The idea of interviewing children’s authors and illustrators about how they manage events, came about when I realised that they all manage events differently. I was happily wedged in the middle of a conversation with some children’s writers, who were chatting about how nervous they were doing their first events. Not only that, but they were all as surprised as me, that they each did completely different things in their events. So that got me thinking, if established authors/illustrators don’t always know how other authors run events, then debut authors must really struggle for information on the matter. And just because you’re able to write books for children, doesn’t mean that you’ll find it easy to stand up in a room full of children and keep them entertained for an hour.
All week, we’ve posted interviews with fantastic writers and illustrators about children’s book events. Olivia and I were blown away by the mountains of tips and excellent information given, and we wish to extend a huge thank you to everyone we interviewed; Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, P.J Lynch, Oisin Mc Gann, Nigel Quinlan, Dave Rudden and Sheena Wilkinson.
To summarise the interviews into one article, remember: P.R.E.P.A.R.E!
Go and see other authors to get an idea of how events work. Decide what will work for you, and what won’t. Then make a plan for what you will do, and have a few back-up plans ready. Practice it and time it. It’s normal to be nervous. The more you plan ahead, the more relaxed you will feel on the day. Planning also includes checking, and double checking, with the organisers/teachers so you both know what to expect, and that they have the equipment that you require.
If the event is based around your book, decide when to read, and how much you’ll read before the event. Don’t read for too long or you’ll lose the audience, and pick the extract you read carefully, so it can be understood without the need for back-story. Reading at the beginning of the session can work well as it introduces the children to your style and work. Their focus is also freshest at the beginning and therefore there’s less chance of them getting distracted.
Find your own unique way to engage the audience. What works for one writer may not work for another. While humour and jokes are widely loved by children and adults alike, not all children’s writers are comfortable standing at the front of a room telling jokes. You don’t have to transform into a comedian just because you’re in a room full of kids. Find your own way to engage with them; they’ll be comfortable if they can see that you are too.
Children love to participate, but it’s up to you how much participation there should be. If you have an action packed plan, you can ask the kids to leave the questions until the end. If you prefer an interactive session, start off by asking a question e.g “Who here likes stories/ likes to read/ what do you like to read?”. Participation can vary according to venue, type of event and age group. Be ready for a group that is slow to participate, perhaps by having activities prepared, and also be ready for a group that participates so much that you don’t get half of what you planned done.
A- Age Appropriate
Children of different ages will expect different things from your event. Younger kids won’t focus for as long as older kids on each part of your event, therefore you may need to mix it up a bit more. Younger kids thrive on participation, while teenagers can often be more self-conscious and you may need to do the majority of the talking, or give tasks/ writing exercises. When starting off doing events, it can help to focus on one age group, and get confident with them before moving onto another age group.
It is vital to show respect both to the children attending the event, and the people who organised it. Children know when they’re being fobbed off, or not listened to. Show each child respect, and try to include them all. It’s often the quiet child at the back who has the best questions, and is silently most interested. Give each child the chance to engage. If it’s a school visit, show the teachers respect. It’s okay to ask the teacher to be in charge of the discipline that’s not your job, and you don’t know the children well enough to know any personal issues they have that could affect their behaviour. Again, respect each child as an individual.
E- Expect the unexpected
Unexpected things will happen. The more experienced you become, the better you will get at dealing with this. But everyone has to start somewhere, so aim to be flexible. If your chair breaks and you go flying, expect the children to laugh hysterically. Plan to arrive early in case you get lost on a motorway. If the amount of kids is vastly different to what you were told it would be, take a deep breath and use your imagination- you definitely have one if you’re a children’s writer.
So best of luck if you’re a new writer getting ready to start events. I really hope you gained as much out of this week as Olivia and I did.