This is me, moments before my 14th and final school event in Guernsey: a small island in the English Channel, just off the coast of Normandy. It's where Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables. It's where rare golden goats graze. It has historical castles, sandy beaches, cobbled streets and quirky shops.
I was there for Guernsey's Children's Book Week: a week to celebrate the sheer joy of books, filled with fun and inspiring events organised by Guernsey's fantastic School Library Service.
Almost a year ago, the library invited me to take part, and weeks before my arrival I knew exactly which schools I'd be visiting. All of the nitty gritty details, including all the tech stuff, like laptops, screens, papers and pencils, were clarified well in advance. And the hotel? It was perfect; and only a short walk from the island's indie bookstore, Press Shop.
All there was for me to do was remember my memory stick and Top Secret sketchbook.
My mission was to visit fourteen schools in five days. Authors, Tommy Donbavand and Nick Cook were there for the week, too. Tommy had a head-start, as he was there for Doctor Who day, which took place on the Saturday before Children's Book Week. Tommy's written for Doctor Who, and he's the author of many books including the successful Scream Street series (now a stop-motion animated series on CBBC).
Gaming guru and author of Cloud Riders, Nick Cook, wowed everyone with his tornado machine: a machine that actually creates mini twisters! I was there to read my books; draw pandas, corgis and toucans; and eat imaginary doughnuts all week.
On the Thursday, the three of us were interviewed by BBC Guernsey presenter, Jenny Kendall-Tobias, alongside the library events organiser, Elizabeth. It was a really fun (and funny) conversational interview that's definitely worth a listen. Afterwards, we took part in a panel event and a glittering awards ceremony, held in the town library, where winning entries to an art contest were announced. I awarded three talented children with signed copies of PLEASE MR PANDA for their zany, innovative doughnut designs. There was a healthy doughnut complete with vegetables, an amusing pig-faced doughnut, and an amazingly constructed abstract doughnut which won 1st place.
One of Tommy's winning entries to his 'draw a monster' contest was a fantastically monstrous caterpillar called a CaterKiller.
The week was packed with school events. Each morning, a librarian collected me from the hotel and accompanied me throughout each day. I mainly based my school events on THE QUEEN'S HAT, BETTY GOES BANANAS and PLEASE MR PANDA. I taught the pupils how to draw pandas, toucans and corgis with shapes and letters. They had great fun screaming along with Betty and spotting the butler in THE QUEEN'S HAT. Every school was well prepped for their event, so the pupils were already very familiar with the characters and stories. This makes author events so much better, because the pupils are already invested in the characters. This allows us to expand on each story by making up new characters and situations. And they were excited and interested to see how each story began. Ultimately, each of my visits were about inspiring kids to read, create and use their imagination.
For my lunch breaks, I was treated to a spot of sightseeing by each librarian who accompanied me. On Monday, Alan gave me a mini guided tour of Vale Castle: a famous, historic local landmark which also features in THE GUERNSEY GOVERNOR"S GLOVES, a brilliantly executed picture book created by Miss Kimber's Class from Vauvert KS1 that tells the tale of how a pair of windswept gloves took the Governor on an impromptu tour of the island (a bit like another story I know).
For Tuesday's lunch break, Emily drove us to the West Coast, which had suffered a minor battering from the tale end of Storm Imogene (pictured below). We also braved a freak hail storm to take a very quick 'book bench selfie'. The bench was based on the local classic, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G B Edwards, and it was painted by local artists Charlie Buchanan, Lauren Perry and Sam O’Neil (pictured below).
On Thursday, Ellie took me to see the island's rare and mysterious Golden Guernsey: a breed of goat named after its golden fleece. Alan had kindly given Ellie directions to a small holding where we found the golden goats quietly grazing (pictured below). I love discovering new animals, and I love adding rare and endangered animals into my stories.
I had Friday's lunch in the airport. It was sad to say goodbye to Guernsey. I had such a great time. In fact, this has to be one of the best book tours I've ever been on, which is all down to the super-organised and hospitable librarians of Guernsey.
I definitely plan on returning.
Below are several photos from each of the schools I visited, along with photos of Vale Castle, golden goats, and the aforementioned 'bookbench'. But first, here is a list of some things I didn't manage to snap.
- A band of bearded folk singers that suddenly popped up behind me, Tommy and Nick in the hotel bar.
- The cute, shaggy sheepdog that suddenly turned evil when I tried taking its photo.
- A big independent toy shop. Independent toy shops are hard to come by these days.
- Dolphins. According to the paper, a pod of dolphins were spotted on the coast.
- Sark island: a tiny island between Guernsey and Jersey that has no cars and a population of around 500!