Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Back to School: Penny Dolan

Next week, term begins. Most schools are back already, but I'm taking about the “visiting author” type of term. Next Tuesday, I’m doing a poetry morning, and later in the week I’m over at the Stone Literature Festival. In the distance looms October Book Week, which lasts about a month. Add to that the sudden rush of requests, and its definitely Back To School time. However, my worries seem the same as they ever were.
First there’s sorting out The School Bag. Or Bags. My plan, this year, is to NOT be laden down by every book I’ve ever written. My “Talk Bags” now have so much weight behind them that once I set off at one end of a corridor, momentum makes me unstoppable before I reach the end. (Have begun to fear for any small child who steps in my way.) Try a trolley? I did. It broke. Besides, have you any idea how many small flights of steps there are in schools, even the single storey buildings?
Then there’s the Pencil Case Problem. Why have I ended up with fat purple, green or brown markers and none useful for actual writing? On second thoughts, must also check no permanent markers are hidden among the whiteboard markers (oops!) and there’s a useful wodge of glutak too. Requesting glutak in some schools can is like asking for fillings from teeth. At least I no longer need a geometry kit.
Next there’s the Uniform Problem. I need clothes with pockets when visiting. I need places to stow small notebooks, signing pens, mints, objects to surprise the children, tissues for the front row dribbler, crib cards and occasionally a totally new timetable for the day. So, come September, my visiting wardrobe holds an array of interestingly-shapeless garments that I fear will only add to the Bag Lady Look (see above). This is not why or how I imagined myself stared at on my first day back in school. Maybe I should opt for the flattering pudding bowl haircut as well?
Now for the Back To School shoes. As a young girl, I longed for diamante ballet shoes and ended up with sensible brown lace-ups. It still happens. I’ve seen Meg Cabot in bright pink cowboy boots. I’ve seen Nicola Morgan’s blog and her parade of excellently varied Edinburgh footwear collection. I am wretched with admiration, until I face a day of carting stuff about in such things. Not for my ten little piggies, sadly. I can talk the talk, but I can’t walk the walk. Sigh!
There’s all that Catching Up On Homework too. Getting the visit paperwork in sequence. Checking there’s a timetable for the day. Making sure I’m not booked for John O’Groats one day and Lands End the next. Finding out where I’m going via the vital post-code & map books. Working out how early I’ll have to get up. Buying sturdy new Alarm clock. Dreading the mists and mellow fruitfulness aka slippery roads and poor visibility.
And there’s the most Dreadful Dread of All. Despite all the mutterings above, I love to do school visits. I enjoy them tremendously. I like meeting children and sharing stories with them. I like seeing new places and new faces, and meeting some of the wonderful librarians and teachers there are.
But there’s a cost to setting off by or before seven, doing four or more lively performances in an as-yet unknown setting, and driving two hours back again. And that’s the loss of the quiet a writer needs to think and plan and just get on with the writing task. The Dreadful Dread is ending up with no time to write. How on earth do you manage the problem?

12 comments:

Nick Green said...

Authors could franchise themselves - you have a Penny Dolan in the North, one in the Midlands, one in East Anglia and so on, who visit the schools and have nice wardrobes to hand, while the real Penny gets on and writes the books.

It could be a bit like how Father Christmas works.

Catherine Johnson said...

Oh yes Penny, I have a visting wardrobe and several visiting bags. All shoes are utterly flat, all clothes guaranteed to not draw attention to unsightly sweat stains caused by nerves, or since I worked in Africa - nipples.

Book Maven said...

You didn't have nipples before working in Africa, Catherine? What fascinating things one learns about writers on ABBA!

Catherine Johnson said...

No I grew them recently
xc

John Dougherty said...

You know, Catherine, that little "fact" will soon turn up on a press release written by a junior publicity wrangler with too little time and too many authors to promote; and next thing you know it'll be part of your Wikipedia entry, you'll never get rid of it, and it'll eventually form part of the headline for your obituary in most of the broadsheets.

Gillian Philip said...

I have four, all my own originals. Can I have a publicity wrangler now, please?

Nick Green said...

This comment thread has really deteriorated...

bookwitch said...

Who mentioned them first? You'll never be invited into a school ever again, Catherine. Decent people don't have n...

Stroppy Author said...

Catherine, did you really write Mamma Mia? Or am I adding that factoid about nipples to the wrong wikipedia page?

Penny Dolan said...

Look, you lot, I know I mentioned school starting, but this is all getting very silly and childish! Is this the sort of behaviour you think will be expected from you this term?

(Tee hee hee!)

Big thanks to Damian who helped to clear up my blog problems, and apologies to anyone confused around midday.

bookwitch said...

I'm never confused round midday. Other times, yes.

But Miss, it's fun to joke a little. It's only our first week.

Penny Dolan said...

Quite right, Bookwitch. As long as you all understand? You may now carry my bags to the car . . .