World Book Week an inspirational celebration of reading. It’s also an excuse for me to escape from my computer, and bounce from school to school like a book-obsessed pinball, waving my arms and enthusing about writing. I’m trying to pretend that this still counts as ‘work’.
Pop-Up Festival Booklinks Programme
I’d barely arrived at Our Lady’s Convent High School when my eye fell on some fantastic posters that Year 8 had created, advertising an imaginary movie of A Face Like Glass. (One of them had Eddie Murphy and Jim Carrey in the ‘cast list’ – good choices for a tale of facial contortion.)
Clapton Girls’ Academy Year 8 had also prepared for my visit, working together to create a list of really original, well-considered questions. It was a bit like being interviewed, but with a different interviewer for every question.
Q. Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
A. Yes. It doesn’t stop me writing, it just means that for a while nothing I write or re-write works.
Q. If you had to sum up A Face Like Glass in three words, what would they be?
A. Innocence. Betrayal. Revolution.
Q. Do you see yourself in any of your characters?
A. Yes. All of them. Even the homicidal goose in Fly by Night.
Royal Ballet School
On Wednesday 6th March I walked through beautiful Richmond Park to the White Lodge, previously a Royal hunting lodge and now the Lower School of the Royal Ballet School.
English teacher Charlotte Taylor kindly gave me a guided tour of the building (including a ballet museum, Pavlova’s furniture, vaulted corridors that used to be the servants’ tunnels and a rather splendid room where Nelson once planned the Battle of Trafalgar).
The students proved to be welcoming, enthusiastic and full of ingenious queries that forced me to think on my feet.
Q. If you had written your first book differently, do you think that would have affected the way you wrote all your other books?
A. Yes. My first book taught me that I could get away with weird.
Q. Can you give us tips for world-building?
A. Try to understand how your world works, who’s in charge of what, and how the people there get boring things like food, water, clothes and money. Imagine living there for a month.
Q. Have you ever changed your mind halfway through a book, and abandoned your plan?
A. I’ve never completely abandoned the plan, though I’ve sometimes changed my mind about major aspects of the book while writing it. It was still really useful to have the plan, though.
At the end of my presentation, I was even given a big bunch of flowers and a bag of goodies. Excuse me while I drink more tea from my new Royal Ballet School mug…
Chandlings Manor School
On World Book Day itself I visited Chandlings Manor School for a double session, talking to Years 5 and 6 in turn. My taxi was late, but fortunately Mark Thornton of Mostly Books valiantly held the fort for five minutes until I arrived. During that time, the students apparently decided that he was my bodyguard.
Chandlings is full of interesting gothic touches, including a blazing open hearth in the front hall and a sort of minstrels’ gallery in the library. Apparently there’s even an unsolved historic mystery linked to the building. (Given all these resemblances to a school from a book, I secretly hope that the pupils spend all their free time roasting chestnuts, investigating ghosts and solving mysteries.)
Favourite moment: Being asked if I’d ever been so frustrated that I just wanted to give up being a writer… and realising that, no, I never had. Not even when my books were driving me mad.
Interview with BBC Radio Oxford
My last World Book Day engagement was an interview by Jo Anthony of BBC Radio Oxford. Thanks to Jo’s skilful questions, I forgot to be terrified of the microphone, and babbled happily about A Face Like Glass, hats, my fascination with expressions and the path to publication.
Ah. I suppose I should probably stop enthusing about books now, and go back to writing them…