Thank God It's Friday

20th August 2004 at 01:00
It's reading, rain and signing autographs for Alan Durant

Monday I land in Jakarta a day late after an enforced 24-hour stopover in Abu Dhabi, and am met by my host's driver. "Welcome, Mr Alan," he greets me with an uninhibited grin. I arrive at the British International School, where I'm guest author for its book week, just as school is ending.

The librarian, Val, gives me a quick tour ("there are 40 nationalities here," she tells me), then takes me to my luxurious accommodation. Lots of lush greenery. Plus tennis courts, swimming pools, bars - and a shop with more varieties of baked beans than I knew existed. I've arrived in expat paradise.

Tuesday School starts at 8am and the teachers like to be in early. At 7am there's a toot outside and my lift is waiting. I travel in with Year 5 teacher Miranda and make the mistake of looking at the road ahead. After the fifth near accident, I close my eyes and hope for the best. "You get used to it," she assures me.

At school, it's straight into work with a Year 9 group. I read Howl, a werewolf story, as an intro to a workshop on writing in genres. When the bell rings, I'm off to the infants, sharing Big Bad Bunny and other picture books with Year 1. Then it's Year 5 for a session on fables and Year 6 on story openings. The day ends with a torrent of rain, which no one but me seems to find remarkable.

Wednesday It's out into the humid sunshine of the nature garden for some descriptive writing. I love one small girl's description of a spotty shrub as the "chicken-pox plant". Lunch is in an open-sided cafeteria. Today it's nasi goreng (rice and vegetables). In between mouthfuls, I sign autographs, and enjoy my 15 minutes of fame.

Thursday It's Year 11 assembly and a brief talk about my teenage years (in particular, unrequited love), illustrated with some recent and not-so-recent poems. The audience claps with unexpected appreciation.

Cynicism sets in later here, it seems. I hurry to Year 4, but an emergency play rehearsal cuts the fun short and I have time to check my emails before moving on to Year 3 to discuss story points of view. Then it's lunch and more autographs.

The afternoon takes a surprising turn: a session with Year 8 on creating stories for seven-year-olds culminates in my being pressed to read the whole of my pink and sparkly novelty book Dear Tooth Fairy. I can't imagine that happening in London.

Friday The school's official book day and everyone dresses up - except me.

"Who are you dressed as?" one child asks. "An author," I say, lamely. Best of all is a boy with a shock of green hair, a stiff brown garment and a slightly embarrassed air. "Who are you?" asks the head in assembly. "The Magic Treehouse." "What book's that from?" "The Magic Treehouse," said with utter flatness. It's the perfect put-down.

I'm amazed by the efforts the whole school has gone to, until I'm told that a costume can be knocked up by local tailors for less than a fiver. I have the role of official photographer, snapping each year group in turn. At the end, the head thanks me and pushes the microphone into my hands. "Thanks," I say, lost for words. "It's been a fantastic week." And it has.

Alan Durant is a children's author. His books include the Bad Boyz football fiction series published by Walker Books

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