The Twenty-Something Series: Back to Brazil for the Bienal do Livro in Rio

I spent the weekend in Rio de Janeiro for the Bienal do Livro - here's how it went!

Those of you following my Instagram and Twitter will know that I spent last weekend (literally, just the weekend) in Rio de Janeiro for the Bienal do Livro 2019.

Seriously - I was just there for the weekend.

Talk about a whirlwind trip!

What's the Bienal do Livro, I hear you asking...

The Bienal is basically a colossal book fair that takes place in Brazil. Last year I visited for a weekend in August for the Bienal in São Paulo, where I did interviews, signings, and a panel over the Saturday and Sunday. 

This year, I was invited out again by my wonderful publishers, Astral Cultural, for the Bienal in Rio this time - and even shaved a day off my trip, since I'm trying to save some of my vacation days at work!

When I say it's a colossal event, I really mean it. Around 750,000 people attended the São Paulo event last year - and Rio, I'm told, is even bigger. The venue was so big, in fact, it took me a while to find the exit, and even wandering around for an hour, I didn't see half of it.

This year, I didn't have all the interviews and the panel, but I did have two signing slots over the weekend. But more on that later...

Friday / Day One: One long-ass flight!

The flight from London to Rio is about 11hr 30min. (A long way for a weekend, I know, but so worth it.) My parents dropped me to Heathrow Airport on Friday morning ready for a lunchtime flight - I grabbed some breakfast, mooched around the shops, grabbed a copy of Cosmo and then headed to the boarding gate.

Lucky for me, the middle seat in my row was empty, and since I had an aisle seat, I got to stretch out. AND the person in front of me didn't recline their seat, so it felt like a pretty spacious flight! The in-flight entertainment was a great selection: I watched the new live-action Aladdin and Avengers: Endgame (I saw them both in cinema this year, but loved rewatching them) and got to watch Rocketman, which I just loved. (Taron Egerton is such a great actor, and I'm not saying that just because he's Welsh.) 

I did try to sleep, but that didn't work out, so I ended up reading Lucy Vine's What Fresh Hell - which honestly made me laugh out loud!

My publisher met me at the airport and it was an hour's drive to my hotel in Riocentro - quite a way away from the Christ the Redeemer Statue and Sugarloaf Mountain and the other tourist traps, and since I was too tired and didn't fancy travelling out there by myself, I didn't get to see them.

I was probably awake for 24 hours straight by the time I finally crashed in my giant hotel bed.

Saturday / Day Two: Exploring the Bienal and not falling asleep on my feet...

A lie-in, two face masks, and some makeup later, I was feeling a lot more human. After an early room-service lunch that I ordered in English and had to re-order because it never showed up, I headed to the Bienal.

It was calmer than last year, despite the event itself being so much bigger. I spent about an hour and a half doing some signings at the 'Copacabana Stage' and then, since I didn't have to be escorted around by bodyguards like last year, I got to wander around and explore the fair.

I headed back to the Astral Cultural stand to grab some photos and videos - there was a MASSIVE poster of my second novel, Rolling Dice, which has just recently come out in Brazil, and stacks of hundreds of copies of the books. I was blown away.

Like last year, Astral had set up a little kissing booth, too, which people were queuing for constantly to grab photos at. As I was grabbing a video of that, a bunch of girls recognised me. I put my phone down to wave at them and say hi and could see them all freaking out - and then one of them came over to ask for a photo, and suddenly I was taking photos with all of them. Which honestly, was a total highlight of the trip. I took hundreds of photos, signed hundreds of books - but getting recognised is such a cool and surreal feeling.

I also managed to find a copy of Goblet of Fire in Portuguese, to add to my little foreign language Harry Potter collection. I'd been working my way through Duolingo's Portuguese course, but I'm way better at reading it than speaking it since it looks similar to Spanish (although sounds totally different). 

Speaking of Portuguese... at dinner in the hotel that night, while I was really flagging and desperate to sleep, the first waiter didn't speak any English. I managed to ask for a menu and get seated. The next waiter spoke Spanish, so I ended up talking to him in Spanish and he explained how the buffet worked. The next one spoke English, and I got a classic Brazilian cocktail, the caipirinha, and ordered some food.

A little break - and an all night concert

Before dinner, I actually sat out on my balcony for a little while, reading Cosmo and just looking out at the view. It was an absolutely blissful hour. Despite the long flight and the fact I was there to sign books and work, it was a really good break - the kind I don't think I've really had in a long while.

There was a concert stage across the road from the hotel - apparently, where Freddie Mercury held his largest concert ever. There was music playing, like they were warming up for a concert or something. It was pretty nice to listen to while I sat reading. 

Sunday / Day Three: Sleepy as heck, and ALL the signings

The outdoor concert stopped being so nice to listen to when it was still going at 10pm. And 3am. And 5am. (After which, I did not get back to sleep.) Seriously. It went on for twelve hours. And was loud enough that even from inside my room, I could tell which verse of ABBA's Voulez-Vous was playing.

Another face mask, some more makeup, and a big ol' breakfast of bacon and egg and pão de quejo later, I headed back to the Bienal.

This time, I signed at the kissing booth stand itself. And once I started, I basically did not stop - for three and a half hours.

I signed books and posters for hundreds of people, taking photos with all of them, too - to the point where handing back the book and turning to smile for the camera was a reflex!

People were telling me the fair had sold out of copies of The Kissing Booth and The Beach House, and that was just crazy for me to think about - especially knowing there had been a pretty large number of copies around in the first place.

People would be shaking, telling me they'd forgotten their English, they were so excited to meet me. One girl told me in rapid Portuguese how much she and her mum loved the book and the movie (which I was thrilled to find I understood). One woman told me how I'd inspired her to write. Another girl - how she hadn't liked reading until she read my book. I met so many people who loved the story - and were excited to meet me, which was even weirder! - and it was such a joyous experience.

After my publishers called it time on the signings, my feet were pretty tired, but I was feeling wired, despite the lack of sleep. Talk about an adrenaline rush! Meeting so many fans was incredible.

Another highlight - a couple of girls who spotted me at the kissing booth and recongised me, and then saw the copy of Rolling Dice propped up beside me and grabbed each other, screaming about how I had a new book out, and bolted into the Astral stand to buy copies.

(Also great - seeing how much smaller the giant pile of Rolling Dice books had become at the end of my session!)

I had just over two hours until we'd be leaving for the airport, so I grabbed a shower and some more room service (this time ordering in Portuguese, and succeeding!) and packed all my stuff up.

One day, I'm gonna manage to pack up and not spend the last fifteen minutes realising I've still got a bunch of stuff that needs to go in the suitcase, and that I forgot to plug my phone in for a last charge. One day.

A very long (and very comfy!) trip home

Because of traffic, I ended up at the airport about five hours before my flight. I grabbed a cuppa and read a book until I could go drop my bag at check-in, breezed through security and passport control, and then spent as much time as I could combing through Duty Free and the souvenir shops. I grabbed some food and another caipirinha, did my entire skincare routine in the bathroom since I had so much time to kill... 

I even took myself on a mission to spend the last Brazilian Real I had left and few US Dollars I'd been given as change in the Duty Free. Not exactly thrilling, I know, but it killed a solid forty-something minutes. What an adventure.

Plus - honestly, I was scared that if I sat down again, I'd fall asleep.

Once I finally got on the plane - ugh, talk about bliss! I flew out with British Airways but the return flight was Norwegian Air, and my ticket was premium economy, and oh, man. I could stretch out my entire leg, there was so much space in the seat. I put Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on on the entertainment system and fell asleep.

I genuinely think that may have been the best sleep I have had in WEEKS.

I also slept in the taxi ride home.

And was in bed by like, 9pm, fast asleep once more - with alarms set to get me up for the day job the next day. 

The entire trip was exhausting, but so worth it. I had an incredible time and it's such a magical experience for me to get to meet so many fans, and see how many people have enjoyed my little story. It's a completely surreal and unbeatable experience I will never get over.

Huge thank you to Astral Cultural for having me out to Rio and taking such good care of me, and of course, a big thank you to all of my Brazilian fans who came out to meet me at the Bienal!

Lots of people have been asking if/when I will visit their town or country - so I also wanted to address that quickly here. It's not actually up to me. It's up to event organisers or my publishers. I wouldn't be able to do all that travelling myself - I couldn't afford to, I don't think - and also, every time I do a trip like this, it's time out from my day job, so I have to consider that too. I'd love to visit more places, but... who knows! 

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