After a tiring but fabulously fun week of school visits the final two days began with a slightly confusing drive which, thanks to the wonders of sat-nav, took us on a magical mystery tour round the centre of Brighton to a school that turned out to be only 100 yards from our hotel.
Once we’d reached St Paul’s (possibly via Inverness) we set up for the first of the final quartet of performances.
Just one potential problem . . . the projector, we were warned, had a habit of overheating and could switch off at any moment.
Suddenly the event had an air of jeopardy about it. Would we get through it unscathed or would we be scuppered by wonky hardware?
Putting our fears to one side we got on with the show. As I started all I could see were Beth and Antonia’s anxious little faces at the back of the room. It was clear they were terrified at the possibility of slide-based Armageddon, but I had to press on – for them and for the children – despite the risk. I’m brave that way.
The event went well, the children were in fine voice and had their imaginations turned up to 11. Just the “How A Book Is Made” section to go and we were in the clear! Phew.
Slide one appeared smoothly . . . slide two popped into view without a hitch . . . then slide three poppe . . . whirrrrrrrrrr click. The projected image faded and disappeared as the machine blew a gasket.
Antonia fainted on the spot. Beth let out an agonised wail. The children were confused. I was caught like a rabbit in the headlights, standing alone in front of the increasingly restless audience.
For a few awful seconds I stood at the front of the warm hall. Silence. A bead of sweat trickled slowly down my cheek.
“Look!” shouted a young boy. “He’s crying because the projector broke!”
“I’m not crying!” I insisted.
“Yes you are!” he shouted. “I can see it running down your cheek!”
I didn’t want to tell him the terrible truth so I blurted out “Ah-boo-hoo” and did a comedy crying action. I think I got away with it.
Thankfully, after about two minutes the projector started working again – but no one apart from me, Antonia, Beth and 150 children will ever know the trauma of those two minutes. Such are the dangers that face a touring children’s book author.
Despite “Projectorgate” St Paul’s was a lovely school, as were the other three we visited.
Goldstone Primary that afternoon had worked out the best choreographed song actions of the week and were unbelievably enthusiastic for all things booky. The school bought every one of the children a copy of Jumblebum – 90 in all – which is testament to its dedication to literacy and reading.
A gold star to Goldstone!
Speaking of stars, the first of our Friday schools – Mile Oak – have a marvellous system in place to encourage children to read. They have a “Reading Stars” programme which involves awarding children bronze, silver and gold grades depending on how much they embrace reading – including sharing books with other children and reading at home. The children who really go the extra mile at Mile Oak (do you see what I did there?) get their name on a Hollywood style “Walk of Fame” in the school grounds.
No wonder the children were so happy and energised when I did the event. They really do love books there.
And so to the last school of the tour (sniff), delightful St Peter’s.
Although Beth, Antonia and I were caught by the deputy head playing football and tennis in the gym hall when we should have been setting up (sorry miss, we’ll hand our lines in later) the last show was a whole lot of fun.
It was Friday and the children had been at school all week, but still they were full of beans and creativity and we all had a whale of a time, with an appropriately odd banana-bodied, slug-tailed (yuck!) Jumblebum to close the tour.
It was the perfect end to a perfect week.
I feel incredibly lucky to have been asked by Scottish Friendly and the Scottish Book Trust to be a part of the tour. It was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had and I have nothing but gushing praise for both organisations.
It’s incredibly important that children get to meet real live authors (and vice versa) so they can see we’re not mysterious figures – just names on a cover – but ordinary people just like them. It helps them see books and reading are open to all people from every background. They are fun and accessible, not dry or elitist.
Finally I have to say a MAHOOSIVE thank you to my two fabulous sidekicks for the week. Beth and Antonia are possibly the funniest, loveliest people I’ve met and, as well as organising the events and fixing any problems in the blink of an eye, they were also the best company you could hope for on tour. I just wish I could take them to all my events.
So that’s all from me, folks. It’s been a blast.
Until we meet again – happy reading!