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 email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Our May artist of the month is ‘More of Me’ author Kathryn Evans. A gifted writer and inspirational speaker who always engages excellently with her audiences.
What a Visit From Kathryn Entails
Kathryn has talks suitable for years 7 and up:
Resilience and Reading: A combination of the most popular elements of Kathryn’s Passion for Reading and Down but Not Out talks. 50 -60 minutes.
Creativity, an interactive cross-curriculum talk that makes an excellent opener 15-20 minutes
Creativity can be combined with either of these two talks
A Passion For Reading, designed to inspire a love of reading in even the most reluctant 25-30 minutes
Down But Not Out, an inspirational talk on grit and resilience in the face of knock backs. 25-30 minutes
Kathryn also provides writing workshops on Ideas, Plot and Structure and Ideas, Character and Voice. She will also try and tailor something to your needs. Within reason. She doesn’t bake. Or juggle. Or breathe fire – oh wait, she can do that, but maybe not…health and safety…
What Schools Have Said About Kathryn
“The Passion for Reading talk set a fantastic tone for our World Book Day of Events and the workshops were lively and engaging – highly recommended –Anne Underwood, Librarian, Northwood School.
“Flexible, funny and interesting, Kathryn is a great speaker who knows how to interact with her audience.” – Kate Angus, Chichester High School.
“Young adults can sometimes prove to be hard to engage and yet they were listening and laughing consistently throughout.” – Will Bowerman, Southdowns College.
“What is happening? Am I actually choosing to read a book over playing the guitar or watching something on Netflix? Your book brought me back to actually wanting to read. I cannot thank you enough, your book was amazing.” – HF Age 15
“Kathryn is very easy to work with and has an excellent way of interacting with children and young people. The children were completely engaged and the talk was relevant to their age and interest.” – Kerry Brookes West Sussex Libraries.
“I was grateful you were flexible enough to start a bit early. Our Year 9 boys were fully engaged in what you had to say, because of your use of humour and excellent IT.” – Susan Mulkern, Chichester Boy’s High School
“I just wanted to drop you a line to say how absolutely fantastic Kathryn was today. She delivered two workshops and two whole-year group presentations and her energy and enthusiasm were infectious. Kathryn helped our year 10s understand how to develop believable characters and year 13 were treated to a workshop on ideas, plots and structure. I particularly enjoyed the presentations she did with our year 7 and 8 students on resilience and reading. It was perfect for our theme for book week and everything a librarian likes to hear (the importance of reading, using the library etc….).
I would not hesitate to recommend Kathryn to any school who wants to be entertained and inspired. She is such a lovely, warm person it was a delight to have her here today.” –Librarian, Tor Bridge High
“We were so pleased with Kathryn. It was absolutely incredible that she had the commitment to brave the snow, which at that point was not just a threat but a clear and present danger. She stomped in, arriving early, and gave a us wonderful morning. I’m not sure if she mentioned it, but due to the uncertainty we had with staffing and who could teach what, we asked Kathryn if we could throw the whole school into her first session, which she accepted head on. It was a five star experience, as well as a great example of the resilience she discussed in her talk.
Having hosted Kathryn Evans at our school during the Worst the Beast from the East had to offer, it seems fair to say that nothing seems to stop this author from giving pupils a first-rate experience.
We really enjoyed hosting her and certainly hope to get her back sometime.” – Librarian at Dean Close School
Interview With Kathryn Evans
When and how did you come to join Authors Abroad?
I love doing school visits but was finding it hard to reach out to schools that I had no pre-existing connection with. Then I did an event with SCBWI – a debut Authors boot camp! Sara Grant was one of the facilitators and she suggested we consider contacting Authors Abroad if we wanted to do more events – I did exactly that and it turned out to be a great piece of advice.
At what age did you decide you would like to be an author? Did you ever have any other dream job?
Apart from running a sweetshop? I wanted to be an actor pretty much all my life. One of my earliest memories is making my brother and sisters put on a circus show in the bay window of our tiny little house In Birmingham when I was about four years old. I just love pretending and writing is just an extension of that – and a bit more manageable for a mum and a farmer’s wife than traipsing all over the country looking for acting work.
Why did you decide to write for YA rather than younger children or adults?
I didn’t really decide. I always wanted to write picture books but the stories that popped into my head were just too long – 80,000 words is too many for a picture book. I guess, in my head, I kind of stuck at that age, 16/17. It was when I really began to become me, and to be comfortable with that. The themes I write about are often connected with identity and discovery of who we are and who we want to be.
Where did the inspiration for ‘More than Me’ come from and how long did it take from writing the first word to holding your published book?
My daughter was leaving home and I was looking at pictures of her as a baby and a toddler and a young girl and a teen and thinking how part of me mourned the loss of those versions of her and how great it would be if they still existed. It was a weird idea though, and difficult to write, so I wrote a couple of chapters and then put it to one side but I subbed it for a professional critique , really expecting that to come to nothing. The editor loved it though and wanted to see the rest of it, so I wrote it like a whirlwind, it was done in eight months, and the finished manuscript sold really quickly. Still, the publishing process takes a while, so I think it must have been at least 3 years from first word to finished book!
What genre would you class it as? As a reader I found obviously the concept for the story fantasy, but what kept me glued was how despite all this is was the realism of teenage moods, school politics and family drama that most people, if not everyone, can relate to.
Thanks! I describe is as contemporary YA with a sci-fi twist and a spoonful of horror. I think the great thing about YA is that you can mash up the genres and nobody cares – as long as you’re telling a good story.
Since you will have spent so much time creating Teva do you feel as if you know her like a real person?
Yes and no. As an actor, I think it’s important to keep a line between what’s real and what’s not. I once did a film in which my screen actor got burnt at the stake – it really got me down for about two weeks afterwards. So I try and immerse myself in the character while I’m writing, but then deliberately decompress to shake it off, particularly if I’ve been writing a really painful scene. It’s hard though. I’ve had a number of instances when people have come into my office and I’ve been crying my eyes out…
What types of book do you read for pleasure?
I read EVERYTHING. I’m in a book club and we take turns in choosing the books so I’m always being presented with things I might not pick up for myself. I do love YA though, and older middle grade books. Anything with a bit of a twist on normal life – authors like Patrick Ness, Teri Terry, Geraldine Mcaughrean, Francis Hardinge – and I absolutely love Sarah Crossan’s books – such deep story telling but so lightly told.
What book would you recommend every teen should read?
That’s so easy – I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. Books teach you compassion, what better way to heal the world than by understanding what’s going wrong in it and wanting to change?
What advice would you give to a parent wanting to encourage their child to read?
I have two children, well, adults really now – with one it was easy, the other, not so much! I brought them up exactly the same way, always read to them at night, always had a houseful of books, always visited the library. So firstly, try not to stress about it. Secondly, don’t force them to read what you want them to read – let them choose. Thirdly, get a librarian to help, they can advise different kinds of books – in the end, for my son, it was non-fiction that was the key and a school librarian, the wonderful Mrs Bone, who cracked it. I don’t think it matters too much what they’re reading, as long as they are reading – because it’s like a muscle, the more you do, the easier it gets. Also, get their eyes checked if they’re really struggling – my son had a tracking problem that we didn’t work out until he was 13. That didn’t help one bit!
What is your favourite thing about visiting schools?
I think I inspire young people to strive to achieve more than they think they are capable of. I messed up badly at school but I worked hard to overcome it – when I tell my story you can quite often hear a pin drop in the school hall – I love that. But my favourite thing is listening to student ideas in workshops, especially in a class where you have a group who think they can’t do it, they can’t tell a story, or create a character, and they’re deliberately being a bit silly about the whole thing but that’s a gift to me because creativity is so much about play. It’s a great feeling when you have a child who leaves your class and I know and they know that they’ve done something a bit special – especially when they didn’t think they could. There’s nothing like it.
Are there any school visits that have had a memorable impact on you?
It’s always lovely to meet readers who really get your work, I never forget those encounters. Or the days when children are rushing up to you in the corridor to tell you how much they enjoyed your talk, that’s pretty great. But there are a couple of visits I’ve done that I’ll never forget. One school had me take four small workshops with all their most struggling students. There was a boy in one of the groups who sat with his arms crossed and a look of fury on his face but slowly, his arm crept out and he picked up his pen and when he left, I looked at his work and he’d done pretty much everything I’d asked him to do. The teacher told me he never engaged with a class, ever. That was pretty special. Another time I did a talk to a group of children who were outside of normal timetable – for whatever reason, these children couldn’t cope with being in lessons. Now I quite often do talks to about 300 people but this was a group of eight of all different ages, with three members of staff. I’d been told they might leave, or kick off, or generally be difficult but because there were so few of them, it meant I could make my talk more of a conversation. It was amazing, I have no idea if what I said will stay with them or make any difference, but for that hour, we had a connection, for that hour, I did make a difference. They were in school, listening and taking part. I’ll never forget that.
Do you think books dealing with sensitive subjects and prejudices can help build bridges and create more tolerance?
Absolutely. Books are a safe space to explore ideas, create understanding and build empathy. Books are powerful weapons for a better future..
Which author do you admire the most?
Oh that’s too hard! I do love Sarah Crossan’s writing – she creates such believable characters with so few words, it’s like a kind of magic. She’s also incredibly modest and would hate me saying it, but it’s true. If this was the middle ages she’d be burnt for a witch.
What book or school related moment are you most proud of from 2017?
Being nominated for the Carnegie Medal was just incredible. I have such huge admiration for librarians, to know that one of them thought More of Me was good enough to be on that incredible list was just fantastic.
Are you planning another book?
Yes! I know it’s taken far too long and I can’t say much about it at the moment as it’s all still Top Secret but there will be a new book in the Spring/Summer of 2019!
Paperback or kindle? Paperback
Would you rather be able to fly like a hawk or swim like a dolphin? Fly like a hawk.
Would you prefer to be able to read minds or talk to animals? Talk to animals!
Would you rather have unlimited time or unlimited money? Oooo – money. So many things you could do.
What daft thing makes you smile? My dog’s tongue poking out of his mouth when he’s asleep.
If you were Prime Minister for a day what law would you introduce? That houses empty for more than a month have to be offered up to council tenants. The housing crisis in this country is a disgrace.
Arrange for Kathryn to visit your school
To make an enquiry about Kathryn Evans, 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
This month’s chosen artist is author and illustrator Karin Littlewood.
Author and illustrator Karin has enthralled children globally with her picture book creative workshops. Her beautiful books have secured her over 20 nominations and recognition’s, including 3 Kate Greenaway nominations.
What a Visit from Karin entails
Karin’s workshops are usually based on a specific book and are very hands on and interactive. A typical school visit can begin with either an introductory session with the class/classes she is working with or an assembly if you wish the whole school to be involved. They are informative and fun and really get everyone in the mood for being an illustrator.
Beginning by reading the story, she can also show the original artwork if time allows, including all the first initial scribbles and rough ideas so the children can all get to see how the book began. It breaks the ice and demystifies the process… with all this background knowledge you can guarantee that the next time a picture book is picked up it will be a totally different experience! There’s plenty of time for questions and answers too. These session lasts between 40-60 minutes.
Following this, it’s time to work with the individual class or classes. Each session is usually a minimum of 90-120 minutes, less for nursery and reception but can also be half and full days for a more in depth approach. Karin is very flexible and the visits are discussed beforehand to suit each individual school and the workshops are adapted to suit each year group.
Karin will then show some quick, easy and effective ways of drawing…. very interactive and inspirational. Her workshops are illustration led and are very visual. Her own stories always begin with a picture and her writing is inspired by her drawings, so this the creative force and inspiration behind all her workshops. Drawing is a universal language, and the art of telling a story through the pictures you draw is powerful especially if English is not the first language.
Now the children have the chance to become illustrators too, telling a story through the pictures they draw. The room feels just like an studio now, again a very interactive session.
What Schools Have Said About Karin
“Karin has been the best author/illustrator we have had from Authors Abroad. She is extremely nice, approachable and enthusiastic and the feedback from the students and staff alike was all extremely positive. She worked with students from nursery to Year 12 and brought something to everything, engaging with the students at the different levels. She really inspired the students, some of who came to tell me personally how they had inspired her. She also inspired the staff who have taken away her ideas to use in the classroom and for homework. It was a busy, but fantastic week for all.”
Dukhan School – Qatar
‘Karin is able to get amazing results from children of all ages; because she inspires them to look beyond the pen and ink and consider the thought processes that informed the final product; because she delivers consistently no matter what the task, objective, age range or venue; because the children learn without realising that they are learning, in a cross-curricular way. But most of all, because I know that children love working with Karin and it is evident to all who observe her that Karin clearly loves working with them Karin’s book, Immi, was given to Y2, who produced some outstanding writing and artwork based on the book. Needless to say, the feedback from both the teacher and the children was extremely positive.’ –Clare Willis, Primary School Teacher
‘Karin Littlewood’s workshops are a wonderful learning experience.The children were excited to meet a real live illustrator.They were spellbound as she took them through the process of illustrating ‘The Colour of Home’ and they enthusiastically created their own illustrations. Karin has a way of interacting with children that encourages them to shine. All the schools she visited spoke highly of her workshops.’ – The Learning Trust, Hackney
Interview with Karin
Please can you write a few line introduction about yourself?
I’m an illustrator and I also write my own books as well as illustrating other authors stories. My drawings and words tell stories and take you into another world. I live in London and each day I cycle to my studio which I share with other illustrators, painters, designers and animators- it’s a wonderful, creative place to be. I’ve always drawn ever since I could hold a pencil so for me being an illustrator is the best job in the world!
How did you end up joining Authors Abroad?
Visiting schools is an important and inspiring part of my work. I had an author friend who was with Authors Abroad and one day I received a phone call asking if I would be interested in joining … and of course I said yes!
Authors Abroad have sent you all over the world to visit schools – do any of them stand out as particularly memorable?
I have visited so many interesting countries and it really is impossible to choose especially as every child I meet makes a visit memorable. But there was a very friendly camel at one school in Malawi that still makes me smile whenever I think about him … he wasn’t a pupil by the way but he thought he was!
Do any of the books you have illustrated hold a special place for you?
It’s so difficult to choose as they are are special, but if I had to pick one I would say its my book ‘Immi’… it’s a story of friendship across the world and how the simplest of gifts give the greatest joy. I think that is why so many schools love it too as it becomes true as we connect across the world . One of the simplest, but greatest gifts is a drawing so the story of Immi becomes so real …
How do you feel when you draw, is it still a joy or now that it’s your job is it more like work?
It feels exactly the same as it did when I was little … it feels like I am in another world and drawing is what makes me me! But I am just like everyone else and do have days when it definitely doesn’t go to plan! But then that just means you have to find another way! It is work, but so good to be doing something I have always wanted to do ever since I was a little girl!
You’ve lived in both Yorkshire and London – does either setting prove more inspirational?
I was born and grew up in Yorkshire and I can’t think of a better place! I moved to London after Art College and they are both so very different but both inspiring in totally different ways. I spend lots of time in Yorkshire with family and friends and especially when I’m out walking on the moors and in the Dales, whatever the weather, it just feels so ‘right’. London is amazing, creative, fascinating and always full surprises. The whole world is on your doorstep- people, food, different cultures . But its not all as hectic as people think … I live in a villagey part of London with independent so it’s nice quiet but I can cycle to the centre in 20 mins
What was your favourite picture book as a child?
I had so many! One of my favourites was “The Useful Dragon of Sam Ling Toy” .. set in Chinatown, Sam Ling Toy’s laundry shop is full of lost animals and when he finds a tiny lost ‘lizard ‘.. well you can imagine what that grew up to be! I loved the colours in the book and all the Dragon’s escapades.
What affect do you hope your school visits will have on students?
Illustration is a universal language … telling a story through the pictures is as important as telling a story with words so that is an important aspect of my workshops. I want to give children of all ages the chance to find out what goes on behind the scenes when making a picture book and give them the chance to experience what it’s like to be an illustrator too, using drawings to inspire them to tell and write their own stories. A school visit is inspirational, giving the children a chance to meet an author and to see that I am a real person! To ask any questions they want and to be as curious as they like and to realise that I was a little girl who loved drawing pictures, reading and writing stories just like them. If you love something and work hard then they too can follow their dreams. I can show quick and easy illustration techniques and show there isn’t a right or wrong way.
How do you engage reluctant readers/illustrators?
It’s easy to be scared of a blank sheet of paper and I can feel like that too! But by simplifying things, taking things step by step , showing quick and easy ways of how you can come up with solutions and actually tackling important subject matters by demystifying them … Talking, showing, drawing, explaining and making friends … there is always a special way with each individual child.
Some of your picture books contain quiet important messages, do you set out with a message in mind and create a story around it? Or does the story come first?
I think in pictures so that is the first thing that comes into my mind. The messages that can be found are really what I feel and they find their way into the illustrations and story in their own way
What is your favourite memory from a school visit?
I never have just one … but the joy of seeing the children express themselves creatively in ways many of them never thought they could is always the best thing to take away with you! And also seeing a child that reminds you of yourself at that age .. I always wonder what they may end up doing when they get older
You mainly work with picture books, what books do you read for leisure?
I still read picture books for pleasure and leisure! But I’m very interested in history so I do like travelling back in time.
What is your next career goal?
To keep on doing what I have always done! Illustrating, writing and of course meeting even more children across the world. Each book feels like a new beginning so to continue on this journey is a never ending adventure!
What would you say to a school that was asking about the benefits of an author/illustrator visit?
A visit makes such a lasting difference … and it can change lives. It can open up a whole new world and give the children a chance to explore, be inspired, to create, to discover new ways and find things inside themselves they may not have known was there. Illustration can be a way of exploring so many different topics in a way that is not always possible within the school curriculum. It gives the children the opportunity to meet the person behind the name on a book cover and to find out so much more … it’s a day of connecting and sharing, for teachers as well as pupils
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS.
Paperback or Kindle? Paperback
Cats or dogs? Cats – I do love dogs too though
Prefer to see a pantomime or a play? Play
Would you rather explore the ocean or space? Ocean
Favourite flavour of cake? All of them! But not all mixed up together
Pamper weekend or camping? Camping
Would you rather be able to freeze time or speed time up? Both- depends on what I’m doing!
If you were Prime Minister for a day, what law would you introduce? Stop everything and draw for a few minutes a day!
Arrange for Karin to visit your school
To make an enquiry about Karin Littlewood, 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
This month’s chosen artist is William Gallagher.
William Gallagher writes Doctor Who radio dramas, is the author of 18 books and is Deputy Chair of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain.
Photo courtesy of Lee Allen.
What William offers during his school visits in his own words
What I do in schools is talk about myself for, oh, about six seconds and then get everyone writing. We write everything. Scripts, short stories, poems, every single thing I can pack into the day and I try to make sure nobody ever gets quite enough time to finish anything. They regularly beat me on that and come up with complete stories but along the way they get the energy and the pressure and the thrill of what it’s like to be a professional writer with deadlines that never stay still.
William works with children from year 4 up through the whole of secondary school plus sixth form and both further education colleges and universities. He also runs CPD workshops for staff ranging from primary school teachers through to university professors. He does one-to-one mentoring with older children and teenagers plus he’s spoken to 300 at a time in assemblies. Most often he works with groups of between 15 and 25 pupils either in a single whole-day session or split into many sessions with different groups each hour.
Details of what activities William can offer for each age group are listed in detail on his author page of our website.
What Schools Have Said About William
“He was fab! We loved having him at our school – a lovely man.”
Teacher at Landywood Primary School 2018.
“Thanks so much for your wonderfully inspiring and enjoyable session” – Judith Kneen, Newman University.
“All of the parents of the children whose scripts I sent to you described it as the highlight of the year!” – Anne Cochrane, Putteridge Primary School, Bedfordshire
“We all had an absolutely splendid time. William was delightful and very much appreciated by all. We have even had feed back from the primaries saying some parents have been in to say thank you because their children haven’t stopped talking about writing since.” – Jane Peeler, Bridgenorth Endowed School
Interview with William
How long have you been with Authors Abroad?
You do a lot of Able Writers’ as well as author visits, what’s the best thing about each?
May I confess something? When a school asks for an author visit they of course want pupils to know what it’s like doing what I do, they want to know how I got into it. But I’d rather talk about them. I mean, I know all about me. So I will talk to assemblies, I will answer questions but the very first moment I can, I get everybody writing. We’ll work together and that’s how they’ll learn what it’s like being an author. I adore this and so even on a straight author visit I’ll draw on some of the things I do with the more intense Able Writers’ Days.
What do you enjoy most about visiting schools?
I used to go into schools for revenge. My own school laughed at me for wanting to be a writer – I’m not kidding or exaggerating, the careers teacher laughed aloud. I know that if someone like me, just an ordinary author, had visited my school back then, it would’ve shown me that it was possible. My career would’ve started a good ten years sooner than it did.
That’s still on my mind every time and it’s why I’m conscious of how much better schools are today. You imagine things are worse because of all the constraints, all the paperwork, but truly schools today are gigantically better than mine ever was.
There’s one more thing, too. Most of my writing takes at least weeks, usually months and on a couple of projects it has been years. But then you come into a school and the writing is immediate. The sheer bursting energy of a whole group of writers creating something right now is brilliant.
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer? Have you always wanted to be a writer or did you have a different dream job when you were younger?
Writing was always something other people did, not someone like me. For all that I read everything and even though I wrote for every school magazine, it was so obvious that I couldn’t be an author that I didn’t give it any thought. I didn’t have any dream job at all and it was scary having to think about future careers.
At that time, though, there was a US TV drama called Lou Grant which showed journalists at work and was also so exceptionally written that I became conscious of drama and scriptwriting as a job.
It wasn’t much but it was enough that when I was asked in my one-and-only careers lesson what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said it. For the first time in public and I think the first time even to myself, I said I wanted to be a writer. That’s when the teacher laughed and got the whole class to laugh too.
That was a very damaging one minute in one class. On the school’s advice, I went into computers instead and had a perfectly dull few years until I managed to get writing in computer magazines and contribute to a BBC series about computing.
You were recently made Deputy Chair of the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain. How did this come about? What does it involve and what do you hope to achieve from it?
I was tapped on the shoulder in a Writers’ Guild meeting and asked to step outside for a moment. I’m standing there in this London office and all I can think of is what my bookish 10-year-old self from Birmingham would make of me being asked to do this job.
I’ve joined as the Guild is making big plans for the next few years and what I want to do is bring along other organisations with it, including Authors Abroad. Writing is a solitary job yet when we work together, we can do such a lot of good.
What writing achievement are you most proud of?
You ask this and a flood of memories come. Writing for the Los Angeles Times. Hearing my first radio drama broadcast. Seeing my first stage work. Going into my first school with Authors Abroad. I love it all and I especially love that there is so much to choose from. But I’m going to pick my first book.
It was a non-fiction book about a drama called The Beiderbecke Affair and it was published by the British Film Institute. What I can never forget is how it felt the day the first copy arrived. I can see me now, sitting in my living room, opening this parcel and there it was. Good or bad, successful or not, there it was. I remember consciously realising that there is nothing anyone can ever do now to take this away from me: I’ve written a book.
You’ve worked with some huge TV shows, which was the most fun to be involved with?
Doctor Who. It has to be, hasn’t it? I’ve written many radio Doctor Who dramas plus I’ve produced and directed a couple of short videos about Doctor Who and Torchwood for Radio Times magazine. There is something about that show that touches so many people, including me. To have even a little to do with it when it was a show I loved as a child is constantly and forever startlingly great.
What advice would you give to a parent wanting to encourage their child to read for pleasure?
Read yourself. I’m not a parent – I’m a civilian – so I can’t really imagine how ferociously busy and exhausting it is to be raising children. But if you can possibly read books for yourself, for your own pleasure, your children will see that and it will have a far greater impact than any of us telling them they ought to read.
Plus you’ll have a good time reading and while we’re at it, why aren’t you writing too?
Why, in your opinion, is it so important for young people to read?
We all tend to spend our days with the same few people: maybe you see a lot at school or work but really not that many and all doing much the same thing. Reading opens you up to different people in different places doing and thinking and believing different things.
If you read, you get that shared experience but you also become open and receptive to new things. You know that there is a world you’ve not met yet and you’ll race to find out everything you can. If you don’t read, I’m afraid your world is finite and limited and a bit boring so you become the same.
What book have you ever read that made a lasting impact on you?
There are countless books that have done this to me. But you ask this and my mind goes immediately to Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce. It’s on my shelf in front of me and I re-read it every few years. It’s a very simple, pared-down children’s story that I read in school and yet I can vividly see its influence on a book I’m writing right now, I can see how it unconsciously shaped part of a stage play I just had performed.
Do you think it is easier to write a novel, a play or a TV script?
I won’t lie, they’re all hard. Let me clear, there are harder jobs than writing but there are also a lot of easier ones and you will dream of those as you’re struggling to finish a novel, play or script.
I suppose scripts are written to be performed and they tend to be done quickly so maybe they’re easier than the very, very long haul of a novel.
Just to be clear though, there may be these easier and harder jobs but there are none better than being an author. None.
What is the most memorable encounter you have had with students whilst running a workshop?
Oh, come on, how long have you got? I’ve had pupils make me gawp with how clever and imaginative and just plain funny their writing is. I had one shy child who at the end of the day was on her feet and debating loudly which bit of a project she wanted to write. One girl threw in sign language into an exercise. One boy wrote a piece that included every person he’d worked with that day, even though he’d only met most of them that morning.
But, okay, there is one moment that meant the world to me. I’d finished in a school and was in my car, checking emails on my phone because things were happening with a writing project. A mother and her young daughter passed by in front of me, completely unaware I was there, and the girl was bouncing. Literally bouncing along and talking with such energy that it was contagious. I don’t know what she was saying but I caught my name in it all and I doubt I have ever been happier.
I phoned Authors Abroad right then and babbled at you about how much I love doing this. Some time you must ask me about the teachers and teaching assistants I’ve met: I’ll have a whole other list for you of memorable encounters.
What do you do to relax?
I don’t understand the question. Everything I do to relax has become part of my work so it’s often hard to tell when I’m working and when I’m not. There tends to be more tea when I’m working and chocolate when I’m not, that’s it.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Read and write. Have fun and take it seriously. Treat it as a pleasure and as a job. Start lots of things and finish them all.
Do you think there is enough recognition of the amount of careers with the creative and media industries? (Extra point if you can name a genuine and obscure job!)
The arts industry in the UK brings twice as much money to the country as is then spent on our national defence budget. It is a huge industry, it’s something we as a whole are very, very good at – and yet it always struggles to be recognised, it always struggles to get good people into it. I think there’s an element of what I felt, that it was something other people did, not someone like me.
Yet if you want an obscure creative and media job, try this: accountant. People forget that this is an industry and there is no job I can think of that isn’t needed in this world.
Paperback vs kindle
Paperback but it’s close and I read a huge amount of both
TV vs Radio
TV but it’s even close as radio drama is wonderful
The Weeping Angels (Doctor Who)
Would you rather be able to teleport or read minds?
Teleport – I’m always rushing everywhere.
What would be more useful, extra eyes or extra legs?
Eyes. I could read more at the same time.
Lie ins or early riser?
Regretfully, an early riser. Got to be to get the work done.
What’s scarier; a shark the size of a guinea pig, or a hamster the size of an elephant?
Hamster. Because the shark will be underwater where I don’t have to look at it and the hamster would smash its cage dramatically.
If you were Prime Minister for the day what law would you pass?
I’d get us back into the EU. If that’s too serious, try this: I’d make it illegal for companies to put tiny chocolate bars in big packaging.
Arranging for William to visit your school
To make an enquiry about William Gallagher, 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 very first artist of the month is…. Karl Nova!
Karl is a fantastic asset to the Authors Abroad team who gets brilliant feedback whether he is visiting primary or secondary schools. A huge motivator and inspiration to students and a pleasure for staff. If we are having a bad day at Authors Abroad we usually look for a reason to ring Karl – talking to him just cheers you up. If you are having a down day you need a bit of Karl in your life!
Karl Nova is one of the UK’s leading poets and hip hop artists delivering his work in his own unique, witty and energetic style
Born and raised in London as well as Lagos, Karl always found it difficult to fit in, it reflects in his music because he speaks as one who knows what it is like to be on the margins, in a world where conformity seems to be the key in gaining acceptance, he has always been one to defy expectations and go against the grain.
Whether it is in rap format or spoken word poetry he seeks to give voice to the search for meaning and deep need for faith and hope. His music and poetry is like a diary of his journey, his highs and his lows, his discoveries, observations and personal breakthroughs.
Apart from being a wordsmith and energetic live performer, Karl Nova is an avid beatmaker and he released a compilation of electronic music that he totally created on his phone called “Made ‘Em On My Phone”
Karl Nova has remained on the forefront of the scene he is a part of as a social commentator, creative writing workshop facilitator, broadcaster and cultural critic that creates platforms for other artists as he seeks to uplift, inform and inspire through this artistic expression.
What Karl offers during his visits, in his own words:
Karl’s debut book ‘Rhythm And Poetry’ was released in 2017 and is illustrated by our very own Joseph Witchall.
“In Rhythm And Poetry by Hip Hop artist and poet Karl Nova the beauty of rap and lyricism and Hip Hop influenced poetry is displayed with wit, humour and positivity. His approach is to meet young people where they are and engage with the style and attitude they are familiar with. This collection reflects on his journey of growth from childhood to adulthood through the lens of hip hop culture. A lot of the verse have already impacted many lives as he travels and delivers them with his unique and energetic style.”
‘Rhythm and Poetry’ has been submitted by the Caboodle team for consideration for the CLPE Children’s Poetry Award 2018, although we will not find out if he has made the shortlist until May.
What schools have said about Karl
“What a fantastic day, what a lovely person!
Thank you so much for recommending Karl to us. He went down a storm, the students and staff loved him.
So much so that the Head of English has already asked me to ensure we book Karl for next year during poetry week.
I just wanted you to know that he was brilliant. I shall be putting an article on our school website and recommending him (and yourselves) to the other school librarian in Plymouth.”
“He was absolutely superb and our students have been talking non-stop about his visit!”
Ormiston Bolingbroke Academy
“Karl was great. He related well to the children and I had good feedback from the teachers about the all sessions he did in the classrooms.”
Our lady’s RC Primary School Hereford
“We had a very positive experience with Karl Nova. I have never seen the children so engaged and enthusiastic in an author’s workshop. Karl was absolutely brilliant with the children. Children and staff have requested that we invite him back in with his new book once it is published. It was fantastic to see the children write great poetry after Karl’s visit and really enthusiastic to share them. I also received very positive feedback from other members of staff in our other partnership schools.” Teacher
Interview with Karl
Hi Karl, congratulations on being our first Artist of the Month. How would you like to introduce yourself?
My name is Karl Nova, I’m a hip hop artist, performance poet and now an author too!
How long have you been with Authors Abroad?
I’ve been with Authors Abroad since October, 2015.
Someone was needed to fill in at the last minute to visit a school and I agreed to do it. Someone referred me to them. It went so well that it began a beautiful relationship with Authors Abroad.
You have had your first book out recently – how excited are you about that? How did you find the writing process?
At first it was daunting. It’s something I had at the back of my mind to do but felt I would do it later on in life. Once I got to put it all together it was exciting. The editing process was tough though.
What moment stands out as you realising you had ‘made it’.
When I held the first copy of my book finished in my hand I felt like I was a Pulitzer Prize winner, but reality hit me and I realised I have a lot of work to do. I never feel I’ve “arrived” I always feel I’m on my way.
What do you enjoy most about school visits?
I’m a performer so I treat a school visit like a concert! I love it when poetry comes alive in the schools through the style I present. You can visibly see their minds opening up. Sometimes I get them to write and the poetry, short stories and lyrics they produce is astounding.
Most memorable moment from a school visit?
I remember going to Whitgift in Croydon for their junior literary festival last year and after I finished performing a piece, the students gave me a standing ovation and refused to stop cheering quite loudly. It was quite crazy and heartwarming at the same time!
Nicest compliment or feedback you’ve received?
I think nicest compliment or feedback I’ve gotten is from a student who said that normally he’s not into poetry at all but after my visit he wanted to write a book and actually started!
What advice would you give to aspiring poets?
As cliche as it might sound I will say write all the time. Write when the inspiration hits you. Write until your unique artistic voice begins to emerge. Study the greats and then do your own thing. My book was written mostly on my phone on long train and plane rides.
If you could impart one message to students what would it be?
I always tell students that they must understand power of words, the power of their imagination and the power of their dreams. I also tell them it’s ok to be themselves and they are unique.
When you were younger what did you want to be originally when you grew up?
I originally wanted to be a broadcaster because I watched too much MTV as a teenager and developed a crush on presenter Lisa I’Anson. This is a true story. Haha!
Current ambition and future plans?
I want to write more books and travel more. Authors Abroad got me to go to Germany and Cyprus to visit schools and those trips opened my mind up in ways I can’t even explain.
Last LOL moment?
I was in a school and a student asked me to get Rihanna’s autograph. She was convinced we are close pals even though I told her I’ve never met her
Cats or Dogs?
Wow this is actually tough! I like both. I think I will say Cats today. Ask me tomorrow it could be dogs.
Tea or Coffee
Tea! The end!
Skiing or Beach holiday?
Beach! (Preferably in a place like Cyprus lol)
Paperback book or kindle?
Paperback (even though I buy lots of books on my kindle app these days)
Would you rather be able to fly or be invisible?
Hmmmmmm! I think I would to fly!
If you were Prime Minister for the day what law would you introduce?
I would make a law that every school must have funding so that authors like myself can visit all year round as a staple in the curriculum.
Arranging for Karl to visit your school
To make an enquiry about Karl Nova, 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