You Were Great, Britain!
September 28, 2011
This year marked my third tour through the United Kingdom. I had originally toured through the UK back in 2004 with Holly Black to launch The Spiderwick Chronicles, and then again in 2008 in support of the release of the film. So this tour was a bit different. Sure, Spiderwick and Search for WondLa were being released in paperback, but in some ways this was a celebratory tour. Just as it is here in the states, I have been publishing books with Simon & Schuster’s UK division for over a decade now. And I am proud and honored to be a part of the literary heritage that has inspired me greatly over the years.
The tour mostly consisted of school and bookstore visits throughout England, Scotland and Ireland where I drew, read and spoke of the importance of imagination. I was fortunate in that I was aided by friends (both old and new) to help me celebrate reading and bookmaking. Friends like actress, Sarah Bolger (of the Spiderwick film) who attended my first two London events. It was so great for me to see the Spiderwick fans realize who this lovely Irish gal was signing books next to me.
It was planes, trains and automobiles as I worked my way up towards Manchester and then over to Ireland. Over dinner at a favorite haunt, The Winding Stair, I was able to do what I love best: talk books and story with fellow book lovers over a hearty meal.
From Ireland, I was off to Scotland where I did two events: One at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh and the second at the Merchiston Castle school. Yeah, a Castle school. Think Hogwarts and you’ve got it. I was ready to move Ang and Sophia over to Edinburgh and join the faculty – it was that amazing.
I traveled back to London to be a guest on the BBC Breakfast (sort of like the UK’s version of the Today show) where I was able to announce a new program created by Simon & Schuster UK and Starlight UK called the “Starlight Storytellers” which will bring numerous other authors and illustrators into children’s hospitals to do their events for the patients there. As you may know, this is something that is very near and dear to me as Ang and I spent our share of time in hospitals when Sophia was quite young.
I visited the Royal London Hospital after the BBC and concluded my day at a special event with award-winning English illustrator, Chris Riddell. Though I had not met Chris in person, I have often thought of him as a kindred spirit as we both draw from the same inspirations. His sketchbooks were unlike any I have ever seen before as each page was elegantly rendered in pen and ink with stories written out in hand. I met up again with Chris (and his partner-in-crime, author Paul Stewart) in Brighton in between signings. Both were charming and funny and it was nice to share a meal at the local pub with fellow storytellers.
My tour ended at the Bath Literature Festival where I presented to a packed audience. Everyone was so gracious, so encouraging of all the books I have created that I really began to wonder if I was truly dreaming.
I had a day off before I flew back home and made the most of it. In the morning I did something I have been meaning to do for all three tours: visit Arthur Rackham’s home. You see, in London, celebrated individuals and their achievements are noted by a system of blue plaques placed on the homes of those who once lived there. If you ever been, then you’ve likely seen these circular blue signs stamped into old buildings.
As I made my way up to the gates of Rackham’s old home, tears welled in my eyes. I was no longer old 40-something Tony, but a 20-something kid with a head full of dreams to create quality books for children in the same spirit Rackham had done a century ago. In our present moment of e-books, iPads and Kindles, I realized Rackham faced the same challenges. Publishing certainly changed during his lifetime due to wars and public tastes, and yet he endured. Perhaps I will be so lucky.
I finished my last day with a rendezvous with author, Christopher Paolini. I took Chris to one of my favorite places in London, Cecil Court, which is an alley FULL of antique bookstores. (In fact, it is rumored to be the inspiration of a certain Diagon Alley). On a rainy afternoon both of us poked around the shops, rummaging through the history of bookmaking in England. It was a glorious end to a glorious tour.
A BIG THANKS to all of you who took the time and effort to come out and see me. You made this trip so memorable to me. I promise I’ll be back very soon. Great Britain will always be my home away from home.
PS – wanna see more from the UK WondLaFul Tour? I posted some favorite pics here and my television appearances here. Enjoy!
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