How to get cream-crackered and a lump in the throat at same time
Firstly, for non UK readers, cream-crackered is slang for… erm… very tired, exhausted, wrecked… that kind of thing. School visits do that. They are also decidedly lovely, for many reasons. I’ve done a few now, but this week’s visit, in celebration of World Book Day, at William Levick Primary School in Dronfield, was only the second full-day one I’ve done. They are tiring, those little ones. They bombard you with questions and tell you all about their friend who has a dog… no, it’s not a dog, it’s a cat… actually, it’s a fish!!! I kid you not! They tell you their mum is poorly and then cry because they miss her. You are a recepticle for whatever happens to be going on their heads at the time.
Then there are the questions… it never fails to amaze me how many and how varied these are. Some of the goodies this week were: Which of the books you’ve written is your favourite? (Easy… Buttercup Magic) Who is your favourite writer? (Easy… Markus Zusak) What was your favourite children’s book? (Easy… The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.)
Questions I would rather have not been asked included: How much money do you get for a book? (Not telling) Are you rich? (No!) Were you bullied (Errr….) … actually, I did answer this one as honestly as I could, although, I confess, it caught me out good and proper! The most original question, and one I hadn’t been asked before (apart from the bullying one) was: Who is your best friend? I have two – they know who they are!
When I do these visits I have my box of tricks. I suspect that this may change over time. At the moment, my essentials are: my books, Ruby and Grub pictures to colour in, writing frames, puppets, example illustrations – before and afters from Grub’s Pups, laminate pictures, blue tac, a pen, camera, a dummy book – this is an early one that comes from the publisher before the book goes to print and well before final proof stage, just to demonstrate the layout etc and make sure the pictures and text match.
Sometimes things go wrong… sometimes they don’t. Expect the unexpected is my school
visit motto. This time, I forgot blue tac – no big deal. I forgot to hand out the puppets to the foundation children until a little voice piped up: “Where are our puppets?” Actually, it was more like a big voice screeching: “WHERE ARE OUR PUPPETS?!!!!!” I made a complete pig’s ear of the interactive whiteboard which did odd things – odd and unexpected things that made my eyes go googly. Fortunately, Miss Teacher came to the rescue, as did the children, who yelled at me from the floor as if I was some sort of I.T numpty… which I am!
Highlights of the day… while I was waiting with a class of year 2 children for the teacher to gather the year 3 children, a little boy called Thomas said: “Abi, shall we sing to you?” They then proceded to chat amongst themselves, decide on a song and sang it to me. It was a round robin of London’s burning. I’m not exactly sure I heard very much of it… I was too busy trying not to cry! And a little girl coloured her Ruby and Grub picture, then said she had done it for me… *sniff!* And the other highlight is the same as it always is – the knowledge that, as a writer, you can share your stories and experiences with young minds, and watch their little faces as they listen ever so carefully and imagine just what being a ‘real’ writer is like.