Reflecting on 2016

January 1, 2016

I’ve never been a big fan of the traditional New Year’s Eve. The bonhomie, the yelling of Auld Lang Syne with people you often hardly know, the feeling that if you’re not whooping it up at a party then you must be pretty lame.
But I do like some aspects of the year change. Sending messages to people I care about as the clock strikes. The chance to reflect on the past year and what lies ahead. It’s like looking down on a wide-open plain where anything is possible. You just know there’s going to be sadness and joy, success and setbacks, the good and the bad all mushed in together. The question I always ask myself on NYE is: “So how are you going to deal with it, Sarah?” It’s less about what’s going to happen, than what I’m going to make of what comes my way. I can’t control what happens around the world, but I do have some control over how I respond to events in my own life.

This New Year I can’t stop thinking about two remarkable women in the kidlit community for whom this holiday season has been tragic and transformative. I shall think of them often as 2016 gets underway.

The first is an editorial colleague who lost her husband on Christmas Day after a long illness. While I was leading the post-dinner clear-up, putting the pans away after feeding the masses, vaguely wondering if I could justify eating a chocolate, she was holding her partner’s hand and saying goodbye to him. This is not my story to tell or even link to, but she and I chatted in her New York office a few weeks back and I was struck by how upbeat, smiley and “together” she was. She told me that she didn’t “sweat the small stuff” (I was definitely sweating the small stuff) and I marvelled how she could do her huge job in such a calm way. I didn’t even realize then what must have been going on in her personal life. Her focused ease and poise stay with me and inspire me going into 2016. Children’s books are nearly everything, but not quite. Some things – family, love – are a lot bigger and put everything else into proportion.

Yesterday, New Year’s Eve, already in a pensive frame of mind, I was sitting at my kitchen table working on some stuff when I popped on to Facebook and saw the news – that my client C.J. Omololu (see photo) had just passed away, having been ill with cancer for 18 months. I had been concerned for a while since Cynthia usually replied to my emails pretty fast, even when she was quite poorly. But she hadn’t replied to my last message.
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Cynthia and I weren’t close friends in a personal sense, but we were really good professional colleagues. I liked her a lot – she was strong, incisive, funny and really talented. She had already published several books when we met, but we bonded over the manuscript for her new YA thriller, THE THIRD TWIN, which appealed to my love of hooky plots, pace, and red herrings. She was my kind of writer. I offered her representation, we did some work on the story together, and I got her a 2-book deal with Wendy Loggia at Delacorte. It was amazing to see the YA community come together to help promote the book when Cynthia couldn’t do much herself, and I know this meant the world to her. Sadly, we will not now be able to enjoy the second story Cynthia was working on, but never had time to finish. The first few chapters were fantastic.

I feel intensely sad that Cynthia has gone, though relieved she is no longer suffering. She was one of us – and very much so in Greenhouse, where all our clients had got together to send her special messages after her diagnosis. Our hearts go out to her husband and two boys, and her wider family. As the news hit social media yesterday, I began to see the dimensions of the respect and affection in which she was held. So many people coming forward to say she critiqued their pages or met them at a conference or made them laugh when they felt down . . . Some of the anecdotes and things Cynthia had said made me smile even yesterday.

I guess if you’re a writer, you’ll be hoping for some words of wisdom from me to take you into 2016. Perhaps my wishlist or genres that excite me. Today I don’t have that for you. I’d like to ask you to buy and read THE THIRD TWIN – because it’s a great story, but also in memory of C.J. Omololu who deserved to write so many more books and live so much more life. She was brave, smart and funny, even in the face of something so very hard. In her honour, let’s throw ourselves into 2016 and live it to the full. But also kindly, and giving others the benefit of the doubt in such an angry, puffed-up world.

Here’s to the new year and all it holds. To new books, big ideas, thrills and spills, and the chance to dream, live, read and consider everything that is important. Amid the tinsel, the lights and the food, the holiday season changed some lives in difficult ways. But C.J. Omololu was the one I knew. Rest in peace, Cynthia.

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