“Mr Cosmo is coming!” everybody said.
“Mr Cosmo is coming!”
“Who is Mr Cosmo?”
I’ve been wondering whether this is what happens when I visit a school. After all, I’m not, well, Allan Ahlberg. Or Michael Morpurgo. Or Jacqueline Wilson. I’m not remotely famous. Yet it’s very touching when you visit a place – and this doesn’t always happen, but often does – to find that the children are excited about your visit, even though they might not be entirely sure who, exactly, you are.
“Harriet Castor is coming! Harriet Castor is coming!”
“Who is Harriet Castor?”
VIII was published on October 1st and I’ve never had a publication month like this. I’ve never done so many events. It’s been brilliant, great fun and a bit scary too. It has presented me with a pretty steep learning curve. But everyone I’ve met and talked with has been, without exception, lovely. What more could a writer ask for?
First off – and this was September, actually; before VIII had even been published – I went for a day to the Youth Libraries Group conference, at Goldsmiths in London. It was my first time at any conference, and I was bowled over by the heady experience of being among so many expert, enthusiastic book people, all gathered in one place – librarians, authors, publishers and booksellers. The theme of the conference was Opening Doors: the Power of the Story (subtitle: The importance of stories and storytelling in empowering librarians and young people to develop) – which is a fascinating topic to think about and discuss, and I only wish I had heard more speakers.
As it was, Johnny O’Brien (author of the Jack Christie time travel adventures) and I had a joint slot, in conversation with Helen Boyle, our editor at Templar. I really enjoyed hearing Johnny speak about the inspiration for his books and the problems (as well as the joys) inherent in grappling with time travel, if only in his imagination…
At the conference I also met Kate de Goldi, author of The 10pm Question, who was over on a visit from her native New Zealand. Full of energy and enthusiasm, she did me the great kindness of sitting near the front during my talk and nodding and smiling at me as I spoke – I can’t tell you how much that contributed to my confidence! And since I’d only just met her I thought it was astonishingly kind of her to be so supportive. Afterwards, we had a very interesting chat about siblings (sisters in particular) – a topic which is especially relevant to me right now, not just because I have sisters myself and am the mother of two girls, but because I’m currently writing about a pair of famous half-sisters: Mary I and Elizabeth I.
My next event was very different but no less enjoyable: two full days spent at Filton Hill Primary School here in Bristol on October 4th and 5th. I did sessions with every class from Reception to Year 6. Each group was different, each response was different, but the enthusiasm for books, for stories and for Tudor history (hello, Year 4!) was fantastic. Year 2 made a beautiful book of drawings for me to take home, Year 4 astonished me by going round the class introducing themselves and each telling me who their favourite wife was (from Henry VIII’s choice of 6), Year 5 really took off creatively with a fantastic world-building activity we did… I could go on and on. It was a great couple of days. Eye-opening for me, as I have never spent such a concentrated period as a visitor in a single school before, and delightful. Boy, was I tired at the end of it though! Hats off to the teachers who do it day after day.
Before this month, the only schools I have visited have been primaries. VIII, however, being aimed at older readers, is not primary school fare. On Monday October 10th, I visited my first secondary school – with, I have to admit, a bit of trepidation. A hall full of 130 13 year-olds? Eek, how do I entertain them for more than an hour? What if I run out of material? Should I take my tap shoes as a last resort?
You’d have to ask the Year 8s from Moreton School in Wolverhampton yourself how I did, but in the event, they were very nice to me. They were a great group, with lively responses to what I was saying and a direct line in questioning that kept me on my toes. I signed a lot of bare arms afterwards, and felt rather like Andy Murray at the end of a Centre Court match. Though, since one of the questions had been, “Miss, are you famous?” I did wonder if there was an element of Mr Cosmo in there…