Launch speech for The Queen and the Nobody Boy

Thank you – John and Ruth McIntyre (Children’s Bookshop),Barbara Murison for launching the book, guests – family and friends …

It takes a very stubborn person to be a writer. There are nicer words than stubborn: determined, persevering, tenacious, or dedicated. There are far worse words than stubborn: obstinate, mulish, pig-headed, self-willed, obsessed, bloody-minded.  Any of you who have had much to do with writers are very likely to agree with the second list and could add to it effortlessly.

To my mind the main cause for celebration tonight is the very existence of people who are determined to produce books and who each in their own way help that to happen, and then the people who help put books in front of the reader.

The Queen and the Nobody Boy is dedicated to good companions. Books definitely need good companions and champions. And what a gathering of wonderful companions is here tonight. I’ve already thanked John and Ruth who do fantastic work for children’s writing.  And Barbara Murison, a highly enthusiastic champion of books for children whose expertise I have relied on and always trust.

I’ve always been grateful too for the support of librarians, school teachers, booksellers, and that’s especially been the case with The Travelling Restaurant. I’ve been astonished by the warm response to it over the last year and a bit, and it has been enormously encouraging. And I noticed especially how  impressive children’s librarians are, people with a very special calling, who work so hard, and so creatively too, to find ways to match books with the right child.

In a way it’s the characters of The Travelling Restaurant themselves who have been very stubborn, insisting that there is more of the story to tell. And here it is, The Queen and the Nobody Boy in delicious orange, almost edible, and though it’s rectangular it reminds me very much of a gothic jaffa!*

I must thank Emma Neale, my daughter and a writer-editor with very keen instincts who read an early draft of The Queen and the Nobody Boy. I must absolutely definitely thank Chris Else for reading several drafts – my husband and excellent companion in our life very stubbornly centred around books and writing.

Jane Parkin – editor of several of my books now, and a great champion, a queen among editors.  Thank you for your careful eye and superb instincts.  And thank you for telling me that we needed rather more about the Ocean Toads. (p 268) That was fun.

I thank Sam Broad again for his inventive and affirming art work for the cover and maps inside, that told me that I’ve pitched aspects of the story in the way I’d hoped. There’s an interesting creative loop going on here – when I see some of what Sam does in his art work for the book it inspires new thoughts and ideas on my part.

And heartfelt thanks again to book designer Luke Kelly, for his vision of how the book should look, down to the tiniest matters, for instance like the significance of the smallest of characters, the squirrel.

Jane Arthur of Gecko – thank you for your attention to detail and ability to keep all the strands of book production under control – it really impresses m. In particular I thank you for your insistence that the text and artwork is checked and checked and re-checked. And then checked all over again.

Above all, I thank Julia Marshall, Gecko Press, for her vision, her single-mindedness, persistence, devotion to quality production in every book she deals with. It doesn’t hurt at all to say you’re part of the Gecko stable! I especially thank you, Julia, for your belief in the continuing tales of the characters of the little world of Fontania.

One example of writerly ruthlessness, perhaps? In this new book I wanted an element that would take the place of the 2 year old Sibilla in The Travelling Restaurant, something to reduplicate that quirky warmth in its own way.  So – the rough draft of The Queen and the Nobody Boy began with an elephant. I soon realised that was a most unwieldy character. It became a cat. No – too tame, I thought. A monkey? No, I’d done monkeys in The Travelling Restaurant.  A parrot filled the role for a while. At last I tossed them all away and settled on a squirrel. That was, I think, a good choice.

This is a book about Hodie – his journey in five parts all about bad choices. Many of the characters are by turns wrong-headed and constant.  I’ll read just a bit from the opening, slightly edited in the interests of brevity.  Hodie is nobody. He would like to better himself, but it is not easy. Things get in his way, especially in the form of a warm-hearted but wrong-headed and stubborn companion.  Here is how his story begins:…

I thank you all again, very much, for coming along tonight. I hope you’ll decide it was a good choice.

(* jaffa: a little ball of chocolate surrounded by an orange-flavoured, orange-coloured shell.  A national treat.)


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