Thursday, 3 December 2009

Ears, phones and publishing deals

February, 2009. My agent has had a call from a publisher. Can we go and meet them, talk about my book? ‘They obviously really like it,’ she says on the phone. ‘They’ll just want to discuss it with you, see if you’re willing to make changes.’

Luckily I am meeting two old friends for lunch the day before. I’m a bundle of nerves. ‘What if they hated it?’ I wail. ‘What if they want me to totally rewrite it? Why can’t they just offer me loads of money?’

‘I don’t think they’d be inviting you in for a meeting if they hated it,’ says Yvette, judicially. Yvette is actually a part-time judge.

‘Don’t worry,’ says Nicky. ‘I had a training session in Neuro-Linguistic Programming yesterday. I learned some amazing strategies for meetings.’

‘Oh, yes?’ I say, sceptically.

‘OK, this is what you do. Hold your ear.’

I hold my ear.

‘Think of a time when you were at your most resourceful.’

I try and think, but I can only come up with examples of incompetence and inadequacy. ‘Do you mean at work?’

‘Any time.’

I remember my mother-in-law’s funeral when I had to deliver the eulogy at ten minutes’ notice with no notes. That’ll do. ‘OK’

‘Right. If you’re at a loss in the meeting then touch your ear. You will immediately feel incredibly resourceful.’

I don’t like to say anything, but I feel even more worried. Now I am concerned that during the meeting I will accidentally touch my ear, remember my beloved mother-in-law and burst into tears.

The day of the meeting. I am still nervous. My agent smiles encouragingly. I am trying not to think about touching my ear.

As we walk up the stairs to the meeting room my phone vibrates in my picket. I go to turn it off, glancing at it briefly.

Oh no. My son’s school. They never ever ring me. It must mean he’s had some terrible accident.

I answer the phone - which means I enter the meeting room talking on my mobile. I was right. There’s been a clash of heads in the playground. A bigger boy was involved. Charlotte the secretary’s office is full of weeping lads, one of whom is my 9-year-old.

‘I’m just in an important meeting, Charlotte,’ I hiss, mouthing my apologies to the waiting editors and shaking hands. ‘If he’s OK…?’

‘I’ll just put him on,’ she says.

So I give a quick explanation, then sit down and listen to a garbled, tear-stained account of playground bullying and bumped heads. ‘Calm down…Charlotte will look after you…brave boy….’ I interject. The phone goes dead.

Argh. What to do? I try again, but there’s no signal. ‘It’s difficult to use a mobile in here,’ explains one of the important publishing people. ‘Do you want a landline?’

I give up all hope of securing a book deal. ‘If you wouldn’t mind…he was really upset…he’s only nine…’ As I dial, conversation buzzes about the difficulties of being a working parent. My agent is telling the publishers about her four children. I notice that none of them are phoning her at the time.

I try and call on the landline. The phone rings and rings. I’m imagining brain haemorrhages, ambulances, CPR…Nothing. I put the phone down. ‘I’m terribly sorry,’ I say, with a big smile. ‘I’m sure he’s fine.’

‘So,’ says the editorial director. ‘We just had some concerns about the sexual content of your book. About what’s appropriate for thirteen year olds.’

I take a deep breath. And touch my ear. And immediately feel confident, relaxed and articulate. I deal briskly and sensibly with sex and teenagers. I offer to remove a hand from a thigh here, add an undergarment there. We move on to discussing the book, the sequel, the structure. They say nice things about the book. My agent is looking happy. World English Rights are mentioned. And then my phone vibrates again.

Oh no! It’s the school again. It must be a real emergency…’I’m so sorry,’ I say and answer it. ‘Charlotte? Is everything OK?’

It’s the assistant head teacher. Something about the school choir. ‘I’m in an important meeting,’ I growl, cutting him off rudely. I switch off the blasted phone. And touch my ear again.

So, the moral of the story is – Nicky’s NLP strategy works. Keeping your phone switched on before important meetings does not. The very understanding people at Frances Lincoln Children’s Books made me a two book offer. And my son’s bumped head was better in time for his after school tennis lesson.


  1. The working mother's nightmare - I'm impressed that you could string coherent sentences together until you were sure.
    Congratulations on the book's reception.
    The distance between you both gave you hope, fear and guilt in equal measures - the true balancing act of the working parent.
    I taught in the same school my daughter attended. The deputy head arrived in my class with my nine-year-old, as an ostrich egg grew ever larger under her right eye, one Thursday afternoon. She sat there, the living embodiment of my guilty conscience, until school ended and I could concentrate on being only one thing at a time.

  2. All's well that ends well, eh?
    Congrats on the book deal... I'm so jealous, lol.

  3. Brilliant post Keren,

    I will never forget the time when, stranded at a station somewhere in the Midlands and with the line to London out of action for an unspecified future period I got a call to say my six year old daughter had a terrible tummy ache and could I come. Well no. So I called my husband. He tore off to the car to get her only to find the battery was flat! To cut a long story short by the time he got to her (three hours later) she was fine. But I gave up full time work shortly thereafter!

    And now you're telling me that writing won't be any easier on the mothering front! Oh no!

  4. I laughed so hard reading this.

  5. Great bost. Congratulations on the deal. I'll be touching my ear all through Christmas.

  6. I am going to try this...not that I have important meetings. Nice post, you sure know how to tell a tale.

  7. Really enjoyed reading this post. I will have to try the NLP ear advice. That was laugh-out-loud funny. I remember having a similar phone call about a weepy daughter. I left a meeting to make a round trip of 50 miles only to find her happily playing when I got to the school. Kids, eh!

  8. Good news all round. I shall have to hold my ear more often.

  9. Elaine - I don't think even the NLP would have worked if he had been in the room!

    Reg - yes, despite my best efforts to screw everything up

    Fish - I am completely convinced you will have many important meetings with agents and publishers to look forward to in the future. Better get practising now. In fact it could help your dating technique in the meantime.

    I think the NLP only worked so well because I had picked a really outstanding example of my own resourcefulness. I still have no idea how I managed to string together a eulogy with so little notice.