People have been telling stories for thousands of years. Storytelling has been used by every culture, throughout the ages, to entertain, educate, preserve culture or to instil moral values in the younger generation. As children, having elders read to them not only develops their personal bond and relationship, but it’s vital for developing literacy skills; not only reading and writing, but also the ability to communicate in all other ways.
Recent data suggests we are consuming more and more books but we’re also consuming stories in a variety of different media. The rise of eBooks was seen as a potential threat to the printed book, but the decline of printed books has since been reversed, particularly with printed children’s books; which have never been more popular. There’s nothing quite like holding a real book in your hand, and sharing the reading experience with a child. However, new media is not going away. New methods of storytelling will appear, while others are replaced; it’s inevitable in an increasingly digital world.
With new trends in technology and the popularity of social media, it is also well known that our attention spans are shrinking. With this trend, stories have also begun to change, with the rise of the novella; books which can be consumed in a single sitting. Novellas are nothing new, of course. They too have been around for generations, but instead of longer novels, authors are now working on releasing their stories as a series – perhaps several novellas instead of one book - as a way to hook the reader. The epic novel will still exist, but their decline may also change one day. But at the moment, this is the direction of travel.
Storytelling is also changing to fit into this new world. Storytelling doesn’t just cover books. Streaming services are developing their own unique content - well written and produced television series; which are both gripping and exciting. If HBO’s Game of Thrones draws more people to J RR Martin’s books, then how is this a bad thing? Any way in which stories and reading are promoted is positive in my opinion. Whether that be YouTubers reading children’s books online, book launches on Instagram or the use of apps to present stories in unique ways, if the end result is developed literacy skills, then surely this is a good thing. Perhaps, on the other side of the argument, there is also evidence that literacy skills are declining as a result of the increased use of technology. Only time will tell.
As attention spans shrink, storytellers must come up with innovative ways to hook readers. Fortunately, the development of technology brings new opportunities. As a writer, I now see the endless possibilities that technology may bring to readers. With shrinking attention spans, how do we engage people to read? When I was a child, I found it difficult to motivate myself to read. It was not that I found reading difficult. It was because, quite frankly, I wasn’t interested. As a science enthusiast, when my teacher performed an experiment in the laboratory, I was enthralled. If a nature documentary was on television, I couldn’t look away. But read a book? No thanks. What happens to those children who find reading boring or difficult? They stop reading altogether; impacting their education and their further development.
A eureka moment came for me at the age of twelve, when I saw a photograph in the newspaper of a Tyrannosaurus rexchasing Jeff Goldblum. A movie with real dinosaurs! Well, they looked real enough to me. My interest sparked instantly. As an avid dinosaur fan, I looked forward to it with great delight. After some careful research, I discovered the upcoming movie was actually based on a book. I couldn’t wait for the summer release, so my Mum bought me a copy of the book instead: Jurassic Parkby Michael Crichton. Using a combination of scientific theory and well-crafted storytelling, the book fascinated me. I read it from cover to cover in a matter of days. Me, a reluctant reader, who couldn’t usually get passed the first chapter. This was a gamechanger.
For a parent trying to help their reluctant reader, there are many simple and effective methods. I’ve mentioned the first: to focus on a topic of interest. Another popular and effective method is to use stories with humour. From joke books to rhyming picture books, everyone loves to laugh. We always think of books as the only option, however comics and graphic novels can also be a great starting point. Perhaps, rather than reading first, it may be better to practice the words after listening to them read out loud. There are so many audio options available now: from audiobooks to podcasts to YouTube videos. Any one of these innovative methods could be the starting point your child is looking for.
Sometimes, there can be other reasons why a child is reluctant to read. They may be struggling and need extra support. But by employing a few simple methods, change can happen. And it can happen quickly. When you read about a subject you’re passionate about, it becomes easier. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t read widely in other genres or on other topics – the complete opposite, in fact. But if you’re struggling to get your child motivated with their reading, you just need to start small. Something you know they’ll love.
Just as reluctant readers sometimes struggle, writers too face problems with motivation. How do we approach this? We follow a similar process, by writing about what we know and love. I enjoy all areas of science, from biology through to astronomy and physics. After accepting I’ll never get to travel around the Solar System myself, I settled for the next best thing: learning as much about it as possible. I even did an astronomy course. This study eventually led me to writing a series of blogs called #OurSuperSolarSystem. There were so many new discoveries being reported each day, I wanted to share them with people; especially children.
As with any writing, ideas are generated and stories begin to form. I imagined what it would be like to go into space, unguided and unprepared. A character appeared in my mind, yet I didn’t yet know how this character would come to life. An opportunity finally arrived when I was approached by the innovative storyteller and director, Michael Sokolar. Michael and his colleagues at Little Lights Studio were in the process of developing a wonderful new iPhone app, called Bedtime Stories - read & tell. A storytelling app for parents, the app allows you, the parent or guardian, to become a storyteller, to develop your own stories to share with your children. A new method of engaging reluctant readers, perhaps.
I was asked to write for the app and I was of course, over the moon – literally. No, seriously, I wrote a story about going over the moon! The name I had written down a year before, finally came to be… Cornelius Comet. The story begins with Cornelius in science class, where he meets a new student - Anna. And then, these new friends, two unlikely astronauts, go on the journey of a lifetime. How do you visit space if you can’t go yourself? You do the next best thing and create your own journey around the Solar System.I realised when I was writing that this was the journey I’d always wanted to make. By writing about something I was passionate about, my writing flowed and my interest sparked.
As such, Cornelius Comet’s Astroadventuresare very close to my heart. I hope that Cornelius and Anna’s stories inspire children to find their own passion for a subject, whatever it may be. Who knows where it might take them? There are so many exciting worlds out there for them to explore, in books, comics and on screen, and there will always be something for everyone. Your child just has to find the one that’s right for them. Afterwards, the sky’s the limit.
Paul Ian Cross is a scientist and author from London, who writes science-inspired stories for children and young adults. The Bedtime Stories – read & tellapp, which Paul contributed to, is now available for iPhone. Full of many different story-worlds, written by authors from all over the world, there is definitely something for everyone.
Hello my name is Fiona Scott and I have been writing stories for as long as I can remember.
I am an indie author who works in partnership with Silverwood Books. I have three children’s books out at the moment, Rats on Roller Skates, The Troll of Trafalgar Square and Willow and her Magic Owl Pillow.
I met Silverwood Books at The London Book Fair in 2016. They liked my portfolio and said that schools will love you and your work. I hadn’t really thought about visiting schools so I was very touched and massively inspired, so once the books were published I got in touch with some local schools and scheduled in some visits. I have been lucky enough to do author visits for over a year now mainly with Reception, KS1 (and the odd Year 3 class). I have also visited preschools. The children have ranged from 2.5 to 8 years of age. I once visited every year group at a school in Ashford. I haven’t really got a favourite age to visit but I do like Year 2 (age 6/7) and you can beat a Reception class, just adorable.
The most wonderful part about my school visits is the pure enthusiasm and endless imagination of the children, along with their infectious smiles and delightful giggles. Being a rather large child myself (or should I say young at heart), I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing my experiences and stories with the children. I feel thoroughly at home within a classroom and have since started a job as a Teaching Assistant at a primary school with the hope of doing full teacher training in a few years to have my very own class. I have negotiated Friday’s off so I can continue visiting schools and writing as I couldn’t live without it.
My sessions run as follows; an introduction; tell them all about being an author, talk about illustrators (with the little ones I explain I am not very good at colouring in within the lines so need somebody that is). I show them original artwork and how it becomes part of the book. I talk about the ISBN and all aspects of making a book/getting published. I then talk about what inspires me to write; perseverance; never giving up! I then read the story/stories followed by a Q&A session where the children can ask me any questions they may have. I then show them how to write their own stories using the “High 5 guide” and we have a brief discussion sometimes writing ideas on a white board. We then do a themed writing activity followed by themed crosswords and word searches for the speedy children (the ones without writers block). For the younger children I do a shorter introduction and I have themed colouring in or simple activities linked to the story.
I have had many memorable moments from my visits; I’d like to share the best ones with you. The top one that sticks in my mind the most (and will forever more) was a question from a 7 year old child called Mohammed from a school in Wandsworth. This school has a large ESL population (English as a second language). After a reading of “Rats on Roller-skates I asked if anyone had any questions, a young boy put up his hand and asked me the following question whilst frowning and looking very confused; “Why have you written such complete nonsense!?!” Straight away his teacher apologised and muttered to him not to be so rude but I instantly interjected and said that his question was not at all rude nor were any apologies necessary. I explained that yes the story of Rats on Roller Skates is whimsical, it’s silly, it is in fact complete nonsense but that is the beauty of literature; you can write about anything even a gang of rats that take over the fashion world. The little boy said he would write his own funny story one day. He understood that the literary world can be about anything your imagination can come up with.
My second favourite memory is from a Year 2 class in Surrey, at the beginning of the session the teacher explained that there was a little boy who could be very disruptive and would probably interrupt me; if necessary they would take him out. I was a little worried as to how it would go so I took a deep breathe whilst thinking I have two children of my own and I’m quite used to being interrupted and in my head I said, “you can do this Fiona, go with it!”. So I started my session; introduced myself and straight away I was asked a few random questions by said child followed by a few random facts, (I love a random fact or comment such as “I hurt my finger yesterday.”) During my introduction/reading and the Q & A session I listened and interacted with little boy whilst trying to interact the class overall. I think he felt comfortable with me so after a rather ad-hoc session I gave everyone a themed work sheet to write their own follow up story to Rats on Roller-Skates called, “What Willy the worm did next…” and as I walked around helping children with their writing (making sure they were using capital letters, finger spaces, full stops and using lots of beautiful adjectives), I was tapped on the arm by a very excited teacher. She couldn’t believe how much my visit has impacted the boy. He had written two full pages all about Willy the worm and they’d not been able to get to write more than a few words over the last two years. That filled my heart with pure joy and I hope he always remembers my visit and continues to enjoy writing and the endless possibilities that can come with a story.
My third favourite memory is linked to my newest book Willow and her Magic Owl Pillow, this book is about music and dance. It has its very own playlist which I play whilst I read the story. I love seeing the children respond to the music. The very best bit of this story is doing the YMCA with the children (and the teachers). They go bananas for it and I reckon I have had over 300 children doing the YMCA at various schools.
Introducing the children to different types of music and dance including Jazz and Rock n Roll is just brilliant. I am also always inspired by the children’s responses when they say things like, “Oh my Grandad likes Elvis”. This book’s key message is always dance like nobody is watching. I ask the children to repeat it and to remember it at their school disco. I ask them to always remember the saying and to never feel self-conscious when there is dancing to be had, (I remember not dancing at my school disco, I wanted to so much but I was so worried everyone was watching so I’m on a crusade with this one to get all children dancing).
I had a fantastic World Book Day/Week last year, there were two Rachel Rats from Rats on Roller-skates, one Willow from The Troll of Trafalgar Square and this year I have a few people who said they will be going as the magic owl from the third story. I cannot tell you how much it meant to have children dressed up as the characters from my books. I was beyond proud.
This World Book Day I am booked to visit a school to do a Bedtime story session. The children will come back to school at 5pm in their pyjamas (I can’t wait). Luckily it’s in the evening so I can go after my TA job as it falls on a Thursday. I work with Year 1 and Year 3 and I just adore being with the children but I also adore my Friday’s for school visits and writing (and a spot of housework boo hiss!).
Before Christmas I did a library tour and a few Christmas school visits with my festive story The Troll of Trafalgar Square. I am currently writing the sequel called The Trolls of Trafalgar Square. The first story ends with the little troll getting back to Norway then his two cheeky cousins make sure they are on the next tree bound for London adventures of their own. This story links to the Norwegian Christmas tree that has been sent every year since 1947. The tree is a symbol of friendship between Norway and England and it stems back to the help and friendship England gave to Norway during WW2. At the Christmas themed school visits the children had to draw a picture of what the trolls Dunfo and Stonely could look like and what might happen in the sequel. Their imaginations flowed and they came up with many great ideas and some fabulous illustrations of the trolls.
School visits make me smile from ear to ear; I love the enthusiasm, the randomness and the chats with the teachers in the staff room (I always feel so excited to be in the “sacred” staff room). At each school visit I make the children repeat, “Follow your dreams!” They all do and promise me that they will. I do often feel guilty when they say their dream is to be a fairy or a mermaid but I’m sure you can buy something online that can achieve that.
I was lucky enough to receive a big batch of letters from a year 2 class visit, the children told me I had left them feeling so inspired with Rats on Roller Skates that they’d written their very own stories; my favourite was Monkies on Motorbikes! The absolute best letter said, “You told me to follow my dreams and I have been and I always will!” How awesome is that?
I am on cloud nine and hope to have many more school visits in 2018 and continue on my journey inspiring children who in turn inspire me.
Why I translated my Getting Ready To Go To Big SchoolBook Into Other Languages By Gradle Gardner Martin
I was born in Greenwich and grew up in Southwark, two very diverse London Boroughs and I am very glad to call London my home. The London boroughs are all unique in their own ways, with children from many backgrounds who speak many languages in their homes. The last census highlighted London’s diversity by showing more than 100 different languages being spoken in each London borough. So, it is important that children’s books reflect this cultural linguistic legacy.
I did not go about writing Emit the Multi Coloured Lion and Erica Get Ready to Go to Big School with the sense that I would translate it into other home languages. I wrote Emit & Erica as a resource to help support the communication between a child and caregiver when it is time to start school. I hoped that such a story could enrich the diverse communities within London. But I knew straight away that by only providing my book in English I would be adding to the hurdles and boundaries that some families experience. This I knew especially as someone who comes from a diverse community and who has worked with diversity as a London based social worker.
As a young child, my first reading books were stories of Fairy folk lore, the dictionary, and nursery rhymes borrowed from the library. I listened to my older sisters reading and began reading myself. I don’t remember my mother reading to me from books, she read labels from food products, medicine labels, newspapers and magazines. I watched TV, listened to music on the radio and records on the record player in our home. That is how I learned to read and recite things. I didn’t go to nursery or attend any preschool classes, I went straight to primary school. My mother was a single parent who came to England from Jamaica in the 1950’s. I can understand most forms of Jamaican Patois which was also spoken in our home as well as English, but cannot read it as there were no suitable books for me to read it as a child.
My story of learning to read is probably typical of my generation; born in the 60’s of working class parents who came to England and lived during difficult times. Not dissimilar to most working class children whose families have lived in London for generations. But is this going on now? Do children really not have books written in their first language, that they can enjoy reading with their parents? What we also know is that the meta skills evident in, and relevant to, reading is pan-linguistic, even if they are not pan- socio/cultural. This means that if a child is reading a book with their parent in any language they are acquiring the skills that are relevant to this activity.
The time that I grew up in was very different to our current knowledge about why children and parents should be encouraged to read and develop together. We know that there is a major connection between reading at home and language learning for children. We know that this gives better outcomes for children and for families. By providing enriching resources at the preschool level we can as writers and educationalists have a profound effect on the achievements of many young children.
Polish was the first language I translated Emit and Erica my starting school book into. I also was fully aware that of the London’s 32 boroughs, 7 of them have Polish as listed as the second most commonly spoken language (Barnet, Bromley, Ealing, Lewisham, Merton, Richmond and Wandsworth). A good friend of mine has parents who escaped persecution in communist Poland and settled in England in the 1940s as children. She and her family have a Polish heritage and speak Polish, she went to Polish school and learned to read and write Polish from a young age. Not every child whose parents first language is not English can go to a school which teaches their first language, not every parent would want to do this or can afford this. So, making children’s books available in a variety of languages will not only help a child to read, it will also help a child grow into who they are.
We benefit from child development researchers helping us to understand that we have multi - faceted, shifting identifies that start as children and that this is complex and includes gender, religion, socio - economic status, language, and ethnicity. Translating certain books in languages for children and their parents is a key step in supporting home school communication and child attainment and good child development. Making a child’s early years all about positivity, engagement, and self-esteem.
I have translated Emit the Multi Coloured Lion and Erica Get Ready to Go to Big Schoolinto Somali, Portuguese, Polish, French, Arabic, Spanish and Igbo with the intention of further translations as soon as possible.
Dinosaur Douglas Books
(How a cheeky dinosaur is helping young children look after their health)
I am a children’s author with over 35 books, published by various publishers. including Walker Books, OUP, MacMillan and Hachette, translated and sold around the world. I became author/publisher a few years ago, after I met Kate Barnard, Consultant in Paediatric Dentistry at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital.
Kate told me that almost one-third of five year olds and half of eight year olds have fillings or missing teeth caused by decay, and the most common cause of hospital admission in primary school children each year is dental decay and infection; 26,000 children aged five-nine needed emergency dental surgery last year.
Kate wanted an inexpensive book that would make children realize the importance of brushing their teeth. It needed to be available to as many children and parents as possible, including people on low income and those who didn’t go into bookshops.
Kate and I met many times and Dinosaur Douglas and the Beastly Bugs took shape, finally becoming a fun, rhyming story about a cheeky dinosaur.
Alex Godwin, international artist and street painter, who had painted the streets of London, Berlin, South Africa and beyond, had long wanted to illustrate a children’s book. I sent her the story. She sent back some sketches. We loved them.
Why did I choose to self-publish this book?
Having worked in publishing as editor and commissioning editor of children’s and adult books, I was aware that no publisher would commission a book about teeth, written in rhyme, with an unknown illustrator. Most picture books are beautifully produced hardbacks with international appeal; they become paperbacks once they have proved to sell well as hardbacks.
Publishers usually send picture books abroad for printing as it’s less expensive. I wanted to keep the project local. A friendly Hammersmith printer advised me on format, paper quality, spine, cover and print-run, keeping costs to a minimum.
With the aim of getting the book into all local nurseries and reception classes, I approached local businesses for sponsorship. A dentist, architect, chemist, hardware store and others were interested. An estate agent challenged me, “If you are doing this for the local community, why isn’t the council backing you?”
I had already approached the council several times, without success. Now I had one more try. My proposal bounced from one councilor’s office to another and finally landed on the Senior Public Health Officer’s desk – and I received a phone call.
I dabbled with writing on and off for almost ten years before I decided to follow the route of self-publishing. I had been made redundant from my job just before having my baby and she was now four months old. I really thought if not now - then when?!
YouTube is a life saver because any question I seemed to have about self-publishing, someone had kindly made a video on that subject – perfect! I researched CreateSpace and Lulu and a few other self-publishing platforms before deciding which to use.
I will not lie, self-publishing is a challenge but this was my process in seven steps;
Literally that was it. It sounds pretty simple but because it was my first attempt at really doing this on my own, there was a lot to learn and I felt very exposed. As my daughter was so young I was very sleep deprived and the fact that I, or no one I was in contact with at the time, knew how to do this I was so anxious about getting it wrong.
Luckily for me during this time two things kept me going;
1.The fear of not trying at all was so much greater than not trying while I was given the chance.
2.That and the comforting feeling of ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’
The worst-case scenarios that I could imagine were
That second scenario scared me, so I did it.
Nine months after publishing my book and getting into the rhythm of finding events to attend and local stockists I was asked to take part in the ‘Can’t put it down’ festival. I had decided that after the reading, it would be nice for the children to colour in pictures from the story. As the theme of my story is around sharing I thought that it would also be nice for the children (and adults!) to have the chance to make a friendship bracelet for someone special. I chose two activities that I enjoy and that I felt comfortable with. I also thought would be able to keep children entertained in small groups and individually.
Just over a week before the event ordering more copies of my book went horribly wrong and the sleepless nights with my daughter reared their ugly head. The overwhelming feeling of doing things wrong came back and after lots of tears I emailed Jo and cancelled my slot in the festival. Jo (who was organising the event) was very understanding and luckily, after the ‘all hope is lost’ feeling I managed to pull a few strings here and there to get enough books to bring to the event – Phew!
So - on a very rainy August afternoon I read my story The Butterfly Princess to a room full of lovely children accompanied by their grownups. The highlight of my day was definitely a little girl who came dressed as a butterfly with enthusiasm that matched her beautifully bright wings. It was such a special moment to look around the room to see everyone engaged. The children loved the colouring activities, got very involved with creating their bracelets and even enjoyed watching their bracelets come together as their parents looped away. The adults loved making the friendship bracelets just as much as the children. The inventive ways of holding and looping thread was such a wonderful sight. Some of the parents even asked for more thread to try again at home. It was really nice to know that the children would continue to share a one to one moment with a grownup learning a new craft.
The book follows Kemi, a black girl with big, curly, kinky afro hair, as she gets her hair done on wash day. As aware as I was of how important the topic of the book was for children in accepting and appreciating the beauty in their hair, I didn’t realise just how much it was needed for more than that. Love Thy Fro was needed because it represented children that aren’t always represented in mainstream children’s books.
This realisation made me realise there was work to be done, and I decided I wanted to play a part in doing the work to make that change.
Diverse children’s books are needed now more than ever, especially given the society we live in. To be diverse is to be inclusive, and why wouldn’t we want all children to be included in literature?
Many people often think that when we talk about diversity, we’re only talking about race. As important as race is, diversity relates to so much more than just that; household structures, disability and health, culture, religion, language. There is diversity within all of these things and more, and children's books should be representative of the different children from all of these worlds.
There are a number of benefits to children that come from diversity and inclusion in books. Children feel like a part of society and don’t feel excluded. Children are able to learn about, and appreciate, other cultures and people from different backgrounds. As children see images they can relate to, they begin to feel more valued which helps to raise their self-esteem and confidence. And they become more aspirational as they aspire to be like the images they see.
When you look at the benefits and what diversity really means, it seems so simple, so the fact that much of mainstream publishing isn’t embracing it is quite baffling. People often mistakenly think books that embrace diversity are only for children from diverse backgrounds but that shouldn’t be the case. For decades, children have managed to make a connection to characters from primarily white backgrounds in popular books, so there’s no reason why connections can’t be made to children from non-white backgrounds. These books that embrace diversity are for everyone, even more so than those that don’t.
Diversity educates. It inspires. It gives a greater understanding. It’s inclusive. It's our role, as authors, publishers, parents, teachers and librarians to make sure that diverse literature is brought to the forefront of publishing.
Book reviews are like gold dust to authors, particularly to unknown authors. They are so important to me that I dedicated a whole page at the back of my latest book (EATS) practically begging for readers to review it AND I gave away several FREE copies of the book, paying for the postage and everything. I am always hungry for reviews, looking for ways to increase my review numbers on Goodreads and Amazon and I appeal to you all now, reading these words - go review the book you have just read, it really makes a difference.
Nothing on this Earth will make you want to read a book other than someone you know (who has the same taste as you) raving about it. No point raving about David Walliams or Roald Dahl, rave about an unknown, rave about a book that needs a push, a little helping hand. Rave about my books, *winks, but means it really*!
It’s not just about doing a good turn for an author, giving them a tip, like the hardworking waiting staff they are, it is also the ‘feel good factor’. It’s free, costs you nothing, but a little time and the benefits to the author are incredible. What a rush it is to feel you’ve helped. The star ratings on Amazon and Goodreads really work - it’s something about algorithms that’s beyond me, but it makes a big difference. It also helps to get good books into the hands of children who might otherwise be reluctant readers, boosting children’s literacy, now we’re all for that, right? The other benefit is if you’re an author and you review books, other authors will review yours. One good turn… blah blah.
You don’t need to write reams - in fact, definitely don’t write reams. Leave that to book bloggers. Write a paragraph or two, write a sentence, just write: Great! but give it some stars. I review every book I like (I only write negative reviews if the book is already massively successful or I have been asked to write a review and I always warn the author first), or I ask my children for their thoughts. You can read my reviews on Goodreads if you like: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/50098246-camilla-chester?sort=review&view=reviews. I don’t review on my website blog, but I do post up what I am reading now and again.
I’m just getting ready for a talk at Hounslow Library in West London and it reminded me that I promised to share a few tips about events promoting books.
There are two books in the Tigeropolis series, with a third underway. The stories are targeted at ‘confident readers’, 8-12 and tell the story of a family of vegetarian tigers living in the foothills of the Himalayas who are battling to save their beloved forest (Tigeropolis) from the developers’ encroaching bulldozers. The books are humourous, but with an underlying conservation theme, and loosely (very loosely) based on my experiences of conservation in India.
My first ever promotional book event was at a local primary school. The Literacy Coordinator had asked if I would do a short talk at a morning assembly for World Book Day.
I decided that rather than talk too much about the books I should focus on what inspired me to write the series; describing my first encounter with a tiger, interspersed with a few tiger facts and then finish with a short reading from the book. In Tigeropolis the tigers have forgotten how to be wild and need to re-learn old skills, so the piece I chose to read describes how they learnt to roar again. It was a bit intimidating faced with 350 children aged 5 – 12, many dressed as tigers, but thankfully it seems they did genuinely have an interest in tigers and stayed engaged throughout. At the end they also liked to show that they too knew how to roar!
So, what tips can I pass on?
Number 1 - Establish exactly what your host organisation wants, but also make sure they really know what you can offer.
As I’ve said my books are based on tiger conservation, so I’m also able to talk more generally about tigers and conservation. Some schools therefore ask me to go round individual year groups as well as do a general talk to an Assembly talking about a range of issues. This of course adds considerably to the time commitment, but it can be very interesting – and also challenging, as some of the questions can be quite tough.
Number 2 - Try to involve the audience.
I always try to get the audience to answer questions and to talk about their own experience with tigers in zoos, safari parks, etc. Sometimes I get them to vote on the possible plot ideas I have for the current book I’m working on. And of course, the roaring practice at the end usually works out well as an exercise in audience participation.
Number 3 - Leave time for Q&As.
This is always a highlight for me – although you do find that quite a few children are so focussed on asking their own question that they haven’t noticed that their question has already been asked 3 times. There are only so many different ways you can answer ‘what inspired you to write the book? ’ without repeating yourself too obviously.
Number 4 - Have realistic expectations about how many book sales will be generated.
It may seem obvious but it’s worth repeating – most primary school children do not carry significant quantities of spare cash, or have credit cards, therefore you will either have to get the school to organise pre-sales (advance notes to parents/guardians and sort out paperwork and cash collection), or rely on a brief window of opportunity at the end of the day when parents/guardians are collecting their children. So you need to establish how any sales opportunity will work and it’s most certainly worth trying to make it as easy as possible for the school to encourage pre-ordering. My most successful event so far enabled me to sell just over 100 books (all pre-sales), the least successful was about 15 (and that was when selling at the end of the school day). I should mention, by the way, signing and individually dedicating one hundred books takes quite a bit of time – indeed an entire lunch hour, and then some.
Number 5 - If you are using props, videos or Powerpoint you need to have a back-up plan when it all goes wrong.
And trust me, things do go wrong. Projectors might be missing connector leads, power sockets may be in the wrong place, supply teachers might not know passwords, there can also be problematic acoustics, or lighting, or simply just not having enough space (especially in books shops). Mostly you don’t have the time/opportunity to do a recce – you just have to turn up, take 10 mins to set up and then you’re on. I usually WeTranfer my presentation ahead of time – partly to enable the teachers/shop staff to have a bit more of an idea of what I’m going to say and also to encourage them to have things set up before I arrive – nonetheless I have my presentation on a laptop, a memory stick and I can also run it off my iPhone if necessary. I even have some of the key slides printed out on an A3 flip chart, just in case.
Number 6 - Confirm arrangements a couple of days before you turn up and make sure you have a contact name.
Whilst the school might quite like having you there, it quickly becomes clear you are not the key thing on most people’s minds – and especially at the start of the school day, so you need to know who is expecting you and how to contact them. I also must admit on at least one occasion I, myself, forgot all about the fact I was doing a talk the next day – luckily I glanced at my calendar just before going to bed and suddenly realised I needed to be at a school for 8.30 the next morning on the other side of London.
Number 7 - Don’t do it if you don’t enjoy it.
It’s fun – but it’s hard work – you are on show for at least an hour (and possibly all day) and people expect you to perform throughout that time. That said, it’s also clear children really do like the idea of an ‘author’ visiting them, so that’s always a nice thought to have at the back of your mind as you munch your way through the school lunch you might be lucky enough to be offered just before you go on.
Oh, and finally, if, like me, you are going to ask 300 children to roar simultaneously, and full throated, take my advice and bring some earplugs!
Tigeropolis – Beyond the Deep Forest and
Tigeropolis – The Grand Opening are published by Belle Media
Check out my new Children's picture book (4+) out now: Captain Bobo
The manuscript for A Year in the Life of Brack, my first self-published illustrated children’s book, was ready. Phew! I had already made contact with Matador.
Then came the crucial issue of choosing an illustrator.
Yes, it’s a self-published book but it needed to stand alongside the mainstream publishers. I’m OK at art but I knew that my book illustration efforts would not give a good impression. I definitely needed a professional. Someone who could illustrate in a way that would match the humour and quirkiness of characters in the story. I was looking for someone with a lively sense of colour whose illustrations would stand out. Where to find this person?
I looked through as many illustrated children’s books as I could and jotted down some names of illustrators whose style I liked. I searched the internet for their names. It turned out that they happened to be fairly up-market illustrators, but I thought, what have I got to lose? You can imagine, I guess. A lot! The fees they charged were way out my league.
I was stuck. I talked to Matador and they gave me the following advice.
Try Art Colleges, or Universities with Art Departments, they often have very talented students. Try to find someone local, then you’ll have the chance to meet and discuss your ideas. Decide if you want graphically designed, or hand-drawn illustrations? Bare in mind, they said, that hand-drawn illustrations will probably take longer.
In the meantime, I had to decide where, and how many, illustrations there should be. I decided to pinpoint the main events in the story, scenes which would have a dramatic effect. There were over twenty possibilities. (In the end I had to reduce the number, due to costs). As I was writing the story I visualised the events, the scenes, the characters, their reactions and their expressions. I wanted to place the illustrations evenly across the book, although, I don’t think I achieved this in Brack. Next time..!
Back on the internet, I searched for children’s illustrators based in the Midlands. I found Anna’s name, looked at her work on her website, liked what I saw and got in touch. I sent her the manuscript – with descriptions of the illustration suggestions interspersed in the text. she liked the story and we agreed to meet up.
We got on well, and that’s always a good start. She showed me some examples of her work. The vibrant colours and happy feel to her illustrations appealed to me and I thought they would suit the story well. We discussed timeframe and costs. She told me that she hand-draws her work. We talked about style, colours, characters etc. She went away and did a trial illustration of Brack, which I loved, and so we decided to work together.
In a nutshell. Find an illustrator whose style fits your story, your budget and your timeframe. Someone who communicates regularly and promptly. Someone who is open to suggestions and is prepared to adjust. Drawing up a contract between the parties is a good idea, although Anna and I managed quite well without one. I would say that regular communication and flexibility are key to achieving results.
Check out Anna Landmane's website here:
For a long time now, I have been teaching both children and adults, and I found in all those years that the one thing to get over, in drawing, is the lack of confidence.
Show somebody they can draw something, and the world is their oyster.
When I was teaching young children in after -school art, I soon realised that some children drew naturally, and some did not. I searched for books which showed them how to draw objects in a simple way. There weren’t any. Those who couldn’t draw had to content themselves with colouring- in or sticker books .
So I decided to do my own.
I demonstrated in a simple way that every object can be broken down into shapes . I used a bar under the step- by -step drawing to indicate to the young artist as to what they should do next. For example with a face, the clue would be a circle and then next two circles for eyes.
I was also particularly interested in showing that before one starts drawing, the pencil is held in a relaxed manner. I decided the first few pages should address this problem. Many children and adults press hard, too quickly, and this determines the end result far too early.
A drawing should evolve with many lines, so the artist can choose which of the many they have sketched is the one they want. After a while they may use one line, but not by “trying too hard” and making an indentation in the paper.
Also I have endeavoured to show the shape within the shape. (For instance the circle in the sun). Once the trick is learned it can be applied to any object . This shows the young artist how to approach drawing for rest of their drawing career.
I had a collection of sheets which I had used with children over the years, and pretty much had the whole book in rough form waiting to be produced. These were subjects they had been requesting ( e.g. a castle, a helicopter etc.)
Adults who could not draw for the younger generation , now could , and children who thought they couldn’t, now have the confidence to give it a go!
My first drawing experience that I remember, was when I was five, at school in Pretoria , South Africa. I realised I could not draw as well as my peers in the class. I remember being devastated, and asking my friend Patricia how do I do it? She tried to help, but she was only 5 !
I was in my second year at university before I felt I could draw as well as I could paint. This is because no one throughout my school career ever taught me the basics. I have come across many people whose confidence was undermined by negative experience in their early creativity, from teachers or peers. I see my challenge as overcoming the fear of a blank sheet of paper.
So I had the book, but only in rough form. I then needed a picture book editor and designer. Susan Reuben, the picture book editor, suggested I divide the book into sections, each section culminating in a finished coloured picture incorporating the previous section.
I find this invaluable as most children are never sure where to put the horizon line, or how to arrange the images.
I met Irene Malvezi, the graphic designer, while were exhibiting at “The Untitled Artists Fair” in Chelsea, London, and she was immediately captivated by my ideas for the book “Draw Water and Other Things”. She jumped at the chance to “do something worthwhile”. Since then she has retired from graphic design. Irene’s new challenge now, is a Masters Degree in Art Psychotherapy.
She magicked my rough drawings into a beautiful book. I am forever grateful to her.
I decided to publish on my own, after a short period with an American publisher.
I now have a publishing name, linked to my logo
www.patopress.com Pato means duck in Spanish and Portuguese. (Irene is from Brazil)
It is hard work doing it on my own, but it can be very rewarding.
I have done numerous workshops at Waterstones. The staff always remark how quiet they are!
My next how to draw book Draw Queens , Kings and
All Things Royal is on sale at the Royal Collection shop.
The ecological books Elly’s Adventure in the Animal Park and Elly’s Adventure Down by the Sea are written and illustrated by me.
Each time I have had the immensely invaluable advice from Susan Reuben.
I advise anyone setting out to publish, to make sure they get a good editor.
I also strongly advise membership of the Society of Authors. They have been so helpful to me on many occasions and they also have interesting and useful lectures and workshops.
My printers for the first three books were extremely helpful, but of course this is an expense. I am experimenting with Print on Demand (through Createspace). They have printed all my translated books. (9 translations of Elly’s Adventure in the Animal Park )
My latest POD book Elly’s Adventure Down by the Sea is with Ingrams. I am not having much sales success with it, and am still trying to work out why!