|Dana Fradon (New Yorker, 1953)|
But they are also children, which means they are not always either aware of this huge imaginative potential, or equipped to access it on demand or under pressure. And of course, as children, they lack the emotional maturity, craft or life experience to do much with it - but that doesn't invalidate the strength of the imagination.
Left to their own devices, an arm curved round a piece of paper and a pen in their hand, endless improvised drawings and visualisations tumble forth with an unselfconscious energy that most adults - whether they are engaged in a creative industry or not - would envy. Every school visit for me proves Baudelaire right - "Genius is no more than childhood recaptured at will."
|Baudelaire looking at his most unchild friendly|
However in school visits, this genius (quite understandably) often deserts children, when after forty minutes or so of authorial prancing round, they are asked to function like dull grown ups at a literary festival and "ask me a question".
Too often, this places the discourse no longer in the world of castle in the clouds world of make-believe and stories, but in the constant over-the-shoulder looking world of careers, worry, tested expectation and obsessive productivity that our current cultural system irrevocably steers most human beings towards. And so, they try to function accordingly, and I'm sure many of you will have heard the questions below.
I always answer them as truthfully and as honestly as I can, because it is impossible on such brief acquaintance to separate the earnest and authentic enquiry by the next J K Rowling from the unthinking auto-response nervously asked on rote. But here are some more alternative replies I dream of on the bus back.
1) How long did it take you to write your book?
I wrote this book in forty seconds while my demon wrapped a girdle around the world
I have been labouring on this tome since the dawn of time, when beings as yet unknown to man appeared in the sacred flame, whispering the collective knowledge of the last great civilization, and bid me decode them for your permanent improvement.
2) Do you know any celebrities?
I wouldn't say I know that many celebrities, but put it this way - Harry Styles is my chauffeur.
|Harry Styles has recently abandoned a successful pop career to drive children's authors to school visits.|
3) How much do you get paid?
Every week, the Aka Khan, the world's richest man no-one has heard of, sends me a private jet laden with jewels and treasure beyond your imagining from his vaults, such is the value he places on children's literature.
4) Are you going to write any more books?
I will write as the muse dictates. Whether it be a book a week, or a book every quarter of century, the volume is irrelevant - what counts is the power of the story and love for life, the world and all she has to offer contained within its pages.
But of course - every fifth question can be a gem. What's the most unexpected thing you've been asked on a school visit, and what did you reply?
I think my favourite is still the boy who said "Could you make your next book a bit shorter?"