I don't know why I enjoy school visits so much. I always think I get more out of them, than the pupils I speak to. I think it's the best research in the world for a children's writer. You see how your readers dress, how they speak, to each other and to their teachers. You can observe how they behave, how they wear their hair. And I can't remember the number of times a school visit has sparked off a book. I used to tell stories about the funny wee men I would see around my home town, and let's face it, in Scotland we have an endless supply of funny wee men. Whenever I told these stories they would say, " you should write a book about them." And I did. I wrote Catch Us If You Can." Recently, I've been talking about a football shirt I had seen pinned on a tree as a tribute to a boy who had died there in an accident. Told them how I would build a story from that. "Are you going to write that book," they would say. So I did.
One thing about me, if they ask me to write a certain kind of story, then I will. When I was writing Underworld, I asked at one school. " What would you like to find in a story like that." And, almost as one, they said. " a monster!" Now, I don't normally do monsters. But there is a monster in Underworld.
I can find characters at my school visits too. The boy at one school who insisted we swap autographs, because his would be worth a fortune one day on Ebay! And last year in Exeter a line of pupils waited for me to sign books and one girl stepped to the front. " There's a queue!" they all shouted. and she said. " The queue starts behind me." and with hardly a word, they all formed a line behind her. How can you not use that in a story!
The biggest benefit is meeting your readers. They make writing so worthwhile. The boy at Mearns Academy who said Grass was the best book he had ever read. The girl at Rothes who stood with her pile of my books, so excited, waiting for me to sign them. Did she know I was the one who was really excited? I hope so.