Marcus Sedgwick's Western Isles Tour Journal
On the first day of the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour we got a very warm welcome from two schools in Stornoway: the Isle of Lewis’s largest primary school in the morning, and the largest secondary school in the afternoon. If talking to young readers is the very end of the writing process, a trip like this is, for me, the kind of thing that can prove to be the very beginning of a book. A book like The Dark Horse, for example, is based in this kind of landscape, and who knows yet whether my week on the Western Isles will lead to anything creative.
Today we visited our most northerly points – the villages of Back and Tolsta, where I spoke to around 70 children at Back and just 20 in Tolsta, but if the numbers were small, the friendly welcome was just as strong as the one we received in Stornoway yesterday. The children were from P3, P4 and P5 – I really love speaking with these age groups, the events can often veer off in directions you weren’t expecting; for example, could you trap a ghost in the non-existent boxes that mime artists get stuck in? Ten minutes of discussion later, we got back on track. I welcome such diversions – it shows that the imaginations of young people are not to be underestimated.
We had dinner with Kathleen Milne, head of library services for the Western Isles. It was interesting to hear about the role of mobile library services on the Isles; as important if not more so than the branches – the mobile library vans provide a vital source of culture for the islanders, offering an almost tailor-made service for the borrowers.
Sgoil nan Loch in Leurbost is our next stop on day three. I did an event with 45 children who were absolutely delightful to spend time with. They had wonderful questions and five of them helped me out in a small theatrical performance at the end of the session. Then we visited a brand new school; the Sir E Scott School of West Tarbert. We chatted about various things from how much an author typically earns to some of the more obscure points of writing a book, to why you can’t just copy someone else’s book and put your name on it.
We headed down from North Uist to Lionacleit where I spoke to around 100 S1 and S2 students in their fantastic theatre space. The session flew by and there wasn’t enough time to tackle everyone’s questions, sadly. Oh well, another time, I hope.
The venue for the afternoon was Daliburgh School. To finish the session I answered as many questions as I could in ten minutes, ending with a good one. No children’s author can ever get too big for their boots, I think, because every now and again a young reader will ask something in all innocence - Example? "Have you ever met any real authors..?"
The final day of the Western Isles tour took us to Barra. It’s a gorgeous little island and the people are really friendly. I’ve been delighted to come to the Western Isles courtesy of Scottish Book Trust and the generous sponsorship of Scottish Friendly, so I’d like to thank them both for making this happen.
As with every day of the tour, we visited two schools. The second was CastleBay School; and the first was the smallest school we’ve visited all week – Eoligarry, just 23 pupils in all – I spoke to just 8 of them. The school has been threatened with closure but has recently won a reprieve for three years. To the local people, the school is vital. It’s doing a great job. And I very much hope it stays open, because we met some of the most wonderful young people I’ve ever met doing school visits.
The Scottish Friendly Children's Book Tour takes authors across Scotland all year, every year. Find out about upcoming tours here.