People often ask me, “What’s the best thing about writing children’s books?” and that’s a tricky one because there are so many best things. I could say the best thing is the thrill you get when you first think up a story in your head… But then there’s also the first time your illustrator shows you pictures of your story and they always turn out to be so much better, funnier and more beautiful than any you could do yourself… And that’s not to forget the fantastic moment when you first get to hold the finished book in your hand… And… And…And countless other wonderful things.
So you see how difficult it is to answer that pesky question. Then I think a little more and I realise – of course – that the best best thing about writing children’s books is the chance it gives you to go to a school or a bookshop or a festival and read your stories to the people you’ve written them for.
Real, genuine, 100% actual children.
Last Saturday, 19th August, was Waterstone’s annual Super Saturday Story Time and, lucky me, I got to go to the Chiswick branch and read my three Mungo stories. That was particularly exciting because, although I’d read the first two (Mungo and the Picture Book Pirates and Mungo and the Spiders From Space) many times before, the new one, Mungo and the Dinosaur Island, wasn’t even out yet (it comes out on 7th August) so this would be my very first opportunity to share Mungo’s new adventure with his readers.
Reading at a bookshop isn’t quite like reading in a school. For a start, you know that people are going to be there in a school: in a shop there’s no guarantee that anyone will turn up! Then again, everyone’s used to concentrating and sitting still at school, but when the weekend comes around and they go out to the shops, you might expect them to be less quiet and patient while someone reads a story.
But I knew the children in Chiswick were going to be a terrific audience (I remember the last time I’d been there, one little girl was so interested in the book I was reading that she stood next to me, rooted to the spot, her eyes glued to the pages!). They sat still and listened, and craned their necks to look at the pictures and (very important, this) they laughed at all the jokes.
And there were even more of them than the last time!
I did a signing afterwards, which is a great opportunity to meet your readers – it’s always lovely to talk to them, though sometimes they can be a bit shy (me too – but after all these years I’ve learned to hide it). Some already had a few of my books, others were very attached to one in particular (I was delighted to meet a couple of Midshipmen, just like Mr Midshipman Mungo in The Picture Book Pirates) and there were still more who were finding out about Mungo and his adventures for the first time.
If they enjoy my stories as much as I enjoyed reading to them, I’ll be very happy indeed.