Thursday 13 April 2017

How to make awesome new friends - fall in with book folk! This Week's ReadItTorial

An awesome collection of book folk including one potato-headed book blogger!  Photo (C) The Catchpole Agency

Way way back at the start of the year, and it feels like forever ago, the lovely Fiona Barker gave me a nudge on Twitter, pointing out that her fantastic Children's Picture Book Club meetings were coming our way - to Waterstones Oxford in fact.

Normally it's nigh-on impossible for me to get to book events because A) they're usually in London and B) there's no way possible to get to London on time, be there for a couple of hours and then come all the way back home but it's something I've wanted to do more of - for lots of reasons.

The main one is anxiety. I suffer from a weird form of what I can only seem to describe as anxiety where I absolutely panic at the thought of meeting folk - even folk I know, or folk I've happily conversed with on Twitter or email.

I've tried many methods of coping with it - going through denial, burying my head in the sand, politely declining invitations to awesome events but I've found that the only method that truly works is to eat that damned anxiety up by confronting it head on.

I knew lots of lovely people I've been dying to meet in person were going along to the event including James and Lucy from The Catchpole Agency  - who were also going along to field questions, offer insights into the weird wild world of children's publishing, and perhaps even hear a couple of pitches.

It was also a great opportunity to hear other creative folk who love books not only talking about them passionately, but also showing just how creative they are with the things they've been working on (I can't give any details for obvious reasons, but for someone who reads a LOT of children's books the pitches really caught my attention and showed that there's still such a huge amount of potential to dazzle and amaze with children's stories). I was actually semi thankful I didn't let my over-anxious flapping chops loose on pitching any of the stuff I've been working on - mostly because last night's discussion gave me so much food for thought anyway.

Discussed at length, Patricia Cleveland-Peck and David Tazzyman's excellent "You Can't Take an Elephant on the Bus" (Conveyance!)

The other reason I wanted to go was to hear from agents what they look for and how they assess a pitch or a piece of work on the slush pile. I've been eaten up by a slight obsession with "The Rules" - that draconian set of structural rules that seem to be so tightly knitted in to the production of a children's story. James and Lucy were hugely helpful on that particular point - it's not so much that rules are there to be rigidly stuck to, but they are there for extremely good reasons. Particularly when it comes to rules about story length, number of spreads etc - the real meat and bones of structure that I've always shaken my fist at (because I really can't seem to get under a word count to save my life).

Something else they both confirmed was that it's very unusual for authors and artists to directly collaborate. I'd heard this before, and it always seemed to make no sense whatsoever to me, but when you hear the very good reasons why publishers prefer to make the choice on who illustrates a piece of work themselves, it does begin to make sense - and it also underlines something we've talked about a lot on the blog - the fact that no matter how great an artist you think you are, there's a huge amount of difference between being 'good at art' and being 'good in a COMMERCIAL way at art' - to the high standards that children's books demand by default.

The last interesting point was around how many ex-advertising folk make it big in children's literature. It makes perfect sense that folk who are extremely good at reading trends, at being punchy with their words and effective with their illustrations are a natural 'fit' for children's books. So if there's ever a good piece of advice (other than snagging yourself an English Lang / Lit degree and / or formal artistic training), it's go work in advertising for a while - it'll do you wonders when you come out the other side and fancy chancing your arm at children's books - forget becoming a Z-list celebrity!

The evening was great - there were a couple of times where anxiety raised its ugly head and made me want to bolt for the door but book folk are so kind, wonderful and just SO GOOD TO TALK TO in that fabulous 'me too' kind of way that just rocks, that I really hope there's another one soon - and they'll let me come back again.

So great to meet you all and thanks for making an over-anxious book worm feel welcome!