With Book Week done and dusted for another year, I’m taking a moment to reflect.
Every year, writers and illustrators swap anecdotes from sessions and I’m no exception. I generally post these snippets on my Facebook page, tagged as “The Book Week Follies”. Generally, they’re in the vein of “Kids Say the Darndest Things” – things like the reason we didn’t have a car growing up was that it was only horses and carriages back then, that I’m the most expiring author ever, that maybe I should try and be more like Wendy Binks or Andy Griffiths, or that I look nothing AT ALL like my Year 1 photo and what on earth has happened to my face?
These exchanges are amusing and fun, and there was no shortage of them this year.
But sometimes other moments stand out …
The girl who comes up after a session and stands there quietly, working up some kind of courage. Then finally asks, “If you want to be a writer, do you have to be good at talking in front of people?”
And when you reply that no – that even though it can be good to try, to do things that aren’t comfortable, that in doing so you can get better at those things and make them slightly more comfortable, that you could never have imagined when you were a stuttering kid with your complicated, fluent thoughts locked tightly away behind your shifty tongue that you could be doing what you’re doing now – in the end, no. You don’t have to. If you want to – if you need to – you can hide away in a cave of your own making and just get the work done. That there’s a way to find that life, if it’s the one you want, and other things you can do to supplement the cave-time, the cave-income, that don’t involve swaying like a ring-barked tree in front of a room full of people.
The wash of relief, the sudden smile. The whispered “Oh, good.” The turning on the heel to skip away, a little lighter.
The boy who comes up after a session where you’ve been talking about drowned towns and asking kids: if the government was ‘resuming’ your home (o’ weasel words!) for a dam or a highway or a something-else-altogether, what would you take and what would you leave behind, and how would you feel and why?
Who mumbles – after all the chatter about mysteries and secrets and buried treasure and turning up the volume on small ideas to make them more exciting, more adventurous, more ‘story-worthy’ – “Well, I think you’d be sad, only not for any big reason but just because it’s where your memories are, because it’s where you made them, and so … yeah. That’s all.” And then waits, like he’s given you an offering, because he has, and you find this out later, when his teacher tells you he has a difficult home life and has repeatedly had to move house.
And you’re glad then that while he waited, you took his offering and turned it over in your mind, before replying yes, exactly, but also that even though we leave something of our memories in the walls and the dirt and the place-ness of a place, we carry them with us too. That we take what matters, which can never truly be drowned, or bulldozed, or left behind.
Book Week, in the midst of all the exhaustion and throat lozenges and driving driving endless driving and trying to come up with a fresh-sounding answer to the perennial Where do you get your ideas?, these are what will stay with me. These are what I will keep, and not leave behind.
When we share our Book Week stories, we share these too. We exchange weary gazes across tables and say, This is why we do it, isn’t it? And even though we’re mostly too tired to answer, we nod and keep on nodding. Because yes, it is.