I do quite a few school visits. Not as many as some authors, who are almost constantly on the road. But since my first book was published in 2004, I’ve been to quite a lot of schools now, primary and secondary, independent and state, inner-city and rural, etc etc.
Last Thursday I visited Wyvern College in Eastleigh, to deliver a talk to the whole of Y8 and then two writing workshops. The students selected for the workshops had won a writing competition held in-school. I hadn’t quite taken in until I got there that the competition had been based on one of my books, Looking at the Stars. The library was decorated with display boards of the students’ stories about refugees. Every single student in Y8 had read the opening chapter of the book.
It’s fantastic when schools really get behind an author visit. I love it – and other authors do too – when the students are familiar with my work, have been on my website and know a bit about me. This has happened before, although schools who prep their students this well are in the minority. It makes a huge difference to the enjoyment level of the students as well as the after-effects of the visit. I have since had several messages on my website from students who didn’t get a chance to ask a question on the day but who still really want to know the answer!
But that’s not what made this visit so unique. What was really jaw-dropping to me was the fact that the staff had also been reading my books. Not just the librarian; other staff. Several of them told me how much they’d enjoyed A Library of Lemons, and Looking at the Stars. I have never had so many members of staff in my workshops either. It’s usual for the teacher in charge of the class to sit in the corner, occasionally calling for order, and quite possibly doing his or her marking, generally staying out of the way as I get on with running inspiring activities. I think there must have been around five English teachers in each of my workshops (with 30 students), and they were engaged and interested and some of them even joined in with the exercises!
Wait – there’s MORE uniqueness to come. Two of the governors had come into school specially for the day, to sit in on my event and come to lunch with me. In fact, I had lunch in the library with approximately fifteen teaching staff and the governors, who were eager to ask questions about writing and publishing and generally made me feel like a celebrity.
It was extraordinary. And made me think: what kind of message does this send to the students? When the staff are just as excited about an author visit as the librarian and kids are. When the staff make the effort to read a book for children in order to support an event in school. When the staff actively participate in the author’s workshops, showing the kids that they too are passionate about inspiration and creativity.
I left Wyvern feeling somewhat gobsmacked. The kids, as ever, were great. But the staff – wow. You rock. And thank you.