It’s four years since my first author visit, but I remember the afternoon very well. I was terrified. I’d stood in front of conferences of adults, but the idea of children, that get bored easily, was on another scale. I practised my spiel on my own kids. The feedback was vanilla. I did it with the mirror as my audience, noticed how wrinkly I am when I smile. Didn't sleep the night before. To my credit, I was prepared. Overly. I started my one-hour session at half-past one, ran seamlessly through the three different sections - introduction and warm-up (ideally with laughter), making up characters together (using flipchart), putting them in a story (using props I'd brought.) Perfect, apart from the sweaty armpit mark on my dress and the fact I had no watch, and there was no clock in the room. I galloped through the afternoon like it was the Grand National. My mouth was so dry I had to tear my tongue off the roof. I daredn't stop, even to ask the time, in case I lost a child's attention. Eventually the bell rang. Oh joy! I'd run a two-hour marathon. It was over. I went home and someone else had to make tea.
So, am I any better now?
I wear a watch.
If I forget I choose a child and ask them to tell me when it's whatever o'clock. The downside of this is that the child ends up staring at its watch and can't participate but hey.
I don't pack so much in.
Simply putting on a wig does the warm-up job. I have large and curly, bright blue and Barbie wigs.
I occasionally stop talking.
As my confidence has grown I get the children to do more and me less. They write on the flipchart, they choose the props. If I get some proper little stars in the group I've even had an impromptu singing session, karate demos and a playfight (that got a little less playful.)
I get them off their chairs.
I know now to ask for the kids to be on the carpet, hall floor, anywhere but at their desks. That way they can't fiddle so easily and there's no barrier between us.
I take my props in a large dustbin and change them all the time.
Skulls are marvellous. What school event can't go swimmingly if you have a light-up skull?
I don't get them too excited.
In the early days I just wanted the children to look interested so I did pretty much anything that would keep them laughing. That's fine, until you actually want them to listen. I have found the brakes. I also now appoint a child to be on my side and use them as a policeman. Marvellous tactic. But I don't know what happens to them in the playground afterwards.
I spot the lively ones.
And give them jobs. There are any number of ad hoc positions available for children who like to talk.
I try not to catch the eye of any member of staff.
I can be a bit noisy, and I wear wigs, and dance and make faces, and shout sudden alarming things. The presence of the adults can make me feel self-conscious, so I pretend they're not there. When I find myself saying something that a teacher might not like I close down all peripheral vision and that works a treat.
If I lose my thread, I tell them.
I used to think I had to perform like an actress - know my words, never stutter or show any nerves. It was a revelatory moment when I started to just be myself (wigs, dancing, shouting). Now, if the workshop takes a dive I explain how it's mirroring the writing process. Up, down, sprinting, stopped dead, wrong, irretrievable. The children particularly like anything I say that exposes the truth of how often adults also have no idea what they're doing.
Talking of truth, it's 8.03am on my blog day. This week I've been writing, writing, writing, trying to finish the nth draft of my latest book to send it to my agent. And I forgot to prepare the blog. Sorry. So any of you who looked early - I was dreaming of moving house. And any of you reading now - this is an unedited flow of stuff from my head.
So before I make porridge I'll share my favourite piece of feedback (from a child, of course.)
'I liked it when you was a goose.'
p.s. Please excuse the formatting. Beyond me . . .