Friday, 1 February 2019

Branford Boase Joy

Being a published author can be a bit of roller coaster particularly now with social media. Social media is wonderful but it can also be a cruel mistress if you are not feeling on top of your game.
Yesterday, however, as my dear friend and fellow author, Vashti Hardy, so eloquently put it, was a
big hug of a day. It was like that for both of us and that was because we were both longlisted for the Branford Boase Award.

The Branford Boase Award is in its 20th year. It was set up to reward the most promising new writers and their editors. It is named after Henrietta Branford, a gifted novelist and Wendy Boase, Editorial Director of Walker Books. Both of whom died of cancer in the 1990s. Walker Books have recently confirmed their continued support of the Award. It is an Award that not only acknowledges an outstanding first novel but also marks the important contribution the editor plays.

This Award means a huge amount to me. Another dream come true. Not only am I thrilled that Flight has been nominated but also that my editor,  Janet Thomas' hard work also gets to be acknowledged. Janet, from Firefly Press, was an absolute joy to work with. This is an Award that I have been aware of for a very long time. My great friend, colleague at the Golden Egg Academy and first editor of Flight, Imogen Cooper won it in 2012 with Lucy Christopher (another friend) and her book Stolen. Firefly's wonderful Penny Thomas won it in 2016 with Horatio Clare's Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot. Fellow Egg, MG Leonard won it in 2017 with Beetle Boy and of course, my hero and huge support, Meg Rosoff won it in 2005 with How I Live Now. This was just as I had begun to write for children and had noticed what was going on in the children's literature world. It is so inspirational to be longlisted for something that Meg won.

I was about to start lecturing yesterday morning when I noticed an email had come through from Janet. I quickly glanced at it and she had forwarded on the email from Brandford Boase informing us of the long listing. It was very hard to remain professional and not squeal. As that came through so I got a message from Vashti asking had I seen the long list as we were both long listed along with another Egg, Rowena House. I had a very quick look at the list to see some incredible books on there. I don't envy the judges their job. I am thrilled and honoured to be on that list. As I said it is yet another dream come true. My watch is broken so I use my phone to check the time while lecturing. Every time I checked the time there was a notice of how many notifications on Twitter there were as the news broke. It was wonderful. Once again everyone was so happy and celebratory. That is the best thing about the children's lit world everybody shares in everyone's successes. I feel very lucky and grateful. Whatever happens next I am a very happy author.

I hope you have a day like ours yesterday that is one big hug. This might be predictable but it needs to be done




Monday, 31 December 2018

Farewell 2018 - it's been a good one!

What a year 2018 has been. I have seen my dreams come true (and a son get happily married). I have spent years wondering what it would be like to have a book published and many a dark moment thinking it would never happen. Well, I was wrong and it did. Last summer Firefly published Flight.

Wonderful cover designed
by Anne Glenn
This was a novel I started working on after a long discussion with Imogen Cooper about how a previous novel was just not working and we agreed it was time to walk away. This had been a difficult decision as I had been working on the previous novel for several years but it was definitely the right decision. A friend, Annaliese and I have decided Imogen is the 'Book Whisperer' as she has this innate ability to get under the skin of books, to get to the nitty gritty of them, to really understand them. As do many of my colleagues at the Golden Egg Academy.

It being published was just the beginning though. Some of my fabulous author friends said incredible things about Flight, which I was truly humbled by. Then the reviews started coming in and they were amazing. People I have respected and admired for years like Amanda Craig and Charlotte Eyre loved it. The wonderful Megan, who does the publicity at Firefly, would let me know that there was another good review in and she would laugh at me because each time I was genuinely surprised and grateful. She kept saying 'You do realise it is a good book?' I think (and still do) I kept expecting to wake up from this dream or for someone to turn  around and say 'Only Joking - we haven't published your book!' There are of course the Book bloggers, like  BookLoverJoMy Book Corner and Fallen Star Stories who also published lovely reviews. The teachers and teaching assistants have been amazing with the work they did with the story. Telling me tales of reluctant readers becoming totally engaged in the story - isn't that one of our dreams when we write? Thank you in particular to Scott E, David K, Dan M and Jo for their constant support and encouragement. Scott E even included  Flight in his #PrimarySchoolBookClub vote which was thrilling and helped raise its profile. I made a surprise visit to a school book club where they treated me like a celebrity. This is why I write books - not to be treated like a celebrity - but to see their faces when they talk about the book.

Parents of readers shared their fabulous stories. One told me how their son had read it multiple times since buying it only a few days previously. Why? Because he loved it so much. Another parent only yesterday tweeted a picture of their daughter refusing to interrupt their reading in order to eat dinner. I remember being like both these readers and when I started writing it was one of my dreams to write a book that would inspire children to get as lost in my stories in the way I used to get totally lost when I used to read. I think maybe I have done that. I have pinched myself several times this year to prove that dreams do come true.

It has been an amazing year but it is also a year full of doubts as you constantly worry you are not doing enough. Social media is a wonderful thing but it can also make your life miserable if you let it as you watch the world shouting about what they are doing and all their successes and the places they are going. Matt Haig has a very pertinent line in one of his books 'Do not compare yourself!' This is my mantra because I can't do everything. I have three jobs. I love what I do and I will do everything to the best of my abilities.

What will 2019 bring? Lots more exciting things I imagine. I have school visits planned. I know of schools that are using Flight. I have writing planned. I have an article coming out and another two planned and maybe a feature to pitch. There are masterclasses to organise for Golden Egg Academy.  It is going to be an interesting year.

I want to say thank you to everyone who made 2018 so incredible and also wish you all a very happy 2019 and I hope it brings you the dreams and joy you are looking for. See you next year ;-)

I am posting this song because it reminds me of a happy time in 2018 and just because I love it: Jack Johnson - Better Together



Thursday, 27 December 2018

Labels

I have been thinking about this blog post for many months. It first came to mind when my friend Alistair Green highlighted a brilliant campaign his company was involved in. The campaign was #Labelsareforclothes by River Island, which was outstanding. They turned stereotypes on their heads
Signing my debut novel Flight
Photograph by Candy Gourlay
while highlighting that labels are for clothes, not people.

This campaign came at a time when I was getting used to attaching a label to myself again. A label which for many years I haven't really spoken about yet now I was shouting about it...and with good reason. 

Like so many before me I have had lots of labels attached to me over my lifetime:

Daughter
Sister
Wife
Mother
Ex-Wife
Divorcee
Single Mother
Businesswoman
Carer
Student
Doctor
Lecturer
Senior Lecturer
Consultant 
Mentor
Grandmother
Writer
and then the label I mentioned above
Disabled Writer

I've been disabled for nearly twenty years. If my body hadn't misbehaved there's a good chance several of those labels might not have happened. Becoming disabled opened doors for me so I don't regret it happening. I have spoken about this before here.

In the main, I have kept quiet about my disability whilst working in academia, rightly or wrongly, proving to myself that I can achieve regardless. However, in the world of children's publishing where inclusivity is so important, it is vital that I shout loud about my disability and say, if I can do it, so can you. I must be honest this does not come naturally and has taken quite a bit of adjustment. I have spent my life fighting against any label I was given not just the disabled one. I never want labels to define me. There have been many ready to prejudge because of labels they were far too quick to attach.

There is a risk with any label that it will define you too much particularly if attributed by others, putting you in a box while potentially feeling limiting. Perhaps that's why rather than a disabled author I would instead see myself as an author who happens to be disabled as that is something I feel comfortable shouting about. I know it is all about semantics, but sometimes that is all it takes to give you the power back.

As we move rapidly towards 2019 make sure you define yourself the way you want to be, but be proud to be that person, whoever that might be. Don't hide it away. In the same way don't be so quick to attach labels to others. Give everyone a chance. #labelsareforclothes, not people.

A classic but it seems appropriate Gloria Gaynor's I Am What I Am



Sunday, 22 July 2018

Recipe for a good book launch

It was my book launch last Thursday and it is has taken me a few days to process the event because it was so AMAZING! I thought the best way to approach this was a recipe.

You need to collect all your ingredients including a lot of wonderful friends and I mean A LOT. I was overwhelmed by the number of people who came to celebrate with me the launch of Flight. So many friends from far and wide. The room was full of happiness and love. It was incredible



They even flowed out into the road


While adding spice be prepared for emotions to run high. Sorry, Imogen, I didn't mean to make you cry...


But you will include a good sprinkle of laughter too



Following a recipe for a book signing is hard work. Do your stretches ready for your book signing queue. (I was thrilled when David from P&G Wells said mine was as long as Jacqueline Wilson's!) Yes, I did begin to forget how to spell my name by the end!


Cake is an important part of the mix (Made by the brilliant Beth)


Add in a great friend to read your story - thank you Sally Ballet x
Fold in a brilliant publisher who has believed in your story right from the beginning - Thank you Penny and Firefly


And then the first and final ingredient a great big dollop of crazy family - love you all


And that is my recipe for a book launch. Thank you to everyone who came and celebrated the launch of Flight with me. I am certainly flying high still. You are wonderful people.

This is a song we would play years ago for many reasons but now I am putting it here because I love it:

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Debut Author - what I've learned so far

Author Copies
Yesterday I received a couple of early author copies of my novel Flight and a wonderful congratulations card from my publisher Firefly Press. It was yet another emotional high. I held the absolutely finished book for the first time. You can't see in the photo but it is all shiny and sparkly. The cover, designed by Anne Glenn, is amazing. It really does sum up the story.

I have been thinking about being a debut author and making sure I make the most of every moment because you can only be a debut author once. What has surprised me though is how much of an emotional roller coaster it has been. Moments of feeling totally ecstatic, particularly when you get some wonderful feedback from people you really respect and equally moments of panic and fear. Am I doing enough? Will people really like it? How do I do this? I have surprised myself how vulnerable and tearful I feel leading up to the launch and publication. My aunt was lovely when I told her and she said 'I had no idea giving birth to a book had an impact on your hormones.' And it does feel like that. But then this also feels like the culmination of quite a journey, not just my writing journey but also a personal journey which has not always been easy. (Just so you know I don't see it as the end but I've got to base camp after one hell of a struggle.)

I am a bit of a control freak and one of the things I have understood is that I have to let go of things and realise that they are just not within my control. I am learning to go with the flow! There is also a big risk of comparing yourself/your book with others. DON'T! You are you and your book will have to stand on its own. Comparison is self-destructive.

Do what you can and don't beat yourself up. I come from a PR background so feel I should be doing this massive marketing drive, being on social media all the time, being in your face about #Flight (note the use of the hashtag!). But realistically I have two jobs already and I don't have the time to be doing that so I had to talk to myself about accepting that I would do what I could. Also, I am aware that it can get quite irritating if you are constantly bombarded with info.

You need to think about who you are as an author and how much of you as a person, you want to reveal to the media. For example, I am a disabled author. As an academic, this is not something I have spoken about much so it feels a little strange and discombobulating to suddenly be speaking about it, but I do feel it is important to highlight the fact. Showing children that everyone can write.

The writing and children's book community is incredible but when you have a book deal you suddenly find yourself wrapped in this huge hug as they celebrate with you. They are wonderful as they are just as pleased and excited for you as you are. There is no jealousy or bitterness in this community, it is full of joy - or so I have found. The support is fantastic and they also tolerate you asking really obvious questions (Jennifer, James & Vashti in particular1!).  It is another emotional moment when your book is sent out for endorsements. Initially, it is terrifying and then suddenly you find these beautiful things are being said about your book by these people that you love and respect. For my granddaughter, it was far more important that Cathy Cassidy liked my book than the fact I had a book!

Some practical advice I have come across:

Practice the signature you are going to use for signing the books. Little nugget that was highlighted recently. It MUST NOT be the same as the signature you use to sign documents or cheques (anyone write cheques anymore?)

I had a grand plan to use a silver pen but found it does not show up very well on things like postcards so perhaps use something like blue or red so they can see it.

Talking of postcards, if like me you have been lucky enough to have been sent loads of postcards with your book on when you send them to schools, send two. One which you have written on and the other one blank. This way they can post both on the wall side by side.

Website: Look at others, make notes on what you like and what doesn't quite work for you. It is very easy to set your own up particularly if you use something like Wix.com. I was recommended this by various authors and set mine up using it. It was very easy. Don't forget you need to think about your teaching resources too. I would suggest you set the website up as you the author, not just the book as hopefully, you will have more than one book and you don't want to have to set up new websites for each book.

Most importantly enjoy it! I have had a fantastic time thanks to Penny, Janet and Megan at Firefly Press who have made it very easy for me. Also, the ever lovely Imogen Cooper who is just always there for me.

It is the launch this week and that is a whole other story but I've gotta feeling...



Saturday, 9 June 2018

Diversity

My lifeline 
I am feeling intensely irritated this morning. Lionel Shriver has yet again been given a chance to spout forth about her views on diversity. Fine, let her have her views on it, but do you really need to devote a whole article to them when they are against everything that the whole world is fighting so hard to achieve? I am not going to link to the article in this piece because I am not going to add to the traffic. Basically, she has had a go at Penguin Random House for their diversity policies.

Now I will start off by stating that I fully support and congratulate PRH in their efforts. And secondly, I should point out that I am potentially one of the people she is having a go about. I am not published by PRH, but I am a diverse author in that I am disabled. I have never really shouted about the fact and I would hope that my novel stands on its own merit. I am pretty certain that Firefly took my manuscript on because of the story and not because I happen to be a diverse author. It is only as the information has gone out about me and my novel that people have said to me 'I had no idea you were disabled!' Yes, I am. I have a PEG tube fitted through which I am fed. I also have issues with one of my knees now that means I am on crutches. I am registered disabled.  I am also a single parent, a woman, an academic, a writer, an editor and I was a carer. The list could go on. None of these things defines who I am on their own, they are all just part of who I am.

Diversity is vital or rather, maybe a better word is inclusivity, as we want everyone to feel included. It is important on so many levels, and when I am talking about this I am referring to the definitions used by the amazing organisation Inclusive Minds. It is not just about the stories, which, of course, are important. There is a great drive to get diversity within publishing itself, with increasing job opportunities (HaperCollins BAME traineeship programme for example) as well as authors themselves. I am thrilled to be part of the Quarto Translation/Golden Egg Academy Diversity Award which we set up because we felt every child deserves an author and story they can relate to.

What I mean is thinking in terms of windows and mirrors. Diverse characters mean children have an opportunity to see characters just like them but also for others to walk a mile in another's shoes. It is a chance to create empathy - opportune in the week of #EmpathyDay on 12th June. 'A good book is an empathy engine' as said by Chris Riddell former Children's Laureate. It should never be a tickbox exercise nor should they be seen 'just as issue books'. Look around at your group of friends. I imagine they are an eclectic mix. When creating characters in books they should reflect that fact.

I feel better having got that off my chest. I would welcome the day when we do not need to speak of diversity but I fear that is a long way off and certainly when articles like Shriver are produced. It will not stop us fighting for it though.

I love Laura Mvula's work and this piece 'Phenomenal Woman' seems appropriate:

Saturday, 24 March 2018

A Journey...

Design by Anne Glenn
I started this blog almost exactly eight years ago during the last year or so of my PhD and it has accompanied me on a journey with some great highs but also a few lows. This week I had the thrill of a 'cover reveal' where the cover of my forthcoming book was revealed on Twitter by MGBookVillage. It was extraordinary for many reasons.

Firstly, and probably most importantly I LOVE the cover selected by Firefly Press. It has been designed by Anne Glenn and it totally captures the essence of the story. Secondly, I was once again absolutely overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and love I received following the reveal. The people in the children's lit world really are the most incredibly supportive people you can come across. It was like receiving the biggest virtual hug you can imagine. Social media has had a beating this week, possibly quite rightly so but who knows the true ins and outs of it all but it also can be a really good place to be when used appropriately.

It is strange to think that eight years ago when I had started this blog I had no idea this is where I would end up. However, it seems to me that nothing in my life ends up as I planned. I just get there by accident -  a moment of serendipity perhaps - or it could be said that I take a long way round to get anywhere but I do get there...eventually.

This is only a brief post as a ponder this journey at 12.40am on a Saturday morning when I should be asleep. There is no real message other than maybe, never give up. You might surprise yourself.

I have to include this because of the book.