A week in Datchet

I’ve just spent a week at Datchet St Mary’s primary school, talking to children in all the different classes, and helping them with their own creative writing.

I don’t often get to spend a whole week in a school. Usually I visit a school for no more than a single day, and often for no more than an hour. So it was wonderful to return to the school every day for a week, and see the same children again, and work with them on their writing, and watch their stories grow and develop.

Datchet is a village near Windsor. A five minute walk from the school takes you to the Thames, and the children know it well. They canoe on the river, or walk their dogs along the bank.

When I was preparing for my work at the school, I did a bit of research into Datchet. I re-read the funniest book ever written (Three Men in a Boat), but was disappointed to discover that Datchet hardly gets a mention. I thought about the places nearby – Windsor, Eton, Slough – but didn’t want to limit our stories to any of them. In the end I decided to draw on two children’s books which begin on the banks of the river, The Wind in the Willows and Alice in Wonderland.

Mole sets out on a journey by the river… He meets Water Rat, Badger, Toad…

Alice sits down and dreamily watches a white rabbit run along the bank… Then falls down a hole…

Together we read the first pages of these books, then created characters who could explore the river, its islands and its banks.

I was very impressed by the creativity and enthusiasm of the children at the school. And by their powerful imaginations. We wrote stories together. And drew pictures. And invented characters and plots. And created books.

A photographer from the local paper, the Windsor Express, came to the school and took this photo. A nice memento of a week in Datchet.

The astroturf dragon

Sometimes I arrive at a school, having travelled by train and taxi, battled rain or wind, and get into the hall with my bag, my books, and my USB stick – and there see a display so lovely that I am immediately filled with renewed enthusiasm and energy, which is exactly what I need to talk to a couple of hundred kids.

That’s just the experience that I had a couple of months ago at Warden Hill school in Luton. One of the teachers had created an amazing display devoted to the Dragonsitter. At the heart of the display was a huge green dragon.

He’s probably the first astroturf dragon in the world. And certainly the best.

While we’re on the subject of school displays, here is another from Ark Swift in London.

And here are a few more pictures from another recent school visit, this one at Baden Powell Primary in Hackney. Two of Garry Parsons. And two more drawn by him.

The Bookworm Festival in Chengdu

Just before Easter, I was lucky enough to be in China, visiting Beijing and Chengdu as a guest of the Bookworm Literary Festival.

The Bookworm is a small chain of bookshops in cities throughout China, run by a wildly energetic expat named Peter Goff. This year was the 10th that he and the other bookshop managers have been running a wonderful festival, bringing local and international authors together.

Rather than writing about my experiences, I’m simply going to put a few photos here, along with some explanatory captions. I’ll put up some photos from Beijing another day, but all the photos below are from Chengdu, my first stop, where I did several events: some talks, a school visit, and a workshop.

Chengdu is a city of about ten million people. It’s the capital of the Sichuan province, renowned for its magnificently spicy food. And it’s famous too for its pandas; Chengdu is home to the Giant Panda Research Centre, where you can watch families of pandas lounging about their pens, happily crunching their way through great piles of bamboo.

Recent events

I’ve done several events around the country over the past few weeks, both in schools and libraries, some alone, others with Garry Parsons. Here are a few photos:

The two Grk covers and the Dragonsitter collage are drawn by children at Elson Primary in Gosport, where I spent World Book Day. The entire school – staff and pupils – were in costume, most of them dressed either as Grk or a dragon. It was wonderful.

All the other drawings are by Garry.

More Grk books?

A few days ago I got an email from a reader named Nico:

Hi Josh I really like your Grk series and I would be really EXCITED about more!

I wrote back to him, but my reply bounced. If you’re Nico, please do write to me again, but give me your correct email address this time.

I’ll answer Nico’s question here anyway. As you’ll know if you have read the Grk books, each of them is set in a different country. I had a dream that Grk might travel to every country in the world, although that would mean writing 196 books. And perhaps he would travel to the moon too, like his fictional ancestor Snowy, bringing the total up to 197.

But at the moment, my time is taken up with the Dragonsitter instead, so I don’t know when, or if, I will ever return to the further adventures of Tim, Grk, Max and Natascha.

A day in Derbyshire libraries

The librarians of Derbyshire invited me to their fine county last week to talk about my books and launch their Summer Reading Challenge.

I spent the morning in Chesterfield library and the afternoon in Ilkeston.

 

 

The first photo shows me with Councillor Dave Allen and some pupils from Abercrombie school; the others are from Chesterfield and Ilkeston libraries.

More on the library’s pages:

https://www.facebook.com/DerbyshireLibraries/photos

https://www.flickr.com/photos/derbyshirelibrariesheritage/
http://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/leisure/libraries/services/children_young_people/summer_reading_challenge/default.asp

Letters

I often get wonderful letters and emails from readers. Yesterday a parcel arrived from Leicestershire, containing a bundle of letters from children who I met at Melton Mowbray library earlier this year.

These letters are decorated with some great drawings, and I can’t resist posting a few of them here:

 

 

 

 

 

Pseudonymous Books

I’ve written about my top 10 pseudonymous books for the Guardian – and about my own decision to use an assumed name for my first book, which I have since regretted.

“When I was wrote my first book, A Dog Called Grk, I was working for
this very newspaper, writing and editing reviews for the books pages. I
didn’t want people to get confused about who I was or what I did, so I
thought it would be sensible to have two different names, one for books
and the other for journalism. I invented a new name for myself: a pen
name, a nom de plume, a pseudonym.”