It’s not every birthday a couple of former children’s laureates come my way. In fact, I’d have to say yesterday was a first. To celebrate twenty years of the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tours, they and Scottish Book Trust gathered a few of the many authors and illustrators they have carted round Scotland for two decades, entertaining school children and making a difference.
2000 children descended on the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow for a couple of hours of fun with some of the best. As they began to arrive, the invited authors came out onto the front steps, in the famous Scottish sunshine, to pose for the gathered photographers, and where would you be without the fun and crazy Etherington Brothers?
The former laureates were Jacqueline Wilson and Chris Riddell, and they were joined by dragon trainer Cressida Cowell and Scottish star Pamela Butchart. In front, complaining they’d never get up from their semi-kneeling positions, were Scottish Friendly’s Calum Bennie and Scottish Book Trust’s Marc Lambert.
I was pleased to see two of my favourite publicists, Naomi and Rebecca, and a brief conversation about exams took place. Time goes so fast! I was also trying to pass a message on a piece of paper to Pamela Butchart, without her thinking I was a crazy, random Witch. Luckily she had a handbag-holder person with her.
Now, it takes time to seat 2000 children, even when they are so well behaved and the operation going really smoothly. To keep them happy once they’d got in Chris Riddell sat on stage doodling away, using his instant machine thing that displays the drawings on a large screen. There was applause whenever they approved of Chris’s work, and none more so than when he went a little political towards the end, with the 45th President seemingly having problems with gas while playing golf, and our PM and her shoes stuffed upside down in a dustbin.
After an introduction from host Sian Bevan, Chris told the children not to draw on the walls at home – like he did, aged three – and how his mother cut his discarded pieces of paper into ever smaller pieces. ‘Get a sketchbook! he told us. He suggested his new book Doodle-a-Day, explained how his hairy daughter turned into the Ottoline books, and read a beautiful piece by Katherine Rundell on libraries.
When it was Jacqueline Wilson’s turn she told us about being small and lonely in Dundee many years ago, and how her years ‘in the linen cupboard’ were some of the best. There were midnight feasts, apparently. Tracy Beaker narrowly avoided being Tracy Facecloth, which is just as well, now that there will be a new Tracy Beaker book. Jacqueline’s historical writing got a mention, as did the ‘new’ Tay Rail Bridge, and her recent book about WWII evacuees.
At this point I discovered I was hungry. I’d been so interested in what was being said that I’d forgotten to eat. And speaking of needs, I thought the stealthy trailing out to the toilets and back in again was well orchestrated. As done by the children, I mean.
Cressida Cowell seems to have come up with her dragons from the shape of the hill on the Scottish desert island her father always took his family to every summer. Besides, they had no television. She wanted the children to understand that the ability to write books does not come from how good your handwriting is, but it’s your ideas that matter. So despite having bad handwriting, Cressida’s books are turning into ever more films.
Dundee teacher-turned-author Pamela Butchart makes up everything. She briefly showed us all her books, which are mostly about schools. She even got the headteachers who were present to bark like dogs. Pamela introduced us to a ‘real alien’ who turned out to be a normal human baby. Hers. Apparently she ‘sometimes speaks too much’ and she finished by inviting a member of the audience up on stage to investigate making fiction with the help of magic crisps. Salt and vinegar.
To finish we had the Etherington Brothers, Lorenzo and Robin. They caused much loudness to happen. It’s all about stuff. Something is. Having the ‘wrong prop’ is important, whether it’s ‘never take a tomato to the beach,’ or having a sock parachute. It’s about having choice, and choosing the wrong thing. And then they turned round, posing for the camera, with the whole audience behind them, waving to the children who were watching this online at school.
All six special guests returned to the stage to wave, before – presumably – being revived with food and drink prior to facing 2000 signatures. Again, this was very well organised, and everyone took turns and it was never too crowded. Or at least I think it wasn’t, since I left while they were peacefully signing away.
I hope they are not still there now.