Record crowds expected to queue up for international display of books, comics and assorted entertainment material COME RAIN OR shine, the annual Hong Kong Book Fair always draws huge crowds - of young and old alike. Organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (TDC), the annual event keeps growing. Last year it attracted more than 500,000 people. Nearly 400 local, mainland and global firms are set to display books, magazines, stationery, interactive software and learning aids. Visitors will find material covering a vast range of subjects, from history, philosophy and religion to technology, business, travel, practical skills, children's literature and art and design. This year the fair, which opens today at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, will see a range of tie-in programmes, including author-signing sessions. 'We are in a spin with so many added events this year,' said Anne Chick, the TDC's senior exhibitions manager. 'Our aim is to use the fair as a platform to encourage reading and nurture culture. We are working with publishers, book stores, foreign consulates and radio shows to get the message across.' The fair is bigger this year, covering about 30,000 square metres of floor space. There will be 11 theme areas covering categories such as mainland China and Taiwan literature, interests and university learning. The International Cultural Village zone, introduced last year, continues to inject a global flavour into the fair, bringing with it an eclectic selection of titles. More than a dozen countries and regions will have booths. The fair will have a strong focus on young readers. 'There are more than 40 programmes for children, covering games, talks, story-telling, stage performances and arts and crafts workshops,' said Irene Yim, chairman of the organising committee for Children's Paradise, which contains more than 240 booths and a 300 sqmetre Family Corner, an activity area for children between the ages of three and eight. Readers with a serious interest in literature can attend a variety of writers' seminars. The surging popularity of mainland and Taiwanese literature has prompted a seminar titled 'Exploring new frontiers of writing', to be held today. On the panel will be four big names in contemporary Chinese literature: Nanfang Shuo of news weekly Yazhou Zhoukan; writer Su Tong, best known for his novella Raise the Red Lantern; Zhang Yihe, author of The Past Doesn't Disappear Like Smoke, an award-winning memoir about China's Anti-Rightist campaign in 1957; and Chan Koon-chung, writer, film producer and founder of City Magazine, Hong Kong's long-running culture bible. A forum titled 'Chinese literature in the 21st century', to be held on Saturday, will feature speakers from Southeast Asia. Those interested in the state of publishing should not miss the Asian Publishing Conference on Friday. The two themes up for discussion are 'The impact of a blooming Chinese mainland publishing industry on the book publishing market' and 'Digital publishing and copyright law'. Comic books, fantasy tales and kung fu-themed stories have always attracted crowds. Graham Earnshaw, who translated the Jin Yong (Louis Cha) novel The Book and the Sword into English, will explore Chinese culture in his seminar 'Kung fu novels and China's future', on Saturday. The fair is open daily from 10am to 10pm (but opens at 9am today). It will stay open until midnight on Saturday and until 6pm on Monday, the closing day.