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?