When I’m asked, ‘What’s the best thing about being a writer?‘ I usually say ‘I get to do my job in my pyjamas.’
Not true. (OK, the sometimes-wearing-pyjamas bit is. My previous job uniforms have included a maroon polyester tabard with my name embroidered on it in yellow. Pyjamas rock.) But the absolute best thing is meeting real live smallish humans, the kind who read books – and write very charming invitations to people like me…
That’s what I’ve been doing for the last few weeks, zipping into schools for a natter with three Lunchboox groups. As part of the brilliant Bookfeast, Lunchboox volunteers run lunchtime bookclubs for Years 5 and 6 in 20 Oxfordshire schools. Each group gets to sit down with a giant pile of books at the start of the term, and work out which ones they most want to read – and ping! the books are delivered to the school.
The students independently read up to a certain point, then get together over lunch once a week, to talk about what they’ve read, and do a few fun activities connected with the books: writing personal CVs and ‘The Diary of a Dog’ inspired by Pea, code-cracking from Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates, or these brilliant newly-minted bunnies hopping straight from the pages of Sally Gardner’s Operation Bunny.
There’s no homework, or testing. It’s all about sharing a love of books. At the end, the books go into the school library so others get to enjoy them – and the Lunchbooxers move onto their next read. Good, eh?
For me, talking to a big group in a school hall is always a laugh, and I almost always have the chance at the end or while signing books to have a quick, quiet word with anyone who didn’t get to ask their question, or was perhaps too nervous to in front of everyone else. (As a reformed shy person, I would SO have been one of those people.) Meeting in these smaller groups meant we could have a proper chat, and they could feel comfy asking whatever they liked.
And I got to ask them questions too: what they want from a book cover, which things they find trickiest in their own writing, which books they’ve enjoyed reading most and why – and of course, since they’d all just read Pea’s Book of Big Dreams, what they’d like to be when they grow up.
Towards the end of that book, there’s a scene where Pea discovers that art isn’t always a beautiful thing to look at; that sometimes art might be more about the people looking at it than the thing itself. Books are like that, too.
Pyjamas do rock. But readers are the very, very, very best thing about my job.
Many thanks to Nick, Ursula and Amanda, the three awesome Lunchboox volunteers who make the whole thing possible.
Pea’s Book of Birthdays comes out on 4th July! Which is soon!
It’s all about cake and birthday parties. And magic tricks. And exploring the hidden psychodrama of Alice in Wonderland. And what to do when your friends have all started liking ‘mature and sophisticated’ things you don’t really care about, and Mums who are doing that too, and invisible pirate Dads who aren’t there at all – until a letter arrives that might change that forever …
I’m off on holiday to celebrate – but pop back in a few weeks for some book giveaways and writing competitions, including the chance to get your mitts on a set of these totally exclusive and alarmingly adorable badges: