Monday, 11 November 2013

In Praise of Author Visits

Last month I had the privilege of helping Candy Gourlay launch her touching, brilliant new book Shine at Archway Library in London.

Before the evening events, Candy assembled a group of published authors to discuss short pieces of fiction written by students from nearby schools. It was a great chance for young writers to meet working authors, and the discussion we had was (for me, at least) entertaining and enlightening. It was also inspiring--the standard of students' work was high (very high...there's lots of new competition out there, folks!) and it was clear that the proud teachers and librarians who supported the event valued the opportunity to stretch their students as writers.

I'm preparing for several school visits in the this half-term. I'm not sure if all writers for children enjoy visiting schools. It's part of the "writer-as-performer" trend that some may not feel comfortable or confident with. But, like most writers, I love them, and here are some reasons why.

1) I am a frustrated former performer, and school visits give me the chance to get in touch with my inner (OK, maybe outer as well) ham.I like being on stage, and school visits are (sadly) my only remaining platform.

Check out those jazz hands! 

2) I'm also a former teacher, so school visits also let me practice the art of the "teacher look." You know, that across-the-room glare that's unnoticeable to others, but strikes terror (hopefully) into the heart of the student it's aimed at. I haven't had the opportunity to use this very often, sadly, but I'm happy to report that once you've got the look, you never lose it. (Without the smouldering cigarette, of course...)

3) School visits give me that ex-teacher thrill of walking across the car park at the end of a day without lugging a massive bag of marking.

On a more serious note...

4) School visits are inspiring. Meeting dedicated teachers, charming and hard-working students, energetic librarians and support staff, gives me hope for the future of education, regardless of what rubbish the current gang of bullies and know-nothings at the top are trying to promote.

5) School visits help me become clearer about writing. I don't always know "how" I work, but talking about writing--whether it's the students' or my own--gives me insights into the creative process. Exploring techniques and strategies with young writers strengthens my own work by helping me develop ideas or discovering ways of working that I hadn't considered before.

6) School visits let me, and other authors, bring out the best in students, regardless of their confidence or inclination to write. As authors, we don't have to judge student's "output" on some exam board's assessment criteria. Unlike so much work that students have to do in school, the activities we can help them with are largely about self-expression and creativity for its own sake.

7) School visits allow different types of "creatives"--students, writers, teachers, librarians--to work together and learn from each other's expertise. How fantastic is that?

8) Oh, I already mentioned doing the "no marking" dance, didn't I...well here it is again!


  1. I LOVE doing author visits! I don't often meet anyone at all when I'm sitting alone in my room writing. And young people are just so inspiring!

  2. Fascinating post, Jane. Do you do workshops on The Stare? Also, an interactive library launch sounds hard work but very worthwhile. Hmm ...

  3. Interactive library launch? Does sound intriguing, Rowena... And yes, I think stare workshops couldultimately be my bread and butter. What a great idea !

  4. Thanks for commenting, Candy. Your workshops are amazing (I know, I've seen you in action!)

  5. I'd love to experience one of your school visits Jane! (and Candy)

  6. I really love them, Jan. Came home from one on Friday--so exhausted. I can't believe I used to be a full-time teacher...

  7. Thank you Jane and all the other authors and poets who visit schools and inspire our children. As an adult I thoroughly the warm cosy feeling I get when I listen to an author or poet reading their work and I have experienced the positive results these visits bring. keep it up.