Reading Railhead

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Photo: ICS, Swindon

I’ve been on the road with Railhead this week. On Thurdsday morning publicist Phil Perry delivered me to Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital School in Bristol, an impressive Hogwarts-like building on the edge of Clifton (the building is mostly Victorian, but the school has existed since 1590).  Librarian Annette Robbins had arranged for me to talk to the year 8 and 9 pupils in the school’s excellent little theatre.

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QEH, looking sunnier than it did on Thursday…

The only trouble is, doing all those shows with Sarah McIntyre over the past three years has made just talking about books feel rather dull, so rather than just stand there droning on about where I get my ideas from I’m basing my Railhead events around readings from the book – lots and lots of them. And in order to make it a bit more of a performance I have slideshows and movies and music running while I read. That makes Railhead events worryingly dependent on the tech working. Luckily QEH has an unflappable technician named Russ who got it all running without any drama, and it seemed to go down well. There was plenty of time for questions for the audience, too, my favourite of which was, ‘Do you have a literary rival?’  I’ve never really thought about it, but I suppose I should…

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From the Hive Monk video.

From QEH Phil drove me to Sidcot School in Winscombe, where I’d been invited to speak by librarian Wendy Worley. Founded by Quakers in 1699,  Sidcot’s motto is the Quaker admonition to ‘Live Adventurously’, though they probably don’t mean the dubious sort of adventures which the heroes of Railhead dive into. Another beautiful little theatre; equally helpful tech support, and more good questions from the year 8 and 9 pupils.

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With headmaster Iain Kilpatrick and some of the Sidcot pupils.

From Bristol it’s not that far up the rainy M4 to Swindon. Swindon’s librarians, with funding from Swindon Association of Secondary Headteachers, organise a week-long Youth Festival of Literature, during which authors and illustrators do events at various local schools and at the Wyvern Theatre (where Steve Cole will be appearing on Thursday).

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I think I was the first on the bill, bringing my Railhead show to Isambard Community School (and to some pupils from other local schools, who had been bussed in for the morning).

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Once again the staff, pupils and facilities were great.  (Afterwards I did a short video interview with Aaliyah, who is in the centre in the photo above: I’ll post a link here when it’s ready.) It was great to see so many young people engaging with books and reading, and I’m grateful to ICS librarian Stella Rogers and her colleagues for asking me to be part of the festival. And thanks to everyone who listened, and everyone who bought a copy of Railhead. I like to do a little drawing in the books I sign, and with Railhead I started out drawing Hive Monks…


…but the queues were too long this week, so I had to come up with a little doodle of a train instead.

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On the way home I checked Twitter and found that Jake Hayes of the children’s book blog Tygertale has put together a soundtrack for Railhead. (You can find a link to it on Spotify in his Railhead review). He’s correctly identified a lot of the musical influences that went into the book, and added a lot of things I’ve never heard before but which sound just right.  (Although my favourite version of Kraftwerk’s The Robots is now this one…)

I don’t often do school visits these days – the travelling involved that it takes up too much time, and the expenses involved mean that most schools would probably rather book an author who doesn’t need a train from Devon and an overnight stay. But if you want to catch the Railhead show yourself, I’ll be doing it again at the Bristol Old Vic next Saturday (14th November) for anyone who wants to come along.

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Not looking quite so authorial in this one – I think I was being a Hive Monk.

Meanwhile, Sarah McIntyre has also been on tour, doing picture book and pugs events in Skudeneshavn, Norway. You can read about her adventures there and see some of her beautiful portrait drawings on her blog.