Thursday, 16 June 2011

Back to School with A Writers Skill Sharing Day in Birmingham

schools - gotta love 'em

Let's imagine, just as an example, that you have one chapter book and one picture book published and another coming out in 2012 with say, Frances Lincoln (hem-hem). Let's also say you want to go into schools to supplement your meagre income. So far so good but then come the challenges:

  • As an individual, it's tough-going building up relationships with lots of schools
  • Schools are cash strapped
  • Once you've got a gig - how do you stand out so that you're not just become another teacher?

With all this in mind, a Schools Skill Sharing Day run by the National Association of Writers in Education – NAWE, seemed to be the way forward. The idea behind this was to offer a peer-learning opportunity for writers working in
schools, to discuss the challenges and avoid the pitfalls.

As about forty eager writers from all genres gathered in the auditorium of the South Brimingham College, it became clear that the first obstacle to be overcome was the life threatening 'safety ledge' on the front row. 

Luckily only two people nearly died and the day began with a welcome from Jonathan Davidson, Head Honcho of Writing West Midlands and all round Arts Supremo.

The workshop sessions were varied and ranged from, 'Working with Children with Special Needs' through to, 'Digital/Interactive Writing'. 

Within each session there were opportunities to share experiences and learn from others. Did the conference address my questions? Well yes and no.

The most stimulating session was run by Roz Goddard about 'Maintaining Identity as a Writer'. The discussion she facilitated, led to fresh thinking about finding work in schools and in a way addressed all of my questions.

Maintaining your writing identity
Ask yourself – what image do you see when you think of yourself as a writer? What does it say about you as an author? This is your identity and it is your Legacy. 

Your originality as a writer is what schools will want and more importantly what children will remember. Children's writer, Juliet Clare Bell, tells how Alan Garner paid her primary school a visit. He talked about his work and his stories and she vividly remembers the excitement of a published writer coming to speak, of the aura surrounding him. He left his imprint behind and yes, she read his books.

All very well but how does this work in practical terms? Well, the best sessions are those which demonstrate the sort of writer you are. Be personal, show your manuscripts, your mistakes, corrections. Share how the story evolved. Get your book out. Let children ask questions. Maybe it sounds blindingly obvious but children will want to remember you and not a lesson on writing given by you.

Leave teachers with a sustainable model which will act as your legacy. Short of them adopting you, you might suggest a few excercises which you use to hone that massive imagination muscle e.g. finding the extraordinary in the ordinary – a stone, a hat, a ruler or asking the children to spend ten minutes every day writing down ideas. 

What about lunchtime clubs that you can contribute to every so often. And then, why not offer up original writing? Alison Prince wrote 'The Summerhouse' in conjunction with the children of a Lincolnshire primary school. How brilliant is that?

You can share your writing discoveries not just deliver them.

Building your business
It's a tough, cash strapped world out there. With funding gone for excellent initiatives like 'Creative Partnerships', competition for work in schools is keen. You may well have excellent contacts with a few local schools to build on but how sustainable is this?

Collaboration can be the key to building your business. There's strength in numbers of writers all gathered together in a single easily accessible database!

Here are a few places for you to check out:
  • Your Local Authority - you may be lucky enough to live in an authority where the school improvements advisers have not been axed – in which case, give them a go but beware they may still charge.

  • Contact an Author – a wordpool site. This is open to published writers and illustrators only.
  • Regional groups like Writing West Midlands/New Writing North/Writing East Midlands - go research!
tough crowd but they'll get you into schools

  • The fabulous SCBWI offers its members a Contact a Speaker listing and this is going to be even more fabulous in the future (contact me if you want to help develop this!)
  • NAWE – of course.

Next time, you can read some advice from top authors who go into schools on a regular basis. It can be done! In the meantime - write long and prosper

See the happy author!


  1. I must admit the thought of doing school visits does give me a bit of the heebie jeebies. But then I thought I could just go in and get the little darlings to play sleeping lions . . .

  2. you? Heebie-jeebies?! Yes, if in doubt, do sleeping lions, always a winner.

  3. Useful and wonderfully laid out - in every sense - thanks! I've done kindergarten and young primary as an illustrator-author in France but would I need some kind of criminal-record proof certificate before I can begin to contact London schools?

  4. Hi Bridget
    Ach - crbs! So, the latest advice is that visiting writers and artists do NOT need a crb as long as they are not left alone with children. Some schools do want public liability insurance but this is not often.
    The best advice is to check to see hwat the school requires in advance.
    Take a look at the SOA here:

    hope that helps and thanks for reading!

  5. That was really interesting, Addy - thanks. The idea of needing to leave your identity behind in a school is quite daunting. What if you don't have enough personality to spare?

  6. Hi Nick, Yes! You could end up as a whisp of a person, barely visible to the naked eye - hadn't thought of that.
    Hey-ho, the things we do for love

  7. Aagh! My comment disappeared and now I have to go so just quickly, thanks for the post. Roz Goddard was great, wasn't she? And looking forward to getting onto the SCBWI visits list.
    There's another Skills Sharing Day in Birmingham on Monday 11th July (check NAWE website). I may well go. And I'll be using ideas from the one you've written about above in my next school visit in a couple of weeks' time. Thanks, Clare.

  8. wow great i have read many articles about this topic and everytime i learn something new i dont think it will ever stop always new info , Thanks for all of your hard work!


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