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Ghost Tour III – The Northern Children’s Book Festival

Last Sunday I traveled up to Newcastle to appear at the wonderful Seven Stories. If you haven’t ever been there you definitely want to check it out. It’s a brilliant place to visit for anyone with an interest in children’s literature. There are fantastic exhibitions for children (and adults) of all ages and lots of original artwork donated by children’s illustrators. There is a even an enormous Gruffalo. I only wish I’d brought my son who is a tad Gruffalo obsessed at the moment.

My event was upstairs and was an itimate affair but lots of fun and such an honour for me to be there. It was just a pity that I didn’t sit down in the magnificent story telling chair (I never sit down for events).

On Monday, with a pinkish morning sky issuing shepherds with a weather warning, I caught a train to South Shields, which is by the sea and therefore unshielded from the harsh winds that sweep over the grey uninviting sea. Thankfully I was met by Pauline from the Library service who was far more warmly welcoming than her surrounds. She drove me to Westoe Crown School where I did two events for years 3-6.

After lunch, Claire took me to Hadrian school for one more event. Weirdly, at this one, we were half way through the spooky Constable & Toop song when the lights suddenly went out… spooky.

The following day I was picked up from my hotel by Lucy and Cath from Stockton Library Services. I had three events all in Rosebrook Primary School. All were lots of fun and I got to dine on school dinners in the company of a pair of charming year one girls.

During the event, one of the kids compared me to Drop Dead Fred. This was very peculiar because the comparison had also been made in the previous school. If you don’t know, Drop Dead Fred was a film with Rik Mayal playing a troublesome imaginary friend. I have not had anyone say I look like Rik Mayal for over twenty years. (I don’t really look like him but I do jump around a lot and pull funny faces). Why then did two separate children forty miles apart both a) know about the film b) think I looked like/acted like the character? Is this film particularly big up in the North East? I have no idea.

A train from Thornaby station (near the mysterious Mist of Thornaby Road, so my ghost research revealed) took me back to Newcastle on Tuesday evening in preparation for my final day of events. These were in a couple of libraries in Gateshead. These final events would take my total up to ten in four days, so I decided to keep things fresh by doing something very different in each one. Each group got a short story. In the first event of the day I told one of my old Dragon Detective Agency short stories (The Case of the Missing Books). The second class listened very attentively to a Thornthwaite story (The Thornthwaite Recital) and the final school made some brilliant suggestions for my choose-your-own-adventure ghost story (The Ghost Chicken of Highgate).

As with every other events I was very well looked after and efficiently ferried around. Everywhere I went, it was great to see so many children clutching Constable & Toop, various Ninja Meerkat titles and some from my Bloomsbury backlist. It is a great festival (now in it’s 19th year) and really emphasizes the importance of local libraries in ensuring we have a generation of children who are enthused to read and have access to a wide range of books.

All in all, a terrific four days of events but I was glad to catch a train home on Wednesday to see Lisa and Herbie.

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