Face to face in the same room?) with a children’s publisher in the coffee shop of a posh hotel where the coffee and biscuits cost the same as a mid-terrace house in Barnsley in the mid 1980s.
The meeting was one of those that are marked in the diary as ‘Ideas meetings’ which can either mean acres of silence broken only by the crunching of premium biscuits or a kind of manic creativity-fest where the biscuits are built into little biscuit-henges to demonstrate any number of ideas; mortgages are taken on to buy another round of coffee and the meeting is a good one.
Anyway, this meeting was the last one for me before Christmas and I thought it was going really well; I’d got a number of ideas for text for picture books for the very young, about a lad who played with his grandad and the kind of scrapes they got up to.
I rattled out half a dozen plots and sat back (it was one of those hotel lobby chairs that it’s impossible to sit up in) and waited for her to whip a contract out of her briefcase along with a hessian sack containing a vast cash advance, enough to buy a sandwich in the hotel.
I was so far back into the capacious chair that I was only just visible; she didn’t whip out a contract or any cash but said, in a gentle voice, “These are lovely ideas, Ian, but at the moment what we’re looking for is this…” and she gestured across the hotel. A waiter glided by as if on hoverskates.
I was confused. “You want picture books about hotels?” I asked. She shook her head and pointed to the vast Christmas tree by the reception desk. “Christmas stories, Ian. We want Christmas stories. They always sell really well. If you can come up with some Christmas ideas, I’d love to hear them…” And that was the end of the meeting.
I’m still in the process of coming up with some Christmas book thoughts but I bet that this year the Christmas ideas will be a little different. Imagine almost the same meeting in almost the same hotel for Christmas 2020.
The book has to be simple, and striking, and heartwarming and somehow it must give a message to the young person who is having the book read to them that, despite all the terrible times the world has been having, everything is going to be all right, particularly at Christmas.
Writers will offer socially-distanced Santas and reindeers in masks that cover their faces so well the reader won’t be able to tell which one has got a red nose.
A snowman will visit a child who is worried about his grandad and they’ll fly up to his window and wave in at him as he self-isolates over Christmas.
Now that’s not a bad idea: where’s my notebook?