My sophisticated student daughter hates to admit it but she liked everything about her North Yorkshire primary school, from the home corner and golden time to skipping in the playground and dressing up as her favourite book character.
I loved taking her into the classroom every morning (she banned me from venturing past the school gate once she reached the heady heights of year 2), having a chat with her teacher and admiring the works of art festooning the walls.
But now, 15 years later, I’m visiting primary schools again – sometimes to interview heads and teachers, but often to talk about writing books. I’ve visited loads in the last 12 months and the sessions are always lively, fun and utterly unpredictable. You can prepare your talk as precisely as a military campaign but you always get a couple of questions that completely floor you.
I recently pitched up at a local primary school clutching a copy of my novel, The Rise and Shine Saturday Show, and several of my favourite children’s books (Madeline, The Swish of the Curtain and Clarice Bean.) After half an hour of talking to the four to seven year olds (and them talking to me about their Batman and Barbie books), the eight to 11 year olds were led into the school hall by their teachers.
I told them a bit about my newspaper days, read the opening chapter of my book and then turned things over to them. Scores of small hands shot up. That was great – you don’t want a hall full of bored, silent children. Their questions were searching and incisive, ranging from where writers get their ideas from to what were my favourite children’s books. That was easy – I thrust my battered copies of Madeline and The Swish of the Curtain in the air.
But then like a bunch of seasoned newspaper hacks, the children began lobbing in a few trickier questions. Did I spend more time writing than looking after my children? How many books will I write in my lifetime? And finally they cut to the chase with a belter – how much do I earn? Cue a long silence. For once in my life, I was completely stuck for words.