There are many rewards that come from talking about books and writing in schools. For the author, it’s a break from the typeface and the chance to fire up young writers to reach for their pens. There’s also a downside, and that becomes apparent when the photographer from a local newspaper is sent along to cover the event.
Now, the photographers are always lovely. It’s the set up for the shot that triggers my Awkward Alarm. Take this morning, on Day Two of our tour of my novel, The Savages, across schools in Angus with the Scottish Book Trust and Scottish Friendly. We’ve just finished a fantastic and spirited session with pupils from Brechin High School, and now comes the dignity challenge. As directed by the snapper, I’m straddling the back of a plastic chair like Christine Keeler, with two young students at my side sporting copies of my book. I try to look cheery and relaxed, while dying on the inside.
‘Smile,’ he says, but I can’t, and neither can the two poor girls roped into the picture. It’s quite clear they feel just as uncomfortable. All we can do is look into the lens like rabbits in the face of truck headlights, and wait for the shutter to click.
‘So, do you want to be writers?’ I ask the girls, as the photographer lines up another forced shot. They blush a little and look to their shoes. ‘Don’t let this put you off,’ I say. ‘Whatever you choose to do in life, if you can express yourself through the written word then you’ll go far.’
The pair look relieved. If they’re anything like me, they understand that good writing has the power to enchant, engage and empower. So what if I look like a lemon in the local paper for my efforts? As a writer, it’s all good material. I might even use it one day.