Next week I’m away down South, visiting schools and children in West Sussex. I’ll have an excellent time, escorted about by librarians. I’ve reworked “the talk” and the forecast does not threaten snow and ice.
So all I have to worry about is the packing. Aaaagh!
First there’s the ever-lasting problem of what on earth to wear when visiting.
Some authors are remarkable. Their look exudes freshness, style and uncrumple-ability at all times. They dress with sleek style and intriguing necklaces or brooches. Their hair looks atttractive all through the day, or evening. They sport at least one pair of stunning boots or killer-heeled shoes. They wear strong, significant colours and interestingly cut garments without even hinting at a toddler tv programming.
They achieve all and still give an absorbing performance of great wisdom, humour and spell-binding wit and brilliance with nowt but a glass of water and a memory stick.
Not how it works here. I long for glamour but always go for practical. My shoes or boots are flat because I tend to pace about when in full flow. Pointy heels do damage to any unwary ankle-biters that shuffle across my path. Similarly, my colour scheme is of necessity rather than choice, based on tones that withstand spilt drinks and ink-marks from felt tip pens. So much for artistic glamour and loveliness!
My most essential essential is a jacket with useful pockets. How can one perform without pockets? Where else can one keep a pen for when needed, a crib note for that word or name never remembered, clean tissues in case of a grotty child and that surprise “look at this” object needed for a significant moment in the talk?
(Doesn’t work quite as stunningly if you have to track it, enclosed in your handbag , back to the secretary’s office where someone has put the bag, kindly, for safety.)
Pockets are useful too, for the name badge when you realise not all staff have studied that days memo. Nuff said.
I try. I do “do” bright scarfs and jewellery and jangly bangles. In fact, years ago, fully dressed in black, I jangled quantities of silver bangles and be-ringed my hands with a range of silver knuckle-dusters. I toned it down a bit when a sweetly innocent child asked: “Is that, er, like, an author’s uniform?”
Their two previous visitors had been a drama teacher and a certain Jacqueline Wilson in her pre-Dame days. Oops. Soon after I lowered my level of personal percussion.
Now managing for one day is simple. A week is more complicated. I have been instructed in the art of packing' It involves rolling every item into the suitcase until it looks like a coiled python with still undigested lumps. I can do that.
Yet I still need an extra bag for all the face and hair-wrangling devices – and of course there’ll be the bags of books and items of interest for the talk too. Yes, I usually drive.
Then come the truly time-consuming questions:
How many books should I take? And what?They seem to fall into three categories: the want-to-read, the should-read and the comfort-read. Need some of all three. Oh, and my kindle.
Is there enough writing material? Over-optimistically, I need at least two pads and six pens even though they will probably stay untouched. Maybe that nice notebook I do want to use one special day and this might be the week . . .?
There’s my laptop, my ipod, and various leads and chargers.
And then there are those items that are almost as essential as Aloysius Bear for Sebastian Flyte or lavender oil for Mariella Frostrup’s pillow; the things that help you settle in a strange place.
A bar of chocolate to sweeten and calm the end of the day. (Plus toothpaste & brush)
A hot water bottle. (I can’t sleep in a cold bed.)
A small torch. (More easily found under the pillow than the bedside light.)
The phone-home phone. (Just in case. And ith as an alarm.)
And a couple of tiny but sentimental items.
Phew, that’s it. Nearly done.
But have I forgotten something . . . Must just go and check . . .
So, how do you manage your packing?
What are your must-have items when travelling, especially “as a writer”?
A BOY CALLED M.O.U.S.E, shortlisted for the West Sussex Children’s Book Award and the Stockton Children’s Book of the Year.