We ask an author to share something they've learned once the dust has settled after their debut book launch. This month Fran Price talks to Sophie Kirtley.

Hello! I’m Sophie Kirtley and my first book, The Wild Way Home, came out with Bloomsbury in July 2020. My second middle-grade novel, The Way to Impossible Island, came out exactly one year later.


Launching two books in these Covid years, I’ve had to be really flexible and learn fast, especially within an online context. I’ve never been one of the most digitally savvy of people so I’m especially proud that somehow I’ve managed to get to grips with doing virtual school visits. I hope that sharing some of what I’ve learned here will be useful for other authors too.



Sophie beams from the screen at a virtual school visit...

When I first started planning my virtual visits. There were two main things I was worried about: the tech and the craic.

The Tech


I am very aware of my own limitations when it comes to tech skills – at home I can’t even work our remote control (I’m not even kidding!) - so the whole tech aspect of virtual visits filled me with dread. At least if you’re in a school and something doesn’t work there’s usually someone there to help you sort it out. For virtual visits you’ve got to do all that yourself – arrrrrrghhhHHHH!


… the children obviously enjoyed the visit!

So how did I beat the fear and the dread? Well, one important thing to remember is that no one actually expects perfection or dry ice or laser shows. You’re speaking to a kindly, supportive and accommodating audience who just want to hear more about your books – so don’t worry if you forget to unmute yourself or if you accidentally angle the camera up your own nostrils the first few times!


A couple of tips:


1. Arrange with the teacher for just the two of you to join the meeting five or ten minutes early just to do a little tech check. It’ll help put your mind at ease and it gives you a chance to check any last minute questions you may have before you’re beamed out into the classroom.


2. Don’t aim for anything more complicated than you can manage. I know that kids love a video or something all singing all dancing, but if you rely on a presentation with too many whizzy things then sometimes school broadband just can’t manage it and it actually ends up getting you uneccessarily stressed. It’s a personal choice, but actually now I find it more effective to keep things really simple and to get kids excited with a quiz or a game or something I can more confidently control...


This brings me to the other thing I was worried about – keeping the kids entertained, making it fun...


The Craic


Now I could think of a million and one ways to get kids involved in a face-to-face author event, but online?! Would they just have to stare at my big face on a screen for 45 minutes and listen to me chattering on and on and on? Poor kids!

Sophie reads from her first novel.


I want the kids who are welcoming me to their classroom to feel like they’re having a really special, fun and inspiring time – just like I would do if this was an in-person visit. I try to break the session into a nice mix of activities: some where they can all actively join in; some where they are listening; some where they’re answering my questions; some where they’re asking me their own questions; some where they’re doing something creative on their own.​


It took a lot of practice to get this right and some visits are always less balanced than others, but over the last year or so I have definitely learned a lot about what works… and what doesn’t when it comes to visit content.


A couple of tips:


1. The biggest pull you have is your story – when you read to the children, choose a really gripping bit from your book and don’t be afraid to go full-on dramatic with it. I love doing a bit of a Stone Age caveman face that I know is NOT pretty but does kind of make their eyes boggle. (Which I shall choose to interpret as a good thing!) I also use a couple of simple props while I’m reading – just a pebble and a cuddly wolf, but it makes the story feel alive.


2. Don’t underestimate how keen they will be to hear about YOU — your inspiration, your favourite books, what you read as a child. Certain questions come up time and time again, so anticipate these when you open up the floor to questions and maybe have some props to hand to keep the kids visually engaged while you’re answering these — maybe an old book you read when you were little, or an object that inspired your story. And don’t forget that sometimes kids just ask questions because they like asking questions. Or sometimes they just want to tell you that they have a guinea pig called Beatrice. Even virtual kids are hilarious!


The main thing I’ve learned about virtual school visits is just how much fun they can be — real children, reading my real books – wow!

*Feature Image courtesy of Sophie Kirtley


Sophie Kirtley is a poet and children’s author. She grew up in Northern Ireland, where she spent her childhood climbing on hay bales, rolling down sand dunes and leaping the raw Atlantic waves. She now lives in Wiltshire with her husband, three children and their mini-menagerie of pets and wild things. Sophie graduated from the MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. Her debut novel, The Wild Way Home, was published in 2020; it was Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month, and was selected for the Reading Agency’s Summer Reading Challenge. Sophie’s second novel, The Way to Impossible Island, was published in 2021 and named as one of Waterstone’s Paperbacks of the Year as well as a Sainsbury’s Summer Reading choice. Find her on Twitter @KirtleySophie


Fran Price is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact her at


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a great blog. I've yet to do a virtual visit but lots of tips here that I'm sure will come in handy when I do
    Maudie Smith


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