On Friday, I went to Winchester for the Youth Libraries Group Unconference. There’s something so very Alice in Wonderland about the word ‘unconference’, which set a happy tone before I even arrived. The weather was lovely – this is rare in London – and my train was almost on time (ditto). In the Winchester Discovery Centre, which is a lovely library, fifty five lovely librarians and around twelve authors and illustrators had gathered to talk about books and getting children reading, and that, to me, is a day well spent. Julia Eccleshare’s keynote talk was so interesting: she said she was invited recently as part of a delegation to a Middle Eastern country where a Sultan wanted to initiate a culture of reading, which his country didn’t have, and asked how best to do it. The keys, we all agreed, were parents reading to children, and the right books. I told my children about this talk, and the books from our childhood and how important they are, and they ran upstairs to get all their picture books off the shelves, and they read them together in the garden. And my children are 20,18, 15 and 13.
But back to the Unconference. The thing is, as an author, you get five minutes to speak. This must happen in the Oscars all the time, but you forget what you wanted to say and you have so little time and it runs out so quickly. I heard recently that instead of actors and producers standing up and reciting a list of people they’d like to thank, they’re going to have the names of all involved in the film on a screen behind them because people invariably forget half of those they need to mention, upset folk, cause a rumpus and/or burst into tears and can’t say anything much. I thankfully didn’t do that but give me an Oscar and I can’t promise I won’t.
What I WANTED to say was that YLG and libraries in general are crucial, undersupported and underfunded. I wanted to say thank you to YLG and all the librarians across the country (and the world), firstly for inviting me along but crucially, for championing my books (and all books, in fact). I wanted to say thank you for the reviews, for handing my books to children, and for doing what you’re doing with such passion, love and energy.
I WANTED to say that both of my books are about identity, belonging, being different and diverse families. That I love doing school and library visits and would be happy to do more; that I show photos and talk about writing what you love, about children who are mixed race, growing up without fathers, about orphanages in Asia and my trip to Cambodia with my son last summer, about being small and samurai swords and following your dreams, even if obstacles block your way, and about who we are and how we treat other people. All this fits in with certain key parts of the National Curriculum (see the tab labelled ‘school visits’ on this site).
Did I say any of that? No. I did not. I did say other things but five minutes is not very long and I spent the whole journey home wishing I’d said what I intended to say. So I’m saying it here.
YLG thank you. Librarians, thank you. The Reading Agency, thank you. Reviewers and bloggers and teachers – all of you. Thank you. Here is a photo of me in my tutu, dressed as Dara Palmer, talking about my books (I must have said something funny because MG Leonard is cracking up).
I’m sure I’ve forgotten to say something. I’ll no doubt think of it later…