Oh dear – it’s been a long time since the last blog. And it’s not as if lots of interesting things haven’t been happening.
In January there was the Chicken House Big Breakfast, for example, which is the annual post-Christmas bash that Barry Cunningham hosts in London for publishing friends. It was full of writers, editors, publishers, scouts and bloggers, all busily catching up over coffee and croissants. I spent two hours non-stop talking (apart from during the book readings – one of which was done quite spectacularly by Miss Chicken House dressed up as a cat.)
Even so, there still wasn’t time to chat to everyone. But there were some lovely moments, such as Siobhan, my US editor, giving hints about the US cover of The Look, which will come out there next year, and one of the guests outlining the plot of a brilliant book she wants to write. Writing is generally a solitary profession, so it’s always wonderful to be surrounded by friends who care about books. I’m not sure how we managed to drag ourselves home.
(Actually, I didn’t. I went on from there to the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy. If you can go – go. It definitely helps if you like trees, though. David has created lots and lots and lots of images trees, many of them on his iPad. The best ones, though, I thought, were his videos of driving through tree-fringed lanes in different seasons. If you want to go to Piccadilly and imagine yourself in the heart of the English countryside, it’s perfect.)
Meanwhile, The Look is set to come out here in just over two weeks. Anyone who’s ever had a book about to come out knows that this bit is WEIRD. The Chicken House team have been busy organising a blog tour and a schools tour, planning some exciting stuff for later in the year and sending out the book to reviewers. But nothing will actually happen until March, when it’s launched. I can’t wait until I see it on a bookshelf, finally. Or to hear what readers have to say about it. A book doesn’t really feel alive until it’s been read, and one of the wonders of the internet is discovering how readers respond.
And then, of course, I’ve been working on book 5 – which, in my laptop documents folder is officially called ‘Book 5’, although it’s developing a subtitle of DTFG. If it all works out, I’ll explain what that stands for down the line. It will certainly be a more controversial title than, say, Sequins Stars & Spotlights.
Some of the highlights of the last few weeks, though, have been admiring other people’s work. This has been a cold, dark season, peppered with stressful exams and a stressful economy at home, and tales of despotism and torture abroad. I admire everyone who’s tackling the economy and the despots (and the exams, frankly, including my eleven year-old), but also all of the artists who’ve managed to break through the fog of misery with pictures, plays and stories. Without them, how do we make sense of what we know?
Apart from the Hockney exhibition, there was the middle act of Noises Off by Michael Frayn at the Old Vic, which had my eleven year-old – as I hoped – in tears of laughter. There was Matilda The Musical at the Cambridge Theatre (story by Roald Dahl, music and lyrics by Tim Minchin), which has become an instant classic. We all adored it. At the end, the five year-old said ‘I might have to cry because it was so good.’
There was The Fault In Our Stars by John Green – the best YA book I’ve read in recent months. It stares teenage death hard in the face and is life-affirming and quite brilliant. It includes two teenagers kissing in the Ann Frank museum in Amsterdam, to the soundtrack of Otto Frank talking about his daughter. And you’re rooting for them all the way. That’s how good it is.
Tonight I’ll watch Call The Midwife on BBC1, which I haven’t seen yet but which has managed to attract 10 million viewers over a mere 3 episodes. (More than Downton Abbey did at the time, and with far less publicity.) I can’t think of anything nicer than seeing Miranda Hart in a hat and sensible shoes, setting off on a bike to save lives on behalf of the NHS. Why did nobody think of this before?
Then it’s the BAFTAs. They played a crucial part in the writing of Threads and the awards season always brings back my weeks of frantic plotting. It took ages to get the various award timings to fit in with the events in my characters’ lives, so that a certain dress being worn to the Oscars, held shortly after the BAFTAs, would have the emotional impact I wanted it to.
That was three and a half years and four books ago. So much has happened since then! But for now, it’s back to the writing …