Living La Vida Loca

May 22, 2009

‘I enjoy reading your blog because it never lacks adventure,’ said someone who wrote to me recently.
Adventure? I thought. Moi? But over this past week I’ve been thinking about it – and perhaps she’s right! Starting an agency, from scratch, in another country, has been the most extreme, exciting, challenging, back-against-the-wall thing I’ve ever done, and I never stop realizing how it’s changed my life from the relative straitjacket of my old corporate publishing days.

One thing I do a lot of now is – travel. Yes, here I am back in England again – formerly my first home, but now my second. And it’s lovely to be here, especially with all my close family and friends around me. Here, every hour, every day is different – not a vacation but a temporary change of lifestyle and pace. Is it adventurous? Is it a little crazy? I’ll let you make up your own mind as I take you through the highlights of my past couple of weeks . . .

1. One week before I leave for England: Do a deal! Yippee! Sell debut author Cindy Callaghan’s middle-grade novel, KELLY QUINN’S SECRET COOKING CLUB, to Aladdin (Simon & Schuster). This story always makes me feel hungry. It’s fun, it’s pacy, but it also features amazing ice-cream confections called ‘Super Swirleys’. Oh, and there are recipes too!

2. One day before I leave for England: Do ANOTHER deal! Hurrah! Did I mention that doing deals is one of my favourite activities in the world? I sell Sarah Aronson’s BEYOND LUCKY to Dial (Penguin Putnam). This story is sort of about soccer, but it’s also about friendship, self-discovery, forgiving – and it has a really strong voice. Sarah’s first novel, HEAD CASE, was published by Roaring Brook, so very pleased she decided to join Greenhouse– one of our first already-published authors.

3. Still sitting at desk two hours before taxi to airport arrives. Hand luggage still in disarray on carpet. Big Submission just sent out could turn nuclear. Two responses within hours. This is extraordinary. Load all relevant contact details for editors on to Blackberry and contemplate how to handle this from 4000 miles away, five hours removed from East Coast, and even more hours from Author. Say goodbye to Husband and Lucy (a.k.a. the World’s Best Dachsund). Husband is jealous because there are special Henry VIII exhibits in UK right now (500th anniversary of accession to throne). Lucy just looks sad.

4. Airplane. Other passengers watch MARLEY AND ME; I write moderately amusing speech for Sarwat Chadda’s UK launch party and read 2 submissions on Kindle before falling asleep.

5. Touch down 6.15 am, and straight to flat, nipping out of taxi to purchase milk and bread. It is cold. I didn’t bring enough garments – or the right ones. A valve on the boiler (furnace) is leaking. It could flood the flats beneath. A new valve costs enough to bail out Iceland’s whole economy. How can this square lump of metal be so small, so boring, yet cost so much?

6. More publishers responding to Big Submission. Yes, it is turning nuclear. Look at Blackberry every 30 seconds and worry constantly that all technological connections to inbox could crash. (NB: This is quite hard for family and friends who haven’t seen me for 3 months). Yes, the transplanted Greenhouse Operations Room is up and running! Clean the windows.

7. Stand on a chair at Dulwich Picture Gallery and make speech at DEVIL’S KISS launch party, along with Puffin’s Lindsey Heaven, as Knights Templar run around outside in the drizzle, bashing each other with swords. We have a lot of champagne, but then it’s not every night I’m with the British Greenhouse posse – Julia, and authors Sarwat, Jon Mayhew and Michael Ford. Bask in the glow of realization they’ve all become friends – this is the Greenhouse I dreamed of.

8. Meet with Julia and Kevin – our new contracts manager, a.k.a. ‘the smiling assassin’. This is a man who ENJOYS warranties and indemnities. Enough said. Would YOU want to negotiate with him? Fortunately he’s on our side.

9. Attempt to muster prevailing spirit of righteous anger. British Members of Parliament have been charging all manner of bizarre things to their expenses. Duck ponds, second homes, electric mixers, antique furniture, for starters. There is a wonderful eccentricity about all this – ah, I’m home!

10. Meet with Rowen and Charlie – my brothers, my heroes. Actually, our web designers who created the Greenhouse site, and to whom I run wailing when things crash or when I’m just technologically baffled. We hug a lot, and they get quite excited as we talk about developing the site with innovative new goodies. Their eyes light up as they foresee techno-fun ahead. I’m told that first of all we have to look at costings. Doh, just poop on my parade, why don’t you.

11. Read submissions late at night – and look at Blackberry every 20 seconds; it quivers at my side like a loaded gun. Many important emails arrive, and I call excited Author of the potentially Big Book, which is brewing nicely. Finesse BEA schedule – Meg Cabot, Laura Langlie (her agent) and I are attempting to meet up after several years (I published PRINCESS DIARIES in the UK) and it’s not proving easy. Hear that my lovely authors/friends will donate me their room in Betsy’s Bed & Breakfast establishment for July Vermont conference, so I can have aircon in boudoir – a break from trickling perspiration. Flat, however, is freezing – turn on fan heater.

12. Start Tudors fix by visiting Hatfield House, where young Tudor royals were sent either to be educated or put firmly in their place. Look at Princess Elizabeth’s ‘garden hat’ and silk stockings and stroll around knot garden, imagining when Mary ventured out to see her dad, Henry VIII, only to have him ignore her – after all, she’d been cut out of the succession in favour of Elizabeth (who was herself later cut out in favour of Edward), so she was nothing but trouble. Sit on damp grass photographing big purple flowers like puffballs with telephoto lens. Wireless signal wobbly, but manage to send emails from behind large hedge.

13. Sons celebrate their birthdays. More Tudors fix as we visit the Tower of London, where Son texts constantly (what can I say – it’s his birthday), and I stare equally at a) my Blackberry and b) sixteenth-century graffiti gouged into the walls by tortured prisoners. Email New York publisher who has offered on Big Submission; contemplate sending them greetings from the Bloody Tower, which is where I really am. See many suits of armour belonging to Henry VIII, and Son and I comment on the enormous size of Henry’s rear in later life. Those thighs were like tree trunks.

14. Make legendary shrimp and egg sandwiches for ongoing birthday bonanza. The secret is all in the mayo ratio. Stay up late as everyone still working on East Coast. Sit writing blog post at midnight, with the remains of large chocolate muffin scattered in front of me, and double-chocolate chips glued to keyboard. Look at Blackberry as I sip steaming cuppa. Await more offers. They are coming – oh yes, they are coming.

15. Sleep.

16. Blackberrrrrrrrry. . . . . .

17. Contemplate my adventurous life.