A child once wrote to me: ‘I picked your book because I felt sorry for it. It was sat on the shelf, being ignored by everyone else.’ Once we get past the friends, agents, editors, publishers, reps, booksellers and reviewers there is a very appreciative – and honest – audience waiting for us. This is one of the things I love best about the world of children’s books. Children don’t know how to massage an ego, they can’t lie (Well, not very well. Well, not all the time.) and if you’re boring them, they’ll let you know. If they like you, however, you’ll be adored. They’ll be as faithful as they can, for as long as they can, and then they’ll grow up and move on to something else. Fiction repays this loyalty. We give readers characters to believe in and love, we tell stories that enchant or frighten. Then the book is put to one side and … the relationship ends? Well, no. New audiences arrive to sit at our feet whilst adults fondly remember the novels that brightened their younger years. Faceless readers continue to borrow the book from libraries and the author will occasionally pick up a copy, flick through, and think, ‘Yes. Not so bad.’ Pages become stained, dropped in baths or scattered with biscuit crumbs. Some books get signed. From the first idea that pops into a writer’s head, through the system of emails with an editor, via the printing press and the stickers that are made to peel off without ruining the cover, all of these parts make up the whole. The child who wrote to me was sincere, but possibly mistaken. No book can ever be ignored. It’s too full of stuff. It’s crammed with life. Perhaps we should ask our publishers for new stickers on our books: ‘Full of stuff’*. It’s the best description I can think of.
* If publishers refuse, you’d be amazed by what you can achieve with a Post-it note and a roller ball pen. What do you mean, it doesn’t look professional…?