When I think about my novels I sometimes imagine them sinking slowly, or not so slowly, into a great dark lake, and disappearing with barely a ripple. It’s a slightly depressing image, but writing can be a slightly depressing occupation. Lately though, I’ve been visiting schools and libraries around the North on a scheme called Read Regional. This scheme has been like a life-ring hurled into the lake or, more dramatically, it’s been air-sea rescue, swooping down in a helicopter and lifting the damp novel dripping out of the water. Basically, it’s exactly what you want to happen to your book.
On my Read Regional journeys I’ve been to Todmorden – down the road, and South Shields - a hundred and thirty miles away. I’ve been up early and home late and I’ve travelled to bits of the North I’ve never visited before. I clicked on one link for a place I was visiting that said The 10 Best Things To Do in X. There were only six things in the list that followed. But I loved going to that place, as I’ve enjoyed all my visits, because it’s so satisfying and interesting to meet the fabulous, dedicated library staff who arrange these events and to discuss reading and writing in general, and my books in particular, with groups all over the North.
I’ve been promoting The Impossible and its sequel, The Impossible: On The Run, novels for maybe 11 to 14 year olds, so I’ve mostly been with Year Sevens, Eights and Nines. I’ve met stimulating, challenging, rewarding groups of young people. It’s a generalisation, but I’ve found that Year Sevens tend to be open and chatty and receptive, Year Eights the same, but slightly less so, Year Nines a bit less forthcoming, a bit suspicious, but still entirely capable of being won round and engaged. I’ve discovered that I really enjoy standing in front of these groups and telling them a bit about myself, talking about how stories work, doing a couple of readings, getting the group involved in some quick and fun writing tasks.
It’s a good feeling to read a bit of the book, end on a cliff-hanger, and hear a frustrated gasp when I stop, because the audience wants to know what happens next. It’s very satisfying to stand back and listen to the excited chatter when they show each other the bits of writing I’ve asked them to do. It’s lovely to see hands shoot up when I ask if anyone wants to read out what they’ve just written.
I’ve probably most enjoyed the questions and discussions at the end of my talks. How do you give a character flaws but still make them likeable? How do you turn an idea into a story? Where do you start? Questions like these get me thinking about my writing process, get me listening as well as talking. And thrumming away beneath every visit is the desire to encourage reading, to discuss favourite books, favourite characters, favourite reading experiences.
Read Regional is a New Writing North scheme, so thanks to them, and thanks also to all the librarians and teachers who have made this happen.