The first thing I did in Newcastle was litter the station, and I don’t mean by simply being there. Was afraid I’d be arrested if I enquired about their (seemingly non-existent) litter bins. That’s my pear core, in case you were wondering.
Yes, I finally made my way not just to Newcastle, but to the fantastic Seven Stories. It’s shocking that I’ve taken this long, but at least I had the most incredibly good day once I went. They have a new exhibition (opens to the public on Saturday) on the life of Jacqueline Wilson, complete with her childhood bedroom, the pink chaise longue on which she writes her books, and some replica fluffy cat impostors. Even her childhood monkeys were present.
You can also admire the green dress Sapphire Battersea wears, meet Radish the famous rabbit, and sit on the Dumping Ground sofa, fresh off the latest BBC series of Tracy Beaker.
I very nearly said hello to someone I recognised on the press tour. Luckily I didn’t. I paused long enough to work out who she was, and the only reason I ‘knew’ Kirsten O’Brien is my misspent middle age in front of CBBC. I had also nursed vague hopes of ending up on Blue Peter (this coming Monday), but not only was it something they filmed earlier, but it was so early as to have been ‘yesterday’ even when I was there.
Insisting on your child being tidy will most likely backfire. The young Jacqueline had to put away all her dolls into her chest of drawers every evening, which will be why she now surrounds herself with dolls all over her house. And after the end of the exhibition she hopes to buy back the picture that the tireless people at Seven Stories managed to find on eBay. (Where else?)
After the press conference where Nick Sharratt needed to ‘shut up before I blub,’ we queued up to have our books signed. Nick seemed to be aware of having featured on Bookwitch before (I thought we’d been so discreet…), and Jacqueline said she also wanted to be called Bookwitch. Sorry, there can only be one and that’s me.
Nick admitted to having done 170 pictures for the next book, The Worst Thing About My Sister, so that’s something to look forward to. And right now Jacqueline is seven chapters into the third Hetty Feather book, which is another nice thing to look forward to.
For the photocall I did what one has to do under these circumstances. I hid behind the pros, and piggybacked off their fancy flash equipment. It would also help if I learned the difference between the button that takes pictures and the on-off button.
More filming and interviewing was necessary after this and us ordinary visitors had some spare time, so me and some magazine people from Dundee spent a while riding the lift up and down in a fruitless search for where we needed to go next. Random’s Philippa Dickinson was found, and then lost again. Eventually it was teatime and we repaired to the café. I’d like to think I was first in because I needed to take photos of the food before it was all eaten.
I hid in a corner with my plate, and that’s how I met the B family from Leeds. Lovely people, despite some trouser issues… I found out why they were there, and I also learned who the two boys milling about were. I clearly haven’t been wasting as much time in front of the television as I used to. They are the stars of the current Tracy Beaker series, and the B girls were very excited. (Chris Slater and Joe Maw, if you have to know. Polite boys. They even shook hands. With each other.)
The tea was wonderful! So often these things look good and taste of cardboard. Here they looked good and tasted great. (I ate too much again, but only with a view to surviving until I got home late.) And the two women in front of me looked particularly Swedish, and so did the boy with them. But you can’t go around accusing people of being Swedish all the time.
On the other hand, when they then speak Swedish behind your back, it’s perfectly all right to accost them for a chat. At that very moment I worked out that the younger one was Brita Granström, the illustrator who I have just missed at so many events, and she was with her mother and one of her sons.
We met in the attic, as you do, where someone had spent hours tying large bows on the chairs. As you do. Very pretty. The whole attic was lovely, with books hanging from the ceiling and special purple sofas just for me.
It was speech time. Lots of speeches, all admirably short and to the point, and just right. We were shown an excerpt from the film a group of teenage girls had made about Jacqueline, which was excellent. I got the impression that Jacqueline and Nick both come to Seven Stories quite often, and they spoke of the work in the community done by Seven Stories.
Jacqueline’s speech was ‘short and sweet’ and then Nick started blubbing again. This time the rest of us joined in. It was good, and it was special. Time for a good cry. So it was lucky that Jacqueline once saved Nick from a herd of stampeding heifers. Working together has been good, but it’s their friendship that matters the most.
In place of ribbons to cut, they were given flowers. Nick’s matched his orange tie and lime green shirt. And surprisingly Jacqueline was wearing black again, but what a dress! She always hoped to be a successful writer one day, but she never imagined she’d have her own exhibition.
It was a good day. Super-organiser Nicky Potter and Lindsey Fraser shared a taxi back to the station with me. Lindsey bought us tea, and to make sure we didn’t expire en route for our homes, she also equipped us with flapjacks. Large ones. The children’s books world is a nice one. Did I ever mention that?