When I was invited to visit The Duchess’s High School in Alnwick on World Book Day, I thought, what better day to visit a school?
But, you know what? To my shame, I didn’t know much about World Book Day. That’s not to say I wasn’t aware of it. In fact, I was VERY aware of it. You see, I have two children. And for parents of young children, World Book Day is all about finding a letter in your child’s bookbag telling you that they have to dress up as a favourite character from a book. Next week.
If it wasn’t for my wife, my children would probably be the ones who turn up at school on World Book Day dressed in their uniform . . . but you have to make an effort, right? Of course you do. So we spend the week before the big day wondering what on earth we’re going to dress them in. We rummage through the old dressing up stuff (theirs, not ours, natch), save cereal packets to make masks, dig out the face paint, persuade them that The Fantastic Mr Fox is going to be much easier than The Gruffalo – that kind of thing.
Anyway, I thought that if I was going to visit a school, I should know a bit more than that. There had to be more to it than being a character from a book. So I did a little bit of research and found out about the core ideas of World Book Day – to promote books for the enrichment and enjoyment of all, and to encourage young readers to explore the pleasure of reading. But y’know, I was asked if I’d talk to teenagers, so I didn’t think The Fantastic Mr Fox was going to cut it. Nuh-uh.
Oh, and teenagers are supposed to be awkward. All mopey and angst-riddled. Monosyllabic and difficult.
Not so, as it turns out . . .
I spoke to two groups, deciding to show them a few photos of the places that inspired the books I’ve written. I told them about some of the more colourful characters I’ve met – who might have made it into my books in one way or another – and then tried to show the difference between writing stories that draw from personal experience, and those that are borne out of research and pure imagination. Both groups were made up of welcoming and enthusiastic teenagers (who’d have thought, eh?) who listened and then asked some great questions about planning, voice, generating ideas and how you move from being a writer to being a published writer. A number of them expressed an interest in writing – from short stories and novels, to film scripts and journalism – and it was a pleasure to have spent time with them. They really were a great bunch.
So thanks to everyone at the High School who came along to listen to me, and particularly to Liz for organising it all, and here’s wishing you all the best of luck for the future.