The imminent Bank Holiday is usually followed by requests for various school and library visits. I really enjoy going out and about, but there’s a big difference between (ta-daaa!) the public face of The Writer and (grumble-mumble!) the Person who Does The Writing. By that I don’t mean someone ghost writing a sleb’s move into "Children’s Author", but the ordinary, everyday double life. Moving from invisible to visible can be a jolt.
For me – and don’t back away here! - the writer is quite introverted, mumbling, hesitant, unaware of people or things around them when they are busy at the page. Sometimes noisy, sometimes quiet, not bothered too much by eating as long as it can be eaten quickly, happy to sit in ancient clothes because it’s the story that matters, forgetting the time, forgetting the . . what? I’ve forgotten . . . and anyway, I’m almost invisible, aren’t I? . . . If you’re not my cat, and aren’t bringing me a cup of tea, or chocolate, just go away! This total absorption is why I didn’t start writing till my dear children could look after themselves.
However, the Writer who does the public gigs is another being altogether. As I put on my metaphorical “Writer Coat”, the adrenaline starts to rise. I work my way through the certain rituals. I ease volume into my voice in the shower. I prod the face into something recognisable, and choose my clothes with care. I pack and re-pack my “talk-bags”, mark up the trusty A-Z with post-it notes, write down precise times and schedules, and pretend to have a slightly thicker skin. In my head rings the double-edged phrase from Bob Fosse’s film All That Jazz, delivered with an enormous smile: “It’s showtime!”
School visits mean alarms at six, then driving off muttering Uncle Big Bad’s important injunction from Little Wolf’s Book of Badness: “Do Charming!” And through the day, I Do Charming, at least as much as I can. I really want the children to enjoy themselves, to have fun, to think there’s something good about this writing lark. I want the teachers to be happy for a while, to remember that writing isn’t punctuation, but a kind of making, an art form.
Is this Visible Writer a deception? Not really. The bright, energetic visitor is the twin of the invisible writer. You see, when - after a long dull trudge – when an idea sparks, or a story does start making one’s words move into place, it is that bright and wonderful feeling. “Showtime!” indeed.