Return of the pumpkins

October 31, 2008

You must have been wondering where I’d got to. Did I vanish in a puff of smoke? Or fall into a pile of submissions never to be seen again? Well, the latter is always very possible (except they’re all electronic now), but the truth is – I’m just emerging from probably the busiest few weeks I’ve had since launching Greenhouse.
If you caught my last blog post, you’ll know I was about to speak at Storyville in London. Yes, it all went pretty well and it was lovely to see several friendly faces in the audience – though actually quite hard to see ANYONE, given the venue was the very cool and stylish basement of a London club, all tricked out with red and black leather and some very low lighting. Oh, and did I mention I was filmed as I spoke? Hmm, yes, that did come as a surprise, but thankfully I soon forgot about the camera. Best bit of the evening for me was the ‘pitching’. After my talk, aspiring writers came up on to the stage one by one, sat down and simply pitched their novel to me. Very stimulating and interesting because I had to give instant feedback on their concepts and ideas – not dissimilar, I guess, from the fast decisions agents have to make reading queries (though at least I do suggest you paste some pages of your text into your query so I can get a sense of your writing as well).

Straight home from Storyville to finish packing and then on to the plane home to the USA next morning (basically, where am I? What day is it?). And everything just coming together nicely to sell Alexandra Diaz’s debut young-adult novel, OF ALL THE STUPID THINGS, to Elizabeth Law at Egmont US. Alexandra is a very ‘Greenhousy’ (please note new adjective) writer in that she’s American, but living at the moment in England where she took her postgraduate degree in writing for young people at Bath Spa University (very good course – it’s produced a number of great writers, and agents keep a close eye on alumni). OF ALL THE STUPID THINGS is a fast-moving, thought-provoking, very commercial novel told from multiple perspectives, so you really get inside the heads of Tara, Whitney Blaire, and Pinkie – three 16 year olds who’ve been friends forever. In the course of the novel each girl has their own very individual rite of passage, but the story focuses particularly on Tara, whose growing fascination/obsession with new-girl Riley not only threatens to overturn these old friendships, but also makes Tara question herself and her identity in new ways. It’s a great story, and I’m sure Alexandra will find Elizabeth Law’s editorial gifts (and incredible wit and warmth!) a joy to work with on this dynamic new Egmont list.

Then Saturday it was off to the SCBWI mid-Atlantic annual conference at Arlington – a wonderful day where I had the privilege of speaking to what looked like 200-300 delegates, as well as thoroughly enjoying doing one-on-one manuscript critiques with ten writers. Not only was it just about the best organized conference I’ve ever attended (Ellen Braaf, Erin Teagan, and Sydney Dunlap left no detail unplanned – and GH author Val Patterson’s lunchtime food was beyond yummy!), but I also thoroughly enjoyed meeting and chatting with a range of editors – Jill Santoplo of Balzer & Bray, Harper; Allison Wortche of Knopf; Marilyn Mark, Marshall Cavendish; Alvina Ling, Little Brown – but also (roll on the drums) spending time chatting with lovely, funny author Jane Yolen.

Fell into a stupor of mindless fatigue on Sunday; no idea what happened on Monday. And then off to New York on Tuesday, where my friend (and Book Doctor to the Stars) Deborah Brodie ( had given me the great opportunity of being part of a panel addressing MFA students and alumni of the children’s writing course at New School. Very good experience. and lovely to meet my co-panellists, editor Harold Underdown and agent Kenneth Wright of Writers House. Then on to three great meetings with New York editors the following day – breakfast with lovely Molly O’Neill of Bowen Press, Harper (good cake, good coffee, VERY interesting chat!); lunch with clever Anica Rissi of Simon Pulse (very good noodles, equally interesting chat!); afternoon with one-of-a-kind, style-queen Aimee Friedman of Scholastic.

And guess what? Throughout all these meetings in New York I was making my way slowly through the increasingly dog-eared, Starbucks-stained manuscript (and final revision) of a novel by a certain new writer, whom I’ve been working with for a few months. And it is GREAT! And that’s the best news of all; I feel a submission coming on!

So now I’m back at my desk again, with the autumn sun turning the leaves glorious shades of gold, red, and green outside my window. Mr Pumpkin is carved and sitting out on the front porch, all ready to welcome the streams of Halloween trick-or-treaters a little later. I’m so pleased to be home, it’s ridiculous. And right now I feel like I never want to travel anywhere again. Ever. Because back on October 13 I celebrated the first anniversary of my arrival in the USA. And last Monday, October 27, the GH Husband and I celebrated our first year of marriage. It has been an astonishing year of adventure. I salute you, Mr Pumpkin, and your very special month of October.

Happy Halloween, everyone!