Friday, 30 December 2011

A writer's year..

So. 2011. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I can't remember much of it. Where's my trusty diary...I mean all writers have a diary, don't they? A journal of their literary life...a witty, erudite, insightful record of the year. I bet Marcus Sedgwick has a diary. I bet Jason Wallace...
Disaster of the year. I blame Richard Branson.
Oh well, where's my Tesco Family Organiser?

 I went to San Diego, to meet thousands of American librarians. San Diego! I hadn't been abroad for work since...hmmm... 1983 when I went to Spain for a conference and spent most of the time flirting and sunbathing .  In San Diego, I was far too English to really push my book, but I did my best. At the booth next to me there was a charming lady promoting her debut book, which, she told me, was a murder mystery narrated by someone with Alzheimer's. I wasn't completely sure about that as a premise, but I bought a copy anyway. .
Also in January, I went to Newcastle for the North East Teen Book Award, for which When I Was Joe was on a shortlist of six. We authors sat on a platform in front of about 200 teenagers. Behind us was a drop of about a foot. I spent the evening convinced that I was about to topple over backwards -  and I very nearly did, when my book was announced as the winner. I gave a speech worthy of any tearful Oscar winner - I was shaking! -  because I'd never, ever won anything before in my life. Afterwards, my lovely editor Emily bought champagne..and then there was some Baileys...Truly, an unforgettable hangover event.

Dominated (according to the Family Organiser) by football training for the son, and transporting Freddie and Chester, our guinea pigs to and from the guinea pig hotel, where they enjoy literary soirees and manicures (you think I'm joking? See April) . Oh and I spoke at a school, where I realised five minutes before the speech that I had a massive hole in my trousers. I'd got up so early to get there, and got dressed in the dark, not realising until far too late, that I'd picked up the wrong clothes. I gave my entire speech, plus a question and answer session, with my legs clamped together. No one asked any awkward questions, so I think I got away with it. Or everyone I met that day was super-polite. No, I'm not telling which school it was.
I started work in earnest on Another Life, the third book about Ty. Five chapters in I showed it to my husband, who told me what he thought was wrong with it. 'You know nothing,' I told him. 'You don't understand my Vision.'
The page for March has disappeared from my Family Organiser. I remember nothing about it at all, except that on my birthday, my husband and I went to a barmitzvah party, for Asher, son of my old friends Nicky and David. During the speeches, Asher wished me a happy birthday, and the entire marquee of people said 'Who?' and then sang 'Happy Birthday Dear Karen', which was lovely but slightly embarrassing, because we didn't really know anyone there apart from Nicky and David. Then Asher presented me with a huge birthday cake. Again, this was lovely, but a little problematic to transport home with no cake box. In the end we put it in the boot, and drove home, imagining, with every bump or corner, the cake bouncing and somersaulting. But happily it survived intact. Not for long, though.

Again, according to the Organiser, almost nothing happened in April. I worked diligently (ahem) on Another Life. The proprietor of the guinea pig hotel, the very wonderful and multi-talented Nicola Solomon became General Secretary of the Society of Authors.
The highlight of the month was meant to be the Royal Wedding on the 29th. My daughter and I planned a girly day in front of our (chavtastically huge) television. We bought snacks. We encouraged the boys to leave us alone for the day.  I organised a Tesco delivery, so I would not have to leave the sofa. We were primed for celebrity-spotting, funny hats and cooing over wedding dresses and men in uniforms.
And then, disaster struck. The night before the Wedding of the Century, our television stopped working. Distraught, I phoned Virgin Media's call centre in India, where the workers are polite and charming, but utterly useless (not their fault, I am convinced they are not trained  properly or given the correct information. I have had to phone them often in the last year.). 'I'll send someone on Monday,' said the man in Mumbai (or whereever). 'Monday???' I shrieked,'Don't you know we have a royal wedding tomorrow? This is an emergency!'  But it was all no good, so we ended up watching at my sister's house, which was nice, but rather more crowded (and on a much smaller screen) than we had anticipated. So Richard Branson cheated us out of the Full Wedding Experience. I will never forgive him.
Naturally the telly started working perfectly, once William and his bride were safely wed.

May was a -may-zing. When I Was Joe won the Angus Book Award. After-win Baileys became a tradition. Then, at the end of the month, we were queuing to check in for a flight to Amsterdam, when I got a call telling me that When I Was Joe had also won  the Lancashire Book of the Year award. I whooped and danced, my children moved away, told me I was being embarrassing and said, 'We're bored with you winning awards. Shut up.'

June was busy, busy, busy. I spoke at the Hay Festival. I stood next to Meg Rosoff in a queue and she knew who I was (swoon). I spoke at various schools,and  at the Lancashire Book of the Year award ceremony (at which I told the story of my dad and the banana..You had to be there).  This was possibly also the month (the Organiser is mysteriously silent) when I had lunch with my agent and she told me that Another Life wasn't working at all, and it possibly needed completely reworking. Possibly. She seemed to agree with my husband about what needed to be done (see February), but I explained patiently that this was not part of my Vision.
July was the month in which When I was Joe didn't win the Branford Boase Award, the UKLA award or the Redbridge Teen Book of the Year.  Ho hum. Something extraordinarily funny (in all senses)  happened on a train, but I am sworn to secrecy. And  I reworked Another Life a bit ( in line with my Vision) and it began to work.  My kind editors extended my deadline to the end of September.
Lia's Guide to Winning  the Lottery was published. Went on holiday. Another Life was nowhere near finished, and my computer power cord broke, the day before we left. So I loaded it onto my kindle, to read when I was there. Read it, and immediately saw what was wrong with it. Yes, my husband and agent were correct. ARGH! Spent the rest of the holiday working out how many extra chapters I'd need to write, where they would go, and how much would need to be deleted.
Wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. Completely forgot about various social events, very rudely failing to even let people know I'd forgotten.(sorry, so sorry, sorry). By some incredible miracle, managed to finish Another Life on September 23. Sent it to agent and then to editor. Awaited suggestions involving complete rewrites.
Had lunch with lovely editors. They were almost completely happy with Another Life. No revisions. When I worked at the Jewish Chronicle we were banned from using the word 'miracle' in reports or headlines, unless we had definite proof of divine intervention. This may be the one.  
When I Was Joe didn't win the Catalyst Book Award...but it did win the Wirral Paperback of the Year. Woo!
Kicked off in spectacular style with Meg Rosoff's party for K M Peyton, author of the Flambards books and the Pennington trilogy, which I read and loved as a teen. Pennington, who tended to fight first, think afterwards, was definitely a sub-conscious inspiration for Ty. The room was full of writers, editors, librarians and booksellers, all united in admiration for Kathleen Peyton, who spoke with wit and vigour about her career as a very prolific, award-winning writer. It took me back to my teeange years, reading and loving her books, and many others, and reminded me again of why I love writing for children. It's not about money, or awards, or reviews or foreign deals. It's about reaching out to anyone who wants to read, and not knowing what they will make of what you've written.
(And despite it not being about foreign deals or awards, it was very nice to hear that Lia's Guide to Winning the Lottery has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal, and has found publishers in Korea and the Netherlands.)
Remember the lady in San Diego and her Alzheimer's murder mystery? In November she won the Wellcome Book Award, the first ever work of fiction to do so. The prize was £25,000 and the book is called Turn of Mind . Well done booth-mate, Alice La Plante! I promise to read your book soon!
Proof with adjusted Vision.
Couldn't find address book. So all those people whose parties I ignored in September/October, didn;t get their apologetic Christmas cards (sorry again).  So many social events. It's all a bit of a blur. But the proof for Another Life arrived. And  I did manage to write a chapter of the (hopefully) new book. Showed it to daughter and husband. 'I'm not caring about the characters,' she said. 'It's a bit depressing to start with a suicide attempt,' he said.  This time I'm listening. New start next week. Roll on 2013...oh, hang on, 2012...

Friday, 23 December 2011

Dear Keren...(part 2)

Dear Keren

I really enjoyed your books When I Was Joe and Almost True. When is there going to be another book about Ty? What do you suggest I read in the meantime?                                  

First of  all, let me draw your attention to my third book Lia's Guide to Winning the Lottery. True, it is not obviously a 'boy' book, true it has both a handbag and a shoe on the cover. But I think that most people who liked WIWJ and AT would enjoy it. It is not just about money, sex and shopping -  although those are elements -  it also should make you think about about economics, and values (but in a good way) families, friendship and Facebook. There is some suspense and a twisty plot. The heroine gets nicer. Trust me.

New book about Ty coming out in August 2012 in the UK, called Another Life. Covers and tasters coming soon on this blog.

OK, once you've bought Lia's Guide, it's hard for me to know what to recommend because I don't know what aspect of WIWJ and AT you enjoyed. Was it the crime element, the characters, or the lurve story? All I can do is point you to some books that I have enjoyed, and see how you go. Like WIWJ and AT, they feature messed-up, confused and far from perfect male protagonists.

Taking Flight  by  Sheena Wilkinson. I can almost guarantee that anyone who likes my books will enjoy Taking Flight, which I have raved about ever since it came out in 2010. Even more reason to get your hands on it and read it now, because there will be a sequel Grounded coming out next year. In Taking Flight Sheena mixes urban grittiness with classic pony book, with a Northern Ireland setting and  creates an exciting book where you care for each and every character, while competely recognising their many flaws. I've been lucky enough to read Grounded, and it's even better. Add to the travails of our hero Declan, the horse-mad boy from the wrong part of town, a neurotic horse called Folly and a mixed-up kid called Cian. There are truly shocking moments and I was enthralled throughout...and could hardly believe it had ended when it dod. More, please!

Flip by Martyn Bedford. Some brilliant insights in this books about a boy who wakes up in another boy's body -  I esepcially enjoyed the moment when he first takes a pee using someone else's equipment. It would have been easy to play it for laughs, but Martyn Bedford turns it into a moving story which examines the very basics of who we are.

 Paranormal isn't usually my thing, but I loved White Cat and Red Glove by Holly Black which is a clever twist on the usual tropes. Our hero Cassel comes with plenty of problems, part of a family of magic workers in a world where magic is illegal, he's living with the knowledge that he killed his best friend.

Playground by 50 Cent. The usual growling prejudice against celebrities who decide to write children's books had to be suspended for this one, because I loved it. This is despite it being a 'therapy' book, which is a device I usually don't like.  It's the story of Butterball, who starts off as an unpleasant bully who has violently attacked another boy. Without excusing or ignoring what he'd done, the reader gradually comes to hope for Butterball's redemption - something that seems impossible at the beginning when he's full of incoherent swagger. I was fascinated by the US setting - paying for your own social worker? Paying for private school if you're expelled from state school? -  a long way from the anodyne view of American life served up by Disney Channel.The healing relationship between Butterball and his cousellor was truly moving, and might help readers understand what is missing in their own lives. I could not stop reading until I had found out Butterball's secrets. 

Last year's top fantasy read, Gillian Philip's superb  Firebrand featured a truly warped anti-hero, the deliciously dark, sulky, misunderstood faery (but don't let that put you off) Seth.  He returned this year in the sequel Bloodstone , even more twisted than before, and there's another snarling, angry youth, Jed, who I instantly fell for. Do read Firebrand before Bloodstone, so that you have some sympathy for Seth (because he works hard to use it all up in Bloodstone). And if you want a taster for the series, Gillian's written a short ebook prequel Frost Child about Seth's father, available for the bargain price of just 86p.

If you're looking for a laugh, forget the Wimpy Kid, read Dark Lord: The Teenage Years by Jamie Thomson. It's one joke really, but a great one, can Dirk Lloyd. the mysterious boy found in a car park really be a banished Dark Lord stripped of his dastardly powers?

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Ask Keren...(part one)

I've  been giving out quite a bit of advice recently, so I thought I'd have an agony aunt blog for a few days before Christmas.  Starting with this..

Dear Keren,

You don't know me, but I was at the dental hygienist recently and I mentioned that I'd written a children's book and his cousin's wife works with someone who knew you from the parent and baby gym group you went to c 1997.  Remember Jason and Mason? Them. Anyway, I've written a few books I'm really keen to get them published. One is for the 5-12 age group, about a boy wizard, and another is for older's a bit controversial and there's a lot of swearing, but I think it's all justified. Do you need an agent? I've done a bit of research and I've made a list of 179 possibles. Should I write to them all at once? Or should I write to publishers? Or is it best to self-publish?

Hello!  Yes, I remember Jason and Mason well, especially when Mason bit...but never mind. Glad to try and help. Here are my orders....I mean, advice...

1) Check out this website. It is by Nicola Morgan,a children's writer who has been writing for much longer than I have and knows infinitely more about the subject. In fact why don't you...never mind...She has loads and loads of excellent advice about all aspects of writing for publication. There is also a book Write to be Published which is a fascinating and very useful read - basically the same stuff that's on the blog, but easier to navigate. Nicola knows it all.  Another excellent website to read is  Notes from the Slushpile.  (Did I read these blogs before writing to agents, one day after finishing my first draft and without a title for the book?  No, I was too impatient to do any research.)

2) Join the Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators  Attend its annual conference which is in Winchester, mid November. There you will meet agents and editors, writers and artists and you can attend masterclasses and workshops on all aspects of writing for children. Even if you can't go to conference SCWBI holds regular events, masterclasses and the like, an agents' party in September and, every year publishes the Undiscovered Voices, an anthology which is compiled from a competition among un-agented writers.  Being long or short-listed for UV is generally a fast track to being agented and published, and in several cases UV writers have gone on to win awards.  (Did I join SCWBI and enter UV before looking for an agent? No, I thought I'd wait until I had a publishing deal because then the membership would be cheaper).

3) Start researching agents. Which children's authors do you like, and who represents them? Which writers have a similar style to you, and who represents them? Do you want an agent who will be very business-oriented, or one who is keen to be involved in giving you edtorial feedback? It's worth thinking about all of this before you approach people.
Agents will have submission guidelines on their websites. They will tell you what they want - not everyone wants three chapters. Also whether you should print it out, or send by email. Don't write to 179 agents at once. Let the rejections (or indeed offers) trickle through slowly. And don't bother agents if they haven't replied to you within a month. Especially if it is August. (Did I badger an agent mid-August because I hadn't heard from her three weeks after sending her my first chapter? Need you ask?)

4) Start researching the business. For example, a little bit of research will tell you that books aren't generally for 9-13 year olds - 8-12 is the usual age range. The more you know, the better you are able to present yourself to agents. (Unlike me, who though in a vague way that a book about a 14-year-old ought to appeal to 14 year-olds. And who had never heard of most YA writers and had no idea that anyone else might have written about knife crime..that was a nasty shock...)

5) When you do start approaching agents, get ready for rejection. You need to be tough. It is a hideous process. I was turned down by about ten agents - then offered representation by three. Then I was rejected by at least 25 publishers, before getting a two-book deal.  It's really hard but try not to take it personally. (and drop that will do you no good...)

6)  Self-publishing used to be a screamed desperation, incompetence and sub-standard. You might as well put a big label 'Written by a Loser' on your book. But we are entering a new phase of self-publishingand everything is changing.  It is easy-peasy to put your book on Amazon as an e-book, price it low and see what happens. Unlike conventional publishing, you will receive 75% of the cover price. Unlike conventional publishing you will not have to wait for a year to sell your book. The drawbacks -  you have to do (or arrange) your own editing, cover design and marketing (but even with a conventional publisher, you have to do a certain amount of editing and marketing).  Your book will not win awards, nor be bought by libraries or schools. You will not have lovely shiny copies of your book to hold.
Right now, I wouldn't advise self-publishing unless you've become completely jaded by attenpting the conventional route. Whether I'd give the same advice next year..I'm not so sure. And for authors who've had rights revert to them -  go for it.

Tomorrow: What books do you recommend?

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Group Dynamic

 Guinea pigs and  gunmen, communists and criminal cats. Etiquette, incest, drug-taking and blood -  lots of it. Careers, children and choir-singing. Yiddish, Norwegian, Spanish and Cockney.
I'm just trying to give you a flavour of one of our Writing Group meetings, where, with a rough brief of discussing our attempts to write for children -  a brief that's constantly breached - we critique work, discuss our lives, and provide mutual comfort and support.
We've been meeting for a few years now, and we've seen eachother through setbacks and successes. Some ideas take shape, others get abandoned. Some are on slow-burn, others get written in a matter of weeks.
Sometimes one of us will get a job, or start a blog or do something exciting like move to Norway for a year. Sometimes people sign up with agents. But the most exciting thing is when a publisher likes one of the projects we've discussed. And that's been happening quite a lot recently.
This year our group leader Amanda Swift and group member Jennifer Gray worked together to create Guinea Pigs Online, a fabulously funny new series for the 5 plus age group. They signed a two-book deal with Quercus and both books will come out next year -  Guinea Pigs Online in April and Guinea Pigs Online 2 -  Furry Towers in November.  
Do Amanda and Jennifer own guinea pigs? Well, no, they don't. But I do, and so did group member Becky Jones. So we were expert advisers for this project, although their fictional piggies are a little than real ones.
Here's the blurb for Guinea Pigs Online:
Fuzzy the guinea pig loves the Internet. He loves to cook too – ketchup and washing-up liquid soup … yum! Hutch-mate Coco is incredibly posh, and she does not care for computers.
But when Fuzzy goes missing and Micespace reveals that he could be in terrible danger, Coco has to get online to find out where he’s gone! Luckily, she’s got help from a crack team of fellow guinea-pigs: Terry the techno-whizz, Banoffee, mum of fourteen guinea-piglets and Eduardo, the heroic, handsome, freedom-fighting Peruvian!

Will the guinea pigs save Fuzzy and make it home alive?

What's more, Jennifer has also signed a contract with Faber for a three-book comedy series for 7 +  about Atticus Claw - the world's greatest cat burglar.  The first - Atticus Claw Breaks the Law - will be published in September 2012 with the others to follow in 2013.  

While Amanda and Jennifer entertained us, Lydia Syson made us cry with her heart-stopping historical romance A Darker Shade of Red, which has been bought by new publisher Hot Key Books.  Editor Sarah Odedina calls it "a fantastic, sweeping romance…  With hints of Charlotte Gray and Atonement this is a novel that will thrill and satisfy any YA reader who likes adventure and big themes with their romance…."  The setting is the Spanish Civil War, so the themes couldn't be much bigger. A Darker Shade of Red will be published in Autumn 2012, and I'd bet it'll end up on quite a few award shortlists.

Becky Jones, along with writing partner Clare Lewis, has already published two fabulous non-fiction books of adventure walks for families in and around London - details here.
Their next book, The Bumper Book of London, is coming out 7th April 2012, from Frances Lincoln, who are also my publishers, and it's certainly going to be my gift of choice for children for quite some time. 
Here's the blurb: This entertaining and informative book includes every fact, figure, statistic and hidden secret of London that will be of interest to children. Mixing history with literature, listings with trivia, it opens windows on all areas of London's rich past and present. Here children will learn about London's art and architecture, landmarks, hidden places, ghosts, pearly kings and queens, festivals, street names, games, traditions, markets, football teams, and much, much more. Discover the oldest, the tallest, the silliest, the scariest and the smallest things in London. Shop till you drop at the Queen's favourite stores. Delve into London's murky past, see where notorious criminals were hanged, drawn and quartered, pirates were strung out to rot, heads were mounted on spikes and prisoners were tortured. Peer down London's oldest loo, chant with the crowds at London's first football club, and walk under the River Thames without getting wet. The Bumper Book of London will satisfy every child's appetite for facts and figures - as well as providing fodder for desperate parents who have run out of answers. 
 Add to that my book Another Life, which is nearly at the bound proof stage, and should be out in August. Our other two members Anna and Fenella, have both got new jobs.
So, one group, six books out in 2012 (admittedly, most of them written by Jennifer who has more ideas in an afternoon than I have in a year). We're virtually the Bloomsbury set!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Another Life - update

Another Life  -  the third book about Ty -  is pretty much finished. The copy edit is done,I've inserted a few jokes, made some things clearer.   I rewrote chapter two to take account of advice from my barrister friend.  The cover is designed, the blurb agreed. Around the end of December proof copies should be available.
It's a funny feeling. As far as I know this will be the last book about Ty (although, mind you, I said that at the end of Almost True). I'm sad to say goodbye. When you write three books about a character, he's like part of the family. One of the best things this year has been finding out that readers enjoy reading about Ty and care about him as much as I enjoy writing about him. My big challenge now is working out how to move on.
Anyway, I've made a word cloud of Another Life which you can see here  It doesn't tell you much, although if you look carefully there are some new and revived character names.
The girls of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in Islington are holding a competition to design a cover for Another Life.  They asked if the model on the cover could come along to the school for a photo shoot, nice try, girls. I've told them that all three books in the series are getting a new look. When their competition is done I hope to be able to share all three new covers with you.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Breaking free of the chains

WH Smith: Half price on all our top 20 celebrity hardbacks!
One of the less enjoyable parts of being an author is meeting a lovely friend who has tried to buy your book in her local bookshop. She drove there specially, looked carefully, even asked a shop assistant.
Then she breaks the news to you.'I'm really sorry,' she says, 'WH Smith in Brent Cross/Wood Green/Luton Airport/the Arndale Centre didn't have your book.'
Argh! If only she'd checked first! I could have told her not to bother, guided her gently towards a lovely indie bookshop or Amazon. A debut author with a small publisher has to get very lucky indeed to get her book into the big chains, and my first book When I Was Joe, was not lucky enough.
In fact anyone who isn't a known best-seller,  pretty much has to have a publisher able to pay large amounts to promote you, and a book which catches the eye of the buyers at supermarkets or chains, often because it is similar to other best-sellers. What was I thinking, writing a realistic 'gritty' (hate that word) thriller in 2009? Obviously, teens only wanted to read about vampires.
Waterstone's Islington promotes Almost True
Sometimes it seems that the main places where most people go to browse books (for indie bookshops are closing every day) are stocking a smaller and smaller range of books. Go into a smaller branch of WH Smith and you might be forgiven for thinking that the only people writing for children nowadays are Julia Donaldson, Jacqueline Wilson, Darren Shan, Stephenie Meyer, J K Rowling, Francesca Simon, Jeff Kinney and their imitators.
Doom and gloom abound.  A received wisdom is growing up that without the big orders from the big chains, you don't stand a chance. You can't be a bestseller until you're already a best seller.  Authors are all too often judged on their market performance in the first six months of their career -  before they've had a chance to build up a readership through any other means than piling their books high in chains and supermarkets. And established authors are judged equally harshly, despite their past success.
So, hurray for this article in The Bookseller which challenges this notion.
 'Publishers once bemoaned the passing of the backlist, yet now it is midlist titles they are concerned about as the focus is drawn ever closer to the bestseller charts.' writes Caroline Horn, quoting agents and publishers (notably Francesca Dow of Penguin) saying that there is less room in the market for a range of titles and writers. The news is particularly bad for those writing for 8-12 year-olds, pushed aside by all those teen paranormal clones.
HOWEVER -  and rarely has a however been so welcome - Ms Horn does clever things with the figures to show that actually the children's market is growing and all is not as it seems.

 'The frontrunners account for less of sales now than a decade ago....£62m for the top 10 authors compared with the market as a whole of £324m.'
She goes on to  discuss different outlets stocking children's books, different formats selling well. And then  -  imagine my surprise! - she talks about my book

Publishers have to work much harder to achieve those sales, says Gail Lynch, sales and marketing director at Frances Lincoln. She cites Keren David's When I Was Joe as an example. This was published by Frances Lincoln on its fledgling YA list and while the title has not been supported by the major chains, sales have still reached nearly 10,000 copies, which Lynch attributes to the unflagging efforts of the author, sales reps, indies and the number of regional book awards it has featured in. But she adds that each and every sale has been "hard won".

Now, earlier in the article sales for another book of 3,700 were described as 'very modest', so the gap between success and disappointment seems to be pretty narrow, but it's still nice to be singled out as a good news story. I'd have added a big, fat, hopeful  SO FAR after the figure of 10,000. Furthermore, When I Was Joe was always stocked by some, if not all, branches of Waterstone's, and I know several wonderful Waterstone's booksellers who have worked tirelessly to handsell my books (a particular thank you to Corinne in Islington, Gabriel in Thanet and Nicole at Piccadilly -  and those are just the ones I know about).  I very much hope that the move in Waterstone's to central ordering does not curb the impact of their enthusiastic booksellers who can make a real difference when they champion a book. There was a phase when it seemed that all the fan emails I received were from people who lived in or near Thanet.
And my third book, Lia's Guide to Winning the Lottery  which manges to disguise its inner 'welcome grittiness'  under a girly cover, is stocked by WH Smith and was on 3 for 2 at Waterstones, before that promotion was cancelled.
But yes, making any kind of impact was hard, and involved exceptionally hard work from the entire  team at Frances Lincoln. I'm constantly impressed by the advantages to be found at  this particular small publisher. Everyone cares about me and my book, everyone is interested in doing extra stuff which might just help sell a few copies here or there. They believe in growing sales slowly, they believe in a word-of-mouth ripple effect, they work and work to let people -  librarians, reviewers, booksellers, teachers -  know about me and about my books.  They are wonderful and I owe them a lot.
As for me, what have I done to help my publisher sell books? I realised early on -  before the book came out -  that there were things that I could do that played on my strengths and were (apart from my time) completely free. I'm good with people and I'm an experienced journalist. So I blog. I facebook. I tweet. I make new friends, both virtual and real.
Some of the time I do this with a 'networking' hat on, and mostly I do it because it's fun and supportive and interesting and I meet wonderful people (only today I had lunch with a brilliant author who is also published by Frances Lincoln, Naima B Robert and I had been friends online for ages, but as she lives in Cairo and I'm in London this was our first actual meeting).
 I do school visits, although not loads and loads. I try and say yes when I'm invited to speak at conferences and festivals. I've also worked hard to keep the books coming - four written in three and a half years. 'I do admire how you keep churning them out,' someone told me the other day, to the quiet sound of my grinding teeth.
 I wish more people in the industry would take heed of Caroline Horn's article.  Getting books into Tesco is not everything. Failing to get a Waterstone's promotion isn't the end of the world. Sometimes it's better to be patient than expect instant results. Trends are all very well, but good writing is more important.
The top ten children's authors are making an average £6m a year each. The rest of us  -  thousands of us -  share the remaining £262 million. Our challenge is to earn a living from our writing.  We can take some crumbs of hope from Caroline Horn's conclusion:

Where books are selling and how they are sold is changing, and the burgeoning internet and e-book markets will change this further. What hasn't changed, however, against all expectation, is that midlist and backlist titles, as well as the "quieter" new books, are selling—and they are selling even better than they did a decade ago.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Writing for Children

In January 2008 I signed up for a course in writing for children at City University in London, taught by Amanda Swift. The course changed my life - it's where I started writing When I Was Joe.
Amanda's now giving up teaching the course, and I'm very honoured to have been asked to take over. It runs for ten weeks, starting January 17 or April 24; it will cover many aspects of writing for children, from picture books to Young Adult. It's for everyone, whether you're aiming for publication or just want to get out of the house on a Tuesday evening.
One of the most fun aspects of preparing for the course was thinking of a list of recommended books. There were so many I could have chosen, but in the end I picked the following:

Auslander -  Paul Dowswell

Tall Story -  Candy Gourlay

The Tiger Who Came to Tea  Judith Kerr

The Cat Mummy Jacqueline Wilson

Charmed Life Diana Wynne Jones

How I Live Now  Meg Rosoff

Showbiz Sensation: Showbiz Superstar   (Stunt Bunny)  Tamsyn Murray

There are so many other books I could have chosen, but this is a list with picture books and chapter books to YA, male and female protagonists, fantasy, historical, dystopia, realism, humour, 

I'm excited about taking this new step -  and a little nervous too. I've often thought I'd like to take the course again -  never imagined this would be how. If you're interested in signing up, details are here.

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Shine/Chime Screw-up

How could they?  They being the judges and administrators of the National Book Awards in the US who mixed up books and authors and created a huge painful mess.
Shine - with an 's' and an 'n'
Last week the shortlist of five was announced for the Young People's book award. Shortly afterwards, consternation, embarrassment, disaster. They'd listed Lauren Myracle's book Shine, when they meant Chime by Frannie Billingsley.
Chime with a 'c'and an 'm'
At first, they  clumsily added Myracle's book to the shortlist. Behind the scenes, pressure was put on her to withdraw. Today she did so, with enormous grace, saying:  'When I received the initial call about Shine being a finalist, I was humbled and honored to be in the company of such amazing authors. I was also deeply moved that in recognizing 'Shine,' the NBF was giving voice to the thousands of disenfranchised youth in America—particularly gay youth—who face massive discrimination and intimidation every day. So that something positive may come of their error, I have strongly suggested that the NBF donate to the Matthew Shepard Foundation [a charity focused on respecting human dignity among young people].”
The NBF have subsequently confirmed a $5,000 donation to the trust.
I felt pain on behalf of both Myracle and Billingsley when I read this story -  goodness knows how bad they must feel. Thing is, you don't write books with awards in mind (well, I suppose some people may, but I don't and nor do most writers.) If and when the call comes that your book has been honoured, it's incredibly special. It's a lovely surprise, a bonus, a joy -  but also a stressful experience, as you're suddenly part of a competition you hadn't expected.
Authors are not athletes, looking to stomp the opposition. We try and write the best book we can, for our own reasons. It's wonderful to win, it's less wonderful to come close. It's demoralising and disappointing to feel over-looked. But to think you're on a shortlist and then get taken off? To hear that your book has been mixed up with another one? That's an insult.
Awards for childrens' books aren't really about the authors. They exist to get children reading and reviewing, talking and thinking about what makes a good book. Some spark creativity (the Angus Book Award is a good example, with pupils creating book covers and films inspired by the shortlisted books). Others develop debating skills -  the Lancashire Book of the Year judges even take over the council chamber for their deliberations.
The best awards make all the short and long-listed authors feel special and celebrated. They take care of the authors involved and remember that we are  -  well, some of us are -  artists with delicate egos, not X Factor contestants. I've heard horror stories about awards which read out the books in descending order ('and in tenth place...') or tell the lucky winner beforehand, leaving the other shortlisters in anxious suspense.
It's not really that difficult to tell the difference between 'Shine' and 'Chime'. It's not really difficult to be sensitive, thoughtful and accurate. Lauren Myracle didn't deserve to be treated like this. Nor did  Andy Mulligan when he got booted off the Blue Peter shortlist.  I hope that the publicity boosted sales for both of them. And I hope it didn't spoil Frannie Billingsley's moment either. Perhaps they can combine to write about the experience. And call it 'Shame'.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Living the Metaphor

My favourite view in Amsterdam, the Groenburgwal
When my son Daniel was stillborn in February 1998, someone sent me the following piece:

When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It’s just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.

Now, at the time, this piece seemed neither relevant nor helpful, nor especially sensitive. It had, in fact, been written by Emily Perl Kingsley about the experience of bringing up a disabled child, and so it did not seem at all appropriate to us. 'Afghanistan,' I'd growl, whenever I thought of it. 'Or Siberia,. Or Hiroshima just after they'd dropped the bomb. Those would be more suitable metaphors. Not bloody Holland.'

And then -  oh irony! oh coincidence! - just over a year later, we moved. To bloody Holland. And not at all at a time when I wanted to live there, or indeed live anywhere that wasn't my own home among my friends and family and people who spoke my language.

We were there for eight years. It was hard, and I was homesick, and depressed. I envied anyone who lived where they wanted to live. I found it hard to accept that I couldn't have that control over my life.

And then, you know what, there were windmills and glorious tulips and Rembrandts. There were Van Goghs and Mondriaans and wonderful new friends and beautiful parks. There was cycling and walking and picnics in the forest and many, many other lovely things. Amsterdam, it turned out, was a healing place.

I can never be as even-handed as Italy versus Holland when it comes to a child dying. I'm sure that many parents of disabled children would struggle with the concept as well. But truly, life without Daniel has not been as bleak or pointless as first we feared. Our lives took a different path, and that we learned a great deal along the way. It wasn't quite Italy/Holland -  more like going to boot camp when you were expecting a spa break. It's not what you expect, and it's extremely hard and unfair -  but in the end it's not a completely worthless experience.

I was reminded of this story last week, in synagogue for Kol Nidre, the service on the eve of the Day of Atonement. The rabbi read Emily Perl Kingsley's words and spoke about the consolations one can find in troubled times, whatever they may be. 'Living in Holland' was how he described it, and it was truly surreal as his rhetoric described my actual experience.

So, writers, be careful with your metaphors. Think them through. Someone may end up living them.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Memories of 9/11

We were living in Amsterdam. My children were 1 and 5. My husband’s cousin had come to stay and I   switched on the television so that the children could watch Tweenies while we had a cup of tea and a chat.The Tweenies weren’t there. Instead there was an office building, a blue sky. As we watched – irritated, the children whining for their programme – a plane smashed into the building.
What on earth? There was no sound, but a caption on screen said: ‘Pictures from the WTC.’ I only knew one WTC…the Amsterdam WTC, right next door to my husband’s office. I must have switched onto a Dutch channel, I panicked, this must be happening just down the road. What on earth? Was he OK?
Then the sound kicked in, and it was the BBC, and it was New York. And so my first feeling as I comprehended what was happening and where, was -  momentarily - relief.
Ten years on, I still feel bad about those five seconds of relief.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

What I did (and didn’t do) this summer.

Soller, Mallorca
1)     Just before school holidays begin. Take son to buy uniform for his new school. Bought everything huge and in duplicate, so we will never have to do it again. Massive bill. Unusual and transitory sense of being organised and in control. 
2)     School holidays begin. Lecture family about my need to write in peace and quiet, for at least a few hours every day. They will have to amuse themselves. Tough.
3)     Son has reading list for new school. Ignore instruction saying he has to read one from each genre (five books) and tell him his challenge for the holiday is to read all 25. Then change that to 24 because I don’t like the sound of one of the authors.
4)     Daughter has nothing to wear. Take her to mall and buy stuff for her.  Slightly less massive bill. No bikinis take her fancy. Gnash teeth. Beg her to buy bikini because it is in sale, even though she hates it. She refuses. Buy school skirts. Suggest that she tries them on so that if necessary we can change them. ‘Later,’ she says.
5)     Son starts cricket summer camp. Sun is shining, son is happy. Rush to Starbucks and write and write and write.
6)     Day two of cricket camp. It is raining. Son gloomy and bored. Daughter has nothing to wear. Suggest she tries on school skirts. ‘Later,’ she says.
7)     Inspiration. We spend rainy day visiting lovely grandparents. Leave daughter there overnight with instructions to grandma to take her to buy bikinis. Hand over cash.
8)     Day three of cricket camp. It is sunny, son is delighted. Rush to Starbucks. Write and write and write. Daughter texts pictures of bikinis she has bought with grandma. Then texts picture of price tag showing they were cheaper than the sale bargain she rejected. Huh.
9)      Day four of cricket camp. Rain. Drive to grandparents to pick up daughter and bikinis, taking computer, go to their local library, write and write and write. Happy memories of visiting this library every week throughout childhood. Notice that teen section is a measly two bookcases. Do they have my books? They do not.
10) Cricket camp week two. Son decides he’s not enjoying himself as much as last week. ‘I’m not sure if I want to go this week,’ he says.  Gnash teeth. Drop him off. Go to Starbucks and write and write and write.
11)  Cricket camp week two, day two. ‘I really don’t want to go today.’ Drop him off. Starbucks. Write and write and write.
12)  No more cricket camp. Really not enjoying it.  Tell him he has lots of books to read. Try and write at home. Concentration shot to pieces.
13)  HOLIDAY! We are off to Mallorca. Decide to take laptop so I can get up early every day and keep writing.
14) Midnight before holiday. We are getting up at 4am to go to Mallorca. Power cable for laptop breaks. Gnash teeth. Decide to take lightweight Netbook instead, and download manuscript onto Kindle.  Congratulate self at techno know-how and calm under pressure.
15)  Arrive Mallorca. Gorgeous but hot. Very hot. Family shrivel and droop in the sunshine. ‘I hope you’re not going to be too pathetic to do some sight-seeing,’ says husband.
View from the pool
16)  Too hot to write. Too hot to think. Sit in shade and admire view and read Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman. ‘Stop laughing out loud,’ instruct children, ‘you’re embarrassing us.’
17)  Day 2. Find shady spot and write and write. Son has made friends with other children at pool. Somehow we fail to notice that he has spent six hours in and out of the pool, only reapplying Factor 50 sun cream once.
18)  Son has terrible sunburn. Plus he is vomiting (but has not got sunstroke, we check on internet). Spend day sitting in darkened room with him, reading teen romances (research!). Become obsessed with American book Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Why does a boy with an English accent pronounce Anna ‘Ah’na’? Why does he talk about ‘transit systems’? Why has his mother never divorced her rich but abusive husband? Daughter advises me to get a life. I pre-order sequel.
19)  Husband is bored with sitting around doing nothing except reading (possibly because he is reading serious books about Spain, and not teen romances). We go on a train to Palma. Palma extremely hot, but interesting. We wander around a big department store, and I take pictures in the book department of Spanish translations of books written by friend. ‘What are you doing?’ say children. ‘Stop! You’re being embarrassing!’ We visit English language bookshop. Ditto.
20)  Next day. Husband still bored. Using son’s sunburn as excuse for another day trip. Today we go to Deia, beautiful village and former home of poet and author Robert Graves.  It is very hot. ‘It’ll be really interesting,’ says husband.
21)  Drive through Deia. Nowhere to park. Turn around and drive back. Just as I am declaring it completely impossible to park -  we will have to abandon trip -  a space comes up. Park. Walk through Deia. Children are hot and thirsty. Find a café, buy them drinks. Graves’ house is a fifteen minute walk down the road. Decide to leave grateful children in café (NB They are 15 and 11. We were not abandoning tots)
22)  Walk to Graves’ house. It is midday. The sun beats down. Arrive at Graves’ house, feeling as though I have trekked through the Sahara desert. Discover there is large car park at Graves house.
Robert Graves' study.
23)  Husband is correct. Graves’s house is interesting. Also air-conditioned. Learn about his love triangle, with several wives, lovers, others. Learn about his many children, some of them abandoned in London when Graves made his home in Deia. Contemplate his tranquil study, where everything was -  is – just the way he wanted it. Learn that Graves liked to work in complete silence. Huh.
24)  Persuade daughter to read manuscript of book-so-far on my kindle. Her verdict: ‘You’re a pervert.’
25)  Transfer from hotel to villa. We have swimming pool in garden. We have short walk to beach. We have no internet connection though.
26)  We have satellite televison. Husband and I watch interesting play set in WW2. Seems to be an experimental script in which a narrator described every action on the screen. After some time realise that this is not an experimental script at all, but we are on a channel which has a commentary for blind people.
27) Ask husband if he’d known that all the time. He thought it was an experimental script as well.
28)  Satellite stops picking up a signal at the climax of the play. Does this every night of the holiday.
29)  Decide on a strategy to make the most of holiday without suffering from the heat. We have to get up and do things early in the morning, then take a siesta, then do more things in the evening.
30) Next morning wake at 11am, as usual. Kindle battery is flat. No way to charge it.
31)  A few lazy days, in which I read a lot and write a bit. Go to Irish pub to watch Manchester United play Spurs. A Chelsea fan says to my husband: 'I see you support Manchester United, I don;t expect you come from there.' 'Actually, I do,' he replies.
32)  Visit Alcudia which has a bull ring and Roman remains. Complain loudly about having to walk (in searing heat) through fields for HOURS to see Roman theatre. Surprised to find on walk back that HOURS was only five minutes.
Red devil
33)  Church of St Jaume, Alcudia. Find picture of St Michael trampling on Manchester United mascot, the red devil.         
34)  Holiday comes to an end all too soon. We agree that we had a brilliant time, we love Mallorca, the heat was no problem at all.
35)  Back to England. Pouring rain greets us at Luton Airport. House smells musty and damp. ‘This is the way the house used to smell when we moved back in from Amsterdam!’ say the kids Hmm.
36)  Go through post. Where are daughter’s exam results? Where is new electrical cable for laptop? It is a bank holiday, and we will have to wait two whole days for these things. On the other hand, a box of books has arrived from Amazon, the books my daughter wanted to take on holiday with her.
37)  Try and email holiday writing from Netbook. Netbook’s internet server seems to be broken.
38)  Shall we go and see The In-Betweeners Movie at the cinema or One Day? Daughter is horrified at the idea of us going to see the former. Manages to persuade husband that we will be thirty years older than anyone else there. So we see One Day. Hoot with laughter at Anne Hathaway’s accent, otherwise unimpressed. Two self-pitying people fall in love excruciatingly slowly, then..WHAM! And more self-pity. Nothing like as good as the book.
38a) Manchester United beat Arsenal 8-2. Family united in joyous celebrations (err...apart from my brother and nephew who support Arsenal).
39)   Bank holiday over.  Pick up power cable for laptop at post office. Charge up laptop, and try and load Netbook writing onto memory stick. Netbook does not seem to recognise memory stick. Hit head against wall.
40) Son is due to do watersports summer camp this week. Arrive at camp. Lady at reception points out that I have not booked the six hour day camp, but instead the two hour evening camp. ‘Come back at 4.30pm,’ she says. I protest that my booking letter said 10am. Go home. Booking letter says 4.30pm. Gnash, gnash.
41) Daughter and I set off to mall to buy dress that she spotted over the weekend  -  it was too big, so we ordered it in a smaller size. Halfway there, remember her exam results.  Ring school in panic, they say we will have to come in and get them. Buy dress (and jumper, and jewellery, and other stuff that I have forgotten), eat sushi, rush to school. Hurray! Daughter has done very well in her sociology exam (half of GCSE). Very proud of her. Join queue to buy school uniform -  which can only be bought from the school. After two minutes realise that we will be in queue for approx three hours, in order to buy one jumper and a tie. Abandon queue. Remember doing same thing last year. Gnash teeth.
42)  Son loves evening class at watersports centre. I go to Sainsburys.
43)  Next three days, son learns canoeing, kayaking and sailing. I write for one and a half hours each lesson in local café. Each day I rewrite the same chapter. Cannot move on without words trapped in Netbook.
44)  Friday. There is a get-together planned for son’s new class at new school. They had one earlier in the holiday, and I enjoyed meeting the parents and getting a look at the kids. This time son and friend would rather play on the Wii. ‘We’re going to know these people for the next seven years,’ they say. ‘We've friended them on Facebook. We don’t have to go and spend time with them now.’
45)  Weekend. Husband and I go and see The In-Betweeners. Notice with some relief that we are far from the oldest people there. Laugh hysterically throughout. All the way home husband shares reminiscences of teenage holiday to Fuengerola with best friends. Remarkable similarities.
46)  Meet another parent whose child is going to son’s school. How many books has he read from the reading list, I enquire. ‘He’s read four out of five,’ he says. ‘How about your son?’ ‘He’s read 20.’ Later, Son: ‘Olly’s only read four of those books.’ Daughter: ‘You were conned. You’ll never hear anything about them again.’
47)  First football match of the season for son’s team. It is pouring with rain. Goalie fails to turn up, so son is in goal for second half. He has no goalie gloves, but it doesn’t matter because he has no saves to make. His team wins 2-0.
48)  Tomorrow is the last day of the school holidays. Our plans…I’m taking Netbook to be mended. Dropping off daughter and niece at the mall. And then son and I are going to the school uniform shop. Funnily enough, I forgot to buy sports shoes. ‘Last time I drove past there, they were queuing out onto the street,’ says my sister. Must remember to get daughter to try on school skirts.
49)  Tuesday. Son starts new school. From now on he will leave the house at 7.10am and not return until 5pm. I will be able to write and write and write. But hang on, it’s daughter’s first day too. Or is it? ‘I’m just going in for an hour to pick up my timetable,’ she says. When is this hour? 2.10pm.
50)  Wednesday September 7th. Everyone back at school. I have until the end of the month to meet my deadline. Tick tock.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Me and my shadow...

It's work! That's what I tell my family when I'm hunched over the computer 'networking' on Facebook, or staring into space, thinking about my plotline while ignoring them completely.
My shadow for the day
Even when I'm doing the actual arduous, gut-wrenching, creative job of actually writing, you don't see much, beyond a slightly demented looking woman staring at a screen, often mouthing words and occasionally pulling out her hair.
On the other hand, sometimes my work is much more visual. I do school visits. I take part in literary festivals. I have lunch with my agent. Sometimes I get to go to award ceremonies and applaud as Jason Wallace picks up another well-deserved prize....
 When 13-year-old Hudi Charin asked if she could spend a day with me as part of her school's work experience scheme, it was a bit of a dilemma. Drum up a school visit to entertain her? Or let her sit and watch me mouthing at a screen? Here's Hudi's report of her day...with my comments in italics..

My school's work shadowing day was something we had all known was coming up in the last couple of weeks in July.

Some people were off with their parents, others going to places that they were not so interested in.

However, I was lucky enough to be able to spend my day work shadowing the author of some of my favourite books; When I was Joe; Almost True and most recently, Lia’s Guide to Winning the Lottery.
I have always wanted to be an author,  since before I can remember really, and knowing that I would be shadowing a real one (hmmm...not sure that I always feel like a real one. Actually, maybe I should go and shadow a real author one day) was an amazing experience for me and truly generous of Keren to let me do so.

Keren showed me into her house, (argh! messy!)  then packed up her laptop, telling me that she liked to sit down to write after a long (short) walk in the woods near where she lives. So off we went.

During the walk, I had a chance to ask her some questions...


What sort of things do you do in your job?
I write and edit, go to schools, attend award ceremonies and festivals... and lots of meetings.

What hours do you work?
At least two hours a day- but it all depends on the deadline.

How much annual leave do you get?

What qualifications do you need for this job?
None- anyone can write- but I worked as a journalist which was very helpful.

What sort of training do you need to get into this job?
Basic language and writing skills.

What do you like most about your job?
I like to hear from my readers and the end result is very satisfying.

What do you like least about your job?
Rejection is tough. And so are days when  the writing will not flow.

What chances of promotion are there?
Awards and selling books to Hollywood. Being a bestseller! With writing, the sky is the limit.

Are there any benefits that come with this job?
The freedom to run your own life and be creative. Seeing your name on a book. Hearing from readers who have enjoyed your book.

Have any of the following factors affected your job and, if so, how?
-Changing technology
The invention of the laptop has helped and of course the internet and online access to books has affected me.
-Overseas or local competition
There is loads of competition everywhere, it is an extremely competitive market.
-Economic recession
Yes. There are now smaller advances and more people are buying second hand books nowadays where authors do not get a profit at all.
-Changing company ownership
Not so far!  (Funnily enough since Hudi spent her day with me, my publisherFrances Lincoln has been bought by Quarto.)

What advice would you give a young person preparing to enter the workplace?
For journalism- start small on a local newspaper and build your way up.
For writing books- don’t get put off by rejection, keep reading and writing. Try to analyse good books that you have enjoyed.


What got you interested in writing for children?

I always enjoyed children's books and thought my style of writing would suit them.

When did you begin writing your first book, When I was Joe?

In April 2008.

How did you come up with the idea?

I saw a news report about a family who'd been involved in an armed robbery and had to go into witness protection.

How did you get into the mindset of a teenage boy?

 I just thought a lot about what it was like to be Ty -  all the pressures on him, all the changes in his life.

Did you always know that When I was Joe would lead on to a sequel?

No, I only started writing the sequel to amuse myself after I'd finished When I Was Joe and when I was looking for an agent to represent me.

After writing two books in the mindset of Ty, was it hard to write from the point of view of Lia in Lia’s Guide to Winning the Lottery?

Yes, much harder than I'd imagined it would be. I missed Ty a lot.

Lia has a very interesting personality that teenage girls can relate to but how do you relate to Lia?

She seemed to me to be a very typical teenage girl -  lacking in self-awareness, and a bit self-centred, but basically a good person. I remember feeling very misunderstood when I was about her age. 

Do you also relate a lot to your characters’ mothers too? When you characters are in an argument with their parents- how do you write from the character’s perspective?

I try and relate to all the characters, so I understand where they are coming from. That way the dialogue flows quite easily.

After our walk through the woods, Keren bumped into her friends (the perils of trying to work out of the house) and we sat down for coffee and cake (coffee for me. Cake for Hudi!) . Being an author was looking better and better to me!
I munched on a chocolate muffin while Keren worked on her next book- the sequel to When I was Joe and Almost True. I also had the great opportunity to read what Keren had written so far. (I was writing. But I was also watching Hudi read...seeing if she laughed at my jokes or not, seeing if she seemed to be enjoying herself. Felt very deflated when the huge manuscript I'd presented her with turned out to be so big because I'd printed the whole thing twice.) It is just as gripping and thrilling as the other two books in the series and it is not even finished! So, the minute it is published, go out and buy it! (this is assuming I ever get it finished...)
Just as I popped the last chocolate crumb into my mouth, Keren announced she had finished her writing for today.(I noticed that poor Hudi was shivering...and then I met another friend as we walked back through the woods...we went home and Hudi borrowed my daughter's hoodie...see what I did there?)
The huge stack...
It was now time to go off to the Frances Lincoln Children’s Books building to meet the team that works with Keren. When we got to the Frances Lincoln building, we were greeted by the people there... and a huge stack of 100 copies of Lia’s Guide to Winning the Lottery, brand new with the iconic red and white cover.
Keren got to work right away, while the woman who designed the cover of Keren’s latest book showed me around her department  (thank you, Arianna!)which was also very inspiring to me as I’m interested in graphic design.
When we arrived back downstairs, I helped Keren box away all the freshly signed books and it was now time for my amazing day with Keren to end. (3pm. I had to stop being a real author..sigh...and rush off to pick up my son from school. I offered to take Hudi along, so she could see the way mums have to juggle work and family, but unsurprisingly she wasn't quite so interested in that side of things)
It was great for me to learn that a writer doesn’t just have to spend their time shut up in a room typing away and, like Keren, I now try and get out and about to do my writing.
Many many thanks to Keren for giving up her day to show me what writing is really like and giving me this incredible experience! (And thank you Hudi  for not complaining that watching a writer write is actually very dull...not to mention watching a writer chat to random friends...and most of all for saying nice things about the work in progress. The perfect shadow!)