Hampshire ‘Meet the Author’ event

Hampshire’s ‘Meet the Author’ programme aims to support literacy and to inspire reading and writing by giving children the opportunity to meet authors.

My participation in the programme took place last Thursday, first at Berrywood Primary (with visiting pupils from Shambleshurt Primary) and then at the New Forest Academy (with visiting pupils from Blackfield Primary and Wildground Junior School).

In the morning we did silly actions to help us remember the ingredients of a good story. Then Jamie got dressed up as a Saharan camel herder and Anna from Hedge End told a story about a girl who turns things pink wherever she goes (including a classic scene where a strawberry truck collides with a Post Office van and turns the road pink).

In the afternoon we watched some book trailers and talked about what makes a strong concept for an adventure story. One lad suggested ‘donkey on a bus’ – I’m not sure that has the same visceral appeal of ‘snakes on a plane’ but I’d be intrigued to read the story! We looked at pictures of children around the world and chose the girl below to base a story on.

Where children sleep beauty queen

We used the picture as a launch pad for discussing (a) the character of the girl and (b) possible ‘what ifs’ that could kickstart a story.

When you write a story, don’t go straight into describing the action, but take time to think first about your main character. Who is she? What’s she like? Is she loud or quiet, kind or mean, confident or shy? What does she like doing, what does she find hard, what is she afraid of, what are her secrets? And most importantly of all, WHAT DOES SHE WANT MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD?

Don’t go for the obvious. If you’re writing a story about a beauty pageant entrant (like the girl above), throw in some completely unexpected aspects to the character. One student had the idea that this little girl could be a terrorist mastermind. Another suggested that she might be a boy in disguise. Be as strange as you like – just don’t be predictable.

One student suggested that the girl is being entered into beauty pageants by an evil aunt who then steals all the money she wins. The girl longs to escape and travel the world. What might happen if she finally plucked up the courage to do so…?

Many thanks to Hannah at SLS for organizing the Meet the Author events and to Colin Telford at Hayling Island Bookshop for selling lots of lovely books. His is a small independent shop but also one of the most prolific events organizers on the south coast of England. The table cloth he uses for the book signing table has on it the signatures of Terry Pratchett, Jacqueline Wilson, Anne Widdecombe, Ian Whybrow, Kate Mosse, Derek Landy, Chris Ryan, Darren Shan, Louis de Bernieres, Sandi Toksvig, Julian Fellowes, Sir Andrew Motion, Lord Robert Winston, Alan Titchmarsh, Claire Tomalin, Sir Patrick Moore, Sir David Attenborough and many many others.

The purpose of author events such as this is to inspire the next generation of readers and writers. If your school is interested in booking a visit, please see my school visits page.

Visit to St Helen’s Senior Girls’ School

Always be careful if you use the overhead racks on a train. That was the principal lesson I learned on Tuesday morning.

I was getting the train from Chichester to Northwood, a suburb to the north-west of London, to spend a day with students at St Helen’s Senior Girls’ School. My presentations and speaking notes were in my laptop bag on the luggage rack. As we waited at East Croydon station I glanced up at the rack and the bag was nowhere to be seen. I asked those sitting around me if they had seen anyone get off with it. They had. But by the time I got to the door it was already locked – and the train was pulling out of the station. Rassum frassum.

Thankfully, the book I am currently writing was well backed up, so my loss is annoying rather than catastrophic. I should have been more careful. Please, if you’re travelling on a train (perhaps especially in the London area), keep an eye on your valuables!

St Helen’s is a delightful school, and I found the students motivated and full of good ideas. I did some workshops with Year 9 students on the subject of Research. Their energy and imagination more than made up for my lack of glitzy powerpoint slides. Many thanks to Elizabeth Howard for arranging and hosting the visit, and for patiently enduring five workshops on the same topic. Thanks also to the students, who asked incredibly insightful questions and came up with some great ideas.

The workshops have been written up very comprehensively on the school blog by Emily and Richa: Year 9 Author Visit – Stephen Davies. Well done, girls!

Visit to Chichester High School for Boys

Stephen Davies visit to CHSB

It was nice to do a visit close to home for once – this school is just around the corner from my daughter’s nursery. Many thanks to Miss Mootyen for hosting my visit, to budding authors Ethan and Milo for making my books into a very cool display down in the library, and to everyone in Year 7 and Year 8 who participated in the workshops and suggested great thriller concepts. If you weren’t able to buy a book today, fear not, there are now 2 copies of each of THE YELLOWCAKE CONSPIRACY, HACKING TIMBUKTU and OUTLAW in your library – I hope you enjoy them, and if (when you’ve finished) you feel compelled to give them good reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, then go ahead, not that I’m asking you to 😉 Anyway, here are some pics – click to enlarge.

Visiting Year 7 at Buttershaw College, Bradford

Stephen Davies author visit Buttershaw BradfordJust back from Bradford, and a very enjoyable visit to Buttershaw Business and Enterprise College. I had the pleasure of meeting all of the Year 7 students and leading them through a workshop on thriller writing. They are going to be reading and discussing The Yellowcake Conspiracy.

“We are launching a new approach to teaching English this year, with the focus entirely on novels. This will just be for year 7 pupils to begin with, but we hope that we will be able to roll it our to all year groups eventually. The idea is that students who have not been given opportunities to read whilst growing up, will be able to experience the joy of literature, before having to sit down in exam hall and write a ton of essays!” – Miss Constable, English teacher, Buttershaw

Best student answer of the day, evidently from a Michael Jackson fan:
Q. What is a thriller?
A. It’s a song!

As for Bradford, what a great place. It was only my first visit, but I’m going to stick my neck out and say that Bradford has the friendliest taxi drivers, hotel receptionists, fish fryers and teachers in the entire country.

Its town hall ain’t bad either.

City of Bradford, England. The gothic Bradford City Hall viewed from Centenary Square.

Year 7 thriller writing workshop

Had a very enjoyable thriller-writing workshop this morning with a cracksquad of Year 7 writers from The Hayling College, Park Community School and Cowplain School. We talked about the ingredients of a good thriller and about the need to have a strong concept that you can ‘pitch’ in a very few words. We talked about heroes and villains, story arcs, high stakes and Snakes on a Plane. Then each table group worked on the concept and outline of their own thriller. There were some real crackers, including:

  • Clawed mutants versus humans in a dystopian future
  • Spies disguised as mannequins in a shop window
  • A David Cameron doppelganger in the secret service
  • Trapped inside IKEA with a killer

There’s a tendency, of course, among boys in particular, to want to explore inherently violent concepts, like that last one. Violence, real or threatened, is a part of most thrillers, but too much gore pushes your thriller over the edge into slasher territory. When writing your novel or screenplay it’s important to bear in mind Alfred Hitchcock’s maxim: There’s no terror in the bang of the gun, only the anticipation of it.

Well done to all those students who took part, and good luck with your own burgeoning writing careers.

A couple of links that might be of interest:

  • How to Write a Thriller: this page from creative-writing-now.com has some very good advice about how to write a thriller.
  • Year 7 thriller writing workshop: this is the Powerpoint Presentation I used for the workshop this morning. It won’t entirely make sense without the accompanying talk and activity guidelines, but it may contain material that is useful to you.

Arranging an author visit at school

how to arrange an author visit - picture of Stephen Davies during an author visit

Author visits to schools are invaluable, and arranging for an author to visit your school is easier today than it has ever been. Author visits give students the opportunity to meet a children’s author and ask them questions about their work. The author visit can be part of a programme of events like Book Week or World Book Day, or it can fit into a scheme of work. In my experience schools often have an Africa week or some sort of engagement with the developing world, so my Africa-based books fit in well with students’ ongoing study.

From a Future Famous Author

Dear Reader,

In ISD we have an ancient tradition called book month. In honour of that tradition we invited Mr. Stephen Davies to come and give us an author visit. In preparation for the author’s visit, our class read the book called “The Yellowcake Conspiracy.” It was fascinating to think that we would be meeting the very person who wrote that book. (It’s a very good book by the way, you should read it.) Let me tell you something beforehand. We have had a couple of author visits before so we weren’t expecting much, from our experiences they were never too interesting.

So as I was saying, He came to our class to talk to us and we were blown away. He was so easy going and entrancing that we didn’t even notice the time going by. We never wanted it to end. (Well, at least I didn’t, and I can vouch for my friends too. It’s the whole class.) He actually taught us some techniques, and we were stunned. This was the first time we actually thought of writing as a fun thing to do! Weird right? Just kidding. Anyways, he encouraged us to use our experiences to tell a story. He gave us some background info on some of his books. Imagine hearing how a character in a book you read was made. It was cool, and he answered all of our questions and doubts about his books and writing in general. I’m not going to tell you what else he did or specify, because you’ll just have to meet him yourself and find out.

He joked around and put us at ease. We could relax around him, and it made us happy. I think I can speak for my class in saying that it was productive and fun. He made writing seem natural and “cool”. We really wanted him to stay, but he left the day after he spoke to our class. I’m going to quote one of my friends on this. She said, “He was my best friend, I’m sad that he left!” (Just in case you were wondering, if she likes you, you’re her best friend.) I think many of us are thinking about writing as a hobby now. I certainly am.

Your Future Famous Author, and Student at ISD,

Mahima Kumar

Visiting the International School of Dakar

The International School of Dakar – what a great school! – even two days there has convinced me of what an interesting, diverse and caring community of people it is. The staff and students were a joy to spend time with.

I wish I had taken more photos, but here are a few snapshots:

Elections will take place in Senegal on 26 February and already the country is hurting. Today the police fired teargas and plastic bullets at protesters downtown (video link).

Taken for a ride at Pointe des Almadies

Pointe des Almadies
Pointe des Almadies, the westernmost point of the African continent

There’s something about being in a brand new country that makes you open and willing to think the best of people, sometimes to the point of eyepopping naivety. Yesterday, my first day in Senegal, was a case in point. I arrived in the afternoon and in the evening I ate in a Moroccan restaurant with an family from the International School. After that I strolled down to Pointe des Almadies, which I had heard was the westernmost point of Africa. I went on my own down an unlit street, heading towards the sound of waves crashing on the rocks.

Out of the dark comes Ali Bho – a young man in his early twenties who wanted to tell me all about his life and ask me about mine. He was celebrating, he said, because his wife had just given birth to their first child, a baby boy. He had just been down to the sea to pour milk into the water, which he claimed would guarantee that his wife would always have enough milk for the baby. He said that the naming ceremony was the following day and that he intended to kill twelve fat goats for the hundreds of guests that would be coming.

As for me, I cooed and clucked and wowed at all the right places. I rejoiced with him about his newborn baby.

I’m so happy, said Ali Bho, embracing me. I’m happy to have a baby son and I’m happy to have found such a kind open-minded new friend. I’m in the silver and gold business, he added, and I’m so happy that I’m going to give you a large amount of silver as a gift.

No, I said. No, really, that’s fine. Your friendship is enough, Ali.

I insist, said Ali, switching from French to English. This (snapping a tight silver bracelet around my left wrist) is for you and this (another one on my right wrist) is for your wife and this (an even smaller bracelet) is for your daughter Liberty. I would not usually give these things to a stranger, but I am so happy tonight and you are such a kind and friendly person and it is clear you love Senegalese people.

I do, I do, said I. Thank you for your gifts. Je ne sais meme pas quoi dire. I don’t know how to thank you.

I’ve got to go now, said Ali – all I need from you now is your contribution to my naming ceremony. A little gift for my baby son. Some English money, perhaps, so that my guests and I can drink to your good health.

And that’s when I realized that I’d been had.

I think your gifts to me really have been too generous, I said. I cannot accept them. May God bless your baby and your whole family, but please, let me give you back your silver bracelets…

Back and forth we danced. I was trying to take the bracelets off my wrists and he was trying to put them back on. And all the while I was thinking, when I next go for a walk in the dark in an unfamiliar West African capital, I must bring at least a modicum of street-wisdom.

So anyway, that was that. Once I’d disentangled myself from Ali and his generosity, I went down to the Pointe and ate a plate of cockles and listened to the waves.

Today I’m teaching at the International School of Dakar. Four sessions on two subjects: ‘How to write a picture book’ and ‘How to research an adventure novel’. I’d better go and get ready.

International School of Ouagadougou author visit

Stephen Davies author visit to the International School of Ouagadougou

Last week I did two author visits to the International School of Ouagadougou (ISO). A big thank you to all staff and students for your welcome (the decorated doors were fantastic!) and for making my time with you so action-packed and inspiring. I definitely want to write an action adventure series set in an International School, and I have come away with lots of ideas!

I have posted lots of pics over on Facebook: Stephen Davies author events at the International School of Ouagadougou