Friday, 24 June 2011

Not the Glastonbury Festival: Sue Purkiss




Yes, it's that week in Somerset. The sky is full of helicopters, the roads are full of buses, trucks and cars, the supermarkets are full of people wearing multi-coloured wellies, the hotels are full of BBC staff. It's the Glastonbury Festival.
But more significantly for us, this is the week when authors and school librarians converged on Bruton (which is somewhere past Shepton Mallet, vaguely in the direction of Yeovil – I’m still not entirely sure where) for a networking event, organised by the fabulous Julie Hoskins, librarian at Bruton School for Girls. For some of us, converging was less easy than for others. A group from one school were swallowed up by the Glastonbury traffic and never made it at all.
And then there was me. According to Google maps, I only live 47 minutes away from Bruton. I spent six years in a job which entailed driving all over Somerset. How hard could it be to find the place? Well, very hard, actually. I think it’s something to do with the ley lines. Launch yourself onto the leafy lanes of Somerset, and you have no idea where you’ll end up. I had maps, I had directions, but none of this helped. WHY have I never got round to buying a satnav…?
So I drove round in a succession of circles. (Oh, here’s Wells again. Lovely!) Eventually, just as panic was beginning to flutter its tiny wings, I found myself on a lane which was getting steadily narrower, but which ancient signposts assured me was heading for Bruton. The car and I breathed in: we made it! Unfortunately, we hadn’t arrived by any of the routes described in the directions. Never mind, I thought, it’s only a small place.
A small place which is heaving with schools. I spotted a likely looking cluster of buildings, screeched to a halt and hailed a passing pupil. Oh no, he said, this is Kings School. He drew me a map. I can only think he was trying to sabotage all efforts to reach the girls’ school, because he sent me in completely the wrong direction. More circles. Eventually I sussed his cunning plan and decided the only thing to do was to find a main route into Bruton and start all over again. I broke out of the one-way system and headed out – and there was a school! Was this the right one? No, this was Sexey’s. Stop giggling at the back, Hugh Sexey was a sixteenth century philanthropist. I drove on, searching for a place to turn round – and suddenly, there it was – Bruton School for Girls!
I stagger in, feeling like Lawrence of Arabia when he spotted an oasis. There are signs, there is a large sunlit room, there is Julie Hoskins beaming a welcome, and I’ve allowed so much extra time (I know those ley lines) that I’m not even late. Things are looking up. I drink water, breathe deeply and find a desk to set up between Cindy Jefferies and Dave Gatward. I glance at Dave’s display – and jump: a trilogy entitled The Dead, The Dark and The Damned – the stuff of nightmares leap out from the covers. But the stuff of dreams is propped up against his desk – a skateboard advertising the books!
Never mind, I have fliers, and postcards which I'm particularly proud of, advertising a new type of session, on essay skills for sixth formers. I spread them out and give them a consoling pat.
On my other side, Cindy has the first book of her new series, Heart Magazine, on display. It strikes me that just the three of us show the variety of rooms in the house of children's fiction; sweet dreams, multi-coloured nightmares, and in the middle, me, with historical fiction, a willow man, and the occasional ghost. And of course there are many more. The room soon fills up, but when I get the chance, I wander round. From Bath, there's Julia Green, with her beautifully written coming of age stories, and Steve Voake with - well, masses of everything. There's Lynne Benton, whose dual language picture books attract a lot of interest, there's Julie Sykes and Linda Chapman (both of whom travelled a good deal further than I did and did not get lost) with their hugely popular series.

There's Gill Lewis, whose debut book, Skyhawk, has an arresting image of an osprey emerging from a blue sky, and sounds intriguingly off-trend. She has lovely posters...
Seeing a little cluster round my table, I head back. My postcards are attracting interest; people seem to like the idea of essay skills, and others are interested in writing workshops. I also have fliers from the blogosphere, about the fabulous online literary festival, and the forthcoming History Girls blog. I'm delighted to find that there's a lot of enthusiasm for historical fiction; it's really interesting to have the chance to talk to the gatekeepers, the people who really know which books are actually being read and which are staying on the shelves.
Finally, it's time for tea, delicious cake and a group photo. (Why didn't I think to take one? You may well ask.) It's been a great afternoon, and we are all very grateful to Julie Hoskins for organising it.
Now - all I have to do is find my way home. I do the by now familiar circle through Bruton, and spot a sign to Frome. It's not exactly in the right direction, but it'll do. At least it's nowhere near Glastonbury...

Sue Purkiss

10 comments:

Julie Sykes said...

Hi Sue,

I got lost too and I had a sat nav. It must have been those ley lines! It was a great afternoon though. So many lovely people to talk to. And there was cake!

Juliex

Sue Purkiss said...

Incidentally, I took the photo of Glastonbury off a council site I found on the internet - but then later yesterday saw the same picture in the local paper, and realised it was by Jason Bryant, who's a really good local news photographer and also a very nice guy. So thanks, Jason!

Book Maven said...

Lovely to hear about the interest in historical fiction, Sue. Just a reminder that the History Girls' blog doesn't go live till 1st July so you won't find any posts there till then. But do come and join us all in (gulp) just over a week!

Susan Price said...

Made me laugh a lot, Sue! - especially 'it something to do with the ley-lines.' I never go further than the end of my street without my sat-nav!

Sue Purkiss said...

Thanks, Sue!

Miriam Halahmy said...

Lovely post! Grr, the satnav will be the death of me!

Sue Purkiss said...

Why, Miriam? Don't you find it's reliable?

Penny Dolan said...

"The variety of rooms in the house of children's fiction" - what a lovely description, Sue!

Jane Stemp said...

Oh, if only I could have come! Then I could have met you in Wincanton and driven you straight there - know Bruton intimately thanks to frequent use of its railway station...

Sue Purkiss said...

You underestimate me, Jane - I could probably have got lost on the way to Wincanton!