All About Stephen Davies
Stephen Davies is the author of several young adult novels, chapter books and picture books. He loves engaging with young readers (both voracious readers and reluctant ones) and encouraging budding writers. As a former teacher himself, he is passionate about the place of stories in the classroom. Based in Battersea, London, he is happy to travel far and wide for school visits.
Stephen has recently returned to the UK from Burkina Faso, where he lived with his wife Charlotte and their two young daughters. For fourteen years he worked alongside a team of African actors producing a series of popular radio dramas. In his spare time he wrote travel features and children’s fiction, all set in West Africa and inspired by the colourful characters he encountered on his travels. His first full length novel, Sophie and the Albino Camel, was published by Andersen Press in 2006 and won the Glen Dimplex children’s book prize that year.
“On any afternoon of rain this is a book that you could give to any child, secure in the knowledge that he or she would enjoy it.”
Carlo Gebler, Glen Dimplex Prizegiving 2006
Since that first book, Stephen has continued to publish poetry, travel features and fiction. His picture books and novels have been translated into nine languages and shortlisted for major awards. His aim is to keep improving as a writer and in the meantime to encourage children and teens to unleash their own creativity. ‘Visiting schools is more than a sideline,’ he says. ‘It’s a passion.’
Stephen’s School Visits
Stephen is willing to do whole school presentations in a large hall, but much prefers working with individual classes of between 12 and 30 students. He aims to minimize ‘teacher talking time’ (or in this case ‘author talking time’) and uses TEFL techniques to elicit information and ideas from the class. The sessions are not primarily about Stephen or his books, but about the students’ own development as readers and writers.
A full day consists of four sessions. In primary schools, this usually involves one session for years 1 and 2, one session for years 3 and 4, one session for year 5 and one session for year 6. In secondary schools, a full day would typically consist of four year 7 sessions or four year 8 sessions.
Years 1 and 2 (40 minutes)
– Children will get an experience of Saharan culture and dress
– They will understand the power of quest stories and be inspired to create their own
Stephen has written two picture books with illustrator Christopher Corr. The second of these, Don’t Spill the Milk, was shortlisted for a UKLA (UK Literacy Association) award in the 3-6 age category. When he works with years 1 and 2 he projects Don’t Spill the Milk onto a screen. The class listens to the story and interacts with it, exploring the sights and sounds of West Africa. Two volunteers come to the front to learn how to tie a turban Sahara-style. Another three or four come forward to practise carrying bowls on their heads. The class talks about the story as a quest story, listing the obstacles the character faces. Pupils are encouraged to design and draw an extra spread for the story, adding another obstacle to the heroine’s quest.
‘The children really enjoyed the day. We would most certainly like to book another visit.’ Kahren Glossop, St Margaret’s Primary School
Years 3 and 4 (45 minutes + Q&A)
– Students will get an experience of Saharan culture, dress and language
– They will understand ‘write what you know’ as a good starting point for their own stories
– They will learn the ingredients of a successful adventure story
– They will learn how to build a story in their heads before putting pen to paper
‘Sophie and the Albino Camel’ is perfect for this age group. Stephen starts by eliciting from the class what they know about West Africa, particularly the Sahara Desert. He shows some slides on the screen to explain the real West African setting and characters which inspired the story. The class discusses ways of using their own experiences as a launchpad for writing fiction. Stephen introduces the five essential ingredients of a good adventure story (a good what If, an interesting hero, a problem to solve or a treasure to find, a good setting and a good climax). He presents a ‘picture stack’, a series of unusual mental images, to help the class to rehearse and memorize these ingredients.
‘An inspirational speaker, Stephen held all sixty children in the palm of his hand – not to mention the staff as well.’ Cluny Paget, librarian
Years 5 and 6 (45 minutes + Q&A)
Students will understand the idea that ‘plot flows from character’, not the other way around
– Students will be equipped to create interesting, three-dimensional characters in their stories
– Students will experience the adrenelin rush of creating a character out of nothing and seeing a compelling story emerge around that character.
Stephen loves working with this age group. The class starts off by talking about Severus Snape and why he is such a well-conceived character. Then they look at projected pictures of children from around the world and stop at the one the class chooses. Right there, using collaborative storytelling techniques, they make up a story on the fly and then develop the story further in groups of four. It’s fast and furious, and students love it. Many a reluctant reader has visited the library after this session!
‘He had a wonderful way of drawing the students into his presentation and was very creative.’ Cathy Bliss, librarian
“His enthusiasm and encouragement for the students was amazing. They are all busy creating adventure stories and are inspired to read more because of him.” Billie-Jean Clark, teacher
Year 7 (45 minutes + Q&A)
– Students will be able to articulate the essential ingredients of the thriller genre
– Students will become familiar with the phrase ‘high concept’ (Snakes on a Plane, Cowboys versus Aliens) and will start generating ‘high concept’ story ideas of their own.
– Students will understand how to plot a story arc for their idea, with a strong beginning, middle, climax and end.
Stephen says, ‘I have worked more with year 7 students than any other year group. This is the crucial age, particularly for boys, when writing becomes uncool and reading for pleasure is dumped in favour of gaming and social media. You have to be a bit sneaky to excite a year 7 class about books.’
Stephen starts off with a story to engage the interest of students, talking about the background to his writing Hacking Timbuktu (a parkour thriller) or The Yellowcake Conspiracy (which grew out of his unauthorised visit to a uranium mine in the Sahara Desert). The class talks about the thriller genre, with reference to recent box office hits like The Hunger Games. They discuss the importance of having a ‘high concept’ idea. They generate high concepts of their own and work to distil their idea into as few words as possible. Students share their ideas and pick one to develop into a story. They do this as a frenetic whole-class activity and then more quietly in smaller groups! This is story in its purest form and even the most reluctant of readers can get excited about it.
‘We were all hugely impressed by Stephen’s ability to engage the students. I have had nothing but really positive feedback. The students have talked about it ever since.’ Sue Moody, librarian
Years 8 to 10 (45 minutes to 1 hour + Q&A)
Stephen is very happy to work with these year groups, but the format and content of the workshop will depend very much on the teacher and the needs of the class.
Here are two possibilities which have worked well in the past:
a. Travel Writing
Back in 2003, the magazine Africa Geographic named Stephen their ‘Travel Writer of the Year’. Since then he has continued to publish travel features in newspapers and magazines. ‘Travel writing was my first love,’ he says, ‘and I enjoy working with students to squeeze the juice out of a place or memory.’ During the course of this workshop, students will acquire a travel writing toolkit which will enable them to turn their experiences into marketable copy.
When we need a piece of information or a splash of background colour for our stories, we have to go and grab it. This fun talk looks at different ways of doing research (Google, Reference Books, Ask an Expert, Blogs, Imagine, Travel/Try it), illustrated by anecdotes from Stephen’s own writing process.
When working with year 8’s and upwards, I always challenge them to participate in National Novel Writing Month in November (http://www.nanowrimo.org). I have a short PowerPoint presentation which communicates that writing a 50,000 word novel is entirely manageable. In a class of 30, I always expect between three and ten students to take me up on this challenge.
“Stephen Davies came to our class to talk to us and we were blown away. This was the first time we actually thought of writing as a fun thing to do. He made writing seem natural and cool. I think many of us are thinking about writing as a hobby now. I certainly am.” Mahima Kumar, Year 10
Stephen brings his own laptop computer to schools, but he will need the use of a school projector and screen. It helps if there are speakers available, so that he can show video clips if needed. A whiteboard is also useful.
Stephen is happy to sign books in the morning break and lunch break, on the understanding that parents and students are informed of this in advance. If there is a long queue for signing, a teacher should be available to help with logistics.
To purchase Stephen’s books, click here.
To Make a Booking
To make an enquiry about Stephen Davies, 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