Back from the Edinburgh Book Festival and jolly good it was too. The pupils had a blast, the staff enjoyed themselves, no-one was sick, and we managed to bring everybody home that we took with us. That’s a successful trip in anyone’s book.
When I originally booked tickets, I selected authors that I knew the pupils had already read in class, but there weren’t enough seats available, so we had to make alternative arrangements. Going on Thursday gave us slightly longer to get organised after the holidays, so that became the deciding factor. It did mean that only some pupils would have read the authors we were going to see, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. There’s a very small select group of writers that you can guarantee the pupils will all have read in class, but if you want to share the experience with as many pupils as possible, why not introduce them to new authors?
The first session was an interview with Kevin Brooks discussing his new novel, The Bunker Diaries. Kevin was charming and erudite and witty, the book sounds intriguing and several pupils rushed off to buy a copy afterwards and get it signed, but for me personally, the format of a formal interview doesn’t work with a live audience. I would have been just as informed sitting in front of a television. I also thought that some of the interviewer’s questions were a tad too erudite for an audience of school pupils, many of whom told me afterwards that they hadn’t understood large chunks of what was said. I’m all for stretching young people, but you’ve got to bring them along with you first .
The afternoon session with Alan Bissett could not have been more different. His first comment, as he scanned his audience, was that he would not be talking about his latest book as it was not necessarily suitable for teenagers (practically guaranteeing sales), and he continued to measure his language as the afternoon continued. He didn’t read from his first novel, Boy Racers, actually he performed it. And what a huge difference that makes to a reading. He was funny, he was laid-back and he took questions throughout. The audience was an integral part of the event, and we felt involved. But he did not talk down to them, and he was also literate in a way that his audience could follow. The highlight for me was his portrayal of a black widow spider from his one-woman show, The Red Hourglass, and I was gutted to find out that the play has received its final performance (for the time being hopefully?)
Two distinct authors in two very different sessions, but valuable for highlighting contrasts in approaches to writing. A very constructive day.
So I’ve been thinking about next year, because we will definitely be going again if I have any say in the matter (I’d be back tomorrow to see Tom Gauld if I could), and considering the following questions:
Is there a difference between events where pupils are taken to a talk, and in-school author visit?
Are the benefits of introducing a new author overshadowed by the fact that their work is unknown to the audience?
How important are an author’s performance skills compared to their writing skills?
Hmm, I need to think about those a bit longer.