I did it. My first school visit as a writer, with a book I haven’t even written yet!
It was a weird day in some ways: a friend’s funeral in the morning, a quick rush around the block with the dog, and I was out of the door, arriving at the primary school with seconds to spare.
I had been given 40 minutes with each class, and the first – a lovely, lively primary 6 class, gave me the warmest of welcomes. I explained that, although I write for half the week, I’m not published yet. I might have guessed: it makes no difference to them at all – I was treated like a celebrity. My one and only lifetime chance of crowd-surfing has probably come and gone.
Still slightly out of breath, I began. The trick was to keep all the characters’ voices separate. Now, those who know me are aware I’m a Drama/English teacher, so I don’t have much of a problem with standing up in front of young people. What a different feeling, though to read the words you have lovingly crafted in the hermit’s hut of your study. It feels like you’re feeding them to the lions.
But no; these Primary 6s were definitely on my side. To no avail, I tried to block my own son out of my vision, sitting at the very front of the classroom, still in his fluorescent monitors’ vest and bobbing up and down like a high-visibility bouncy ball.
The only hitch was that the teacher of this class is an extremely enthusiastic young male. I’d never actually met him before today, but the teacher character in my novel is, regrettably, just like him – a fact not lost on the kids who kept throwing increasingly meaningful glances across the room at him whenever the fictional teacher appeared. I’m going to have to be careful!
By the time I moved over to the second classroom (foolishly leaving my water bottle behind), I felt a lot more confident. This was going well.
I spoke too soon. As soon as I began reading, a little blond boy put up his hand: he had something to say. No problem, I was ready for that. I answered his question and resumed reading.
His hand was up again in a flash. I got to the end of the paragraph, but he was persistent. I let him tell me about his favourite book, smiled sweetly and launched back into the story.
You’ve guessed it. His hand was up again. This time Miss motioned for me to keep going and I did – for 15 minutes solid. Those little arm muscles must be tougher than Usain Bolt’s! What stamina! Only right that he should get to comment at the end.
I staggered home under the combined weight of eleven pages of manuscript and over fifty post it notes; encouraging, admonishing, cheering and crushing. Will I be a better writer for all of this?
I sincerely hope I will. More next week. Like the tiger who came for tea, I’m off to drink ‘all the water in the tap’!