Friday, 18 March 2011

A writer was talking about

school visits. Naturally these are now seen, especially by their publishers and agents, as an opportunity to sell books. The writer is, after all, working when he or she makes a school visit. Writers are expected not merely to write the book but to sell it to the reading public. This can be very difficult for schools, especially in areas where money is particularly tight.
When our Writers' Weeks were first set up during Adelaide's biennial Festival of Arts authors, particularly children's authors, were expected to earn their invitation by going out to schools to talk. Which schools an author went to was always something of a lottery. If you were lucky you got a "good" school. Good meant a school that was interested in having you there, where teachers did some preparation and the students had actually read something you had written. The library at the school, yes we had libraries in those days, would wangle the budget and buy any suitable books by the author that they did not already own. In these days of "Learning Resource Centres" they might download something on to a Kindle and arrange for students to do the same.
Paperbacks were the order of the day back then. I was about to return to university but first I had a short stint as librarian in a junior school in a very depressed area. Most of the children admitted that they "didn't have no books" at home. The school was about the last one likely to get an author visit, particularly one from a well known author but I wondered whether I could wangle it unofficially. I had contacts and I thought I could use them.
There were authors I knew who were coming to Writers' Week. One was staying with us and another was staying with other friends around the corner. Neither wrote the sort of thing that the junior school children would be interested in but they might find the time among the official visits organised.
I discussed it with the author who would be staying with us.
"Ask Ivan", she suggested, "I think he has a spare morning. He wouldn't mind."
Ivan was Ivan Southall. I had met him twice before. We had talked at length about an issue of concern to him. He had eventually written a children's book about it and sent me a copy. I wrote and explained the situation. These children were unlikely to ever get an official author visit for Writer's Week but could he find time to do an unofficial one?
It was a big thing to ask. We could not pay him. I had to argue hard to make sure his books would be in the school library. I was not even sure how the children would react. Reading was generally considered to be a "waste of time". I had to explain all of this but I still thought that meeting an author would be a "good thing".
He replied quickly. He would come - for me and the children.
I prepared the children in the library sessions. The best readers read at least one of his books each. They sorted out the questions they would ask. Two of the staff read books to their classes.
On the great day we crammed all the oldest children into the library.
Ivan was marvellous. He talked. He answered all their questions. Then, as time was almost up he asked, "One last question?"
There was a sudden stillness among the children and one of the boys stood up. He was clutching a paper bag. The paper bag contained mostly one cent and two cent pieces that the children had collected themselves. There was a list with the names of everyone who had donated something, "so that they know I am not cheating" the boy who had done most of the collecting told me later.
"Please sir, can we buy one of your books?"


Jen Campbell said...

This was just lovely xxxxx

Anonymous said...

What a great story! The main character, other than the librarian, is one of my favourite authors from school days, and was delighted to be presented with "Hills End" when I finished primary school.

Judy B

Donna Hosie said...

I had a lump in my throat by the end of this post.

Anonymous said...

I had a damn good sniffle.

widdershins said...

Sniffle! I can't even see the keyboard to type!