Dear ## ##, 13, of Alnwick, Northumberland (which I don’t believe is a real place. Wait, let me check... OK, I’ve just looked it up on GGGGOGGLE THE INTERNET MACHINE and I suppose it might be real. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. It just has a name that sounds made up. But then, so do you – ‘##’ – what kind of crazy name is that? Madness, I tell you.)
A big thank you for getting in touch on behalf of your teacher, who I’m sure is very interested in having me visit, but evidently unable to use a computer herself because of the difficulties of modern technology. I’ve sent a carrier pigeon to Alnwick, Northumberland, addressed to ‘TEACHER, A SCHOOL’. So she should get that message at about the same time you get this, unless my pigeon takes another detour to France or Blackpool like it did that other time (but that’s a long story and he’s been through counselling now so I’m sure he’s all better and will go straight to Arnlywick – I trust him completely these days).
You are very generous for inviting me to Alnwick without offering to pay me. Oh wait, no, that should have said: You are totally insane for inviting me to Alnwick without offering to pay me. But in a good way. I like insane. Sometimes a little insanity makes great things happen. So genuinely: I really appreciate you inviting me and taking the chance. If you don’t ask for something or set out to try to achieve it, how would you ever know whether it can be done?
Sadly in this particular case, the answer is a regretful ‘no’ – I can’t skip up the country from London to Allanwick (or hitch a ride on my pigeon, who isn’t fat enough to hold me anyway since the strict diet he adopted after his time in pigeon-rehab) without being paid. The simple truth is that I have a lot of schools asking me to visit them and I can’t fit them all in as it is – and they’re the ones who can pay me! So it wouldn’t really be fair to them if I took a day off to come and visit you for free. Also it wouldn’t be fair to my wife, who needs me to pay for stuff, and my dog, who needs me to pay for even more stuff, and myself, who needs me to pay for my own stuff. My pigeon is OK on his own. He has a business on the side selling ornate feathers to weirdos over the internet. Does pretty well out of it as far as I can see (but then, of course, he doesn’t pay any tax, and I think he gets the feathers for free from idiot birds who don’t realise he’s exploiting them, so obviously he does well out of it – anybody could do that. Well, any pigeon. He’s no genius, is what I’m saying.).
But one day I would love to visit Allwicky, simply to make sure that it does actually exist.
So if (one day) the school suddenly has funds that it can use to pay for visiting authors, you or your teacher should get back in touch straight away and I’ll be right there. I’ll shoot you to the top of the waiting list and make sure I come to visit you. Also if I came for free, too many schools would be able to afford me and I’d never have a day at home to do any writing.
Ah yes – writing. That’s probably what I should be doing now. But instead I’m drawing Terry Pratchett’s head on cartoon animals and making him dance around while a cartoon JK Rowling cackles and points. I also have a finger-puppet of Jacqueline Wilson but I never play with it. I just leave her under a box in the corner of my desk so I can always keep an eye on her and she can’t escape to do any more damage.
So there you have it, ## ##, 13, of Allan-wack, North-tumbly-land. Thank you for inviting me. Very sorry I can’t come. But let me know which school you’re at and I’ll send STUFF LOVELY STUFF – posters, cards and POSSIBLY a couple of signed books (one for you and one for your school library, just to make sure everybody at your school is learning to read OK. I like to check these things.)
Right. I’m going. BYE BYE ##IOV ##ONIAN.
From Joe Craig, 30-ish, of North London (different bits of it, but mainly FINCHLEY, a place of joy. You should all come and visit it. I won’t pay you, but you should all visit anyway.) CONSIDER YOUR REQUEST CONSIDERED (HOORAY!) But turned down (BOOOOOO!) But KEEP IN TOUCH (ummm... OK).