‘A love of books the winner at Deepdale’

Frank Cottrell Boyce
Frank Cottrell Boyce

World Book Day’s Biggest Book Show on Earth at Deepdale last week was literally a resounding event, found MALCOLM WYATT.

World Book Day’s Biggest Book Show on Earth –Preston North End FC

I wonder what late, great England and PNE legend Sir Tom Finney – his visage picked out on the seats opposite my Invincibles Pavilion vantage point – would have made of this ambitious event.

I like to think he would have been up for it, as he was with anything helping raise the profile of his beloved club.

There were technical glitches here and there, but overall it all went surprisingly well considering the huge scale of this undertaking.

Outside, caterpillars of high-vis jackets from nearby schools headed towards the Alan Kelly Town End as more pupils jumped off coaches, this event attracting a staggering 5,000 eight to 13-year-olds from 100 North West schools.

This was the flagship of 10 World Book Day events across the UK & Ireland, with plenty of media interest. But it was the kids that made it.

Even before I left our ‘green room’ – the players lounge – I could hear a mighty racket, PNE mascot Deepdale Duck working the crowd with club colleague Rachel Brennan as the stand filled and six guest authors shuffled nervously.

From Preston-based co-organiser Jake Hope to the authors, the nerves jangled, and first-time children’s author but seasoned presenter and writer Danny Wallace seemed quiet and pensive, while Queen of Teen Cathy Cassidy carried a nervous smile.

Scriptwriter turned acclaimed author Frank Cottrell Boyce was maybe wondering if he should have worn an overcoat over his suit, pirate-garbed picture book writer/illustrator Jonny Duddle – raised in nearby Hoghton – looked like he might be searching for land ahoy, while How to Train Your Dragon author Cressida Cowell jumped up and down on the spot in her own warm-up.

Perhaps the coolest head – at least outwardly – was that of Steven Butler, our top-hatted resident ringmaster and master of ceremonies, even his pencil ‘tache pointing skywards, a note of positivity to encourage his colleagues.

The Diary of Dennis the Menace series author gave a rowdy glimpse into his family upbringing, his audience spellbound and his excitable delivery infectious on his ninth of 10 World Book Day dates, started 10 days before in Norwich and leading to a Newcastle finale the following day.

Jonny Duddle ensured the good vibes continued, making as much a verbal impact as a visual one, and whenever he felt things were flagging asked, ‘What do pirates say?’ and received a mighty ‘Aaarghhh!’ in response.

He also drew us a parrot, his artwork picked out on the Bill Shankly Kop big screen, the kids suggesting –at his prompt - he added a ‘squawk’.

Between guests, our red-coated MC returned for more crowd-whipping and random facts about each author, and Danny Wallace proved a natural, introducing new book character Hamish and his dull life in Starkley, the children invited to comment on how interesting each headline from The Starkley Post was, inviting his audience to shout ‘Boring!’

Cathy Cassidy overcame slight technical hitches for a clear, impassioned address, encouraging those present to enrol at their local library, talking about her Chocolate Book series and re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland while striking chords on the subject of daydreaming in class.

When Frank Cottrell Boyce took the stage, the PA system was playing up, feverish running about from UCLan’s technical team as he soldiered on, snapping a photo of the crowd before a book-related take on Rowan Atkinson’s ‘taking the register’ skit, involving the many ‘bookalikes’ dotted around Deepdale.

He also introduced his new fictional hero, The Astounding Broccoli Boy, and after handing back to the MC enjoyed a walk-by – smiling and waving at his new fans.

That left Cressida Cowell, and if the kids were starting to feel the cold, they were soon warmed up by talk of dragons as she flashed up shots of her Scottish island hideaway as a child, where she first dared to dream of the wee beasties that made her name. You can’t help but be inspired by Cressida, and she also brought Toothless the dragon to life on the big screen.

Pretty soon, the Preston Six took a bow after a word from co-organiser Elaine Silverwood, although Cathy Cassidy was still mingling with pupils and signing books much later.

A huge amount of work went into the whole spectacle, from booking the guests, venue and St John Ambulance cover to co-ordinating the schools operation and ensuring pupils got their pre-signed books at the end.

And the result? A resounding success that should remain in the memory banks for its authors, pupils and teachers alike. To use the football vernacular, children’s lit and a love of books was the clear winner. The boys and girls done good.