Before I became a children’s author I would’ve said that the key skill required is the ability to occupy a room by yourself for months on end and emerge with a first draft that includes no more than twenty-eight uses of the word ‘suddenly’. How naive I was.
So here are a few things I’ve learned.
1. When you ask a classroom of children to name a superhero character you’ve just created with their help, eight times out of ten some bright spark will stick up his hand and say, ‘Geoff’.
2. One of the bonuses of winning the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize (y’know, on top of the personalized gold-plated helicopter and use of James Daunt’s private island) is that I have been invited to lots of lovely literary festivals.
Now let me just say that authors of fiction for adults have it easy at festivals. They get two chairs – one to sit in, one with a mouth to ask them questions. As a children’s author you don’t get a chair. Not that you’d need one. You spend most of your time leaping about a stage and gesturing wildly. Sitting is for literary fiction (that’s one from my short-lived range of car bumper stickers). What’s more, well-meaning festival organisers will refer to your session as a ‘performance’. If I tell you that I had a ‘no speeches’ policy at my wedding, you’ll understand that for me public speaking is a big green rock of kryptonite. So the idea that I’m going to perform. In front of actual people. Yikes. Funny thing is, I’ve done it a few times now and, dare I say it, I’m beginning to enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still totally rubbish, but at least I know one person in the room is having a good time.
3. You will be feted on the streets. Not really. But I was in a pub – it was pie night – and this guy comes up and says are you David Solomons, author of My Brother is a Superhero? First and only time I’ve ever been recognized in public like that. Except, it turned out that he was another children’s author. I think we instinctively recognize one another. We seek out our own kind for solace, and to share our terror about all that enforced public speaking.