There’s a lot of pressure on authors, kids authors in particular, to be performers. It often isn’t good enough for new talent to be deft storytellers, what’s as important, is whether they can entertain 30, 60, 120 or more kids live and in person. It’s enough to give established authors, never mind debut ones, a serious case of the jitters.
Last week was my turn, but I’ve got to be honest, I’d been really looking forward to it. Obviously I love writing, you wouldn’t sit in a room for months on end, ignoring the lure of ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ if you didn’t, but I knew I’d enjoy the touring as much as the creating bit.
The aspect I love most about my job is talking about books, and to be honest there’s not enough time spent doing that, so to be allowed and encouraged to stand there and talk about my own book? Well, count me in. I’m completely up for it.
The good folks at Puffin had set me up with a couple of days of school events last week, all in South East London, and I had the best time.
Tuesday meant a morning spent at the Walworth Academy, talking to two groups of 60 year 9 students. It was the first time I’d done the event for an audience that age, and it’s fair to say I had to work a little harder to tease questions or observations out of them. No-one wants to look an idiot in front of 59 others…me included. What worked best in these sessions, was undoubtedly reading passages from the book, so I gave them 2 passages, one that showed how Billy viewed his life in care, and one from later in the book, where he starts to use his aggression in a more positive light. I can’t begin to tell you how amazing it is to see 60 pairs of eyes fixed on you as you read. It’s a special feeling, and certainly an addictive one.
If Tuesdays sessions taught me anything, it’s that you cant have too much material. With the year 9’s feeling hesitant about asking questions, I devised a further piece about the process of being published, what an agent does, what a first draft looks like, how the cover came together. Thankfully though, I didnt need it in thursday’s sessions.
First up was the Bridge Academy in Shoreditch, and a fabulous theatre space where I spoke to 120 years 7 and 8 students. The difference in response was marked, they asked questions from word go, even those sat right at the back, and the next fifty minutes screamed by, leaving me to sign a flurry of books and timetables (!) at the end. Loved it. every single second of it.
After a brief interlude and a lunch time curry (spoilt rotten!), we were onto the Bishop Challoner school near Wapping, and 80 year 9 pupils, all boys. There’s something great about speaking to single sex groups, especially boys, and whoever said lads that age have no emotional intelligence hasn’t got a clue. The students I was lucky enough to meet engaged brilliantly, firing questions that were often challenging to answer…
And well, that was it for the week. But what a brilliant, challenging and hugely fulfilling few days it was. And now? Well it’s up to me. I have several more events lined up, and invites back to the schools I visited last week (so gratifying). It’s great that work are giving me some time off to get stuck in. It’s an opportunity I’m not going to pass up……