Doing A School Visit When You Have A Day Job

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So, what do you do when you can’t travel around visiting schools and meeting your readers? I first posted about this on my book blog, but here’s the story again and hope you enjoy it.

I can’t do school visits. I work full time in the school system as a teacher-librarian. My writing has to fit around my day job. I have launched some of my books at my own school, but other schools? Forget it! Oh, I have gone a couple of times with Ford Street publishing, but I really can’t take a lot of time off work. If you work in a job other than teaching – and very few writers, in this country at least, write full time – you can take some of your holiday time off, but my holidays are when schools are closed.

Luckily, there’s now another way than actually going there. Skype!

One day Anthony, a teacher/writer friend, said if I ever came to Perth, on the other side of Australia, I would be welcome to visit his school. I told him innocently that I’d be happy to do a virtual visit by the wonders of Skype and next thing I knew he’d begun rushing around to arrange it. On my side I had to consult the computer tech at my school to make sure it was possible. Our wonderful technician Vien assured me it was.

Anthony, a Year 8 teacher, had been using my blog posts in his lessons, so his students already knew who I was. He asked his library to get in some copies of my YA novel Wolfborn and did some pre-teaching.

He arranged for his school’s techs to be there in case of connection problems. I suggested
we do a trial run, and I’m glad we did. The connection in my staff room was fine, but woeful in the library, from where I hoped to do my visit. Vien advised me to use an ethernet cable, which I could connect in my workroom and which was more reliable than wifi. Leaving nothing to chance, I bought a new ethernet cable. Mine was about ready to be replaced anyway.

When we were set up, I waved at Anthony’s students. They waved back. Anthony introduced me and I began my talk. To them, he is Mr Phillips and I had to remember to call him that. I told them that I, too, was a Year 8 teacher and a library teacher and was pleased to meet them. I spoke for a while about the things Anthony had requested, mostly fairy tales and werewolves, including that the wolf in Red Riding Hood was probably meant to be a werewolf – how else could he possibly pose as Grandma?

Interaction is a lot harder when you’re way over the other side of the country, as you can’t use props and invite members of your audience up, something I usually do, but it worked. After a short time I paused to invite a question and next thing I knew they were coming thick and fast and lasted till the end of the session, when we squeezed in a short reading, not from Wolfborn but from another book, Crime Time: Australians behaving badly(” Who wants a crime story?” and a huge number of hands shot up).

I was interrupted several times, once by the office lady, who wanted me to go look for someone. I had to explain I was talking to a class in Perth. Sometimes it was by students needing computers or keys to the computer lab. I introduced them to my audience before giving them what they wanted, without, of course, getting up. Later my colleague Chris Wheat(a fellow YA writer who works as a teacher from my library) told me he had had to hold off other people wanting things – the ones who got there slipped through the net.

It was hilarious!

Later, I realised how much could have gone wrong if Anthony hadn’t been so professional in his organisation of the event. I have no doubt there are writers out there with horror stories about virtual visits. But this one went smoothly and Anthony told me the students were keen to read my books afterwards.

And I’m keen to try this again some time. The Internet rocks!

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