Travelling back from the PenguinRandomHouse 2018 Highlights presentation at the Soho Hotel, I can’t help remembering how excited I was after last year’s equivalent event when, amongst other things, the O’Hara sisters presented their debut picture book Hortense and the Shadow.
I didn’t get any such thrill this year. Nevertheless, there are lots of good things in store, from the old guard (Jacqueline Wilson, Allan Ahlberg, Michael Morpurgo) and from the new (notably a promising-sounding debut novel, Twelve Nights, by Andrew Zurcher, a leading academic.
The main presentation was delivered in the hotel’s mini theatre where, on arrival, despite the fact that it was an adult-only audience, we were treated to some children’s party entertainment from a grasshopper and centipede duo.
Francesca Dow presided over the occasion with her usual poise and grace. After she had welcomed everyone with a general look forward to the year ahead it was over to Tania Vian-Smith, the company’s excellent publicity director, to give us a taster of what was coming in the picture book world.
Nadia Shireen was the first guest author and gave a highly witty, relaxed pitch for her new book Billy and the Beast, which features her first human protagonist, “a better version of me”.
Michael Whaite, whose forthcoming title is 100 Dogs was next up and he gave everyone a short lesson in how to draw a happy dog’s face. I shall refrain from showing my own effort.
Allan Ahlberg is turning 80 this year, which is also the 40th anniversary of Each Peach Pear Plum. There will be a special anniversary edition of course, but there is a new book too, Baby On Board, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark. Although publishing in early May there were no early copies of this book available, a matter Ahlberg mentioned himself more than once. Looking no different now to how he looked twenty years ago, age does seem to have introduced a flurrying stammer to his speech, which he told us he is taking therapy to control (unless the whole thing was a contrivance, which I doubt). He used the matter to very humorous effect, from time to time deliberately slowing up the reading from his notes. Most charmingly he had brought several of the cuddly creatures that feature in his books with him. He had told them there’d be no children present, but they had insisted on accompanying him all the same.
He joked that the new book had two cover designs. The one on the jacket which the publisher had preferred, and the one on the book’s boards, which had been his preferred design. Looking forward to seeing his preferred design.
First author to come on stage in the Primary section was the aforementioned Andrew Zurcher, who was given a five minute interview with his editor. Did he model his book on the work of Philip Pullman or C. S. Lewis he was asked. No, Ursula Le Guin, whose work he admires for its ‘specificity’.
Next we heard from Jacqueline Wilson, much in the news over the weekend with the announcement that she is to publish a novel in which Tracy Beaker appears as an adult and a mother. Looking fitter than ever, and speaking with real enthusiasm for her new work, she spoke both about the Tracy beaker book and about Rose Rivers, a new addition to her sequence of historical novels.
Moving to YA, Savannah Brown appeared to read a poem and talk about her high-school thriller The Truth About Keeping Secrets. Strictly speaking that one’s a 2019 highlight as it isn’t out till February next year.
A little sooner than that (November this year) comes a book described as “a frank and fierce exploration of teen sexuality” Jack Of Hearts (And Other Parts) by American author L. C. Rosen.
Not so long to wait for Eve of Man, first title in a dystopian trilogy from husband and wife team Giovanna and Tom Fletcher. Tom is already well known in the children’s books world, while Giovanna, alongside blogging and presenting, has published four adult novels, Billy and Me (2013), You’re the One That I Want (2014) Dream a Little Dream (2015) and Always with Love (2016). Her most recent book is Happy Mum, Happy Baby: My Adventures in Motherhood (2017).
The premise of the trilogy – “Eve is the last girl on earth. Her fate is to save mankind from extinction” – sounds an ambitious one. We learnt that the couple composed the book by writing alternate chapters. Giovanna claimed that at one point Tom had objected to the direction one of her chapters had taken only to take the same tack later in one of his own. He quickly interjected that that particular section had been cut by their editor, so he had been right all along.
The big news was left till last. Michael Morpurgo is to novelise The Snowman, Raymond Briggs’ 40-year-old picture book. Not appearing in person but speaking on a video, Michael “I’m a story maker” Morpurgo said it had been an honour and a joy to re-imagine and tell the story anew. “I have loved doing it, as I hope to goodness you love reading it. It is different, but the same.”
And of course there are plenty of other titles, not the least being The Bandit Queen, a lead autumn title and second picture book from Natalia and Lauren O’Hara, with the splendid Hortense and the Shadow coming to paperback in the summer.