School Visits for Beginners

It’s been a busy few days. It seems when I’m not actually visiting schools I’m talking about visiting schools!  I was in London yesterday with fellow children’s writers Dianne Hofmeyr and Bali Rai at Society of Authors HQ. Our mission: to give tips on author visits to writers who haven never done them before. To find out what we said go to Sarah McIntyre’s blog here.  Sarah, one of the Children’s Illustrators and Writers Group (CWIG) committee members was Tweeting the whole thing. Her finger must have been a mere stub of a thing by the end as I went way over my allotted time.

It was good fun though and I hope the audience picked up some useful information. I was grateful to Bethan Hughes of Denbighshire Library Services, Michaela Child, an English teacher in York, Steve Kimpton of Contact an Author  and Paul Mundell of NAWE for their advice on my particular session (Nuts and Bolts).

with Sarah McIntyre at an earlier event

Tips for authors visiting schools  included:

  • Have something up your sleeve in case the session you’d planned doesn’t work out

  • Be flexible

  • Don’t presume there’ll be a parking space/school lunch. Allow extra travelling time for getting lost in the middle of a housing estate.

  • Be yourself – kids can sniff a fake from 2 miles away.

  • Allow time for questions at the end

  • Discuss beforehand with the school what their expectations are

  • Have a designated school visits page on your website/blog

  • See how your book(s) might fit in with curriculum needs

  • Check out your local Schools Library Service (if you are lucky enough to have one)

  • Be inventive: Michaela mentioned that Malcolm Rose took a bionic hand into her class of Y8. They were engrossed. Di also showed how something as simple as coconut shells can be used to put music to a story.

  • Don’t read extracts from your book for too long; children may get bored, even if you are a brilliant reader.

  • Make sure you are never left alone in a classroom. You are a guest, not a  teacher. It also invalidates your public liability insurance.

My favourite quotation came from something Tim Bowler told me once. At the end of his session one kid said to him: ‘You’re good you are. You stopped just when you were getting boring.’

That’s all there is to it, really. Stop before you get boring. More advice from me can be found on the March blog I wrote for CWIG.

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