A couple of years ago, I attended a conference. As is usual, there was a bookshop there. As is perhaps less usual, there was a remarkable author there. She was – is – elderly. Tiny. Legendary.
She arrived at lunch; word ran around the tables that she was here, that she had arrived. Arrived. I keep repeating that word, but that’s the crux of the thing: she arrived. She Arrived, She arrived, she arrived; she was real.
It’s a curious thing for the bookish to comprehend; those beloved stories that speak to your soul come from somewhere specific. Somebody. Somebody who exists, who breathes, who is.
I was delivering a paper after lunch. Conscious of my need to to have a moment by myself in the bathroom beforehand (oh imposter syndrome, I have learnt the tricks to handle you), I made my excuses early. Left my lunch and went back to the bookshop. Crept into the room, and saw this tiny, brilliant, wonderful writer.
I loved her a little bit then. I loved her so much for what she had given me, for what she had written, for being. There was nobody else there but her and me, stood awkwardly in the doorway, peering round the corner. She had her back to me. The sunlight was beaming through the windows. The room was utterly, perfectly, still.
And she was there, this author, she was there.
I’ve been thinking about that moment a lot recently. The death of Judith Kerr reminded me of it; the way that there is a generation of precisely brilliant writers of children’s books, writers who speak to a world that they maybe don’t even realise. Writers that have given hope to a thousand, thousand readers. Writers that have sang out in the darkness, refusing to be quelled.
It’s humanity, I guess, that connection. Story. The thing that bring us together, the thing that binds us. The thing that makes us find a sense of unity in a world so desperate to embrace division. The thing that make us us. It is, I suppose, the reason why the ‘book’ itself survives; it’s made. It’s human. It’s crafted, touchable, holdable. It’s a connection with somebody; it’s hands holding on and believing in something other. Something better.
Children’s literature; oh, that ephemeral thing. Crafted by tiny, bird-like women with warrior pens, and hearts that do more than sing –