Three Memorable School Visits
Sometimes I’m asked if I’ll visit a school to talk with students about the writing process. Mostly I decline. But if the school is close by or I have a friend on staff, I have been known to say yes.
Here’s the highlights of two years of conversations.
Different Age Groups:
I love talking to kids about reading, writing and their favourite books. I love how interested kids are in the craft of book construction. Young children know how hard finding the right words is. When you’re just learning to write, you understand this very deeply. This can be something we forget as we get older.
When I’m talking to middle-graders, I tell them where an idea for a story came from. And if I’ve set a story in their school (and I have done that a couple of times), I love the looks of excitement. Their school is famous! Children understand that setting something into print makes it shareable and makes it last.
Teenagers are vastly different. Teens seem less interested in the concept of story and more interested in story-related-to-self. They want to know about practical things, and the questions come rapidly: Can I get rich doing this? How long does it take? How can I talk to a publisher? They seem disappointed when I tell them: No, Ages, and I have no frigging idea.
Top Seven Questions:
Here’s my favourite questions (to date). These are from all age groups, aged 6 – 16.
- I’ve got an idea for a story. It’s about a plane crash and everyone is lost. I thought about writing a story about each person in the plane. What do you think?
- Why do you call yourself RL Stedman. Aren’t you just ripping off RL Stine?
- How do you keep the words in your book so neat?
- How long does it take you to write a book?
- Are you rich?
- Did you draw your own cover?
- Do you know Dav Pilkey? He’s my favourite author EVER.
Bizarrest School Visit:
The strangest school visit I EVER did was a talk for Library Day at Otago Girls High School. (This was my first ever school visit, too, which made it extra special).
‘Will you come and speak to us,’ asked the Librarian. ‘It’s our library day, and we always have a guest speaker. You only need to talk for about twenty minutes. Not long.’
I thought this meant a trip to speak the kids who were keen on writing. Twenty minutes talking about books? Surely I could manage that. ‘No problem.’
How wrong could I be…
Instead of speaking to 30 keen readers, I was ushered into a very large, two-storey auditorium – and presented to the entire school (800 plus). And, get this, the entire audience was in FANCY DRESS.
Turns out Library Day at OGHS is a day of celebrating books, and you’re expected to wear a costume of your favourite character. Which probably explained the headmistress’ little-bo-peep outfit, and the sheep-dressed senior staff …
I cannot remember what I spoke about. All I remember is the crook with the bow and the wig of curly ringlets and the sheep, prancing on their hind legs. To this day I have absolutely no idea what that headmistress really looks like.
Two Questions to Ask When Visiting a School
So, if you’re ever asked to talk to a school, I suggest you ask:
- How many people am I speaking to?
- Will they be in fancy dress?