Thursday, July 04, 2013

Warrington Wolves Foundation and the Children's University - Graduation Night!

 (Warrington's wonderful schoolchildren graduating!)

This evening I was witness to a pretty blooming marvellous spectacle, the graduation of 100 school children from Warrington through the Children's University scheme. These were pupils who had participated in extra-curricular learning experience, outside of the classroom environment. The scheme isn't just in the UK, it's worldwide, and it's dedicated to providing educational activities to children of all ages alongside the fine work that schools provide. I'm patron of the Children's University in Warrington, through my work with the Warrington Wolves Charitable Foundation. Over the course of the last few years I've been delivering workshops to the youngsters of my hometown - as have many others - and tonight saw the children celebrate their achievements.

(Neil Kelly, Director of the Warrington Wolves Foundation, and Wolfie. "He's behind you!")

Caps were donned, gowns were draped, and a procession of mini-graduates marched passed with grins of monstrous proportions plastering their faces. As if the smiles of the children wasn't enough to melt the coldest heart, the tearful looks on their proud parents and grandparents in the audience would've stopped a charging rhino dead in its tracks. No doubt some of those children in attendance, participating in the scheme, might not ever have considered a further education. Perhaps they will now. I don't know. Only I do know that if I'd had someone for creative industries (as an example) visit me in school when I was their age it would have had a profound effect. That's the biggest kick I get out of all my work: visiting schools all over the country and overseas and enthusing about the fact that one can make a living out of one's hobby. Writing WEREWORLD? A job? It's an absolute blooming pleasure, and I'm sure that came across to the kids tonight. I'm lucky that I've turned my pastimes into a career. That's what I've been doing for years. I might just get found out now.

(The shy and retiring author, and friend...)

 Huge thanks to Neil Kelly and the ace team from the Warrington Wolves Charitable Foundation for ALL their hard work managing the CU scheme in the town, and thanks to the University of Chester for the support they've shown. Wobbly handclaps to all those who've delivered workshops in the last year and all the parents who've encouraged their children to participate. Most of all, WHOPPING CONGRATULATIONS to all the boys and girls who have walked away from tonight's graduation ceremony with a very special certificate tucked under their arm. Here's hoping this is just the first step along a very special learning adventure!

Author visit to Penketh High School, my old stomping ground!

I spent yesterday at Penketh High School, scene of my formative teenage years and many bouts of bad haircuts, bogging acne and body odour. It occurred to me as I pulled up that it was 30 years ago since I'd first attended the school. More shocking was the fact that a handful of teachers who had taught me were still there (I'm mentioning no names to protect the innocent). I was speaking with Years 7 and 8 in the morning, 11-13 year olds, while after lunch I got to talk to the Year 6 pupils from Penketh's numerous feeder schools who were there for the day.

As school visits go, this was a bit of a treat for me. If I'd had an author or artist visit me when I was there back in the day, it would've had a profound effect upon my fragile little mind. It would've shown me that one CAN make a living in creative industries, that art and media aren't simply bits of extra-curricular fluff. Sadly, I never got any advice as a lad that supported my desire to pursue a living in the arts. To now be back at my old high school and have the opportunity to enthuse about what I do for a living (which, let's face it, certainly beats a 'proper job') was a real honour. If what I had to say struck a chord with just one student who was in the room, then that's a job well done. If at the very least the lads and lasses were entertained by my wobbling gob then that also puts a big Cheshire Cat smile on my fat face.

I also got to meet the rather marvellous Mr Hughes, headmaster of the school. You may better know him from his various appearances on morning television and viral tweets. I actually introduced him to Tony Higginson from Formby Books as 'Gangnam Head'. If you watch the video, all will make sense, I'm sure. Smashing chap.

Massive thankingyous to ALL who were there yesterday, especially Ian Farrar for coordinating the whole enchilada, and Jon Kay for taking care of technical requirements (and providing good gossip) first thing in the morning. Most of all, thanks to all the students from Years 6 through 8 who endured my anecdotes, animations and arty doodles. You were great, every one of you, even the lad at the back who thought that Frostie The Snowman was a fair answer to the question: "Name me an entirely computer generated movie." I know. I don't know what he was thinking either.

"Can I have your name please, sir?" That's what the lady at Starbucks asked yesterday. Naturally, I happily obliged, and this is what came back. That's not even an attempt at a real name. She may as well have just put a random collection of consonants together. I tried to make it easier on an earlier visit to a Starbucks, having had my name repeatedly misspelled by them. When they asked for my name I replied: "Spartacus", garnering a chorus of guffaws from others in the queue. Humourless 'barista' replied: "Can you spell that please?"

Meh. The worst misspelling of my name is unrepeatable on here, and it featured on the front of my 'Frankenstein's Cat' picture book. No. I'm not even going there...

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Hijinks with Tommy Donbavand, AWARD WINNING author of Scream Street!

A grand day out in the company of the wonderful Tommy Donbavand today, author of the Scream Street series of books. We were both appearing at St John Bosco Arts College in Liverpool for their annual book award ceremony, which Tommy's Scream Street was in the shortlist for. He was up against Michael Morpurgo, David Walliams and Jacqueline Wilson for the prizes, which in addition to the actual best book included best villain, best setting, best illustration and best character.

It was a bit special to see the master at work. Tommy's a real pro. For Morpurgo he convinced the kids that the fellow hates children. This wasn't too difficult, all said and done. His other feats were far more impressive. Walliams was written off as a fraudster, his work the fevered wittering of eighty-six year old homeless man, Alfie Thompson (a surprisingly prolific author - just google what I've said!) And as for Wilson, the kids really bought into the idea that she punches kittens for giggles. After that all five awards were safely in the bag.

Great to spend the day with Tommy and librarians Sophie and Claire. Cheers to everyone who came, hope you had a grand day. Bit of a special one for me tomorrow. I'm visiting Penketh High School, my old stomping ground, to speak to Year 7, Year 8 and the Year 6 pupils from all the feeder schools. Shall report in with a detailed report on my adventure tomorrow, but I'm REALLY looking forward to this one.

QUESTION: What's the best thing you've ever won? For me it was winning my age group at the Liverpool Chess Congress when I was ten years old. I got to choose my prize - a Disney's Black Hole pop up book. Trust me, it was WAY better than it sounds, just like the film itself. So what about you???