One of the great advantages of being a writer is there no need to get up early. Or to look smart. This is lucky for me, because I am much better at lounging around in my saggy tracksuit, tapping at my computer, and not needing to impress anyone except the dog (who is easily impressed).
|Watch out for the dog!|
Today is a School Visit day. The downside to that warm glow I always feel when a school gets in contact, and tells me that I am the right person to inspire their pupils with the love of literature (“Well, I’ll do my best,” I say modestly), is this scrambling about before dawn, so that I can set off and arrive bright and early before the school bell. And amazingly, I am never, ever late.
(All right, once I was caught in a hideous traffic jam. Once my train was delayed. And once – very embarrassing this – I got lost. In the city where I live. It wasn’t entirely my fault. They had built a new ASDA and changed the roads.)
I like to think that I have turned school visits into a streamlined military operation. Who am I kidding? As I stumble about with boxes of books, clutching my bag of sandwiches, fretting about my Sat Nav, and wondering uneasily if I remembered to fill up with petrol, the last thing on my mind is the joy of the imagination and the wonders of reading and all those other things I like to bang on about on my web-site.
Approaching my destination, uneasiness descends again. When it says “turn left” does my Sat Nav really mean into that industrial estate? And when I find the school – what do I do if the staff car park is locked? Is it OK to park on the street? What happens if a local resident comes out and shouts at me (as happened once. And there wasn’t even a yellow line!)
(And what would an UNREAL author look like and would that be more interesting?)
“Now tell me,” I begin, “who here loves reading?” And a forest of hands shoot up, and we’re talking favourite books, and favourite authors, and suddenly all is well. I read from my own book, and although I will never win any Oscars for my acting, I am not going to let that hold me back (I AM Fred the Grumpy Angel, I AM Martha the naughty child). The children laugh. The teachers too. (Maybe it’s at my hammy acting, but who cares?) And in the workshops, the kids make me laugh, with wonderful ideas and turns of phrase that I am tempted to steal for my next book.
|I AM Martha!|
|I AM Jessica!|
I fall back into my car at the end of the day exhausted, amused, intrigued and inspired. Schools are such fascinating places: each of them a world of their own. Even if everything does not go to plan, it’s always interesting. Even those Year 6 boys who insisted on turning what was supposed to be a funny, family story into a piece about an axe-murderer: well , it certainly livened up the session. And their teacher said they had never shown such enthusiasm for writing!
I turn the music up loud and set off back across the moors.
Top Tips for School Visitors:
Don’t rely on your SatNav. It may decide the A1 does not exist. Or (as mine once did) refuse to speak anything but Afrikaans.
Never eat school dinners. Despite Jamie Oliver, it's not worth the risk.
Don’t leave your memory stick with powerpoint presentation at home.
Staff rooms can be funny places. Ask before you help yourself to a mug of tea (that might be the Headteacher's personal snoopy mug).
Takes lots of sugar in your tea. You'll need it.
Above all, be ready for the unexpected. I was once the subject of Prayers in assembly. “Oh Lord, make us more like this author! Let us write wonderfully like her!” I nearly collapsed from shock.
Emma Barnes's latest book is How (Not) To Make Bad Children Good
Visit Emma's web-site - with details about how to contact her for school visits!