One of my favourite occupations! It’s amazing they let me into schools nowadays, to be honest.
This was part of Larbert High School’s S2 trip to Edinburgh for a tour of the Old Town as part of their study of my novel, Fleshmarket. Larbert have studied Fleshmarket in S2 for years and their interest in the book is what lead them to ask me to be their Patron of Reading. And what fun we have! Even when I’m not cutting off legs.
Anyway, last Monday I walked up to the Royal Mile to meet 50 pupils, who had just finished their tour of Mary King’s Close. They were very interested to know whether I was a millionaire and whether I was famous. I was going to have to let them down on both scores, but some of them did insist I was famous, so I decided to go with that. It’s important not to be disappointing.
We had a quick look at the prison cell (in the People’s Story museum) that I’d used as inspiration for the scene where Robbie is thrown in prison and finds that he is not alone in the cell.
And then we went to the Storytelling Centre, which had very generously and helpfully given us the theatre for my operation and talk.
One great thing about doing a Fleshmarket-only talk is that I can throw in LOTS of gory shocking things about surgery in the 1820s. So I did. And the other great thing is that pupils have extra-good questions because they’ve been studying the book and already know things. And they did.
So I talked a bit about surgery and conditions in those days. And I told them the story of how I got the idea for Fleshmarket. I love telling that story because utter silence falls over the audience and you really could have heard a pin drop.
Then I called on a volunteer to have a leg cut off. I checked with the teachers first, of course – you do need consent for things like that – and they gave me permission to cut everyone’s legs off if I wanted. I was tempted but a bit worried about how they would get back to their bus in time. Anyway, Jack was chosen and lay down very obediently on the stage. Then I chose Lauren as my assistant, equipping her with a blood-stained apron to match mine.
There was a rather dodgy moment when Lauren put the piece of wood the wrong way into Jack’s mouth but I managed to save the day before any damage was done to my special piece of wood.
I can’t say what happened next. It’s a secret. But suffice it to say: you really can’t get the staff nowadays.
Thank you Larbert High School, teachers and students, for your tremendous work and for teaching Fleshmarket. I loved your questions and enthusiasm!
Schools might be interested to know that I’m planning to create some teaching materials for Fleshmarket, because it’s so popular as a class reader for 12-14 year-olds. If you’re interested, let me know; and if your school has taught Fleshmarket, do get in touch, as you may be able to contribute!