As a debut author, there comes a time when you have to face the children and it seems that happens now, with the publication of the paperback.
I’m planning some school visits for Close to the Wind and approaching them with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. That’s partly about having to learn new skills. I’ve never taught or given presentations and an hour long assembly with two hundred children scares the life out of me. It doesn’t matter that the audience will only be half the size I am. Suddenly, Powerpoint and I have become the best of friends.
There’ll be the inevitable memories of my own school days to deal with. Every set of school gates has the power to shrink me to a ten year old as I walk through into the playground.
What is it about a long hollow corridor that makes me want to run down it?
I used to have a Headmaster who, if he saw you, would shoot from his office and bellow out your name. ‘Jonathan Walter. Come back here now!’
But I wouldn’t do it these days. I wouldn’t dream of it.
Is it the candour of children that can be so alarming? Often, they’ll tell you exactly what they think and even when they don’t, they’re no good at hiding it. So I’ll find out if I can do a presentation and I’ll find out what they think of my book.
So far, the publication of the hardback has mostly been an adult affair. It’s been about reviews and blogs and tweets. It’s been about friends and family giving me lots of love when they tell me that they’ve read it. Thankfully, it’s all been very positive but it’s been sophisticated. And it’s been polite.
Now I’m beginning to find out what the kids really think of it. It began on Christmas Eve when a package dropped through my letterbox containing 30 letters from a Grade 5 class in Canada. And they left me in no doubt.
Brandon, aged 10 said , “It was good because in the parts where you put a lot of details, it sometimes made us say, ‘Ugh!’ or ‘Cool!’”
And Elliot told me, “What made the book better was having a little bit of sadness in there. When there’s no sadness in a book it’s a little bit boring.”
I get a whole load of precious feedback. Tyler’s favourite character is Oskar because he’s a bit of a daredevil, just like him, and Adrianna likes Booty, the cat, because of the way it comforts Malik when he’s lonely. They give me good advice on writing – keep the pace up and start off by going straight into the action. And they come up with great ideas for sequels.
And most of all, they remind me that my schooldays weren’t all that bad. I had a fantastic English teacher by the name of Mr. Woods and he could make words come alive in your head. Once, I remember, he put a tiger in the classroom and it lay across my desk, burning brightly.
And he showed us a pike. Took us down beneath the water of a deep dark lake till we were skulking in the weeds with it.
I can do that too. I can put you in the upstairs room of an abandoned house. I can hide you in a wardrobe and make you listen to the footsteps of strangers, coming up the stairs.
So I reckon I can do school visits. In fact, I’m looking forward to them.