Today is OFFICIALLY one month until the first Mango and Bambang book will OFFICIALLY be available in OFFICIAL actual shops.
I reckon it’s time to try and stop the bouts of frankly annoying, self-indulgent angsting and start enjoying the fun. It helps that kind people with advance copies are saying kind things. It helps that I’m about to go on holiday (taking Bambang too of course, to fill him full of ice cream and sunshine before his big book birthday). It helps that I have been sent a BAR OF CHOCOLATE WITH MY ACTUAL NAME ON by Walker books Australia.
I have a pile of bookmarks and two swanny whistles. I’m (almost) ready to be a proper published author.
I’ve done some performing. An early interest in shameless showing off led to drama camps and school plays when I was a teenager. Followed by various different trips to the Edinburgh Festival, to sleep on floors and play to audiences of 3 as a student. I even thought I wanted to be a stand up comic at one point.
Although I came to realise that this was in NO WAY what I was best equipped to do, and gave up public showing off in favour of occasional party outings to a karaoke booth, I never suffered from true stage fright. Butterflies and bouncy excitement yes- but not the paralysing, toilet dashing, sweaty sleepless sort that stops people speaking in public.
Yet here I am, 6 weeks away from the publication of my first book, and -OhYesHello- PROPER nerves are building. Whatever else I’m up to at the moment, thinking about, dreaming about, there is a low level accompanying backing track. It beats out the “But what if they don’t like it?” rhythm (with a bit of snare drum and a light thwack of the cymbals at the end).
This is, I realise, Standard Issue Anxiety for debut authors (non debut too). And I am more fortunate than most, because if I can’t quell anxieties about my words, I can look at Clara Vulliamy’s beautiful, warm and funny pictures in Mango and Bambang and calm down. Surely no-one couldn’t like them??
I know, when I am being sensible, that the answer to “But what if they don’t like it” is a simple, “Never mind”. Not all books can be for all people. And I know that I am the luckiest of the lucky to have a book coming into the world to be nervous about at all. Such sensible thinking doesn’t stop the early-morning-chewed-nail-wake-ups though. I suppose because this ‘performing’ on a page turns out to be more me than the on a stage sort.
Last week Clara and I had to conquer our stage butterflies too as we made a small promotional film about our lovely (IHOPEITHINKBUTOHHELPWHATIFIT’SNOT?)(see what I mean?) book.
It was cake fueled and giggle-inducing fun but hard; to talk sensibly and concisely. Actually it was hard to even get to the end of a sentence without forgetting how it had started. Oh dear. When I see the finished product I know I’m going to be watching it from behind a cushion, like a particularly scary Dr Who episode: Aaagh- my voice! Eurrgh-my face! Who IS this charlatan pretending to be an author? Why has no-one found her out yet?
All I can say is hooray for the school summer holidays. 6 weeks of wrestling adjudication, tree climbing, water sprinkler running and fighting with sticks will help use up nervous energy and keep things in perspective.
Because otherwise- EEK! Exciting but really, surprisingly, EEK.
Today is Midsummer; June 21st and it’s both Father’s Day and my mother’s 80th birthday.
My father died 10 years ago and is no longer around for me to fail to remember to send him a card in time. My mother missed out on even more cake and candle opportunities; her last birthday was her 48th.
Ah but it IS Midsummer, and if the sun is not quite shining yet, the roses are in full bloom, the first sweet peas are out and I have plans for making chocolate cake and eating strawberries. Being maudlin is no kind of remembrance- a celebratory day is called for.
And- hooray!- there ARE things to celebrate. Mango and Bambang are getting ready to meet the world. And their existence in beautiful stripy purple and gold hardback is a direct legacy of the years I did get to spend with my parents. Of their love. The words I wrote are in part my mother’s and my father’s, born out of all the words they read and spoke to me. Not to mention the words they wrote themselves: I have a box full of my mother’s letters which, although I was of course not the original recipient, make me laugh with recognition as she details the highs and lows of domestic life. Letter writing is a vanishing art but she was really a master of it.
And my father wrote his own book. Here it is, with a page opened at random-
Just like mine as you can see…teehee.
This week Mango and Bambang got their first mention in the press. Given the teeny amount of column space devoted to reviewing children’s books generally, it is quite likely this will be their ONLY mention in the press, so will you forgive me if I do a small amount of flag waving and immodest showing off here? Fiona Noble, children’s reviewer at The Bookseller, a trade publication for publishers and book sellers, highlighted our book as one of her September top picks:
Definitely a chocolate cake and strawberries day then. Because being a six- year-old’s book of the month is really what it’s all about.
3. Running around in circles with it raised aloft like an Olympic torch shouting, ‘A BOOK! A BOOK! I MADE A BOOK!’
4. Sliding of cheek up and down smooth glossy front cover.
5. Paper sniffing.
6. Stroking and tilting to make gold shiny bits catch the light.
7. Genuine moment of wondering whether might be possible to carry book forever/wear it/have it implanted onto shoulder or against forehead as permanent ‘LOOK AT THIS BOOK!’ fascinator/parrot type accessory.
8. Shouting ‘LOOK, LOOK, LOOK AT THIS BOOK!’ instead to family, cat, passers by, friends and strangers on the Internet.
9. Calming down a bit (but only a bit) and actually reading book.
10. Noticing, again but properly because they’re on nice paper, how properly BRILLIANT the illustrations are and firing off emoji filled and thoroughly incoherent text of joy to Clara Vulliamy*
(*this stage probably only applies if your illustrator IS Clara Vulliamy)
11. Noticing the odd word which you would in retrospect have changed or placed differently… pausing… pursing lips…
12. Giving yourself a firm talking to to stop noticing and resume jumping, clasping and shrieking.
13. Later, reading book to children for first time and being examined very precisely on previously unconsidered details culminating in a sliding-downstairs-on-tummies-race to properly assess whether the sound a tapir makes in that situation can be accurately written as ‘SHHLOMF-A’ ‘SHHLOMF-A’ ‘SHHLOMF-A’*
(*this stage probably only applies if you have written a scene involving a tapir sliding down stairs)
14. Graciously accepting your children’s grudging acknowledgement that that definitely IS the sound a tapir’s tum makes on stairs.
15. Over next few days, forgetting you have your first copy of your first book briefly, then remembering, then leaping up to grab it and start again from 1.
…badge. But looking at it on the way home from my first proper publishing party gave me a small glow of pride.
Am I really an author? Yes I am. I AM!
And that wasn’t the only brooch I got that evening. Clara gave me one of these to match her own, made by very brilliant felt artist Josie Armand Smith:
My own wearable Bambang! Isn’t he wonderful? But as you can see from his expression he also gets a little nervous about new experiences. I felt positively mother hen-ish introducing him to illustrious company at a party for the first time. As we were both a bit excited, I had to remind him not to eat all the canapes and he had to remind me not to drink too much wine. We did all right I think. To help feel brave, I had a new black and white tapir striped dress and purple shoes that co-ordinate with the first book’s cover. But look!-
Next time I’ll be able to have tapir striped legs too! Just like Marilyn…or is it Diana? (confusing) Whoever she is she is certainly very pleased with her tights…
This morning I became aware that today is a very special day indeed.
When Clara and I were first discussing what we might make a book together about, we went in search of a hero to the zoo. We wanted to find a previously unsung animal. A perhaps less than familiar animal. We are both very fond of stories about bears and rabbits and elephants and cats and so on but it seemed to us both that they might have had rather more than their fair share of moments in the spotlight. That it might be someone else’s turn.
We had an inkling of who that someone might be. The fact that at first they were very difficult to track down only added to the excitement. A rather shy animal then?
Whilst we waited for their return we looked at anteaters and slow lorises and sloths and armadillos and agreed they had their charms. But none of them were quite what we needed this time. THEY’VE all had books already after all. We bought ice creams, chatted and waited patiently…
And then!- a tantalising glimpse as somebody came to enjoy the afternoon sun-
And we fell in love. A love only enhanced by the fact that so many passers by did not seem to quite know what they were looking at (my sneaky lean against the information board may not have helped): “It’s an elephant!” “It’s an aardvark!” “It’s an anteater!”. My favourite was the extremely confident man who identified it to his trusting girlfriend as “an enchillada”. But the vast majority were pretty sure they were looking at a strange variant of a pig.
Do you know what we were looking at? Shall I give you a better picture to guess from?
How about now? Of COURSE you do. You know the difference between a Mexican sandwich and an Asian tapir! (The largest of all the tapirs, sadly endangered and the only black and white striped one) Aren’t they delightful and deserving of many, many books written about them?
Yes- today is World Tapir Day and I am proudly declaring myself as Team Tapir Forever. I have a dream that one day I’ll go to the zoo and everyone will know exactly what they are, and that Clara and I will have helped in a small way to bring that about.
But I have to thank those people at the zoo, because indirectly they inspired the title of our first book involving our hero. It is to be called- ‘Mango and Bambang: The Not-a-Pig’. Mango, the heroine is equally important of course but I’ll wait until World Mango Day to tell you more about her. In the meantime I am very excited to give you a sneaky peek of Bambang himself. I do hope you’re going to enjoy meeting him. You only get a bit of him to start with but it’s a VERY fine bit indeed-
What a whirlwind of a week! International Women’s day today, following on from World Book Day, both snugly parceled within the golden pastry layers of National Pie Week.
I like women and books and pie (with the definite exceptions of my old gym teacher and steak and kidney and I wasn’t bothered about that Booker-shortlisted one about a dentist)
This I suppose, is the last World Book Day I shall experience purely from the spectator’s side of the fence. And from the spectator’s point of view this year has been, as always, loads of fun. I wasn’t challenged too hard in the costume creation department. One son went to school as the young James Bond which just involved hair gel, an ironed shirt and a gun, the other was Billionaire Boy. He was angling for an endless supply of £50 notes but had to settle for a customised loo roll. They went in their minimalist costumes to the marvellous Children’s Bookshop in Muswell Hill to spend their vouchers afterwards and came away with spectacular goody bags of loot.
Next year may involve school visits of my own. The thought of these induces a certain amount of gulping. I know it Will All Be Fine In the End. I have the HUGE advantage of at least starting out on the event trail in the company of Clara Vulliamy who is quite brilliant at making children happy and proud. I sort of thought aloud to her recently that perhaps I might be sent on some event training by persons unnamed and undefined? She gave me a gentle but quizzical look in reply. A sudden realisation that no, there is no induction day where you get given your Official Author diploma and badge. I shall have to rely on my not-as-well-hidden-as-I-might-like capacity for Showing Off.
I was once given a special prize by a frazzled mother at the end of a children’s party for being ‘the life and soul’. I dread to remember how I earned this accolade…
Let me instead show off about two other women with books who should be celebrated this week.
The first is definite Official-Author-with-Badge Helen Peters who came to school last week to talk about her sequel to best-selling ‘The Secret Hen House Theatre’; ‘The Farm Beneath the Water’. I read it in one greedy sitting and found it as gripping, funny, passionate and wise as the first book. I was delighted to attend the (very) proper launch in the headmaster’s house of Roedean and meet Helen’s real life funny, passionate and wise farming family. Plus there were pies!
The second is children’s book blogger and campaigner like no other; Zoe Toft. Following an idle chat about houses built from books on Twitter she took up my challenge to build her own in aid of Book Aid International. She stripped her shelves of over 1500 titles and constructed the most perfect little fairy tale cottage (with a fair few fairy tales in its foundations doubtless). To date she has raised an extraordinary £740. Do go and look at her blog of the process and help bump up that total even more if you can. A true labour of love.
Enough women and books. Not quite enough pie perhaps. I have no pictures of pie. Will you settle for an entirely gratuitous picture of the sloth family at London zoo? I don’t know when International Sloth Day but goodness knows they’re quite as good as women, books and pie together.