The thing I like best about writing the Train to Impossible Places Adventures is the opportunity to take readers on journeys to new and exciting worlds. Much to my surprise, the books took me on a much more literal adventure last month when HarperCollins India (who distribute Usborne’s books on the sub-continent) invited me to speak to young readers in Delhi.
I have to admit I was a bit nervous. I’d done school tours before but never overseas, and the itinerary looked brutal – meeting three thousand children at ten events across seven schools in just three days! I normally only do two events a day and with smaller groups than I’d be facing in Delhi, so this felt like quite a challenge.
But I was in safe hands from the moment I landed. Nisha Singh from HarperCollins was with me every day alongside Amit Sarin, the owner of local bookshop Kool Skool. They were my guardian angels throughout the tour, ferrying me from one event to another in the face of smog, storms and roadworks.
The schools all gave us a wonderful welcome. At our first stop in the Shri Ram school in Aravali I was invited to join the teachers in lighting a ceremonial lamp, representing the light of knowledge. The pupils were certainly shining bright. Despite there being a crowd of 700 – by far the largest group I’ve ever spoken to – they were engaged, enthusiastic and bursting with so many great ideas and questions that they made the event feel almost effortless. It was a pattern repeated at every school we visited, and I’m extremely grateful to all the children and teachers who made those three days such an exciting experience. (My favourite question came from a boy at the Kunskapsskolan international school in Gurgaon, who wanted to know how I manage my time. He was clearly making plans for his own future, which I can only hope will be more organised than mine.)
This tour was also a striking demonstration of the importance of school libraries which, unlike in the UK, are a legal requirement in India. Some of the library spaces were incredible, especially the one at Pathways international school which was the size of a small sports hall. Every school on the tour was doing its bit to champion reading for pleasure, led by really passionate librarians and teachers, and it was clear what a tremendous difference this made to the children. They were all so eager to talk about their own reading experiences.
After a string of big school events, the tour wrapped up with a more relaxed session at Kool Skool with about a dozen children and their parents in attendance. It was the perfect end to my trip, and a great opportunity to get to know some of my readers better. There was just time for a cup of chai before heading back to the hotel to pack for my flight home.
Delhi is such an exciting city, and I feel very privileged to have visited. Even though I only got to glimpse a tiny portion of it, I really hope I’ll be back one day. Until then, I’d like to thank Nisha and Amit for taking such good care of me, and all the children, librarians and teachers who made me feel so welcome. This is a trip I’ll remember fondly for a long, long time.