One of the best things about being a children’s author is getting the opportunity to meet young readers who’ve enjoyed your books. Similarly, hearing crowds of children laughing uncontrollably at your carefully constructed sentences makes the effort all the more worthwhile.
In normal times, children’s authors have many opportunities to experience such joy, whether it’s literary festivals, book launches, readings at schools, libraries or other community events – all of which have been casualties, like so much else, of the global Covid pandemic.
After the restrictions reduced the opportunities to share my first two books, I Like To Put Food In My Welly and What Can You See?, with the public during the year after their publication, like many others, I’d hoped that life would begin to return to normal the following year.
But with retail, hospitality, events and education among the areas most affected by ongoing restrictions, my second full year as a published author was only marginally less disrupted than my first.
With opportunities few and far between, like many other authors, I had to work hard to find new readers, and the internet was a useful place to turn.
The first major online event of the year was World Read Aloud Day, so I decided to read aloud I Like To Put Food in My Welly, posting videos on my YouTube and Instagram pages.
In my first year as a published author, I was able to visit a local school on World Book Day, but in March 2021, we were still in lockdown, so I found myself reading excerpts of my books – after a request from a reader – in a mask; not a Covid face-covering, but as a disguise. Again, the videos were posted on YouTube and Instagram.
As restrictions were slowly lifted and retail outlets began to re-open, I teamed up with The Book Warehouse in northwest London for two events at either end of Independent Bookshop Week. On each occasion, in keeping with Covid measures, I set up outside the shop and read to customers and passing families, signing copies of books I sold and – hopefully – attracting customers into the shop.
Typically, with opportunities to meet readers in short supply, I was invited to take part in a summer festival arranged by my local council in London, on the same day that I had already agreed to a signing in south Wales, so off to gorgeous Pembrokeshire I went to meet local shoppers and sign books at the welcoming Victoria Bookshop in Haverfordwest. For them, it was their first book signing since pandemic restrictions were eased, so it was particularly gratifying for everyone involved.
Before the first lockdown was imposed in early 2020, I was in discussion with a number of venues to stage events – one of them, a family-cafe in south Liverpool called Wigwam, very sadly had to close as a result of the pandemic. Two of its customers ended up taking over the cafe and set up The Little Peacock Coffee Shop, and hosted a reading event in the Autumn. I was glad to be able to support a small business and local community hub, even if it was tinged with the sadness of the loss of the previous cafe to occupy the spot.
Having started the year on a high, with I Like To Put Food In My Welly featuring on BookTrust’s 100 Great Great Books Guide for 2020, it was nice to see both books still being noticed at the end of the year, when I discovered that I Like To Put Food In My Welly had been recognised as one of the top children’s books of the year by Families UK and What Can You See? being listed as one of the best children’s books by the lifestyle publication SLOAN Magazine.
So although the second anniversary of the publication of my first two books came and went without fanfare in October, and much of the year was blighted by continuing Covid restrictions, it was still a busy year, with in-person events in London, Liverpool and Haverfordwest on top of some new online videos and more best-book picks.
But with the books now two years old, it’s harder to interest event organisers or venues and there’s less of a push from the publisher, meaning the author has to work all the harder to reach readers.
And while many authors are using this time of year to announce their upcoming publications, I’m afraid I can’t do the same. My next two books were contracted to come out in 2020 and were delayed until 2021 by the pandemic, but they sadly seem to have slipped through the net. Hopefully, 2022 will be a more conventional year in every sense and with that will come a return to the pre-Covid world that made just a bit more sense and with luck, I’ll be able to share more positive news about future projects before long.