It’s been a couple of years since I put on the Laureate’s medal and there are a couple of weeks left until I pass it on. Figuratively pass it on, the office actually lets you keep the medal which is just as well since my name is on the back and it’s unlikely they could find another Eoin Colfer to be Children’s Laureate. It will be a bittersweet moment for me to hand over the title, as the past twenty-four months have been pretty extraordinary from my point of view. The sweet side of that bittersweet moment is that I can concentrate on my own work a little more, but the bitter side far far outweighs the sweet. I have enjoyed being the Laureate so much more than I ever thought I would. I imagined being Laureate would be a kindly faced, hand shaking kind of deal where I would launch things and inaugurate things, but as that job was taken by the Queen of England, my job as Laureate was to demonstrate to children how wonderful stories could be. So instead of being stuck in 18th century libraries nibbling Ferrero Rocher with various ambassadors, I was riding steam trains with young readers, or telling a story to a young fella on a sulkie racer or holding tight to my fellow authors as we braved rollercoaster waves to make land on Tory Island so we could regale the local students with stories. The Laureate Once Upon A Place road show travelled the length and breadth of the country and sometimes off it altogether to light little sparks of wonder in the eyes of all who listened to our tales. Maybe not all, but definitely most.
People stop me on the street and call me a hero, but I say; no, mother, the real heroes of those wild trips are the writers and storytellers who came along for the love of stories and books. And the facilitators who invited us into their beautiful communities to cause chaos and make unreasonable demands (skinny almond chai latte) for a few days. And maybe it sounds clichéd and hammy but if we have turned even a handful of the thousands of kids we met into readers then it will have been worth it. I am being modest here. I am hoping for quite a few more than a handful. A handful would be a dismal percentage given all the hours we put in. I would actually hope for at least fifteen hundred extra readers in the country. That would be a decent return.
When I took on this job I did it out of some sense of duty and maybe self-importance thinking how lucky the office would be to have me: The Leprechaun Man from Wexford, or Lepmanford to use the official title, which explains the tattoo, but I soon realised and was told in the pub by the Laureate Office staff that they were beyond wonderful and I was lucky to be in their office and would be a better person for it and also what kind of an Irish man puts cucumber in a gin anyway? You can see that I did the old Irish male trick there; dressed up a compliment as a joke. The people in Children's Books Ireland and the Laureate office are wonderful and I was lucky to be in their office. And I think I was a better person for a while there though I plan to revert to my usual curmudgeonly self as soon as the new laureate, Codename Alfalfa, is announced. Also I was just holding that gin for an Italian illustrator.
In conclusion I would like to say thanks to everyone who came on the journey with me: With every story we told, we lit a fire in someone’s mind.
And I would like to share a few things I have learned over the past few years:
Gaeltacht people are different.
People all over this country believe in fairies (and rightly so).
Storytellers are not born they are conjured up.
Ambassadors generally do actually love Ferrero Rocher.
And finally a piece of advice: if someone begins a sentence with the words: Once Upon A Time…..then stop whatever you are doing and listen.