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...


  1. Your year was a great deal more exciting than mine! Thankyou for allowing me to purrowl through your blog and purrowl after you on Twitter. It has been great fun.

  2. Happy New Year! Can't wait to find out what your next novel will be about?

  3. Have a wonderful new year Keren and great post. Glad to see we are not the only ones to have crazy lives!

  4. I was there, several times! But no holey trousers. Don't worry, you're not the only one with failing wardrobe contents.
    Lancashire Book of the Yeat? ; )

  5. Here's to a wonderful 2012, Keren, lots of creative outpourings and even more authorly success!