HISTORICAL KNOWHOW Part 4: Finding an audience

Have you always loved history? Were some of your favourite reads as a child historical adventure books? What should you think about if you fancy trying your hand at historical fiction for young readers? The Time Tunnellers are here to help.

Part four: Finding an audience for your historical stories

You have written your historical story, and perhaps you are even lucky enough to have found a publisher. How do you now find your audience? What can you do as a writer to give your historical book the best chance in the big wide world?

BARBARA: Let’s be clear, as writers of history we cannot ignore schools. And what do schools need? Teaching resources – preferably good quality and free

I’d say that the most useful thing I have done, (with my publishers, obviously), is to create good resources for my books, linking into topics and criteria schools are already using. I am also a huge believer in partnerships and have worked with heritage organisations and museums a lot over the years. Both sides have something to gain from this so don’t feel guilty about asking! 

When I created the teaching resources for The Reluctant Rebel in collaboration with The National Trust for Scotland, I knew that there was a lot of potential for events and continued partnership. Having their logo on my teaching resources spells automatic kudos and I can hopefully bring a new audience to the organisation too. 

When I worked with Historic Environment Scotland for The Siege of Caerlaverock they not only pooled resources for the teaching materials but hired me for a good bit of freelance work afterwards. And when I knew that Rivet Boy would be centred on the Forth Bridge I approached the bridge organisations for help. I am now about to begin a stint as writer-in-residence there, a direct result of getting in touch at the very beginning. 

In addition, connecting with teachers/librarians/relevant organisations online, joining relevant Facebook groups and using relevant hashtags can work wonders.

SUSAN: Spreading the word about your book can often be quite challenging, especially if you are shy or not keen to be seen to be blowing your own trumpet! 

Think about what you are comfortable doing – but also if you can push yourself to do something outside your comfort box! I have especially enjoyed arranging school and library visits and sharing my love of Blackpool and Madagascar – the settings for my books – with young people.

I agree with Barbara, an author visit can have added value for teachers if it ties in with the curriculum. My Kintana book links in with evolution, extinction, pirates while my Gracie series is popular for schools in the North West looking at local history. 

And use your skills! 

Having worked as a museum educator in the past, I would recommend using props and costumes to bring the past to life. I ask for volunteers to dress up as my characters Gracie Fairshaw, Audrey Mosson – the real-life 10th Railway Queen of Great Britain – and the villain conjurer Reg Dixon! 

I use talking tins to play snippets of Wurlitzer and 1930s dance band music from the Blackpool Tower Ballroom as well as lemurs calling in the rainforest. I have smell cubes from AromaPrime that allow children to smell peppermint rock, steam trains, pirate ships and rum barrels!

I have original postcards from Blackpool, old Blackpool Gazette newspapers and maps that I use for writing workshops and a replica aye-aye hand and elephant bird egg which have a real wow factor! 

And if you are allowed to take pictures don’t forget to write a press release about your visit and to share it on your social media/website.

Susan with pirate props

CATHERINE: If you are writing about a particular place then people from that place are very likely to be interested in your novel. I am proud and delighted that many copies of The White Phoenix have been sold at St Paul’s Cathedral bookshop, the very place where much of my story takes place. Making contacts like this does require you, the author, putting in the leg work in terms of contacting people and telling them about your novel because – however good your publisher is – there is no substitute for advocating your book to the right people yourself. No one else is going to feel so passionate about it.

One last tip on this. The White Phoenix is set in a bookshop. When I was talking to booksellers about stocking it I discovered that, of course, booksellers love books about bookshops, so they were immediately ready to be interested. That was an unexpected bonus!

ALLY: Think laterally. Who else enjoys actually living a version of the time-period you’ve set your story in

There are scores of historical re-enactment groups and living history societies up and down the country. The ultimate historical cosplayers! Besides being helpful at the research stage for checking specific details about the clothes people wore, the weapons they used, the crafts they practised, the food they ate, if you do the best possible job in respecting the historical truth of the life and times of the characters in your book, the chances are their members will be interested in hearing more about it when it comes out. 

I’m already busy building up a list of the Roman re-enactment societies and Roman villas and museums that host them in time for the publication of my new Roman-Britain set story Vita and the Gladiator when it’s published in February next year.

*Header image: in-house collaboration between Ell Rose and Tita Berredo; 
all other images supplied by The Time Tunnellers


The Time Tunnellers

The Time Tunnellers are a group of five authors who write historical fiction for children and teens. They publish a weekly short video aimed at schools about a fascinating historical topic, and set a relevant creative writing challenge which teachers can use in class. 

In addition to their YouTube channel, they publish a weekly blog about digging in the past for stories. Follow them on TwitterFacebook and Instagram

Check out Ally's website: https://allysherrick.com. Her new book Vita and the Gladiator came out in February 2023.

Check out Susan's website: http://susanbrownrigg.com/, where you will find information about all of her books.

Check out Barbara's website: http://www.barbarahenderson.co.uk. Her new book Rivet Boy was out in February 2023.


Jo E. Verrill is an enthusiastic writer of humorous books for children, an advertising and broadcasting standards consultant and Words & Pictures’ KnowHow editor. 

Got an idea for KnowHow, or a subject you’d like to hear more on? Let us know at knowhow@britishscbwi.org 


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures
Find their work at www.fourfooteleven.com/
Follow them on Instagram and Twitter
Contact them at illustrators@britishscbwi.org 

Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures. 
Follow her on Instagram and Twitter or www.titaberredo.com 

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