Archive for February, 2011

An Author in School

Yay, the pics eventually arrived and I can now finish this blog.

At the beginning of the year, or end of last year, I was invited to a nearby school to read Bernie Bolts Bergen. I agreed despite being not quite sure what I was agreeing to, nevertheless the commitment was made to do the reading as part of Scottish Literacy week in late January. I was duly booked in for the afternoon of January 28th. The first two weeks of the year passed by without a thought to what I was going to do.

That all changed when the school confirmed timings and numbers – I would be speaking to P4 and P5 some 70 + kids in total  (at 2 sittings) and asked what my fee was for the day, a point I will return to later.   Is there anyone else presenting I asked and was advised that two other children’s authors would be presenting that week and were charging the Scottish Book Trust fee. I’m not a member, it would appear that independent authors aren’t accepted although I will stand corrected if my understanding of this is incorrect; so it didn’t feel right to levy such a cost. The fee wasn’t my main issue though, the key point for me was how would I retain the attention of 35 kids for 35 minutes x 2.

Where to start?  Where else – it was time to search the internet, but I struggled to find any authors providing information on visits other than providing statements about their availability for such visits and comments about previous visits. One site was a major help, http://www.jacktrelawny.co.uk/ , which is well worth a visit if you are doing a school visit. The rest involved a return to basics, I’ve been a lecturer for years and the basics of delivering any session, including a session for children, are much the same. Using this as a starting point I prepared my own checklist/ideas to help me plan and deliver my session. For what it is worth, I have noted my thoughts below:

1. What are the objectives for the visit? – There are many e.g. To encourage kids to read, to inspire kids to write, to aid the school curriculum, to help school reputation/fund raising, to raise your own or your books profile, to sell books (I have some problems with direct selling at a school).

2. Who is your audience? Research the school, check the ages of the children attending, how many, reading level and any expectations they may have.

3. Where will you present? School assembly hall, classroom, theatre or gym hall. Remember to state any requirements you may have e.g. audio-visual equipment.

4. Does the school know what you need? I provided the school with a rider outlining what I needed on the day and what my expectations of  the school were. The letter and rider also stated that I wouldn’t be charging a fee, but asked that the kids were given information to take home about the book and how it could be purchased.

5. Have you prepared the children? It is important to prepare the school for the visit. I sent material to the school a week beforehand, ideally it should be two weeks. The pack included contact details, the first two chapters of the book, a word search, a maze, a colouring in picture and  a letter for each child, (see above) to take home to their parents/guardians.

6. Prepare the session? Again, back to basics i.e. an introduction, beginning and end. Make it fun. Where did the initial inpiration come from?- in my case Bernie was a real cat, where did some of the story characters or  ideas come from? – and so on

7. What materials will you take on the day? I took two laptops, taking no chances, the books – I didn’t take copies to sell (see above), any props – I took along a cat – Bernie’s brother. I also used PowerPoint – Steve Jobs style – with very few words and lots of pictures to convey some of the story ideas

8. How will you engage the kids? Questions, exercises, jokes, discussions, activities etc. Leave a task or exercise with the teachers based on your book for the kids to do when they return to class.

9. Do you have you a contingency plan? In my case, two laptops and a flexible approach

10. How will you know if it went well or not? Evaluate/Reflect and ask the kids whether they enjoyed the session. Check your book sales tracker to see if there has been any changes.

Final points – did it go well. The feedback from the teachers was good and I received feedback about one child who ran home started to write a story based on her own cats and ordered her mum to buy the book which mum duly did. I also had a small spike in book sales. What would I do differently? – the session could have been a little tidier/ tighter and I should have maximised the PR opportunities that this provided – a bit of a slip up on that one. Did I learn anything? – that I enjoyed it and the kids enjoyed it. One golden nugget did appear, I was able to float the ideas for my next book, I have two ideas in train and have been focussing on one of those ideas. The kids totally rejected the one I was working on and truely loved the one I had set aside. I had my own focus group of 75 kids and that I didn’t expect. Would I do it again? – You bet!

Happy Writing



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