Posted on 14th June, 2019 by
Sorry about my absence from the newsletter over the last couple of months. To explain, may I refer you to my laureate calendar, in particular Mostly Not Squashed May. I called it that to celebrate the power of stories to help us not be squashed by life's challenges and problems. But unfortunately, while I was writing those inspirational notes, I completely forgot about my socks.
I shamefully neglected to explain to them, or indeed to any of my clothes, that in their case the next few weeks were going to be Mostly Extremely Squashed May. And that the case in question was my suitcase.
It's not a pretty sight, a children's laureate on the road. The far-flung reaches of the literary world aren't always blessed with overnight laundry facilities, and fingers bruised and swollen from book-signing and shaking the hands of very strong librarians are ill-suited to freshening up a frock in a motel sink.
So the sensible laureate on the move packs every garment they own, even if the only way to get the suitcase zipped is to place a huge weight on it. (Harry Potter, all seven volumes.)
My poor squashed duds have covered some distance these last six weeks, and I don't just mean the violent expansion they experienced each night when I unzipped the bag.
We started with a week in NSW's Hunter Valley, visiting several lovely schools (none sadly with steam-ironing on the curriculum), talking to some very engaging groups in the Maitland Town Hall (thank you, wonderful librarians from Maitland Public Library, for not commenting on the creases in my shirt, or my socks, or my beanie) and ending up with a couple of keynotes at a teacher-librarian conference in Newcastle (sorry I couldn't accept the karaoke invitation, TLs, but I only do Engelbert Humperdinck and my regency-sleeve shirt was wedged inside my toothbrush case).
Then it was over the ditch to the Dunedin Writers Festival, where despite the warmth of the welcome and the tingling excitement of the literary discourse, I was glad to have an extra four or five pairs of socks to pop on. The next few days, driving north to Queenstown and visiting schools along the way, required an ever-changing cavalcade of clothing, the roads in those parts regularly experiencing four seasons in an hour. Luckily the sun was shining when I arrived at the truly remarkable Remarkables Primary School. Seeing that such an exquisite state school exists on the planet brought tears to my eyes. Though that might also have been because I was trying to lift my bag out of the car.
Twenty-four hours later I was in Alice Springs. My throat was creaking and so were my jeans. Not the ones I was wearing, the three dozen spare pairs I'd packed inside the shoes in my toilet bag. Even as I stepped onto the stage at the Northern Territory Writers Festival, I could hear them in the distant hotel room, begging to be set free.
It was only April the 19th. Weeks still on the road. Would I make it to June, I wondered. Then I remembered what the laureate calendar says about June. Just Admit It June - Stories Make Us Honest. The idea that at the heart of all fiction is truth. And that's what I gave the audience that day - my painful truth.
'Help," I said. 'My shirts are packed so tightly the poor things can't tell where their cotton ends and their polyester begins.'
The audience looked sympathetic. But it was another author who saved me. After the session, she sidled up.
'PYDWH,' she whispered acronymically.
I stared at her.
'Press Your Dungarees With Helicopters?' I said, intrigued.
She shook her head.
'Post Your Dirty Washing Home,' she said.
Oh, literary festivals, I love your generous authors and their life-changing ideas. I contacted my local post office, rented a large PO box, and in Darwin I floated through the schools and libraries like a new man, my remaining clothes hugging me in gratitude. In Adelaide I smiled foolishly all through a symposium with a couple of hundred teachers on arts enrichment in schools and I was still smiling in my kids festival talk, even when the organisers realised they'd mucked up the schedule and marched my audience off to another session. I didn't care and neither did my underpants.
At dinner in Canberra with a politician I tried to lobby for the proposed National Centre For Australian Children's Literature, but my mind was mostly on dusty jeans in Express Post bags. At the Children's Book Council Of Australia conference, my keynote ended up being mostly about the pros and cons of registered mail. Meetings flew by as I tried to look engaged and serious while bouncing my nearly empty suitcase on my knee.
Finally, at the Bellingen Readers And Writers Festival, I stood in the queue at Kerry O'Brien's signing table. He was surrounded by piles of his recently-published memoir, an impressive tome of eight hundred plus pages. Festivalgoers were muttering sadly about how it wouldn't fit into their suitcases.
I didn't hestitate.
'I'll have a dozen,' I said.
Kerry looked at me sceptically.
'You got a truck?' he said.
I shook my head.
'Empty suitcase,' I said.
'Really?' he said. 'Could you fit in some of my dirty washing?'
That Kerry. He'd obviously been reading the laureate calendar. Genuinely Smart July - Stories make Us Clever.
- Every month we¬†celebrate story with a different theme¬†according to the Stories Make Us calendar.
- In Mostly Not Squashed May Stories Make Us Determined
- In Just Admit It June Stories Make Us Honest
- In Genuinely Smart July¬† Stories Make Us Clever
- Share the results of your story celebrations online with the hashtag #StoriesMakeUs
- You can download the 2019 Stories Make Us... calendar here