When I go into schools, I often tell people that I have the best job in the world. I get to spend all my time with imaginary friends. I get to be all of them: the good guys, the bad guys, the ones with the funniest lines and the happiest endings. And if I feel like it, I can do the whole thing in my pyjamas. Good, huh?
But last week, I was asked to do something so special and exciting and joyful that I’m still dizzy. Make-A-Wish grant the wishes of children and young people living with life-threatening conditions. And Sophie’s wish was to meet me, to get some advice on her future career as an author.
We met for afternoon tea in Oxford, and between scones we chatted about all kinds of important writerly things, the way I do whenever I meet writing friends. We talked about the books we love (like me Sophie likes to reread, and she’s very picky – if she doesn’t like the cover or the first page, off it goes back to the library!); the writing things we struggle with (I throw in too much plot, and I’m rubbish at planning; Sophie finds she gets stuck after a while, and goes to start something new instead, which means she often has lots of stories on the go at once); the kinds of stories we like to tell (I always seem to write about the real world, because those are the ideas that come into my head; Sophie writes more adventurous fantasy stories, where her protagonists travel to strange and thrilling imaginary worlds and have to escape – or choose to stay?).
I told her about how I first got published, by entering a competition with the BBC. Sophie got through the first round of the BBC’s 500 Words, with an amazing-sounding piece about being transported to a world like Monopoly. (I wish I had ideas this good!) I shared some of the ways I keep myself going when I get stuck – it happens to me a lot too, so I try going away from my desk, getting some fresh air, reading or watching a film to get inspired again – and where we might get fresh story ideas from. We talked about all the practical side of being an author: how to get an agent, what an agent does for you. Her mum took lots of notes. I gave Sophie a very special TOP SECRET present – she’s the only person in the whole world to have read it – and Sophie has promised to send me the story she’s been working on most recently, just as soon as she’s figured out what happens next.
We took a little walk through Oxford, so I could show them the exhibition at the Bodleian Library (sadly it was closed by the time we got there, but they had the whole of the next day to explore as part of the Wish). Then we waved goodbye.
It was a really magical experience for me as well. Many many thanks to the Make-A-Wish wishgranters, to Emily and Annabel, and to Sophie’s lovely Mum for making it all happen. Thanks to the author friends who helped put together some tips and tricks. And Sophie, it was an absolute treat to meet you, and to share some writing ideas. I can’t wait to read your story, and I hope you keep feeling inspired!