See you all in 2012!
I was sent a copy of ‘The Unforgotten Coat’ by Frank Cottrell Boyce from the Southbank Centre. Unfortunately, thanks to the plague ridden two-year-old who had used my son as a hanky, I wasn’t able to attend Frank Cottrell Boyce’s talk at the Southbank but I was completely captivated by his latest read. In fact I have read it twice this week already and for those of you who get your hands on the book, you will understand the need to do this, thanks to a lovely, endearing twist in the story. I can’t recommend enough that you have a read of this beautiful book.
‘The Unforgotten Coat’ is an enchanting story of friendship, recollecting Julie O’Connor’s final year of primary school where she meets two refugee Mongolian brothers, Chingis and Nergui, who join her school temporarily. The story is littered with stunning Polaroid photos that Chingis uses to charm Julie with the mysticism of Mongolia only for us to find out later that they are cleverly manipulated shots of Bootle, Julie’s English hometown.
The nostalgia of this book took me back to my school days. I was reminded of a past crush who I found as completely fascinating as Julie finds the two brothers in this story. My crush was neither Mongolian nor mystical, just a bloke who lived on the four-eight-two bus route to Southall. He did however have a penchant for spinning a yarn. In amongst his tales of being kicked out of his previous school for setting fire to the science labs (LIE) and being on the run from his father, who was trying to send him to army camp in America (LIE), was the wonderful untruth of how his great-great-great-great uncle had discovered India, backed up by an ancient map, apparently left to him by his dead grandfather. I later found out that his grandfather was still very much alive and kicking and the map was torn out of the front of ‘The Hobbit’. Whilst I blame him for my later years of nightmare relationships based on a deep-seated mistrust of the male species, I do thank him hugely for making me see the world in fiction and fuelling my love for writing.
I’ve just finished reading ‘Dark Lord: The Teenage Years’ by Jamie Thomson. This is an absolutely hilarious and completely bonkers novel about the Dark Lord and how he comes to be trapped in the body of a teenager, having been banished to the earth by his archenemy. He is taken in by the Purejoies family and begins life as thirteen-year-old Dirk Lloyd. The story follows Dirk as he contends with his new family, school and friends (better known as lackeys). I don’t want to ruin the ending for you but this story finishes with a great cliffhanger as his newfound friends try to help send him back to his motherland.
I couldn’t help but feel I was reading an autobiography of my son’s future self. My son has always been quite a chatty babbling baby. At first I dismissed most of his nonsense as prattle. But in the last few months, listening carefully I’ve been able pick out actual words and it’s set off Dark Lord alarm bells. For instance, I’m sure he should be calling me as ‘Mummy’ or ‘Mama’, I would even settle for a simple ‘ma’ or ‘mmmphmm’ but I’m pretty certain he’s been addressing me as ‘human’. He also often points to the front door and demands to be sent back to ‘de darlands’, which I have now deciphered to mean The Darklands. And when the postman arrives, he offers him dismembered limbs of playdough people and jumps wildly, shouting and cheering ‘Post Lord’.
This morning, during an unusually amicable nappy change, I had my final bit of evidence. We were about to brush our teeth and I pointed at my husband’s reflection in the mirror and said to my son ‘Daddy’. He obediently replied ‘Da-deeeee’. I pointed to myself and said ‘Mummy’. He replied ‘Merm-mee’. I then pointed to my son’s reflection and said ‘Phoenix’, (because that’s his name). He turned to me and then stared back at the mirror and said ‘Dark Lord’. And then he combed his eyebrows with his toothbrush.
I recently sent my manuscript off to a publisher. I heard it can take up to six months to hear something (if anything) back. I’ve also heard the best way to stop incessant inbox-checking for a reply or constant curtain twitching for the postman is to start a new project. I was quite sure that I had enough self-restraint for it to be completely unnecessary to start a new project and take my mind off where my manuscript might have sunk to in the slushpile.
Yesterday morning a new postman arrived at the door. My old postman had switched his route to avoid me. Right, time for a new project.
But my faithful moleskin failed me. I thought I’d shoved a plan for a coming-of-age teen novel in there somewhere. I definitely remember scrawling over four Costa napkins and also partly on the back of my son’s baby-gro. I had been mulling over my protagonist for months and suddenly the complete story plan materialised during a trip to the high street last week. It was like a thought waterfall. I have a horrible feeling the napkins were used to mop up my son’s projectile vomit off of the Costa counter. I could murder the moron who thought it was fine to bring their germy brat to playgroup the previous day. And I’m pretty sure I’d binned the baby gro, knowing I would wind up projectile vomiting myself if I had to clean off the mush of spaghetti bolognaise and soya yoghurt that had reversed its way up through my son.
Blast. I’m going to have to rewrite the plan.
This is the kind of thing that would never happen to my husband. Firstly he would never keep a pile of post-its and napkins and claim there was a publishable novel in amongst the scrappy notes. He’s the sort of technological whiz who’d be able to send a plan straight from his mind to his computer desktop. I’ve been peering over his shoulder for the past ten minutes. He has actually made a spreadsheet comparing the costs of the new iPhone across the networks. He’s using actual excel equations and everything. How is it possible that Miss Napkin-Jotter met and married Mr Jedi-Spreadsheet Man? Mr Jedi-Spreadsheet Man would never have lost his storyboard to bolognaise vomit. We’ve been together for seven years now, shouldn’t our organisational skills have synced by now? Like a period?
Six months ago, my 12 month old son and I were having a deep and meaningful over a cup of tea and a breastfeed, discussing my venture in to the world of children’s books. I had been writing seriously for a year prior to this moment and writing for the hell of it since I was given my first crayons and discovered that they were much more useful for making interesting marks on paper (and walls and sofas) than for eating. My son had just latched off, burped, and tried to spit breastmilk back at my udders, despite the no returns policy, but had nodded approvingly at the first draft of my middle grade novel. And then he told me to start a blog. Well actually he said, “bleugh, ha, ba, baa, bleughy, blog.”
Who was I to doubt his advice? He had, so far in his twelve months of being on the planet, managed to fix my phone by bashing it with a spoon, hide my husband’s repulsive flip flops, which I still hadn’t managed to achieve in the last seven years of our relationship, and he’d cracked every baby proofing lock we had placed in our flat. He’s a bright lad. And now my advice guru.
So, six months later, here I am. Join me as I try to navigate the confusing and competitive, not-so-yellow brick road to getting published as a children’s writer, under the guidance of my toddler son.