Artist of the Month July 2018 – Harriet Goodwin
Our July artist of the month is author Harriet Goodwin. An exceptional writer who knows how to engage students with literacy Harriet undertakes author visits and runs Able Writers Days for Authors Abroad.
Harriet is also one of the authors leading our new workshops which give adults the chance to take part in a writing workshop in preparation for National Novel Writing Month – which are for people who want to challenge themselves to do more with their hobby or offers assistance and advice for those wishing to pursue a career in writing.
Harriet Goodwin read English Literature at Balliol College, Oxford before training as a singer at the Royal Northern College of Music. She has performed with such internationally-acclaimed ensembles as The Sixteen and The Monteverdi Choir and sung as a soloist at numerous venues throughout the UK.
Shortly after the birth of her fourth child, Harriet had a vivid dream about a boy falling into a ghostly Underworld. She started writing for ten minutes a day, until she had the first draft of The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43, and the novel went on to be shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book of the Year Award. Since then Harriet has written three more novels: Gravenhunger, The Hex Factor and Dark Tide.
She lives in the countryside on the border between Staffordshire and Shropshire with her husband and four children.
What a visit from Harriet entails
Harriet is a gifted author who is able to engage all students in a visit.
Harriet visits all types of schools: primary, middle, secondary and special. A typical author visit consists of a mixture of presentations and creative writing workshops, and at the time of booking we can work out the best combination to suit the school’s needs. Presentations can be to any number of students (Harriet has spoken to 500+) and creative writing workshops are best kept to around 30.
If she’s at a primary school, Harriet tends to start with a presentation to all of KS2, though she is also happy to speak to the whole school if required. Typically, Harriet describes her journey to becoming an author (it all began with a very weird dream!), goes through the plots of some of her books using a box of props, takes questions and sometimes even plays a memory game. The ice is always well and truly broken in the first few minutes, when she reveals her other “hat” as a professional singer and gives the students a brief blast of opera! Harriet can also deliver a shorter presentation to KS1 and below. (She has a pretty convincing BFG voice!)
If Harriet is at a secondary school, she can deliver a similar presentation to Year 7s. If the school wishes her to speak to older year groups, she tends to chat to smaller groups in a more informal way: Harriet gives them a rough idea of her background and then invites them to quiz her, which always results in a great chat. Last time she did this, the group ended up covering topics as wide-ranging as books, the EU and student mental health. Fascinating.
Harriet’s creative writing workshops are suitable for all ages, from Year 3s through to sixth formers. She can focus on a range of subjects, including story-openings, plot, character and the art of getting writing to spring off the page/showing not telling. All the sessions are fun, interactive and involve student participation.
With KS4 Harriet specialises in helping students with the creative writing element of their GCSE English exam (creative writing now counts for 25% of the mark). Harriet divides the day into three longish (about an hour and a quarter/ hour and twenty mins) sessions, working with the same group throughout the day. She spends the first session on showing-not-telling and voice, the second on idea-generation and story structure, and the third on vocabulary-building, accuracy, grammar, presentation and proofing.
She also enjoys having individual, informal chats with students, either when she is signing books – or just anyway. She always gets back to messages left by students on her website and encourages them to keep in touch.
What Schools Have Said About Harriet
“I cannot speak highly enough of Harriet’s visit. She has made a lasting impression on our pupils who loved both her presentations and workshops. The whole day was brilliant and we would have her back in a heartbeat!”
Terrington Hall Prep
“On behalf of Nailsworth School, I just wanted to say thank you so much for the super session at Gastrells school today. Your enthusiasm and patience was inspiring and motivating and made me want to help youngsters! Seeing their faces when you read with expression was priceless.”
Nailsworth Primary School
“The workshop and assembly were fabulous. We have had other authors come into school and work with the children, but Harriet’s engagement with the children was far superior and therefore I’m confident that the impact will be greater.”
“Thank you so very much for such a terrific time yesterday. The children and staff were captivated by you.”
“A wealth of learning delivered in an accessible style – the children loved it!”
“Harriet was fantastic. Her assembly captivated the children from the outset.”
“Harriet is probably the best author we have ever had in school and certainly the most inspirational. She was remarkably adept at communicating her skills to our pupils in a very relevant and engaging way. She was so very articulate and passionate about her craft and was able to share her wealth of experience to great effect.”
“The workshop was inspiring for all the children – many of them asked to stay in over lunchtime and write stories! It would be lovely to have you again soon!”
“Your energy, enthusiasm and good humour made the sessions a real delight.”
“Harriet is cool. I didn’t know authors were just like real people.”
“Thanks for the visit – you really changed my future.”
“The children absolutely loved having you today and I think at the end they were bursting with questions- you really captured their imaginations. The feedback from the staff from other schools was so positive, I really feel like they will take those ideas and run with them now and that your ideas and techniques will be used with other children from the schools involved. Thank you for an inspirational day- we would definitely like to have you back!”
Interview with Harriet Goodwin
When and how did you join Authors Abroad?
I joined just over a year ago, keen to expand my school visits now my children were growing up and knowing that the company had an excellent reputation. I chatted to various members of the team and have been very happy working for them ever since.
What do you enjoy most about visiting schools?
It is wonderful to see students engrossed in the presentations and so exciting to watch their creative writing skills develop and improve in the workshops.
What would you say to someone who asked what the benefit of an author visit is?
An author visit establishes a direct connection between the students and the author, bringing the whole writing process to life. On numerous occasions, teachers have come up to me after a workshop saying, “They were hanging on your every word. It makes it real when they hear it from someone who spends their life writing.”
Which is your favourite of your books?
I don’t have a favourite. It would be like asking which of my four children was my favourite!
When did you first get the idea for your debut novel – can you remember what inspired it?
Shortly after the birth of my fourth child, I had an extraordinary dream about a boy who fell through a hole in the surface of the Earth down a tunnel (which was called an Exit) lined with golden ladders and peppered with luminous green algae. He landed in a ghostly underworld, which was full of strange spirits. I remembered the dream and used it as the starting point of my first book.
What made you decide to be a writer? How did you choose what age to write for?
I didn’t decide to be a writer at all: the dream was so vivid I felt I had to try putting it down on paper. When I began to write, the main characters turned out to be 11/12 year old children, so the decision was made for me.
How does being a writer compare to being an opera singer – is writing a lonelier job?
These days I limit my singing work to concerts: operatic work requires a vast amount of travel, and I have four children and am a bit of a home bird! I suppose writing is the lonelier job – singers tend to be extroverts, whilst in general I’ve found writers to be a much quieter species. I have never been scared of my own company, and relish time spent alone: long stints in my writing shed hold no fear for me. At the same time, years of singing in front of large audiences means that I relish talking to a hall full of students and really enjoy engaging with them.
What advice would you give to a young person who would like to be a writer?
Read: you will soak up language like a sponge and learn to empathise. You will also get to live a lot of extra lives through the heads of the characters.
Keep a diary: just writing a sentence or two a day helps the connection between brain and page.
What has been your favourite writing related or school visit related moment of the last year?
The moment when I was demonstrating what happened to the body when one felt excited, and a girl put up her hand and said, “I’ve never seen a grown-up jumping up and down before!”
What would you say to an adult who harbours dreams of becoming an author but worries they’ve left it too late?
It is never too late! One of the great advantages of writing is that it’s not a terribly “visible” profession (unlike acting, for example), so who cares if you’re 102 (AND IT SHOULDN’T MATTER ANYWAY, but that’s our youth-obsessed culture for you)! I’d also say, “Don’t give up the day job”, since a writing career is rarely lucrative, and I would advise writing at least something every day.
What was your favourite book growing up?
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
What advice would you give to parents who are trying to encourage their reluctant children to read?
Think about what interests them and get them to read about that: it doesn’t have to be fiction. Maybe they’re interested in photography or astronomy or figure skating. Then try them on a wide variety of fiction, suggesting they read just the first chapter of each book to see if it reels them in. And you read the books, too: then you’ve something to discuss.
You are one of the first authors to run some writing courses for adults for Authors Abroad to help encourage people to take part in National Novel Writing Month – what made you want to take part?
Over the past few years I have had some great experiences working with sixth formers and therefore felt very comfortable accepting the invitation to work with adults. I’m all for adults exploring their creative side: it’s what keeps us properly alive.
What can people expect from taking part?
A basic creative writing skills workshop to kick things off; a session on building characters; advice on plot-structure; a Q and A session; and plenty of opportunities to put my tips into practice.
What is your next writing ambition?
I’m working on my fifth novel, which involves quite a lot of complicated world-building and I am also experimenting with something quite different on the side.
What do you do to relax?
I walk in the Shropshire Hills, read and listen to music. I also make fabulous bonfires. I love spending time on my own and find that solitude always recharges my batteries. I am also doing up a tiny cottage in the Lake District with my husband.
Quick Fire Questions
Paperback or Kindle?
Would you rather own a talking cat or a flying dog?
A talking cat.
Would you rather be able to speak and understand any language or read minds?
I’d rather speak and understand any language. Reading minds would lead to all sorts of trouble: I certainly wouldn’t want anyone reading mine!
Would you prefer a spa day or a trek in the woods?
A trek in the woods. I am a big nature-lover.
Starter or pudding?
Pudding. And if we’re being specific, profiteroles or affogato.
If you were Prime Minster for the day, what law would you introduce?
I would pay teachers as much as doctors and lawyers, and I would introduce a four-day working week. Oh, and I would abolish SATS and ensure that every school had a proper library, and that the students had music and drama lessons. We need the Arts in our lives like we need air to breathe.
Arrange for Harriet to visit your school
To make an enquiry about Harriet Goodwin, or any of the other authors, poets & illustrators listed on this website, please phone Trevor Wilson on +44 (0) 1535 656015, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org