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Photoshoots, Chefs, Sheep and a Goat called Gorgeous George!

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It’s been a mad, mental amazing last few weeks. I’ve driven over 4000 miles, presented to over 20 schools and one fantastic book festival and done two or three slightly unusual things. Spot the odd one out.

  • A Masterchef winner cooked my dinner and came to the table for a chat.
  • Gordon Ramsay cooked my dinner and Gok Wan mixed my cocktails
  • I dressed up like Harry Potter and ran about a cemetery with an owl in one hand and a wand in the other.
  • I whisked my gorgeous young wife off out for her birthday to El Swanky Posh restaurant for her birthday.
  • I jumped into a pen with a couple of goats.

Sadly, the only thing I didn’t do on the list above was take Audrey out for dinner on her birthday – oops! Too wet to go out, too cold to play ball. We sat in the house, we did nothing at all. Well, I sent out my invoices, wrote to a few schools and generally tidied up my admin.

I did offer but Wednesday was horribly wet and Audrey didn’t fancy getting dressed up to get soaked going out. I really did offer though, honest.

I suppose Audrey is still hankering for the good life, after our fantastic trip to London, appearing on Channel 4’s Hotel GB. It was so surreal, coming out of the lift and chatting with How Clean Is Your House Kim, meeting Jackie Collins and Location, Location, Location guy Phil Spencer.

Gok Wan was top notch but Audrey won’t let me repeat his one and only Glaswegian catch-phrase – it’s a little bit rude but ask me when you see me. He does mix a mean cocktail though.

Gordon Ramsay was in charge of the kitchen when we went down for dinner and Gordon was…well, Gordon, I suppose. Doing what he does best, shouting at people, belittling them, swearing for the cameras. If this is how he behaves in his own restaurants, or expects his own chefs to behave, I’ll never eat in one of his restaurants again. It wasn’t pleasant and he does take criticism of his food too well.

‘How was the food?’ he asked when he came up to the table.

‘Burnt’ I replied. ‘The toast was solid.’

‘No,’ he snapped. ‘It’s sourdough bread, toasted over an open flame. Crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.’

‘But it’s black?’ And he stormed off to the next table, pretending he didn’t hear me.

The following week Jess, Charley and I were off to the Wigtown Book Festival. This was my first appearance at Wigtown and I had no idea what to expect. Smoked salmon and lobster for lunch? Yes, please and a performance in front of my first paying audience. It was great fun and they’ve even asked me to come back next year for a full day of school presentations.

The best bit was the photo-shoot for the Wigtown Calendar. Authors had to dress up as their favourite literary character and since Jess had a large Hogwarts cloak, wand and large stuffed owl, Harry Potter was the obvious choice. Kim the photographer was really cool as I posed in an old cemetery, trying to look menacing in the face of Lord Voldemort.

Then it was off the the Radio Royal studios for an interview the wacky, flambouyant DJ Craig Ryan. Craig had us on his show for over an hour and even included the first live reading from Gorgeous George and the Zigzag Zit-faced Zombies. Of course, it didn’t take Jess and Charley long to take over the microphones and don the headsets. Luckily I’d PR trained them before they went on ‘live’ so they were only able to say really really good tings about my books.

 

This week was a mixture of schools in Sunderland, Stoke, Preston and the Wirral. The Preston school wanted me to officially open their new library (oh no, more scissors) and the pupils had even made a beautiful ceramic tile mural with pictures of themselves and a brass plaque across the top which read ‘Eldon Guild Primary School opened by Author Stuart Reid.’ I was well chuffed with that.

Staying over in a little village called Woodchurch I decided to book myself into a cracking little hotel called The Riverhill. The restaurant is run by a young lady called Claire Lara and her menu was superb. It should be, Claire was the winner of the BBC’s Mastechef a couple of years ago.

Choosing the starter was tricky, with Rabbit Terrine, Beef Carpaccio and King Scallops on the menu but I eventually plumped for Cumbrian Wood Pigeon with smoked pancetta, parsnip puree and red wine jus. Absolutely gorgeous.

The mains were equally impressive with pheasant, Gressingham duck, saddle of rabbit and Cumbrian Beef Fillet with oxtail and wild sauted mushrooms. My pheasant was cooked to perfection; the caramelised quince was sublime, and perfectly balanced with the port sauce.

Sorry if I’ve gone all poncy, foodie connoisseur but when Claire came to chat at the table she mentioned that she’d been asked by the BBC to write a cookery book but she didn’t know where to start. The BBC suggested a ghost writer but again she was at a loss.

Ahem, ahem!! I think I could suggest an excellent ghost writer who loves his food!!!

Finally, Calvin and I were off to Woodchurch High School and our joint drawing and book reading sessions. The kids were brilliant; enthusiastic and engaged. And hardly surprising…. The school was amazing. In the middle of a housing estate, they had created their own farm where the pupils looked after an enormous menagerie of goats, sheep, chickens and rare breed hens. What an awesome school!  We were ‘persuaded’ to have our photos taken by the inspirational teacher Julie Wood and after a gentle introduction the goats seemed quite keen to be read to….from my book, obviously.

And the school is receiving another guest tomorrow (Saturday). The two lady goats who we met will be joined by a young male goat and the school have already christened him.

His name? Gorgeous George!

Saved By The Bell.

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I have the best job in the world! Is this what real authors do? Is this what it actually feels like to call myself a proper author and do proper author things? Or maybe it’s all pretend and I’m just a proper Arthur (as one little fan wrote and told me this week).

It has been the most amazing week in my short writing career. Generally, I’m ambitious, determined and very impatient; I expect great things to happen immediately and occasionally I can get frustrated that I haven’t sold a billion books by now. But when I think that I only gave up my ‘real job’ six months ago I realise that the rollercoaster ride is still climbing.

This week I attended my first book festival, Stirling’s Off the Page. I presented at two fantastic libraries, to two groups of primary school pupils and had a brilliant time. I was even treated to lunch by Stirling’s Library Co-ordinator.

Then I visited another seven schools and was delighted to discover that the Airdrie Advertiser and Angus Courier had sent photographers to capture my sessions with the kids. I even had a phone call from the Daily Record, who wanted some ‘background info’ as I’ve been nominated for the Creative Scotland Awards 2012.

At one rural school I was even allowed to ring the bell; a proper heavy metal thing with a big clanger. I nearly pulled my arm out of my socket swinging it back and forth but that still didn’t top the two most memorable moments of the last 7 days.

Whilst I was leaving one school I turned the corner into the car park and bumped into a dinner lady, sobbing profusely into a hankie. I went across to see if she was okay and found out that she was retiring and today was her last day. Her husband had died earlier this year and she was moving house to be closer to her daughter. She loved the kids at school and was going to miss them so much. By this point, I had to pretend I had something in my eye and I gave her a cuddle. I led her back into the school canteen where I knew the whole school was waiting with flowers and presents.

Then, at my last school of the week I met a young man called Jay. He told me he loves books and asked lots of great questions at the end of my presentation. He hung at the back of the queue of pupils, who were waiting to buy my book and just as the lunchtime rang, Jay was last to be served. He was so excited he thrust his little money envelope into my hand, holding it in a very particular fashion. Knowing I was running late, I felt for the money inside and guessed there was a £5 note, a £2 coin and a £1 coin. I even asked him if that was £8, he nodded and I gave him 1p change.

It was only when I got home and opened the envelope that I discovered there was £11.10 in it; a bit of a strange amount and £3.10 too much so I called the school.

It turns out that Jay wasn’t given any cash to buy my book. He had spent both his and his little sister’s lunch money to get himself a copy. He’d loved the presentation so much, he had the cash in his pocket for weeks’ worth of school dinners and he seized his opportunity. He was prepared to starve, as long as he could have a copy of Gorgeous George and the Giant Geriatric Generator.

. I think that more children should go hungry to read my books. Well done, Jay!

 

Have fun. Learn lots.

False Teeth

Thank you for visiting my website. After 25 years in retail and hospitality management I have discovered my true vocation in life – writing, storytelling, presenting and  helping children learn to love reading.

Books are brilliant. Books are a stairway to the infinite reaches of the imagination and a gateway to the unfathomable depths of the soul.

If a child can unlock that skill and ability to visualise words as pictures inside their head then every time they pick up a book, for the rest of their lives, they can be transported to fantastic faraway places by the  author’s words.

Children must be taught that reading is fun. Books must be an adventure. It doesn’t have be boring or mundane or just for homework. Children must be allowed to read books they want to read, not just books that adults think they should.

Learning to love reading means learning to have lots of fun.

Books can  be yucky, disgusting, messy, imaginative, funny, crazy or just plain stupid but if it means that children learn to love words, then they have done their job well.

My presentations are enthusiastic, engaging and energetic. Audience participation is not only requested but expected.

Have fun. Learn lots. is a phrase I have repeated to my children every single day they went to school. I believe these two intertwined essentials are the foundation to a successful and happy childhood.

Oh, and the ability to laugh at bums, bogies and big bottom burps.

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