An interesting time on Friday as a speaker at St Bernard's School in Southend. It started a trifle worryingly. The trusty SatNav took me to the door, but there was no car park - no way even to get into the school grounds for a car - and the adjacent street was absolute space free. Luckily, there was an associated church next door with a small car park, and though I was told that parking there unannounced risked the considerable wrath of the priest, he was apparently placated on my behalf.
I had a couple of hours in the morning with sixth form English students, who were a pleasure to talk to - though it seemed one group of four out of around 35 had a lot more to say than the rest.
Most of lunchtime (over a surprisingly good packed lunch provided by the school, including fresh melon and pineapple) I was chatting to a supply teacher who was an actor before coming into teaching, and still does some walk-on work - the parallels between being an actor and a writer (bad pay for most, submitting your work for scrutiny, rejections, indigestion) were considerable.
In the afternoon I had two groups of year 9s (that's 13-year-olds), in the not-entirely-suitable dining hall. The space was fine, but it took quite a lot of projection to be heard (I could have done with some advice from our acting friend). The first group of around 90 proved considerably quieter than the second group of 50 (though I was assured this was because it was last period on a Friday - indeed, what could you expect?)
I also almost fell for a classic schoolgirl prank. 'So-and-so wants your autograph, but she's too shy to ask.' Yeh, right. As if to compensate, though, the second group was absolutely great on the questions - I almost had to slow them down, rather than having one of those embarrassing 'er, any questions? No, well…' moments. And the head of English, who was supervising that session even said she'd nearly bought one of my books the other day, and would be going out to get some now - so it can't be bad.
Despite a three hour drive back, where the GPS kindly recommended I took a detour through Marlow to avoid congestion on the M25/M4 (it worked and I saw Marlow's Christmas lights), and despite being shattering, it was a really good day.