400 miles of worth it: Reflections on the BookTrust Represents school visit workshop with Chitra Soundar

We are excited to be introducing our new monthly BookTrust Represents guest feature. Our first entry is by author J.C. Love aka Giddymoose! Read on to find out about her experience at our February school visits workshop…

JC Love aka Giddymoose

I visited BookTrust HQ for the first time to attend Chitra Soundar's workshop on How to Ace a School Visit. It was great to see where all the magic happens, in particular the desk space of the wonderful Indigo Williams who I met previously as part of the author shadowing opportunity in Birmingham last year. When I arrived, I joined a group of other BAME authors and illustrators and we were directed to a room where we were to spend the next four hours with Chitra absorbing the abundance of information that she shared.

Chitra is certainly a pro and a force to be reckoned with in the world of author school visits. I could clearly see why schools often ask her to return to visit them year after year. She was keen to share plenty on the business side of promoting reading for pleasure, and offered a range of tips for both self-published and traditionally published creators of colour which helped us to understand the 'whys' and 'hows' behind author visits. Within minutes, she dived into topics such as bookings, setting terms for travel, food and accommodation, discussing fees and book sales, GDPR, calendar management and using social media effectively (to name just a few). When I say that Chitra was thorough, I mean thorough! She covered every detail surrounding school visits (virtual visits included) from beginning to end.

After reading Chitra's example of an author biography, we were tasked with writing our own. The thought of sharing something personal about myself gave me chills, but having received a task list before the event, I was prepared with my three chosen items and the stories behind each of them which I would be able to incorporate in to my own school visits. I asked Chitra about how much I should share with pupils if part of my story growing up wasn't so positive. After all, I hardly wanted to have the children screaming and running out of the hall! Chitra's response was that our personal stories can connect with children who may be experiencing the same and actually build empathy between them, so we needn't be afraid to share.

BookTrust Represents workshop group

As requested in the pre-task email, I brought along two of my books, The Longest Yawn and Anansi and the Moruga Scorpions, in addition to some stimuli objects related to each book. In the end we didn't have time to use them, but the preparation made me think deeply about the themes in my books, and how they could be explored in a workshop or talk for a specific age group. I have since ordered props and tapped into the many elements of my personal creativity and musicality to create a workshop (and a full play) based on Anansi and the Moruga Scorpions.

What resonated for me throughout the day was the idea that we have a responsibility as role models to show our love for reading and writing to school children, so that by the end of our visits, they know that they can become an author too.

Six pages of notes and two sides of 'to do' lists later, I reflected on the action points I'd picked up on my way back to Leeds, the first being...to join a union! There were several suggestions, but the Society of Authors is a great place to start. Secondly-public liability insurance is a must, just in case a character jumps out of a book and bonks a child on the head, or the projector blows up in our use! And finally-that it is well worth promoting the offer of author visits and setting up a dedicated page on my website or a separate blog page.

I doubt that I would've developed such a clear idea of my direction so quickly if it wasn't for BookTrust Represents. Based on what I have learned so far, I would say it is worth attending their events, subscribing to the newsletter, following BookTrust Represents on social media and checking out their website for a wealth of writing tips from authors and illustrators.

If you would like to share news of your latest title, or personal reflections from a BTR event that you have attended, you are invited to contribute and have your story shared with our community. Please write to [email protected] for consideration.

BookTrust Represents

Our project promotes and supports children’s authors and illustrators of colour, so young readers find the books that represent them.

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