Wednesday, 1 December 2021


Today is the first of December and a Christmas Tree covered in lights has appeared in a window across the road in a home where there are young children.

                        Christmas tree - Wikipedia

So, although Christmas at our home only begins just before the Big Date, I was inspired to start ABBA’s month with an as-yet undiscovered, almost Seasonal Song. You may recognise the slightly mangled tune. "Enjoy!"


On the 1st Day of Christmas, my Notebook sent to me

A Totally Winning Idea!


On the 2nd Day of Christmas, my Notebook sent to me

Two Clever Heroes

and a Totally Winning Idea!

On the 3rd Day of Christmas, my Notebook sent to me

Three Strong Themes,

Two Clever Heroes and a Totally Winning Idea!

On the 4th Day of Christmas, my Notebook sent to me

Four Scary Scenes

Three Strong Themes, Two Clever Heroes

 and a Totally Winning Idea!

On the 5th Day of Christmas, my Notebook sent to me

Five Bold Twists.

Four Scary Scenes, Three Strong Themes,

Two Clever Heroes

 and a Totally Winning Idea!

On the 6th Day of Christmas, my Notebook sent to me

Six Great Locations

Five Bold Twists, Four Scary Scenes, Three Strong Themes,

Two Clever Heroes and a Totally Winning Idea!

On the 7th Day of Christmas, my NoteBook sent to me

Seven Steps of Story,

Six Great Locations, Five Bold Twists,

Four Scary Scenes, Three Strong Themes,

Two Clever Heroes and a Totally Winning Idea!

On the 8th Day of Christmas, my Notebook gave to me

Eight Delicious Dialogues

Seven Steps of Story, Six Great Locations, Five Bold Twists,

Four Scary Scenes, Three Strong Themes,

Two Clever Heroes

and a Totally Winning Idea!

On the 9th Day of Christmas my Notebook gave to me

Nine “Feely” Pet Scenes,

Eight Delicious Dialogues, Seven Steps of Story, Six Great Locations,

Five Bold Twists,

Four Scary Scenes, Three Strong Themes,

Two Clever Heroes

and a Totally Winning Idea!

On the 10th Day of Christmas, my Notebook sent to me

Ten Luscious Landscapes,

Nine “Feely” Pet Scenes, Eight Delicious Dialogues, Seven Steps of Story,

Six Great Locations, Five Bold Twists,

Four Scary Scenes, Three Strong Themes,

Two Clever Heroes and a Totally Winning Idea!

On the 11th Day of Christmas, my Notebook sent to me

Eleven Subtle Symbols,

Ten Luscious Landscapes, Nine “Feely” Pet Scenes, Eight Delicious Dialogues,

Seven Steps of Story, Six Great Locations, Five Bold Twists,

Four Scary Scenes, Three Strong Themes,

Two Clever Heroes

and a Totally Winning Idea!


On the 12th Day of Christmas, my Notebook sent to me

Twelve Marketing Angles

Eleven Subtle Symbols, 

Ten Luscious Landscapes,

 Nine “Feely” Pet Scenes,

Eight Delicious Dialogues, 

Seven Steps of Story,

Six Great Locations, 

Five Bold Twists . . .(and breathe!),

Four Scary Scenes, 

Three Strong Themes,

Two Clever Heroes

and a Totally Winning Idea! Yay!

                                        Christmas tree - Wikipedia

However, to gently continue. . .

But just as I sat down at the desk, 

all my Wonderful Friends & Relations arrived 

needing Quantities of Festive Food - and Drink - 

and Hospitality for that night, and for the one 

after and after and so on . . . 


I sighed. I smiled 

brightly. “Come in and welcome!” I cried.

As for that wonderful Writer’s Notebook? 

Oh well. Oh well indeed. 


Alas, one of the less thoughtful visitors thrust

My Notebook into the Very Merry Yule Log Fire.

All the Assembled Company said it made a 

stunning blaze. 


Never mind, next year will be better . . .  

And I will remember all those brilliant ideas, 

won’t I?


The Moral of the Story is make sure you save 

some time for yourself and keep an eye on all 

that matters to you. 


It's so, so easy to tidy a vital “writing something” away

 and forget where you placed it once the rush is over.

Stale chocs, anyone?

                        File:The Yule Log.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Happy Christmas to One and All and - more seriously -

wishing all the Scattered Authors much joy and 

 success during the Year Ahead.

Penny Dolan


Tuesday, 30 November 2021

START THE DAY WITH A POEM by Patricia Cleveland-Peck

 One morning not long ago a poem arrived in my inbox from a blog I enjoy* which I'd like to share with you. The poem Shinto, is by Borges and is a wonderful example of something I love in poetry - the use of lists. It also chimed with so many things I'd been feeling and thinking about both during and since lockdown.

I found myself saying yes, I have seen many unexpected faces from the past in dreams: yes, as a travel writer the yearning for for the compass has been intense at times; yes, if I find a book ( or anything ) I have lost I am almost euphoric and yes, yes, yes, yes, the smell of a library, the former name of as street, unforeseen etymologies and even the smoothness of a fingernail - these are things to which I completely relate.

Then, with the poem still in mind I set off on my late morning walk. Although it was definitely autumnal the sun was shining and as I made my way along the lane I suddenly noticed the most beautiful Red Admiral butterfly. It settled, wings spread wide basking in the sunshine for long enough for me to gaze at it for a long and happy moment.

A perfect 'windfall of mindfulness.'

Patricia Cleveland-Peck

Monday, 29 November 2021

Inspiration - Nick Garlick

Much of my inspiration for writing comes from books. Reading something I enjoy makes me want to write too.

But there are other sources too, and this is one of them: this photograph of former US President Jimmy Carter, at 95, sitting on his porch and holding a guitar.


It’s a guitar made from the wood of a tree he planted. I don’t know when he planted it; just that he did, when he was young. But every time I look at it I’m lifted up out of the rough times we’re currently living through, and reminded that it’s good to keep going, to persevere.

It's that simple really.

A picture of a man on a porch with a guitar, made from the wood of a tree he planted himself.


Sunday, 28 November 2021

Folly Farm: Returning to Magical Places by Kelly McKain

This week I grabbed one of the final places at the SAS’s Folly Farm Winter Warmer retreat. I’m excited about the opportunity to connect and collaborate with old friends, and to meet new ones… And we certainly do collaborate and inspire one another! One year, Liz Kessler, with music playing in her headphones from the previous evening’s drinks, tunes and general vibe out, took an early morning walk with her camera… and came back with an entire novel fully formed, which had unfolded within her over the walk. I think it was the following year, or a couple of years after, she presented it to a very honoured June Crebbins, Elen Caldecott and I, dedicated to us with thanks for our little part in igniting the creation. The book? Haunt Me. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It’s got all the misty magic of that Folly Farm morning, and all of Liz’s breath-taking depth of spirit and breadth of heart held within it. And that’s just one Folly Farm creative story. I know there are many, many, many more! (If you have one, maybe add it in the comments!)


At Folly Farm (probably in about 2015), I began powerfully imagining and playing with a project of my own, Green Witch. I walked in the incredibly beautiful wild wood there and felt my characters come to life – Tol, the broody, beautiful, troubled young man who appears to be walking between worlds while in a coma, stalking terrified heroine Delilah in dreams and visions. I could almost see Delilah herself slipping between the trees ahead of me, a fragile, braced young woman with no confidence who then comes into her power as the next Green Witch in a long line, with a huge destiny and mission ahead of her. A bit slower off the mark than Liz (!) I wrote the book, and Green Witch is out next year. 

When I return to Folly Farm in January I’ll be walking in the same wild wood, soaking up the same magic, and closing some kind of circle with gratitude and appreciation as Green Witch is ushered out into the world on a wave of grace and magic (and like most of our beloved creations, probably a bit of a wing and a prayer!). I’ll be sitting by the fire with fellow writers - old friends and new – and all old souls for sure. We’ll be raising a glass to the beautiful, magical soul Kit Berry who very sadly passed away this year. Dear Kit, I will have a good roll round the floor to Wuthering Heights while screeching the lyrics at the top of my voice to properly honour you… 😉

Connection with nature is deeply sustaining, the friendship of warm, kind, funny people is deeply sustaining, writing and creativity is a deep, deep primal well of truth… Folly Farm has all of this, plus probably someone will bring a massive tub of Quality Street, and I cannot wait to find out what gifts are there for me in January…

Find Kelly at and and out in the wild wood.

Saturday, 27 November 2021

What Don't You Know? by Claire Fayers

This is another writing/piano crossover post.

In my weekly piano lesson last week, I was trying to explain why I was having trouble with a particular piece when my teacher interrupted. 

"Usually, when you're stuck, it's because there's something you don't know," he said. "What don't you know here?"

Essentially, I didn't know which fingers had to go on which notes, but in a mini lightbulb-going-off moment, I realised this could apply to far more things than just music.

My plot has stuck? What don't I know? What do I need to find out in order to fix it?

Sometimes it's a problem with the characters. What don't I know about them, their histories, their likes and dislikes? Maybe I need to spend some time with a notebook, asking my characters questions. When I get stuck I often find it's my villain's motivation which is lacking. I have a habit of starting to write without having a clear idea of who the villain is or what they're doing (which is fine as long as I remember to work it out before I do the second draft.)

Sometimes it's the setting. For someone who writes mainly fantasy, I do surprisingly little world-building up front. I start with the starting location and fill in my mental map of the world as my characters travel. It avoids vast info-dumps early on, but it also means I can get stuck because I haven't properly worked things out. What don't I know about this particular location? What are the obstacles? What are the people like here? How does this location link to the wider world of the book? 

Sometimes it's a scene that causes me to stumble. I might have a great idea for a set piece - a tense conversation, a fight, an explosion or a dramatic encounter with a dragon - but I haven't thought through the implications. I write the scene and then I stop, wondering what should happen next. So, go back. What happened exactly? Who was involved and what were they trying to achieve? Was that scene part of some bigger plan that I need to work out?

Donald Rumsfeld famously said: 

"There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know. And... it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones."

What don't I know?

Claire Fayers

Thursday, 25 November 2021

An addiction - by Holly Race

I have an addictive personality. It's something I realised quite early on, and as a result I chose to side-step the experimental phase some people go through in their teens and twenties, fearing that I wouldn't be able to regulate myself.

So it's been something of a shock to realise that I've inadvertently become addicted to something despite my best efforts... I've become addicted to writing groups.

It all started seven years ago, when an acquaintance offered to arrange a coffee between me and an agent friend of his. At that point, I had never shared my writing efforts with anyone, pressing them close to my chest, promising myself that by the time I showed them to someone else, they would be perfect. The agent read my work, and said, 'You can write, but for god's sake, join a feedback group. You'll improve so much faster.'

I took her words to heart, and applied to Faber Academy's Writing a Novel course. My first 'PP' (six years on and none of us can now remember what this stands for - personal project? peer presentation?) was terrifying. Fifteen near-strangers had read the opening 5000 words of my book, and were now discussing it around a table. Did I get criticism? Absolutely. Did I also get a confidence boost? Also absolutely. Where I learnt most of my craft, though, was in giving feedback, not receiving it. It's much easier to spot problems - and solutions - to someone else's book baby than it is your own, but once you've spotted them in someone else's work, it's easier to find and fix the same issues in your own. After the Faber course finished, many of us continued to meet on a monthly basis to read and discuss each other's writing. We took a few years off, but have recently started again on Zoom. My work in progress has been given a new direction and new energy as a result of my peers' constructive criticism.

As for my addiction? Well, my Faber peers aren't the only group I now belong to. There's also a 6am writers' Zoom, running every weekday for my fellow early birds. We gather in our pyjamas, tea in hand and bleary-eyed, chat for five minutes, write for fifty and then chat for another five. I've written and edited many thousands of words as a result, all before the sun is up. There's a group for screenwriters and actors, meeting monthly to read scripts out loud. And my fourth writing group is in person: a little gathering of Cambridge-based authors who meet up for coffee, gossip and the occasional writing sprint.

Each one is priceless in different ways. Each one provides companionship that can so often be lacking from the writing process, and a group of excellent minds to bounce ideas off. As addictions go, it could be worse.

Now, whenever aspiring writers ask me for advice, I parrot the words of that agent, without which I absolutely wouldn't be a published author today: 'Get thee to a writing group'.

How To Lose Friends, but Influence People by Steve Gladwin



 I am back in the world of paid work, but it's more than a little odd as I'm sitting in the meeting room of the Oriel Davies gallery in Newtown, Powys, where Rosie and I are based two days a week for the 'Hidden Voices' series of creative workshops we are doing for the entirely wonderful Credu Powys Carers. This space is the pretty big and the sort of multi-space room I would have killed for in my career as a further education drama teacher. There's only one problem! The voices we are talking about are so hidden that they have never actually turned up. The space which Rosie, (ill today, sadly) and I regularly post videos and her lovely poems on our facebook site Stories of Feeling and Being and try to get a certain amount of comedy gold about the large spider plant which is the only other inhabitant is starkly empty. The real problem of course is that in this area at least - where covid cases in schools are pretty rife - people are more likely to retreat back to safety than venture into possible adventure and enlightenment of spirit. I myself am hardly one to talk because there is an increasingly large hermit part of me at the moment.

Luckily I have a few things to work on, but at least one doesn't come naturally to me and never has. I am not great and now at the age of 62 am unlikely to ever be at self-promotion. Even the phrase makes me feel nervous. I have been, amongst other things, a confidence and assertiveness trainer, but I don't know how tele sales people ever do it. I spend almost as much of my time feeling sorry for them when they're trying to get me to commit to something, as being annoyed how they got hold on an ex-directory number.

But now, dear reader, the shoe is very much on the other foot. I was never any good at phoning schools to get bookings for my own theatre company, so how am I expected to raise the huge sum that's needed to fully fund my wonderful book  with 'Unbound', 'Land in Mind', which originated from these very pages. Today, the 22nd day of November, equidistant between my parents' birthdays it is a month since I began to get pledges. Here, then is not so much a list of impressions and advice about trying to do this, but more like what the Americans might call 'a mess of stuff.'




* Be prepared to lose your friends.

I'm not saying it's going to happen, but be prepared that it might. Your timing might be lousy when you approach your first 'victim'. They might be on their way to a funeral, or standing in the middle of a flooded kitchen. Not that you need to think of them like the priest in 'Father Ted', who Ted always phoned when he was on the verege of doing something tricky or dangerous, but you get my point!

* And don't think of people as victims.

No, these are your FRIENDS, and not just pledged in the form of variously shaped humans. Part of the appeal of your book is because it is yours, and people like you and want to support you! Right!

* Don't sell away your life and sanity for a pledgeometer.

 You will be drawn to it constantly of course and if you are a dyspraxic worrier like me, far too often. But do try to get a life somewhere in between looks. Wars could happen, monsoons could overwhelm large areas of land, and regimes could fall, and you might not nudge up that extra per cent.

* Even though it is probably an act of madness to create an anthology which involves fifty plus people, stories and poems, features, articles and photographs, rather than something simple like say - a novel, you will automatically have that number of advocates for your (and their) book, to be drawn on in various ways.

NB You might also run a slight risk of losing their support if you approach them too many times, so that, like a grumpy sleeping animal, they just want to stick two metaphorical fingers up, and roll over in the straw.

* Use social media in a way in which you feel confident.

 In our first marketing seminar, Cassie, the head of marketing advised us to concentrate our focus mainly on one social media outlet. In my case that would be facebook, where I have had a presence for many years and already annoyed a great many people, (so they're used to it, presumably!) In my case, I have also reintroduced myself to twitter, for the short and snappy one-liner, which also sneakily adds a link to your book at every opportunity. And once people start posting about your book, post back a reply so that those of them who don't know you as some sixty two year old pot-bellied, grizzled old reprobate imagine that they must be talking to the very fount of wisdom itself, especially with a cerebral book like mine, which rather imagines some wise and benevelolent sage scratching away with a swan quill in hallowed cloisters.

* Be able to describe your book in a couple of sentences rather than waffling round the subject every time someone asks you. 

'Land in Mind', (it's surely about time I named it - what a lousy marketer I am!), is about recapturing the childhood landscapes that form us and reforming them in our memories so we can continually draw on them when we need them as a form of sanctuary. It's not about 'sort of' anything, and it has a definite absence of 'maybe'. It's a tough trick to learn, but well worth the mastery.




*Think of as many and as different ideas for both marketing and new pledges as you can.

Include copies of your one and only novel, or your partner's artistic talent, as part of a package. Ask contributors to do you an audio, or video, which you can either do in your official update on your 'Unbound' page, or on your own site/social media. Do a regular podcast and - in my case at least - persuade some of those lovely contributing friends to perform their audio or video in favourite landscape. I already have a lovely clip from Philippa Francis by the sea in Sussex, with the moon rising in the background, and another of John Matthews reading two of his Green Man poems, the second of which closes the book. Basically, keep the ideas coming.


* Be prepared for disappointments with contributors, or individual components. I came so close to getting TV explorer and historian Levison Wood, but in the end a quiet covid period for him gave way to a new adventure and we just couldn't fit in a chat first. Alan Lee continues to be elusive, although he has agreed to be involved, and Phil Rickman has provided a tantalising fragment of what could be!


* Try not to get overwhelmed or disheartened by what your running mates are doing.

I begun my pledging period with two other new Unbounders, Louisa and Tree. Because Louisa is better known by her twitter handle of 'Roadside Mum' and has a huge following on there and elsewhere, and because her book 'One in Five' is people talking about poverty through their own stories, she hit the ground running as a huge influx of people supported it in the first week. Now, she's heading steadily towards 50%, while Tree, who has written a fascinating but clearly niche book about the Rider Waite tarot, has made a slower start than me. I find myself willing Tree to get more when I look at her page, while being sort of relieved that Louisa has reduced her thundering pace a little. We still have five months to go.

* For as many pledge disappointments and bad responses you can have delightful ones. My first pledge was Jackie Morris, who is also one of my contributors, and, having announced that she was my first pledge, then told me how ******* hard the whole process would be.  (She's dead right!) Then, last week, I remembered I want to pledge for Elizabeth Garner's book of folktales. Having done this, I messaged her on facebook to tell her I'd done that, and to tell her about the book, whereupon she responded to tell me that she'd pledged £75 for the launch and then directed me to the event the evening after where she would be discussing her father's new book 'Treacle Walker', at the Yorkshire Festival of Story. The event was hosted by the festival's director Kevin Crossley Holland, who is also a generous contributor to 'Land in Mind'.

I immediately bought 'Treacle Walker', one of the finest stories of apprecticeship you will ever read, and was drawn back to 'First Light', the incredible collection of essays on Alan Garner and his work, which had been hiding low on my kindle list. The contributors to that anthology include Hugh Lupton, Ronald Hutton, Kath Langrish and Neil Philip, all of whom appear in 'Land in Mind'. It is - needless to say - an 'Unbound' book. Of course it is!

* Which brings me to the last and most important of my musings. I've got the chance to work with 'Unbound', which is turning out to be as unique, as warm and above all, as supportive an organisation as you might hope it to be. It is wonderful to be an 'Unbounder; and that's the case where you are near to the finishing line to a background flourish of trumpets, or just getting into your stride, while still hanging on to the rail a little. Masterminded by the wonderful John Mitchinson, who believed in the idea for 'Land in Mind' from the start, (thank you, Neil Philip) and looks like the rare sort of old testament prophet you can trust, his assistant Aliya Gulemani and Cassie Waters, head of marketing, (who missed our three launches through being in hospital), 'Unbound' is a family. And like all families it groans through the ups and downs of a book's family life, laughs politely at my bad jokes and allows for my dyspraxia. Having been supported a little on reins while you make your first tentative steps, they then allow you to stumble on until you can wander off on your own without going anywhere near traffic. And later, when it comes to your homework, the red pen is used very gently indeed!

So, this is my chance to sell the book to you and encourage you all to pass all this on to like-minded friends. Although 'Land in Mind' was first conceived in a 2018 conversation between Kevin Crossley-Holland and I at Ty Newydd about his poem 'Lifelines', (which begins this anthology), and later almost accidentally provided with it's name and ethos by Catherine Fisher, (coincidentally Kevin's co-tutor on that course), the book really began with two years of interviews on this blog. That is why it seems so appropriate that Sue and Penny provide the introduction to 'Land in Mind' and Kevin's poem follows it.

Without you SASSIES there wouldn't have been a book, so here's me taking another opportunity to thank Sue and Penny, Jackie Marchant and John Dickinson, Kelly McKain and Mary Hoffman, Elen Caldecott and Sharon Tregenza, Lu Hersey and Jasbinder Bilar, Inbali Isserles and Kath Langrish, Malachy Doyle, Frances Thomas, anyone I might have briefly forgotten, and the much missed Kit Berry, to whom the book is dedicated and by whom all of these lovely photos were taken..




Thank you. And now a brief word from our sponsors.

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

On school visits....a school librarian's perspective from Dawn Finch

Recently, on Facebook, a new author was asking for advice about school visits. Dawn Finch, who has in the past been a prolific contributor to ABBA, put up a link to this post which she wrote on the subject in 2015, and it was full of so much good advice that I decided to hunt it out and re-publish it. So here it is! Sue Purkiss

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

On school visits....a school librarian's perspective from Dawn Finch

When I first started doing author visits as a published author, it wasn't really new to me. I’d been doing them for a very long time, but it had always been from the other side of the table (so to speak) as I spent ten years as a school librarian. During that time I’d learned a lot from the good visits, and even more from the bad ones. One day I'll blog about those, but only if I'm so rich and famous that the people concerned won't be able to afford to come after me!
 I’m the Vice President of CILIP, but was previously the vice-chair of the London and South East School Libraries Group committee, and early in 2014, we had our annual LibMeet. Part of this day was taken up with a workshop about author visits. Money is tight in schools and, even though librarians know how inspiring an author visit can be, they find it hard to convince their leadership team to stump up the costs. One of the key things that came out of this discussion is that whilst a freebie is great, it’s genuinely not the deciding factor. All of the librarians said that they had turned down free offers from authors that they felt had little or no merit or who looked “poor quality”. It was very reassuring to discover that they are looking for quality and will pay if they can convince their head teachers and business managers that it is worth it.
When librarians gather....not a "ssshh" in the house!

So, what are they looking for? All of the librarians agreed that they were looking for pretty much the same things from an author visit. Some of these points will probably seem completely obvious to you, but I hope that you find at least a couple of useful things!
Before the visit and from the first approach….
·         An author who knows the school and has taken the time to find out the librarian’s name.  
It sounds like a minor point but every librarian liked it when an author emailed them in person, and mentioned something about the school.
·         A package.
It sounds obvious but a clear package for your visits can make you stand out. School librarians get dozens of emails and flyers each year offering author visits and most are clearly sent out as a bulk email and are ignored. Please put the price on, and include your expenses in the amount. All of the librarians said that they prefer seeing a clear package and would be far less likely to follow up an author who is cagey about the price as it creates awkwardness all round!
·         An author who offers something to contribute to lesson plans.
Time is short in schools and they don’t know your books as well as you do. If you can offer some ideas for lessons relating to your books then they are more likely to invite you in. Think about the key curriculum areas and refer to them in your plans. If your books don’t tie in to specific curriculum areas then look at PSHE (personal, social, health and emotional) issues instead.
·         A pre-visit pack
Librarians are very keen to have the children prepared for author visits and appreciate linked materials in advance. If you can spring for a copy of your latest book as well as some publicity material that can often be the clincher for a booking. If you are not able to send a copy of your book, extracts are appreciated. (Don’t forget to check with the librarian which extract they have read so that you don’t repeat it on the day!) Offer this material in both disc and email format. Include a pre-order form for your books in this pack so that the librarian can tweak, add school branding, and send it straight out.
·         Competitions
As part of your visit offer a competition – a free signed copy of your book for a story competition is usually the favoured one among both children and teachers. Offer to host the winning story on your blog or website, and interview the winner. If you include the details of the competition as part of your package the librarian can start that off with the English department long before you arrive.
On the day…
Feel the fear...and do it anyway!

During the visit the librarians and literacy coordinators are looking for key things that will make them consider the visit useful and purposeful (“purposeful” being one of Ofsted’s favourite words!)
They are looking for an author who…
  • ·         relates to students the importance of good and accurate research and how they accomplish it
  • ·         communicates with the students well and in an unpatronising way
  • ·         talks about the work of other authors, and about books that were an influence in their lives
  • ·         is able to show that they got where they are by working hard, and that working hard is enjoyable and rewarding
  • ·         is able to do a presentation with or without technology (not all schools can afford it)
  • ·         gives a presentation that is lively, engaging and witty (even for more serious books they are still looking for lively performances)
  • ·         shares the hardships of their lives with the pupils in an appropriate way (I won’t write here about the author I once booked who shared way too much….!)
  • ·         talks about other media and not just books. They like you to talk about comics, movies, plays, blogs, social media – not all children want to talk about books
  • ·         gives the same level of performance to ten children as to a hundred...or more.

Things that the librarians found helped the visit along…
A little bit of bribery helps! Authors who had badges, bookmarks or little treats as rewards for asking a “good” question, coaxed much better questions out of the pupils and were remembered for longer.
Bribes (ahem..sorry) incentives.
Repeat the question. Most children are a bit mumbly and confused when asking a question and often can’t be heard by the rest of the room. If you repeat their question loud enough for the other children to hear you can tidy it up a bit, and make sure that no one else is sitting with their hand up and the same question in their head!
Trying to be cool does not help at all! The “cringe factor” can be the death knell of an author visit. Children have an expectation of mild eccentricity (ahem – speak for yourselves!) with authors and the ones who are a little like that are generally better received.
Keep moving. Make use of the stage or the area that you are presenting in and keep moving about. Young people drift off easily and if you keep moving, you are more likely to keep them engaged. Nothing wrong with being a little bit of a windmill at times!
Involve the pupils. Get them up to demonstrate something, or to be dressed up, or to wear a hat or hold a sign – anything that makes them part of the show will get all of the others sitting up and paying close attention. (I have a monk’s habit and pick a child to dress up, they love it, even very surly teens)
It's a bad habit, and I've no one to blame but myself.

After the visit…
"sooooo excited!" I love this picture.
Stay engaged after the visit, offer to help with a short story competition, or be interviewed for the school website or magazine. A few days after the visit (or when you send your invoice in) email the head teacher and thank them for inviting you to the school. (You’d be amazed how few authors say thanks after an event. I know you were working, but if you enjoyed it, please say so!) This is also a good time to email the librarian and send them a “further reading” list of other authors who write in a similar field to you.  You might also like to create an A4 poster of the books that influenced you so that the librarian can print this and display it in the library. After a successful author visit the pupils want to know more about the author and a couple of posters of “what influenced me” and “my favourite books” always go down well.
If a visit doesn't go very well it can often be saved after the event by an author being lovely and by staying engaged. I remember one visit when the author was not very well and he was obviously exhausted and not properly engaged in the process, and the children just didn't click with him. After the event he apologised and we did some online interviews and he sent some hilarious photos of him reading the children’s stories and in the end it worked out rather well – despite a terribly awkward visit!
Now, I can hear some of you screaming from the back, “what?! I don’t have time for all that! You've lost your mind woman!” Well, that is your choice of course and, if you are getting masses of bookings and repeat visits, then clearly you are already giving what people want. If you are GREAT BIG NAME, then you will be booked anyway and are possibly drowning in offers, but not all of us can claim that.
The bottom line is that librarians talk to each other. Most school librarians work alone and so to survive (and stay sane!) they have an extensive virtual network. There are almost a thousand members of CILIP SLG, and that's only a fraction of the school librarians in the country – and they all connect through various closed forums. If you are giving a fun, engaging, lively and purposeful visit then it will come up on the networks – and the same goes for a visit that doesn't go as well! The forums are often buzzing with “I've had an email from Miss Doobery Whatsit, children’s and YA author, anyone know what she’s like before I book?”
If you pitch it well, and give the librarians and schools what they need then your ears will burn as the forums light up with positive comments about you, and your email will run hot with bookings, and everyone wants that!

Written by Dawn Finch - School Library Consultant and author of Brotherhood of Shades