Last night I fortified myself with Hotel Chocolat products for courage, then popped next door to the 10th floor of Penguin’s office for Marion Lloyd’s Patrick Hardy Lecture, set up for the 50th anniversary of the Children’s Book Circle.
I didn’t know anything about Marion Lloyd before, but I learned that she started her first job in publishing on the strength of speedy typing skills in the early seventies; was made a children’s book editor when she was twenty; and retires this year, having finished her career having set up her own imprint (Marion Lloyd Books) with Scholastic in 2005. On the way, she’s played a part in the careers of many wonderful authors such as Philip Pullman, Peter Dickinson, Sharon Creech, Celia Rees, Eva Ibbotson, Frances Hardinge and Sally Nicholls.
She talked about how much publishing has changed. In the beginning, she worked on paperbacks, and they were looked down on by the more highbrow, literary hardback publishers, who had proper offices with fireplaces. At that time, her mission was to find and create books that kids wanted to buy, and they had a lot of creative freedom to publish what they wanted. In the early eighties, she remembers book clubs being much more important sales-wise, and they sent out a leaflet to kids asking them to name their favourite celebrities in lots of categories – their ‘ultimate celebrity’ for kids at that time turned out to be Big Daddy, so they created a Big Daddy book. It was sneered at by everyone, but became a bestseller! Coincidentally, Gideon Defoe (author of Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!) posted this picture of Big Daddy in Crystal Palace swimming pool a couple of weeks ago, scanned from his beloved 1983 Big Daddy annual:
Gideon, did your love of your Big Daddy annuals transform you into a book-lover? Hurrah for books which are written just for kids – look what good comes of it!
Then in the late eighties, teen fiction exploded and she worked on many US authors like Paula Danziger and Judy Blume – books that influenced me hugely, I was definitely an addict.
I was incredibly happy to learn that Marion Lloyd was Eva Ibbotson’s editor at Macmillan for years. Eva is my goddess of children’s books (a post about that another time, I think) so I feel extremely privileged to have heard a few stories about her. Marion said her books needed very little editing, as Eva put it “by the time they get to you, they’ve been through about four stomachs, like a cow.” Marion mentioned one time she was able to put in an editorial comment – she said ‘aha! you have a bittern nesting up an oak tree, when it should be a reed bed!’ I deduce this must be from ‘A Company of Swans,’ one of my favourites. Marion always knew Eva was special, and when the Harry Potter books started really taking off, Marion sent a memo round the Macmillan office telling everyone that they had their own author who was destined to be immortalised in children’s fiction and they needed to act fast to give her more exposure – and as a result, Eva’s books received a lot more attention and marketing budget. I love this story – I immediately imagined Marion charging round the office Jerry Maguire-style, shouting about how much more attention Eva deserved. I’m so glad she did!
‘One Dog and His Boy’ was the book Eva finished just a few weeks before she died, and is another of my favourites, so I was fascinated to learn that the working title for months was ‘The Everydog.’ At the end of the lecture when Marion was thanking her family for help with the speech, she said four pages of Eva Ibbotson anecdotes were edited out – please Marion, put the Patrick Hardy Lecture 2012: The Director’s Cut online for me!
Another section that stuck out for me was how heartbroken Marion was to have lost out on Frances Hardinge’s novels for her own imprint – Macmillan were too quick to sign her up for further books after Fly By Night. Frances Hardinge is another of my favourite writers, so this comment along with her impassioned speech about Eva made me take careful note of the other books she loved. These are some she talked about which I’ll be buying ASAP:
Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls
As an aspiring author, it was heartening to hear about Marion falling in love with books, caring deeply and passionately about acquiring and editing them. She was so upset after reading ‘Ways to Live Forever’ that she left her handbag on a park bench, and went to crazy lengths working to persuade Sally and her agent that she was the best person to publish the book. It was also very grounding to hear about the hundreds of applications she receives for each job – all from people with impressive CVs and relevant experience – she said she doubted she would have made the cut if there had been as much competition when she was job-hunting.
On my way out, I passed a few glamorous young publishing ladies (leather satchels, important thick-rimmed glasses, silk scarves) who were falling over each other squealing ‘Marion! Marion! She’s a legend!’ – and after just an hour and a half, I felt the same way. Everyone I spoke to felt deeply touched by the speech, and all the years of work Marion has put into the search for ‘stories that enhance our lives.’
Thank you Marion Lloyd for a wonderful lecture, I’m so glad I went, and thank you so much for all those books that have enhanced my life.