Showing posts with label events and school visits. Show all posts
Showing posts with label events and school visits. Show all posts

Monday, 4 March 2019

Out of my depth in Cambodia - Ciaran Murtagh

One of the perks of my job is that I get to travel.

I am currently in Cambodia working with children and encouraging them to think creatively – something that, not that many years ago, would have got you removed to a detention centre.

It’s always inspiring to come to places like this. The vivacity of the children and the desire to learn and progress is a joy to behold. Many know just how much their parents have sacrificed in order to give them opportunities that they and previous generations did not have. They don’t want to waste any of it.

However, every day I am reminded that the same is not the case for every child in this country. It’s depressing, that travelling as a single white man of a certain age in this country comes with certain assumptions. I learned that telling anyone I was here to speak to children gives a VERY wrong impression.

It’s easy to be downhearted by the plight of so many in this country, and the difference in wealth is stark. However, as I visited the Killing Fields I was treated to the sound of children playing in the school yard next door. In this monument to past atrocities, the sound of hope for the future rang out. We should not forget that within my life time, schools were being converted into torture centres here. The fact that there’s any hope at all should be celebrated.

As I make my way home, one incident will stay with me for a long time. Last night I wandered out of the city and found a fairground. There was a tacky looking house of horrors attraction – you basically walked through a dark maze while ‘ghosts’ shouted boo. However, as I wandered about in the dark, it became clear to the teenage, minimum wage ‘ghosts’ that I wasn’t the usual customer – I was a white European – and instead of saying ‘boo’ I got, ‘hello, where are you from?’ and ended up with curious ghosts, Frankenstein monsters and vampires trailing me through the attraction asking me about the colour of my hair and whether I knew Lady Gaga.

It was symbolic of everything I’ve found out here. Young people want to learn, they want to ask questions and they want to get on. They didn’t see me as an outsider to be feared, they saw me as an opportunity for them to learn.

In a world increasingly divided by adults, let’s hope the kids protesting climate change, gun laws and yes, asking questions of a man they meet in a haunted house, prevail. I have a feeling they will, in a way the fact that I am able to come here at all proves that they have. 

Apologies for the lack of pics... normal service will resume next time.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

It happens in translation – Clémentine Beauvais

A few days ago I was doing a literary translation workshop with French teenagers in London, using as my English text a slice of Elizabeth Acevedo’s splendid, National-Book-Award-Winning The Poet X, which I’ve had the pleasure (/honour/ insane luck) of translating into French.

Image result for elizabeth acevedo the poet x

Elizabeth Acevedo, in case you haven’t heard of her, is this remarkable spoken word poet and writer:

The Poet X is the Künstlerroman of a young Dominican-American woman who discovers spoken word poetry, rebels (selectively) against her family, loves her brother, and loves, too, a sensitive young man in her Biology class. She writes in a notebook, and she writes things about her everyday life, such as church, food, masturbation, and street harassment:

It happens when I'm at bodegas.
It happens when I'm at school.
It happens when I'm on the train.
It happens when I'm standing on the platform.
It happens when I'm sitting on the stoop.
It happens when I'm turning the corner.
It happens when I forget to be on guard.
It happens all the time.)

This is the poem I asked the French teenagers to translate (well, only the first stanza – we only had an hour). As you can guess, there’s plenty of fascinating challenges for a translator there, and we always begin by reading the poem out loud, testing out different stresses, different rhythms, feeling the beats and letting the sounds fill our mouths, before we start making decisions about translation. I won’t focus on all the aspects in this blog post, but I want to talk about one particularly interesting thing that came out of the exercise.

The first stanza, obviously, makes striking use of the anaphora ‘It happens’. What is ‘it’ that happens? It’s alluded to in the next stanza – touching, allusions, compliments. The usual catcalling and groping sort of business.

How do you translate that into French? Well, there’s at least one absolutely literal translation: ‘Ca arrive’ (it happens). The problem is the hiatus (a hiatus is what happens when you have to force a break between two similar-sounding vowels): Ca-arrive. That a-a sounds fairly unpleasant to the ear – this is what I think secretly, but of course I say nothing to the teenagers ; it’s my opinion. But among the six groups that day, no one opted for ‘Ca arrive’.

Two groups opted for the next most literal option, ‘Ca m’arrive’ (It happens to me), which has the advantage of getting rid of the hiatus. Interestingly, this option makes the victim explicitly central in the French text – no way of avoiding this ‘m’ which explodes from the front of the mouth and provides a nice labial echo to the ‘haPpens’ in the English version. Full disclosure, this is the one I picked for my own translation, too.

Another table chose, interestingly, not to translate ‘It happens’ at all. Instead, they started every single line directly with ‘Quand’ (when). The effect was funny: the stanza becomes a bit of a riddle, to be solved in the very last line. ‘When I’m there, when I’m there, when I’m there, when I’m there… It happens’. More suspense, but less emphasis on the relentlessness of the harassment.

Another group opted for the hugely alliterative ‘Ca se passe’ (pronounced ‘Sasspass’), which more or less means ‘It happens’. I like this solution, which sounds like hissing, and preserves the plosive ‘P’ of ‘haPPens’. It is perhaps the closest to the source text in both meaning and effect. I had considered it (and am still considering it) for my translation.

Another group, finally, had an idea I hadn’t considered at all, and which I find especially interesting. It is to begin each line with ‘Ils le font’, namely, ‘They do it’ (with the ‘ils’ explicitly male in French). Complete change of focus all of a sudden: the perpetrators are at the very beginning of the line, of each line. The impersonal ‘it happens’, which makes it sound like it’s some kind of unavoidable meteorological phenomenon, suddenly acquires a body (even several bodies: a threatening army of bodies); it acquires malevolent agency, and it acquires a gender. 

A radical solution, which arguably lacks elegance in its sounds, but strongly signals the translator’s commitment to naming and blaming the perpetrators. Before you ask, the table who came up with this solution was composed exclusively of boys.

What a world of connotations separates ‘Ca m’arrive’, which focuses Acevedo’s text onto the victim, ‘Ca se passe’, which renders the impersonal inevitability of the original, and ‘Ils le font’, which foregrounds the harassers.

All three solutions are acceptable, and all commit the translator differently. Those little decisional acts we perform on a text we translate are what makes a translation a literary practice, and a practice through which words have an effect on the world. Each of those three poems would have a different effect on the world, because they each focalise our attention differently. 

Three ways of looking at street harassment. And I was of three minds.


Clémentine Beauvais is a writer and literary translator. Her YA novels in English are Piglettes (Pushkin, 2017) and In Paris with You (trans. Sam Taylor, Faber, 2018).

Thursday, 22 November 2018

The Freemium Author, by Dan Metcalf

A while ago I was merrily shopping in a supermarket and a voice came over the speaker system:
‘Please make your way to the deli counter for a free demonstration and a guaranteed free gift!’
Never one to pass up a freebie, I obeyed the voice from above and found myself watching a man give the performance of a lifetime while demonstrating a knife and sharpener set. I waited until the end and he gave out a small spiralizer-type gadget for turning apples into wafer-thin ribbons. Being broke, I thanked him and left, but several eager customers waited to purchase the main event, the heralded knife set.

“Where’s this going, Dan?” I hear you cry.

This last month I have been filling my time by visiting around 25 schools in what I call my ‘freemium’ tour. In an effort to gain readers for my newest book, Paw Prints in the Somme, I have been doing speaking events at assemblies in my local area. The book is set in the First World War, so tied in nicely to the commemorations of the centenary of Armistice. I offered schools the assembly for free, in return for covering travel expenses and for the chance to sell my books. I quickly filled my diary. I was welcomed at each school and I had asked them to order ahead of my visit, so I took away forms and monies on the day. I returned a week or so later to supply the books.

I know what you’re thinking – you gave your time for FREE? Isn’t that what the SoA and all right-thinking authors say NOT to do?

Well, yes. But hear me out. I will never do a full or half day visit for nothing. These were 20 minute assemblies, and I designed the business model of this experiment to be zero-risk. I covered travel expenses (a standard 45p per mile) and received book orders ahead. Then I used print-on-demand to print the books – no crazy print runs here. If a school wanted one book, I print one book. If the school wanted 100, that’s what I print. I didn’t want to pay for a 2000 copy print run and have them under my bed forever more. This way the print cost per book is slightly higher, but the risk and inconvenience is much less.

The ‘freemium’ model is widely used in many areas of business; offer a free service or product, then hook the customer with your quality and invite them to invest in a further service. In modern tech companies like Spotify, this might be a limited, advertising-supported version of the streaming service. Once they hook you with how amazing the speed, quality and convenience is, they then grab you and hook you into a premium service. Or maybe you’ve received a sample, short story or even the first in a series of books for free? This is a classic way to entice readers into your stories and brand, well known and practised in the independent publishing world.

The assemblies I offered for free were the same as the man in the shop giving away his spiralizer tools for watching his knife demonstration. It tickled the interest of some potential customers. My assemblies demonstrated my storytelling, my public speaking and great relationship with students. Of course, while I was in the school I gave them free posters and leaflets for my school visits (for which I charge full price, naturally).

When I posted a question about this tour on a private author’s facebook group, I received a few gasps of horror. I should never, ever, under any circumstances do visits for free, they said. And I understand. I don’t, much like I don’t hand out copies of my book for free. I do however do readings of my first chapters for free on my website, and amazon offers a sample of my ebooks for free. Is that the same as handing out free books? I don’t think so. I see it as a necessity to make sales.

Let’s be realistic. I’m no Neil Gaiman or Philip Pullman. I don’t have a legion of fans. I’m fairly early on in my career (hopefully) and I cannot afford to sit on my behind and wait for the sales to find me. I need to be out there, talking to readers and doing whatever I can to make my name known, which includes thinking outside of the box when it comes to author visits. I’d love to charge every school I visit, and so would my bank manager, but in reality that is going to drive them away. An unknown author for £££? No thanks! By sneaking under the radar with my freemium service, I can gain trust.

Was it worth it? Well… yes. I think so. It’s early days but I have already had one offer to be a patron of reading and several referrals to other schools (Headteachers talk. Lots.). On the cold, hard cash front, I have a healthy profit margin of 58% on anything I sell, and I can confirm that we won’t have to cancel Christmas this year. So while the big hitters of the kidlit world can charge whatever they like for visits, I’ll be innovating and testing my business model for a while to come. And you know what? I’m fine with that.

Dan Metcalf is a children's author from the south west of England. His First World War book Paw Prints in the Somme is available via 

Friday, 17 August 2018

Memory Games - Tracy Darnton

I’ve been having fun lately playing memory games as part of the promotion of The Truth About Lies and thought I’d share some of them.

First up - the memory game, or Kim’s game.  

This gets its name from Kipling’s book when Kim is taught to quickly assess the precious stones on a tray. We played this at parties when I was little - just after hunt the thimble and before pin the tail on the donkey (all part of my wild, misspent youth). I use items which appear in the book such as a postcard and lipstick, give 10 seconds and then take one away.

Kids these days are more likely to have adrenaline-rush trampolining parties so when I used it at a school book camp with Year 10s I did have to explain it, but they really enjoyed playing it. We then used the items as the basis for their own stories in a mini-workshop where each of them picked one from the tray and answered a fun set of questions about who it belonged to before putting it into a short piece of writing.

So far the prize for speedily spotting what was missing goes to the ladies at my recent trip to the Bath WI book club who had played it in childhood and were much quicker than the teenagers.

My next activity is memory pairs using the blank cards (from Tiger) which the kids can illustrate to match books and characters as pairs.
While making the cards was fun it requires a bit too much time and space to play. Lesson learnt.

I’ve also been teaching quick techniques for remembering. I wrote an article for TEEN Breathe magazine called Picture the Memory and I’ve been using that and the fab illustrations to demonstrate how to remember names, PIN numbers and lists by assigning striking images. That went down well at the WI too.

The brain and I out and about
With the help of my trusty crocheted brain all these games serve as a warm-up for discussing memory. I’ve touched on how memories are formed and recalled and are dynamic rather than a true recollection of events, how we see things through a prism of our own ego and whether we are contracting out our memory to our phones and Google etc. There is so much to talk about and people can very much contribute with their own experiences of memory and what they themselves find easy or difficult to remember.

So what have I learnt so far with the broad range of 13 to 73 year old readers I’ve engaged with?

Mainly that an activity based around your book seems to appeal to everyone, young and old, and is a good ice-breaker, if nothing else. I’ve learnt that there’s plenty to discuss about memory which can easily be tailored for the age of the participants. I should probably develop a PowerPoint which would widen what I could talk about and the potential size of the audience, maybe exploring our memory for faces and images. But so far I’ve enjoyed the more hands-on playful approach with small groups.

So how did you do at the Memory Game? No looking back, but what’s missing?

Tracy Darnton's The Truth About Lies is a YA thriller about the nature of memory. Follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyDarnton

Friday, 22 June 2018

On Promotional Events, by Dan Metcalf

Ooh, it’s a quandary, isn’t it? Whether or not to ‘launch’ your book or let it slowly slide out into the world like a beached whale getting picked up by the tide once more? Whether to tour around flogging your wares or to concentrate on getting the next thing written and letting the stories do their own marketing?

For my most recent book, Dino Wars: Rise of the Raptors, I had thought long and hard about doing a book launch; a local cafe and caterer had offered their space but frankly my imposter syndrome kicked in and I felt unworthy to hold my own party and blow my own trumpet in this way. I’ve a few books under my belt now but I’m still very much a minnow in the world of kid’s lit, so I felt uneasy launching the book to a great fanfare – and who would come?

No, I felt more comfortable (for some reason) booking a small tour of events in the May half term where I would stand in front of complete strangers and tell jokes, read parts of my book and play silly balloon games with the assembled children. I set about finding places to hold them and soon found a few Dinosaur related venues – I live in Devon, which plays up its tourist destination of the Jurassic Coast well. Soon I had book events at the Dinosaur Museum inDorchester and Torquay's Dinosaur World
Dinosaur Wolrd Torquay, With Thanks to Lyn Jolly

This is where my experiences become a cautionary tale. Yes, my choice to go to dino-related venues was undoubtedly genius, (Okay, first suggested by my wife) but they bring their own challenges. Most are small affairs and have little space in which to hold events; an event in another fossil museum was a no-go due to lack of space. Dorchester had a cinema room which they were willing to hand over to me for my hour sessions, while Torquay had to clear part of their gift shop. Also, if you’re taking up space then it may affect their footfall numbers – we did the Dorchester event while still open during the day, but made the Torquay one a ticketed event for five o’clock when the venue was closed to the public. Another challenge was the fact that museums may not have the same relationships with wholesalers that a bookshop or library might have, so it was touch-and-go whether we would have enough copies to sell.

Both were well attended, largely due to the weather; it rained in Dorchester, driving families into the indoor tourist attractions, and the patchy weather coupled with it being the end of the day and parents being desperate for something to do meant that Torquay, while not packed out, was comfortably attended. Book sales were respectable – not going to bother the New York Times Bestsellers, but the venues were happy, and retained all the stock they had bought to keep in their gift shops. This means that Dino Wars is in two more places that they would have been normally, and places where children are hungry to spend their parent’s money. My evil plan to dominate the earth is coming together. Mwuh-ha-ha-haa!

Two other events in a well-known bookshop chain (beginning with W and rhyming with Porterstones) were weather-dependent – one had a handful of attendees and sales (showers), while the other, on a gloriously hot day when the entire population was at the park, pub or beach, was sloooooow. Again though, the silver lining is that stock remained and is now on the shelf in these High Street vendors, which they would not have been otherwise.

With Thanks to Claire Barker
Another event, organised by a specialist children’s bookshop and local library, had just one attendee. It was another hot day but we had fun nonetheless. I was even told afterwards that the child had only recently gone to live with them, as he was in foster care and it was the first quality time they had spent with them, which made the visit all the more worthwhile.

The half-term events? Tough to judge – I enjoyed doing them, but I’m not sure a spring-summer holiday is the best time to hold an indoor event. You live and learn.

The negligible results of my self-organised, self-promoted week of events was put into sharp contrast when just a fortnight later I was taken ‘on tour’ by my local bookshop, the splendid Crediton Community Bookshop. Arranged by the formidable Cathie, I was picked up at my house by their schools volunteer team and driven to ten schools over four days, speaking to over 800 children in years 2-5. The end of the week was topped off by a creative writing workshop in the bookshop after school for 17 children.

Results? Amazing. Cathie had a prediction (based on years of experience) that for every three children we saw, we would sell one book. This ratio worked perfectly: if I spoke to 180 children, we sold 60 books. If I spoke to 30 children, we sold 10. This didn’t quite work out at one book a child; a great deal on my Lottie Lipton Adventures saw many buying three books for £10, but we sold a handsome amount of Dino Wars too. There were a few challenges; miscommunication with the school meant that we weren’t able to stay after school as they wanted, meaning that some children may have been disappointed. This blow was softened by the bookshop handing out a £1 voucher to be used in the shop to every child. Some schools had promoted the visits more than others. Those that had talked the visit up in class and used some learning time to read my books to the children and research me (via my website) got a lot more out of the visit, and we sold a lot more books. Some children however entered the hall with looks of confusion on their faces and no money in hand – the staff insisted they had sent home an email or text to parents to inform them of my visit, but as Cathie put it, ‘Pupil pester power is the best promo tool’.

Lessons learned? Perhaps that I, as solo worker trying to write and promote at the same time, have not got the time to do it all. Visits are far more effective when a) organised and promoted properly and b) when the children have no choice but to turn up (I.E. Schools). The location of the event also has an amazing effect on how the children behave; in schools they are involved, better behaved and more interactive. In a public setting around parents they clam up and will barely say hello!
Now where did I leave that T-Rex?
This may not be news to a lot of you, but I thought it prudent that I note down these observations for myself even if not for anyone else. Anyway, aside from a couple of school visits that was my ‘launch’ event programme for Dino Wars: Rise of the Raptors. Now I can sit back until at least September, when Dino Wars 2: The Trials of Terror is released and the whole thing starts again!

Authors! What’s your experience of school visits / bookshop tours / alternative venues? What works best for you? Let me know in the comments and share with your peers!

Dan Metcalf is a children’s writer from south-west England. His latest book, Dino Wars: Rise of the Raptors is out now from Maverick Children’s Books. He is available for speaking at schools, libraries and literary festivals. See more at

Saturday, 17 February 2018

My Manic Schedule during WBD by Chitra Soundar

Every year schools across the world celebrate World Book Day, which this year falls on 1st March 2018.

Most schools (not all) decide to celebrate books and reading during this time of the year and on the day itself, children and often teachers dress up as book characters too.

For writers like me who go into schools to talk about writing and reading for pleasure, this is the busiest period of our annual schedule. I wrap up all my writing the week before the World Book Day and I cannot get back to my desk for almost a month.


It is amazing to visit schools, to meet with children and introduce my stories to them. It is heartening to see how schools practice reading for pleasure and incorporate books into their daily lives. Often the teacher or librarian (if the school still has one) who organises these events is doing this over and above their day job.

However many writers like me do wonder if there are alternatives to this adrenalin charged 2-3 week period of WBD tour most of us embark on. So if you’re a teacher or a librarian who organises events for schools, maybe some of these other ideas might appeal:

a)    A Day a Term – perhaps it would give a lot of focus and help with planning if there was one day in every term focussed on books and reading for pleasure where the school can come together. Or this could be a week.

b)    Alternate Days to WBD – As a writer from Asian background, I pulled together a list of dates where it would be lovely to bring in authors and books from different perspectives. Click here to download. 

c)     Virtual visits – some of us visit schools via Skype too. But it is tough to do virtual visits during the same week as WBD celebrations. Planning ahead will help you get both paid and free events with a multitude of authors into your schools. Check out Virtual Authors here.

d)    Patron of Reading – as Patrons of Reading, we visit our schools 3-4 times a year and use a whole day to connect with children about stories they love. Find out more here.

As a children’s writer, one of the biggest rewards of the job is to be able to go into schools and meet with children. It is a way to connect with our audience and also share the love of stories and reading. It is fabulous when we can inspire new writers and storytellers.

But it would be good that we can do this all through the year and not just during late February to early March. We do love to get away from our desks, washing-up and filing other times of the year too. So ring me right after Easter and we can get plan a school visit.

Are you a writer or a librarian or a teacher who has a different idea? Do you already do something amazing in your school that involves author visits but on different parts of the year? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Reflections on Becoming an Author by Jess Butterworth

When I was ten years old, my primary school asked if I wanted to attend a creative writing workshop with Philip Pullman at Bath Spa University. I, of course, said yes. I loved writing, Philip Pullman, and the prospect of leaving school for the day.

I remember the workshop was held in the castle on campus. We created all sorts of imaginary worlds before Philip Pullman revealed his own writing process. One of the things he mentioned was how he would always have a piece of string handy when he wrote; it helped him to concentrate and think.

It was my first realisation that being a writer was a real job and, in that moment, my ten-year-old self decided that all I wanted was to do was sit in a 14th century castle with a ball of string and make up stories.

Eight years later, I returned to Bath Spa University for my undergraduate degree and was delighted that I had one creative writing class in the very same castle classroom.

Around this time, the Bath Children’s Literature Festival began. I immersed myself in every aspect of it that I could; attending events, volunteering, being a runner. Every year, I’d come away from it with a renewed passion for writing and an excitement for the books I couldn’t wait to read.  

Later, I completed an MA at Bath Spa University and finished with a complete manuscript that would become my debut book.

Graduating from the MA in Writing for Young People with fellow writers, Carlyn Attman, Sarah Driver and Alyssa Hollingsworth.

Now, as I embark on my own school and festival events, I remember all the successful author events I’ve had the privilege of seeing over the years, and think back to my ten-year-old self and the things that filled me with wonder.  

Jess Butterworth 

Running on the Roof of the World is out now. 

Find out more on Jess's websiteTwitter, or Facebook