I spent the latter part of 2012 reeling – in the best way. After signing up with Julia at The Greenhouse, she told me her plan was to give Leah Thaxton, who had just stepped into her new role as Publisher (Children's) at Faber and Faber, one month to look at three Squishy McFluff texts. If she made an offer by the end of the that time, well, fabulous! If not, Squishy McFluff would go prowling around all the other children's publishers looking for a home.
By this point, after lots of chats with Julia, I'd begun to realise that McFluff was perhaps not destined to be in picture books as I had once thought (or rather, hoped).
This was great news to me in one major way – of the three texts that had gone to Leah, the shortest was the first story, Squishy McFluff, the Invisible Cat, which was about 750 words.
The other two were around 850 words and 900 words respectively – all of them massively too long to fit into a picture book format. Debut authors writing picture books, I'd learned since doing all that writing, should produce a text of no more than 500 words. English, you see, is the most succinct of languages – after being translated for European markets, a book could gain as much as a third of its length. All those extra words simply wouldn't fit.
But Julia's thought, from the outset, was that McFluff could be something else – a format that bridges the gap between picture book and early reader. It's something Alex T Smith has successfully done with his Claude books, and perhaps something Dr Seuss did a long time ago with his brilliantly ridiculous rhyming stories.
Well, a week or so after receiving the manuscripts, Leah invited Julia and I in to have a chat about where Squishy McFluff might go, what might be done with him. Julia steeled me for a casual meeting. Dashed hopes are horribly painful. While almost wetting my pants, I probably falsely assured her I'd be taking neither eggs nor baskets.
As it was, the meeting blew me away. It wasn't at all what I'd expected. Rebecca Lee (editor) had made a tin of invisible cat cupcakes, complete with chocolate mice. In the corner of the room was a cat basket with a label on it bearing Squishy's name. They'd stopped short of a litter tray. Unless there was an invisible one and I didn't see it.
These lovely people at Faber (FABER!) were genuinely excited about Squishy McFluff. They totally got him; they understood who he was, and why he was so curious and naughty. We talked (and laughed) about the complexities of illustrating a cat who was invisible. They loved him as much as I did. Wow.
I left the meeting a little numb, walking on air, full of hope. Julia and I went and used a voucher I had (I LOVE a voucher, don't you?) for a free bottle of cava and we drank it outside in the cold.
Early in October, Julia called me to say Leah had made an offer, and it was a good offer. No, a GREAT offer. Now, I've never had an offer from a publisher before, and of course it's really key to have trust in your agent, to know that they'll find not just a deal for you, but the best deal they can. Julia had again steeled me for nothing coming through, but I don't know, I think she was quietly confident – and, when it came, she was delighted.
Although I hadn't a clue about this process, even I could see that Leah's offer was amazing. I'm not just talking about being offered actual money for something I'd written, I'm talking about the passion and the excitement behind it, the plans Leah had for Squishy's future.
The pitch she sent, for four books, was written almost entirely in verse, which made me both laugh and cry. It had quotes from people working in every corner of Faber. Shall I insert a cat pun in here? Shall I? Oh okaaaay: it was purrrfect. They really wanted to give Squishy McFluff a home.
Obviously, all of this was fantastic, exhilarating, incredible – but does it sound strange to say it also felt a bit odd?! I can feel myself building up to some kind of unrequited love metaphor. You know? Hankering after someone so much, and for so long, wishing they'd turn around and say: 'Yes I like you too, actually.' And then they do, and you go: '… … Er… gosh… um… really…? ………… REALLY?!'
Yes. It felt a bit like that. The tables switched. ODD! After thinking for ages: 'Please read it, someone. Please like it. Please take it on. Please want to publish it', now I had a pitch from Faber asking ME to take Squishy McFluff to them. I know I keep saying it, but FABER!
Anyway. My response?
'Oh, go on then.'
Ha ha! I wonder if Leah sensed me mentally biting her hand off?
So, there it was, Squishy's future starting to unfold. There was one little part of it that felt a bit daunting. The format meant that rather than cutting the stories to picture book length (which, in all honesty, I would have hated), I would be extending them. And I wasn't sure by how much…
Well that was last year and now, in 2013 the work on the first book is underway! I've been beavering away at extending the first text with the advice and support of my publisher (!), and I'll write about that here soon.
In the meantime, if you like verse (and I REALLY hope you do) have you seen Elli Woollard's Taking Words For a Stroll? It always makes me grin :D