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Helena Pielichaty, CWIG Chair

The March blog is written by our Children's Writers & Illustrators Group Chair, Helena Pielichaty.

Helena Pielichaty (Pierre-li-hatty) has produced over thirty books for children. Her current series, Girls FC, is based around an under 11s all-girl football team.

Hello. I’m here to tell you about the fabulous year we’ve got lined up for CWIG members in 2012 but before I do I wanted to pay tribute to my predecessor, Gillian Cross. Stepping into Gillian’s shoes is not going to be easy. She was an excellent Chair; capable, unflappable and smart. How am I going to follow that?

The answer is I’ll do my best. I know from experience things that seem daunting at first eventually become second nature. That’s why I think it’s appropriate that the first members’ meeting of 2012 is School Visits for Beginners

There are writers, I know, who would rather die than step into a school hall. There are other writers who do so many school visits they neglect their own writing. But get the balance right and it’s a win-win situation for everyone:

‘There is no literacy event quite as exciting and guaranteed to succeed at getting kids involved with books as connecting them with authors or illustrators. There’s something so wonderful for all of us in meeting the creators of the books we love, and kids feel that too!’ - Toni Buzzeo, author.

The author/ illustrator/poet benefits from the visit, too. A day in school can be invigorating and stimulating. Sharing our craft, passing on our knowledge, enthusing the audience is a reward in itself. Also, having children tell you how much they ‘loved’ your book or that you were ‘awesome’ is no bad way to spend a day, is it?

Visits are also invaluable for raising our profile. It’s through school visits we meet not only children, but also our gatekeepers; the keen teachers, the enthusiastic librarians and the supportive parents.  It is vital to have direct contact with them. 

Now is a good time to get out there, despite the recession. The recent report by Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, Moving English Forward included the finding that: ‘too few schools encouraged a love of reading.’ In other words, reading for pleasure is firmly back on the agenda. And also Darren Henley's Independent Review of Cultural Education, which supports the government’s intention to allow schools ‘more freedom and time to build on the core entitlement to provide a rich educational experience for all their pupils.’ Click here to read this letter. With the push for schools to be ‘outstanding’ who better to help ‘encourage a love of reading’ than the creators – the writers, the poets, the storytellers and illustrators?

So those are the ‘pros’ of school visits and that’s why we hope the meeting on the 27 March will help anyone uncertain and new to the game to approach them with confidence. We’ll be looking at the ‘cons’ too – the schools that don’t fully appreciate what having an author visit entails, the draining effect on your creativity and the frustration when your satnav lets you down at five to nine in the middle of a housing estate two miles from the school.

Preparation is key.  ‘Winging it’ is not an option. If a writer is charging the SoA rates they need to deliver the goods. I’ll never forget when I was teaching in a rural primary school in Nottinghamshire many years ago. As the children clapped politely at the end of the author’s dull, perfunctory talk, my colleague leaned across and whispered in my ear: ‘Well, there’s an hour of my life I won’t get back.’

Ouch. Nobody wants that kind of feedback. But how can you get any kind of feedback if nobody knows you exist? How do you get those gatekeepers such as the School Library Service to notice you in the first place? And what about CRB checks, National Insurance, invoicing and all that malarkey? 

These are the issues Dianne Hofmeyr, Bali Rai and I will be addressing.

I’ll cover the ‘nuts and bolts’ of a school visit, recommending the SoA guides, the National Literacy Trust and NAWE’s downloadable texts for additional information. NAWE’s imprint Our Thoughts Are Bees, a guide to writers working with schools, is well worth buying.

For those unable to make the meeting the following links might be of use:

Society of Authors guides

NAWE – offers advice on creative writing workshops and school visits in general. Membership includes Public Liability Insurance.

National Literacy Trust


Contact an Author

A  nosy round other authors’ websites to see what they offer on school visits can be illuminating. Two excellent examples of clearly set-out school visits criteria are Tommy Donbavand and Penny Dolan’s web pages.

And now for something completely different...

In May CWIG has something of a first. The human dynamo known as Sarah McIntyre has organised a stellar cast for a joint event with Foyles. Click here for details. Philip Reeve, Steve Cole, Moira Young and Kim Lakin-Smith under one roof. Book now! 

Speaking of stellar casts have you seen the details for the Joined Up Reading Conference at Reading University this September? It’s a busy year for celebrations with the Jubilee and Olympics, but do join us for what will be our last residential conference for some time. Spot any familiar faces in our collage of speakers, below?

The programme the CWIG committee has put together is amazing. Part festival, part workshop, part networking and a big part fun, it’s going to be a blast. Informative and inspiring. Come for the weekend or come for the day but please do come. And if you're not a member, sign up now and take advantage of the SoA offer of 15 months' membership for the price of 12.

Helena Pielichaty
Chair of CWIG






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