Friday, 11 March 2016

School visit - achievement unlocked!

Not much news, but I'm updating my blog in response to being nagged by my brother, who prefers to hear from me via the internet instead of in real life with our real faces!

Hello, Charlie! How are you? I see you have a new website - to which you are now officially obligated to add more content, since I'm blogging here at your request. 

It was World Book Day last Thursday - the best and most bookish day of the year. I had to get up especially early in order to paint Nine-year-old's face for the occasion. He went to school dressed as Skulduggery Pleasant. A well-known book character - we thought - but a disappointingly large number of his friends (all of them) had to ask him who he'd come as...pfft!

"NINE books and you people still don't know who I am? Come on!"

The face-paint took ages as my hands had already begun to shake. I had been booked by the very lovely Angela Stone, the librarian of Pates Grammar School, to give my first ever author interview at a school. By 11.30 - I was shaking ALL OVER!

That's Angie over on the right - introducing the infinitely-poised Caitlin Devlin from year 12 and myself (desperately trying to look like an author).

I have very little memory of anything I said. In fact I don't think I really registered any of the words even as I said them. Because Year 10's are really intimidating en masse. And by that, I mean they were quiet and polite and interested - and I was wussy enough to be scared of them all anyway.

Not that I could see any of them because the spotlights made celestial-type beams across my glasses. Yes - there were spotlights. A microphone pack. A blow-up of my book on the screen behind me. Even a reserved parking space with my name on. I only wish I felt important enough to have merited so much attention. The whole thing has certainly refocussed me on  achieving that!   

There were questions after. Mostly bookish ones, although my favourite was 'Do you prefer Salt and Vinegar crisps or Cheese and Onion?' I suppose the boy who asked that one was being waggish, but at the time I just felt a huge whoosh of relief that it was such an easy question. (Salt and Vinegar if the crisps are Walkers, but Cheese and Chive if Pringles, obviously.)
One question that caught me off-balance was 'How much did you have to pay to hire an agent?'
Wow - if only it was that easy! I suppose I now spend so much time talking to authors, aspiring-authors, reviewers and publishers, that I'd forgotten not everyone knows the basics. 

The best answer to that particular question was demonstrated in a hugely-enjoyable program on Sky Arts the other night - still available on catch-up!

In which Giles Coren attempts to become a successful and acclaimed novelist, having a famous father. He then interviews lots of actually successful novelists in order to find out why this didn't work.
Howard Jacobson tells him: 'You were absolutely not accustomed to failure, when failure is the ingredient you have to have.'
Rachel Johnson tells him: 'You have to write a good book.'
Jeffrey archer tells him: 'You've got to put the work in. When one word is wrong, you've got to go back to it. Never, never, never be satisfied.'
David Mitchell tells him: 'You have to craft a juicy, imperishable, beautiful, gorgeous gem of a sentence. Then - ideally - you have a few of them in every paragraph.'
Hanif Kureishi tells him: 'You have to learn how to write - however talented you are. You didn't take yourself seriously enough or you weren't prepared to sacrifice enough or you weren't prepared to suffer enough.'
Rose Tremain asks him: 'Have you got empathy? Have you got patience? And have you got imagination? Because without those three you can't write a novel.'
William Nicholson tells him: 'I wrote eight novels that weren't good enough to be published. You still haven't reached your prime yet.'

Perversely enough, Giles Coren ends the program inspired to try again. And I ended up feeling proud of having achieved something that it's clearly impossible to buy your way into. Still overwhelmingly envious of Giles Coren's house and garden, though. So perhaps he still wins after all.


  1. How much does it cost to hire an agent? Aww, bless 'em! Good question about the crisps though, so important to sort these issues early on in an interview... I'd go with the cheese and onion btw! In my experience Year 10 can be very demanding and pretty scary at times. I hope you managed to enjoy the experience too, they say it gets easier, you'll have to let me know.
    I know who Skulduggery Pleasant is of course, brilliant face painting. For some reason I spent the day dressed as a sausage dog - Schnitzel von Krumm from Hairy Maclary.
    Hope you brother enjoys his update. Good to hear things going well, Helen. xx

  2. Ohhh, that's such a brilliant costume idea! I want to re-read all the Hairy Maclary books now. Schnitzel Von Krumm was the one (with the very low tum) who always lagged behind the others. I loved the cats too - Scarface Claw was the BEST EVER!

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