Last July, I volunteered to co-edit the Bath Spa University MA Writing for Young People anthology with Irulan Horner. I don’t think either of us realized quite how much work we’d be doing, though we were warned. Over the last ten/eleven months, I’ve worked from afar extensively with our mail-out team, developed a website and social media strategy with Lindsay Schiro, and edited, edited, edited the little book that became Beautiful Lies. (Also, I’m going to humbly approach the #bragtable and mention that the title was my idea – based on a David Almond quote – and I am very proud of it.)
The anthology combines work from the 19 writers on my course during 2013-2014, and includes short excerpts from each graduate’s manuscript dissertation. Every story was beautifully illustrated by the art students at Bath Spa University, and then we packaged them all together to create the book. But that’s only half the job! Once the book was in one piece, we sent it off to the big agents and publishers across the UK. On the second week of May, we invited all the agents and publishers to a launch party in London.
Guess what yesterday was? Spoiler: Our launch party!
This year, we had the party at Foyle’s Bookshop, which was a gorgeous venue with a rich history of bookselling in London. I arrived early to pass off prints of the graphics I’d made to the venue team, and then retreated with Annie to the cafe to while away the next hour, valiantly trying to not freak out. We ran through our self-made agent-prep quizzes and watched the stuff being set up in the big room.
Eventually they started playing the slideshow I had made a few weeks ago, which included little writer bios, our illustrations, and my graphics. Not to brag again, but it was pretty awesome.
Unfortunately, the beautiful handwriting typeface I’d used for names on my computer wasn’t supported on Foyle’s – a problem I hadn’t anticipated until I saw everything in that font changed to an ugly, huge Arial typeface on the screen. Everyone has assured me that it wasn’t that bad, but I just want to state for the record that the actual design was much, much nicer.
I told Annie, “Well, something had to go wrong. If that’s the only big mess up we have, we’ll probably be fine.” In retrospect, I think I was spot on. Further proof that I am a prophetess.
We were joined in the cafe by other writers from the course, and by Irulan, and it was a lot of fun reconnecting and talking through our nerves. When it was time, we went up and signed in. I got to see the books for the first time, which was a bit surreal. Our old workshop group gathered together, and I also had a chance to reconnect with some of my tutors, though my manuscript tutor, the amazing Lucy Christopher, couldn’t make it.
At about 6:30, agents started arriving. Janine Amos and other tutors went right to work grabbing students and introducing them left and right. There followed a whirlwind of meeting with agents and publishers, and then sending them on to other students in the room. That was actually my favorite part – asking agents what they were looking for and then directing them to my classmates.
Everyone I met was really wonderful, and I came away with several requests for full manuscripts, which was awesome! It was bewilderingly nice to be sought out, and to have others as excited as me about Illuminate.
I also had the chance to reconnect with Kate Pullinger, who I worked with on Letter to an Unknown Soldier. We talked about life post-letters and the freelance work I’m doing now with some of my old team. My name tag was not very sticky, and at some point it fell off and ended up on her shoe, which we both realized in the middle of speeches. So that was amusing!
(It later fell off again and I completely lost it. Last I heard, Lindsay saw someone rolling their suitcase away with my name tag stuck to the side. Clearly fate has intervened.)
The event is a bit of a blur now, full of sweet compliments, catching up with other students, and visiting with tutors in short respites. I’m excited to see what comes of it, and I think I can honestly say that despite all the ups and downs of the last ten months, at the moment I feel it was totally worth everything – both because of the leads I’ve gained, but also because it has been so rewarding to see how the event has opened so many doors for my friends.
This morning, it’s been wonderful seeing my friends’ joy with every new email from a publisher or agent, gushing about their work. I’m reminded of the reason I chose to attend Bath Spa two years ago – because of its focus on creating a community of writers. While writers don’t always mesh well together, I’m so blessed by the ones nearest me – whether they are critiquing my work, reminding me to check my blood sugar, carrying my heavy bags when my arthritis gets too much, or scribbling ridiculous notes in my copy of Beautiful Lies, they are a community of support that I can’t imagine being without.
We have each others’ backs, and now it’s time for the next stage.
(P.S. If you haven’t yet, you can still download and read Beautiful Lies here.)