Lyn Gardner at the Hay Festival
There few things more pleasurable for a children’s author than fan mail. In my day job, as a Guardian theatre critic, the mail is more likely to bring brickbats rather than bouquets. But no child ever writes to tell an author that they hated their book. Although one little girl did take the trouble to write to tell me that I was her third favourite author. Ever. I thought third was fantastically good-going, particularly as God (cited as author of the Bible) was in the number one spot, closely followed by Jacqueline Wilson.
So when the letters arrive, via the Nosy Crow address, I always look forward to reading them. They seldom disappoint, and often they are deeply touching labours of love and invention, full of intricate drawings and brilliant suggestions for plots lines that I wish I’d come-up with myself. Not all of them have a terrific grasp of the daily realities of the life of an author. One recent missive expressed doubt that I’d reply personally on the basis that it was probably my butler who dealt with all my post.
As a child I wrote letters to my favourite writers, and I remember my daily haunting of the letter box while waiting for a reply, and the massive excitement when one came. I was hugely disappointed by E. Nesbit’s failure to write back. It was only years later that I realized she couldn’t as she was dead. I reckon answering the letters is as much part of the job of writing for children as actually writing the books. Like school visits, it’s energising and provides a wonderful insight into how children think and express themselves.
But technology is fast changing the traditional methods of communicating. Now days I’m likely to get more communication via my Guardian email address than I do via Nosy Crow. My Guardian job makes me pretty easy to find, and if the emails come without the delicious drawings, an email exchange has its advantages too: often allowing for an on-going conversation with a child over a longer period of time. Even Twitter can play its part. I’m going to a school in Yorkshire later in the month to talk about the Olivia books, a visit that was arranged entirely as a result of a Twitter exchange. That’s fantastic and I’m delighted by such approaches, but nothing quite beats the grubby envelopes addressed with rainbow pencils and covered in glitter and stars and pictures of Olivia risking life and limb on the high wire.