Thursday, 24 July 2014

school days

I feel a bit like your mum, dear reader, writing a post like this but if it helps then I'm happy to oblige.

I have recently done a series of back-to-back school visits and it got me thinking about newly-minted authors, especially those who write books for children. You see, as part of the deal you will be required to visit schools from time to time. Some authors relish this and seek it out. Others find it exhausting. For some of us it's a bit of both. If you are an introvert, like myself, you might find this side of things quite gruelling. Remember, being an introvert has nothing to do with self-esteem and shyness. It simply means that you regenerate or get your energy, from being alone.  You need space. Lots of it. Crowds and public speaking and just the thought of being 'on' for extended periods can deplete you VERY quickly. So here are some tips that might help you when you are out and about doing school visits:

• Have a big breakfast. It might be HOURS before you get the opportunity to eat again — especially if you are doing book signings after your workshops. The teachers and librarians are always exceptionally kind but half a cup of tea might be all you manage to gulp down before 1pm. If your first session is at 9.30 and you've been on the road for at least an hour prior, well, it's a long time between refuelling. 

• Take your own water. Again, water will usually be at hand but sometimes, well, it's not...

• Take your own supply of whiteboard markers. I can't tell you how often there has been a last minute scrabble for a decent whiteboard marker. This wastes everyone's time. It's so much easier to have your own.

• Think carefully about how much 'stuff' you need to cart with you. Do you really need to lug copies of your books? Check ahead, ensure the school has your books handy. By the same token, if you have an advance copy of your new book TAKE IT WITH YOU (ahem).

• Display banners are great but again if you're on your own with no one to help you, do you need to drag that giant contraption around? I have a desktop banner. It's A3 and collapsible, with all my latest book covers displayed. It's light-weight and fits happily in my school visits bag. I simply whip the banner out and pop it on the signing table when I first arrive. Kids love the banner, too, and it sparks off conversations while they're waiting in the signing queue.

• Check the school map beforehand. Hoorah for Google Earth and the Internet! You might find that the junior school is up the road and around the corner and across the ditch and nowhere near the official School Address you have in your diary. This is nearly always the case with large independent schools. Prepare to walk! And if you haven't orientated yourself beforehand prepare to get bamboozled. In all cases allow time.

• Have your workshops written out in note form so you can refresh, remember, inspire yourself between gigs. Have some back-up activities noodled out, too.

• Memorise a list of funny anecdotes.  For example, kids love to hear what other kids have said and done while you've been on the road. When I recently asked a class what the word 'doodad' meant, one clever and quite analytical girl put up her hand and said, 'It's a dad who does a lot'. Kids love little stories like this.

• Have an official School Visit Bag that you top up each evening and never use for anything else. Having this 'special purpose' bag will streamline the entire palaver and help ease the stress. I have a permanent supply of fresh tissues, Panadol, Rescue Remedy (ahem), pens, whiteboard markers, bookmarks, lip gloss, business cards, an umbrella, all the essentials in my school visit bag.

A practical Ted Talk today, dear reader, but one I hope is of some assistance. If you have any questions remember I'm always here (unless, of course, I'm on the road...).

Toodle-oo for now. Jen. xx

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  1. I heartily second all your recommendations. I would also add: make your School Visit bag a little suitcase on wheels (especially if you DO need to lug copies of books around!), and put in some muesli bars fro emergency snacks!

    1. Great ideas, dear Kate! Wheels. Yes! Bananas are of course a godsend too. And I forgot to add, never wear a short skirt! Most of the time the kids will be seated on the floor not at desks and the view from down there... Jeans, I tell you, jeans.

  2. Thanks Jen. I picked up a few tips. I love school visits but I'm all for anything that makes them easier!

    1. My pleasure, Sandy. It's lovely to hear from you. And yes, I know you get around...I saw your busy legs in Dot's (aka Tania Mac's) photo! LOL. ;-)

  3. I absolutely love this post. There are so very many things to learn about school visits and events--it's glorious to share them and thereby make these experiences even more enjoyable. xx

    1. Thanks, Dot! Sometimes it's the practical, grassroots advice that is the most helpful. xx


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