So, in my last post I mentioned I’d been in this competition during the CMC Rights Exchange, part of the Children’s Media Conference and that I’d been selected to present a character I’d developed over the previous six weeks. I think I also said that I’d check if it was OK and then blog about my new character here… because well, he’s ‘optioned’ by Bloomsbury! (I linked to their website just in case you don’t know who they are. Like, yeah right, they only publish J K Rowling’s Harry Potter and you know, stuff).
When I made the presentation I was determined to enjoy it and make the most of the ‘professional’ experience. I’d been working on G-S more or less solidly for six weeks and it’d been great to work to deadlines and targets, but at this point I was looking forward to taking a break from Grotsby and getting stuck into my MA project – (my penguin book, more about that in another post).
The presentation, for a bit of light entertainment, was in the format of Dragon’s Den, with three publishers as the dragons (Bloomsbury, Macmillan and Penguin/Puffin). The Dragons had the unenviable task of offering immediate and not too soul-crushing feedback to four nervous wrecks who’d just stood and with great courage, spoken about their character in front of approximately 200 Children’s Entertainment Industry professionals. Not an easy task…
So my turn came and although nervous, I did rather enjoy it. Then it all became very unreal because both Macmillan (of Gruffalo fame) and Bloomsbury bid to option Grotsby. As two publishers had bid the maximum option amount for my character they then had to ‘sell’ themselves to me. For some reason I am not entirely certain of, I chose to go with Bloomsbury – maybe it was a nice smile or something. It was a hard choice as they both seemed so lovely and I was a little bit, well a lot, overwhelmed. I was floating about on cloud 9 and a little voice in the back of my head was doing a crazy dance around my brain singing “they liked it! They liked Grotsby-Snot!” at the top of its voice.
So the rest of the day was a bit of a blur really. I signed a contract, well technically an ‘option agreement’, and went on my way home in a daze. The same publisher that works with Neil Gaiman and JK Rowling has signed an ‘Option Agreement’ with ME! And what does that mean anyway?
I sent a few texts to my family and friends, as you might if you’d won the lottery – ‘Great news! Bloomsbury have optioned my character’. I wanted to sound as if I knew what I was talking about; I didn’t want them thinking I’d just managed a six-book deal or anything. My parents were expecting a simple ‘I came 1st/2nd/3rd in the competition’ so I immediately received replies saying ‘Wow! That’s great news, well done you/I knew you could do it’ etc… followed a few minutes later by ‘What does that mean? Have you won?’
So, I’ll explain – ‘an option agreement’ is usually just part of any contract with a publisher or TV production company, and it secures that character for the exclusive use of that company. In the case of a publisher this will go alongside a further agreement which sets out the fee and time scale e.t.c. for publishing the book. However, as this was a rather unusual arrangement there is just the ‘option’. It gives Bloomsbury and I the opportunity to work together for two years to develop the stories and the character with a view to publishing, although there is no guarantee that it will be published. I guess it’s up to me to make the most of Rebecca and her team’s expertise and for me to write some exciting and fun stories for Grotsby!
The week after the conference I e-mailed Rebecca McNally and a meeting was set up for early in November where they promised they’d ply me with cake and talk a little more about their vision for Grotsby-Snot. They asked me to bring a ‘portfolio’ of work along…. which set me into Mild Panic Mode. A portfolio? I’ve been working hard – but a portfolio? I don’t have one of those yet, that’s why I’m on the MA!
Early-ish November did, in fact, arrive and I travelled to London to Bloomsbury’s Offices. I got off the tube at Tottenham Court Road amid the usual central London chaos of tourists and business and traffic and followed my phone directions to Bedford Square: a beautiful, quiet oasis where almost every building had a blue plaque and it seemed out of place that no one was travelling in a horse and cart or wearing a top hat. The building was very grand and whilst waiting in the reception I kept my eyes peeled for Neil Gaiman or JK Rowling.
The lovely Vikki Leech met me at reception and led me to the back of the building, to the Children’s Book Department, which at least was not in the basement (reserved for IT support of course) to meet Rebecca MacNally and Emma Hopkin who I’d met at the Dragon’s Den event. I was also introduced to Val Braithwaite, their Art Director, who was feeling a little worse for wear after the previous evening’s Christmas Party. We chatted a bit and I wished I’d done a lot more thinking about G-S, maybe even have attempted to write a bit more. The past month I’d just buried myself in the penguin book for my MA and although not forgotten Grotsby I’d secretly hoped that by putting him to the back of my mind he might just pop up at some point, along with a fully fledged storyline.
Needless to say that didn’t happen.
The upshot of the meeting was basically that I have to write something. It’s not that I don’t like writing… I like writing essays for the MA once I get round to starting them; I always wrote stories as a child, can put together a good letter or personal statement – however… I don’t know, I just find it harder to begin writing than I do to begin drawing… I think it’s all that sitting. There’s something so cerebral about it – at least with drawing there’s that physical mark on the paper. I think that’s why I like making stuff so much; it’s possible to loose yourself in the physical act of sticking and gluing and slopping paint about.
Whatever happens though, I can’t ‘escape’ writing, because even if it eventually becomes apparent that I might not be the right person to write Grotsby-Snot” I’ll still have to bash out enough to inform another writer of the kind of ‘thing’ that Grotsby is and what his world is like. I am kind of hoping that in this process I’ll simply learn to be a writer of children’s fiction!
Well, anyway, the meeting was concluded with a lovely lunch at Gail’s Kitchen where we all enjoyed plenty of tapas and a delicious non-alcoholic cocktail involving bitter lemon which I think I’ve never tasted the equal of before or since. We had a good laugh, I enjoyed everyone’s company and I asked Rebecca to give me a deadline for the writing (which is, er, sort of now). Oh, and I got some great books to take away and ‘study’ including Neil Gaiman’s ‘Fortunately the Milk’ illustrated by the fantabulous Chris Riddell (who also manages to write – see his really good Ottoline series; example here and Goth Girl; example here).
The brief for the conference had been to devise a character – visually – and that was one thing… Now I have to make ‘real’ decisions about who he talks to and what he does, and where he comes form and how he sounds and that kind of thing. Although he’s imaginary, there is so much that must tie together for him to be believable. I’ve always enjoyed writing, so I’d really love to be good enough to bring Grotsby alive with words as well as pictures.. but you know the feeling of looking up at a big mountain and wondering if you’ve got the right equipment to climb it?
If I recall correctly one of the last things I said to Rebecca was ‘don’t worry too much about my writer’s ego’ and I did mean it… I know I can write an essay, a letter… but can I do justice to the creature – thing – life-form that is Grotsby-Snot? He came into being as an inky, smudgy drawing… now I have to make him do things, in order, things that make sense and suspend a young child’s disbelief, things that are funny, exciting, incredible.
This past two months I’ve been writing a little, dabbling really, describing moments, noting down possible occurrences, story lines and ideas and trying to let them form into some kind of whole but realising they need structure. Structure that I must create – they won’t just fall into place by themselves. I suppose this is the realisation that this is just the beginning!
I’d say it was going OK – but I’ve got to the point where I need feedback… it’s just – well, what Natalie? What is it? – I’m scared it’ll be NO GOOD AT ALL!
Well – watch this space. I’ll update you.
And in the meantime, here are a few of the initial drawings that ‘sold’ Grotsby-Snot to Bloomsbury in the first place… I hope you’ll one day meet him in printed form!