I’ve been visiting schools for years now, telling stories, sharing my writing strategies, showing how to draw things and, I hope, inspiring the odd child here and there.
I’ve never been a teacher. I’ve not trained as a teacher. In staff room conversations, it’s clear that many teachers think I’m an ex-teacher that has escaped! But I’m not. I started as an illustrator and was pretty much taught to write by my editors. I don’t think of myself as a writer, because I’m dyslexic and have my own peculiar ways of planning, plotting and writing stories. I’ve worked very hard to find my own way of doing it. If I had to do it the way the National Curriculum suggests, I would never have written anything. But I think my experience is useful for those kids, like me, who just don’t get it.
My focus is on dreaming up stories and characters, writing them down and drawing the illustrations. Schools and teachers have a very different focus, and the system makes them change that focus all the time. There’s a whole new curriculum coming along. It’s hard to keep up as a teacher – harder if you are not in the system very day.
Some schools I go to are happy just to have a day of fun, celebrating stories. I feel that others want “measurable outcomes”, a phrase that makes my heart sink, but I appreciate the world we live in and know that teachers are under huge pressure to deliver and much work can be achieved during and following an author visit.
No one teaches authors how to do school visits. We write a book and are thrown in at the deep end, complete innocents thrown to the crocodiles, and we have to work something out – quick!. My sessions are like Jazz. I have a whole load of riffs that I can call on from years of experience. I modulate my delivery according to the age the group and the life experience they have. I sense the level of the audience and play what I feel will be the right note. Sometimes its spectacularly right and at other times… less so!
And then I’m gone and never quite get time to talk to the teachers to get some feedback or know what they would have preferred. They are far too polite to make suggestions, but sometimes I’ll see follow on work at the end of the day, and that gives me new ideas for how I can tailor what I do, so the next group can take my characters and situations and draw or write their own stories.
If you were planning a perfect author visit to school, (you’d want J K Rowling, I know!) what would you really like an author – like me – to do? It would be good to know!