Thursday, 30 June 2011

Where June went...

It seems to be July. How did that happen? I have sadly neglected this blog, sadly neglected my book and (they would claim) sadly neglected my children and husband.
In my defence, I have been busy. Here are just some of the things I've been doing.
Teenage judges with the shortlist for the Lancashire Book of the Year award. Pic by Sara Cuff, copyright LCC
1.   The Lancashire Book of the Year Award. 
The picture sums it up really - a fab event, really fun, where the teen readers and judges were centre stage, although we authors on the 10-book shortlist were treated like royalty.  There was a swish award ceremony and a celebratory dinner, lots of speeches and very honest reviews.
The award works like this: publishers are invited to nominate books for consideration, they send in free copies which participating schools make available to Y9 pupils. This year, 84 books were nominated. Pupils read, review and assess the books, they score them and the ten with the top scores make it onto the shortlist. Two pupils from each of 12 participating schools, representing every district in Lancashire then read the shortlist and meet to decide a winner, with writer Adele Geras chairing the meeting. So the entire process is decided by teenagers.
At the dinner, some of the previous year's judges spoke about the self-confidence they had gained from being involved. This award, which has been running for 25 years, emphasises critical thinking, and debating skills. I'd definitely say that being involved in something like this trumps everything my daughter did in English in Y9.
Anyway, the shortlist contained some great books and I got to meet people like Keris Stainton, Sam Mills and Hilary Freeman, who'd previously just been two-dimensional virtual pals. And I won! Which meant a cheque for £1,000, a beautiful artwork by Hayley Welsh (a piece of multi-media built from a book), and ...well, I felt very proud and a little bit tearful.
I also had to make a speech, so I told various stories about my spiritual links with Lancashire including the rather spooky coincidence that I went out with two classmates from the same Lancashire school. Read a fuller version here.
2. I visited Weston Favell School in Northampton, where they have a brilliant librarian who couldn't do more to enthuse the kids about reading. And I got asked my favourite question ever, which was 'Which hair products do you use?'
3. I spoke at the Hay Festival. Oh my word. Once upon a time I used to work on the comment pages of The Independent and spent my days phoning up eminent people asking them to write for me (and the stories I could tell! But probably shouldn't) Anyway, the Hay Festival greenroom had so many  good contacts in one place (Julian Assange! Howard Jacobson! Simon Schama!) that I felt like calling the Indy, asking for my old job back and scurrying around the room commissioning people.
Instead I sat back and listened to the fabulously pretentious interesting conversations going on around me.
Things got off to a bad start when I was so busy admiring the 'Artists Only' sign in the car park ('That's me! It's me!') that I stubbed my toe and fell flat on my face. Luckily my husband was at hand to haul me up and drag me away to a lovely cafe, where I bumped into Meg Rosoff, who actually knew who I was..cue sadly incoherent fan-girl burbling from me...then later, after she'd gone me to husband : 'That was Meg Rosoff! She knew my name!' Husband: 'Meg who?'
The actual event, with Peter Cocks author of the chilling London thriller Long Reach, went well. Reading Long Reach alongside When I Was Joe is a strange experience, because Peter and I had several similar ideas (teen takes new identity, teen gets involved with big gangster family) but we always veered off in different our books weirdly fill in eachother's gaps. Peter's especially great at the world of serious he used to write for Basil Brush. Respect.

4. I did an event at the Foundling Museum in London, for the Pop Up Festival. This is a new arrival in the world of children's books and I can only see it going from strength to strength. The main public events are taking place next weekend and the programme is here
The schools programme saw books distributed to schools, which then came to museums and other venues for events with the authors and education officers.
Tokens left with babies at the Foundling Hospital
 The Foundling Museum tells the story of London's Foundling Hospital, founded in the eighteenth century by Thomas Coram, and home to thousands of children until it closed in the 1950s. It has extraordianry artefacts - a letter from a woman condemned to be burned to death begging that her child should be looked after; an enamel plague labelled 'ale' left with a child as a keepsake from its mother - that build up the story of these children.
At my event, Y8 pupils from the City of London Academy in Islington spent a day doing activities and then wrote letters ether from a foundling to the parent who had given them up, or from a parent to a child. The letters were extraordinarily good, inspired by the permanent exhibition and by the temporary one (which you shouldn't miss) which tells the stories of the last of the foundlings, children in the 1950s, now growing old. I wish that exhibition could be made permanent, the stories told are so strong, so emotional, so important.
I was not at all surprised to hear that Jacqueline Wilson had been inspired to write her story of a foundling, Hetty Feather after sitting in on a session run by the museum's inspiring    Learning and Access Manager, Annette McCartney,I have rarely been to a more inspiring place. In fact there was so many links and echoes to When I was Joe and Almost True -  from the new names given to foundlings, to the quotes about the stigma of illegitemacy on the wall -  that I was thoroughly spooked..It felt as though I had been there before, been inspired by this place. The Pop Up organisers were responsible for matching writer, venue and school -  they made a perfect match this time...and the audience even had one member who was a girl called Ellie, who used a wheelchair and loved sport -  neither of us could believe the coincidence, when I told her about Ellie in When I Was Joe.
The Foundling Museum has now become one of my favourite London places ever, and I can see myself visiting there again and again for inspiration. 'This museum is all about empathy,' Annette told me -  and it does it so well.

A box of books...slightly disturbing, all those severed limbs
So that was June -  and of course there was lots of other stuff too - school strikes, festivals, parties and homework, birthdays and barmitzvahs, dentists and supermarkets. I was reunited with my best friend from primary school -  yay for Facebook, once again - and my best friend from secondary school returned to live in London from California, hurray, hurray...
And right at the end of June the advance copies of Lia's Guide arrived, and I spent a whole evening signing copies for reviewers..they'll be posted today. 
July's going to be busy too...three award ceremonies in two weeks; meeting my son's teachers at the secondary school he's starting in September, watching him and his classmates graduate from primary school.

I remember this time last year (last year? It feels like a decade ago)  When I was Joe had come out six months before, it'd had a few reviews, I was working on the last edits of Almost True, struggling to finish Lia's Guide. I didn't feel I'd made much of an impact, I wondered if anyone was reading my book.
What a difference a year makes! But now ...sorry....I have another book to write. You may not hear much from me in July.


  1. Off to win some more awards, are you?

  2. I suspect my winning streak is over...

  3. Congrats on the win - what a fab post. What a beautiful story about Ellie, the world is full of weird and wonderful coincedences :D
    I so wanted in that Green Room at HAy :D :D