“Mary”, I said, “I’m tired.”
“Me too,” said Mary. “It was fun though.”
“Yes. What an adventure. Hard to think where to begin. So many exciting things.”
“Start at the beginning,” said Mary.
“Ok. Well, I was scared of flying, and forgetting things, and being shy, but I packed my paints and brushes, and Mary, you helped me with my presentation, didn’t you. And we set off on Wednesday morning to drive to the airport. I wore my foxes ears from Spirit Hoods, (US site is better) to give me confidence.”
“And so you would look more like a bear,” said Mary.
“Well, yes, that as well.”
Mary told me not to worry, everything would be ok, so long as I had my label tied on and a pot of marmalade in my suitcase.
In Scotland lovely Anji Spangle met us at the airport and it was good to see her and she said hi to Mary and to Panda too. Then we drove to Anji’s. The next day we went to Charlotte Square to the Edinburgh Book Festival.
It was so busy in the square. I introduced mr Stenham as my inspiration and Anji Spangle as my life coach, and my publisher was there too, Janetta, and Nicky who is the press and pr and events lady for Frances Lincoln. ( It seems that the more important you are the bigger the ‘entourage’. Some people had heaps of people to follow them round and fetch them water and lattes ( a small creature very much like a chipmunk I think) but no one had a spectacled bear and a panda in their entourage, so I felt very special. And the thing about Mary is that she breaks down all kinds of barriers and makes so much possible.
After my event Mary and I and Squizzer and Panda went off for a meeting with the lovely ladies from Barrington Stoke. They loved Squizzer when I showed him to them and were so utterly delighted when I said he was going to live with them that they cried.
“I’m glad Squizzer has gone to a good home where people will love him,” said Mary.
At lunch we had a meeting about a book about an arctic fox who is a small lost soul, and Panda and Mary and Squizzer decided to have a meeting too, then I was whisked back to the festival and away to the airport. Because I had a secret, that I hadn’t even told Mary.
Mary and I were going on a plane again, to London, for a party.
“It was a very special party,” said Mary.
It was a party for George R R Martin and Robin Hobb and the authors from Harper Voyageur and also for Jane Johnson, to say thanks to Jane for 30 years as an editor for Harper Collins. And wow. I hadn’t really thought much beyond how lovely it would be to surprise jane, who thought I wasn’t going, and see Robin Hobb again, as she is so very lovely. And Harper Collins were giving Jane one of my paintings and I had painted Nighteyes for her, because without Jane and Robin there would be no Nighteyes and I do so love him, and all wolves.
“And she was surprised,” said Mary.
“Indeed. I think she was. And so was I Mary, when you were invited up on to the flight deck of the plane. And when you flew it! I didn’t know you could fly planes!”
“There’s a lot of things you don’t know about me,” Said Mary and she smiled a shy and secret smile.
But wow, as I say, I hadn’t really thought beyond the party being in the Gherkin, and we arrived, were met by Sarah at the door and taken up. And up. And up. And the party, oh my goodness, was at the very top of the Gherkin. In the sky. With the birds.
Looking down on London Below you could see the Tower of London where I had been before ( I have only ever been to two publishing parties in 30 years of working in books. The other was in the Tower) And you could see the poppies spilling out from the tower like a river of blood, and the tiny tower bridge like a toy. And as the light dropped out of the day and the dark took hold of the sky the dome around us changed and the party was reflected onto the glass. Mary and I had watched the sun going down, looking towards home. I was talking to Jamie Buxton and I said, “Me and Mary, we live over there.”
“Hampstead?” he asked.
“No. Wales,” I said, and it made me laugh. Lovely man. I envied him his mane of hair.
We met Robin and Imola Unger, with whom I swapped badges. Imola was saying how she loved the covers and that she had made a page for Robin on the site she worked on partly because the covers were so lovely and I thought of all the hard work the whole Harper design team and Jane had put in to make them shine and dress them with respect and it was so good to know that this had paid off. And I also told her that there was something about the real book, the way they have made it, that means you NEED a real one, to hold in your hands.
And I met the lovely Amanda Craig who has reviewed my books for years, and this was the very first time we had met.
So, we left the party, quite early. Mary and Panda slept on one side of the big bed, I slept on the other, in the Threadneedle Hotel which had once been a bank and was a bit like Gringotts but beautiful as a hotel, luxurious.
“Then we were back on the train to Edinburgh,” said Mary.
“I could get used to First Class train travel, Mary” I said. The East Coast Train line. How beautiful. And even though BA was good, so much more relaxing, so much more space, and at the end of the day, faster than flying. And a wonderful breakfast.
“And finally, marmalade,” said Mary.
Back in Edinburgh Mary helped me do a doodle for The Guardian.
Next I painted in the Baille Gifford Bookshop, and talked. I met up with Carl from Scaramanga and we are going to make a bag together with a lining made by me, and I painted a hare and people watched and then I gave them a jigsaw to do, and I talked to James and Debi Gliori who are wonderful.
I wandered through the bookshop afterwards and my table looked a bit sad without Mary and the jigsaws.
Next day Mary and Panda and me went to The Golden Hare bookshop and Panda did a nose dive into Tunnocks teacake heaven, and I painted a hare and read stories, some of which were not mine to people who had been children some time ago. I love the respect that Golden Hare gave to the picture book art. More like an art gallery than a bookshop and Mr Stenham said that it was his very favourite of ALL the bookshops we have been in.
Then we all went to the Edinburgh Bookshop and I painted Mary and her Marmalade, and drank tea and ate Tunnocks wafers and cake with Viv French and my lovely friend Helen who plays piano, and who I have known since we were six and who is very beautiful. And the energy and enthusiasm of the booksellers here make me realise that the bookshop is not dead, oh no and far from it. There are still people who want to buy books, and many of them want picture books.
On the way to the bookshop we found a wonderful shop in Morningside called Very Vintage. Was great to see a whole tribe of Scaramanga bags.
If you ask nicely the Edinburgh Bookshop may make a print to sell, of Mary and her Marmalade, to raise money for getting books into the hands of the many children in families where the choice is often food or warmth, but never books.
It was a grand day. Viv read from her new book and she also read me Something About a Bear, the first time I have heard it read by someone else and she read it beautifully.
And then it was time to say goodbye to Edinburgh. Thank you to the festival for inviting us, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books for sending me. Thanks to Harper Collins for being my fairy godmother and making sure I did go to the ball and British Airways for being so kind as to let Mary fly the plane. And thanks to to East Coast Trains for a lovely breakfast. And I do also have to say thanks to Spirit Hoods for making my foxes ears. It’s strange how confident they make me feel and the pawkets are perfect places to keep a small bear. And Scaramanga, whose bags I have bought so often, but this time they sent me a wonderful rucksack that was just perfect for taking on my trip to London.
But the biggest thanks goes to Anji, for taking us to see the Kelpies, looking after us so royally, and showing me the handsome Boswell ( and no, Mr Stenham, that is not a euphemism).
Panda says thanks for all the teacakes. He’s a bit sticky so he kind of mumbled it. And Mary? Mary said, “It’s good to be home.”
“It is good to be home, Mary. And we did have exciting adventures didn’t we. So now we need to have a rest, because you know what Mary?”
“There’s even more exciting adventures happening this week. But that’s a secret.”
Mary smiled. She’s very good at keeping secrets.