This being Children’s Book Festival, I’m out doing my variety act a lot. If you want to make a living from children’s books, it’s not enough to sit at home and write your stories; you’ve got to go back to the roots of storytelling, to the oral tradition, learning how to tell tales out loud again, so you can take it on tour.
Yesterday it was talking to 5th and 6th class kids in libraries in Dundrum and Stillorgan. To get there, I can either set out and catch rush hour and sit in traffic, or head out a little after 6am, beat the worst of the traffic, have a leisurely breakfast in Dundrum and catch up on my reading. I haven’t slept too well, so I wake up like a corpse and drive in a near-hallucinatory state, promising myself I’ll skip the decaf and indulge in a high octane coffee at breakfast. When you drink decaf most of the time, a real coffee is like a cattle-prod to the brain.
I listen to Raymond Chandler’s book, ‘Farewell My Lovely’ all the way there, played on my phone through the car stereo. For those who don’t know, he set the standard for the hard-boiled crime novel. I’ve been reading a lot of his stuff lately and I love it, but this time I’ve opted for the audio-book, read by serrated voice of Elliot Gould.
The Dundrum session goes fine, but in the Stillorgan library, my fine oration is interrupted by a woman driving up and down the road beeping her horn. Perhaps she’s trying to get someone’s attention, but doesn’t know which house they’re in. But it looks more like she’s lost, and she’s beeping the horn as if it will tell her the way to go, like some kind of satnav for the perpetually frustrated. BEEP BEEP! Where am I?! As if she can find her way by echo location or something. Like a silly bat. It can be hard enough to keep kids’ attention as it is, without that racket, so I take the mickey out of her instead, (though not in nasty way, of course) which goes down well. They’re a nice bunch of lads (just one girl in a group of nearly sixty boys, for reasons that are never explained). I’m flattered when one kid says to me that I could be a comedian, but he advises me that I should jump up and down more, like Lee Evans.
I have events over most of next week, in Meath, Leitrim and Louth. I’ll fuel up the car, start a new audio-book, work out my routes and load up my session case. I’ll probably leave each morning while my wife and kids are still asleep. All over Ireland, writers and illustrators will be doing the same. There is a buzz across the country, a hectic connection of professional imaginations and young, hungry minds. Writing is only part of this game. If we have one really useful purpose during this book season, it’s to convince the writers of tomorrow that books are written by normal people and that anyone can do it if they try hard enough and get just a little bit lucky. And if we can have a bit of a laugh along the way, all well and good.