Once I knew I'd be talking at 11 schools in 5 days I started to worry - mostly about my voice holding up and what if I got sick, authors who do lots of school visits always seem to be catching colds. What if I was in a large hall and the children at the back couldn't hear me? What if my carefully prepared powerpoint presentation didn't play on the schools' computers?
Hannah from Puffin was on hand to reassure me - they'd ask for a microphone and we'd send my powerpoint to the schools beforehand so they'd have it all set up when we arrived. But I'd also bring my own laptop with it on, just in case.
I wondered if a costume would be a good idea? She thought it would. Shopping for the tour was lots of fun as I bought WW2 overalls, two different WW2 helmets; a warden's one and a rusty Zuckerman, ARP whistle, authentic looking evacuees suitcase and items children would have had in them. CDs of Glenn Miller and air-raid siren sound effects.
I knew I was more prepared than I'd ever been for school visits before but I still worried that the children might be bored or the staff not friendly.
On the Friday Hannah emailed to say one of the schools on the first day had phoned to ask if I'd bring Traffy with me, following on from a piece in the local press about her being a reading therapy dog. She'd told them she wasn't sure if I'd think it was a good idea. I say I think it's a great idea. I'd love having Traffy with me and it would make my day to have her there.
Traffy and Bella, are confused about why they're not going for their usual early morning walk. I feel guilty for leaving them but at least my husband's working from home this week so he'll be with them.
When I arrive at the first school, 5 or so miles away, the staff are all smiles as they look behind me and ask where Traffy is? The Headmaster loves dogs and they've brought lots of treats for her.
'We put that we wanted her to come too on the form we filled in.'
I knew the second school had asked but didn't know about this one wanting her as well. I don't want to disappoint them and I'd love to have Traffy with me, so I phone my husband and Traffy is brought to the school, where she is greeted like a film star. She likes the treats they've brought for her very much but I'm a bit worried that it could be overwhelming for her. My first talk goes well - although not exactly as planned.
Once I've finished signing books I nip back home with Traffy and take her and Bella for a long walk by the river before heading off to the second school of the day. This time Traffy knows what's going on and is much calmer. I keep her with me while I'm giving my talk and she falls asleep on the floor in front of me and wakes up at the end so all the children can pet her.
Everyone comments on how well-behaved she is and I have to agree. I am very proud of her. She's such a good girl.
My husband picks Traffy up and we swap cars so I can drive to Bury St Edmunds, roof down as it's such a gorgeous day, with Hannah from Puffin.
A member of the night's hotel staff takes our bags to our rooms and parks the car for us.
3 schools to visit in Suffolk today. My World war 2 overalls are lasting well although my WW2 warden's hat now has a chip in the paintwork - which gives it a more authentic look.
The children are full of enthusiasm and ask lots of good questions - including one about whether I have a book showing the War from different sides. I tell them my next book 'The Bomber Dog' is attempting to do just that.
Off to St Albans on the train today to visit 2 super schools and chat to 2 lots of press. There's also an email from the local radio station to ask if I'll come in and have a chat soon.
The weather has turned incredible. More like the middle of summer than May. I can't wear my hot boots a moment longer and opt for flip-flops instead.
I love all the oohs and aahs at the slides of my own dogs as puppies - before I go on to talk about the two puppies in The Victory Dogs.
Taxi to my next school, near Market Harborough, only to find they're in the middle of an OFSTED inspection. They still want the talk to go on and other schools have been invited and are arriving - so on I go - explaining to the children that the overalls I'm wearing were very practical in WW2 but no one should ever wear flip-flops to do search and rescue work if they can help it. I've already explained how modern day search and rescue dogs wear protective boots so they don't injure their paws.
Glenn Miller music plays as the children arrive and I make my entrance in warden's hat and overalls to the real life air-raid siren that we've kindly been lent for the day.
Signing books afterwards I'm surprised when a girl comes up with some of my books written as Ruth Symes.
'Your witchling books are almost never in the library because they're always on loan,' the school librarian smiles. 'They couldn't believe it when I told them you wrote those books too.'
I happily sign away ending each signature with a paw print stamp. And before I know it the last book has been stamped and the last school has been visited and we're saying goodbye.
After the Tour
I'm feeling a bit sad that my Victory Dogs tour is over. I'm going to miss visiting all the schools. I haven't lost my voice or caught a cold, Hannah, Anthea and Julia from Puffin, who came with me on different days were brilliant, everyone we met in fact has been kind and lovely and the technical side of the presentation and Hannah's travel arrangements went without a hitch.
Hope I have another book tour one day but for now I've got two dogs who've been promised some very long walks once I come home, and are giving me meaningful looks to remind me.