Saturday, 29 January 2011

'I'm writing a children's book...' - Anne Rooney

No, not me - well, I am, but no more or less than usual.

I was on the train to Colchester on Thursday, where I'm Royal Literary Fund Fellow. I made the train with two seconds to spare, sat down opposite an oldish man and remarked on nearly missing it. I'm happy to talk to people on trains, but I also needed to get some work done, so it wasn't good when he took this as a signal that he could talk to me for the next half hour. It got worse.

OM: What are you doing? Marking or proof-reading?
Me: Editing. [Not telling him what - young adult novel manuscript.]
...[ He tells me tales of his exploits as a proof-reader. I kid you not.]
OM: I write children's books now.
[I look interested at last.]
OM: I'm not published yet.
[Warning sign; I try to look uninterested after all]
Me: What kind?
OM: Cross-over.
[He proceeds to explain to me that cross-over books are read by adults and children; I pretend I don't know this.]
Me: Tell me about one of them.
[He tells me the start of something in verse about a princess.]
Me: That's not a cross-over novel. [Should have shut up, but momentarily forgot.]
[He tells me how it gets rude, so it must be - it's more suitable for adults later on. I say nothing - there really is nothing to say. He tells me about another one, in which a mother inadvertently names her child after a poisonous fungus.]
OM: I'm looking for someone with a contact at a publisher now.
[He looks hopeful; I cross out a whole paragraph that was probably OK, but it makes me look busy and decisive.]
OM: I know an illustrator: I gave her her first commission.
[He implies she is indebted to him as he tells me about some hapless art student who drew him a logo for something, and it was never used.]
OM: Now she illustrates a series of school books. She earns more than her sister, who is a hospital doctor. I'll ask her to talk to her publisher.
[Oh dear, poor girl.]
Me: Illustrators don't usually earn that much.

And so on... I wondered whether to direct him to SCBWI, but decided SCBWI had done nothing to deserve it. At last, he got off the train. Phew. I went off to talk to my students about their short stories and film scripts and experimental fiction.

We all know what will happen. Next year's big hits will be a rude cross-over novel in verse about a princess and a story about someone who inadvertently names their child after a poisonous fungus. And I will carry on earning much less than a hospital doctor, for all my long list of publishers, and my creative-writing students will earn nothing at all...


catdownunder said...

Oh dear, it seems I have less chance than ever...I simply cannot write anything like that. The ms I just sent hopefully off is - I hate to say this - not a crossover novel. It is not in verse. The children have names anyone might use. Oh really, there is no hope for me. (Purrowls off leaving a splattering of cat hairs.)

Rosalind Adam said...

Your blog made me chuckle. Sorry to have had a laugh at your expense. It can be very difficult when your trapped with someone like that on a long journey. (Must make a note to scrap plans re children named after fungii) And I do hope your 'travelling companion' doesn't read this blog.

Miriam Halahmy said...

Groan - and oh so familiar. Deluded and what!

Penny Dolan said...

Will remember this next time I'm on a train. And it doesn't sound as though he needed directing to SCBWI. He knew it all anyway.

Leila said...

Oh dear... one of those train journeys. And you can't say 'I'm sorry, I need to work' because then you have to sit next to them hating you all the way to Colchester :(

Book Maven said...

Which Fungus?

kathryn evans said...

Oh dear oh dear - why did that make me laugh? I AM that old man!

Savita Kalhan said...

I wait with bated breath for the crossover bestseller... and will make sure I am very careful who I talk to on a train! Thanks, Anne

Kate said...

LOL - that's hilarious, but makes me cringe too ;-)

Katherine Langrish said...

So funny, Anne! But not while it was happening, obviously.

I was once shown an ms about a family of fluffy bunnies which looked aimed at 5 year olds - until page 5, when one of them was eviscerated by a killer robot. Perhaps that was crossover???

Neezes said...

Very funny, love it!

Brian Keaney said...

Never tell anyone you're a children's writer.
Never admit to knowing anything about publishing.
Never begin a conversation with anyone on a train unless you are in fear of your life.

Stroppy Author said...

Yes, Katherine, of course it was cross over. We've obviously not got our heads around the genre! Mary, I don't remember the name of the fungus - I wasn't listening carefully enough.

Brian - I'm with you on the first two, and didn't tell him anything, but have met some lovely people talking on trains. And some bad ones. As in all areas of life.

Lucy Coats said...

Oh lord. I am a bad bad person, because this made me laugh a lot too, Anne. I can just see your face! Mind, when I was a publisher I once had presented to me (by a man who had inveigled me into dinner for just that purpose), a long novel about a journey--of a piece of poo down a sewer and its adventures on the way to the sewage farm. I kid you not. I would have been thankful for crossover fungus!

Lee said...

I don't find this post remotely funny. In fact, I cringe to hear someone boasting about being so supercilious - and plain unkind.

If you give people a chance - and ask the right questions - you'd be surprised how much you might actually learn from a train conversation. Or any other. And I personally prefer to talk to the bores and the sad sacks than the all-knowing.

Stroppy Author said...

Lee, I didn't say anything remotely unkind to him, and allowed him to disturb my work time because he wanted to talk. I certainly didn't come across as 'all-knowing' as I didn't even tell him I'm a writer. This is, naturally, an edited account of the conversation, which was amicable and in which I gave him tiny bits of advice that might keep him from the inevitable disappointment that would follow submitting his work to a publisher as cross-over fiction.

Personally, I prefer silence to conversations with 'bores and sad sacks'. I would just have said 'I'm sorry, I have to work now' if I really didn't want to talk to him at all.

Nicola Morgan said...

Lee, the thing is that Anne was busy and an expert and has had many experiences of people who think they know a lot but actually don't want to learn at all. The last time I went out of my way to try to help a total stranger who started complaining to me about her rejections from publishers (which I accept is different from this situation but only in content, not context or potential) I got absolutely nowhere because the chasm between what she needed to know and what she wanted to know was unbreachable. All that happened was that I felt cross inside and couldn't get my own work done. You are right that we shouldn't be supercilious to people on the basis of better knowledge, but Anne wasn't, as far as I can see. What this man had shown was a failure to understand the genre in which he thought he was writing, and that's a very sure way to rejection; besides, there's so much advice around that it's just not necessary. That's what's frustrating, I think.