You know “They” say you should do neither . . . However, I have found that the two can be a fantastic combination. Recent experience bears this out. Take this Monday, for example, when I was asked to do a reading at a family fun day.

First, though, a confession: there is nothing that makes my heart sink so much as the words, “We are having a school fête/Christmas fayre/family fun day – will you come and do a reading in our book tent?”

It’s not that I dislike fêtes or fayres or fun days per se. I don’t even particularly dislike tents. And I positively love books and reading them, especially if they are my own, because I am an author and I am vain.

So what’s my problem?

The thing is, a “book tent” is invariably a flimsy marquee, set up next to a loud-hailer/sound system/clown popping balloons and the visiting author is required to do a reading above this noise, with no microphone, in the hope that she/he will draw the crowds.

Of course, it is rarely possible to draw the crowds in such venues. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a clown popping balloons is infinitely more exciting than a middle-aged woman reading aloud from a book. I have sat in “book tents” in the past and been graced with one or, if I am really lucky, two children who have sat and listened to me read for all of thirty seconds before a harassed parent has arrived, ignoring me and saying to the kids, “I’ve been looking everywhere for you! It’s time to go now,” leaving me reading aloud to an empty tent. Much as I like the sound of my own voice, I prefer to have someone else to share it with.

So it was not without fear and trepidation that I schlepped my books to Hartley Farm for their Easter Fun Day. I arrived to find the place heaving with families under a blazing Easter sun. So far, so good. I was greeted enthusiastically and assured that “loads of children” had turned up for the author before me. Feeling heartened at this, I unloaded books, cuddly toys, postcards, colouring sheets and bookmarks and set up for my first slot. I wanted to do the event as it was a local one and the farm have supported me by selling my books through their farm shop. I also very much didn’t want to do the event because I was scared no one would come and listen to me other than that extremely snotty toddler over there . . .

Things started well. I soon had a small audience which made up for its size in producing a lot of noise. It transpired they all knew each other already and quickly proceeded to tell me how they were related, who hated who, and who knew more than me about African animals while I tried reading to them from Monkey Madness. More than one of the children in the crowd reminded me a little of Flo and Mo in the book – tall storytellers with little capacity for paying attention, particularly on a hot day when ice cream was on offer outside the tent. The reading ended in a scrum as all the children gave up listening to me and began stuffing hay from the hay bales into each other’s clothes. A harassed parent duly appeared and pulled them away, and I was left reading to myself again.

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I looked about at the families with their young children, all walking past me and going straight to the other activities and I thought, “What I need is a USP, something to draw the crowds . . .” The previous author’s books had been about tractors, and his stories were an ideal segue from the tractor rides the farm was offering. My books are about animals, it’s true, but only one of them (I’m A Chicken, Get Me Out of Here!) has a farm animal in it.

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Then I noticed that a few families had brought their dogs.

“I write about dogs!” I thought. “And I have a dog, sitting at home . . .” I raced back (luckily the event was not far from home), fetched my soppy Labrador and drove back to the farm.

The minute I tethered my dog to the bench in the book tent, I had a second larger crowd of sticky, ice-cream besmeared children gathering around me, asking me my dog’s name (Kenna), telling me she was lovely (“But she stinks!” – true) and asking me if I had written a book about her. “Does she like stories?” one child asked.

And we were off. (Kenna is wisely keeping a low profile in the photo below – she is lying down to my left.)

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I think I have cracked this “book tent” malarkey now. As long as I am allowed to bring Kenna along with me, it should be a breeze from now on. If nothing else, she sits perfectly still, doesn’t smear me with ice cream and doesn’t interrupt to contradict me when I am reading to her. So it looks as though the saying, “never work with children and animals” does not hold true for me.

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Thank you to Hartley Farm for having me and Kenna.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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