I’m delivering the keynote speech at The Booktrust Conference this afternoon and arrive by Taxi at The Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre across the road from The Houses of Parliament. I’m with Becky Shaw who is the new Southbank centre artist in residence liason person at Southbank Centre. We are escorted to the greenroom. The conference is full with publishers and people from around the country who work in various capacities with literature. Beverley Hughes the Secretary of State for children, young people and Faamilies is giving her speech. I enter the peaceful and serene greenroom and
there’s The Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen stood with sandwich in hand. Previous to the minister he has delivered a powerful speech about education and the child and books. I can feel that post gig high emanating from him. He’s amazing. We laugh, as his wont and mine.
In a whisper , and before I get to gulp my tea, I am whisked away to the first floor of the
conference centre. Michael waves. Jacqueline Wilson is on the first floor. We are to do a photo-shoot together. She smiles confidently at me. She is the biggest selling author (outside “JK”) in Britain. We get along just fine and chat to each other between the clicks of the flashing camera: We are both patrons of The Letterbox Club. It’s why we are here. Next we are on stage in front of four hundred people introduced by Professor Tonya Bryon.
Jacqueline introduces a short film about The Letterbox Club. Then I am introduced and I deliver a twenty minute speech on why I am Patron of The Letterbox Club. I’d spent days on the script, trying to capture passion and temper it with truth, to shave away all remnants of sentimentality but heighten the awareness of emotion in the journey of the book to the vulnerable.I decided there was no pretending. This had to come from my story. I was that child and a book did find me, saved me.
Tonya gives me a rousing introduction and I think to myself the less well famous the individual the longer the introduction “ladies and gentlemen Mr Lemn Sissay”. I am sat on stage with Jacqueline. She looks at me encouragingly. I walk to the podium and look
outwards to a sea of faces, take a deep breath and begin “It is an honour to be here. My
name is Lemn Sissay. Lemn, (said Lemon in the language of the Amhara
people of Ethiopia), means why.”