I’m not long back from the most memorable and fun Maze Running event I’ve done yet.
I do thoroughly enjoy chatting to kids about books in libraries and bookshops, but the kind of event I love doing most is taking books and readers out into the real world, to talk about research, inspiration and imagination in the legendary locations where I actually set my adventures.
And yesterday, I climbed to the top of Dunadd, a rocky hillfort in Kilmartin Glen in Argyll, and read an ambush scene involving minotaurs, dragons, wolves, swords, axes, mice and some very odd rope, to more than thirty people in the bright sunshine, including a mix of readers from 6 year old girls to 13 year old boys.
It was wonderful! There is a tiny natural amphitheatre right at the top of the hill: a curve of Iron Age (I think) wall where I put my books and bottle of water, facing a slope of grassy hillside where all the readers and their parents sat. We were just above the carved footprint where Scottish kings were crowned many years ago, the footprint which was at the heart of the magic which drew me to set a scene at Dunadd.
And the audience were all fantastic! Dunnadd is, in the nicest possible way, in the middle of nowhere. Everyone had had to drive a significant distance to get there (one family had driven for at least 90 minutes to attend the event), everyone had to wear sensible outdoor clothes, and listen to a health and safety talk at the bottom, then climb up a rocky steep path to get to the top. So they were REALLY keen. That’s the best kind of audience!
Some of them even brought their dragons. A head count would have suggested five dragons, but as the orange one was two-headed, there were really four different cuddly or plastic dragons at the top of the hill. And someone brought a large white unicorn, which given the rescue scene at the start of Maze Running, was very appropriate!
So, surrounded by the sunlight and the rocks, with everyone having a view of the wonderful Scottish landscape all around us, I read the start of the quest on Dunadd, pausing a couple of times to point out that the dragon was parked just behind the lady from Kilmartin House Museum, then to say that the minotaur was holding his blackhandled axe in amongst the parents at the back and that the grey-legged faun was being nasty to a mouse where I was standing. It’s amazing to read a scene out loud exactly where I imagined it happening. It brings the characters and action to life, in a way which is almost magical.
Then I encouraged the children to imagine their own quests and adventures on Dunadd. We had a few dragon ambushes, some very sneaky treasure hunting, and a really unusual way of hiding a centaur. Everyone’s imaginations were sparking in the sunshine!
Then I told a myth which had come over to Scotland from Ireland, just like the kings of Dalriada who were crowned on Dunadd. I chose that myth because it allowed me to stab the wee boy reclining on the grass slope at the front with a particularly nasty spear.
But my favourite moment was when I described how the silent ambush tactic used by the minotaur was inspired by a snake I had seen on Dunadd on one of my research visits. When I said “snake” everyone in the audience jerked backwards, half stood up, or checked the grass under their bottoms, and they all looked extremely worried for a moment. (The adults looked much more worried than the kids!) So I had to say that I knew what kind of snake it was, and it was NOT poisonous, and anyway, we had seen it way over on the other side of the hill LAST YEAR.
No-one had worried about a fictional minotaur in their midst or a dragon behind them, but almost everyone reacted very speedily to a passing mention of an innocent snake! That’s something which never happens in a bookshop.
In previous years I’ve read from First Aid for Fairies at Tam Linn’s Well, Wolf Notes outside Dunvegan Castle, and Storm Singing in Smoo Cave, all of which were wonderful locations, but I think reading from Maze Running on Dunadd was my favourite outdoor event so far. Partly because of the incredible weather, partly because of the snake reaction, but mostly because of the huge effort all the readers made to get there and the wonderful dragons and ideas they brought with them.
Books. Hills. Kids. Stories. I have the BEST job in the world!
Maze Running event on Dunadd