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Chicago is a beautiful city. That came as a complete surprise to me because before I visited five years ago, I imagined a bleak, smoggy industrial wasteland like the one in Lowry’s paintings (don’t ask me why), but a sparkling lake with bobbing yachts and neon-clad joggers in the sunshine and cool and funky architecture and green parks with visuals and sculptures knocked my socks off instead.
Painting by Lowry.
OK, it was summer (not freezing and full of snow), and we did stay in North Shore Drive with our lovely friends, so we did have the best of the best of Chicago, I admit. But I loved it.
And now I love it even more.
In the US, they have end of year book lists, a kind of ‘best of 2016’ type thing and they’re very hard to get onto, bearing in mind something like 330,000 books are published every year in the US alone, and then little import upstarts like me turn up. So I was delighted when, at the end of last year, Amber was on the New York Public Library‘s top books for reading and sharing 2015. And I’m delighted times two that Dara Palmer’s Major Drama is on Chicago Public Library‘s ‘Best of the Best’ for older readers, 2016. And those lists are quite short when it comes to children’s books, so it’s even more special to be on them.
I also received the best letter of my life from an 11-year-old reader and fan in Germany called Ananda. It honestly made me cry. I’ve taken out the names of the girl and the town, but this means so much to me, I wanted to share it.
A friend of mine ( her name is ***) is growing without her father. One month ago she wrote a letter to her father, because she found out where he lives. And 3 weeks ago he answered. When i presented Amber in my class, she was very inpresed and she told me that she has got the same feelings as Amber when it comes to her father. So she read your book and now it’s one of her favorite books.
By the way,her father said that they could meet because he also lives in (the same town). I think your book can help so many kids and it seems that it also makes them brave.
Tell me that doesn’t make you feel something like…this.
I can’t believe it’s been so long since I last posted. I’m quite a rubbish poster, aren’t I? Which is a good thing really, because I’d only fall off the wall if someone stuck me up with Blu Tac.
OK, that was a terrible joke. I’m quite a bad joker, aren’t I? Which is a good thing really, because I’d whip Batman’s hide but I’d look terrible in leaky red lipstick.
OK, I’ll stop but just so you know, I could do this all day.
So here we are in September. We’re back at school and summer is saying its final Sayonara toodlepip. The news is that I’ve been writing. Woohoo! I’m excited because writing is my favourite thing to do. This summer I also moved house and went to Rome and assembled flat pack furniture so writing was out of the window for a while but I did have two glorious weeks of distraction-free days to sit and write, which was so nice.
Except the sun was shining, which was annoying.
I like writing in the rain, preferably with thunderstorms. Lashing rain is best but drizzle is fine too. Sunshine is so tempting and delicious. It giggles and tickles and calls me outside. It says, ‘Emmmmmaaaaaaa. Come and feeeeeeel my waaaaarrrrmmm and gooolden liiiiiight. Don’t staaaay insiiiiiiide wriiiiitng boooooks. Loook at my loooovely liiiight. Mmmmmmmm. Waaarrrrrm. Haaaaaapppppy. Cooooome.’ And I have to force myself to ignore it and stay inside and get vitamin D deficiency and leg cramps because a book needs to come out of me and the only way that can happen (unfortunately) is through my fingers. And that takes time.
How do people write in hot countries? I think I need to live in Ireland or Seattle and then I’d be sorted.
So I have three quarters of a book and today and Monday I am going to try and write the last part. I have to get on with it because it’s raining and thundery and that is just the most perfect gift after all the heat (which I love) that London has been cooking in.
Dara’s doing well: it came out in the US and Canada in July and I love the yellow cover. It’s also getting some attention Dara would love: I can’t disclose my news just yet but let’s just say it’s BIG. And Amber should be coming out in paperback in the US and Canada next month after a year in hardback.
Meanwhile, back in London, the rain is making me a very happy author. I have to go and write right now and make the most of it.
On Friday, I went to Winchester for the Youth Libraries Group Unconference. There’s something so very Alice in Wonderland about the word ‘unconference’, which set a happy tone before I even arrived. The weather was lovely – this is rare in London – and my train was almost on time (ditto). In the Winchester Discovery Centre, which is a lovely library, fifty five lovely librarians and around twelve authors and illustrators had gathered to talk about books and getting children reading, and that, to me, is a day well spent. Julia Eccleshare’s keynote talk was so interesting: she said she was invited recently as part of a delegation to a Middle Eastern country where a Sultan wanted to initiate a culture of reading, which his country didn’t have, and asked how best to do it. The keys, we all agreed, were parents reading to children, and the right books. I told my children about this talk, and the books from our childhood and how important they are, and they ran upstairs to get all their picture books off the shelves, and they read them together in the garden. And my children are 20,18, 15 and 13.
But back to the Unconference. The thing is, as an author, you get five minutes to speak. This must happen in the Oscars all the time, but you forget what you wanted to say and you have so little time and it runs out so quickly. I heard recently that instead of actors and producers standing up and reciting a list of people they’d like to thank, they’re going to have the names of all involved in the film on a screen behind them because people invariably forget half of those they need to mention, upset folk, cause a rumpus and/or burst into tears and can’t say anything much. I thankfully didn’t do that but give me an Oscar and I can’t promise I won’t.
What I WANTED to say was that YLG and libraries in general are crucial, undersupported and underfunded. I wanted to say thank you to YLG and all the librarians across the country (and the world), firstly for inviting me along but crucially, for championing my books (and all books, in fact). I wanted to say thank you for the reviews, for handing my books to children, and for doing what you’re doing with such passion, love and energy.
I WANTED to say that both of my books are about identity, belonging, being different and diverse families. That I love doing school and library visits and would be happy to do more; that I show photos and talk about writing what you love, about children who are mixed race, growing up without fathers, about orphanages in Asia and my trip to Cambodia with my son last summer, about being small and samurai swords and following your dreams, even if obstacles block your way, and about who we are and how we treat other people. All this fits in with certain key parts of the National Curriculum (see the tab labelled ‘school visits’ on this site).
Did I say any of that? No. I did not. I did say other things but five minutes is not very long and I spent the whole journey home wishing I’d said what I intended to say. So I’m saying it here.
YLG thank you. Librarians, thank you. The Reading Agency, thank you. Reviewers and bloggers and teachers – all of you. Thank you. Here is a photo of me in my tutu, dressed as Dara Palmer, talking about my books (I must have said something funny because MG Leonard is cracking up).
I’m sure I’ve forgotten to say something. I’ll no doubt think of it later…
Some things you don’t even dream about. Getting starred reviews in all four of the major library journals in the US is one of those things. So when Dream on Amber tiptoed shyly into America last year and got starred reviews in all four of them – Kirkus, Booklist, School Library Journal (SLJ) and Publisher’s Weekly – you could have floored me with the breath it takes to blow out a birthday candle.
I didn’t expect that for Dara Palmer’s Major Drama. I just didn’t. Dara Palmer doesn’t tiptoe anywhere, by the way: when she arrives, she does it by leaping with both feet, landing with her arms stretched wide and shouting, ta-dahhhh!
But over the last two weeks, Dara has received starred reviews first from Kirkus, then School Library Journal, then Publisher’s Weekly.
- Go to YouTube.
- Search for Roberto Benigni Oscar acceptance speech (I tried to embed it here but I couldn’t). I promise you – it’ll brighten up your day, whatever day you’re having.
- See Roberto when they call his name out? That’s me right now. That’d be Dara if she ever got an Oscar as well – in her red tutu and her silver shoes.
Only Booklist to go (drum roll).
What? Of course I’m not hiding under the table, biting my fingernails nervously – I’m just … looking for a lost … um…cereal flake.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to my parents “for giving me the greatest gift – poverty” (classic line!), to Chicken House, Allison Hellegers, Aubrey Poole, Alex Yeadon and the team at Sourcebooks, and to the reviewers at Kirkus, SLJ and PW.
This Oscar is for you.
Was December really the last time I posted? Gosh. I’m a bit bad at regular updates, aren’t I? I’ve been crazy busy, you see, writing another book and doing a lot of life stuff but I have some very good news…
…and that is that Dara Palmer’s Major Drama has just received its first US trade review and it’s a corker … (drum roll)… a starred review from Kirkus!
YAY! I’m so delighted. Thank you so much to Kirkus and especially the reviewer, whose name I don’t yet know; to Alex, Katy and the amazing team at Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, and to Chicken House for being so downright all-round wonderful.
Dara comes out in the US and Canada on 6th July and the rights have recently been sold to Denmark, which is also excellent news. I aim to have a celebratory launch-ette in Copenhagen when the time comes, and I’m planning a visit to the States later in the year.
And as Amber is going from strength to strength in the US and Canada, I am a happy writer this springtime.
But it’s 1.45 am and I have to go to sleep now so I will have to post again soon. Hopefully before three months go by.
Dara Palmer would be SO happy right now because in America I’m, like, TOTALLY FAMOUS.
Actually, that’s not true. I’m not famous at all. I can still walk down the street without being mobbed (it’s only a matter of time) but Amber is going so well in the US, I’m flabbergasted! And that’s not a word I ever say because it makes my tongue confused so if I’m using it, I must be.
I LOVE YOU, NEW YORK!
I have two reasons to love New York, hence the title of this blog post. It’s not because it’s so good, they named it twice, but that’s a very good reason too.
The first is that The New York Times had a Sunday book supplement recently, and – wait for it…wait for it… Dream on, Amber was featured in the children’s section. WOOOOOHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Malinda Lo wrote a cracking review of Amber, for which I’m enormously grateful. I mean, this is The New York Times, just in case you didn’t catch that. THE NEW YORK TIMES. And that follows the (sadly for subscribers only) review in The Wall Street Journal the month before!
Phhhhhhhhooooo – I need to breathe. I’m still freaked out by all this.
Secondly, and MASSIVELY, every December, The New York Public Library publishes its annual list of the Top 100 Books of the Year. This is a HIGHLY PRESTIGIOUS and enormously respected list recognised right across the country. It recommends just a handful of the thousands of books published every year, and DREAM ON, AMBER is included in the children’s section.
(gets up from the floor)
(carries on as if nothing happened and I didn’t just faint in front of a load of people)
Ahem. I cannot tell you how honoured I am (with a u because I’m British, and because honoured is such an honourable word, it deserves that u, don’t you agree?)
Thank you so much to the committee for including Amber: that is the American Dream right there. I am stoked. Like a furnace. Honestly. Overwhelmed.
(you might have to come back later)
Oh, there you are. I was wondering when you’d arrive because I’ve got so much to tell you. Mainly about fame, really. And why not.
So yes, on the topic of fame, Dara Palmer’s Major Drama came out on 6th August in the UK and has been having some cracking reviews, for which I’m humbly grateful. I was in Cambodia at the time visiting Dara’s birthplace, and specifically a children’s charity called the Cambodian Children’s Trust in Battambang that helps to keep children out of orphanages. I talked about my visit there at my event at the Edinburgh Book Festival on 23rd August with fellow author, Elen Caldecott, who writes the excellent Marsh Road series, and I’ll be talking about Cambodia and Dara in more depth at the multiple school and library visits I have lined up over the next two months, not to mention the festivals and conferences I’ll be attending. So that’s all MUCHO EXCITING. Dara will like the fame, I just know it.
Staying on the topic of fame, the piece I wrote on why I was – and continue to be- inspired by the great Pippi Longstocking was published in The Guardian yesterday. I’m sooo famous now. Actually, that’s a lie. I’m not at all. But it’s great to see something you wrote in The Guardian, no less, and if you haven’t read Pippi, or haven’t read her in a while, I highly recommend a revisit. I think one of my favourite stories ever is about the Squeazle, which can be found in ‘Pippi in the South Seas’. She is just amazing, and so was Astrid Lindgren.
Continuing on the topic of fame just a tiny bit longer, Dream on, Amber has now received four, yes, four starred reviews from the top library journals in America. Getting one of those stars is a big deal, but getting four is a big deal times four, so I’m delighted and so are the publishers on both sides of the Atlantic. I’ve just received this praise sheet summarising the four reviews, so I’m going to share it with you all, right here, right now. DreamOnAmber-PraiseSheet
Amber comes out on 6th October in the US, which is soon indeed. I wish her the very best of luck.
And that’s all the fame I think anyone can cope with in a single afternoon, so I’m bowing deeply and heading to the wings with my flowers. See you backstage.