I’ve just finished doing 14 events in schools and bookshops in Texas, which means I’ve spoken to around 2,000 kids and said to them all: ‘and then, before their eyes…. he melted.’
I spent five days in Lufkin, which isn’t the biggest place in the state, but by some quirk of planning and happenstance has the largest middle school in Texas.
Teachers have shaken my hand, baked me cookies, called me ‘Sir’, provided lifts in their enormous cars, rushed me out to drive-in delis for my lunchtime sandwich, and put chocolate shakes in my hand if I looked thirsty. The kids have got to know me, coming up to me in the corridor asking me to sign bits of paper, look at their cartoons and poems, and ask me to say ‘aloominum’ – they can’t believe we Brits pronounce every bit of ‘aluminium’.
Lufkin has been staging the musical ‘Oklahoma’ and it was a delight to see their version of the show, as well as the children wandering here and there in the corridors in period costume.
I’ve had three lunches with student groups, all of which have been accompanied by Candle Man cookies, baked in the shape of the snow globe Theo is given in Chapter one of book one. Kids have asked me great questions. How do you decide what size to make your characters? Why are Clarice and Chloe twins? Were you invited to the royal wedding?
My favourite question came from a boy at St Cyprian’s school, who at the end of my talk, asked in a quiet voice: ‘Is this the world?’
‘I’ll just check,’ I replied, looking at the ground below my feet. ‘Yes, yes, I believe it is.’
I realised afterwards he was probably asking if Candle Man was set in the real world. Still, we authors have to get out laughs somehow.
I have to give special mention to Diana Hineman who looked after me so well I had nothing to worry about except remembering to open my mouth when it was time for my events. With her family we went on one of my favourite excursions of the week, to the ‘Boil and Go’ crawfish restaurant.
The food is served out of a caravan on a street corner, heaved from a big boiling contraption like something out of ‘Deadliest Catch’. The customer gets a plate heaped with crustaceans – crab, crawfish, shrimp, plus sweetcorn and red potatoes. This spectacular feast is infused with hot spices which I was assured would make my lips burn later on in the evening – and they did.
The customers were families, beefy bikers in bandanas, a man in a multicoloured sombrero, and me. Our waitress was one of the schoolgirls I had spoken to in my events, and it was funny to see her delicately explaining how to twist, rip and pull a crayfish apart, in the midst of a crazy outdoor racket of music, traffic and raucous customers.
I mistakenly referred to Boil and Go, as ‘Boil–a-Bug’, when talking to Egmont about it, and since they call crawfish ‘mudbugs’ here, that could be a name to go forward with.
At the end of the feast, one of the kids at the table said to me in a confiding way: ‘this is the second most redneck thing you can do around here!’ On enquiry, the MOST redneck thing turned out to be ‘a bonfire in the country’. I think he meant a barbecue.
One less than brilliant trip was my signing at a book store almost an hour away up the road. My books hadn’t arrived on the right day, so I went to the shop the day after (when I would actually have something to sign). It was weird to sit in an empty, cavernous bookstore, next to a poster saying I had been there the day before. To cheer me up the owner said it had been empty the day before too.
Now I’m in Houston, and it is all change. My main amusement is that the put-upon reception guy in my hotel sounds exactly like Squidward so it’s fun asking him for stuff.
My final event – a signing at Barnes and Noble, gave me the chance to meet Laura Montgomery who is giving my book a great boost here. Outside of Tristus himself, I doubt if anyone has looked after the Candle Man so well. It was great to finally meet someone with such an insight into my book and talk to her about – well, Dr Who of course! Hi Laura, hi Diana… seeya Texas. A cold beer and then I’m outta here…