That First School Visit
But that’s the problem with being an author – as a breed our imaginations are overactive, and it’s far too easy to believe we’ll be an epic failure that makes a Greek tragedy look like a situation comedy! The one thing I’ve learned is that when I get a fear reaction, it’s a sure sign that’s exactly what I should be doing! And sure enough that’s exactly what happened to me when I booked my first school visit and felt like a terrified rabbit caught in the lights of an on-coming car.
Thankfully, I’m not one to go into something without being prepared and I have a lot to thank SCBWI for here. Two years ago at the 2012 conference in Winchester, I attended Mo O’Hara’s and Steve Hartley’s masterclass workshop on school presentations. Even though I went into that with no preparation (mental note to self – always check the course details properly) and had to make up a presentation on the spot, the things I learned during that workshop turned out to be a lifesaver: how to introduce yourself, vocal projection, body language, how to snare the kids’ attention with props, and many more useful tips and tricks. Of course the other thing you have to do is to be well prepared and practise, which is exactly what I did for my first school visit.
So recently, one grey morning, heart hammering so loud I swore it was going to burst out of my chest, I found myself in front of a class of thirty kids, talking about trailers as part of their Book Week. We started off with a critique session of book trailers, including my own, looking at the strengths and weaknesses in each. But how do you go about planning your own book trailer? This is where I introduced them to the world of storyboarding and how you use these to plan out something that will capture a viewer’s imagination enough to make them want to read your book. The pupils had previously produced their own mini-books, so using this work as inspiration, each of them created storyboards for their Hollywood epics. Of course teaching pupils the finer points of film making in an hour’s slot is a fairly tall order, but they all did brilliantly and produced some wonderful pieces of work.
According to those who watched my first faltering steps, they told me that my inner churning panic wasn’t at all obvious – I think I can thank being well prepared for that. Acting skills also came in handy and remembering the saying – fake it till you make it – in other words act like you’re completely in control and know what you’re doing!
But here’s the thing… within moments of starting that first workshop, I was having the absolute time of my life. The kids were fantastic, asked great questions, and seemed genuinely fascinated by the whole idea of book trailers. Here’s a quote from the year 5 teacher who witnessed my first efforts.
“Every day in school we try to create exciting lessons to stimulate writing, but nothing captures the children’s interest more than a visitor, and authors are very special because their insight into writing and creating an imaginary world inspires the children onto their own great works. The book trailers worked well as each child had written a book and was able to design their own story board.”
And there it was, the miracle had happened – as I talked they listened and engaged with me. By the end of the day, although shattered, I was hooked by the whole experience. If that wasn’t enough, when I received their thank you notes, it felt like Christmas had come early.
So if you too find yourself wanting to hide under the sofa at the thought of your first school visit, please don’t worry – you can get past it and hopefully discover, as I did, that school visits are one of the absolute joys of being a children’s author.
Nick has a passion for science and astronomy, often blogging about the latest mind-blowing discoveries made in quantum physics. He once even soloed a light aircraft, an experience he tapped into for Cloud Riders. Not needing any excuse to travel, he recently completed a writing research trip to the volcanic landscape of Iceland for his second book, Breaking Storm.