A Guide to Author Visits by Clare Helen Welsh

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Thank you so much to the My Book Corner team for helping to celebrate the launch of How Selfish! Had it not been for lockdown, I would have been out and about sharing How Selfish! at libraries, schools and festivals, but being here is a fabulous second best.

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I’m often asked how I create content for events that works. So, we thought this might be a good opportunity to talk about school visits, with

the chance to ask your own questions on Twitter, using the hashtag #authorvisitSOS

Whilst you’re thinking up questions, I’ve jotted down some thoughts about a typical author visit for me. It might be a helpful starting point if you’re soon to take your books out on the road. If you’re a seasoned author or somewhere in between, it’s sometimes nice to get new and fresh ideas. Please do share your tips and tricks with the #authorvisitSOS hashtag.

Before the event:

Before an event much planning takes place, which could include all or some of the following;

– communication with the school about logistics, payment and terms
– organising a book sale
– making posters to advertise the event
– booking transport
– planning and resourcing

I also try to build children’s excitement and anticipation, by sending schools activities and material in advance. You might be the last author the children meet for some time – you might be the first or only author they meet! Something that works nicely is sending ahead a writing competition to be judged on the day. The world is your oyster where challenges are concerned. You might be able to think of something that links with your book or theme for the day. Here is a generic competition I sent to schools in World Book Week, asking children to draw or write a story using three random words. It’s fun to send an introduction video in advance of your visit… if you’re feeling brave enough!

On the day:

I try to arrive around an hour before the event starts to set up and familiarise myself with my home for the day. It’s important for me to leave plenty of time because I often bring lots of resources that need unloading and because schools are busy places – you sometimes don’t know the finer details of where you’ll be based until you arrive and even then, plans can change. Also, if you’re going somewhere you haven’t been before, leave in some buffer time for traffic, accidents, delays, parking (or the lack of it) and getting lost! Better to have time to spare than be panicked, I think.

Assemblies:

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Most school visits start with a whole-school assembly. Sometimes that takes the form of a brief PowerPoint presentation with fun facts and photos about me and my books. WARNING – this can feel a bit awkward! (Who wants to hear about you?!) But honestly, the children will be interested in any personal information you feel happy to share. If you’re putting together a PowerPoint, consider including things like; previous jobs, childhood photos, your writing inspiration, your writing space… it might feel boring to you but it’ll be fun and different for them. Here’s a link to some example facts you might want to include. If there’s no ICT available at the school, I tend to do a shorter version of the author fact file with props to keep the children’s attention.

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Next, I go into a little more detail about the being an author and the publishing process. The children find this part particularly exciting, but it is down to how you deliver it. I tend to make a visual timeline of the steps involved in making a book. I ask the children what stages they think might be involved and include coming second in a writer’s competition because children usually expect me to have won and this links nicely to growth mindset and themes of resilience and perseverance.

Sometimes I also read from a story or I leave that until the workshops that follow. But when I say read the story…. I mean act it with helpers! For How Rude! for example, I give the children Dot and Duck t-shirts to wear and we retell the story with props. The Dot and Duck series are perfect for this because they are written in dialogue, which means there’s lots of joining in! Of course, your story might not be so easy to perform, or you might not feel comfortable to do so. It could be an idea to simply read the story but stop at a chosen part and expand on it interactively. In Aerodynamics of Biscuits, for example, the children stand up and blast into space together when the Jolly Doger goes to the moon. Then at the end I ask if they can recall the definition of ‘aerodynamic,’ which we discuss at the start. If they can, we test the aerodynamics of various biscuits with a badminton racket! I realise that not everyone would feel comfortable with these kinds of activities. Your book might even be non-fiction and may lend itself to something different entirely. It is worth saying that

you should absolutely do what you feel is within your comfort zone and plays to your strengths.

I’m very lucky to be using many years of teaching experience.

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Workshops:

Where workshops are concerned, I am usually able to be flexible, taking into consideration the organisers wishes and aims. Sometimes I have a free reign. Other times, the request is more specific. In either eventuality, I always try to plan something that sees the children take away something physical, and something that can be expanded on in class should the teachers wish to do so. I also make a big effort to ensure the sessions are active and engaging, building in a strong hook so that children can’t wait to start and will remember the day for a long time afterwards. I tend to structure workshop sessions like this:

– Warmer (for example, On the spot storytelling, hot seating favourite book characters)
– Hook and shared activity (something I lead and we do together. Could involve partner work)
– Independent activity (Make use of any adults you have. Could be in groups)
– Share and tell
– Q&A/ Quiz

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Here are some examples of the activities I’ve led in the past:

– Fairy tale crime scene
– Biscuit tin crime scene
– Design and make a biscuit rocket
Create your own story character
– Circuit-style short story planning
– Sand clay and intergenerational friendships
– Create your own graphic novel
– Empathy through a character’s eyes

Whatever you decide, it always nice to end a workshop with a share and tell session. You won’t have had chance to speak to everyone individually, so asking them to talk with the person next to them and then a few feeding back to the whole group, gets around this problem nicely. I use my story TV and microphone, for this! It’s a bit of encouragement to share ideas, plus, who doesn’t want to be on TV?!

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Question and Answer session:

If I’ve time to spare (which rarely happens!) I ask the children if they have any questions. Sometimes I do the Q&A at the end of an assembly or at the end of a workshop, or both. In any eventuality, it’s good to have something up your sleeve in case there aren’t any questions. For example, you could quiz the audience from the Powerpoint at the start of the day.

At the end of the day:

Some schools request a book signing, often at the end of the day, but sometimes before the day begins. If there’s a local bookshop to organise this, that’s great. If not, I set it up with a pre-order system so that I can write dedications in advance and then sign my signature with the children present.

After the event:

At the end of the day, I make sure to thank the staff for their help and hospitality, both in person and email. I usually follow up with a blog post and photo share, if I have been given to permission to take photos. This is something to check in advance. Which only leaves one thing… to go away with a warm, fizzy, fuzzy, exhausted feeling. There’s nothing quite like sharing your books with an enthusiastic willing audience. Savour the laughter and smiles.

Some final tips:

– When planning an event, write it down script-style. This helps to ensure you’ve thought enough about the flow and timings.
– Talk your ideas over with someone or to yourself out loud. If it sounds complicated or fussy, tweak it.
– Find a school or class you can ‘practice’ your session on. This will help to build up your confidence and it’s a great opportunity for feedback. Maybe even ask a willing author if you can shadow an event.
– Play to your strengths; if you’re an illustrator your talents might be in an art activity. If you can play an instrument or sing well, you might be able to work on a performance for the children to share with their grownups at the end of the day.
– Nerves. They’re the worst! But know they don’t last more than a couple of minutes. You’ll soon get into a good rhythm.
– There’s no right or wrong way to do it. The most important thing to ensure is that you ENJOY yourself. If you’re having fun – your audience will, too!

I really do hope these notes are useful for those of you new to author events. If you’re already out and about, it would be great to hear how you structure your events and about any ideas your happy to share.

Do use the hashtag #authorvisitSOS to encourage and inspire others.

Clare is the author of over 30 books for children, including fiction and non-fcition picture books and early readers. She is passionate about using creativity and the arts to promote a love of learning and emotional well-being. Whether lyrical and sensitive, or quirky and funny, Clare hopes all her books bring a special, added something to story time. To enquire about events, please contact Clare via her website or via Authors Aloud. Care is represented by Alice Williams of Alice Williams Literary.

 

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