If I had a banjo, I'd go ker-twannnga, ker-twonnng oh youuuuu gotta ch-ch-ch-change youuuuur wicked ways, but to the immense relief of my fellow-commuters, I don't and I won't. It's going to be bloody awful coming back home without the artwork. This is crazy, I know, but in a way it's like seeing a child off to make its own way in the world - you're chuffed to bits that you've raised him so well that he can pursue an independent life, you're deeply proud of the fine, upstanding person he has become but the holehis going will make in your life is a big one. And you know that he won't phone home for months. And with books, they don't phone home either. In fact, you hand them in and nothing happens for months and months. This one won't be published till next Sep/Oct....and my studio will be empty of beautiful dragon artwork and, in truth, a total shit-heap because I've been so frantically busy finishing the Dragons, that I've been even more of a slob than normal.
And, boy, is that saying something.
The last time I handed in a book to Bloomsbury was way back, nine or ten years ago with 'No Matter What'. I blush to recall what I said to their sales team as the cooed over the artwork. Nope, I won't tell you, but bizzarrely, arrogant monster that I was, subsequent events proved me right. Sort of. This time, I have far less confidence - not in the book, but in the world into which my book is going. I'm not even sure if picture books have the weight they used to. I walk into bookstores and see piles of arch, tongue-in-cheek, clever books that don't appear to have any emotional 'heart' at all. I'm not very good at those. These days, I have a tendency to write books I can barely read out loud without choking up.
Maybe it's my age and stage. Certainly I feel like I'm going through a transition phase in my own life - the mirror tells me that I may feel all of twenty inside, but outside, I'm becoming invisible and middle-aged. This is inevitable, but with this discovery comes a chill wind blowing back from the future, a wind that reminds me that nothing should be taken for granted, never a day should pass without showing those I love how much I love them, and that every day has to be seized, savoured and lived in an awake state. I'm kind of hoping that at some point I'll reach a plateau of acceptance of my own mortality and find an ability to live in accord with the slipping, changing nature of human ageing.
I wouldn't have it any other way - I will not be beating a path to Aubrey de Grey and his dodgy neo-con chums who are ploughing millions into research for how to live way beyond our allotted span. I don't want to live longer than those I love, I just want it all to slow down a bit - the pace seems to accelerate, the children sprout and move away just as I'm getting to know the adults within the babies we raised.
And let's be honest here - where the fuck did all that crepe round my neck come from? Jeez. It'll be liver spots and rheumy eyes soon. Anyone sees me surreptitiously wiping the sides of my mouth with a tissue has permission to shoot me. So far, no-one has actually thrown up at the sight of me in gym kit, but I'm guessing it won't be long before that happens. One of my sweet little children said to me the other day that from behind I looked like a girl. I'm such a paranoiac that I can't take that as a compliment - I'm too busy hearing the implied - but when you turned round - crikey, it was like night of the living dead meets the return of the mummy. Har de harrr. And then another of my children ( aka the vipers in my breast, and I'm not talking ze vindow viper either, schweethoit) heard me remark upon how I was the same age as Nigella Lawson, and he said - wow, I thought she was waaaay younger than you, Mum.
Yeah, thanks. Your dinner's in the dog.