Friday, 18 April 2014

Patron of Reading

A little while ago I read a tweet from an author celebrating the news that she’d become a school’s Patron of Reading. I’d never heard of a Patron of Reading before so, intrigued, I googled it. What I discovered is a fantastic scheme that pairs authors to schools, to create a special bond and personal attachment. The author (or poet/storyteller/illustrator) then works with the school to help raise the profile of reading for pleasure with pupils, parents and staff.

I love doing school author visits, but often wish both that there was more time to meet and engage with as many kids as possible (usually either the groups are really big, or I’ll only visit a handful of smaller classes in a day, so won't even meet many of the kids at the school) and that there could be a more ongoing relationship – to follow up on the creative work we’ve done together, see how they’re all getting on, and to continue to encourage them with their reading and writing. 

My most fulfilling school visit so far was a week-long visit to The International School of Moscow. By the end of the week, I had visited every single class in the primary school, every child had had an opportunity to ask me questions, and each had started a piece of creative work based on fairytales. As the week went by, it was lovely to walk around the school from class to class and be recognised and greeted by all the kids who walked by, or joined my table at lunch time, either just to chat or to ask even more questions about writing and stories, and it was wonderful to have the time to give them so much more attention than a single day visit allows. Additionally, the classes spent time after my session with them completing the projects we’d started together, which their teachers then gave to me, allowing me to compile samples of work from every age group – from reception up to Year 6 – into a Fairy Tale Newspaper, which both beautifully showcased the work they’d done, and became a wonderful memento of the visit – for both them and for me. 

Helena Pielichaty, the first Patron of Reading
Whilst I appreciate that not many schools can afford to bring in an author for an entire week, the Patron of Reading scheme allows a lot more interactivity between author and pupils, and permits an ongoing relationship to develop, by sustaining communication and interaction via emails, websites etc, at minimal cost to the school – all they pay is the usual rate for the author’s school visits, which should be at least once every year in order to build up a relationship with each class (as there is little point having a Patron the children never meet.) 

The Patron of Reading concept works most successfully when the both the school and the author really make the most of the opportunity, and it’s helpful if the author is relatively local. 

So what does a patron do?
The title is extremely flexible to suit each school and each patron, but some suggestions a few possible ideas:
Visit the school regularly (at least once every year, but preferably 2- 3 times/year).
Write a newsletter about books they are reading, their own work, etc. 
Support the Summer Reading Challenge. 
Participate in school Book Quizzes
Share any new ideas they hear regarding reading, books and libraries. 
Judge and/or hand out prizes for book/writing related competitions
Tweet and blog about their visit and the school they are patron of.
Dedicate a section of their website/blog to their chosen school, perhaps including that stories, reviews, pictures etc from the children.
Interact with pupils and parents on the school's website or the author's website. 
Occasionally write to pupils who do something outstanding in terms of reading (eg make amazing progress, win a competition, etc).
Share work in progress with classes as a special sneak-peek preview

What does the school do?
Again, this varies hugely from school to school, but suggestions include:
Book the author for a school visit at least once a year (preferably 2-3 times/year) to maintain the relationship. 
Prepare kids in advance for their author’s visit eg by discussing and reading the author’s books beforehand.
Allow the author to sell copies of their books to children/parents during their visit
Add a link to the author's website on the school site, and perhaps dedicate a section of the school website/blog to the author, including reviews, stories, pictures etc the children have completed in response to the author’s books/visits.
Promote the scheme in school newsletters, online and to the local media.
Put up a display about the author in the school.
Stock all the author’s books in the school library.
Have students interview the author for the school newspaper/blog
Have students review the author’s books and write letters to the author
Have a special area in the library displaying the author's work.

So what impact has this initiative had so far? 
In its first year, the first school to run the scheme reported that it had: 
Sparked extra interest in reading generally throughout the school 
Provided teachers with an added dimension when encouraging reading for 
Given pupils an extra incentive to join in with schemes such as the Summer 
Reading Challenge (In 2012 the school had 100% participation - the first in 
England and Wales, according to Miranda McKearney, CEO of the Reading 
Inspired parents and made them feel included e.g by submitting comments on 
the author’s blog and writing poetry with their children at home 
Boosted the quality of creative writing - even though the author’s (Helena Pielichaty) remit doesn’t include creative writing with them as such, the writing inspired after her first visit was described as 'phenomenal' 
Necessitated extending school library as borrowing had increased well beyond expectation.  

Can’t wait to get started? I know I for one can’t wait to become a Patron of Reading! 

For more information about the scheme, or to find authors seeking schools in your area, visit

Katie Dale is an actress as well as an award-winning author. She writes both gritty YA and humorous children's fiction, and loves to bring an element of performance to her school visits. Her rhyming Fairy Tale Twists series are especially popular with primary schools- and the kids love her (optional) fairytale costumes! She would love to be a Patron of Reading for a school in or around Cambridge. 
For  more info on Katie visit 

Friday, 11 April 2014

Getting Edgy at Hemel Hempstead Library for Herts Lit Fest

Edge Authors Sara Grant and Dave Cousins

On Tuesday 25th March, two-eighths (or one quarter!) of the Edge were at Hemel Hempstead Library for a morning of book-inspired edginess as part of the Hertfordshire Literary Festival. Sixty year seven students and staff from The Hemel Hempstead School made it through a Spring downpour to spend the morning at the library.

Dave and Sara with Hemel Hempstead School students.
(Thanks to Tom for the photo.)

The session began with an entertaining tour of the vast range of library services on offer from Young Persons Librarian Karen Stephens—who managed to find an something available at the library for every letter in THE EDGE!

Next, Edge authors Sara Grant and Dave Cousins gave the students an introduction to themselves and their books.

Sara reveals the inspiration for her latest Young Adult thriller HALF LIVES

Dave wonders if this is the HEAD that's been missing for 15 DAYS!

In the week leading up to the event, Edge ‘Graffiti Walls’ had been installed in Hemel Hempstead Library and at the school.

Graffiti Wall bookshelves ready for student comments
at The Hemel Hempstead School Library

Students and library visitors were invited to write book-related questions and opinions on the walls for discussion by a panel at the event.

The Graffiti Wall at Hemel Hempstead Library.

Joining Sara and Dave on the panel were librarians Emma and Naomi, plus year seven students Gus and Dan. The aim of the Graffiti Wall is to spark a discussion about books and reading with as many different perspectives on books and reading as we can, so it was brilliant to have young readers and librarians sharing their opinions, not just the authors!

The Hemel Hempstead School students provided a steady stream of thought-provoking questions, and the morning passed far too quickly.

All that remained was time for some book borrowing, buying and signing.

Sara and Dave would like to thank everyone involved for their time and effort in making the event possible, especially Emma Scott, Shirley Everall, Karen Stephens, Naomi and Mobeena at the library, Mrs Krajewski and her fellow staff at The Hemel Hempstead School, and Hemel Hempstead Waterstones for supplying the books.

Finally, our thanks to the year sevens—their company, questions and opinions made sure the event was a lot of fun for everyone involved. The final words we will leave to them. Thanks for your kind comments guys … 

"Our trip to the Library was great. We loved the authors because they were really funny. We both went on the panel which was super fun. All in all it was a great trip and I would love to do another. Thanks Dave Cousins and Sara Grant."
Gus & Dan

"We thoroughly enjoyed the event. Dave Cousins was very entertaining and Sara Grant was interesting to listen to. It was a wonderful experience and we learnt a lot. We wish we’d bought all their books!"
Maya & Eve

"I really enjoyed meeting Sara Grant and Dave Cousins, it was an amazing opportunity. We got to ask them both some very interesting questions and heard what other people said as well. We were lucky enough to have them read us parts from their books too. Afterwards their books were on sale and we all got a signed bookmark. I’m so glad that I could go."

"Meeting Dave Cousins and Sara Grant at the Library was a fantastic experience. I loved asking them questions and learning about them. It was a very inspiring trip."

The event was covered by the Hemel Hempstead Gazette.
(Thanks to Becca Choules and David Satchel (photo))

Friday, 4 April 2014

Word counts and other bad habits, by Bryony Pearce

I’ve developed a terrible new bad writing habit.  The word-count.
I’ve never been one of those writers who counts words.  When someone says to me, ‘how many words do you write in a day?’ I tend to look blankly at them.  I don’t count words.  I do have writing goals: I’d like to finish that tricky scene, or the end of that chapter.  Perhaps tie off that character arc. 
I do not do word count.
Part of it is the way that I write.  I don’t have a rigid schedule.  I have children instead.  I write as and when I can.  Sometimes I manage no more than a sentence in a day, sometimes less.  I’ve been known to leave the document open with the words ‘main character gets in the s***’ as the total sum of what I wrote that day, simply to remind me what I was thinking about for the next time I open the work.
But then I agreed to this deadline.  I have to write a whole, entire book by the middle of June and suddenly word count becomes important. No, it becomes an obsession.
I have, Arnold Rimmer-like, created a timetable which is getting updated on an almost daily basis according to what I have or have not achieved.  It is colour-coded.
I have a certain number of chapters to complete per week, according to my other commitments, the children’s school holidays and so on.  Chapters are roughly ten pages long, I cannot plan a word count per chapter as they do vary between 8 and 15 pages.  I don’t know why I am obsessed with word count and not completed chapter headings. 
I just am.
I know that the book is due to be around 90,000 words.  Each word I add brings me one satisfying step closer to meeting my deadline.
It isn’t as if I’m not enjoying the writing.  I’m very much enjoying it.  I am now setting my alarm for 6am, rising, working for two hours (generally going over the writing from the day before), sorting the kids out and doing the school run.  Then I run errands or go to the gym for two hours.  Then I write again until three, when I have to pick the kids up and start the evening round of clubs, activities, tea, bath, bed.
This schedule is working well for me.  I find that I can achieve a lot in the time before the kids wake up, when the daylight is pinkening the sky around the window-frame in the study.  For that two hours I have no responsibility to anyone but myself and the characters.  No-one else is up and on Facebook or Twitter, so I have no impulse to check social media.  I don’t even make myself a cup of tea, I get straight down to writing.  So I have developed some good habits.
 But as the day goes on I begin to check my word count.  By three I’ve probably checked it five or ten times.
At three I close off my chapter and nod my head, happy that I’ve added another x number of words.  I go to collect the kids from school.  I worry that next week I won’t be able to make the same word count.
I’ll be fine.  I do not miss deadlines.  Never have, don't plan to start now. 
But when I have one I panic like Arnold Rimmer until the end is in sight.