Jill at Sedbergh Book Festival, June 23



TALKING ABOUT YOUR OWN BOOKS is never as straightforward as it might seem – unless you have a super-helpful chairperson asking questions. I saw that at Shetland Noir where Elly Griffiths was interviewed by fellow crime writer Alex Gray.

I spend a lot of time preparing if I am talking to a group of young people, with nobody to ask prepared questions. They are easily bored, will shift and wriggle, challenge, remind you that what you know is immaterial to them.

I begin a session by asking everyone to raise hands and to put them down if they’d never seen a soap opera. ‘What’s that?’ I say, Waterloo Road, Grange Hill, Emmerdale, Coronation Street, Eastenders and finally a couple of hands are lowered. By the time I get to, ‘Hands down if you have never played a computer game’ there is some confusion. I insist all games incorporate a story. ‘Depends what game you play.’

I agree, and say my youngest grandson has been addicted to Fortnite for years. They nod at me. No story there. I say, ‘I’ve sat alongside Fortnite and I can tell you there’s a story. A killing story, in fact.’  An occasional groan gives way to a nod.

I point out that someone writes all the webpages, the adverts, the film scripts, the news programmes, what goes on cereal packets – that studying English is a fantastic preparation for a great life. The creative arts are booming in the UK.

‘How much do you get paid for your books?’

‘Not enough.’

I think for a moment. ‘You’ve heard that scriptwriters for best-selling series in the US are on strike? How much do talented musicians receive for their tracks when they’re screened?’ I seem to have confirmed the view that creative artists don’t earn much so I change the subject as fast as I can.

They make you think, young people. The boy who stands close to me telling me about his novel, that he’s autistic, that he really concentrates on his story, lights up when I say I would love to read it. Someone else asks me to sign the bottom of the page in her exercise book where she’s written a story she’s proud of. ‘I don’t know how to write chapters so I don’t have chapters in my story.’

Good enough, I think. Sharp, original minds – who wouldn’t love spending time with them? I’m going back to run some writing workshops but I know I will learn as much as I impart.

'They make you think, young people'