This is one of the busiest weeks of the year for authors in schools. All over the UK today children will be being enthused by those 'at the sharp end' and (hopefully) inspired by the sheer power and energy of writing. I have been in a school all week--but not in the UK. Haut-Lac International Bilingual School is in Vevey, Switzerland, on the edge of Lac Leman. Its school dining room has, without doubt, one of the most beautiful views in the world, overlooking Alps currently covered in pristine white snow, and a lake whose waters look like oiled silk in the misty sunshine. The school has 44 nationalities, and a smilier, better behaved lot of children would be hard to find. The Marronniers (infants) was a riot of wonderful pictures of Elmer the Elephant in the snow, avalanche danger, chestnut trees, and cutouts of mittens. In one corner was the 'vet'--open once a week to tend to injured teddies. Language was no barrier--row row row your boat with screaming and waving of arms and shivering and scary bits is pretty universal, and I was delighted to be told that Jack and the Beanstalk translates as Jacques et l'haricot magique. It was therefore a two-way learning process. Myths and legends went down well in the primary with fun Q and A sessions (in spite of a lingering determination by one child to find out the intimate detail of why I have such an untidy desk). My appalling map-drawing skills seemed not to put them off, and they were fascinated to see the name of their school written in the Celtic Ogham alphabet. Two final sessions with the 11-13's were--no other word--fantastic, because of the children's huge enthusiasm. It was wonderful to find them prepared, interested and articulate. I shall look forward to reading the top entries in the creative writing competition I set them--I have a feeling that I shall be inspired and delighted.
On most of my days as a writer, I sit alone in a room with my characters, wrestling and wrenching a book into shape. But it is the days when I meet my audience which reminds me why I do this job. If my visit, my stories, my talking about what it is to be a writer, has lit just one candle in the mind of a child--helped them towards a love of literature and all the treasures contained within--then it will all have been worthwhile.