I had the privilege of accompanying my son’s primary school class to the Barnes Children's Literature Festival last Friday, where 500 children crammed into a marquee on Barnes Green to listen to three authors talk about their background, their inspiration and the type of writing they do. I found it fascinating – and also really encouraging.
The last author, SF Said, told the children that, in his day, no one got to meet writers – they remained mysterious and other worldly, locked away somewhere writing. That immediately resonated with me and I pondered whether I would have chosen a writing path earlier if I’d had the chance to interact with some writers in my childhood.
When we first arrived, we were whisked straight in and the first author, Caroline Lawrence, began her talk. I think all of us, teachers included, had expected a more interactive set up, and so we were concerned that the children wouldn’t sit still all day and engage. But the kids absolutely loved it all, and the authors each had such a different approach that they kept the children’s interest.
Caroline shared about her own background; her fascination with ancient Greece and Rome and how she came to write the Roman Mysteries, as well as her other work. Revealing a little of the story right at the start of the series and the historical aspects she interweaves through the books, her ancient ‘poo stick’ was the prop the kids found most interesting! They may not have known it, but she taught them a lot of history that day, including how communal toilets were set up! ;)
|Caroline shared her secrets for crafting story plots.|
After a quick break, and a chance for book signings (during which Caroline was flooded with children and teachers clutching books), the poet Joshua Seigal stepped up next. His slot was a mixture of poem reciting and interactive poetry. He had all the children and adults involved; at one point we helped him ‘write’ a poem (as he had multi-choice line endings – written in such a way, however, that we all fell for the endings that made for the funniest poem in the end). A real extrovert, he was hilarious and very engaging.
Lunchtime followed, and then we heard from SF Said. A much quieter, considered author, his passion for his subject still shone through. His emphasis was on getting the children to tell him what their dreams are; what their hopes for their careers are. And we soon learned why – he wanted to instil a sense of perseverance, of feeling like they could make their dreams happen whatever the cost.
SF Said told the back story of how he became an author, which included his first book being rejected 90 times! That book, Varjak Paw, took 17 drafts until it was ready to be published – and it went on to win the Nestles Smarties book prize. He has taken between five and seven years to complete a novel. As an author, his talk was a real encouragement and inspiration to keep going, keep pressing on with what I feel I need to be writing about.
Each of the three authors was very different, and their allocated slots in front of the kids were too. I know that as writers we can often find it a big step to do talks in front of people (especially if we are introverts). And, while it is often rooted in a need for marketing, actually we need to remember it is so wonderful for people – kids especially – to meet authors. They come to recognise that we are just like them; simply with a passion for words and a perseverance to produce the works we do. Just coming face to face with a ‘real life’ author can inspire future generations to engage with writing – so many of the kids told SF Said they wanted to be writers just like him.
So keep going – all of you, but, given the subject of this blog, particularly you children’s writers: I hope I’ve either given you a few ideas for your own author visits, by describing what these writers did, or provided you with the impetus to reach out to schools afresh in order to share your work directly with your audience.
Claire is a freelance writer, speaker and editor, mum to two gorgeous children, pastor’s wife, worship leader and school governor. Her books include Taking off the mask: daring to be the person God created you to be, Cover to Cover: Ezekiel A prophet for all times, Cover to Cover: 1–3 John Walking in the truth, Cover to Cover: David A man after God's own heart, Insight Into Managing Conflict, Insight Into Self-acceptance and Insight Into Burnout. She also writes Bible study notes and magazine articles. To find out more about her, please visit www.clairemusters.com and @CMusters on Twitter.