A few years ago I had a great idea for a kids' book...closely followed by another great idea for a kids' book. Being the hasty procrastinator that I am, I started writing them both,
The Ghost Nanny was cold, scary, fun but frightening and I remember pulling faces as I wrote it. This book was happening in real-time (the best kind of book!) and I wrote it as it was 'told' to me.
School on the Run was planned. I hate planning stories but I wanted to see how it turned out and whether I could learn anything by trying a new method. Somehow this book ended up being the one which made me cry on the way to work.
I had to pull over as I'd just realised the secret of one of the main characters (that part hadn't been in the plan). I sat in the layby, crying into my sleeve, hoping no one could see me. And wondering how the unreal life could seem more important and immediate than the one rolling by on the dual carriageway.
Then, somehow, it was a year later and I kept promising a young student of mine that she would soon see The Ghost Nanny. Another year, and with my tuition work taking over so much more time, all I really did was write poetry and blogs.
Picking them up, re-reading, small changes, a chapter: both books simmered gently on the silver lid of the cauldron, waiting for me to turn to them again, to have the time and the will to take up their stories.
That's important, the simmering. A lot of books have gone off the boil over the years, some simmered for a while then went cold, others I've forgotten. These two kids' books, they lived the whole time.
I opened them again today. It has been almost a year since I looked at both of them, and two years since I made any changes. It turns out -
I can still see her face at the window as the little girl's doll lays on the grass
- and in a small village in Scotland, a school bus makes its finite, years-long journey down the back lanes, carrying a secret.
They still simmer. After all this time and neglect, I opened Nanny to do some editing and fell into the garden with the doll. Bryn sits in his broken-down shed and wishes for friends while his sister screams upstairs.
I haven't had the heart to go back to the bus yet. The Scottish village is just as I left it, and so are the children, with their closing school.
This is where it gets tricky, and perhaps why they took so long: I wanted to do them together, they were complimentary. I could have a good ghost story chill with one and an adventure with the other. The trouble is, the school is real, the children have faces I see every time I think of the book, and sometimes tears prick my eyes when I look at them.
I don't know if it will work, but I'm finishing The Ghost Nanny first. I want to ease my way into this simmering pot. I hope I can write the rest of the painless book first, then go back to the school.
Readers, I am a soft touch. I don't know if I can leave them standing there, old enough to know better and too young to manage on their own. There's a voice in the back of my mind, reminding me of the tree house and the gentle voice of their teacher, bending as he sits in the hospital chair.
Why can't these things ever go to plan?