Rhian was born in Swansea but moved to the Brecon Beacons where she went to school until 11. She then moved all the way across the border to Hereford. She returned to Wales to study English Literature at Aberystwyth and trained as a Drama and English teacher and wrote her first novel during her first few years in teaching.
She got her first publishing deal at 24 (found on the slush pile) and went on to write three more novels for Bloomsbury. She took a break to have three children and during this time taught Creative Writing and also a Children’s Literature course for the Open University.
Rhian has been working with students with Autism with her therapy dog, Betty and has been involved in training a Medical Detection Dog who has is now accredited and living with his owner who he cares for.
Rhian has been a Patron of Reading at Akeley Wood School for 3 years and is now a Patron of Reading at Bordesley Green Girls School. Rhian is a National Trust Writer in Residence and has most recently worked with Sudbury Hall and the Museum of Childhood.
Rhian currently teaches 2 days a week at Stowe School helping students with dyslexia and other learning needs.
What a visit from Rhian entails
Rhian has written 8 YA novels and a picture book and can work with children from Year 4 all the way up to adults. She offers fun and engaging talks about being an author and the writing process as well as offering workshops on creative writing, editing and poetry.
Feedback from Rhian’s previous visits
“Staff and students both really enjoyed Rhian’s assembly and many of them stopped me to say so over the course of Thursday and Friday. We enjoyed the workshops very much and I think the students who attended got a lot out of them.” Wakefield Girls’ High School
“We loved Rhian! The students who participated yesterday have been clammering for her books and saying such lovely things about her. It was perfectly pitched to the audience and her background as an English teacher was obvious, as she kept the audience engaged. Thank you for arranging this.” Piper’s Corner School
“I thought Rhian Ivory was very impressive and inspiring!” Beaconsfield High School
Interview with Rhian Ivory
When and why did you join Authors Abroad?
I have been managing my school visits since 2003 but now I have three children, teach 2 days part-time and am usually deep in edits for one book whilst researching the next one, I don’t have time to manage my events diary as well. One of my friends, Kathryn Evans recommended Authors Abroad and I’ve never looked back.
Did you enjoy World Book Day 2019?
I did. I always do. I was lucky enough to be invited to Wakefield Girls School and had a fantastic time giving an author talk about my route to publication as well as running creative writing workshops.
It’s such a special day and I loved the way the whole school came together to celebrate reading and their love of literature. This was their first big, World Book Day event which was created by the librarian there and I hope will be the first of many.
Does working as a teacher help when visiting schools?
Immensely. It’s often the first thing I’ll say when I meet staff and students and the response is invariably “Ah, so you know what it’s like then.” It also means that the teachers can sit back and enjoy the session (most of them end up taking part!) and not worry about crowd control or any other issues.
What sparked your interest in writing historical fiction? How important is it to be historically accurate in fiction?
My first historical novel was Jean Plaidy’s The Lady in the Tower (thanks, Mum).
I don’t think I knew there was such a thing as a historic novel before that book. It ignited a love of the genre in me and I sought out all of her books in my local library and read them over and over.
My favourite historical writer is of course, my Queen, Hilary Mantel. She knows how to bring the past to life without weighing the reader down with unnecessary historical detail or facts. Every sentence works, serves its purpose and fulfils its role within the narrative.
I’ve learned from her that the characters we write about don’t know what happens next. It’s vital that I remember when writing books like, The Boy who Drew the Future, they the characters are living their present right now and aren’t simply figures or footnotes from history.
You have some books and workshops dealing with sensitive subjects such as grief, PMDD and mental health, were you worried about introducing these to a teenage audience?
Yes, absolutely because with it comes a huge sense of responsibility. I’ve been doing school visits since 2003 and I’ve been asked for years to include periods in my novels but not to simply refer to them once and then move on, students were asking me to address period problems and what happens when you can’t just cope with them. I’ve been meaning to do it but it wasn’t until I ‘met’ Hope that I knew I would be able to.
Hope is the book that I have received the strongest response from in terms of letters, emails, social media contact and face to face interaction. I’m met at the school gates by mums who have read Hope and want to know how to get their daughter/themselves help; I’m messaged by Grandmas, aunts, mums, dads, daughters, sisters and friends on a regular basis asking me if I think they/their loved one has PMDD and if they do what should they do next and I have a queue of teens after any event I’ve done full of questions about menstrual and mental health that they didn’t want to ask int the Q&A session.
The week that Hope came out my notifications, messages and emails were overwhelming; I had to turn my Wi-Fi off because I couldn’t keep up. I turned it back on the next day and began responding to the stories people were brave enough to share with me which is something I’m still doing today.
National press coverage of the novel helped because I was able to refer to fact files, documents, charities and helplines to steer readers towards professional help and diagnosis.
What do you find easier to write, a novel or a play?
I’ve never written a play even though I’ve been in many and directed quite a few. I’d like to write the screenplay for one of my novels, one day!
How hard is it to get anyone to listen to a word you say when you turn up to a school with a dog I presume hogs all the attention?
Quite rightly so. My dog, Betty has stolen the show. Here’s a lovely picture of her having a mud bath – imagine my joy.
Children connect with dogs (and other animals too) in a way that they don’t/can’t/won’t with humans. Dogs don’t judge and so children are able to tell them things or read to them in a way they might not be able to (at first) with humans. Dogs are a calming presence and a great distraction. Sadly, my dog Betty died last year and is greatly missed in the schools I’ve visited with her. However, my children are already campaigning to get another dog so I’m sure it won’t be long.
What is your favourite moment from a school visit so far?
Probably during a Q&A following an author talk in a primary school when I was asked whether I’m an Apple Pie person or and Apple Crumble and the massive argument which broke out amongst the pupils and staff.
What is your proudest achievement with regards to your books?
That I’m still writing them and being published. It’s not an easy profession to remain in, competition is fierce and shelf life short. The price of books keeps falling which makes it extremely difficult to earn a living purely from writing novels, which is why school visits are a life line for most authors I know.
Hope is a huge achievement because it wasn’t an easy topic to write about but I know that it’s the book which has made the largest difference to readers and their families.
What would you do to encourage a teenager to write who says they are not good at creative writing and struggle for ideas?
To listen to audiobooks and hear how story is constructed and how character develops. If you think about it, this is how story began – oral storytelling and the way in which we are all introduced to stories before we can read or write.
I’d also recommend when watching a box set/film on Netflix/other streaming service that teenagers look at how the story/plot works and points at which they either want to turn it off or can’t stop watching – you know what Netflix asks, ‘Are you still watching Bandersnatch?’ and you feel bad, think about why you’re binge watching something and what’s holding your attention and analyse how you could translate this to the page yourself when writing.
Why is it important for authors to visit schools?
For some children it might be the first time they’ve met an author or heard someone talking about the publishing profession. It’s important to recognise authors as workers who occupy a professional space in the world, rather than creatives who can exist on ‘exposure’ alone; we have bills to pay the same as everyone else.
Meeting the author of a book you’ve enjoyed is such a milestone for pupils and teachers too. An author in a school can create such a buzz about reading and introduce staff and pupils to new ways into writing. The thing that most teachers are appreciative of is when I tell students how many drafts I do for each novel (The Boy who Drew the Future is the winner so far at 17 drafts).
Drafting is something that doesn’t come naturally to many of us, see also editing.
Are you a regular library user? Why are libraries important?
Oh yes! I go to my local library every week with a bag for life which I fill with picture books, MG books, YA novels, adult novels and audiobooks for me and my children.
I remember my first library experience which was a mobile van with green baize carpet and covered steps which I could sit on while choosing my books. It would pull up outside our house (in the middle of nowhere in Wales) and I’d be so excited about all the adventures hiding inside the van on those shelves.
I’ve moved around a lot during my life and the first thing I do each time I move is find the nearest library and sign up. I can’t imagine libraries not being in my life.
What do you read for pleasure?
MG fiction with two of my children every evening – it’s like a mini book club in my bedroom with snacks.
I listen to audiobooks every day in the car on the school run/on my way to visit schools. My most recent favourite has been The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea.
Which writers have inspired you?
Hilary Mantel for obvious reasons – my Queen.
Barbara Erskine for the way she pairs history with magic or the supernatural.
J.K.Rowling (I know, everyone says this but bear with me), I was reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and turned the book to look at the spine and thought I’ll send Bloomsbury my manuscript, what’s the worst that could happen? Two weeks later I received a letter in the post inviting me to come to London to discuss my book. And the rest, as they say, is history. So it’s thanks to J.K.Rowling that I’m a published author today.
What will be your next writing project?
I’ve just finished editing my 8th novel and that’s currently with my publisher, so I can’t say any more about that at the moment. After that is (FINALLY!) my love letter to Little Women. I’ve been dreaming about this book for the last 10 years and now I’m more than ready to write it.
Paperback or kindle?
Always paperback. I only edit on my Kindle.
Night at the theatre or night at the cinema?
Theatre, every time. I can watch a film at home.
Would you rather be able to breathe under water or see in the dark?
Breathe under water. I don’t want to see in the dark!
What’s cuter – a panda or a koala?
Who’s better – Kipper the dog or Spot the dog?
If you were Prime Minister for the day, what law would you introduce?
The banning of, talking about, or touching of belly buttons.
Arrange for Rhian Ivory to visit your school
To make an enquiry about Rhian, 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
About Michael De Souza
Michael de Souza is the author of the classic book series Rastamouse and the creator of the well-known CBeebies character of the same name; along with bandmates Scratchy & Zoomer who together form Da Easy Crew. He is also co-founder of Little Roots Publishing, who published the original books.
Michael came to England in 1960, when he left his native Trinidad to join his parents in Notting Hill, West London. He has spent most of the last 22 years teaching swimming. It was his love of teaching and working with children that inspired Michael to pursue a career in writing.
The imagination and bravery of his students in overcoming their fear of water encouraged Michael to dive into the world of writing and publishing. His first book ‘Rastamouse and the Crucial Plan’, was first published in November 2003 and by 2011 it become a much loved animated series.
What a visit from Michael entails
Michael’s sessions are interactive, students are chosen to play various characters, props are provided e.g. Rastamouse’s hat, Bagga T’s bling and President Wensley Dale’s radio. Michael reads the narration and leads the students (in some cases teachers) in the Patois dialogue. Michael does assemblies and also works with individual classes. The sessions usually involve a bit of physical and mental warm up. i.e. memorising a short verse and some gentle stretching and jumping – these exercises prove to very popular.
Feedback from Michael’s previous visits.
“It was great, Children and staff had a fantastic time.” Northview Primary
“As a teacher, it was really the most amazing learning. The whole month was about ‘Rastamouse’. We got some fantastic story writing out of it and it was really brilliant for getting the children to learn ‘by heart’ because they loved all of the rhymes so much.” Newborough C of E Primary School
“He was really brilliant at acting stories out and he was funny and sometimes he knows when to stop at the right time like if you’re getting too laughy. I loved acting it out.” Key Stage 1 Student
“It was great as Literacy Leader to see the Year 2 class have the book they were working on come to life. They had practised and could recite many of the poems and stories before Michael de Souza’s visit, so when he arrived it was a great shared experience of the love of his books and characters. The reaction from the children was amazing. They laughed so much and continue to talk about it months later. They still recite the rhyme Aunty D on the playground!” Newborough C of E Primary School
Interview with Michael De Souza
How and when did you come to join Authors Abroad?
I was first made aware of Authors Abroad by a colleague at Pop-up Projects. I signed up with Authors Abroad in late 2016
Where did the idea for Rastamouse first come from?
The idea for Rastamouse came from my childhood memories of a room full of mice in my parents first home in Notting Hill in the early 60s when I first came to England from Trinidad.They all had such different personalities.
Can you remember how you felt when you had your first book published?
I felt extremely pleased and proud on the publication of my first book…Rastamouse and da Crucial plan…Because I published it myself.
What do you want children to feel after reading Rastamouse?
First and foremost I like the children to laugh and feel happy to hear the stories.I also hope they feel inspired to produce something of their own.
How proud are you of the Rastamouse TV series? Do you feel they honour the books well?
I felt immense pride to see Rastamouse on TV but sad that my mother didn’t live to see it.She was my greatest supporter. The BBC were loyal to the original stories. This was very satisfying.
What is your favourite thing about visiting schools?
I enjoy visiting school because of the enthusiasm and energy of the children.Also I tune into this energy which vitalises me. It encourages me to want to do more with them.The children are always welcoming and fun
Does it always go smoothly when you have children volunteers reading out and acting out the books on stage with you?
The readings don’t always go smoothly when I get some children on stage to help act out the story because some get stage fright and clam up.!!! Oh oh.!!
What has been the funniest moment during a school visit or festival appearance so far?
The funniest that has happened so far on a visit was when I went to the Edinburgh International book fare. I chose a tall gentleman in a kilt to play the Mouseland rapper Bagga Trouble. He gave the best performance I’ve ever seen including an authentic Carribean accent. My self and the audience were in stitches and awe.
What has been your career highlight so far?
There are three highlights in my career so for. The first was the first screening of Rastamouse in 2011. Then being invited to Trinidad as the guest of honour of a animation company for my creation of Rastamouse by a son of the Trinidad soil. My trip to Thailand with Authors Abroad in 2017 was the next highlight in my career thus far.
What are your future ambitions?
I would like to present my swimming teaching methods in print.I have been practising my methods since 1988.It has been extremely successful.
I would also like to produce as many black characters as possible to bridge the diversity gap in picture books and in fact all types of books for children.
Do you think picture books can teach children morals and lessons as well as being fun?
Without a doubt I agree picture books can teach morals and good values.Especially when they deal with caring and sharing.
What was your favourite book during your childhood?
In school I enjoyed Moby Dick, The Wind In Willows and The Cat in The Hat!!
Do you still make time for swimming? What do you do to relax?
I swim three time a week to keep myself in good shape and park up on my couch listening to Reggae music to relax
Should children’s books ever discuss serious topics such as bereavement and bullying, or just be fun to encourage children to read?
I do believe children’s books should deal with issues such as bereavement and family breakdown providing it is presented in a caring sensitive manner!!
Paperback or Kindle? Paperback
Early morning or night owl? Both
Tom and Jerry or Sylvester and Tweety Pie? Sylvester and Tweety Pie
Would you rather be able to teleport or become invisible? Teleport. I love travelling.
If you were Prime Minister for the day, what law would you introduce? An afternoon nap for all at Authors Abroad!!
Arrange for Michael De Souza to visit your school
To make an enquiry about Michael, 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 email@example.com
About Robin Price
Children’s writers these days get pressured into writing specialised books: “Give us something for action loving urban 6-8 year old boys,” says the publisher. Worse still, before the poor author has finished their book they have to get all over social media promoting themselves like crazy. Our author of the month Robin Price ploughs a different furrow. Although you won’t find Robin on Twitter or Facebook, for 12 years he’s turned out refreshingly original ideas for all ages from Reception to Year 10. As Robin says: “Michelangelo never had to blog when he was painting The Sistine Chapel!”
Robin’s mould breaking half graphic novel series London Deep was written years before dystopian fiction went mainstream with Hunger Games and Divergent. Robin is also an Olivier nominated songwriter whose work includes credits on The Gruffalo musical.
What a visit from Robin entails
Robin has created a series of assemblies that are fun and very interactive. Imagine your pupils rebelling against the Romans, planning a Viking raid or acting out a Greek tragedy. Robin has worked in over 500 schools, libraries and festivals around the UK and counting. These workshops link in with the history curriculum. Robin’s whole school assemblies get rave reviews – for example children get to hunt mammoths using foam spears or escape from a Mayan temple.
What levels does Robin work with? Robin has written books for all ages from Year 1 to Year 9. So you can put together a day (or days) of assemblies and workshops that cater for all age groups.
For Year 2 to Year 8 – Robin’s assemblies link history with writing. Romans, Vikings, Celts, Anglo Saxons, Greeks, Egyptians and Shakespeare are all favourite topics for assemblies, followed by workshops.
For Year 4 to Year 9 – Graphic novels are a great hook for these students, (via his WBD recommended title London Deep, set in the future in a flooded world).
Reception and Year 1 – Since marauding vikings and gladiators can be a bit scary for the younger children, Robin developed a fun show (and workshops) based on Roobarb & Custard and his 2008 book Count Milkula. (Roobarb was invented in the 1970’s by Grange Calvery, but he edited the TV scripts into a series of fun picture books for Mogzilla publishing).
History themed events – During the assembly and the workshops, your pupils will get involved in a range of activities: • Take part in fun activities and games. For example, they could re-enact a Roman battle or a Viking raid • ‘Battle’ against each other with a themed quiz • Work with a partner to imagine and write their own stories • Share their writing
Robin’s Sci-Fi/Manga writing workshops – These workshops tie in with his graphic novella/sci-fi adventure London Deep (set in the future in a flooded London). The book was chosen as an official Recommended Read for World Book Day 2011 and in April 2011 it featured on ITV1’s ‘Cool Stuff Collective’ where it was awarded 4 stars out of 5 by the 10 year old reviewer. London Deep is packed with cool artwork from Paul McGrory. Paul’s amazing manga-influenced drawings are very on-trend and can help to make writing more engaging for 10-14 year olds. Sometimes Robin will run a joint workshop with Paul, or he can come along with examples of the art on PowerPoint and concentrate on the story-development side.
London Deep explores themes about the environment and the relationships between kids and grown ups, which your pupils can develop further in their own stories. Alternatively they might like to write full on sci-fi epics featuring aliens, vampires, ghosts or weird creatures from their imaginations.
Robin is also exceptional in that, rather than running writing workshops with a maximum of 30 pupils as is typical, he is able to run writing workshops with 60 children at a time.
Feedback from Robin’s previous visits.
“The children thoroughly enjoyed Robin’s visit.The sessions were very interactive and engaging.The children seemed to have enjoyed the writing tasks that were set.” Lake Park Farm Academy
“The children loved it!” Cape Primary School
Interview with Robin Price
When and why did you join Authors Abroad?
I joined Authors Abroad way back in the mists of time (2012), because I love working in schools and getting kids into writing. When I was a kid I was captivated by the Royal Institution Christmas lectures where a mad professor would invite kids up to do experiments. I’ve created themed assemblies that tie in with my books: on Vikings, Romans, Greeks or Shakespeare to name a few. Each is a mini show in itself – packed with audience participation, props, role play, dress up and music including live looping. It’s a chance to celebrate the history that inspired me and got me writing – and get pupils to create their own stories.
How naturally do stories come to you to write – how much is a flow of creativity and how much is planning and research?
Writing is half Athens and half Sparta, half Thor and half Loki, half Luke Skywalker and half Lord Vader.
A part of you needs to let your creativity off the leash, but another part has to have a bit of grit when the writing gets tough. Writing is far easier than coal mining.
We’ve made it easy for anyone to write a story on this website: http://www.creativewritingclub.co.uk
You have a huge span and variety of books – how did they all turn out so different?
I think we’re already got enough books about boy wizards, vampires, teenage spies, zombies, superheroes, unicorns or dystopian teenagers in gladiator arenas. It’s not that I don’t love all this – it’s just that we don’t need two Harry Potters, or a female Harry Potter or an ‘urban’ Harry Potter or whatever. I call this ‘tailgating’ – where one car is dangerously close to the car in front. You can see this mindset in action on tv, in films, games, product design – or wherever commercial trumps artistic. I think artists should be free to stretch out. Even if you are writing in a tried and trusted genre, your work needs to be significantly different. My half graphic novel series – London Deep – is set in a flooded London which was original at the time of writing in 2008. But the twist is that there are two rival police forces – for kids and grown ups. I wanted to unpack the divisions between kids and grown ups, against a backdrop of climate change. And the manga element really moves the story on. The final episode: London Stars – comes out in 2020.
So, you have designed a Feline Empire and re-written lots of historical people and places with a feline twist. Why cats?
Ha! Well I am totally mad about cats, but I had a dog when I was young and I’ve written two Beowuff books featuring Anglo-saxon dogs vs Viking dogs. I think for ancient Rome, cats work brilliantly because they can be super cute or rather evil – just like human beings.
Are there a lot of historical facts and things to be learnt in your books despite the fact they are fiction?
Yes! I obsess about getting the details correct. The Journal of Classics teaching did praise my description of the flooded arena in the second Spartapuss book – Caligula. I also got a great review from Your Cat magazine! so the cats are accurate too.
How different is it to write songs for a musical? How involved in theatre are you now?
I love theatre and I was honoured to be asked to write songs for The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom musicals for the amazing Tall Stories theatre group. I am currently toying with a rap/beatbox version of Beowuff. Check out the rap version of Spartapuss with the incredible MC Lars rapping (and music and words by me).
How is the Spartapuss TV animation coming along?
Animation is a super slow process. You would not believe how many people it takes to get a cat striding across the arena – let alone fighting gladiator battles. You can see how it’s getting on here: https://vimeo.com/268538409 or about a Welsh language version here
You’ve done quite a few overseas visits for Authors Abroad – how do these differ from the UK? More fun or just more exhausting?!
It’s mad but brilliant and it’s a privilege to be invited to visit so many amazing countries. Lots of weird and wonderful things happen – In Malawi we had monkeys coming into the Reception class trying to steal packed lunches. It is exhausting because the schools (quite rightly) want as many children as possible to meet the visiting author. To help out, I can offer very large workshops – with 60 or 90 students all writing their own stories in one session. It’s mad and fantastic fun but I need to lie down when I get back to the UK.
What would you advise to someone who had a young child not displaying an interest in books?
Culture is copying. If that child looks at the people around her – her friends, her family, her siblings are they reading books? Or are they playing Fortnite and constantly checking their social media? There is no silver bullet for this but I would say create an environment where there are no screens, phones or distractions, get her to choose a book or graphic novel and do 20 mins reading every night. Incentivise her with treats. After two weeks she’ll be in the zone.
Do you have a favourite environment to write in, or is it a case of wherever you can and have time and a pen/laptop?
I always use a computer because my writing looks like a spider died on the page. In fact I was in remedial classes for English when I was a kid. But I went on to edit magazines and the BBC Homepage – and write 20 books and graphic novels. So do not give up hope! I can write anywhere as long as I’ve got something to type on.
Any plans for new books?
Yes! We have London Sink – the final London Deep book coming out in Sept – with artwork by the amazing Rebecca Davy who has taken over manga duties from the equally talented Paul Mcgrory. As well as the TV projects I am working on a super secret Shakespeare project. Very exciting!
I have always wanted to be an Umpa Loompa – but they will not let me into the Chocolate Factory.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Follow your star. And write something kind if possible.
How do you feel about celebrity children’s authors? The more the merrier if it gets kids reading, or do they have an unfair advantage and sell disproportionally because of their reputation?
How dare you! All my friends are celebrity authors – and so are their cats!
What books do you read for pleasure?
I like to tackle a classic book – Candide by Voltaire and follow it up with something like sci-fi. I am reading The Expanse series which is great space opera – for 15 plus.
It was great to meet you in person at the Broughton Hall Children’s Literature Festival – did you enjoy the event?
It was amazing to meet you too! I Ioved the festival have two friends who organise an underground music festival and so I know exactly how much effort it takes to get everything in place for a major event like Broughton Hall. I hope you can do it again.
Paperback or Kindle?
What’s more interesting – Romans or Vikings?
Thor goodness sake – Jupiter knows the answer to that one.
Cats or dogs?
Very hot veggie chilli.
Summer or Winter?
Would you rather be able to time travel or turn invisible?
What would you introduce if you were Prime Minister for the day?
Off the top of my head: hats for cats, an off button for social media, edible books – so I can eat my own words.
Arrange for Robin Price to visit your school
To make an enquiry about Robin, or any of the other authors, poets & illustrators listed on this website, please phone Yvonne on +44 (0) 1535 656015, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Our January ‘Artist of the Month’ is exceptional author and lovely human being – Claire Barker. Claire Barker is an award-winning author of funny, magical fiction for 7 to 10 year olds. She believes that readers of all abilities deserve books full of delicious, vibrant words.
About Claire Barker
Claire lives on a small Devon farm with her family and several animals that are constantly trying to escape.
Claire Barker’s brain is like a barrel of excited monkeys. Writing stories lets the monkeys run about, for which they are very grateful. Ten years ago she worked as an HLTA in a primary school. She was always trying to find special stories to put in book bags – ones that are easy to pick up but hard to put down. In the end her brain monkeys wrote their own book.
Her award-winning Knitbone Pepper series, about a lovable ghost dog, has been translated into eight different languages and is available in hardback, paperback and audiobook. In 2017 the first book was a runner up in the Sainsbury’s Children’s Fiction award, was shortlisted for the Fantastic Books award and then won The Book Factor; an award voted for exclusively by over 2000 children. In the same year she was thrilled to be nominated by Devon Librarians for the prestigious Ruth Rendell Award, for the author who has done the most to champion literacy. She has performed on stage at Edinburgh, Bath, Cheltenham and a variety of other festivals, not to mention in front of thousands of children in schools around the country.
What A Visit From Claire Entails
Claire can offer author talks or writing workshops with primary aged children. Her talks are very interactive and inclusive and get pupils talking about hats, pets and books!
Claire’s writing workshops focus on getting children to consider the important elements that make up a story and encourages them all to produce their own work of fiction.
Feedback from School’s Claire has visited
“Claire was her usual vibrant self and kept the children completely captivated. She took time to chat to individuals as she signed her books, making each child feel special. She has the knack of inspiring both children and teachers!!” Testimonial Claire Rowe, KS2 teacher, The Maynard School, Exeter
‘Thank you Claire Barker What an amazing and inspiring talk today for children of Seaton, Colyton, Kilmington and Shute Primaries. Hats, biscuits, how to create a character, the power of your imagination, and stories about Claire’s own collection of animals past and present which have inspired her writing. And that was just the talk in the hall! Claire was then invited to some classrooms to look at their creative writing and share top tips. And after that she spent an hour in the library chatting to any children who dropped in, signing books and answering questions’. Jenny Eagles, Owl and Pyramid Bookshop, Seaton
‘Claire was like a breath of fresh air… When signing her books, Claire talked with the children individually and made it a really special memory for them. Many children have said how they have been inspired to write more stories as a result of this visit.’ Winscombe Primary, North Somerset
“A boy in my class was a very reluctant reader, I had tried all sorts of books and activities to try and get him enthusiastic and inspired but for him reading was a chore. After a visit from CCB and the author Claire Barker he purchased the book Knitbone Pepper and got it signed by the author. He went home excited about reading the book in the evening – I couldn’t believe it! The next day he was giving me a summary of what had happened so far with great enthusiasm. We spoke about the book often and one day he proclaimed “I used to hate reading until we had the visit from the author – now I love it!”. For this little boy that 50 minute visit and book signing had changed his attitude and enthusiasm towards reading forever, which without CCB we wouldn’t have had. He is now an avid reader who finds it hard to put a book down!” Teacher’s email to Crediton Community Bookshop
‘Claire came to speak to our KS2 children last week and was fantastic! Her story ideas and tips as an author were inspiring and the workshop afterwards complements perfectly our approach to story writing – never accepting the first idea, adding detail and “tell me more”! It was a wonderful event and many children went on to buy her book and appreciated meeting her as an author. Claire took the time to speak to each child individually and as I have walked around the school since, have seen lots of children reading her book. A lovely event – thank you so much!’
Chulmleigh Primary School
‘A simple yet powerful presentation that showed the children that, although hard work and requiring a great deal of patience, being a published author is not out of their reach. An inspiring visit that saw many children buying books and instantly wanting to read them and not put them down – a winning sight for any teacher. Thank you so much for visiting us and reminding the children how exciting, interesting and adventurous being a writer can be….What we particularly enjoyed was the way you showed the children how easy it could be to come up with ideas…Ever since your visit, your book has been read by a large number of the children and, from their reading comments, it is clear that they are loving it! Bring on the next one – we can’t wait!’ Haywards School, Crediton
“Wow! What can I say… the children and adults alike can not speak highly enough of you. Your presentation and workshops are truly inspiring, motivating and thought provoking. Our morning together has left my children desperately eager to write creatively and imaginatively, which was most defiantly our aim. The sessions provided great enjoyment for all abilities of children.
We loved the ‘Beloved Imaginarium’ sheets you provided as they set a great stimulus for the children to express their own ideas following on from the whole group discussion, allowing them to see that they all have the potential to be wonderful writers. As you know i am a devoted Knitbone Pepper fan and thoroughly enjoy reading the series to both my own children as well as my class. The series is humorous, yet tugs on the heart stings but above all are beautifully written with a depth and breadth of vocabulary.
Overall I would highly recommend a morning with Claire Barker to any school, your way with the children is lovely and their engagement this morning was truly magical… I have never seen them so engrossed and quiet. One of the children described your humour as tremendous . We also appreciated the time you took after the session to sign some cards for the children as this makes the experience more personal for them.
Thank you again, you are an amazing author and we would happily welcome you back anytime.”
Mrs Riley and the children of Broadfield Primary Academy
Interview with Claire Barker
When and why did you join Authors Abroad?
Because I wanted to spend less time doing admin and more time writing. I used to be a PA and I know the work involved.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
As a job? No, mostly because I had no idea it was even possible for someone like me. I imagined authors went to posh schools and had ‘connections’. However, if the question is have you always been a writer? then the answer is quite different. I have been a writer since I was very small.
Do you enjoy being an author? What’s your favourite part of the job?
I love meeting readers and the buzz you get from a great school visit is hard to beat. But I think the best part of being a writer is when the words all start to flow, to thunder along like galloping horses. There’s a wonderful rhythm and power to it.
Is Knitbone Pepper based on a real dog?
Yes, on our old dog Finn. He was a mix of lots of breeds, with the sum being greater than the parts. I’m sure he knew a lot more than he let on.
How do you concentrate on writing with several animals at home?
They do funny things all the time. As I write about funny situations, they are more of a help than a hinderance. For example today Luna, our French Bulldog, decided the sofa was too frightening to sit on. I mean, who is scared of a sofa? It’s not as if she doesn’t sleep on it every day.
How much fun was it writing about the character of Picklewitch with her antics and jokes? (Bravo by the way for one of my favourite lines in a book for a while – Professor Bright’s intelligence being described as having ‘more degrees than a thermometer.’)
SO MUCH FUN. When I finished writing it I genuinely missed her. Good job there are going to be more really. And thank you.
Where do you even begin to find inspiration for writing songs about badgers’ bottoms?
I have a very juvenile sense of humour. English place names are full of innuendo and they never fail to make me snigger.
We warn schools your presentations are likely to include a lot of hats – care to explain?
The aristocratic family in Knitbone Pepper are as poor as church mice, but they don’t care because they have each other. Their main passion is hats – bonnets, caps, top hats, turbans, fedoras, berets. Many are inherited from their ancestors, as is their idiosyncratic outlook.
How important is it to engage children and young people with literacy?
Being able to read is to be given the golden keys to the garden of knowledge. Without it you are stranded outside, contemplating a very high and slippy wall. Literate children become discerning, wise adults with choices. Choices mean freedom. Crucially it’s been linked to higher levels of happiness in children, so I’d say very important.
Can fiction be used as a force for good and change?
Definitely. Reading is about empathy, being able to imagine yourself in different situations. You can have tackled a problem situation half a dozen times in fiction before you have to deal with it yourself. Fiction teaches you about the wages of both good and evil. Stories are dress rehearsals for life.
What is your favourite thing about libraries?
The way they see everyone as being of equal value and deserving of knowledge. They are a touchstone of a civilised society. It is humanity on its best behaviour.
Sweetest moment from a school visit?
A little boy who told me, with great sincerity, that he was trying to understand his pet cat’s accent so they could communicate better. Then there was the little girl who brought her cuddly toy dog that she had named Knitbone. Lots really.
Funniest moment from a school visit?
When a child asked me about my job prospects and asked if I had a pension.
Would you describe Knitbone Pepper or Picklewitch books with their ghosts and witches as scary?
No, not really. I am easily scared by these things so my answer to these fears is to turn them on their heads. Ghosts and witches are supposed to be frightening, so I made them into friends. Ghosts are supposed to be human, so I made them into animals. Witches are supposed to be old crones so I made Picklewitch a little girl. But they still all have a certain edge. In my books you have to expect the unexpected.
Any plans for a new series?
There are more books coming in both the Knitbone and Picklewitch series so I’m kept very busy right now. But there are seeds, yes.
What books do you read for pleasure?
It tends to be non-fiction books about flora and fauna of the British Isles. I also love funny books. I’m rereading the James Herriot books at the moment. Very soothing in these troubled times and surprisingly hilarious for such a gentle subject.
Which author do you admire the most?
Toss up between Kate Atkinson ( Stephen King described her work as the Triple Axle of writing) and Rose Tremain. Best of all though was Sue Townsend. I really think she was extraordinary. I admire writers who invent characters that can stride off the page.
Any new year’s resolutions?
To get better at making decisions. Maybe. Maybe not.
Paperback or Kindle?
Cat or dog?
Rabbit or guinea pig?
What’s scariest – ghosts or witches?
Starter or dessert?
What’s your bucket list destination?
Pondicherry in India
Arrange for Claire Barker to visit your school
To make an enquiry about Claire 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 email@example.com
Our December ‘Artist of the Month’ is the hilariously (he has a Roald Dahl Funny Prize to prove it), and only slightly evil – Dark Lord Creator himself Jamie Thomson. A prolific science fiction author, Jamie turned his hand to writing for children in 2012, and has since released six books from two different series aimed at younger readers. Jamie and his younger fiction are ideally suited to working with 6-14 year olds.
About Jamie Thomson
Jamie Thomson has been a writer of books and computer games for many years. He is now the minion and slave of the Dark Lord, Dirk Lloyd. He lives in the dungeons below his Master’s Iron Tower, chained to a desk, where he spends every day writing for his overlord. Or else.
The Dark Lord books are on sale in all good book shops, dungeons, dark towers and evil emporiums. It’s a comedic fantasy about a Dark Lord trapped in the body of a human boy here in modern day earth. They are semi-autobiographical.
What A Visit From Jamie Entails
Jamie offers both presentations and workshops, all designed to enthuse children about reading and get them excited about books – any books, though preferably his.
Jamie has created the ‘Dark Lord Travelling Road show’ which comes in various flavours, tailored to the needs of the school he’s visiting. It can be half an hour to an hour long and works for 10 kids up to 350 or more. It’s very interactive, very silly and great fun. Kids learn how to talk and laugh like a Dark Lord (350 kids all standing up and letting out their best ‘Mwah, hah, hah!’ is a sight to see and hear!) There’s plenty of creative interactivity too but mostly it’s about inspiring the kids to read.
Jamie also offers creative writing workshop, with lots of fun interactivity and silliness, but with some real tips and lessons about how to come up with story ideas, how to construct narratives and plot, how to create believable characters and so on. Whilst the road show can be for anything up to 350+ the workshop starts to get a bit unwieldy when you’ve got more than about 20 students.
Feedback from School’s Jamie has visited
“We were thrilled to welcome Jamie Thomson, author of The Dark Lord, winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize. Even the snow outside didn’t distract the children, who were totally engaged throughout Jamie’s visit. Jamie was brilliant with the children; he talked about his inspiration for his book and gave them lessons in how to be a ‘Dark Lord’ – you have to have the right laugh (‘Mwahhhahhha’!). He also did writing workshops with years 5-8 in which he used their ideas to form a story – it didn’t matter how crazy the ideas were, Jamie was able to weave them into a brilliant plot. The workshop and talks were very noisy and loud; the children had a great time:
“I liked how he made everything we said into something with a dark twist!” Ed, Year 5
“He was really funny, just like his books” Freddie, Year 5
“It was clever how he took all of our ideas and made them into a story” Olivia, Year 7
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Jamie as a visiting author; he really inspires his audience and most importantly, reminds them how much fun reading can be.” Victoria Dilly Librarian & The Book Activist
“Thank you so much for your presence on Thursday and Friday it was very much appreciated by your followers. There were lots of positive comments from staff about the visits so thank you and well done.” Advisory Librarian, Portsmouth School Library Service
“Jamie Thomson, the award winning author, visited Heron Way for a two day workshop. During the two days, Jamie discussed with the children and parents how he became a writer and what he did to create his stories. He kept the children highly entertained and helped them to develop their evil laugh (Mwah, hah, hah!).
Over the two days he helped the children create their stories, shape their ideas and work towards writing an outstanding story. No idea was dismissed and Jamie supported the children when they got stuck. By the end of his visit, the children were inspired by Jamie and had achieved something that they could be very proud of. I think Jamie was also inspired by the children and had has much fun as we did. After both days we sold Jamie’s books and he signed them for the children – by the end of the second day we had run out of stock and some of the boys who had struggled to find a book they could enjoy had bought all his books.
I had parents and children saying how much they had enjoyed the days and we will definitely be inviting him back again.”
Tara Harmer, Deputy Head, Heron Way Primary School.
“Today pupils from our Year 5 classes went to Langstone Junior School for a talk by award-winning children’s book author, Jamie Thomson. Both classes have been reading his books in preparation – Mrs Trinkwon’s class have been reading, ‘The Dark Lord: Eternal Detention’, and Miss Wells’ class have been reading, ‘The Wrong Side of the Galaxy’. Additionally, the children researched information about the author and gave thought to questions they wanted to ask him.
Katie said, “I hadn’t heard of him before we started reading his books in class, but now I like him because he’s really funny.” Larissa said, “I’ve read a lot of his books but the other day I read two pages of The Dark Lord: Eternal Detention, which is what the other Year 5 pupils are reading, and I really enjoyed it. I think because of that I’m going to buy that book today!”
Jamie Thomson started the presentation with an insight into his career and told the children how he had not intended to become an author! He told the group he decided to become a writer later on in life, and that he had to practise every day to become good enough to write a book.
As the session was based on characterisation, Mr Thomson included a range of activities, encouraging the group to think about what qualities a character of evil nature (like the ones in his books) may possess. Together they covered the vocabulary used and all the children had fun imitating the evil laugh. They also considered what props such a character would have, as well as what sounds and music might play as they enter rooms.
Afterwards, pupils were able to purchase any of Mr Thomson’s available books, and some even had them signed! Once Miss Williams mentioned that Daniel was a big fan, Mr Thomson even agreed to be in an evil photograph with him – what a treat!
Thank you Jamie Thomson for a fantastic talk, our pupils really enjoyed themselves. Thank you to Langstone Junior School for holding the event.” Miss F Williams
“Thank you for an absolutely BRILLIANT day! I keep getting positive messages from staff, parents and students. It’s so good to be able to show how much fun books can be and the children always remember the days when an author has been here in school. They responded really well to your ‘larger than life’ stage persona and will definitely have gone home buzzing with excitement. ” this was the best author talk they have been to. Why? Because it was interactive and funny, and he didn’t just sit there reading from his book.” Librarian at The Angmering School
Interview with Jamie Thomson
When and why did you join Authors Abroad?
Many years ago now I think. Joined to get the Dark Lord Travelling Roadshow into schools, so I could teach children to be EVIL! Mwah, hah, hah!
Do you ever miss working on computer games?
I still work on computer games from time to time, but mostly just writing dialogue, storylines, narration, mission briefings and so on.
What did you originally want to do as a career when you were younger?
I wanted to be a stunt man in films!
What is the best thing about visiting schools?
Don’t tell anyone as it would be bad for my rep as an Evil Dark Lord, but making little children laugh out loud is very rewarding. Seeing their little faces light up with laughter is just really nice. Well, before I chop ’em up and put ’em in a pie, of course.
And the worse thing about visiting schools?
The travel if they are far away, but also it can be quite nerve wracking. You might have to entertain up to 350 kids or more and if things go wrong – well, children can smell fear and it won’t be long before you’re toast.
Kids who want to buy a book but can’t afford it.
What can we do to get children to read more?
Will the Dark Lord ever achieve his goal of world domination?
I’m still working on it, but time is running out. Also, my bones are getting old.
Is it difficult to make what initially sounds like a scary subject funny?
Not really. I started the books after 30 years or more of game books, computer games and stuff, which are all about creating evil bad guys and their backgrounds, powers and homes etc. So it seemed like quite a natural transition for me. You can’t create all that badness without laughing at it! After all, Evil can be scary, frightening, horrific but even so there is always something quintessentially absurd at the centre of it. All that effort – for what?
Where do you find your inspiration?
All around, from games and films and tv through history (lots of history) and books to old ladies talking on buses.
What do you do to relax?
I torture elves. On the other hand, it might actually be that I read, watch films and netflix tv shows and the like. And play lots of computer games. Too many computer games.
What are your future plans and ambitions?
Which award, nomination or recognition are you most proud of?
The Roald Dahl Funny Prize. My greatest achievement really. Well, after enslaving humanity that is.
How does it make you feel when children in an audience laugh at you?
It’s a wonderful thing. Also, hopefully they will then buy my books… or die.
I understand Voldermort recently gate crashed your show at one of your Broughton Hall Children’s Literature Festival appearances – who won out the Dark Lord and He Who Shall Not Be Named?
Well, it’s tricky. He’s got actual spells and that, and most of my powers don’t’ work here on earth. On the other hand, I actually have a nose.
Any plans for the Christmas break?
I call it Darkmas. There will be much feasting. No turkeys though. Just hobbits.
Paperback or Kindle?
Which is scariest – a zombie or vampire?
Neither. All the undead are my servants.
Would you prefer to visit the North Pole or the equator?
Would you rather be able to fly or be invisible?
If you were Prime Minister for the day what new law would you introduce?
500k a year retirement plan for children’s book authors who have won the Roald Dahl Funny prize, and who’s first name begins with J.
And to prove Jamie’s books are loved by all, here is a photo of a kitten called Serge reading Jamie’s first book in the Dark Lord Series.
Arrange for Jamie Thomson to visit your school
To make an enquiry about Jamie 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
Our November Artist of the Month is poet Spoz. A firm favourite at Authors Abroad, Spoz can work with both primary and secondary school students – inspiring a love and engagement of poetry in every school he visits.
Spoz is an award winning performance poet, singer / songwriter, film maker, playwright and is the poet-in-residence at Birmingham City FC. He has been seen on BBC Television, has been heard on BBC Radio Four, Radio Five Live, Radio West Midlands, Radio Coventry & Warwickshire, Capital Gold and on the toilet. Spoz has performed at the Glastonbury festival, Cheltenham Literature festival, Warwick Words festival, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Broughton Hall Children’s Literature Festival, Oxford literature festival and in front of his mom.
Spoz was ‘crowned’ Birmingham’s eleventh poet laureate in October 2006. He continues to work extensively in schools, lifting the appeal of writing and performing poetry to hitherto, unseen heights.
What a visit from Spoz entails
A visit from Spoz is very varied and tailored to the school depending on the age of the pupils, the number of students, whether the school wants to have a slam poetry competition or presentations or workshops. Fun, laughter and engagement with the written and spoken word are all guaranteed though! Some ideas and typical examples of Spoz in school are below:
KS1 Specific Days
Song Re-writing – Spoz takes well known songs and helps the children re-write the lyrics to the structure of the song. This is currently popular with a “British Values” theme. Some time is spent examining the theme through a “wordburst mind map” and then creating the new song, which can be performed by all, accompanied by Spoz on his guitar. This addresses themes of phonics, rhyme and syntax.
The Poet-tree – Spoz uses rhyme and word association to create a huge collage of a ‘poet – tree’ which is displayed in the hall / class room. Lots of noisy fun with drawing and cutting out.
“I’ve Got Words … ” – Brainstorming lists of rhyming words and turning them into rhyming couplets with a prefix of “I’ve Got Words …”, creating an ever growing list poem for the class.
KS2 / KS 3 Specific Days
Poetry Slam Days – Fast paced (though slowed down a little for KS2) workshop exercises, culminating in an X-Factor style contest at the end of the school day. Large groups of up to 90 students (with suitable space and staff support) can be accommodated, working in teams of 6 to create a piece of work as a team, based on a theme of your choice. Popular themes are “British Values”, “Say No to Racism”, “Identity”, “Voices and Visions”.
Poetry Slam days can be used to create large scale “inter school” projects, where teams from a number of schools are selected to compete against each other. Spoz does this to great effect in Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, where he manages and facilitates around sixteen schools, with Poetry Slam Final events in local theatres.
Here’s what Mrs Laura Sewell, Head of English at Cotswold School, said about Spoz’s Poetry Slam Days …
“Students always LOVE being involved in the poetry slams with Spoz. It can support their progress in so many ways and is engaging and fun at the same time. Students who lack confidence in performing or public speaking are able to develop strategies which help them overcome these obstacles through writing and performing their own work, as well as listening to their peers. The supportive and positive atmosphere, with each of them supporting one another, means that they try new things and are able to move out of their comfort zones. Poetry Slam comps have also helped prepare our students for the academic rigor of their exams as they have had to really think carefully about how they construct their work, not only because it will be performed, but also because they are writing about issues that are relevant to them. Would thoroughly recommend all schools to get involved!”
KS4 Specific Days
Getting ready to take on the poetry components of GCSE’s can be a bit daunting, so Spoz has created half day “Early Engagement” workshops that de-construct “Relationships” and “Conflict” themes into enjoyable and manageable chunks. The students also investigate “unseen” poems through the eyes of their authors and rewrite unseen poems, using existing structures, but with themes the students choose themselves. Up to and around 60 students (in teams of 6) can be accommodated in each half day session (120 in a full day), with each session culminating in the student teams presenting some of their work over the mic.
Feedback on Spoz
“Spoz was AMAZING!!!! Just the right pitch for the children who thoroughly enjoyed every minute. I’d recommend him without hesitation.”
Organiser of Bearder Minister Poetry Festival after Spoz’s participation in the 2018 festival.
“Spoz was great!! Had some amazing feedback from the teachers – which was great stuff. Had quite a good turn out for him after school also =) so all in all a positive experience most definitely!!”
Cleveland Road Primary School.
“The visit from Spoz was fantastic! The students were so engaged and we would love to have him back. Thank you so much.”
Stoke Park School
“Spoz was phenomenal! All students were thoroughly engaged and the day couldn’t have gone any better! Please pass on our thanks!”
President Kennedy School
“I would thoroughly recommend Spoz to bring poetry alive in your school”- Sharon Taylor, Head of English, Birchensale Middle School, Worcestershire.
“At the end, they all said they had a great time and had changed their view on poetry. He was wonderful and the pupils were amazing” – Andrea Clinton, English Dept. Colmers High School, Birmingham.
“Spoz has become an annual fixture in our literacy calendar and a highlight for the children!” – Amanda Doyle, Wolsey House Primary School, Leicester.
“I just wanted to let you know what a resounding success yesterday’s visit was. Spoz was brilliant. It was wonderful how he adapted his sessions for the different year groups and kept them interested and engaged. They really were buzzing and were keen to stay behind after the sessions to talk to him – a true reflection of how much they liked him.
We would definitely recommend him and would like to work together again in the future.
Very best wishes and thank you for suggesting him!”
Joanne Bowles, Librarian Tor Bridge High School
Interview with Spoz
When and why did you join Authors Abroad?
I think it was the tail end of 2017 when we started putting “Spoz’s Shorts … and the Occasional Long One” together. There were a couple of reasons why I joined Authors Abroad really.
Firstly, I knew a few really cool poets who were already “on the books” and I thought “Cor … it’d be really ace to be part of that poetry family … I wonder if they let Brummies in?” Secondly, I’d heard so many great things about Authors Abroad … how they really care about the schools, the school children as well as the poets. It’s just brilliant to be part of such a professional, yet still relaxed and friendly organisation. Huzzah for Authors Abroad! Proper bostin!
Why the name Spoz?
Ah … well that comes from my real name … Giovanni Esposito. It’s the bit between the “E” and the “ito”. Sort of. Ish.
When did you get into poetry?
It was AGES ago … at Junior school really (“Hello!” St. James’ in Rubery!). I remember having to write something to accompany a piece of music one afternoon. I’d forgotten my swimming kit and had to stay in school with three other kids who’d forgotten theirs too. I wrote this weird, juvenile love poem to go with “Venus” by Holst … I was eight years old! It got me into the headmaster’s good books (for a change!) and I haven’t looked back since.
Where do you find your inspiration from?
Absolutely anywhere and everywhere! Sometimes weird ideas just pop into my head and other times I may see something, or someone might say something, that gets the old cogs whizzing in my brain. I find other poets really inspiring too … it’s not plagiarism you know … just “research”!
Do you think everyone has a poem in them?
Absolutely YES! In fact, I’d say everyone has a book of poems in them. It may not be a very thick book, but a book none the less.
Any particular memorable performances from a young person during a slam poetry competition?
There are so many! Where to start? One year eight lad was not enjoying school very much and teachers couldn’t get him to write much or participate much in class. By the end of the day I’d spent with him and seventy other year eights, he’d written two sides of A4 and was up on the mic completely owning his words. The teachers were shocked and one was in tears!
Another time with some year five children, a young girl from one team wrote
“Sorry you were bored with waiting, but I was busy procrastinating!” Kids huh? Gotta love ‘em!
Have you ever forgotten the words to a piece mid-performance?
Many times … once at Glastonbury! Of all the places to forget your lines! Luckily enough, a friend of mine was in the wings and he knew my poem better than I did and he shouted the next line out for me.
Favourite moment from a school visit so far?
Again … there are so many. I think the most recent one was a group of children in Halifax trying to mimic my Brummie accent in one of their poems. It was like an episode from Peaky Blinders. We did laugh!
Do you enjoy visiting overseas schools? Has the accent ever been a problem?
I love visiting overseas schools and my accent hasn’t gotten in the way yet! In fact, some students at a school in South Korea said my accent was really easy to understand. When I told them that Shakespeare would have probably had a Brummie accent, one lad said “No chance, we can’t understand him … you, however … very easy”. I rest my case.
Do you think the power of words written primarily for entertainment can lead to real change?
Definitely. As the old saying goes “… many a true word is spoken in jest”. Was that Chaucer? I’m not sure. My mate Barry from Birmingham said it many times. Words written in an entertaining way are far more memorable, I believe, and if you want to encourage change, entertaining poems or stories are a great way to do just that.
You were recently at the Broughton Hall Children’s Literature Festival – how was it?
It was excellent! The audiences were great and I really enjoyed all the other poets and authors … and illustrators! How do they do that? I can’t draw for toffee … I was amazed! I was also amazed by Broughton Hall itself. What a brilliant setting for the festival! Can’t wait for next year’s! Are we having one next year?
Any future works in the pipeline currently?
I’ve got lots of stuff bubbling away. I’m just finishing off a book and CD for “grown ups” which will be published by Verve Poetry Press in the autumn of 2019, but I’ve got a load of stuff for young people I’m working on with artists, for a graphic novel style publication of some of my poems. Sort of Manga Poetry Comics. I’m really looking forward to getting that out next year too.
What advice would you give to someone who is suffering from writer’s block?
Ahhh … writer’s block … my old friend. I will put my pen down, have a cup of tea, maybe watch some telly or a film or listen to music. Sometimes I pick up my guitar and strum some random stuff. Don’t stress yourself out about it. That’s probably easier said than done, but I often think the writing will come when it wants to … with a bit of a nudge.
Paperback or Kindle?
Which is scariest – a tiger the size of a mouse or a rabbit the size of an elephant?
A rabbit the size of an elephant
Batman or Superman?
Early bird or night owl?
Adventure holiday or relaxation holiday?
If you were Prime Minister for the day what new law would you introduce?
Ban Prime Ministers … oh … and free poetry books for everyone, just before I get banned..
Arrange for Spoz to visit your school
To make an enquiry about Spoz 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 email@example.com
Our October Artist of the Month is author Sara Grant. Sara has written, edited and influenced more stories than we can ever imagine. Suitable for all aged audiences she is a versatile and inspiring visitor for schools.
Sara Grant always says one of the best things about being an author is the opportunity to speak to students – of all ages – and share her passion for writing. She has visited schools in the US, UK and Europe – and recently a school on the island of Saint Lucia. She teaches a master’s course on writing for children/teens at Goldsmiths University and previously taught the master’s level course on writing for young readers at the University of Winchester.
Sara has a very diverse catalogue of books for readers from seven to seventeen years old. Her new series Chasing Danger is a middle-grade, action-adventure series. Dark Parties, her first young adult novel, won the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Crystal Kite Award for Europe. She’s also written a funny, magical series for young readers titled Magic Trix. As a freelance editor of series fiction, she has worked on twelve different series and edited nearly 100 books.
Sara was born and raised in Washington, Indiana, in the United States. She graduated from Indiana University with degrees in journalism and psychology, and later she earned a master’s degree in creative and life writing at Goldsmiths College, University of London, graduating with distinction. She lives in London.
What a visit from Sara entails
Sara is exceptionally versatile and can work with primary schools, secondary schools, university students and adult writing courses.
Because Sara Grant writes fiction for both young and teen readers, she has a variety of presentations. She is happy to work with seven year olds through teenagers. She is passionate about reading and writing and an enthusiastic presenter. Her events aim to get students involved with creating stories.
Because she believes that one size does not fit all, she is happy to work with schools to create a day and presentations that best meet their specific literacy, creative writing, PSHE and other curriculum goals. She is happy to complement what’s being taught in classroom. She has given writing talks, creative writing workshops, panel discussions, author improvisation and readings. She can work with small classrooms or large assemblies. She loves working with students of every ability.
Whether you are after presentations, inspiring talks, author Q&As or writing workshops, Sara will be perfect for your school.
What Schools Have Said About Sara
“I just wanted to tell you (though I’m sure you’ve heard it before) that you are a brilliant author and an inspiring speaker…After I got home from your talk last night, I sat down and wrote for an hour straight. It was the first time I’ve written in over four months. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your motivational words. I didn’t think there was any more creativity in me, but what you said gave me a fresh start and cleared my head. I love your book so far, and I want you to know I consider you a role model.” – unsolicited email from teenager at an event at the Oldham County Public Library in Kentucky
“Sara visited Padgate Library with The Edge writers as part of our My Voice project in June 2012. She organised the visit on behalf of the other writers, and was easy to work with, very flexible and well organised. Altogether they saw over 80 young people. Sara talked about her teen book ‘Dark Parties’ and read extracts. The young people attending were engrossed in her talk and couldn’t wait to chat to her at the end. As part of the panel she also answered questions from the audience and gave young people an insight into the life of an author and helped them to see that it is cool to read. After the event she gave her time very willingly to any of the young people who had been motivated to stay behind and chat some more. Her rapport with the audience couldn’t have been better.
Here are some of the comments from the young people on the day
‘It was very interesting and fun 10/10’
‘I really enjoyed meeting you and I really liked the sound of Dark Parties’
‘I really enjoyed it and Sara’s accent 10/10’
‘I really enjoyed it, very inspirational! Xxx’” – Chris Everett, Development Librarian Reading, Padgate Library, and her libronauts
“I first booked Sara Grant as a tutor for the SCBWI-BI (Society of Childrens’ Writers and Illustrators-British Isles Chapter) Masterclass Series a few years ago. She delivered an engaging, vibrant, hands on masterclass on Revision techniques that had members emailing, blogging and tweeting her praises. As the class sold out so quickly we discussed with Sara about developing her class into two sessions and running it again. These classes sold out in weeks and we had to add further dates to accommodate the demand. Sara has a fast paced, direct and accessible style that means she can motivate people both on a one to one level and in large group work. She made every participant in that class feel they not only came out with more information than they had going in, but that they were empowered to use that information and apply it to their own writing. I have since also booked Sara as a speaker at the SCBWI annual conference in Winchester where she entertained and enthralled a large lecture theatre of delegates. Her dynamic speaking style and bubbly enthusiasm are as infectious onstage as they are off. I could not recommend Sara Grant more highly.” –Mo O’Hara, SCBWI Masterclass Coordinator 2009- 2013 and Conference Speaker Coordinator 2010-2012
“Sara’s visit showed our students the work that is writing and illustrated the process and power of revision. My students loved her frank and honest discussion about how difficult it is to write even about topics and issues that you care deeply. Dark Parties has not spent a single day on our library shelves…the kids (and adults) loved it!” – Ted Baechtold, Senior English Teacher, Eastern Greene High School
“The workshop mixed fun and creativity with rolling your sleeves up and getting down to some serious writing. All learners achieved something from the workshop and went away full of renewed confidence in their writing, and feeling energised and inspired. They learnt a range of writing skills including how to start a piece of creative writing and how to put their ideas onto paper, which might spark an interesting new hobby for them, as well as being transferable into their vocational areas.” — Susan Sandercock, Curriculum Leader for English at South Essex College.
“I wrote an entire short story in the session – I am really proud of myself.” – teen student at South Essex College
“Writing stories is now something I will do at home in my spare time because it’s a lot of fun and will stop me being bored.” – teen student at South Essex College
“You were really great by the way… if it was anyone else I would have switched off, but you kept me really entertained and amused. Thanks for coming in and talking to our class.” – from an unsolicited email from teen boy at Belfairs High School, Leigh-on-Sea
Interview with Sara Grant
How and when did you join Authors Abroad?
I joined Authors Abroad in February 2014 after several author friends recommended it.
At what age did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I always wanted to be a writer. I remember writing my first story when I was eight years old.
Does the excitement of being published ever diminish or become the norm with each book?
The excitement and gratitude never diminishes. I know how lucky I am to have the opportunity to do what I love – and I never forget it.
You’ve written for a wide age group – do you enjoy the variety or is it difficult to adapt the style to much?
I love the variety, but it can be challenging to be writing a silly story for five-year-olds one minute and plotting an intricate murder mystery the next. But I enjoy experimenting and playing with genres, voices, age ranges, etc.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I find inspiration absolutely everywhere. The trick is to always be open to ideas and asking ‘what if’. When an idea pops into my brain, I write it down on my phone. I have a list of hundreds of ideas. When I’m ready for a new project, I’ll review the list. Sometimes a similar idea has appeared a few times on this list or I’ll discover that two or three of the ideas could be merged together.
What is your proudest moment as a writer so far?
That’s a tough one. There are the big milestones – like my first event as a published author, when I spoke to hundreds of teens at the Leipzig book fair in Germany or recently when I learned that BookTrust had selected Chasing Danger for its BookBuzz campaign alongside so many amazing writers like Neil Gaiman, Rick Riordan, Sita Brahmachari, Robin Stevens and Kes Gray.
But there’s also nothing like receiving emails from readers around the world. I print and post a few near my computer for when I’m having a bad day. Recently I received a message from a reader who said I was ‘a genius when it comes to suspense.’ I might frame that one.
Do you find it embarrassing or uncomfortable to write the more intimate scenes in your YA novels such as ‘Dark Parties’?
Not really. When I’m solidly in the mind of my main character, writing her feelings and sharing her story comes naturally. I won’t write stories that call for graphic sex, violence or language. That would make me uncomfortable.
Do you believe everyone has a story in them, or that writing and storytelling is a knack people are born with?
Some people are natural storytellers while other people have to study and work hard to tell their stories. I do believe that everyone has many, many stories to tell.
You tutor a lot of adults who want to be writers. Do you enjoy it? Are you proud when they achieve? Any success stories to share?
I love working with writers of any age. It’s a thrill to help a fellow writer achieve their dream to be a published author. I’m very proud of a project I co-founded for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators called Undiscovered Voices. Over the past ten years, it has launched the writing careers of nearly forty authors, who now have written more than 200 children’s books. (www.undiscoveredvoices.com) It’s one way I try to pay it forward.
Favourite moment from a school visit?
I was invited to speak to a small group of – for the lack of a better phrase – troubled teens. The woman who had invited me to the school explained on the ride from the train station that fights had been known to break out in class, but she hoped they’d be on their best behaviour for me. When I walked into the classroom, the teacher said to me she didn’t know why I was there because her students weren’t interested in anything. Gulp! By the end of the class, every single student had written something. For a few, it was only a sentence or two, but one young lady wrote two pages. She came up to me afterwards and said that she’d never written that much before in her life and she was going to take it home and finish her story. I’ll never forget how that made me feel.
Why are libraries so important?
We all know the statistics about reading and achievement. Libraries are safe places to explore and discover. Everyone should have access to books. Librarians are those magical matchmakers who can change lives by pairing the right book with the right young reader.
What advice would you give to parents who have children who are reluctant readers to encourage them to read?
I was a reluctant reader. My father had a deep love of books. He was always reading, and his passion for books eventually rubbed off. We instruct writers to ‘show, don’t tell’. The same advice applies to reading. Show your children how fun and exciting reading can be. Discuss books. Visit libraries and bookshops together. Find a book to read together and discuss. And never give up. Keep introducing them to different genres and authors. Maybe they fall in love with a graphic novel or biography of a pop star. Never diminish their reading choices. The important thing is to foster a love of – and hopefully a life-long habit of – reading.
What is your favourite picture book to read to young children?
You can’t go wrong with a Dr Seuss Book. I particularly like Oh, the Places You’ll Go. I also love to read Goodnight, Little Bear by Richard Scarry because it was my favourite when I was a child. And I recently found my battered copy a book of children’s poetry that my grandma used to read to me. I’m looking forward to sharing those poems with my grandchildren.
Do you believe fiction can be educational as well as fun to read?
Absolutely. My favourite books are those that ask interesting questions and help me look at the world in a different way. I don’t think books for children/teens should be preachy. Any message, theme or education should be subtle and bubble up from the story. I’d like to think that my books are entertaining and also ask interesting questions.
Which author/genre do you read for pleasure?
I love mysteries!
Which book have you read that you really wish had your name on it?
There are so many! But I’d have to pick The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. It’s a book lover’s book. It sums up perfectly why we love the books we love: “We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone.” I’ve given this book to many, many of my bookish friends.
Can a film based on a book ever be as good as the book it was based on?
I always think of the film as a completely different story. I don’t expect the movie to recreate my reading experience because it can’t. Usually the book is better because as a reader I co-create the story with the author. Film can’t replicate that lovely collaboration. However, I will say that I have liked the film better than the book on rare occasions.
Future plans and ambitions?
Write more books! Continue to experiment and learn and improve as a writer.
Paperback or kindle – Can I say hardback? I don’t buy hardbacks often because they are difficult to carry around. I always have a book with me. That is one convenient thing about the Kindle, you can have hundreds of books at your fingertips. My mother-in-law just sent me the hardback of the final book in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series. I hadn’t read a hardback in a long time and am loving the experience. I forgot how much I love the weight of the book and the crack of the spine and the …
(Sorry that wasn’t very quick fire.)
Swim in the sea or sunbathe on the beach – swim in the sea
Starter or dessert – starter
Country or city – city
Would you prefer to be able to travel back in time or travel to the future – travel to the future
If you were Prime Minister for the day, what law would you introduce?
I’d introduce a law that would ensure that every single child feels valued and loved every day. (I think that would take more than one law and quite possibly magic.)
Arrange for Sara to visit your school
To make an enquiry about Sara Grant 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
Our September Artist of the Month is storyteller and author Cat Weatherill. A hugely experienced storyteller, Cat has been with Authors Abroad for many years and is a regular favourite in both the UK and overseas.
Cat Weatherill is unusual. Not only is she a best-selling children’s novelist, she is also one of Europe’s leading performance storytellers. This is quite an achievement! Many people achieve one or the other, but only Cat has managed both. She plays for a living – with stories, images, dreams, hopes and ideas. She combines her love of language with a playful spirit and and makes Story Magic.
Cat studied Drama at Hull University, became an actress and a singer, moved into Theatre in Education then discovered storytelling in 1997. Since then she has entertained thousands of children in hundreds of schools, libraries, theatres and festivals.
Her first book Barkbelly was published by Puffin in 2005. This was followed by eight others and she is now published in twelve languages.
What a visit from Cat entails
There will be a special kind of magic in the air when Cat visits. Children remember her for years after the event – she’s hugely entertaining. But more than that, she loves the company of children and really listens to them, valuing their ideas and help with the books she is writing. Her latest book, Famous Me, credits the Year 5 boy who gave her the title. This kind of shared creativity is generous, thrilling and inspiring. Smiles and laughter are guaranteed, and she is fuelled almost entirely on tea and biscuits.
One of the best things about Cat is that she can comfortably work across the ages, from nursery to adult, so no one needs to miss out when she visits.
Make sure you check out Cat’s author page on the Authors Abroad website to see what she can offer for your desired age group.
What School’s Have Said About Cat
‘Thank you. It was just what we had hoped for and more – the kids are buzzing with it”
Lindsay Vincent, Sutton Coldfield Grammar School for Girls
‘The feedback forms were unanimous in their praise. Thank you!’
The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre
‘Thank you for the boundless energy and enthusiasm you have given to each class. You have made our Writing Week exciting, fun and thought provoking’
Kington Primary School
‘The pupils were enthralled and captivated. Absolutely loved it. Met the needs of our kids. Rich language experience. Structure and content of session appropriate to age and abilities of pupils’
Teacher evaluation, Read a Million Words in Wales project
‘Cat arrived in Jeddah, during an impromptu sandstorm, but this did not alter her enthusiasm and passion for promoting reading and writing. From our very Early Years Learners to Year 6, she oozed enthusiasm during her workshops. The little ones, enjoyed interactive sessions, complete with props and music. Then as Cat was introduced to the older section of the school, the children were part of a learning experience which left them eager to become writers and also understand and appreciate the process of this wonderful craft. Thank you once again from all at BISJ!’
British International School Jeddah – Saudi Arabia
‘Cat Weatherill was engaging for a range of children ages 3-18. She is high energy. She is certainly flexible! She performed with noise and song for the early years and then switched to discuss visual thinking with our Grade 12 Film students.’
Branksome Hall Asia – South Korea
Interview with Cat Weatherill
How and when did you come to join Authors Abroad?
It was July 2013. Very late one night, I came across a You Tube clip, made by one of the AA authors, chronicling his latest trip. It showed the schools, the students and the welcome he was receiving … I was so excited, I mailed Trevor right then, even though it was long past midnight, asking if I could join the agency. His answer was waiting for me in the morning: YES!
How would you describe storytelling to those who feel it is simply reading aloud?
Oh, it is infinitely more dynamic! I never read from a book. Even when I am doing extracts from my own books, I perform them. I am very physical. Putting down the book frees my hands, so I can play musical instruments or use props while I am telling. I can adapt the story to suit the audience and the space – make it spookier or funnier, shorter or faster. Crucially, I am able to keep constant eye contact with the audience, and it’s the eye contact that enables me to spin the story web, wrapping everyone in the tale. It’s an immersive experience.
What first piqued your interest in storytelling?
I loved its portability. I had come from the theatre, where so much is required: lights, costumes, a set… I loved the fact that a story could be carried in your head and shared at any time, anywhere.
Do you prefer writing or storytelling?
I truly love both, and they feed each other. When I am travelling, I write every day, sometimes for hours, sitting in a cafe somewhere. Often I am writing simply for myself, with no intention of turning it into a story to be published. I like to reflect on what is happening in my life in that moment. Writing is how I make sense of my world, emotionally and physically.
Writing is a solitary, inward-looking process for me. Storytelling is the opposite! That is how I connect to the world, share and bring joy. Together, the two make a perfect creative balance.
Where do you find inspiration?
Absolutely everywhere! I have just been commissioned to write ten short stories for the BBC, and so far I have found inspiration in my jungle-themed shower curtains, a silver watch, a thrush smashing open a snail shell and a pub sign for a swan. I very much agree with Roald Dahl, who said that magic is all around us – we simply have to believe in it and watch the world with ‘glittering eyes.’
Why is it so important to share stories?
Because that is how we connect as human beings: through sharing a story. We are hard-wired to find narratives irresistible. Someone simply has to say: “You’ll never guess what I have just seen,’ and we are hooked! I love that intimacy. One person tells, the other one listens, and the story dances in the space between them.
Do you have a favourite tale to tell?
The Three Little Pigs. I have told it for twenty years, sometimes up to six times in one day, and I never, ever grow tired of it. And that is so important – the energy the teller brings to the tale. The energy I put out is reflected back at me from the audience. We bring the story alive together.
Are people ever too old to listen to a story?
No. As I said before, a good tale, well-told, is irresistible. But when it comes to schools, it is really important to have age-appropriate stories. It is possible to hold 150 Year 9s spellbound for fifty minutes, but not with nursery tales! This is where experience really helps.
Have you ever forgotten a key part of a story or frozen on stage?
I am a real trooper, and always manage to keep going, no matter what is happening inside my head. The audience never realises when I leave out a key part, because I weave it back into the story at a later point. This is one of the great things about storytelling – its flexibility!
The other thing about storytelling is, it’s very human. You are not a machine, and you are doing a difficult job, holding the attention of an audience and performing and remembering the story and fighting against the noise coming from the school kitchen, all at the same time! So slip-ups are inevitable, and I often acknowledge them. Teachers and parents are very understanding. We all know what it’s like to be tired and pressured!
What has been your most memorable school visit?
I have had countless special days, but I especially remember a school where the children had really studied my books before my visit and created a huge wall display in the hall entitled ‘How to Write Like Cat Weatherill.’ There were examples of similes and alliteration, rhyme and onomatopeia… A perfect analysis of my style. I was completely blown away by it.
It makes a huge difference when the children have studied your books before the visit. Not only are they more excited, but the standard of the questions leaps up from ‘How old are you?’ to ‘Why do you favour nature images when it comes to similes?’
What’s your favourite overseas trip you have done with Authors Abroad?
Oh… I have had so many fabulous experiences! One of the best things is getting to spend out-of-school time with the teacher or librarian who organised the trip. In the UK, one day visits are the norm, but abroad, I can be there for a week, and so I’m frequently taken to see special things and share meals out. Real friendships are made which (thanks to Facebook!) continue for years after the visit.
Lagos and Bangkok were both hugely memorable, but I think I would choose Jeju as my favourite. Jeju is a little island, 60km off the coast of South Korea. Seriously long-haul but absolutely worth it!
How do you find the energy and the motivation to get up and perform if you are tired or under the weather?
With a cup of tea in my hand, anything is possible. And cake really helps on days like that!
Proudest career moment so far?
As an author: everything connected with my first novel, Barkbelly. Signing to Puffin Books, holding the finished book in my hand for the first time, reading the amazing reviews in The Observer, the Times, The Independent… Seeing it short-listed in the final five for the Branford-Boase Award.
As a storyteller: performing a two-hour solo show for adults on the main stage at The Barbican.
What are your future ambitions?
To produce a book of short stories for adults, written during my travels in India.
What do you do to relax?
Sit in a coffee shop and write my journal. Travel. Visit friends. A bit of gardening. Read, read, read!
Why are libraries so important?
I think it’s a brilliant notion, that books and learning should be freely available to all. They are also a haven for children who have uncomfortable home lives, and for elderly people who have little social interaction in their world. I have always loved doing community shows and school sessions in libraries. The librarians really care about books and people, and do a great job.
You are one of the performers at our debut literature festival – The Broughton Hall Children’s Literature Festival. Are you looking forward to it? What can people who attend your performance expect?
I am very much looking forward to it. It looks a wonderful setting, and what an extraordinary line-up of authors! It will be brilliant to hear them all speak.
What can people expect from me? Energy, laughter, magical stories – and the chance to chat with me when I come off stage! I love meeting my readers.
Luxury cruise or backpacking? Backpacking
Would you rather be able to time travel or fly? Fly
Cats or dogs? Dogs
Summer or winter? Summer
Who is best – Paddington Bear or Winnie the Pooh?
Neither. Iorek Byrnison, the polar bear from Northern Lights, is the best literary bear ever.
If you were Prime Minister for a day what law would you introduce?
I would end Brexit! I have worked in thirteen European countries so far and love being part of the community.
Arrange for Cat to visit your school
To make an enquiry about Cat Weatherill, 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 email@example.com
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
Our June artist of the month is poet and illustrator Chris White – a hugely experienced and hilarious performer – every primary school should have the pleasure of a visit at least once!
Please note for transparencies sake we must point out that the above photo may have received some tweaking via Photoshop…
What a Visit From Chris Entails
Chris can work with all primary aged pupils – nursery up to Year 6, and even with some Year 7’s if required.
Chris’ workshops are an explosion of creativity and imagination. Even the most reluctant writer will find themselves being drawn along (literally) as Chris shows how, when it comes to being a writer and illustrator, that there are no roghts or wrings.
The workshop kicks off by finding something to write about. A character is created using the ideas of all participants. The stranger the idea the better! Step-by-step the drawing is created and, before you know it…TADAAA! You have a brand-new character in front of you using the power of pencil, paper and playing around.
The next step is to write about it. Is it an animal? A person? An alien? Well, whatever it is then it needs a poem writing about it!
Chris and class will then begin to write a poem, bit by bit and line by line, until the imagination is really flowing and off you go…finish it off yourself…write…write…write!
By the end of the workshop, all participants will have an illustrated poem to show for it, hopefully igniting the spark to write and draw their own creations.
It’s fun, it’s lively. It’s interactive and it’s creative. There’s drawing, there’s writing, there’s discussion. It’s a feast of imaginative ideas wrapped up in a workshop.
You may need to lie down afterwards…
What Schools Have Said About Chris
‘I wasn’t looking forward to it…but it was brilliant!’
Ryan, Junction Farm Primary, Stockton.
‘Good motivation to get children interested in books and poetry’
Miss Nicol, Birmingham.
‘Funniest poet I have ever seen, and I learnt things!’
Mikey, Junction Farm Primary, Stockton.
‘I didn’t know poetry could be that good!’
Olivia, Junction Farm Primary, Stockton.
‘Magnificent, brilliant and joyful!’
Class 4KW, Birmingham.
‘You’re visit is already remembered as legend!’
Irene Epp, Head Teacher, The American School of Kinshasa.
‘Chris was a hit with the kids and the teachers. It was a pleasure to have him at our school. His energy and presentation style wowed over even the most jaded student. Everyone participated in his workshops, including the teachers. Now poetry and drawing are at the forefront of the students’ minds. Chris is a miracle man.’
Schutz School – Egypt
Interview with Chris White
Chris White is a writer. Illustrator and performance poet.
He has had many poetry and story books published since his first, ‘Bitey the Veggie Vampire’ in 2000. As well as scribbling pictures to accompany his own work, Chris illustrates for other authors too, including Brian Moses, as well as providing pictures for apps and websites.
Chris has featured at many festivals across the globe, including The Edinburgh Fringe, The Edinburgh Book Festival, The Sharjah Children’s Festival, The Doha Book Festival and The Cheltenham Book Festival.
His poetry performances and writing workshops have taken him all over the world to places such as China, Russia, Vietnam, Egypt, Dubai, Jordan and even The Congo where he taught a class how to write a poem in a cave!
Chris has had his poems and pictures broadcast on BBC TV and radio and worked for the British government and the British Council on various projects.
Please visit http://www.veggievampire.com for more details…
How did you come to join Authors Abroad?
It was so long ago I can hardly remember, but I’ll try…
Authors Abroad was a brand-new outfit operating out of a cardboard box somewhere in Yorkshire. I think the only other author on their books was a lady called ‘Martha’ who would read her poetry whilst juggling plums. I have no idea what happened to Martha. If you are out there somewhere Martha, please get in touch. Anyway, Authors Abroad sent their carrier pigeon (Simon) to deliver an invitation to me to join them in their quest for global domination. I was a young, desperate author waiting patiently for my shot at the big time. It was a marriage made in heaven. It was a bit like Nick Fury recruiting Avengers…but with a pigeon. That’s how I remember it anyway, but my memory may be a bit hazy.
What do you enjoy most about visiting schools?
When there is a free dinner.
No, sorry, I mean it’s awesome to meet so many fantastic people on my school visits. The teachers are lovely (most of them) and to get to meet the most creative, open, excited and sparky young minds around is an absolute joy. It never ceases to amaze me that, with a little gentle shove, children’s minds can be so brilliantly creative. Lots of people moan that the art of being creative and imaginative is being lost in the kids of today, but they just need the right encouragement…and I’m your man!
Experiencing children that complain ‘I caaaan’t draw…I caaaan’t write a poem!!’ coming up to you after a workshop or performance with a huge smile and proudly thrusting their work into your face is a moment that never gets old.
What’s the best trip overseas Authors Abroad have sent you on?
Wow! There’s been so many. I’ve been very, very lucky to have experienced many different countries, cultures and situations on my visits across the globe. It’s been a wild ride from Dubai to Brunei, from Budapest to Bucharest, from Beijing to Ho Chi Minh! Each trip has had its moments, from falling down a hole in Penang to trying to work out train timetables in Shanghai. Visiting mosques in the Middle East and Buddhist temples in the Far East. Getting lost in a rain forest, having a barbeque in minus 30 degrees on Sakhalin Island, meeting a Qatari princess…the list is endless. So many miles, so many memories and I’m thankful for them all. Who would have thought that writing a few books would take you zig-zagging around the world eh?
But, I think, to answer the question and stop babbling, the best trip was probably the time Authors Abroad sent me to The Congo! I don’t know if it was the ‘best’ trip, but it was certainly the most memorable. Incredible stuff. I still can’t believe I went there. An incredible experience with moments of sheer terror, unbridled joy and I still can’t quite work out how I manage to get on the plane home (without a passport!) It’s a long and twisted story which we haven’t got time for here, involving the American Embassy, an iguana and a driver called Pepe. I’m going to have to write a book about all my travels one day. I’ve already got the title, ‘Poetry in Motion’.
Do you prefer writing poems or drawing?
It depends which one I’m doing. I love them both. Sometimes a drawing comes first and then I write a poem or story about it, and sometimes the other way around. I just like being creative, either with words or with scribbles.
What makes you laugh?
The road layout of Leeds City Centre.
What’s the most random thing you have been asked to draw by a teacher or pupil?
Picture the scene. I’m in Brunei. The school I’m visiting warns me that the Sultan of Brunei’s grandson wishes to purchase one of my books. He has granted me an audience with him, after school, on his own, in one of the classrooms. I’m nervous. What do I do? What do I say? What is the correct etiquette for meeting such a person? I’m just a humble writer from Derby! Where’s Simon? All these questions race through my mind. I calm myself and walk, with the aid of a teacher, into the room, where his Royal Grandsoness is waiting…
But, wait. WHAT?! He is about 5 years old! I’m relieved! I sign his book and ask him if he would like a picture drawn in there too. I was ready for anything. A palace? A peacock? One of his many speedboats?
His Royal Face turns to mine and in broken English blurts…” Hamster.”
I lie on the hotel bed later in the evening thinking, “Well, today was a good day. I drew a hamster for the Sultan of Brunei’s Grandson and not many people can say they’ve done that.”
Where do you find your inspiration?
Sorry for being a dull answer, but, everywhere. In films, in music, just by walking down the street, dreams, too much cheese before bed. Everywhere and anywhere, inspiration is all around you. You just have to let it in.
I like to think of ideas being like fish, swimming around in a big lake. Most will swim right by, sometimes a little one will swim into your head. On a good day, WHOA! You catch a BIG ONE!
What impact do you hope your school visits will have on students?
I just hope that I can switch a few lightbulbs on over people’s heads. I want them to think, well if he can do it then I can too and show people that being creative is within them. Either drawing, writing, dancing, singing, whatever floats your boat. I’d just like to unlock that inner artist that lurks deep down in most people. It’s the best when I get letters from students or teachers saying how they’ve never written a poem or drawn a comic strip before, but now they can’t stop. Job done! When I was at school I was never really shown that a job in the arts could be available to a regular person like me. “Go work in an office or factory” was all I was encouraged to do. It would be great if I could show people that being an author and illustrator isn’t just for well-known people from high-up places, but anybody (with some commitment and desire) can make a living out of the arts. There is another way!
What would you say to a child who said they didn’t like poetry to win them over?
I’d say, you do, you just don’t know it yet. I’m convinced that EVERYBODY likes poetry. Do you like songs? Well that’s just poetry set to music. That advert jingle you can’t get out of your head? That’s poetry that is. That speech from your favourite film that you always quote? Poetry. Poetry is just words put in an order that makes your soul sing. Sometimes it rhymes, so times it doesn’t, but if it makes you stop and smile or think or feel sad or feel anything, then that’s poetry.
Then I’d tell them to go read a Spike Milligan poetry book. If they don’t like poetry after finishing that, then there’s no hope for them…
What’s your favourite career moment so far?
There’s been so many! You can’t beat having your first book published and seeing your name on the front. That’s special. Doing my first Edinburgh Fringe was a highlight too. I like how you’ve put ‘so far’ on the end of the question as I like to think my favourite moments are to come. The best moments though are any time somebody says, “I enjoyed that!” Whether it’s one of my poems or a performance I’ve just done. Just to put a smile on someone’s face for a little while is a beautiful thing.
Are any of the characters you have created a favourite?
In no particular order…
Bitey the Veggie Vampire (as it was the title of my first book)
Wang Foo the Kung Fu Shrew (because he nearly got me a TV series)
The Big, Big Guinea Pig (because he got me noticed by the BBC and they used the poem a few programmes)
Stumpy the Pigeon (as he is a scruffy plucky underdog who tries to fly like the big sleek pigeons but ends up doing his own thing. I think I projected a lot of me into that pigeon!)
Do you ever have to heap praise on someone’s work whilst secretly desperately trying to figure out what it is?
Haha! That’s awful! What a terrible thing to ask! Everybody’s creative endeavours are special and unique and brilliant…
Or, to be honest. Yes. All the time.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Did your plans change or are you living the dream?
I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up. Still don’t.
I knew I enjoyed writing and drawing but you couldn’t make a living out of that…could you? It’s what other people did. So, I went to work in shops and factories and anywhere that would have me, to pay the rent. Biding my time until the universe aligned, and I could make the dream a reality. Now, I am living the dream! 15 years of writing, drawing, school-visiting, festival-performing and earning a living from making things up! I mean, who else (apart from politicians) gets to do that every day?!
Any career aspirations left to tick off your bucket list?
Lots and lots. I feel like I’m just getting warmed up!
But, here’s a story. If you’d have asked me this a couple of weeks ago then I would have said that I’d like to win an award for something. (I’ve not won anything since the Matlock Scouts summer fayre raffle in 1984.) I’d have said that some kind of recognition would be nice. Maybe one of these book awards that people seem to be voting on all the time…BUT…a week or two ago I was visiting schools in Romania and a few teachers took me out to watch a football match. At half-time, the chap I was sitting next to turned to me and asked the same question, “Any career aspirations left?”
I mentioned I’d like to win a book award of some sort, to be acknowledged in some way for having got away with this for so long. For just somebody in the publishing industry to notice me. The teacher, Paul, then said to me that he had been teaching for nearly 30 years and had seen thousands of children pass through his class over his time at the school. Some couldn’t read when they arrived, some couldn’t write. Many had problems of one sort or another, but he had managed to get all of them through school, to pass their exams and to go on and do great things in their lives.
He then told me how many of those children, or their parents had said a simple ‘Thank you.” None of them. Not one. Thousands of children that he had helped, taught, entertained and made into better people. Not one thanks yet he continues to do it every day.
After he told me that I immediately changed my ego-fuelled answer. You do these things because you love doing them and that is its own reward. Thank you for teaching ME, Paul.
So, having scribbled that off the list…
I’d like to have a lovely, full-colour picture book published (I think that’s going to happen soon though, so watch this space!)
I’d, one day, like to write a serious book. Y’know, about serious stuff. I’ve tried a few times but by page 2 I’ve got bored and stuck a chicken in there or a skateboarding monkey or something. One day, one day…
Just keeping on keeping on is my main goal though. When I had my first book published in 2000 I can remember saying to myself, ‘Enjoy this as it will probably last about 6 months and then you’ll be back to the day job…’ Funny how things turn out innit?
What do you like to read?
I love to read anything I can get my hands on. I veer from just having finished the Complete Works of Proust, to the autobiography of Ace Frehley. I like Jack Kerouac, Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, books about religion and spiritual things, science fiction, Spike
Milligan comic books, Lemony Snickett, Charles Bukowski, Roald Dahl, travel writing, all sorts of wild and wonderful things. I don’t like sticking to the same genre as life is too short, so I try and read things that I’ve never read before just to see what they are like. I just love reading. My writing hero is Hunter S. Thompson though. He lived it and wrote about it afterwards and showed a wide-eyed teenager (me) that you could make a life out of words.
Book or Kindle?
Book. You can’t bend the corners over on a kindle.
Would you rather own a talking giraffe or a flying horse?
Flying horse because I wouldn’t be able to hear what the giraffe was saying up there.
Do you prefer your birthday or Christmas?
My birthday because I don’t have to write cards to everybody else.
Would you rather be able to travel back in time or forward in time?
Ooh, tricky one. Probably forwards so I can see how things turn out. It would be interesting to see if they ever finish the roadworks on the M1.
Besides, I’ve been to the past already.
Beach holiday or action holiday?
ACTION! (but with naps in between.)
If you were Prime Minister for a day what new law would you introduce?
I would pass a law that if you were incredibly rich then you had to give money to vulnerable people, the homeless, schools, hospitals, fluffy animals, poorly people and help them out. (I’m unsure of how I’d exactly do this at the moment, but I’ll work that out when I get elected)
I would pass a law that you have to smile at least once a day (more if you can)
Also, you MUST perform a random act of kindness every day.
More love. More thankfulness. More poetry. More music. More joy. More monkeys. More cake.
Then I would pass a law to banish all Prime Ministers then have a big party. You’re all invited. Especially Martha, wherever she is…
Arrange for Chris to visit your school
To make an enquiry about Chris White, 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 email@example.com