There are always things for a children’s author to do, whether it’s promoting their own books or literacy more generally, but in a year when a new book comes out, the increase in activity is off the scale. More events and bigger events. And above all, more social media.

That said, 2023 started gently, with my first event being reading my book What Can You See? to three separate reception classes at an infant school in northwest London, for World Book Day in March.

The following month, I made my now-annual pilgrimage to the London Book Fair, which afforded me a rare opportunity to speak to my Cardiff-based publisher, Graffeg, in person. The meeting felt particularly useful, because in addition to discussing plans for the publication of two books this year, the long awaited The Mittens With No Thumbs and a follow up to I Like To Put Food In My WellyA Zoo in My Shoe – they also seemed excited about two other manuscripts I offered. Sadly, the woman I met left the company a couple of weeks later for a publisher that doesn’t do picture books and didn’t pass on my manuscripts to anyone else. And The Mittens With No Thumbs got bumped into 2024. All of which was a little deflating.

But the momentum picked up again in June – publication month for A Zoo In My Shoe. It started with a reading at the delightful Chicken & Frog children’s bookshop in Brentwood in Essex for Independent Bookshop Week. The next event was one of the biggest of the year, reading my books in the Storytelling tent at the East Finchley Festival. Then came the official launch for A Zoo In My Shoe at one of London’s leading children’s book shops, Pickled Pepper Books.

June was also when the first reviews started coming in: “hilariously silly,” “can’t stop laughing,” “nonsense rhymes that will send children into fits of giggles,” “many will enjoy reading this book again and again” and “I have to admit, the book had me in stitches” were among the reactions that made me think I was onto a winner. Then when my other half – a teacher – showed me an email from the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, recommending the book to infant schools, I started to entertain notions of giving up the day job.

But despite fantastic reviews and the backing of one of the UK’s most respected children’s literacy bodies, the book never seemed to gain the traction I had hoped among the parents I needed to buy the books. Without the publicity department of a major publisher, who can get coverage in the press and copies on shelves in bookshops, it seems that no amount of positive reviews or promotion can make a book a success. Even bumping into one of the most successful children’s authors in the country, David Walliams, in Regents Park and persuading him to have a photo taken holding my book, didn’t seem to have much of an impact on raising awareness.

My own publicity drive continued in July, when I read, sold and signed copies of my books at my children’s school summer fair. I took on the responsibility of running a book stand, where we brought local library staff to meet children and parents and sold books for another of the areas leading children’s bookshops – known simply as the Children’s Bookshop. I special – ironic – thank you goes to the children who stole some of the stock I was selling on commission for the PTA, thereby wiping out most of the money I made from selling my own books.

July also marked my return to Our Yard at Clitterhouse Farm for their summer Night Market event. I was joined for the first time by a new friend who has accompanied me at every reading since then; however much the children engage with the book, they will always also engage with a 5 foot long cuddly snake – not dissimilar from those that appear in What Can You See? and A Zoo In My Shoe. I read at two more Clitterhouse events in September, challenging me to find ways to adapt my presentation, in the knowledge that the audience would include a number of returning children. One of those readings coincided with what was one of my highlights of the literary year and it didn’t even involve me; I was lucky enough to be able to take my family to see one of our favourite children’s authors, Rob Biddulph, doing a live “Draw with Rob” event ahead of a book signing.

Jason looking remarkably like the lion in Hannah Rounding's jungle as he reads What Can You See? at South Street Primary in Gateshead

November was a particularly busy month. The library staff I’d met at the school summer fair invited me to read What Can You See? to the toddlers at their weekly Rhyme Time events at three of their local branches and the biggest event of the year followed a week later, as I was invited to read to children at two schools in Sunderland and two in Gateshead as part of the Northern Children’s Book Festival, where a lion mask became the latest addition to the presentation.

November was also the month that a copy of A Zoo In My Shoe was auctioned to raise money for the BBC’s Children In Need charity, through the Children in Read book sale; when I was sent the name of the winning bidder, to sign a copy of the book to send to her, I was gratified that she was a complete stranger, which gave me another small burst of encouragement.

There was one more busy day in early December, when I read at a rainy Barnet Christmas Fayre (I’d always wanted to read at a Fayre, rather than a Fair) before heading back to Clitterhouse for their final event of the year. An appearance at the opening of a new railway station in northwest London was cancelled at the last minute, when the organisers found out that I didn’t have insurance – against what, I never found out.

Given that smaller publishers are less likely to get their books stocked as standard in bookshops, one of the more encouraging moments this year was finding What Can You See? and I Like To Put Food In My Welly on the shelves at one of London’s biggest bookshops, Foyles in Charing Cross Road. And finding a copy of What Can You See? as part of the offering to children at the Young V&A Museum in east London was one of the great honours of my year.

2023 came to an end with a flurry of activity, with a much-needed spurt in book sales in the run-up to Christmas and a couple more welcome reviews. The School Library Association said A Zoo In My Shoe should have young audiences “in fits of laughter,” while – and this was the highlight of the year – it was picked as the best children’s book of the year by the author and illustrator Thomas Docherty in a list commissioned by BookTrust. Being anyone’s best book of the year is enough of an honour, but when BookTrust has asked leading children’s book creators for their favourites and the illustrator of the heart-warming The Hare-Shaped Hole picks mine, it really means something. Frankly, it made my literary year. Seeing my book nestled in among the other best picks on BookTrust’s website still fills me with pride – a feeling that I hope I can carry forward into 2024.