Five days in the life of Pete Johnson
Wednesday March 5th
The World Book Week events starts with a visit to Twickenham Prep School. The journey, courtesy of First Capital Connect is grim, as people fight to get on and off heavily over-crowded trains. I arrive at that ghastly new station, St Pancras International. Passengers are instructed to leave the station as quickly as possible. I needed no urging to do that.
But all the awfulness of the journey is soon forgotten once I arrive at the school. There's such enthusiasm and interest, due in no small measure to a brilliant librarian.
One girl, Maisie, had written me a fan letter last year. She was told first that I was coming today. She notices that 'HELP! I'M A CLASSROOM GAMBLER,' and 'THE GHOST DOG' are the biggest selling books of the day.
'They're really good,' she says, but then, with the air of a real connoisseur adds: 'But you're best written book is undoubtedly 'TRUST ME, I'M A TROUBLEMAKER.'
Thursday March 6th
Today at Holy Trinity School, Crawley, I meet another superb librarian – they really are the great unsung heroines and heroes of the book world. One boy comes up to me and says that he'd first met me three years ago when he was in Year Six. Now he's in Year Nine. 'I've read all your books,' he says. 'And do you know what I've just finished reading now … 'War and Peace.'
Somewhat stunned I ask how long that has taken him. 'Oh, a bit longer than one of your books,' he says. 'About ten days.'
Friday March 7th
Today I'm at St Crispin's School, Wokingham. The librarian is very warm and dynamic and asks if I'd mind if two pupils interview me. They ask some good questions, including one which takes me by surprise. 'Describe your books in one word.'
'Brilliant,' I reply. They look a bit shocked, not sure if I'm joking or not (I am, honestly)
Two boys, Alex and James are especially helpful. This, once again, gives a lie to the myth that only girls are interested in books and reading.
And in fact, I sign as many books for boys as girls. The problem is, I think, some boys are a bit wary about going into bookshops. One boy asked me once if you were allowed to wear trainers in bookshops!
Saturday March 8th
My alarm goes off at 5am. This seems especially shocking on a Saturday. But I am off to deepest Dorset for a conference to mark the start of The Year of Reading. For a while, I am the only person on my railway platform. And to make up for this I am treated to the wonderful repertoire of birdsong. Finally another guy with a rucksack appears. We exchange smiles and grunts. Then, as soon as the train appears he flops down on the seat and falls asleep, snoring gently. But I feel oddly awake now and go over my speech.
I reach my destination at half past ten. There is a great atmosphere: not like a solemn gathering of teachers and librarians at all. More like a cross between a party and an evangelical meeting. Lyn, the organiser is also getting married later this month. She says she keeps getting this conference and her wedding confused. But she is her usual exuberant self and, as always, her enthusiasm is highly infectious.
People ask if I still get nervous before giving a talk. The answer is an emphatic 'Yes.' This is not necessarily a bad thing, though, as nerves (provided they're not overwhelming) show you care about what you do and want to give of your very best. The audience is an especially warm and appreciative one today and I leave on a real high.
When I get home some friends cry: 'Have you heard what's happened?' Thinking I've missed some epoch-changing event I gasp: 'No.' Then they tell me about Chelsea's defeat by Barnsley.
Sunday March 9th
I forgot to switch off my alarm and it rings out again defiantly at 5am!
Later I have lunch with a group of friends. One says. 'I've been trying to speak to you for days – where have you been? I thought writers stayed at home all day.'