Sunday, July 19, 2009


Because my mum works as a clerk to the governors at a few nearby primary schools, I occasionally get asked to talk to a class of primary school kids about my job, and what it's like to write scripts for a living. Obviously I could just shout 'BRILLIANT' at them, but I usually need to fill an hour or so, which means having to go into more detail than that.

Anyway, it's an honour to be asked to do this kind of thing, and I keenly remember authors coming to my own primary school when I was a little 'un, which directly led to me realising that making up stories/lying was something I could actively make a living out of rather than just being a thing I was told off for. So of course when I read about various famous authors boycotting school visits in outrage at being forced to register as non-sex offenders, I was FURIOUS.

I mean, sixty four quid? And don't they know I'm properly middle class now? I have a barely-maintainable mortgage! Middle class people are never paedophiles! Certainly no children's author or illustrator has ever used their position to abuse children. Oh, apart from this one.

Except, when I looked into the guidelines more deeply, because you can download a copy from this site I discovered two things.

1. I will not have to pay £64, because I do the talks as a volunteer. In fact, I did not realise there was even a possibility of being paid for talking to schools, and next time I'm asked, I will get Agent Matt to handle all the negotiations, which will include a substantial rider, beginning with 'champagne (crate of)' and getting more ludicrous from there on in.


2. Oh no, hang on, I won't have to pay £64 or go on the register at all, because the only people who have to register are those people who work with children or vulnerable adults 'frequently or intensively', whether they be prestigious authors, taxi drivers or stripey-jumper wearing janitors with bladed gloves- actually probably those last ones do need a second glance at the cv.

And quoting from the same FAQ:

‘Frequently’ is defined as once a month or more.

‘Intensively’ is defined as where an activity takes place on three or more days in any 30 day period; or overnight (between 2am and 6am)

So if I went to all (I think) five of the local primary schools between now and November to talk to the kids about writing, I would not have to register (okay, two of those talks would be a bit quiet, since they're on holiday, but apparently you can get paid for these talks now, so whatever). If I wanted to do regular workshops, or a two-day workshop, or overnight sleepovers or whatever, I would have to undergo a background check to make sure I'm not a wrong 'un, and try as I might, I don't obviously see a problem with that.

There may well be other questions to be asked about who's making money from this, and more importantly, as someone brought up on a forum thread that was debating this as a topic:

"What about reformed young offenders/drug addicts etc giving talks in school? These checks flag up everything, including rumour, not just convicted sex offenses. What about 6th form students helping out with the younger children as part of their courses? Those in charge are going to be liable to prison if they allow anyone not checked work with kids under the terms of the scheme"

Which is a good point, and deserves a look. But I can't help thinking that at least some of the authors in this boycott are just pissed off at being lumped in with taxi drivers.

EDIT: I should probably say, I've changed my mind about the whole thing five times (and back again) in the half hour or so since writing this, but there we are. This shall stand as a snapshot of my feelings at the time of writing.


Rebecca said...

Do you ever worry that you only have a finite amount of funniness and, even though I'm sure it's an enormous finite amount, that you are taking away - however little - from your paid funniness when you make us laugh for free in your blog?

Of course, if you haven't worried about it before, there's certainly no reason to start now. And, hopefully, even if you do start worrying just the teeniest bit, it won't make you shut down your blog like some who shall remain nameless, even though we are happy they still retain a Twitter account.

Anyway, on the assumption that any feedback might be helpful in some way, just wanted to let you know that favorite line - and the one eliciting most laughter - was:

"But I can't help thinking that at least some of the authors in this boycott are just pissed off at being lumped in with taxi drivers."

All in all, one of my favorite posts. Though I loved the midieval wifi, too. Hmmm...crossing fingers for infinite well of funniness.

james henry said...

You see, I put that line in as a joke, only to since find out that Anthony Horowitz wrote:

"Like so many of Labour's laws, it's just an ill-thought-out by-product of a general law to stop suspect people going into schools. And yet the Government doesn't seem to have either the courage or the sense to realise that they've got to make an exception here.

A child who admires a writer has a great belief in that writer as a good human being. If you say that, actually, the guy who's writing this book could be a sick pervert and we've got to protect you from him, I think you're not exactly sending out the most positive message."

Whether or not you think the register is needed, why the tiddly flip should writers be exempt?

Anyway, thanks for nice things - I'm sure Patch will be back, she dumps her blog every six months then they have a big cry and start going out again.

james henry said...

Also - Anthony Horowitz was behind the appalling 'Crime Traveller' tv series, For that alone, he should banned from schools for a hundred years.

Simon said...

Steady on James, at least one of your readers actually liked Crime Traveller - better than that stupid dinosaur programme that ran in the same slot AND got commissioned for a second series.

As to schools and paedos and stuff, are you actually going to be alone with children at any point? This is the crux of the matter for me. If a speaker goes into a school, there is always a teacher in the room and you are not alone with any children, then a CRB check should not be necessary. As soon as you will spend anytime 'unsupervised', the issue of child protection becomes critical and a CRB check imperative.

Simon Allen said...

Hey James. I just blogged about this too! I think quite a few people have overreacted to this one - cleaners, teachers etc all have to do it, why are writers any better? Know what you mean about Crime Traveller but, hey, Foyle's War does alright for him, doesn't it? Si

Si said...

Oh, and that young James Bond thing that he co-writes with Charlie Higson... hang on, have I got that right?

james henry said...

Different series, I think - Higson does the Young Bond one, Horowitz does the Alex Ryder series, which are very Bondish.

I only saw one episode of Crime Traveller, possibly the rest were great, apologies if this is so.

james henry said...

Also the series was made by Carnival, AKA The Nicest Production Company In The World. Now I feel terrible.

james henry said...

Oh god, I can't leave this alone, it's like picking at a scab...

Re. the 'writer/whoever not being left alone with the children' thing - as far as I can tell, it's not so much about the visitor being expected to diddle the nearest pre-teen the second the teacher's back is turned, it's about whether they have the opportunity to build up a relationship with the same group of children over a period of time - and if that's a possibility, that visitor should probably undergo some kind of background check.

mr bish said...


Real chin stroker. On the one hand, Pullman et al are quite right that its a shocking indictment of the state of our social paranoia, that pretty much everyone should be under suspicion of kiddy-fiddling until proven otherwise (not least because a lack of convictions is hardly conclusive evidence of a lack of ill intent). On the other hand, this has been the state of play for ages, and it seems a bit self-serving that authors are weighing in only now. On the other-other hand, Pullman has a very good point about some authors surviving on the income (I'm as amazed as you were to hear they take a fee) so an enforced £64 does seem a bit much. But then again (I've run out of hands, and the last one was a foot) if they're relying on schools for putting food on the table, a £64 admin cost is quite a reasonable price for a state stamp of approval.

I worked as a Learning Mentor (a fancy newish job description which essentially means "teacher's assistant who tries to persuade poor kids to go to university" - an ethical quagmire in itself, but that's another story) with both pre- and post-16s, and obviously had to have a CRB check - I'm not sure this proposal is exactly the same thing, but it's the same general idea - and while I objected to the notion of being required to prove my innocence, that didn't begin to outweigh my philanthropic desire to help the kiddies (or, indeed, my keenness to earn some dosh), so I happily paid the fee knowing I had nothing to hide.

So while I'd commend the principles of the authors' revolt, I'd suggest they're shutting the stable door long after the horse has bolted and mauled their civil liberties to a bloody pulp (nasty things, them horses). And it seems a little rich for the likes of Anne Fine and Philip Pullman to turn their noses up at sixty-four quid.

Incidentally, since you're not taking a fee, and evidently many authors are (cheeky sods - the successful ones at least... what could an unsuccessful author possibly tell schoolchildren? "It's rubbish, get a proper job"?) your idea of simply shouting "BRILLIANT" sounds rather good to me. Might dissuade some very talented writers from going into investment banking.

Do forgive me, I seem to have rambled on a bit.

james henry said...

But interestingly so! Cheers, mr bish.

Rebecca said...

These comments have been almost as entertaining as the post itself. It makes me wonder how many amusing comment threads I'm missing by using a feed reader to follow all the blogs I like. Hmmm...that may be a thought worth tweeting. The answer may already be out there.