Leeds IMC is coming!

Unlike a road sign on its baffling road network, Leeds IMC appears to us in plenty of time, and we’re always expecting – nay, anticipating – it.

“OK, who’s going to go? Sean, do your usual Monday to Thursday at that weird motel?”

Since it’s Leeds and not the Dustbowl Badlands it’s a world-wide hotel chain, not a motel, and yes, I’m good. Good? I love it. A spotless, anonymous hotel, a walk to work rather than an hour’s drive in furious traffic, a day surrounded by books rather than screens and printers, and the wonderful responses of our readers. I love it.

Plus of course, the joy of being in the beautiful Parkinson Building in most un-Suffolk-like proximity to two terrific cafés where a coffee, a handful of pastries and crisps (variety is important) can be had at bargain (Northern) prices. A guilty pang hits me every time: they’ve undercharged me and my conscience shouts, “Admit it, thief!”. But no, that’s really the price of an awesome Danish in Leeds.

Anyway, to business. At 8am the hall is silent, with book displays hidden under sheets looking for all the world like sleeping ghosts. Time to get up, Casper, there are books to be sold! Get the credit card machine running. Wave it about a bit in the hope of finding a connection, holding high-tech equipment but feeling like a water diviner. Maybe it’ll work, maybe not. Caroline has the knack, maybe she can work her magic?

Check the cash box – never enough pound coins. Keep an eye on them.

First enquiry. First customer. The first of many meetings for CLP. Give the books a shuffle, straighten the catalogues. We’re off. New faces, familiar faces, even a few conference buddies, though as I’ve only been attending for five years it’s still a bit too soon to actually talk to them just yet. It’s good to see them though.

Conference Neck starts to develop, that constant scanning down the length of our display then back to the right and around, like a slow, glitchy radar.

Conference coffee breaks are always welcome for the rush to the stand that accompanies them. Keep a wary eye for the stray cup in need of a coaster. By the time the rush recedes the coffee machines are spent. Oh well, the fabulous Leeds staff will fix them, we’ll manage.

Lunch is a wolfed-down cake, like breakfast and elevenses but larger, possibly outside in some glorious sunshine if the weather’s playing ball.

Despite the raised risk of spillages and those dreaded rings on covers, Monday’s wine reception is always fun – No, nothing for me, thank you. I’m counting in my head and alcohol won’t help, though I’d certainly worry less.

7.30pm and we can cash-up and appraise the day. Books have been sold or reserved. One of them must be this year’s surprise, the title that sells out within a day or two, leaving us kicking ourselves. There’s always one, and we love it really. Readers have come, authors have been met, editors conspired with. What a pleasure it is to be near the heart of this community even if only for a few days. How gratifying to hear so many kind words. No, thank you!

But now it’s time to head out for that much-needed ‘proper’ meal.