I have always been very keen that children should read. To this end I was recently booked to give a talk at a school that I'll call St Aloysius, Hither Watson, Surrey. It turned into a bit of a disaster.
It happened like this. Sort of. My latest book is The Return of Death Eric, a rock 'n' roll novel for children. It contains plenty of rock 'n' roll, but obviously no sex or drugs. People have congratulated me about this.
Don't know how you managed it, they say. A good clean read, they tell me, full of instruction for putative air guitar champions and insights into subhuman nature.
The plot deals with the family dynamics of a rock 'n' roll household. The father, Eric Thrashmettle, is an individual of distracted mien but perfect manners. He walks into a lot of trees, but never fails to apologise to them. Wave Thrashmettle, his wife, is quite sensibly preoccupied with yoga to the exclusion of all other activities, including child-rearing. There are two children, Living Buddha "Buddy" Thrashmettle and Lulubelle Flower Fairy "Lou" Thrashmettle - perfect role models both of them, impeccably dressed, diligent students, and classical musicians for whom grade 8 is a distant yet fragrant memory.
Then there is the Entourage. The Entourage is dominated by the Roadies; the backbone of rock 'n' roll in the same way that dockers are the backbone of world trade. They are large, kindly problem solvers of daunting appearance.
One of their secondary characteristics is that in households whose principals range from the self-obsessed to the insane, they look after the children. This is particularly true in the Thrashmettle household, where Lou and Buddy are trying to engineer a comeback for their father, whose credit cards have stopped working.
Roadies are diamond geezers with hearts of gold, but even their best friends would not call them polite. There is not much "After you" about them, and quite a lot of "Me first". It was the roadies who got me into trouble.
A month before I was due to go to St Aloysius, I got a message from the organising teacher. Terribly sorry, she said, but visit cancelled. There were some parents who were... very interested in what was in the school library. Estate agents, people like that. The teacher was a nice woman, terribly embarrassed. The Return of Death Eric had been removed from the shelves. Apparently a prominent Hither Watson estate agent had heard that the book contained a mention of a roadie making a two-finger gesture at a fellow road user who failed to meet the roadie's exacting requirements. The estate agent was profoundly shocked. Far too shocked to read the book, of course. But not too shocked to sprint off to the school governors. Who had got very fierce with the school librarian. Who had talked to the head, who had talked to the teacher. The school had then cleared the library shelves of Eric - and all the Harry Potters - on the grounds that some of them contain the word "bloody".
What about the children? They were silent. Either because they were standing around watching the library shelves being cleared and wondering what all the fuss was about. Or they were at home, watching Hollyoaks and playing Grand Theft Auto. Or they had heard about the Death Eric scandal and got copies as fast as they could.All over Hither Watson, PlayStations were switched off and plasma screens went dark as little reprobates went thundering through the pages of The Return of Death Eric, seeking filth and scandal and finding only laughs.
At first I was indignant. Then I had another thought. Estate agents are subtle creatures. Perhaps they realise how important it is that children should read, and this was their own special way of making it happen. It was a great relief to reflect that, in the end, banned or banning, we are all on the same side.
Sam Llewellyn lives in Herefordshire