Friday, 15 October 2010

Catching report

This blog has not died - I hope – but it has been slightly comatose, thanks to a killer combination of last minute rewrites (Lia the lottery girl is proving annoyingly difficult to nail down) and the hideously confusing process of viewing secondary schools in north London for the boy.

Anyway Lia is nearly finished - unfortunately every time I think it's done something occurs to me which will be a massive improvement but which involves vast amounts of unravelling and re-knitting the story. One last bit to stitch together over the weekend, And the school choices are made. So, before an entire month goes past, I must tell you about the launch party for Almost True.

As with all the best parties, it’s a bit of a blur …so many great people to talk to…so here are just a few highlights. Gush alert -  you have been warned. The following list is not for diabetics.
1. The sheer variety of people there. Some had come a long way ( thank you again Ann from Amsterdam, Anne from Jersey, Jonny from Manchester, Linet from Oxford…and more of you, I know…), others were locals. You came from almost every bit of my past and present, you were Facebook unleashed, Twitter made flesh. Family, friends, neighbours, writers, publishers, agents  and many people who blurred every category going. It was incredible, amazing, confusing, frustrating (so many people to talk to! So little time! Who is that woman?) and completely wonderful. And Ruth managed to avoid giving birth, even though she was only days away from her due date.

2. The people who’d helped - and that’s not just Corinne from Waterstone’s Islington and everyone from Frances Lincoln who organised the party....not to mention publishing the book. There was Tony, my former flatmate and legal adviser, chatting to Jeremy, brother in law and source of all knowledge about medical matters. Here was Karen, my old school friend, whose 25 years as a police officer was invaluable to the last few chapters. And of course my writing group colleagues who’d read every chapter…through several drafts, and deserved a medal for endurance reading.

3. The readers. Teenagers who’d read and enjoyed one or both books, who wanted their books to be signed and asked if there might be another book about Ty. I got a big lump in my throat when I looked at one boy’s well-thumbed copy of Almost True - owned for less than a month and already read three times. ‘Thank you for getting my brother to read,’ said his sister.

4. My publicist, the very wonderful Nicky Potter (she knows everyone) suggested that I found a teenage boy to do some readings. Tom Hilton was the perfect person. First, he read brilliantly. It’s quite something to hear a voice that you’ve created come to life, and when Tom read that’s what happened. I wanted to sit him down and make him read every word of both books (anyone out there want to make an audio book?).

But there were other reasons why Tom was the best man for the job. His mum, the writer Amanda Swift was the tutor who ran the Writing for Children course at City University where When I Was Joe was first developed and written. Amanda’s contribution to both books has been enormous. And Tom was the first teenage boy to sample chapters as I wrote them. When Amanda told me each week that he’d approved, it meant more than any other reader’s response (apart from my daughter’s of course, still my sternest critic).

And going back to 1947, Amanda’s mother, Mary, and my father, Joseph, were classmates at the Manchester Institute of Science and Technology studying textile chemistry. Theirs was a small group – no more than eight - and they were good friends. What are the odds that sixty years later, Mary’s daughter would be teaching Joseph’s daughter in a university classroom? And that Mary’s grandson would read from Joseph’s daughter’s book at its launch? Sadly, Mary passed away some years ago,and my dad had a bad cold and wasn’t able to be there. But it still felt like a magically special coincidence.

5. Islington. Neither book is set in Islington - Ty’s from nearby Hackney. But it felt just right that Waterstone’s Islington was the venue. It's not just that City University is in Islington,and so is the library where my writing group meets. The nearest tube is Angel, and when my great-grandfather arrived in this country from the Ukraine in the early years of the twentieth century (he went off to Argentina for a while, but that's another story), he set up a metal-plating business in Torrens Street, just behind the station. The family business is no more, but the building is still there,and still has the original sign over the door - a big, dark, Victorian relict amid the glossy office blocks and trendy restaurants that dominate the area. It’s a little bit of London’s past that overlaps with my family history, and I find it touching that my life was changed at the City University, so near to where my grandfather, great-grandfather, great-uncle, uncle and cousins earned their living by transforming base metal into something shiny and new.
Update:  After posting this, I did a little googling and I discovered that the Islington Metal Works is now a fabulous party venue with its own Facebook page  and that before my great-grandfather bought it, it was a stables, three storeys high. I'm now desperate to have a party there..

6. The writers. I didn’t  know many writers before I become one (I mean writers of fiction, not journalists of course) and it was a giddy experience to look around the room and realise how many talented writers had become friends. This is in no small part due to the very lovely Fiona Dunbar, who has kindly made it her business to introduce me to the north London children’s world…and revealed that my neighbour, Kaye, whom I knew as a nice lady to smile at on the street was actually Kaye Umansky, creator of the classic witch Pongwiffy. At the party Kaye knew all our neighbours, and most of the writers, and many of the publishing people, and she pounced on the Frances Lincoln editorial director, Maurice Lyon, with memories of working together twenty years before.

7. Maurice himself is not one to grab the limelight, and it was great fun to read other accounts of the party and enjoy his great press.  As Anna of the Chocolate Keyboard wrote, Maurice ‘looks gratifyingly like what part of my inner soul feels a publisher should look like.’. Karen Ball’s verdict was that Maurice is ‘one of those rare jewels in publishing: an editor who cares deeply and is genuinely vested in developing Keren as an author.’ What they said! Yes!

8. And then there's my family. Possibly the most special moment of the whole evening was spotting the look on my husband's face as I made my speech.  Other people claimed to have seen looks of joy and pride on the faces of my kids - something they strenuously denied afterwards.'Everyone asked us the same thing,' they complained, 'Are you proud of your mum?'  Well, I, as nearly always, was extremely proud of them.


  1. That sounds like an awesome launch especially the part about how your readers were touched by the book. It is great when everyone in the writers community comes together to support each other!

  2. Your children both looked very proud of you, and interested in what was going on. They may have feigned boredom afterwards, but deserve Academy Awards if they really were!
    It was a lovely evening, thank you for inviting me.

  3. @Anne Thank you for coming...and coming so really made my evening and I was just sorry not to have more time to talk properly. That's the problem with parties, so many great people to chat to, such limited time to do it. As for the children,they had a fight before the party and were very tired and cross afterwards..

  4. Wow, it sounds like a fantastic party! Glad you enjoyed it.

  5. It sounds wonderful. Great to have you back - I've missed the blog over the past few weeks. Hope to see you in December.

  6. Thanks for such a great report- I'm sooo glad the party was such a success and so meaningful too. Wish I could have been there for so many reasons.