I'm very happy to talk about the books and the whole business of being a writer - where ideas come from, how I plan a book, how I structure my day. I tell stories about my pet pig, about working at the zoo and performing with Storybox Theatre so that my author visits are fun as well as instructive. I can cope with large audiences (500 +) as well as single class-sized groups. I also run creative writing workshops although these require more planning and teacher input and can usually only be done with small groups. I'm always open to suggestions and ideas but generally speaking it works like this:
1) For PRIMARY SCHOOLS
I usually do a full day. That means an hour session with Y5&6, and Y3&4, with a shorter one (40 minutes) for Y1&2. It also involves a 20 minute storytime with Reception (and Nursery, if there is one). For Y1&2 the emphasis is on the Flotsam and Jetsam books. The characters were based on Storybox Theatre's production of The Fisherman and his Wife so I bring along the large carved puppets we used in the show and tell them the original story. I chat to the children about the seaside and what can be found on the beach and finish with a short reading from the books. Teachers can follow up with a driftwood sculpture workshop if they wish. A pair of googly eyes on a stick looks fantastic topped with a wig of dried seaweed!
With Y3 & 4 I tell stories about my pet pig (who was the inspiration for my first published book 100% Pig) and teach children how to tame a hog. I talk about my two children and my dogs - a pair of very badly behaved, slightly smelly Labradors - who were the role models for Sam Swann and Watson in Zombie Dawn!!! With Y5&6 I talk about monsters, magic, movies and murder. The ten Poppy Fields books (starting with Mondays are Murder) and the story behind how I came to write a series of murder mysteries always goes down well.
2) For SECONDARY SCHOOLS
With Y7&8 I also start with the murder mysteries, then talk about Apache, The Goldsmith's Daughter, Buffalo Soldier, Hell and High Water and Beyond the Wall - how I came to write the books, the historical background to them, the importance of research, the vital role of an editor. I also touch on Useless, Two Words and Passing for White. I cover where ideas come from - which usually includes a few stories about my pet pig and my time at the zoo. So although some of the subject matter is very serious, I always begin on a light, entertaining note - that way I engage the audience before hitting them between the eyes with the grim facts. For Y9 who are studying slavery as part of their GCSE history syllabus, and for Sixth Formers who are covering US history and the American Civil War I can talk in detail about the historical background to Buffalo Soldier.
CREATIVE WRITING SESSIONS
I've done sessions for both primary and secondary school pupils on all sorts of themes - creating characters, devising plots, choosing a distinctive voice. I've visited castles with groups of children who then write ghost stories, and sat in classes with strange objects from the local museum spinning tales about what they might be used for. Anything is possible - I'm always open to ideas - but do bear in mind that these sessions take more planning and require more teacher input than an simple author visit.
* For ages 7 to adult
MURDEROUSLY GOOD PLOTS
With a handy flipchart and eye-poppingly gruesome suggestions from the children we devise our very own murder mystery. It's great fun, but it's also a fantastic way of getting pupils to think about planning and structure.
* For 9+
TALKS FOR ADULTS
Books are Dangerous - why else would every repressive regime throughout history have banned them? The talk I give to librarians, teacher, teacher trainees and anyone else who's prepared to listen to me attempts to answer the question of why books are vitally important to a healthy society. Reading is not a luxury. Books - unlike any other art form - take the reader right inside someone else's head. They allow us to engage with others no matter what cultural differences divide us. They stimulate thought and ignite the imagination. Imagination in turn develops the capacity for empathy. Fellow feeling. How much anti-social behaviour stems from a lack of it?
"Your talk was the most entertaining author talk I have ever been to. (And I've been a school librarian for 20 years so I've been to a few)." C.Marsh, Christopher Whitehead Language College
"The whole day was such a success, and the enthusiasm and inspiration you generated were amazing. Staff and students have sought me out to say how much they enjoyed it and to pass on their thanks to you. One of our new teachers said it was the best day she has ever spent in a school!" M.Wiggins, Ryde Academy.
"I just wanted to say how hugely my 9 yr old daughter enjoyed your talk last week. For a 20 minute journey after school I re- lived all the drama, envy, humour and of course, PIG! Maeve was sparkly eyed, pacy and full of smiles as she recounted her experience. She obviously loved it. Thank you." Darragh Turley
"We are writing to thank you for your sparkling contribution to the festival last week and to say that your impact on the young people and the adults was really quite marked. Not only did you charm and engage them, you inspired them.... Thank you for being involved, and for your inspiring contribution. Your impact on young writers and readers cannot be underestimated." Ray Speakman, West Midlands Gifted and Talented Partnership
TO ARRANGE A VISIT
For UK schools I charge £525 a day (for up to three hour long sessions), £425 for a half day (two sessions), and £325 for a single talk - plus travel/accommodation (if required) but this is negotiable - for small groups and tiny schools I'm happy to do a special rate.
If you're interested in a visit, e-mail me at email@example.com