I had a great day in Ross on Wye Library yesterday. I’ve been there a few times now and there were one or two old faces that I recognised and of course, I’m getting to know the Librarians quite well now! I was, again, exhausted by the end of the day. My wife, Penny, has suggested that I should get some stage or presentation training to help me. I’ve been looking at various sites on the Internet about public speaking and some pieces of advice crop up again and again.
Correct posture is number one. I’ve always held the book I’m reading up so that everyone can see the pictures. In reality I’m sure the back row can’t see, so all I’m doing is giving myself terrible shoulder ache by the end of the day. At the same time I’m hunching my shoulders and not allowing myself to expand my chest and breathe properly. Hydration is another big thing. I drank a lot of water at a school I visited recently, and stayed off the coffee and tea. Now I think about it, I wasn’t quite so tired that day.
I’m off to Sandwell tomorrow and will have over 200 children in West Bromwich Town Hall in the afternoon, so I’m going to try something different. (Better do a bit of preparation today!)
I’m not really sure what is expected from school and library visits. No one teaches you, there is no job description. Us authors do what we do in our different ways. It would be interesting to hear from anyone who has definite ideas of what they think an author visit should be like. In these days of measurable outcomes, I feel pressured to educate – to cram some measurable and testable information into children’s minds so that positive feedback can be entered onto appraisal forms. What I do best, is to entertain. I want children to go away thinking that books and stories can be fun – not just texts to be disassembled – and wondering who that strange man was!
Some authors have very set talks and like to be in control. I’m a bit of a seat of the pants kind of person. My best sessions are always the ones where nothing is expected and I go where the mood takes me. Of course I have a collection of tales and anecdotes that I know work well, that I can drop in and use to suit the moment, but the really good sessions fly off into flights of fantasy and fun. They are always the ones that get remembered and, in the end, produce the best, if unmeasurable, outcomes.
The really, really good sessions are when the teachers freely hand over their class to me and join in as part of the audience. Often I’ll end up with a class character wanting to get their two pennyworth in. This can be such fun – the equivalent of a comedian’s heckler. They can force me to do the unsafe thing – read a story I’ve never done before – have a discussion on deep and complicated subjects – talk about an idea I’ve just had and want to get an opinion on. Sadly, the sparky child is often told off or moved to sit next to the teacher. Please trust me to handle a crowd – I’ve not had a riot… yet!