You know how it is. The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry rings you up (again) and says please can you come and do your spellbinding session on muggle stories.
They'll pay a hefty 1000 galleons, a complimentary set of Gryffindor robes and as many packets of Hob Nobs as a house elf can carry.
Well, maybe you arrive un-noticed at a school and find that you're doing a free workshop on the fun of physics for 453 children while the staff drink strong liquor and plan a train robbery.
So what is the Truth about school visits? I asked a few uber authors for their views.
Now, these writers - Linda Newbery, Penny Dolan, Katherine Langrish, Jane Clarke - LIKE school visits. They recognise the importance of them.
|Jane Clarke writes Dinosaur Cove and Puddle the Naughtiest Puppy.|
Photo: Dennis Oberg
Jane puts it succinctly:
On paper, school vists account for around15% of my income as a writer - but in real terms this is likely to be more as school visits keep me in touch with my target market and promote sales of my books. They're great fun, too!
But anyone with an inner Trunchbull may find them ... a challenge.
Linda Newbery says:
Not everyone likes school visits, and it's a bit odd, really, that someone who's written a novel should be expected to stand up in front of year 9 for an hour and keep them interested.
|Linda Newbery, award-winning author of LOB|
Do it 'cos you get paid, you get out of the house and you love it. As Katherine says:
I get such a kick out of it, every time. I love doing it. I love telling stories.
But let's first hear what Linda has to say about having cake and not eating it ...
I've been doing school visits for about twenty years, and have had a huge range of experiences: bad, funny and wonderful. Visits can vary tremendously, depending on the enthusiasm of the librarian or teacher in charge.
(No Cake sticker from Red Bubble)
Most visiting authors have a fund of anecdotes about being ignored and belittled. My favourite (many years ago, but I'll never forget it) is the time I was sitting in a primary staff-room at break-time, apparently invisible - no one spoke to me, asked what I was doing, or offered me coffee.
It was someone's birthday, and three home-made cakes had been brought in. These cakes were cut up and passed round on plates, someone actually reaching across me to the person on my other side. It wasn't that I wanted cake ... but I did get up to make myself a coffee (still ignored).
Shame on them! But Linda goes on to say that:
But I mustn't get side-tracked from the wonderful visits ... Really enthusiastic staff ... eager children ... great preparation ... loads of questions - the sort of visit that makes me appreciate the privilege of working with children. Book sales were good, too, though that is a bonus and not something I necessarily expect on a visit.
|Katherine Langrish. Photo: Helen Giles|
Katherine Langrish of Troll Fell fame, gives her take on school visits:
Plus, peer pressure and coolness points make it less likely that they'll arrive at my sessions /expecting/ to want to buy books. So I may not sell all that many.
But by the end of my sessions the kids usually wish they'd brought their money. My priority for a school visit is that it has to be fun.
I'm not there to teach them, I'm there to entertain them. If they don't have fun, why on earth would they want to read my books anyway? I write historical fantasy based on folklore and legends - rural and urban myths which have been passed down the centuries because people enjoy them!
So that's what I do - tell stories, throw some riddles and a bit of drama, do anything to get them interested in the stories shut up between the front and back covers of not only MY books, but any books.
I also love interesting the children in reading and in books, both mine and in general.
I try to show them that writing is a kind of making, an art form not a worksheet exercise.
My sessions are fairly fluid. Although I might use some of the same books, I will talk about the material differently for each age group. Over a long session, it’s important to vary the pace. My pattern might include telling stories, using the occasional prop, making up story with the children and being a bit funny at times, because that ‘s what suits my style. When I’m doing writing workshops, I use a much more serious approach.
I feel it’s important to become confident in your own type of "visitor" personality. It can be off-putting to hear that so and so is a really great performer, or comes with bells and whistles.
Go and see authors in action if you can, but learn to work to your own strengths. A quieter, reflective style can have long-term impact too!
And please forget fame and recognition! Schools are busy places. I don't even expect the children to know my name when I arrive. However, by the time I go, I hope they’ll remember it."
Let's not forget that we love to write. As Penny says:
The money has often been essential, but school visiting absorbs writing time. physical and creative energy. One can complete a busy “out there” year only to discover no books in the pipeline. It’s important to get the right balance in your life.
And A final word from Cliff McNish :
The secret is keeping them down to one or two a month, then they're fine.
|Cliff winning the Salford Book Award in 2007 with Breathe|
No, Cliff, I'm not jealous, not jealous at all. Write long and prosper.