Better Reading: R.A. Spratt, you visit schools all the time. Why is it so important for kids to meet authors?
R.A. Spratt: Because you’d want to meet Dumbledore, wouldn’t you?
Better Reading: Sorry, I don’t follow?
R.A. Spratt: The question is – what should we be seeking to expose children to? Children are our future. Educating them is a big responsibility. The syllabus is overcrowded already. Teachers are tired. So if you’re going to pull all the kids in a school out of class for an hour, who would you do that for?
Better Reading: Um, is this a trick question?
R.A. Spratt: When I was at school we had a talk from a WWI veteran who had been at the Gallipoli Landing. He was very very old. He was losing his memory. He kept repeating himself. We all sat there in complete silence and politely listened because he was a Gallipoli Veteran and that is significant.
Better Reading: Yes.
R.A. Spratt: I am not a Gallipoli Veteran. I barely leave the house.
Better Reading: No, you don’t look old enough. …to be a Gallipoli veteran, obviously you’re old enough to leave the house.
R.A. Spratt: My husband had an astronaut visit his school. My brother got a school visit from Nancy Wake, the White Mouse hero of the Resistance in WW2. I am none of those things. I am a writer. I write stories. I used to write jokes. But now I specialise in stories.
Better Reading: I know. And you visit lots of schools.
R.A. Spratt: Yes, I do. Authors visit schools to promote their books and to earn money, so we don’t starve to death. But you’re not asking why authors do school visits. You’re asking why schools should host author visits?
Better Reading: Exactly. Yes, that’s what we want to know.
R.A. Spratt: The obvious answer is literacy. Everyone wants to encourage literacy. Except for illiterate people, who are actually a very large percentage of the population. But the actual literate part of writing, you know, inscribing words with letters from the alphabet, that is only a small part of being an author. We also come up with stories. And everyone likes those. Absolutely everyone, who ever existed, who drew breath, who walked on the face of the earth. Every single one of them had a brain that was hardwired to enjoy stories.
Better Reading: You’re getting a bit philosophical. I was thinking you could write a nice cheerful article about how you sing songs and do puppetry at your author presentations.
(R.A. Spratt leans forward and stares intensely into Better Reading’s eyes)
R.A. Spratt: Authors should visit schools because we are seriously impressive people.
Better Reading: You’re scaring me a little.
R.A. Spratt: You know, since Ancient times the greatest minds were fascinated by the idea of alchemy. Turning lead into gold. Nicholas Flamel, Plato, Leonardo Da Vinci – they were all obsessed. They thought that would be the ultimate intellectual achievement to transform a base metal into a precious metal.
Better Reading: I think you’re getting a little off point…
R.A. Spratt: Well I say that authors are way more impressive than that. Alchemy is just turning something into something else. What writers do is we create something from nothing!
I’ve created entire worlds. In the Peski Kids I’ve created Joe, April, Fin and Loretta and the dog Pumpkin. People love these characters. They particularly love Pumpkin because he bites old ladies. But they love April’s rages and Loretta’s sociopathic plotting. They care about Joe and whether he’ll be able to escape the clutches of the ruthlessly amorous Daisy Odinsdottir. They are irritated by Fin’s endless pedantry and they wince for his awkward unrequited love for Loretta. To my readers these characters have become real. In fact, they care about them more than they do the real people in their real lives. I get emails late at night complaining about plot twists, or suggesting future escapades.
And all this just came from my brain. Tiny electrical impulses firing back and forth between the neurons in my skull, brought these characters to life in my mind. I translated these ideas into written English using the 26 squiggles that are the alphabet. Then children can pick up my book, read the squiggles, understand the words and imagine the world for themselves.
This is much more impressive than alchemy. It is magic.
You get a whole world, coded into a book. That was created by my brain. Which was created by neurons, using electricity, which was generated by the chemical energy stored in the food I ate. Probably chocolate.
So chocolate makes worlds, when processed through an author’s brain. So basically, we’re magical. Which is why it is so important that authors visit schools because we make a magic. Real magic.
Better Reading: Huh?
R.A. Spratt: Authors are magic. We’re just like Dumbledore. And you’d want Dumbledore to visit your school, wouldn’t you?
Better Reading: Right. Um… do you have Jacquie Harvey’s email? I might just ask her instead.
Photo credit @nzfestival
The Peski Kids: Stuck in the Mud by R.A. Spratt is available this month. Read our review here.