Friday 2 October 2020

From the sublime... By Steve Way

 I owe a debt of gratitude to my youngest stepdaughter, who initially gave me the idea of visiting schools to share my work and give workshops etc. My first book had been published and I’d visited the local primary school to read it to the children. It never occurred to me to take the matter further but Charlotte asked me if I’d thought of visiting the school she and her sister had been to.

Finally, the penny dropped.

Of course, it took a while to find my feet in this new venture and one of my first visits was to a private primary school where the teacher who’d kindly invited me kept hinting that I could charge more than I’d requested. I was simply intoxicated by the fact that a school was prepared to pay me anything for sharing my work.

I started in the infant class. I read the class my story entitled Gary and the Invisible Goats, which as you can probably guess traced the trials and tribulations of a schoolboy called Gary who is followed everywhere by a herd of invisible goats who uncritically adore him. Having read the book, I asked the children if they had any questions. Several arms shot up. I pointed to a girl near the front and she asked, “Does your book have a blurb?” Goodness, I thought (or words to that effect) if these are the kinds of questions the five-year-olds ask, how will I cope with the juniors!

Fortunately, one of her classmates brought the intellectual debate back down to earth. Looking back, I think I’d been slightly aware of how, as I was reading, he’d been staring at my arms with a mixture of fascination and horror. “Why are you so hairy?” he demanded in a tone that seemed to suggest that being hirsute was indecorous and inappropriate in such a refined seat of learning.

I of course thought this was wonderfully funny as well as relieved. It seemed that I wasn’t going to be interrogated all day long with challenging questions that only a proper writer was qualified to answer and not an unworthy imposter such as myself. I could see that the teachers sitting at the back were embarrassed though for not only am I hirsute I am also bald so in a different context the boy’s question could have been taken as a sarcastic insult. Being, as I’ve said, inexperienced in such matters, rather than brushing the question aside with a smile, like a fool I concocted a story about how my hair had migrated downwards.

Later on, when one of the junior teachers saw that I was the author of Gary and the Invisible Goats she told me that it was the favourite book of one of the girls in her class. She was clearly looking forward to introducing us.

I do need to explain that while the series of books, of which Gary was one, was being prepared for publication the editors decided that they wanted to add a photo and a short biography of each author inside the back page. I managed to persuade them to use of picture of me when I was four years old. (“Steve has grown up a lot since this picture was taken but only on the outside.”) I was standing in front of a huge cactus wearing a cowboy hat and for the only time on my life looking vaguely cute.

As the teacher began to introduce me, she picked out the girl in question. When her teacher revealed that I was the author of Gary you could have seen her face drop from a mile away! I clearly didn’t match her image of how the child in the picture would have grown up “only on the outside”! For the second time in a day the teachers in the room with me looked very embarrassed!

Writing this reminds me that I eventually received three letters of appreciation from children who had read Gary. “Don’t let it go to your head,” my friend John advised.


Recent publication: (20 Aug 2020) Codes: and other puzzles and the stories behind them (Magical Maths) ASIN: B08GG6R31M

1 comment:

Penny Dolan said...

Bless them, Steve.

I once got "That picture was when you were very young, wasn't it, Penny?"
An even greater difference now, I fear.