Posted on November 15, 2010 - by MG
Some kind of publicist’s witchy magic must have been operating last week because Scholastic’s dynamite team of Alyx’n’Alex (suggest a HipHop name for the duo?) managed to coordinate three events into a one week visit.
I was over in Derry officially to launch the Northern Ireland pilot of the Booktrust’s BookedUp programme by which youngsters starting their secondary school careers are given a FREE book from a list of 19 titles. Hooray for Joshua – Invisible City was picked as one of the BookedUp titles for 2010.
The wonderful staff of Derry Central Library, including Eugene Martin and Trisha were on hand, as well as Liz Canning of Booktrust, Hannah Pegg and Caroline Wright of BookedUp. Poor things, they had to sit through my Event (it’s a thing!) twice as classes of Yr8 kids from four different schools were brought in to hear all about Joshua, my visits to the land of the Maya as a teenager, etc. A spectacular lunch of fresh sandwiches and delicious traybakes was on hand to entertain us all. I was particularly impressed at the reach of the Booktrust when two ladies from the regional Education Boards were brought in, and then at the end, a TV crew from the BBC! Trisha, Liz and I then dashed off to talk to local BBC station Radio Foyle before I was whisked off to Bangor by Scholastic Book Fairs dynamo Jenny Duncan.
Where, in Bangor, I dined in slap-up style with established authors like Gillian Cross, Paul Dowswell, Geraldine McCaughrean, as well as leading lights of the UK Youth Libraries Group, Joy Court, Margaret Pemberton and Lesley Martin. And another newish author, Keren David…who also writes about a teenage boy.
Now that, for the record, is a Very Exciting Author Day. You have to write something pretty darn amazing on a writing day to match that.
The following day was a one-day conference, another first, the Youth Libraries Group in Northern Ireland. I was joined in a two-handed event by Keren David, author of two deliciousy angsty teen-boy novels, When I Was Joe and the sequel, Almost True. I’d spent the previous Friday and Saturday immersed in the world of Keren’s lead character Tyler, a 14-year old whose family life is hit by a bolt of lightning when he’s forced into the Witness Protection Scheme. So it was a very happy hour indeed that I spent discussing Tyler and Joshua with Keren, lead by Joy Court of YLG. I suspect the convivial atmosphere that Joy succeeded in encouraging may have led to some revelations that I didn’t plan to make, but hey-ho. I’m sure they won’t go further than the gathered audience of librarians…
The conference was no sooner drawing to a close when Carol Martin of Scholastic Book Fairs popped me into a car and it was off to Belfast for a whirlwind tour of schools and the Northern Ireland heat of the Kids Lit Quiz.
Carol and I achieved an unprecedented level of book sales at Victoria College in Belfast when Carol unveiled a stash of now-rare, brand new neon sleeved copies of Invisible City and Zero Moment. I’ve spotted Ice Shock with the neon sleeve in shops, but mainly the PVC sleeved versions of the books are now out of stock. So the youngsters fair jumped on the books that carol brought along. I even had a couple of kids asking for signed, lined and dated copies to sell on ebay. ‘After I’ve read it’, they assured me…
At the KLQ, Wellington College, Belfast, was throwing a birthday party for the event’s 5th anniversary. Students of the school played songs from famous children’s movies (The Little Mermaid, Oliver), there was cake and balloons. And Coleraine High School won the regional heat, so go on to the UK Lids Lit Quiz Final in Oxford!
On the Friday morning I’d been prepared for a lie-in or a walk around town, but at the last minute Jenny Duncan pulled one last school visit out of the bag – Fort Hill Primary School in Lisburn. What enthusiatic Joshua readers they turned out to be! We had to finish the event a little earlier than usual so that I could sign all the Joshua books that the students had snapped up. It turns out to be a devastating combination – the Scholastic Book Fair+author event! (schools get a 60% commission for books sold, redeemable against books/teaching materials – pretty good deal huh?
The week I spent in Northern Ireland was a fascinating glimpse into a part of the UK with a different state education system (post-11 selection on academic grounds), and a history of sectarianism that still creeps into everyday conversation. It’s not so much that you see evidence of the Catholic/Protestant divide everywhere (you do, it’s in all the language, there are Catholic and Protestant parts of town), but that the idea that people can talk openly about differences between people; as in, they can acknowledge it frankly in conversation and in their societal structures.
After all the years I’ve as a school governor when I’ve been immersed in the often politically correct environment of education, it’s actually pretty refreshing. Or maybe that is a naive view…