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London Book Fair and a Visit to Montegrappa

Since I last posted here I have been quite busy. I've been teaching, I've been marking (A LOT), I've been doing the very last final edits on Poppy, I've taken up a new fellowship, and ...oh, yeah... I SUBMITTED MY THESIS! (Break out the party hats and the prosecco and join me as I weep with ​​joy.)

Look at it, isn't it beautiful?! I will have to do a PhD related post very soon because there are lots of exciting things happening in my academic life but after a long period of busyness I'm going to catch you up with some important Poppy happenings first including LOTS of pictures.

As you know I was the very fortunate recipient of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children's Writing, and let me tell you, this prize is the gift that keeps on giving. Having never won anything before (actually I did once win tickets to see Power Rangers Live but they were, unfortunately, for my brother!) the novelty of it all has still far from worn off. One of the sponsors of the prize was the London Book Fair and so at the end of April I was invited to speak on a Poppy Pym panel alongside my brilliant agent Louise, top editor Lena, and superstar judge, author, and all-around lovely person Cerrie Burnell. In a shaking and squeaky voice I read a couple of pages from the book and felt that it was slight and fragile but people laughed and said nice things about it. It was so great to get a chance to share a bit about my experience working on the book so far, and fascinating to hear from the others on the behind-the-scenes world of publishing.

Here we are, finding each other hilarious.


Our audience were also brilliant, and best of all my fab fellow shortlistees for the prize turned out to support me and sat in the front row. Catching up with them was a real highlight.

Rohan, Nicola, Nicola and Kate - Four of the funniest and most talented people you could hope to meet.

I had a great time wandering around and the size and scope of the fair was just incredible. I was also completely surprised to find myself signing books because Scholastic had brought a few proof copies with them. It's very difficult thinking about people reading the proof copies now that the book has had several more edits and is, I think, much stronger. If you have a proof copy I would love to hear what you thought.

Here I am signing my first ever book! Because it was so unexpected I hadn't thought of anything clever to write and I think I just ended up telling a stranger that I loved them!

My official badge that says I am officially an author. I think I should wear it all the time.

At the Scholastic stall there was a Poppy Pym display and a special lucky dip. I won this scarab beetle badge which I will treasure forever. (Although if anyone would like to present me with a real ruby scarab I would not be averse to this.)

All in all I had a brilliant time, and thank you so much to the whole team there for making me so welcome. After the hustle and bustle of the book fair I was straight back into thesis edits because I only had a couple of weeks left before I was planning to submit. Making that deadline felt like an impossible dream, but in the end everything came together at the very last moment and I even finished a whole 24 hours earlier than I had planned. MIRACLE! Straight after my submission Paul and I celebrated in style... with a trip to Italy! As part of the prize Montegrappa presented me with THE PEN (which you can see in an earlier blog post) AND a trip to Italy to see where my pen had been born. First Montegrappa sent us to Venice. We ate gelato, we drifted down the Grand Canal, we drank an Aperol Spritz at every piazza. It was heaven.

Enjoying the sunshine on the Grand Canal.

I will never get over how beautiful Venice is. It's one of those places that truly lives up to the hype. I've been a few times now and each time I am overwhelmed by the magic of it all. After Venice we went to Bassano to visit the Montegrappa factory. You guys. Bassano. I can't even tell you how beautiful it is. It is a fairytale come to life. LOOK:

I want to include every single one of the 5,000 photos I took of every picturesque corner but I think it would be much better for you to see it for yourself. We are certainly already planning our return visit! It is in these beautiful surroundings that Montegrappa make their pens, and I honestly didn't think I could value my pen any more but having seen the work and the artistry that goes into making each one I truly do. We were welcomed at the factory by the lovely Deborah and given an amazing tour by Federica who really showed us every aspect of making the pen from start to finish. It was incredible.

These are the pieces of celluloid that Montegrappa use to make a lot of their pens (including mine). Each piece takes TWO YEARS to mature. Isn't that insane?! Using this material means that the pen is like a beautiful living thing, and each pen is, of course, unique.

Here are some of the nibs for the pens. Aren't they stunning? It's one of my favourite things about my pen, and the engraving is so intricate.

I love this, it may look like a load of scribbles but notice each page is exactly the same. This is how they hand test each pen to make sure it writes beautifully.

These high-tech tools are what they use to do the hand-engraving. The level of detail they achieve is extraordinary.

And here is an example of how they go about making the pens. the model on the right is an early stage of the design process for creating this particlar model. It was like another world seeing the amount of skill and attention that goes into the process of making each individual piece. My pen is here on my desk and each time I use it now I can think about all the extraordinary people that had a hand in making it. It's very special.

And finally, here I am with Giuseppe, the CEO who was the most wonderful host and whose passion for the written word is a real inspiration. You'll also notice Prince Charles there and underneath his picture is the pen he has - the same as mine! I tell you, that made me feel pretty swanky. A huge, huge thank you to Giuseppe and his team - not only for a fantastic trip but for their support of a competition that has really changed my life. I can't believe all of these amazing things are happening because of a story about a little girl at the circus, but it just goes to show that there really is magic in storytelling. And if you're thinking about entering a writing competition - DO IT. Real people do win them, and I should know - I'm one of them.

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