For some reason children’s authors often seem to get treated a little like small children themselves. Even so, I did a double-take when I read the invitation instructions for the Book Awards after-party at Government House: “You are invited for post-award drinks in the house at 6.36pm. Departure time will be at 7.10pm.”
“It’s not weird. It’s military precision,” another writer clarified to me. So clearly I am the only one who thinks it is downright bizarre to time a cocktail party down to the wire.
If punctuatlity is Government House’s strength, their weakness is decor. The interiors are a startling mix of Mock Tudor, Corinthian pillars and faux Victoriana. There are big oil paintings of royalty and chandeliers of course but what really grabs you by the throat is the carpets. I watched one guest squander his entire allotted time in the inner sanctum with his cellphone poised above the floor moving through the crowds as he instagrammed every single Axminster.
I took photos too – mostly of the main dining room chairs which were all decorated with NZ regional coats-of-arms. I didn’t realise until that moment that we had regional coats of arms. I would have paused longer to admire them but got told off for almost putting my champagne glass down on the dining table (oddly enough I had assumed that is what tables are for), so instead I walked from room to room, looking at the vases and art on the many mantlepieces and thinking how lucky I was that I didn’t have to kit out my own home with incongruous and ill-sized objet gifted to me by well-meaning sister cities.
At 7.10 before they had the chance to kick us out I took a selfie (below). Yes, I know it is bad and blurry. Still it is better than official photo in which I look gormless and at the same time ridiculously delighted as I hold my certificate announcing me the winner of the Junior Fiction Children’s Choice book award for The Island of Lost Horses. It was the second year in a row that I won it – last time had been The Princess and the Foal and I was chuffed. It gave me a warm glow over dinner that night (from 7.42pm until 9.21pm) at Pravda with the team from HarperCollins.
The book awards fell smack in the middle of my national tour and I spent all of August working my way around the regions depicted on the dining room chairs. New Plymouth and Wellington came first then down to Blenheim and Nelson, and back up to Masterton, Palmerston North, Paraparumu, Wellington again before heading off again, this time with my publicist at the wheel of the hire car, on the Waikato leg (Te Awamutu, Hamilton, Matamata) and then Opotiki and Rotorua, Whakatane. I flew south alone after that to Mosgiel and then Dunedin where I misread the email from the Storylines organisers inviting me to the official authors dinner and so I dined solo at Nova. In Christchurch, ready for some company I hunted down novelist Rachael King and we wandered the inner city and she showed me the art and we drank at Last Words and ate late supper at Mexico.
In the rental car I drove to Ashburton on autopilot but the Oxford leg was a different story. The way the town nestles into the landscape with the Southern Alps and the perfect horse country and a local village that seems to be made up entirely of bookshops and bars made me want to move down there immediately. But I only stayed one night and then drove back via Rangiora and flew north again for the final leg. This time it was me and three other authors in a minibus going north to Waitangi and all points in between.
“What goes on tour stays on tour!” they giggled as we boarded the minibus. But really nothing “goes on tour” when you are a children’s book author. It’s three schools a day and an in-store in the afternoon and then back to the hotel for an early supper. The wildest moment of the whole three day jaunt was the long drive back home when author Ruth Paul and I bought a four-pack of mini Lindauers at the off licence in Wellsford to alleviate the boredom, and drank them through straws with Tessa Duder. There was much nudging and winking about our wild ways in the green room at Storylines Auckland the next day. I imagine it will be talked about for years to come.
So, OK, it wasn’t exactly a rock n’roll tour, but I liked it. By the end of the month I was match-fit at last, able to entertain entire school auditoriums of 7-12 year olds without breaking a sweat. Mostly though, it was the kids who entertained me. The joy of writing for middle-grade is that my kids are still shiny-eyed and passionate about their love of books. Not like the jaded, too-cool-for-school YA posse. My kids waited for me at the gates like I was Princess Diana, offering up cards and flowers. At Masterton Intermediate, two hundred boys and girls stood up in unison and moved out of their pews to perform the haka for me and I choked a bit trying not to cry. And at every school I reminded them that next year when the Children’s Choice Book Awards rolled around they should vote for my new book The Girl Who Rode The Wind. I want another 34 minutes inside Government House.