Wednesday, 30 March 2011


Our first time in Fraserburgh, so we had a nosy around before heading to Fraserburgh Academy. The town is well known as a centre of the fishing industry, so the obvious place to head was the harbour. It was interesting to see that there weren’t any traditional fishing boats, the small ones that are tossed  around on the wild seas. The boats we saw were all large and modern, the sort that could go out to sea for several days at a time.
The lighthouse museum is another pointer to Fraserburgh’s sea ties. It left me wondering: are there also darkhouses & heavyhouses?
On to Fraserburgh Academy, where I was met by the lovely librarians Mrs Smith and Mrs Robertson, two ladies who work really hard to make reading as enjoyable as possible for pupils. Mrs Smith is really arty and had created this for our visit, which was fab.

The S1s were up first. We had a couple of short sessions lined up and the first clearly went well because most of the pupils were supposed to go off and do something else at the end of it…but didn’t, they stayed for more. That was either a sign that they were enjoying themselves or that they were meant to be doing a calculus exam!

After stuffing ourselves with sandwiches (you know what Keith’s like) we welcomed 3 of the local primary schools to the Academy. This meant the library was packed to bursting, which is just the way the author bloke likes it. So, we talked about exploding appendix and missions to the Moon and generally had a great time. Excellent questions, which was good because it kept Keith on his toes.

Here are some photos of the fun so that you can play Spot The Grinning Idiot in the Checked Shirt, a game that really ought to be made widely available on mobile phones.

And then we were heading south again, to a great guest house in Turriff, Aberdeenshire, one that has the comfiest beds on the planet, ready for a trip to Aberdeen the next morning.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Itchingfield is up to scratch (yes, you may groan now)

Village schools are quaint. They just are. And Itchingfield Primary School is particularly so, nestled at a bend in the road, overlooking fields a few miles outside Horsham, not too far from Gatwick.

They don’t use a piercing alarm to start school they use an old school hand bell. It’s fabulous. What a way to start the day when the sun is beating down outside so that you can wear short sleeves in mid March. Of course Keith is from Scotland, so I had to explain to him what sun is as he had never seen it before, only read about it in books.

The pupils gathered in the hall, one of the smallest we’ve presented in and all the more fun for it. And off we went.

Great session, fantastic pupils and really friendly, helpful staff. And yet again a teacher won one of the books! That’s now 7 times in the last 14 school visits. Yes, we’re still keeping count.

Afterwards loads of people wanted books but of course we’d sold all that we could carry back in Crewe, so a lovely member of staff made a list of who wanted what and Keith will be popping a big box of them in the post to the school on Saturday morning. Most ordered books at this school were Lee and the Consul Mutants and Lee’s Holiday Showdown. It’s strange how favourites vary from school to school.

En route to Horsham rail station we dropped into Waterstone’s. There’s a great children’s bookseller there (Katie), wonderfully friendly and keen to hear about new titles, so we had a great chat. She ordered copies of DarkIsle, the Royal Mail Awards winner, and if anyone is interested in grabbing one of those I can highly recommend it.

She also ordered copies of one of the author bloke’s favourite books, Firebrand by Gillian Philip, which Amanda Craig in The Times described as ‘the fantasy novel of 2010’. They’ve sold copies of this one before and no wonder, it’s an amazing read, though for teens and adults rather than for those of primary school age.

Onto the train for the trek north to where the forecast suggests masses of snow will await us. Sledge time. Excellent!

Big news in Biggleswade

The author bloke says he read every Biggles book ever written (by Captain W E Johns) as a child…Biggleswade has absolutely nothing to do with those books.

I like when a teacher starts a session by saying, ‘Those are my Mortimer’s Moans’ after she’s mentioned a couple of behavioural items. It gets the point over without making it too heavy. The Ogre could learn a thing or two from Mrs Mortimer.

This was Edward Peake CofE Middle School. Most parts of the country don’t have middle schools, so it had been a while since we’d been to one. On the evidence of this visit we’d like to go to more of them. They were a tremendous bunch.

We’d been robbed the day before. I say robbed…I mean the children in Crewe had bought all of the books Keith was able to carry…and ordered even more. Fortunately Keith had avoided selling the books he was meant to read from, but he’d also borrowed a couple from his sister-in-law’s bookshelf so he would have the full set. That turned out to be an excellent move because the first thing that happened at the Biggleswade school was that Keith had to pose for photographs taken by Tracy from the Biggleswade Echo and for that he needed a full set of all 4 Lee books.

Having stared down the camera lens like the grinning fool that he is, Keith took to the floor and we had a great session with 200 or so pupils. The pupils knew a lot about the Moon, but they didn’t know that there aren’t any trees there now because someone chopped them all down.

Heaps of orders at the end, so that will keep Keith busy signing during Match of the Day on Saturday night. I know that women reading this will be amazed: a man who can multi-task? Yes, surprising but true.

Off to Itchingfield next. What a great name for a village. What was in the field that make people itch? I’ll report back if I can find out.

Chuckling in Crewe

Wednesday 9 March. The author bloke opens the curtains and it’s SNOWING! What?!!!! I wasn’t expecting that. Luckily he’s a hardened Scot, so we were soon marching to the station, heading for a part of Crewe called Rope…which does seem like an odd name for a place, but let’s not get tied up in that. (Sorry!)

Mrs Slater had organised for me to visit. However, it wasn’t fair on her because she teaches Year 2 and didn’t get to sit through our session as it was for Years 3-6. We’ll need to return for another session one day and make sure she’s part of it.

I loved that the teachers at this school – The Berkeley Primary School – laughed throughout the session, vying with the pupils to see who could get the jokes first…or at all…they were Keith’s jokes after all…

But what’s this? Teachers…laughing…? That’s terrible brilliant. Yes, it’s how the world should be. It means everyone can go back to the classroom and share the experience they’ve had.

The author bloke jokes that he should be a schools inspector in his spare time given how many we visit (about 700 in the last 5 years). He is only joking – he doesn’t want to be that unpopular – but it does mean he is used to very quickly getting a feel for a school. This was one of those he had a great feeling about. It seemed as if the staff were all pulling in the same direction and getting the most out of the pupils as a result.

Talking of the pupils, hello to Adam and Siobhan (hope that’s the correct spelling) who made a point of introducing themselves before we started; to Rebecca who has the same name as my toe rag of a little sister; and to Charlotte who has my first name as her surname – Lee!

When we were finished loads of people wanted to buy books – so many that we ran out of books (don’t worry, Keith will be sending signed copies to the school as soon as he gets home) and time. Mrs Slater (a.k.a. Superwoman) saved the day, very kindly running us to Crewe station, where the train to London pulled in as we descended the stairs to platform 6. A perfect end to a thoroughly enjoyable visit.

Dragon Territory

Monday 7 March. Irvine. Home of the dragon.

No, no, I’m not being rude about Sharon the librarian at Irvine Library. No, no. She’s great. And an AC/DC fan. No, I mean the dragon in Irvine Beach Park. It's huge and was the inspiration for DarkIsle, the brilliantly exciting novel that won the 2008 Royal Mail Awards for Children’s Books. Keith was at the award ceremony to see the author – Dawn Nelson – collect her prize. In the story this dragon is brought back to life to save a special world, one we can’t see. There’s also a great sequel – DarkIsle: Resurrection. Exciting and funny both at the same time.

Luckily the pupils we were meeting weren’t breathing fire when they arrived. Neither were their teachers, unlike mine, the notorious Mrs Ogilvy…or The Ogre as we all call her. (We once went to a school in Bishopbriggs, on the outskirts of Glasgow, where the teacher there was also called Mrs Ogilvy and the wonderful woman wore a T-shirt for my visit, across the front of which it said THE OGRE in big letters. Heh heh. Ah, what it is to have a sense of humour? (We passed the same school on the train the other day. It’s been demolished. Hopefully that didn’t have anything to do with our visit!)

Irvine Library must surely win the prize for Longest Library in the UK’. It’s not very wide, but it goes on and on and on. If you enter by the front door on Monday you don’t reach the back door until Thursday! Okay, slight exaggeration, but does seem to go on for ever…a bit like the author bloke sometimes.

Happy Hutchie

Hutchie sounds like the name of a hamster. It’s not. It’s short for Hutchesons’ Grammar Primary School, and is what everyone Keith knows calls the school that was our next stop. It’s on the south side of Glasgow and, as it happens, is just up the road from where the author bloke used to live until a couple of years ago. (The sleuths amongst you will have deduced from the placing of the apostrophe that there must have been more than one Hutcheson.)

The lovely Maureen had arranged this visit. Maureen is so well organised that she had booked us not long after 2010’s World Book Day. Well, as the saying goes, if you’re not fast you’re last. And Maureen wasn’t last…she was first. Good on her.

Maureen is in charge of a fantastic library/education resource space that is perfect for authors because it is lovely and cool, meaning that people like Keith don’t get all sweaty in front of pupils. That’s to everyone’s benefit, believe me.

We had some fantastic questions at this school, ones that really made Keith think. (Keith think? Who said, ‘That makes a change’? Not me!) We also had a lot of volunteers to go to the Moon. Or we did until they realised it was Friday, that it takes 3 days to reach the Moon (it being 250,000 miles away), and that they would therefore miss the weekend.

Afterwards, the author bloke signed loads of books, suspecting that some would already be finished by Monday morning, if not sooner. He’s going to have to get on with writing my next book. Pronto. With me having already been a World Saving Superhero (Lee and the Consul Mutants), a brilliant businessman (Lee Goes For Gold), an amazing detective and entertainer (Lee’s Holiday Showdown) and a intrepid astronaut….what next? I can’t wait to find out.

Keith in Beith!

We’d been to Beith Library before and couldn’t wait to be back. We always enjoy ourselves there. Jean the librarian was there to greet us. Lovely woman.

It was Friday and Keith had done a lot of talking already during the week, so having a small room crammed with pupils from Beith Primary School was perfect, not too tough on his voice. (The bin men did their best to make a racket outside but were soon on their way.)

We love it when pupils are crammed in – you can see sparks of laughter jump from one person to the next. Like fleas. Well, ok, not actual fleas. You know what I mean.

Lots of signing for Keith to do afterwards, so it wasn’t easy for the teachers to get the pupils back out into the traditional glorious March sunshine of Scotland. (Okay, that was an advertisement on behalf of the Scottish Tourist Board – it was actually miserable outside…but did we care? No, we didn’t, we’d had such a good time.)

Welsh Wales for World Book Day

3 March – freezing! The author bloke scraped the windscreen and we headed along the coast to Rhyl. The sun was out, what a glorious day, then halfway through Rhyl someone turned out the lights. The sea fog descended like a curtain.

We were looking for Ysgol y Castell in Rhuddlan but were surprised when we found it. It had no roof…the walls were crumbling…and it looked as if it had been built five hundred years ago. I know some school buildings need a bit of attention, but…oh, oops, we’d found Rhuddlan Castle itself, not the school. I did wonder. You don’t get many open air schools in the UK!

It may have been dark outside but we were determined to keep it bright inside. So everyone at Ysgol y Castell gathered in the hall and we kicked off World Book Day. Brilliant. What an audience. Loved them. They really knew how to laugh.

And laughter brings out the sun. Or so it seems, because it was blazing in the sky by the time lunchtime came around.

So we set off for Ysgol Bryn Hedydd, where the teacher for the session was Mrs Lees. Yes, she nearly had the same name as me!

Julie – the lovely lady in the office – must have wondered what was going on, because every so often the roof was blown off. No, it wasn’t another open air school, it was blasts of hilarity that were raising the roof, because these pupils were so much fun.

And then home. 5 hours of driving back to Scotland, although the author bloke did insist on stopping for a tiffin cake. Yum.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Horsforth…and Idleness?

It was a nippy morning, temperature of 2.5C, as we pulled up outside Horsforth St Mary’s PS on the outskirts of Leeds. Brrr. But inside all was bright and beautiful – the author bloke and I were greeted with singing. Okay, admittedly it wasn’t our praises the pupils were singing, for the songs were hymns. Still, I was impressed by such clear voices first thing in the morning. Keith does his warming up in the car where no-one can hear him (fortunately), whereas I suspect these voices had been warmed up in the playground.

Someone from Year 4 wanted to find out if the Moon was made of Moon Cheese, so we climbed aboard the good ship Cardboard Cut-out and blasted off. However, before we were able to discover the answer we were being chased across the Moon by…oh, yeah, I’m not supposed to say in case it spoils the book for those who haven’t read it yet.

No teachers won prizes here, but 4 happy pupils did. If you’re one of them, I hope you are enjoying/ do enjoy/ will enjoy (delete as appropriate) your book. I’m sure you will. And henceforth you’ll be able to read nothing but Lee novels…or you will if I hurry up and write the next one.

Onwards to…idle for the afternoon.

No, not sticking our feet up and lounging around. When have we ever done that? Our Lady and St
Brendan’s PS is in part of Bradford called Idle. The school is on a hill. A steep hill. We felt sorry for the lady pushing a pram up it, as if we should have offered her a tow. I’ll bet the pupils there are really fit from all that upping and downing.

Lots of those probably-very-fit pupils crammed into Ms Cartwright’s room. We knew it was her room because she had her name emblazoned across the door in carved letters. Quite large letters. If her name was any longer she’d need a wider door.

The author bloke tends to speak to lots of pupils at once, so I like it when once in a while we get to
cram in to a room. It turns classrooms into little comedy clubs, which is the best possible use for a classroom.

The result was that we had a great laugh, after which Keith signed lots of books. And then we headed
west. A long way west…to Conwy in North Wales. It was dark and freezing by the time we arrived but we were already looking forward to the next day: World Book Day, 3 March.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Cheltenham part 2...and a cold field near Birmingham

Cheltenham part 2

The pupils at Warden Hill Primary School in Cheltenham are a sharp bunch, even first thing in the morning. They made a perfect audience for us given that the author bloke’s voice was ropey from the 420 pupils the afternoon before – perfect because all 220 of them laughed in all the right places and then were quiet in between. It didn’t take long for Keith’s voice to return to something approaching normal.

They must have enjoyed themselves because they bought lots of books afterwards, with Lee’s Holiday Showdown being the day’s favourite purchase. That would suggest they’re a canny lot as it’s the one that gives most words for your money. As a Scotsman, the author bloke obviously loves canniness.

The lovely Mrs Newman organised for me to be at Warden Hill. She’s a writer too – I heard her telling Keith that she’s written a script. I’ll bet it’s a cracker. And a particularly big thank you to the staff in the office who collated orders for all those who weren’t able to grab books immediately after our visit. It’s one of the things I like about my visits with the author bloke – nobody realises how much of a great time they’re going to have until they’re sitting in one of the sessions.

A cold field near Birmingham

No sooner had we thrust everything into the car in Cheltenham than we were making fast tracks to Sutton Coldfield.

Now, why is Sutton Coldfield called that. Was it built on the site of field someone thought was colder than any other field? If so, was it colder? And if it was, why? And if it was nothing to do with a cold field, is there another explanation? I’m curious. And is Sutton the name of the person who owned the field? Does anyone know?

We were at Holy Cross Primary School, right on the edge of Sutton Coldfield next to other fields that may have been hot, cold or luke warm…I didn’t have a chance to check because we were soon in the hall with all of years 3-6. They were another great bunch of pupils and teachers. There were a couple of times when the laughter was so explosive that I thought it was going to blow the roof off the school hall. That’s my kind of afternoon!

And when the laughter was over it was time to hit the road again. Onwards to Leeds and Bradford!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

28 Feb - Cilâ & Swindon Village

Half-term break is over. Welcome to laughter, Cilâ.

Monday 28 February. Mission: to make pupils in Cilâ, South Wales laugh even though the school holidays are over. Rating: very difficult. Who wants to laugh when the holidays are over, especially when it has turned gloriously sunny to coincide with the first day back?

(Cilâ is pronounced Kilahhh – a long ‘ah’ sounds at the end, the sort a tired teacher might make as they rest their classroom-weary feet and raise a cup of tea to their mouth.)

However, I knew there was a good chance of success when the pupils at the ultra-friendly Cilâ PS voted for Keith to read the ‘funny but very slightly disgusting’ part from Lee and the Consul Mutants. This wasn’t going to feel like work to them, more like a continuation of the holidays! It would just happen to be in the school hall.

And so it turned out. The sun shone in the windows and it was just as bright inside the hall, where we laughed our heads off and then put them back on again…because we didn’t want to frighten the other villagers.

Now, I expected Keith would be the only Scotsman in the village of Cilâ during our visit. Wrong! The head teacher was originally from Thurso, which is almost as far north as you can go in mainland Scotland. One of the other teachers (hello Mrs Taylor) is married to a man with Scottish roots…Don’t tell anyone, but it’s all part of a secret plot by the Scots re-establish the Celtic connection by invading Wales!

To Swindon...but not that Swindon

Before we knew it we were leaving Cilâ and  dashing off to Cheltenham. But not before the author bloke had scoffed a Welsh cake. That cake was to prove important.

We dashed up the M4 & M5 because we were presenting in Swindon Village that afternoon. Swindon Village is of course in…well no, it’s not in Swindon, it’s in Cheltenham! Weird. If anyone knows it’s called that then do email to let me and the author bloke know.

Anyway, back to Welsh cakes. Traffic on the M4 was not good as we made our dash. It was…bad (as you probably guessed). It was sssslllloooowwww. And so Keith had to skip lunch. And he hadn’t had any breakfast either. Now, if you’ve read other entries on this blog you’ll know how much Keith LOVES his food. So you can imagine how distraught he was by this lack of nosh. It would have been a disaster – his rumbling stomach would have drowned out pupils’ questions at Swindon Village PS - had it not been for that Welsh cake saving the day. See, I told you that cake was important. Cake is always important.

Waiting for us at Swindon Village were 420 pupils at the start of their Reading Week. They laughed as if there were three times that number. It was brilliant! They broke Keith’s laughometer. There were great questions too. Such a vibrant school.

As always, we ended with a competition, with 2 books as prizes. Now, with 420 pupils versus about 20 pupils the odds of a teacher winning a prize were not good. The odds of them winning both books were even slimmer, especially as the way of choosing the winners is entirely random. But you guessed it: teachers won both of the prizes! The author bloke thinks the odds of that happening were 40:1 against, or 2.5%, however some bright spark maths genius may want to tell him he’s calculated that incorrectly.