primary colour fashion show, and so cool to meet the team in person for the first time).



I also enjoyed connecting with illustrators through DPictus. The showcase attracts the best off-beat, daring, unique projects from around the world, so I found it super refreshing to spend time with creatives who really make things for their own creative nourishment.


6. Sticking to my creative guns


Joanna Schaible, previous winner of the DPictus showcase was running the stand and told me the story of how her super creative book ‘Once Upon A Time There Was And Will Be So Much More’ came into existence. Each page sits smaller inside the previous page to convey the scale of our universe in both space and time. Incredible.


She’d held on to this unique concept and stuck to her creative guns until a Swedish publisher fell in love with it, apparently saying ‘I have no idea how we’re going to make this book. But we are going to make this book!’



The book has now been published in 10 territories.


I found it so inspiring to hear that sometimes the publishing dating game can take a while, but it’s worth not giving up on it. Me and my crazy cold swimming book will keep swiping.


7. Don’t rush off (note to self!)


Linger a little. Draw. Soak up some rays. Eat gelato.



I made ambitious plans to fly in to Milan and out of Venice (much better for Bristol airport) to sandwich my week with some Italy travel. Nice in theory. Too much for tired graduate Tessa in practice.


Next year I’ll linger in Bologna and soak up the sol for a bit longer I think. All about those priorities.


My wild swimming project ‘Why I Swim’ is looking for a publishing home, along with 3 other beautiful book projects. If you’d like to work together to bring these happy books to life please do get in touch.

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