Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Stand and Deliver, 2: Before your visit and Engaging with your audience

For this sequel to the Stand and Deliver workshop, Children’s Books Ireland and the Farmleigh Writer in Residence programme invited poet Enda Wyley and Conor Kostick (novelist and writer in said residence) for an intensive afternoon in Farmleigh’s Old Kitchen last Saturday.

The group of about 15 new writers was split in 2, according to the age-group for which they write. Being a younger-audience person, I joined Enda and half a dozen others to discuss tips and tricks for organising, delivering and surviving meetings with children.
First of all, let's remind ourselves of the whole point of meeting with young readers as a writer: The main thing is to leave your audience with the desire to read any book and with a sense of the writing world. Right, so now, how to achieve this? It’s a long way, so I’ve divided it up in 5 steps. (And 2 posts)

Ask the organiser of the event a few key questions: how many children will attend, how old will they be, where will the event take place, will the kids have read the book in advance, etc. If you’re uncomfortable with anything, feel free to make suggestions to the organisers.

Write up a script for your session. Think of it in blocks of time. How long for the intro? How long for the reading? The Q&A? the activities?...

Make sure you have everybody’s contact and if necessary a map of where you’re going.

Bring your stuff: from notes, to props and bottled water. And don’t forget your book!

With kids of all ages, two traps (equally dangerous) await you:
1) the Lull: when a restlessness sets in, it’s a hint: they’re getting bored
2) the Over-Excitement: when a restlessness sets in, it’s a sign: they’re hyper.
In both cases, a change of rhythm is called for: insert a calm-down session or a wake-up call. Get them to sing a song, recite a nursery rhyme, wriggle their toes, shout the three rules of Vampiracy (only if you’re Justin Somper and have actually invented said rules, but you get the point), etc. This should hopefully reboot the whole machine and allow you to continue.

Ask them questions and praise them for good answers.

Be definitive. You know your book, you know how you got to this stage, show it. Your audience will then feel confident that you’re the person to answer their questions at the end of the session.

Bring props if you have them. From your personal notebook where you jot down ideas, to the first story you ever wrote aged 7. Show the kids how a book is made, from A4 sheets of text to lay-out to cover illustration proposals to the finished product.

If you can, imagine activities around your book. Get the children to draw something (Patricia Forde has a great technique to make them draw a collective monster), to read something (Jane Mitchell asks them to read aloud real testimonies from children soldiers), etc.

The personal stuff can be very engaging when relevant. Tell them if it was a struggle becoming a writer. Tell them about that spooky house you visited when you were 10 and wrote a novel about when you were 30. Tell them about working in a fish factory during your summer holydays. Tell them stories. About yourself and your book.
(Read on to the next post for Reading from your book, Q&As and Post-Visit.)

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