FIRST BOOK TOUR - MINUS ONE DAY
2 years and 16 days ago, I printed out my first ever fully finished manuscript and placed the whole thing in a neat block on my coffee table. I then sat on the sofa and just stared at it.
2 months and 2 days later, a very nervous me went to meet the first of three agents I had appointments with that week. I was sitting in an armchair in my now-agent’s office when we began to discuss a particular line in my book. It was so specific, such irrefutable proof that someone - an agent! - had read my book, that I did (actually) pinch myself…you know, just to make sure.
2 months and 5 days after that meeting, Simon & Schuster bought the rights to my book. This moment - where my agent called to give me the news while I was on a train pulling out of Charing Cross Station; one of the best. Ever.
And now, here I am. In 40 minutes, I’ll be boarding a flight to Texas - the first stop on a five-week US tour. It’s been an amazing journey to get here. Beautiful and surreal. So much so that part of me always feels like maybe I’m making this up, maybe it’s all too incredible to be true. I’m not and it’s not. Sometimes I get so caught up worrying about whatever is coming next that I forget that, no matter what, everything up to this moment will still have happened. I just wanted to take a moment to really appreciate that.
DAY ONE HIGHLIGHTS. SAN ANTONIO & AUSTIN
TODAY I LEARNED...
* Texas is brilliant. And the people really are that friendly.
* When you’re nervous, you can sometimes, inexplicably, forget to wear any socks.
* If you’re going to pick a pen name, make sure you practice your signature before the day of your first signing.
* Simon & Schuster only hire Very Lovely People
* The experience of having your first book published is so surreal that you get the urge to hoard everything as evidence that it really happened, e.g. post-it notes with the names to dedicate books to.
* When an automatic car screeches at 5000rpm it probably means it has the option to switch from manual. Press that switch before getting on a highway.
* It doesn’t matter if you forget to put ‘Austin’ on your ipod for your drive to Austin - the radio stations play it about twice an hour.
* Austin SCBWI members have much cooler accents than London SCBWI members.
* Expect the unexpected. You think you need to worry about stumbling over your words when, in fact, you just needed to worry about how to roll a chair in front of an audience without crashing into another author doing the same the other way.
* If you’re going to do your first book event, do it with people that will make the experience incredibly easy and fun. I’d recommend Katie of Mundie Mums (I’m going with mums because that is now correct) and the incredibly talented A.G Howard (Splintered). And if you read A.G.Howard’s book out loud in an English accent, she might even give you a really lovely little key.
* There’s nothing better than writing a book for kids and then seeing a kid buy it for the first time.
And now, something that I already knew; you must always say thank you when somebody does something nice for you:
So, finally, a huge thank you Bookpeople for all the work that must have gone into organising tonight and for making my first bookstore event so special. Oh, and for putting my name up in lights!
SAN ANTONIO, AUSTIN, HOUSTON, DALLAS
So the first week of my first book tour is over and what a week it has been! I flew to Dallas and San Antonio, drove to Austin and Houston and enjoyed every moment of it all - thank you Texas!
THIS WEEK I LEARNED…
* What cascarones are (eggs filled with confetti), how pretty that confetti looks all over the floor, what a good read “The House on Mango Street" is and how exceptionally welcoming the staff at Twig Bookshop are - even when they’re in the middle of packing up to move to a new location! Thank you :)
* There is such a thing as a NINE lane highway. Really, try making your exit across that.
* You think you’ve seen one hot-dog shaped car, you’ve seen them all. Then 20 minutes later, a second one drives past.
* You’ll know that all the time spent thinking, writing, submitting and editing your book has all been worth it when you see this.
* That meeting your first fan is something you’ll never forget. Especially when that fan (Ben) turns up to see you on the day of his twelfth birthday. AND not only has he already read it twice but it turns out he knows your book as well as (maybe even better than) you do!
* That sometimes you’ll wish you could do more to let people (specifically the kids, their parents, family members & teachers who brought them, and the wonderful staff of Blue Willow Books) know how much you appreciated all the time and effort that went into making the above photos possible. But you can’t, so instead you thank them in a blog post and hope they’ll know how much you really mean it….THANK YOU!
* In some bookshops, graffiti is not only acceptable - it is actually encouraged. So much so that they even give you a large blue marker and hold the ladder for you while you find a piece of blank wall to write your name on.
* There appears to be an attempt in the US to eliminate all evidence of the number 13 and yet you can’t help but think that the number after 12 is always going to be 13 - even if you try calling it 14.
* Without exception, Barnes & Noble staff are just lovely - even when they’re not expecting you. Not only do they seem genuinely excited for you (even though they must see authors all the time), they also get you to sign your books and stick ‘autographed copy’ stickers on them. Amazing.
* You can hear live music everywhere in the South - even at church on a Sunday morning!
* It is possible to become a stalker unintentionally. In this case - Mo Willems. He visited my local children’s bookshop in London (the wonderful Tales on Moon Lane) the day I left for the US. Then he was at the I.R.A. book fair in San Antonio the day before me and at Blue Willow Books in Houston also the day before I was. Tomorrow I’m going to visit Little Shop of Stories in Atlanta and guess who was there just a few days ago….spooky, right? Still, I love Mo Willems almost as much as my daughter does so this is just fine by me.
(And before Mo files for a restraining order - yes, this is photoshopped…………or is it? credit: Luigi Novi)
*And finally this: That, no matter how brilliantly everything is going, there will still always be a part of you that wishes you were in a tent, in Crystal Palace Park, hiding from the Wicked Witch.
ATLANTA, NASHVILLE & MEMPHIS
HIGHLIGHTS & SOME RANDOM OBSERVATIONS
The Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, GA. is incredible. In every way - as a teacher, parent and now author - I was blown away. I want to teach here, enrol my daughter, pick the brains of the inspirational staff and spend my days discussing books with the (without exception) lovely and engaging students. Here I am with the man himself, Ron Clark; Oprah’s first ‘Phenomenal Man’, one of Reader’s Digest’s ‘Most Trusted People in America’ and all-round excellent person. Fellow educators: Read his books, visit his school - you will be amazed.
Arrive at school. Hug or shake hands with your teachers and fellow students. Dance. Sing. Bit of trampolining before lessons begin. This should be compulsory in all schools.
Here is a cosy study in the Ron Clark Academy. Roaring fire, mahogany bookshelves…wait…….huh?….WHAT IS THAT?!
…the entrance to Ron Clark’s classroom (of course).
RCA has 11 secret passages and rooms. The last one is, as yet, undiscovered. If you follow the clues hidden around the school and work out where that last secret room is, you will find something that will change your life forever. I didn’t even make it to clue 1. Humph.
Presenting your future leaders, thinkers and trailblazers. And me.
They had read my book. They loved it. They could quote from it! I got a bit emotional.
The Ron Clark Academy has excellent facilities. Or, in other words…IT HAS A SLIDE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SCHOOL! I am now slide-certified. Oh yeah.
Little Shop of Stories in Atlanta is the most gorgeous children’s bookshop. And everybody who works there is lovely too! Pity it’s 4,180 miles from my front door or I’d be there every day.
The Tasting Room at Coca Cola World in Atlanta has over 100 drinks from around the world (but only about 3 of them are drinkable). If some giggling kids tell you to try the Beverly drink in the Italian section, DON’T! They’re not being helpful, they just want to see you do this.
This is Joanne, bookseller extraordinaire at ‘The Booksellers at Laurelwood’ and my new favourite person! Really - she could not have been more welcoming or generous with her time. My only gripe - she kept suggesting books that I couldn’t resist, even though I knew my luggage was already two pounds over the limit (worth it though!). If you live in the Memphis area and you don’t already know this lovely bookstore - GO! (and say hi to Joanne from me!).
A poster with my book and name on it! Now in a cardboard tube in my luggage - how could I not?!
Nashville, Tennessee - home of country music, many happy memories and my best friend! This Books-A-Million event was particularly special to me for the friends and friends of friends that turned up to support me. It meant the world, thank you :)
ROLLER DERBY! Brilliant night in which I learned about passing stars, zebras, fishnet burns and power jams. And the names!- Lady Fury, Ann T. Histamine, Lippy Hardsocking and Maulin Monroe to name just a few. I’m still trying to come up with my own rollergirl name - suggestions welcome.
My two favourite Tennessee girls reading my book.
And finally…Next week I see my little girl after THREE WEEKS away from her! I am now thinking about what to get her from Nashville. So far I have an empty plastic egg (a gift from the girls above) and a photograph of a waitress with a Wicked Witch tattoo. Perfect.
NEW YORK CITY, SYRACUSE, TROY & CAZENOVIA
And so it is that all good things must eventually come to an end - but what an end! Two weeks spent in the state of New York, having far too much fun to call it work. And here, for the last time on this tour, are the things that I have learned..
In my (entirely unbiased) opinion, McNally Jackson Books is the best bookstore in New York City. Not only do they enlist the best reviewers (see 9 year old Lucas’s review of THE ABILITY here) but they also hold the best events - such as this Authors vs Editors Family Feud evening.
(pictured is Jordan Brown. Surprisingly, presenting game shows is not his full time job. HarperCollins should beware if Steve Harvey quits Family Feud - they may lose themselves a senior editor)
If you ask 100 people in the publishing industry what the most common emotional issues addressed in middle-grade books are, you will end up with the world’s most depressing list (see left). Well, the ‘romance, crush’ thing is cheerful enough but I’m guessing that’s only because they didn’t have enough space to put ‘unrequited’ at the front.
If you sign books after a team event, perhaps best not to sign your team name - especially when that team name is ‘The Talent’. As in Best Wishes, M.M.Vaughan (The Talent). It might not read as you intended it to!
(presenting ‘The Talent’, from left to right: Lisa Graff (Tangle of Knots), C. Alexander London (An Accidental Adventure series), myself, Matthew Cody (The Super series) and Michael Buckley (The Sisters Grimm series). I couldn’t have asked for more brilliant teammates - which is fortunate indeed given that almost every one of the answers I gave was wrong!)
The top answer to ‘Things that feature in Roald Dahl books’ should be ‘orphans’, right? RIGHT? But no, ‘orphans’ didn’t even make the list. The top answer was…
…a giant peach. Hmmm.
- Bring your agent to your events. They will not only provide you with much needed moral support, but also with the the occasional winning answer. NB. Before you judge me, I was NOT cheating - I used my ask the audience.
- The need to win may sometimes cloud judgement. As in, perhaps it is not the wisest to beat the opposing team (by a devastatingly huge point lead) when that team is made up of the very people you rely on for work, ie. your own editor (in my case, the very lovely and talented Ruta Rimas). Of course, the editors might argue that they felt they had to let us win. Which, if true, was very nice of them.
- ‘I had lunch with my US agent today’ is almost certainly the most Hollywood thing I will ever say. I would like to say it every day - not just because, you know, it sounds SO COOL, but because my US agent, Tina, is wonderful and great company. Of all the fantastic things that have happened since I embarked on this writing journey, teaming up with my two agents (Stephanie Thwaites of Curtis Brown also), has got to be top of the list. I feel very lucky indeed.
I paid for a New York cab ride with a book! The cab driver told me he had a ten year old daughter, so I gave him the copy I had on me and signed it to her and he wouldn’t take the fare when we arrived - isn’t that nice?!
(this is what a cab looks like)
- For 18 months, I have been working with the best team in publishing (fact, by the way) and so visiting the Simon & Schuster offices and finally getting to meet all the people who have been working on THE ABILITY was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. Nothing witty to add here - it was just really lovely and I could not be more grateful for everything they have done for me.
- I think this would be a good time to mention Courtney Bongiolatti, my previous editor and the person who commissioned THE ABILITY. I owe so much to her and couldn’t have been more nervous when she announced that she was leaving. Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Ruta Rimas, who I have now been working with for over a year, has been the most incredibly supportive and brilliant editor I could have ever hoped to work with and getting to spend time with her both in San Antonio and New York City, albeit briefly, has been fantastic.
The first three weeks of my book tour were AMAZING but there were two things missing to make it perfect. And now here they are.
There’s no place like home! Beautiful Cazenovia, NY, my base for the final part of my book tour, is where my dad and stepmother live and my second home for the last 22 years. It’s good to be back.
This is what nervous looks like.
There is no way of knowing how you will respond to being on television until you are actually on television. I was pretty sure it would go one of two ways - either I would be fine or I would throw up live on tv. Positive: It went the first way - and, more than that, I had a GREAT time (thanks to the very lovely Caroline Gable and the putting-me-at ease jokes of Chris Brandolino)! Negative: I think ‘DEBUT AUTHOR THROWS UP ON LIVE TV’ would definitely have gone viral on youtube, and everybody knows that all publicity is good publicity. Maybe next time.
Ray Middle School of Baldwinsville, NY really know how to make you feel welcome! In my case, by covering the school entrance and library in handmade signs and purple balloons - how brilliant is that?! (I kept the signs).
Mrs Rosenheck of Ray Middle School is THE MOST FANTASTIC PERSON. Really - she could not have put more effort into making this amazing day happen and I could not be more grateful. (disclaimer: Mrs Rosenheck is my aunt. But that doesn’t make me biased at all).
I had my doubts but it turns out that it is possible to do 11 presentations in one day to over 1,000 students! And have a great time doing it! It is not possible, however, to speak another word for about 24 hours after that.
Solvay Middle School has the most fantastic librarian - Miss T. Her library is beautifully set up, the prize baskets for her book swap are the best idea ever and, not only did she set up a fantastic day for me with three groups of very talented students, but she also made us the best homemade lunch. I would have taken a picture of it but, by the time I thought of it, it was all gone. Also very impressed with the writing ability of the students who printed their work to give to me - Hailey & Sarah (‘Seven Years Gone’ and ‘Final Feature’) and the author of ‘Valor Team’ who didn’t sign his name (but I think it was Connor, is that right?).
If you get heckled - get someone (my stepmother) to escort them out! In my case, it was my three year old daughter telling me to ‘shhhh’ after five minutes of talking (she told me afterwards that it would have been less boring if I’d sung). Anyway, despite this shaky start, the event at Cazenovia Library was AMAZING! I couldn’t believe how many people turned up which was all thanks to the amount of time and effort put in to publicising the event by my parents and the wonderful people who work at Cazenovia Library.
One of the best things about this tour has been meeting young writers. One that particularly stood out was 11 year old Savannah, who puts most adult writers to shame by the amount she has already achieved - namely producing this wonderful newsletter, The East-Wellington Times. Big future ahead for this girl.
(me reading my copy of The East Wellington Times outside my house in London)
If you want to visit a beautiful city, go to Troy (how have I not been there before?!). And if you want to visit a beautiful bookstore in a beautiful city, go to Market Block Books, Troy. It is one of those perfect independent bookstores that you can lose hours of your day in just browsing. Here I am talking about THE ABILITY to the wonderful Stanley.
The best thing about the events (perhaps tied with seeing your own book on bookshelves!) is the people you meet. Example - a lovely woman and her parents from Mexico who I got so caught up talking to I didn’t realise there were four people waiting behind them! And, icing on the cake, the woman worked for Google Glass and went home to get her pair for me to try on. I didn’t think I’d be as impressed as I was but they are UNBELIEVABLE! It is all shrouded in secrecy at the moment so I wasn’t even allowed to take a picture of me wearing them but this
<<< is pretty much exactly what I think I looked like with them on.
If you have a Wizard of Oz obsessed child, as I do, then you could find no better place to go to than Chittenango, the birthplace of L. Frank Baum, with its yellow brick road and the most incredible Oz-themed library! What a lovely way to spend my last weekend in the US.
So there it is - five weeks, ten cities and a trip that I will never forget. Thank you so much to everybody who made me feel so welcome - the booksellers, librarians, school staff, television people, the many random strangers I got talking to, one cab driver, family, friends and, of course, the wonderful young people that I met along the way! Finally, an especially huge thank you to Paul Crichton and Siena Koncsol, my publicists at Simon & Schuster, who put so much into making this tour as amazing as it was. THANK YOU ALL and I can’t wait to come back for Book 2!
Now go buy my book :)