Apologies in advance for any incoherence in this post – I came back from New York three days ago and jetlag is sticking to me like glue. I don’t even feel perky in the evenings, it just feels like 4am all the time. It might be over-stimulation as well as international travel that’s pickling my brains right now; I came over for an author event at Bank Street Bookstore (a children’s literary paradise north of Central Park) and to discuss plans for an upcoming Warriors tour with the folk at HarperCollins Inc. Yup, one-third of Erin Hunter is going on the road to promote the latest subseries, Power of Three. Excited, much?
The finer details have yet to be worked out, but I’ll be leaving the UK on April 21 and visiting seven US cities over about two weeks. I’m honoured and humbled and a little bit scared, all at once. The events themselves don’t worry me – I’m like the Energiser bunny when it comes to talking about my beloved feral cats, and I practically had to be dragged out of Bank Street Bookstore before I could be shut up. Warriors fans make for a pretty delightful audience as they take things very seriously and ask great questions that give me a chance to think about the themes and characters in more detail than I usually have time for (you might be interested to know that girls are more visibly awed, while boys tend to come up with the more difficult and unexpected questions). My publicist (I will never ever get tired of saying that) Audra has suggested some cute ways of making the events more interactive, such as writing an original script featuring established feline characters that fans can act out on the spot. I’ll do a reading from Power of Three Book One: The Sight, chat for a while about the shades of gray in theme and characterisation that fascinate me so much when it comes to these books, and answer as many questions as I can before the lights get turned out. No sweat. Bring it on. And while I’m feeling like a true diva, I like my M&Ms blue.
But help, what am I going to wear? Or eat? I’m a fussy vegetarian (no eggs, no cheese) who doesn’t eat bread. Am I going to starve somewhere in the Midwest? My preferred outfits are the scruffiest of jeans and fleeces at home, and heels and black trousers for work. What does a bestselling fantasy author wear, I wonder? I have an image of beads and flowing skirts in my mind, but that’s not a good look with my hips, or lack of stature. I can’t even rely on my fabulous winter coats because it’ll be too warm in most places, and I’ll be indoors for the events anyway. I would genuinely appreciate some advice here. I want to look smart, but not like I’m about to walk into an office; young and approachable for my readers without looking like mutton dressed as lamb; play to my strengths without displaying inappropriate amounts of collarbone or curve. I always wear heels to dress smartly, but I have visions of crushing dozens of tiny fingers as I step over the floor-seated audience on my way to my chair. I have legs like a frog so trousers are much more my thing than skirts, but would American parents appreciate a more feminine style of dressing?
I’ve suddenly realized that I need an image, beyond “bit short, bit dumpy, goofy smile”. [Note from Kath: Don’t believe her. Does this look like anything other than an adorable person?]It seems strange that six years after I began work on the first Warriors manuscript, I suddenly have to start worrying about what I look like. I don’t think this is entirely vanity-driven, either. The cult of celebrity, of gaining access to the individual behind a name, has extended to authors now, and more exceptionally, children’s authors. Growing up, I knew I loved Enid Blyton, the Pullein-Thompson sisters, James Herriot, but I had no concept of them as real people – their photos weren’t on the covers, they didn’t appear on TV, and if I had written to them, it would only been have about their books.
But now we are obsessed with fame, and people who might be thought to be famous, and in return we expect them to look good in a fairly obvious way as if they need to earn our admiration by working that bit harder at the gym and denying themselves just one more bar of candy than mere mortals. I would recognize a number of present-day writers if I passed them in the street, not just because I work in this industry, and none of them look like the distracted, slightly dusty stereotypes associated with mid-twentieth century children’s authors. Jacqueline Wilson is famous for the quantity and quality of her silver rings and her stunning gamine haircut; Michael Morpurgo looks like a brisk, ruddy-faced and tweed-clad favorite uncle; and as for JK…well, let’s just say she’s a whole lot more polished now than she was when Philosopher’s Stone came out, and I’d walk over hot coals to have the number of her colorist.
The questions seem to have changed in tone, too. Yes, I still get a hundred letters a week asking where I get my ideas (my head) and if I always wanted to be a writer (yes, because I sucked at math and science), but I also get a lot of readers asking where I live, what my favorite outfit is, what my favorite subjects were at school, and whether I’m married. I don’t wish to sound paranoid – I’ll happily ‘fess up to south-west London; jeans, fabu coat and high-heeled brown suede boots; English and Latin; and no – but it seems bizarre that I should attract this sort of attention from complete strangers simply because I’m quite good at my job. Do you think these readers have ever been curious in the same way about an ER nurse, or an eighth grade teacher? There are millions of people who do their job a whole lot better than I do mine, yet can wear whatever falls out of their closet first and don’t have to plan their hair salon visits with military precision, because heaven forfend I should look anything less than glossy and sun-kissed when The Sight launches.
Am I complaining? Heck, no. I gave in to a tiny “Do you know who I am?” moment yesterday with my real estate agent, and succeeded in having the completion date on my new apartment brought forward by two weeks. Bring on the blue M&Ms…