Day three of the Book events blog, and we move up an age group. Oisin McGann is a very funny writer and illustrator, which comes out in his school and festivals visits and as you will see, in his interview answers. Terrific and practical tips about doing book events for children
- What is your advice to any author or illustrator who has been asked to do an event for children?
If you’re even thinking of doing events, go and see some other authors and pick up some tips. Don’t think you can just read and ask for questions, it’s a performance. You can write yourself a script, but try not to read from it if you can, though notes are okay. Props can make it easier; they giving you something to talk about and something to do with your hands. Always make sure you time your talks, so you don’t run over time or get left with a big empty space at the end. Remember, you’re selling yourself as a character, as well as your books, so try and figure out how you can make yourself come across as interesting and distinctive.
- What are the main differences between doing a book festival event and a school visit event?
Sometimes there isn’t a huge difference, if you have a class group, but if it’s a public event, you’re liable to have kids of different age (even if you specify an age range), so you’ve got to be ready for this. In a public event, you’ll also have a whole load of parents there, rather than one or two teachers and you need to appeal to them too. Also, in a public event, the kids may not know each other, which means they’re more likely to be shy or cool and interact as a group.
- How do you prepare for an event?
I have two ‘sessions cases’ that are permanently packed. Unless I have to give a speech or talk on a particular subject, my gear is always ready to go.
4. What tips do you have for keeping children engaged?
Kids are always looking for a chance to laugh, so give it to them. I establish from the outset that I’m going to be the daftest one in the room, so they don’t have to worry too much about being cool. Kids like to have stuff to look at while you’re talking, and before every session, I ask the what they read and make it clear that ANY type of reading is reading; books, magazines, comics, social media etc. Also, I’m loud and a bit rowdy.
5. What is the best lesson you have learned from doing book events for children?
As I mentioned above, audiences – both adults and children – are waiting for a chance to laugh. They’re gagging for a laugh. Also, don’t take yourself too seriously and DO take kids seriously. Growing up is hard work; respect them for it.
6. And finally, what is the most unexpected thing that has happened to you at a book event?
I’ve had a couple of kids faint at events, and I once had to do a session at a festival while there were two guys juggling fire right next to us, which was a bit distracting. There was a time I was reading a Mad Grandad story in a classroom and I went to lean back to act out throwing something and the back legs on the chair broke, pitching me backwards onto the floor, my legs flying up into the air in perfect slapstick. At first the kids thought it was part of the story, they were wetting themselves laughing, but a little shocked too. I got up, pulled over another chair and finished the story. I think the teacher was more embarrassed about it than I was.
Oisín McGann is a writer and illustrator who has produced dozens of books and short stories for all ages of reader and has performed thousands of children’s sessions in schools, libraries and festivals. He is the author of the Mad Grandad books, the Forbidden Files and novels such as Rat Runners, The Gods and Their Machines and The Wildenstern Saga. He served on the board of Children’s Books Ireland for seven years and is a winner of the European Science Fiction Society Award, the Bisto Book of the Year Merit Award and has been shortlisted for numerous other awards, including the Waterstones Childrens’ Book Prize in the UK, le Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire in France and Locus Magazine’s Best First Novel Award in the US.