Friday, 10 September 2010

Open Day at Ivory Towers

People occasionally write to me. I call this my ‘fan mail’, but I’m not really as deluded as that sounds. Okay, some of it actually is quite complimentary, but often it’s requests for advice on being an illustrator (which I’m happy to give, for what it’s worth), letters helpfully pointing out mistakes I have made in one of my picture books (thank you!), and very rarely – but rather wonderfully – drawings from children who have liked a story. Inevitably a lot of it is Harry Potter related, though that’s dying off a bit now (and I’m always a bit wary of any HP requests, especially after someone asked for a signed book cover for a sick child only to put it straight onto e-bay!).

Anyway, why am I telling you this? Well, to make the point that unless you live in a cave and shoot would-be readers, writing really isn’t as solitary as it’s often made out to be. Readers and writers go together like crackers and cheese.

I won’t say which is which.

Everyone who keeps a blog knows all this already, but there’s nothing wrong with being reminded, as I was a few days ago when my agent forwarded an e-mail from a confused parent. Could I please explain how something in one of my early picture books was possible? What was “the author’s intention”? There were two small children waiting for an answer.

Wasn’t it clear from the story? Apparently not, and who’s fault is that?

I wrote back and apologised (and I hope my explanation satisfied those two boys) but as I spend my days wrangling with a half-fossilised ms, trying to make time travel sound plausible, it’s useful to be reminded that readers will be the ones to decide if I’ve succeeded or not, not me. And even the loftiest ivory tower has a letter box.


  1. Haha! The crackers and cheese!

    This is a scary thought. Right now I just worry about finishing then, whether an agent will like it. I haven't even gotten as far as readers.

    Good point. Writing is hardly solitary, in many ways.

    It's lovely that you hear from readers, though, especially the compliments. That must help make all the work worthwhile:)

  2. Heh. I think it must be lovely to get letters like that. Mind you, soon enough you'll have to employ someone to handle all the fan mail for you ...

  3. Thanks, Terry. You're right, it's always a compliment to be contacted, even if the nature of that contact makes you feel like you slipped up somewhere.

    Simon, yes, a PA or two might be in order. And if they can entertain children and be from the Swedish netball team, why, so much the better:)

  4. Mmmm...crackers and cheese. *drools*

    I'm pretty sure I a cheesy cracker. ;)

    I'm new here. *waves* Nice to meet you.


  5. Hi Lola. *waves back*

    Thanks for commenting and following.

  6. I am embarking on my first children's book. I hadn't thought about parents wanting answers on behalf of their little ones. Gosh.

  7. This is the third time I have tried to leave a comment - I think I have exited the window too soon on previous times, so here goes..

    I'm really impressed that you have fan mail and I'm hopeful that if I write a book about Edward Norton he will write me a fan letter, too, and perhaps we could meet up to discuss the turning of said book into a film - which he will star in and direct, and which I will need to be on set for every day....

    Obviously this wasn't my original comment but the second one was veering this way and now I've gone the whole hog....

  8. I was so sure that wouldn't work...

  9. Thanks, Glynis. Yes, some readers like to bite back.

    Rachel, why wouldn't Edward Norton want you on his set every day?

  10. Oh please say I'm the wait, I want to be crackers!!

  11. Drop me an email and I'll send you a runners up prize, Thomas :)

  12. Hi, Hannah. You have to be at least a bit crackers to follow my blog:)

    Thanks Rachel! Do you mean that? I suppose I'd better send an e-mail and find out.

  13. I really look forward to receiving letters from readers. Although it's nice to hear from writers and editors and other denizens of the publishing world, being read by actual children would be both scary and wonderful.

    Actually, I have had one single bit of feedback from a child. I spent ages trying to reproduce it on my blog, so excuse me for pasting a link rather than adding it here directly:

  14. Thanks, Nick. And thanks for the link. I enjoyed your Vamp... sorry, 11 year old's comment. They don't write stuff they don't mean, and there's no agenda.


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