(Adapted from my own blog, as it's relevant here and I'm not a little fraught.)
Writers are increasingly asked to offer work experience to school pupils and young people increasingly have to ask for it. Some of you might have wondered what you'd do. One writer-friend of mine was contacted by a young person who said, "Nicola Morgan says..." as though I know something about the whole thing. Well, as you can imagine, I have some thoughts...
For example, recently, a 13 year-old girl, Iona, came to me for a week. I nearly said no but I'm so glad I didn't. Although I'd had an excellent experience once before, I had vowed never to do it again because after that excellent one I had two instances of agreeing to offer work experience, spending a great deal of time working out what we would do during the week or fortnight and then being let down at the last minute. I also had several people contact me in extremely lacklustre ways, along the lines of "I have to get some work experience - can you give me some?" Which is not likely to work.
It's not easy for a writer to offer work experience. Most of our work is in our heads and no one else can do it. It's hard to find things that someone else can help with. And there's not much room for two in my office! But I like helping young people and I like learning from them, which was why I offered that original work experience a few years ago.
Still, for the reasons above, I'd decided not to say yes again. Until Iona came along.
It was her email that did it. She was excited, bright, had done her research, gave enthusiastic reasons for being keen to work with me. She ticked all the boxes and pressed all the buttons. So I said yes.
Then came the forms from her school. Health and safety; employer's insurance; impossible things for me to fill in. So I phoned the school and said I couldn't do it because I couldn't fill in the forms. I wasn't an employer, for a start. And I didn't have time or inclination to jump through hoops.
However, where there's a will there's a way and we agreed that it would be a private arrangement between me and Iona's mother. Luckily, Iona's mother was a model of common sense, and so was I, so we got this sorted in a sensible way.
Iona was a complete and utter delight. So easy to have around; independent; very keen to learn; said yes to everything; brilliant with You-Tube and a camera...
What did we do?
- Iona helped with ideas for a novel I was stuck on.
- We had a meeting with my publicist and discussed various upcoming projects, including marketing for Brain Sticks.
- We both had some writing tuition from Lucy Coats - that was fun!
- Iona contributed to an article on author events which Duncan Wright, school librarian, and I were writing for the School Librarian Journal. She had to give her viewpoint as an audience member and she made some excellent points, one of which I've already used in my own events.
- She interviewed me and filmed me, putting together a video; she also took some other footage which we're going to use in the future. I regret to say that she laughed at my appalling acting skills, but I'll forgive her for that because it was hard not to laugh.
- She helped me get to grips with iMovie...
- We assessed a picture book manuscript that a Pen2Publication client had sent me (with the client's permission)
- We talked about and worked on all the editing processes of a book's journey
- She had to assess a revision website I'd been asked to give an opinion on - our opinion was not very positive!
- She wrote a stunning email to a company for me.
- I gave her some advice on a piece she was writing for school; and her revised version was SO good. But, more importantly, when she wrote that email for me, it was a brilliant email because she'd taken on board everything I'd taught her. As Lucy said, "she soaks up information like a sponge."
- She spent a day with literary agent Lindsey Fraser.
Iona should be very proud indeed. She will go far!
Tips for young people who are thinking of asking for work experience with an author:
- Research the author and show that you know what they do and why you want to work for them.
- Be very enthusiastic and polite. Even use a dollop of flattery... *cough*
- Show that you understand that work experience with an author is unusual and difficult; show that you want to help as well as learn.
- If the author says a polite no, write a polite reply. They might have something for you in the future.
But the big question is WHY? Young people, ask yourself why you want to do this? What do you hope to learn and what do you think would be interesting. And for authors, why would you want to do this? For me, it's simple: I like giving opportunities for talented and eager teenagers to push themselves. I get a buzz from that.
Good luck to both parties! It can work really well.
Good luck to both parties! It can work really well.
Do take a look at Iona's short video interview here and you'll see why I say she's good:
I will be at the Edinburgh Book Festival often between Aug 15th and 31st - do let me know if you'd like to meet up. How about coming to the event I'm doing with Cathy Rentzenbrink (author of the heart-wrenching The Final Act of Love and also director of the Quick Reads charity) and Charles Fernyhough, psychologist and expert in the neuroscience of reading. Our event is about the science of reading and I'll be talking about the science behind Readaxation and the power of reading for pleasure and wellbeing. Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org