I’ve got a new book out, The Adventures of Achilles. I wrote it with my friend Hugh Lupton. Nowadays, we authors have to go out and promote our books. They don’t sell themselves!. Last weekend, between us, Hugh and I participated in events at Bath Children’s Literature Festival and Cheltenham Literature Festival. They were lovely, well attended shows where we spoke to rapt audiences.
The week before, through The Children’s Bookshow, I ran writing workshops in eight schools, and gave schools performances in theatres in Ipswich and Newcastle. Many of the children I met had English as a second language, or came from socially deprived backgrounds. Last year the Bookshow took me to a school that asked all visitors to leave their phones at reception, so they couldn’t photograph children.
Every child in a workshop received a free copy of Achilles in advance of my visit. Whole classes had devoured the book before I’d even arrived. They were full of the kinds of questions only children ask. Why didn’t Achilles’ mother dip him in the water twice?
Last year a survey found that three in ten children in Britain don’t own a book. Many of the children I met wouldn’t have encountered Achilles without the Bookshow’s help. The parents of these children might not feel they have the have the time or the money to seek out books . And there might not be a local bookshop. I know, I know, you can get anything on the net, but you have to know what to look for, and where to look. On our school run I meet parents who wouldn’t dream of going to their local theatre, let alone an event at a literature festival.
Achilles is one of the central characters in European culture. He is the ancestor of many of the superheroes children follow today. When he’s angry he goes berserk and destroys everyone in his path: there’s the Hulk. He is invulnerable except for one weakness: there’s Superman. Achilles has been examined endlessly by artists across history- painters, sculptors, writers, filmmakers. He is the first flawed hero in European literature, and as such his story is in our cultural DNA. He is part of our birthright.
Every part of the Bookshow opens doors and broadens the range of possibilities for children. It introduces them to new authors and authors from overseas (as a nation we aren’t good at reading books in translation). Children visit their local theatre to hear a real live author speak. Who knows? Perhaps they might go back. Authors visit their school. Suddenly an author isn’t one of them, the famous people on the telly, whom we will never meet. An author is one of us.
It is a treat to speak at Literature Festivals, but thanks to the Bookshow last week, I met children who are the proud owners of one book.