[Advance warning: rant ahead…]
Since early February I have been organising the Scottish book launch for a new title by an award-winning and very popular author who writes books for teenagers. It’s going to be a schools event and when the publisher phoned us up to talk about it we were extremely excited. We were asked whether slightly less than three months would be too short a time to plan a large schools event and we said no, because what a great opportunity for teenagers readers to hear a high-profile, critically-acclaimed author talk about their new book (for free, by the way!). Surely any sane school would email me back before you could say “gold-plated extra-curricular activity”?
Well, you can see where this one is going. Granted, there are a few schools who have been great: they’ve replied promptly with enthusiasm with an awareness of that free author events are quite rare and are of educational value. However, the experience in general has left me frustrated, disillusioned and not a little angry. Firstly, getting past school secretaries seems to require the cunning of Frank Abagnale Jr. and the hurdling skills of Kriss Akabusi: why is not alright to give me a teacher’s work email address? They are – like me – at work. It does not give me access to children and when you cannot transfer me by phone I’m lacking in options. You may claim to be able to forward the email but past experience demonstrates that you will not.
When I’ve eventually made radio contact with teachers (“Houston..[crackle]…are you there?”) I’ve been taken aback with the ennui. Responses have included: “An event ending at 12 may not give the children time enough to get back for lunch” (the school is 30 mins away and they’re teenagers not four-year-olds), “the children only get back from their holidays on the Monday, so they may be too tired” (from what?) and “they’ve got a lot on that term”. This last may be true, but we’ve specifically invited the year before serious exams so as not to clash with that, and surely three hours out of one school day to enrich a child’s literary education is something no parent is going to object to.
There’s been a lot said about how children stop reading in their teenage years and after this adventure all I can say is no wonder when the people the people in charge of enthusing them are quite so laissez-faire about the whole matter. I know schools are judged on their exam results, but through sheer pride I would have thought they would also like to produce adults who are enthusiastic and life-long readers. I’m sure that they have enormous pressures with timetables and government targets, but I found it significant that some people were immediately thrilled and others I rang off the phone wondering whether I had to stand on the school field with a pointy stick and visual aid featuring Very Good Author as illustration. When I was seven, Humphrey Carpenter came to my school and did all the voices in his newest book. And I can remember today the laughter in my stomach – far better, in fact, than whatever lessons I had that day.