I have been fairly busy in the last few weeks, one way and another.
I queued up with an expectant gaggle of other painters to submit my two works for consideration by the selection committee for the the Royal Academy Summer Show. I dithered about what to put in, and the paint was barely dry before I bubble-wrapped them and took them down on the train. Above are two (poor) mobile phone shots of the paintings.
Having got in last year, I will feel doubly disappointed if I'm not chosen this year. It is such a thrill to see your work on those walls. I went to see the Manet show while I was there and exhibiting in the same space used for Manet is quite exciting. We hear in May. Fingers crossed.
I was lucky enough to be asked to sit in a seminar panel at the London Book Fair with Matt Haig (who chaired it ) and Brenda Gardner from Piccadilly Press. The event was entitled Writing Outside of the Box, and was meant to be about attitudes to genre-writing in children's publishing. But to be honest, the debate wandered about a little. We needed to have a clearer point of focus and panellists with more divergent views. Perhaps we should have had a marketing person, or someone from retail or a writer for adults - someone to add another point of view. It needed a fight, basically.
I had a chance to see friends and fellow authors like Anne Rooney and Teri Terry. I saw my agent Philippa Milnes-Smith for lunch and finally meet Maurice Lyon, my editor at Bloomsbury. Maurice has been covering Ellie Fountain's maternity leave and I was beginning to think I wouldn't get to see him before she returned. He turned out to be every bit as nice a chap as I had been told to expect.
I bumped into old (in the sense of previous) editors: Sarah Odedina, who is now at the helm at Hot Key, and Annie Eaton from Random House who published my very first book, Dog Magic! under the Young Corgi imprint at Transworld. I actually felt like a knew quite a lot of people there. Maybe I've been around too long.
The London Book Fair is a rather airless hangar full of stands with books on shelves and groups of people sitting around in rapt conversation. I went upstairs out of curiosity and saw the translation rights area, laid out like a huge exam room or Soviet era interrogation centre. It was a little bit scary.
I came back to the fair a couple of days later for a Booktrust reception. Booktrust is such a wonderful organisation and it was good to hear their news, put faces to email address and chat to the likes of Wendy Cooling, Sarah Macintyre and Babette Cole.
On the work front I have been working through the proofs of The Dead Men Stood Together. I have been reading through them aloud. I do this at the first draft stage, before I send it in to my publisher, and I do it again at the proof stage. It may seem like an affectation but it is very practical.
Whilst not all books are designed to be read aloud, all books are read aloud, in effect. They are read aloud (if you see what I mean) in the reader's head. It may not seem important for sentences to sound right, but it is. If they sound right, they probably are right.
Even if it wasn't, reading the words aloud is the surest way I know of catching any mistakes - particularly in punctuation. Commas that need to be full stops, sentences that need a missing comma - it all becomes much clearer when you read aloud, as, of course, do any repetitions or confusions. I had 'scene' and 'seen' in the same sentence, for instance. It looked fine on the written page, but read aloud it was just plain odd.
Helen Szirtes and Isabel Ford, who together have worked on every one of my Bloomsbury books, have both read through the proofs and the next thing will be for us all to compare notes before it goes off to the printers. It is a book I am very proud of. It is published in September. More news nearer the time, of course. . .
As I have said many times, writers are rarely working on one book. As well as being at the proof stage with The Dead Men Stood Together, having had my idea approved by Bloomsbury, I am now writing Marley's Ghost, a story linked to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. That book will be published next year and will form a trilogy of books based on works that had a particular impact on me when young: Mister Creecher/Frankenstein, The Dead Men Stood Together/The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Marley's Ghost/A Christmas Carol.