And there was me thinking what a cushy doss of a job being a writer was.
It started gently enough on Wednesday with a visit to my sister’s school in Hackney. I’ve visited these kids before and they’re brilliant: lively, enthusiastic and bursting with questions. This time I was talking to year 5 and 6 and they did a very good impression of being thoroughly absorbed throughout (okay ‘Do you have a pet?’ looks fairly unpromising as entertaining discussions go, but it was part of my ‘Are you a witch?’ quiz). We then did a workshop about obstacles and as well as the popular zombie/vampire romps I was treated to some very original plot ideas, like the girls who needed to find a witch’s talisman and return it to the witch before she killed their grandmother.
I’m going back there in the near future for a longer workshop with year 4. Can’t wait.
So then there was World Book Day.
You’d think being a writer you’d need a basic ability to read, right? Apparently not. After numerous email exchanges with the librarian of Whitmore High School in Harrow, I still managed to turn up at the wrong school entirely. Fortunately I was early, and managed to peg it down the hill to Whitmore in time for the first batch of kids to arrive.
I was there with Philip Womack (Costa judge and acclaimed author of The Liberators and The Other Book), James Dawson (author of Say Her Name, Hollow Pike and Cruel Summer, and the hilarious guide to growing up, Being a Boy), and Kate Kingsley (author of the very popular YA series, Young Loaded and Fabulous). Here they all are:
The kids broke on us in tsunamis of eighty and after giving a sixty second intro of our work we sat back and braced ourselves for the onslaught. As well as copies of our own work we also signed scraps of paper, exercise books and, bizarrely, books by other authors (sorry JK!) James cheated by saying ‘willy’ and ‘pubes’ and so was completely mobbed throughout.
When I was that age (they were years 7 and 8) I had a dim and woolly idea that I might want to be a writer, but boy were these kids FOCUSED. I got asked how I drew out suspense to add tension to a passage (‘er…’), how I made believable rounded characters without descending into cliches (‘umm…’) and whether or not it was alright to borrow from sources (‘well…I…ahem…’). By half past three we were utterly punch drunk. I crept home and wrapped myself in a blanket, but James had to go off and interview Malorie Blackman – presumably after a downing several Red Bull/Monster cocktails.
Onwards to Friday.
At eleven I gave a talk and workshop about The Blood List and 17th century superstition to the Year 6ers of my sons’ school. They were great and at least a quarter of the class wanted to be writers.
At twelve I spoke to Year 5 about The Hanged Man Rises and what life was like for a child in Victorian London.
Then I packed a ham sandwich down whilst power-walking to Pimlico library for a talk and workshop with another local school. Some very interesting story ideas here, one of which was almost the same plot as Carrie, and another very similar to The Wasp Factory. Clever bunch.
And then it was over, and my good friend and uber-editor Shelley Instone came over to mop my fevered brow and massage my signing hand.
Thanks so much to all the schools for inviting me over, and for the kids for being such great listeners and collaborators. Next year I’m going start training in January.