So, busy day, October 31. When I came downstairs in the morning, Mr. Waffle had already left for work but not before making brown bread. Heroic. I was therefore able to photograph two Irish icons side by side. Look, a loaf of soda bread and a barm brack (which I had hauled out of the oven at 2 in the morning – turns out that it takes a long time to cook though not as long as I left it in for – look, it’s only slightly burnt):
Earlier in the month, the Princess and I had signed up to go to the National Gallery to see the author of the Skulduggery Pleasant books speak. It was a lunchtime gig and I asked Mr. Waffle whether he could mind the boys at home over lunch while we skipped off. He nobly said he would take them to the library treasure hunt. A huge success apparently.
The night before, I got the following email:
Hello! Congratulations on being one of TEN lucky winners to meet Derek Landy on Wednesday 31st October!
You’ll have the chance to chat with Derek, get as many things as you can carry signed, as well as feature in a special short film being made to celebrate a certain skeleton detective. There’ll be goodie bags, books and heaps more – as well as front row seats for the event with Tom Percival, Nick Lake and Derek.
Can you reply to this mail confirming that you and a parent/guardian will be able to attend the event – kicking off at 11.30am in the National Gallery of Ireland, Clare Street, Dublin 2.
Congratulations again and see you TOMORROW!!!!!
So exciting. Mr. Waffle kindly agreed to mind the boys from 11 and the Princess and I skipped off. When we arrived at the national gallery, the competition winners were hovering with parents/guardians but there was no sign of the people who we were to meet. The event I now know was jointly organised by the Ark, the National Gallery and Harper Collins, Mr. Landy’s publishers. I have had some involvement myself in events put together by more than one organisation and, in my experience, this never works well. This was no exception.
We were eventually ushered into a lecture theatre by two young women from Harper Collins’s London Office. A camera man was waiting. Of the author, there was no sign. We all signed release forms allowing our children to be used by Harper Collins to promote the Skulduggery Pleasant Books. We were then all sent to wait outside (no seats, one granny, various middle aged parents and 10 children). Over the next hour the children were called in in ones and twos to talk to camera about how fantastic the books are. The parents waited outside as did the children when they weren’t making advertising copy for Harper Collins. Fortunately the children, by definition, were keen readers and were happy to sit on the floor reading. Bright young things from Harper Collins and the Ark and some gallery staff (bright young things seemed in short supply there) flitted around doing important things and ignoring us. To be fair, one woman from the Ark did try to talk to some of the children but they preferred to read their books. Basically we were just props for Harper Collins advertising and not particularly well looked after props either – not so much as a chair or a cup of tea while we waited for an hour (no indication of how long it would be either so it wasn’t like you could go away with your excited child and come back).
At about 12.30 we were told that the author was coming. There was great excitement. The main bulk of the people for the 1.00 session were now being let in and we swam upstairs against the tide, guided by the bright young things. Again, better organisation might have avoided this. We were led into a room in the Milltown wing (currently closed for renovation – closed for some time but of said renovation, there are no visible signs, I digress) and there we waited further. There were seats and some more enthusiastic hovering from the young women from Harper Collins (editorial assistants? marketing? who knows?) assuring us that the author would shortly be there. And finally about 12.45 he came.
And once he came, I have to say he was terrific. I mean, he writes about a skeleton detective and his sidekick, so you would feel that a book signing is likely to disappoint but he was just a really nice funny guy. He clearly enjoyed talking to the children. The Princess was last and pale with a combination of excitement and fear and burdened under the weight of all his books which she had bought for him to sign. He signed them all. And he was sarcastic and funny. She’s very sarcastic herself and she didn’t know quite how to take this grown-up who said, “You’re odd, why are you standing all the way over there?” She did quite enjoy it but she was scared as well, I think. I met his agent later on the stairs and she said, “Derek really had great fun with your little girl” which was nice though possibly indicated that she felt there was a need for reassurance.
Then after our 15-20 minutes with the great man we all went back to the auditorium where seats were reserved up at the front for us. “Or actually no, just for the children” said Nicola or Hannah from Harper Collins, so the adults trooped away dutifully. “Come back,” said Nicola/Hannah, “there are actually seats on the other side at the front for the adults.” Congratulations Harper Collins another organisational triumph.
I wouldn’t have minded being nearer to herself particularly as Derek Landy said from the stage something like, “I love you all, except you, weird girl!” pointing at her. I wondered how she would take this but I was reassured to hear her shouting back at him from her seat shortly thereafter that he should have signed with Penguin rather than Harper Collins as they had better cakes (you had to be there).
I think she found the whole experience enjoyable, if a bit weird and stressful (also the fact that the scheduling meant we didn’t eat until 2.30 probably didn’t help). Though Derek Landy was great and really put on a performance for the kids, I felt taken for a ride by Harper Collins. Essentially, they used our kids for promotional material. In return the children got a) to wait a long time b) to meet Derek Landy for a bit longer than those who queued afterwards and c) a poster (no books or goodie bags as advertised, alas – though I suppose we do have all the books already).
We had lunch in the Gallery (charged twice – man gave me ticket showing that the first transaction was cancelled – threw it away as was my wont – turned out it wasn’t cancelled – chances of recovering same close to nil – total resultant cost €34 for soup, chicken nuggets and chips). When herself went off to the toilet during lunch she met the author on the way back and had a further chat with him. I suppose that’s as good as it gets.
When we emerged blinking in the sunlight on Clare Street she said, “Oh can we please go to the Makeshop“. This is the coolest thing. You trot in off the street and in 15-20 minutes your child makes something. Herself made a robotic colouring device. A patient science graduate (oh recession, oh dear) sat with the Princess and showed her how to use the drill and the glue gun:
And then she attached markers to her yoke and wires from batteries to a motor and it jumped around like mad as I would illustrate, if she hadn’t spent all day playing with it and using up the batteries (I’m too tired to change them).
Her didactic parents had a great time showing her how she could use metal to complete the circuit but not plastic and tossing in words like resistance in a nonchalant fashion and see that’s how a switch works, you interrupt the circuit… As punishment, the yoke has now coloured the house. Total cost – €5. If you have a child over 5 and easy access to Dublin, I cannot recommend this highly enough.
And then, that evening we went out for about an hour collecting sweets from various indulgent neighbours (only 2 requests for songs in return for goodies – down on previous years, I think). There are huge numbers of children under 10 living locally and there must have been a gang of 20 haring up and down the streets. Afterwards we went for a quick drink with a noble woman who had sugar high children and their exhausted parents around to her house. I brought her half a brack. The non-burnt half, you’ll be pleased to hear. There’s still plenty left.
And how was your own Halloween?