I don’t know about World Book Day; it’s been World Book Week here. On Monday I polished off an article for Telegraph Online about the whole shebang. On Tuesday I dropped into Sam’s school to give a talk to his year and the year above – about twenty children in all. Not many of them will have read my books, so I thought I’d focus on drawing and illustration for a change; I did a few drawings for them, and then asked them to design their own covers for their favourite book or a book they’d made up. There were some really good results, and I think they all enjoyed it.
The only disappointment was that I’d loaded a whole bunch of my drawings and pictures by my favourite illustrators onto a specially created blog here on Blogger, thinking it would be quicker to just call that up on the class white-board than go to all the trouble of creating a powerpoint thingy. And it was: it was very easy to do, and looked great. Unfortunately, when we tried to access it from the school we found that it was barred by the filtering system. The Local Education Authority, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that no blog on Blogger is suitable for school pupils, and so it’s impossible to open them on school computers in the south west. I presume they bar other popular blogging sites like LiveJournal and WordPress too: they certainly don’t permit access to anything on YouTube. It’s infuriating to think of all us chuldren’s authors merrily blogging away while the children who should be our readers are unable to even see our sites. Obviously I would expect to find some sort of filtering system on school computers – the internet can be a strange and dangerous place – but I was astonished that the teachers aren’t allowed to bypass it when they want to show a particular site or blog to their class. It seems that only faceless busybodies in county hall can be trusted to decide what’s suitable. At a time of so much cutting and belt-tightening it seems bizarre that valuable free educational resources can be deliberately banned from our schools in this way. If you are a children’s author with a blog or website it might be worth checking to see whether your LEA operates a similar policy of blanket censorship.
On Wednesday I went up to London, and was all busy all day on Thursday with World Book Day events. In the morning there was a big one in Kingston which I had been supposed to do jointly with Chris Priestley. Unfortunately Chris is still recuperating after his recent stroke, but happily Philip Womack was able to step in at the last minute, and we talked about my books, Chris’s and his own in front of a large audience drawn from several local schools. Philip’s books, like Chris Priestley’s, tend towards the supernatural end of the fantasy spectrum, so I think they made a good contrast with my more nuts-and-bolts, sci-fi influenced outings. Although I’ve been aware of him as an author and journalist for some years I’ve never had much of a chance to talk to Philip, so it was good to chat with him on the lo-o-o-n-g taxi journey to Kingston. If you like classic children’s fantasy and haven’t already read his novel The Liberators you should track down a copy at once.
Before the event all the children had been asked to propose a title for a scary book, and Philip and I had to pick the two we thought best. The ones we chose were They Are Coming, suggested by Rhiannon Davies, and The Corner of My Eye by Jenna McMorrow, both of which are quietly sinister and wouldn’t look out of place on a bookshelf: I hope they write the stories to go with them one day. We also found some other suggestions which we really liked: Midnight Predators in the City of Beast (by Emiliya Gyuleva), The Fear of the Faceless Gnome by William Potter, The Saliva Spitting Caws from Cawkland by Nabeel, and Frankie Atkinson’s The Reeking Death of Interior Doom. Those might look a bit out of place on a bookshelf, but most of them would make perfectly passable titles for a Hawkwind album.
Back to central London for lunch, and then ho! for St Peter’s Eaton Square Primary School, where I basically just did a Q&A session with a schoolful of lovely children who had some very good questions. They also had some very good outfits: many schools go in for dressing-up-as-your-favourite-character on WBD, which in our house tends to mean a fake beard, an old hat and a tenuous claim that Sam is Mr Gum. The children at St Peter’s had taken it to a whole new level; among others I met I met a Heidi, a mummified Pharoah, Pippi Longstocking, Skullduggery Pleasant, and Miss Flyte out of Bleak House. There was even one tasteful fellow who had come as Jack Aubrey.
And after that I was free, and did what Reeves do when left to their own devices in the great metrop., namely, went to find Sarah McIntyre. McIntyre Goodness is available in double portions at the moment, since Sarah’s sister Mary is in town, and I met them in a pub in Clennam Street, which is the shortest street in London, apparently. (It’s so short that it isn’t really a street at all, it’s just that one pub and a building opposite). Later, the lovely Alyx from Scholastic joined us, and the sisters M led us on a bracing walk in search of dinner: we passed Borough Market, a very Mortal Engines-ish location where everything seems to be made of hefty-yet-elegant 19th Century ironwork. Trains rattled on viaducts above the cobbled streets, and the lights of aircraft glowed overhead, the planes themselves hidden by low cloud, which made them look huge and mysterious.
|Photo: Jonathan Game|
Nearby stands the Shard, a vast new skyscraper, half completed and covered in cranes and worklamps, bizarrely like the half-built London I’ve been imagining for the past year while I wrote Scrivener’s Moon (only narrower). Once it’s finished it will be wrapped in glass and will probably house the London offices of the Tyrell Corporation. More Human Than Human was their motto, I seem to recall, and that’s a pretty good description of Sarah and Mary too: Alyx and I had to scamper to keep up with their tireless American legs as they strode along the South Bank. Eventually we reached Le Pain Quotidien, where Pain was consumed (and possibly some Quotidiens as well – French was never my strong point) and laughter was laughed and this photo was taken, showing me bookended by McIntyres. Mary is great, and also a very fine painter, as you can see for yourselves here.
And finally, here’s a World Book Day video of me reading the first two chapters of Traction City in a Spooky Treehouse.