Matt Whyman: Tour Journal
Two weeks ago, I travelled to Lagos, Nigeria, where I had been invited to take part in a literary festival. For security reasons, due to the risk of robbery and kidnap, I was met by an armed guard. Yesterday, arriving at Edinburgh Airport for a three day author tour of schools across Angus, I came through the Arrivals door to be greeted by two short ladies from the Scottish Book Trust.
I knew that Beth and Antonia had prepared for the drive to Montrose. They packed sandwiches, not guns, along with a selection of chocolate treats. I was in safe hands.
I visited Arbroath High School and Monifieth High School. Both sessions were brilliant, with a great deal of enthusiasm from the students. We talked about the family at the heart of my novel, The Savages, and their particular taste in people, as well as focusing on the importance of staring out of the window as part of the creative process. The questions were great. A highlight for me was ‘What’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made on the radio?’ which had me mentally thumbing through the dossier in my mind. I’m also deeply touched by the presentation of gifts at the end of each session! A Dundonian expressions tea towel and a mug with the word ‘blether’!
There are many rewards that come from talking about books and writing in schools. For the author, it’s a break from the typeface and the chance to fire up young writers to reach for their pens. There’s also a downside, and that becomes apparent when the photographer from a local newspaper is sent along to cover the event.
‘Smile,’ he says, but I can’t, and neither can the two poor girls roped into the picture. It’s quite clear they feel just as uncomfortable. ‘So, do you want to be writers?’ I ask the girls, as the photographer lines up another forced shot. They blush a little and look to their shoes. ‘Don’t let this put you off,’ I say. ‘Whatever you choose to do in life, if you can express yourself through the written word then you’ll
The pair look relieved. If they’re anything like me, they understand that good writing has the power to enchant, engage and empower. So what if I look like a lemon in the local paper for my efforts? As a writer, it’s all good material. I might even use it one day.
On the third and final day of The Savages tour across Angus with The Scottish Book Trust; we’ve staged events at six schools to 355 pupils. I’d love to share rock and roll tales of excess but this is a literary venture. The edgiest thing we did involved buying hot water bottles to get us through the nights in our freezing hotel rooms.
Despite not driving the Savage Wagon into a swimming pool, I’ve had a great time meeting so many enthusiastic young readers and writers. I leave in the knowledge that I’ve ruined their enjoyment of books, film and even video games this weekend, having broken down everything from The Hunger Games to The Wizard of Oz and Call of Duty into what are essentially the same story components. As writers, however, it’s our job to see behind the scenes in life and understand how stories are put together. It’s the surest way to improve our command of the written word, I believe, and make full use of the imagination.
Before I leave, I want to thank Beth, Antonia and everyone at the Scottish Book Trust, as well as the staff and pupils at Arbroath High School, Monifieth High School, Breichin High School, Webster’s High School, Montrose Academy and Forfar Academy. It’s been emotional. It’s been cold. It involved a lot of chocolate and I’d do it all again like a shot.