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.

Cutting the ribbon on a new library

This week I was invited to open a new school library. For any writer, or indeed anyone involved with books and storytelling, I can’t think of many more satisfying ways to spend an afternoon.

The school was Furness Primary in what used to be called Harlesden and is now probably part of Kensal Rise. Whatever you choose to call this particular area, it’s part of Brent, where the council has closed several libraries recently. So it was especially gratifying to witness the opening of a new library inside a school.

Before I cut the ribbon on the library, I did a couple of assemblies, first talking to the youngest kids, then the older ones, answering their questions and describing how my own love of books had been fanned by libraries when I was young. I talked about the books that I loved then, and still love now, many of which I would never have discovered if I hadn’t been able to wander slowly up and down the shelves of a library, plucking books that looked interesting, glancing at covers, scanning blurbs, reading a page or two, searching for the perfect book, the book that spoke to me.

Then I was handed a large pair of scissors.

The new library at Furness Primary

On the other side of the door was a freshly-painted, crisply-lit room stuffed with books. Cue cries of “oooh” and “look!” from the children who had been patiently waiting for me to snip the ribbon. They rushed around the library, eagerly hunting through the shelves, showing off their discoveries to one another, then pestering the teachers with questions, demanding to know when and how they could take books out of the library. Watching them, I thought about how much libraries like this foster a love of books and reading, and wished every school had a library as welcoming and well-stocked as this one.

October festivals

I’m looking forward to appearing at three festivals in October. I’ve never been to any of them before, but judging by their programmes, they all sound wonderful.

The first is Flipside on 3 and 4 October in Snape Maltings, near Aldeburgh in Suffolk.

general

Among the other children’s writers there are Chris Priestley, Emily Gravett, and James Dawson.

Next comes the Wimbledon Bookfest. I’m going to be there on Thursday 8 October as part of the schools programme.

FooterV2

And thirdly is the Hungerford Literary Festival, where I’ll be speaking on Saturday 17 October.

Here are links to the websites where you can find out more about tickets, venues, and all the other fascinating writers and artists who will be appearing:

http://www.flipsidefestival.org

http://www.wimbledonbookfest.org

http://www.hungerfordlitfest.org

 

Wilderness

Earlier this August, I was one of several children’s authors performing at the Wilderness Festival. The festival was packed with twenty thousand people sampling everything from Bjork’s tunes to Moro’s lamb cutlets. Lucy Coats, Abi Elphinstone, Tamara MacFarlane and I were talking in the children’s area curated by Storystock. Over the course of the weekend, we each spoke about our books inside the big top, then did a panel discussion together.

A few photos below show the Storystock area, full of authors and pirates, and the lovely outpost of the Jaffe and Neale bookshop housed inside its own enormous tent… I wish I’d taken more (and better) photos, but I must have been always too busy eating those delicious lamb cutlets or chasing after my kids, trying to stop them getting completely lost among the other twenty thousand people.

Death in children’s literature

I’ve written an article for We Love This Book, a new magazine published by the Bookseller. Here are the first three paragraphs.

There comes a moment in every child’s life when they understand that everyone dies: not just pets, or neighbours, or relatives, but even themselves. It’s a terrible, terrifying realisation – life is never the same again once you know that you have to die – so it’s no wonder that children’s books are full of death. Without death, many great heroes of children’s literature wouldn’t even have a story to tell. If their mothers and fathers had lived, Harry Potter wouldn’t be banished to 4 Privet Drive, the Baudelaires wouldn’t suffer a series of unfortunate events, Mary Lennox wouldn’t come near the secret garden, and James would never grow a giant peach. But death is much more than a plot device. From a surprisingly young age, most children want to know the answers to questions about death and the afterlife. Why do I have to die? What will happen to me? Fiction allows children to articulate the fears and anxieties about mortality that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

You can pick up the magazine in bookshops, or read the whole article on the website.