I have a big apology to make to all those who may have come to the blog in the last few months hoping for news of the Cumbria Book Appeal I began before Christmas. To recap for those who missed it, I was responding to the severe floods in Cumbria that took place last year and had the idea that authors and illustrators of children's books might put a bit of a spark into what was going to be a very muted Christmas by sending the present of a book to children in the affected area.
All authors and illustrators have copies of their books lying around. We are sent advance copies when the books are printed - though it might interest those of you who do not write that these are not free copies: the cost is offset against any royalties we might generate. But nevertheless I did think that this was a relatively painless way of authors making a connection with some of their readers in a time of crisis.
The idea was that we would sign a book (or two or six) and send them to a collection point where they would be somehow distributed to the children. I contacted Cumbria Council and spoke to their media person. He was initially very keen and encouraging and so I blogged, Facebooked and emailed anyone and everyone I could think of to see if there was any interest from authors and illustrators.
Just about all the people I contacted came back immediately with 'I'm in - where do I send the books?' That issue - the issue of where to actually send the books became one of the stumbling blocks. Also I had by this time had further contact with the council using a contact of Jim Eldridge, a writer I knew from my days working for Scholastic. But with the infrastructure of the area in tatters, they clearly saw this scheme as a potential burden on their already strained resources.
I thought - and still think - they were wrong, but I absolutely understand why they might think that. The most heartening response actually came from publishers and bookshops - the areas of the business you might have thought would be least sentimental. Lisa Edwards at Scholastic was a continual source of support and practical help. But I also need to thank the wonderful Philippa Dickinson at Random House, Alistair Spalding at Egmont, Anna Howarth at Usborne, Anne Clark at Piccadilly Press and Susannah Nuckey at Bloomsbury. Nikki Gamble from Writeaway was also a star and I want to thank all the authors and illustrators on facebook who were so quick to offer books and to the likes of Fiona Dunbar and Sally Nicholls who took the trouble to spread the word and bring in new authors. Thanks too to Jo McCrum of the Society Of Authors. If I've forgotten anyone then I am obviously an arse.
The lovely Kate Johnson at Heffer's here in Cambridge was also incredibly supportive and enthusiastic and made a generous offer both of books and potentially of transport. It was Lisa Edwards who put me in touch with Alison Cattanach at Hills Bookshop in Workington and it was they who made the most practical contribution of offering storage and distribution of the books. It makes it doubly frustrating that we were unable to make use of their kind offer.
The idea shifted from signed books for individual children to a combination of signed and unsigned books for school libraries. But the fact remains that I never did get an answer from Cumbria as to how many children we were talking about or even the number of schools. Though generous offers did come in from authors and illustrators I have to confess I expected more. I suspect that is true of everyone who organises anything like this. We numbered about 80, but I was hoping for at least 200.
All this is leading to the fact that I have to announce that the plan is dead. It has probably been obvious for a couple of months, but I did not want to actually admit that I had failed. Josh Lacey made the point to me that my initial idea was the one that was appealing. Sending books to school libraries was not the same at all. It's true. It was not what I had seen happening. But I thought that this would be better than nothing.
I was forced to accept that it was not going to happen for Christmas, but hoped that we might get it going after Christmas. But then there was the infinitely more disastrous Haiti earthquake and my scheme seemed in poor taste suddenly set against that. Then there was the snow. Then there was simply the issue of when do we send. There needed to be a logic to that. Christmas was a time for presents - it made sense. World Book Day? Everyone is so busy with other things. And so it went on. Very, very reluctantly, I have had to accept that the moment has passed. It is infuriating, but there we are.
I want to thank everyone who sent emails and contacted me with words of encouragement or with heart-warming enthusiasm. The generosity of the authors who contacted me was wonderful. Perhaps there will be another opportunity to harness that goodwill in the future.