26 Jun Hit the North!

Now that Independent Bookshop Week is in full swing, I finally have a bit of time to write about my first ever author tour, which took in two places and therefore totally counts as a tour, okay? (Three places if you count Monday’s visit to Archer Academy in East Finchley.)

My adventures began on Thursday, with a trip to Manchester. I didn’t have any official events in the North’s Greatest City (my dad is Mancunian, so I have to say that. Sorry Liverpool, Newcastle et al.) but my hotel was just outside the city, so I went up early to visit my cousin, Marie-Clare Scott, who works for the BBC in Media City UK. She showed me round the building, which meant I got to see the BBC Breakfast studio. It looks so big and spacious on the television, but actually it’s a really small room. The weird thing is, even now I’ve been in the room, when I watch it on the TV I still find myself assuming it’s a much bigger room.

I also visited Radio 5 Live, and sat in on an interview with Judy Finnegan (the presenters were in Manchester, but Judy herself was in a studio somewhere else so I could only see her on the monitor). I left with a greater respect for radio producers and presenters: as this big interview was going out live, the producers were talking to me, and the presenters, and were controlling the desk. And while the presenters had the producers cutting in, they were managing to respond while still listening to Judy speak. The most amazing thing about it was how calm everyone was; I don’t think I’d have been so welcoming to a visitor if it was me broadcasting live to the nation.

After my visit to the BBC it was time to head out to my hotel. But first, I needed to make an emergency stop. I’d been reading Kraken by China Miéville, and hadn’t expected to finish it on this trip – my plan had been that it would last me until I got to my event at Booka Bookshop in Oswestry, where I was planning to pick up a new one – but it’s so readable and well-written that I raced through it. This meant I needed to pick up an emergency book before leaving the city centre. I went for Othergirl by Nicole Burnstein, which filled the gap nicely. It’s a funny, well-thought-out story about a girl whose best friend discovers she has super powers. I’d recommend it to anyone who is into super heroes and who is curious as to what would happen if they were real and living in the UK.

Newchurch Community Primary School

The next day, I had a school visit (organised by Madeleine Lindley) to attend. Newchurch Community Primary School is in Culcheth, Warrington, and so I thought I’d continue my theme of looking to the local area as inspiration for stories. As I read up about Culcheth, I discovered a couple of interesting things: one, that Culcheth was once home to a Bronze Age burial ground, much like the one in Llandudno featured in The Box of Demons; and two, that Culcheth was once home to the only man to successfully steal the crown jewels, Captain Blood. I incorporated a picture of the Captain into my presentation, and in the spur of the moment offered to buy a Mars bar to anyone who could name him, not expecting your average ten-year-old to recognise a seventeenth century etching of an Irish insurrectionist and jewel thief.

Naturally somebody did, and so a Mars bar is going to work its way to Harry in Year Five sometime in the next few weeks.

Booka Bookshop

Next up was a trip to Oswestry to visit Booka Bookshop, the Independent Bookshop of the Year, to kick off Independent Bookshop Week 2015. I was booked for a ‘meet and greet’ in-store. I wasn’t too sure what that meant, so I prepared a little Oswestry-centric version of my presentation just in case. (Oswestry has an Iron Age hill fort, ripe for dreaming up stories on. I went running there on the morning of my event and it was great.) When I got to the shop, it turned out Tim and Carrie, who run Booka, weren’t sure what a ‘meet and greet’ was either, so they’d planned a little stunt for me: I was to roll up my sleeves and get behind the till, becoming a bookseller for the afternoon.

  I got to meet a lot of their customers, and got a real sense of how much a part of the community the shop is. It was really heartening and inspiring to see, and I got a real kick out of hand-selling The Box of Demons too. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit – which is featured in this round-up of IBW events – and recommend the trip to Oswestry to both authors and book lovers alike.  (Oh, I forgot to mention – they do cake as well. Which I can also recommend.)


Archer Academy

The last event of the weekend was a trip to Archer Academy in Eat Finchley to talk to the whole school. (This is not quite as daunting as it sounds: Archer is a new school, and so only has two year groups, Years Seven and Eight.) Archer has a history of author events, and their canteen is decorated with pictures of those who came before me, some of whom are rather formidable: Michael Morpurgo, Sita Bramachari and Jonny Zucker were just three of the authors they’d had visit.

One of the pupils came up with my favourite question of all my events so far: “what’s the weirdest character you left out of the book?”. The answer is: all the weird ones stayed in, it was the boring ones who had to go. (Though I do miss the grumpy priest I had to cut when the story changed – perhaps he’ll turn up in another book at some point!)

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