I’m back! But physically, I’m away – in Washington D.C., to be precise. My mum is the Director of the International Institute of Communications, which is very impressive and also means she gets to travel lots. Sometimes, I travel with her, to lend moral support and sample local cuisine.
This time though, it was a work trip for me, too. As soon as I found out the dates for my mum’s visit, I contacted my US agent, Kirby Kim, and my US editor, Melanie Cecka, to see if they could fit in seeing me. My plan was to go to New York for the day, because it’s relatively close to D.C. on the map. Relative to the American continent, anyway.
So yesterday, armed with Fortnum and Mason biscuits and The Charnel House, I tightened the straps on my rucksack and caught the 8:10 am from Union Station to New York Penn. A line from my WiP goes ‘all things seem possible on a train’, and I had ideas of using the three and a half hours to knuckle down to some work. Instead I woke up half an hour out of NY with drool on my chin, and spent the last segment of the ride checking Facebook.
Still, as soon as I stepped out into the crisp
Autumn Fall winter air, I felt invigorated. I was in New York! I had an hour and half until my first meeting, which wasn’t quite enough to get to The Strand Bookstore, but more than enough to find a cafe and make like Carrie for a while (in a middle grade, age-appropriate way).
I stepped back out of the winter air – which was actually pretty freezing – and caught the wrong subway three stops before realising and catching the right subway seven stops. Once walking, the optimistically basic instructions I’d written myself did get me slightly lost, but also led me past a Lindt shop where they were giving out free samples, and this van that combines two of my favourite things:
By now my time had shrunk to twenty minutes, and it was raining a bit. But I found the Janklow and Nesbit offices!
Not wanting to seem too keen, I ducked into a coffee shop nearby to wring out my hair, spill hot chocolate down myself, and stare blankly at my laptop thinking of all the words I could have written.
The J&N US offices are about as different design-wise as you can get from the Notting Hill Gate, Georgian terraced-house UK one, but just as beautiful and book-filled.
I waited a few minutes in the lobby, and once again forgetting that first impressions are important, bypassed all the literary fiction to read a book called The Trip to Echo Springs: On writers and drinking (which I will definitely be buying). To be honest, looking at all those books was both exhilarating and intimidating. J&N represent a lot of the best writers around, and I feel like a total fraud (especially with hot chocolate down my front).
But then, Kirby’s assistant Brenna arrived and I met the man himself. If there’s two people who can dispel that fraud feeling quicker than anything, it’s Hellie and him. It was so lovely to meet him, and again reaffirmed that J&N are exactly who I want representing me. Their enthusiasm and energy is superhuman – plus their restaurant choices are always on point (hello, lobster club sandwich).
We talked books, blogging, books, Handler/Woodson, books, editing, books. I have a good stretch of time before TCD comes out, and need to use it wisely so when 2016 rolls around people actually know, and are excited, about the book and me. The main advice Kirby gave me was to be myself – by which I think he means unleash my full book-fan crazy upon the world. No problem.
Then it was time to cross midtown to see Melanie Cecka-Nolan, my editor at Knopf (Penguin Random House) and my hero since I read her offer letter after a week of rejections. A moment to contemplate the beauty of the lobby in my blurry, dark photo:
Like Rachel and Barry at Chicken House, Melanie completely ‘gets’ what I want the book to be, and has a beautiful sense of how to make that happen. She highlighted the importance of middle grade to children – how many readers are made or lost at this time. TCD is quite ‘literary’, and she’s keen not to patronise younger readers by losing that.
We talked about what I like about TCD, what I don’t like, and about timeframes. Again, we mainly talked books: books we love, books we don’t see enough of, books we want my book to be like. Two names came up with both Kirby and Melanie, without any prompting from me: Philip Pullman and Cathrynne M. Valente. YES.
Our time was up before it had really begun, and at 4:05pm I was back on a train, dazed and awed by the fact that this is actually happening. I am so lucky to have such an incredible amount of belief and care behind me, and I’m very ready to make this book what they (and I) believe it can be.
Plus, I got free books. A LOT of free books:
Next time I think I’ll give it more than a day. I can move into the lobby, right?