Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Some more thoughts abut school visits

I’m not shy about visiting schools. Even before I was established as a writer, whilst I was in a period of transition doing free-lance work and writing as well, I used to offer workshops in schools. I’d been a high school teacher for over twenty years so actually had some idea of how to behave in front of a group of children.    
I still do several school visits a year even though I have a full-time job as a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing. I offer different types of visit, each one serving a different purpose.


The standard author visit

This is typically about an hour and a half long. I read some of my book, I answer questions, I may offer one simple creative writing exercise and I’ll possibly sell books and sign copies. This is easier for me than for some authors- I write for children and young adults, mainly the latter, so my main audience is in fact in schools.


Workshops on writing

These can be anything from a half day through to a whole week or one day a week over several weeks. One can build up a really strong relationship with students and teachers. Many teachers appreciate having a writer show children that they can write.  Sometimes, though, I feel a bit of a fraud. Surely they can teach this just as well as I can if not better? They know their own students better. Apparently not though. They are always grateful.

Sessions to do with the topic of the book

We explore the topic of a book through writing and role-play – just like I did when I wrote it. Topics that I can therefore cover include:
·         The Holocaust
·         World War II
·         Other religions
·         Relationships
·         Otherness


Other topics

  • Creative writing in other languages
  • Build a Book (students write and publish a book)
  • Story-building
  • Character-building    


Promotion visits

These I do on behalf of the university. We provide taster sessions of some of our courses to persuade students to come to us. I do have to represent all of our English courses, not just my own.   


Different energy

It is slightly different running a one-off session from teaching regularly in a school.  You’re more on the go but can mainly leave any discipline matters to the normal teachers. It’s different again as well from university teaching. The latter is much more intense – two hours in a seminar can be more exhausting than a whole day in a classroom though actually also less emotionally draining. Preparation is also more intense.
More often than not you are treated almost like royalty when you visit a school as a writer. However, not always and you should be prepared for anything to happen. Do make sure you know the way out. I was once left standing in a hall and didn’t know how to get back to reception.

Writers should be paid for visits

Of course they should. However, it is part of my remit at the university to visit schools – in part for promotional purposes and partly for the purpose of general community engagement. I limit this to twelve a year and do expect travel expenses to be paid. I also operate a system on my Build a Book Workshop where the visit pays for itself through book purchases.
There is also an argument that it’s fine and probably desirable to offer a few free or very cheap visits whilst you get used to working with schools and to help you pick up a few good endorsements.  

Two schools of thought amongst authors

  1. A writer is different from a teacher and what they bring has value, even if it subverts the curriculum – or indeed perhaps because it does. Not every child will become a writer but they will probably become a fluent reader. So, the standard author visit should continue.    
  2. A writer should bring some expertise on writing, not just talk about their books.
I actually think both views are valid and these arguments suggest that all sorts of different types of visits are desirable.     

Five top tips about school visits

  1. Join NAWE – the National Association of Writers in Education. Plenty of support for writers who go into schools there and a chance to network with other writers.  
  2. Always find out about car-parking and lunch arrangements.
  3. Try not to arrive or leave at the same time as the students.
  4. Craft some standard email info sheets and contracts.
  5. Be very clear about what you expect on the day and how you expect to be paid.    

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The Best of CafeLit 3

All about CafeLit

CafeLit is the e-zine that supports the Creative Café Project. The Creative Café Project looks at identifying cafés that support the arts and encourages cafés in these endeavours. The e-zine helps to raise awareness of the project and actually supports it financially. CafeLit is also a platform for publishing short fiction.  Its unique selling point is that each story is associated with a drink and each story would ideally be read in a coffee break.

The Best of CafeLit

Each year we also publish a book in paperback and Kindle from the best stories produced the previous year. Debz Hobbs-Wyatt is currently the editor of the e-zine She and I take it in turns making the selection each year for the book. It was my turn when it came to The Best of CafeLit 3.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Well, it’s the last day of 2015 and I’m still enjoying that Christmas holiday bubble where the days are still dark, we stay in a lot, see a lot of friends and family and also consume a lot of story. I’m reading and writing avidly, getting used to my new tablet (birthday present) and getting around to a lot of “writerly” work the day job often doesn’t leave time for. Lots of submissions, marketing and updating web pages.
On a personal level, we’re still getting over the rather nasty burglary we suffered in November. We lost two cars, cash, a passport, keys, a folder of music, a Kindle - and a bath towel! I say we’re getting over it but it’s been more interesting than traumatic. No, I’m not traumatised that they came in the middle of the night through a front window whilst we were asleep. I almost admire them for that. I do feel slightly uncomfortable because I think they were watching the house and they’d got our movements worked out and because I am convinced they cloned my bank cards. My handbag was found ten miles away from our house. It was on a footpath going up to a house. They’d left my memory stick, my work ID and my credit card very visibly in the wrong part of the bag.  They’d wanted it to be found and they wanted me to think my bank cards were safe.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Changing regimes – and changing back again

Since 2003 I’ve spent the first two hours of every day writing. Yes, even weekends and when on holiday. However, I don’t beat myself up if I don’t manage it. I count the weekends and holidays as extra and set them against the days when I don’t manage to write.
I also try to write 2000 words. I don’t always manage it but often come close – say 1750.
This can actually be quite productive and has led to a novel every eighteen months or so, and several short stories, articles and academic papers.
Then this academic year for the first time, it all seemed to go to pot. I just couldn’t seem to fit it in. Work seemed to make more demands.  

Monday, 8 December 2014

A belated November newsletter

It’s that time of year again and we’re on the run into that festival. Yes, Christmas is a time when I traditionally do a lot of reading and a lot of thinking. I watch a lot TV – some of the cheesy variety and some other, more serious material, often some of that good old British drama. Lots of ideas bubble away.
I always see this time of year as a type of hibernation – we feed ourselves – physically, intellectually and emotionally, we stay indoors and keep ourselves warm – and we writers hope that lots of people will read our books. Perhaps they’ll have a new Kindle for Christmas and download some of our works.              
I have a birthday just before Christmas and though I used to curse it as a child I now welcome it: it’s the day our hemisphere starts titling back towards the light and I’ve only ever been to school once on my birthday. I’ve never been to work – though I may do a little writing.  The end of the gloom seems a good time to welcome a new year and new plans for new works.
Of course also, there are lots of celebrations and yesterday we held a gathering of Bridge House and CafeLit authors. More about this below!  

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Postcards over Ramsbottom or Don’t ever cross a novelist – you might get put into a novel or How novelists make use of just about everything

So, I go to my study to look at my phone, just like I do every morning. To find out what the weather’s going to be like and how I should therefore dress.
Except that my handbag isn’t its usual place by the desk in my study. Perhaps I left it somewhere else. I did have rather a lot of luggage to bring in from the car last night.

It’s not downstairs by the lounge door. Did I leave it in the car? I go to the spare room to look out onto the drive to see if I can see it on the passenger seat of my car. My car is not there. Neither is my husband’s.

We panic a little. I must have done something really stupid like left the handbag on the front door step. Oh Gawd.   
Then I notice a cupboard open in our lounge. My husband notices the curtains are open a little. He opens them fully and we can see that they forced their way through a window – a window that has four locks on it, into a house that is alarmed. I’ve walked past that window four times already today and not noticed anything. 
Later still I find that they did indeed go upstairs. My Kindle, which was next to my computer in my study, is also gone. At the weekend we discover that we are also missing a bath towel. Our newest one, in fact.     
At least now I am relieved that I didn’t do something stupid with my handbag. We contact the Police, my banks, my phone provider and the insurance companies for my phone and our cars. Then I phone work. 
(No, this isn’t the beginning of a crime novel. This really happened to us last Tuesday. But you never know …)

Sunday, 9 November 2014

October 2014 Newsletter, slightly belated

I guess my biggest news at the moment is that I’ve been promoted to Senior lecturer at the University of Salford. It’s a nice feeling. It sort of confirms that I’ve been doing a few things right. Not that the pressure goes away – if anything there’s more. Current challenges: improve NSS scores, retention, continuation, completion and recruit more students. Oh, and fit in a little research and writing!   
We’ve just had Reading / Writing Week and I’ve been out and about doing some unusual things: school visits, visit to Ireland, where I’ve made one or two interesting connections, and a conference.
I’ve managed to do a little more research towards my book on Children’s Literature. Some of the material at Trinity College, Dublin was extremely interesting, especially to do with the connection to myths. This also feeds nicely into a lecture I’m delivering next week.