This week I was invited to visit a local primary school who have been doing a project on my newest novel, The World in Johnny's Back Garden. They were the perfect age group to review my story being aged between 10 and 11 years old. I had no idea what to expect as this was my first ever author visit.
Mr Barlow, their awesome teacher, made all the arrangements and sent me a rough guide with some ideas of how he planned for the day to go. I was happy to agree with whatever he thought best. You could tell he thinks the world of the class he teaches by the massive effort he put in to make this visit work for the maximum benefit to the kids. They thanked me for coming in, but the real praise should go to Mr Barlow for organising and arranging this event in the first place. Thank you!
The day started first thing where I got to meet the class. I got to tell them my story of how I became an author, talk about how I write books and discuss some of the issues and things that happened in my story. The kids were awesome! They asked the best questions ever. They wanted to know everything about me and my stories. They made me feel like a rock star. And they were so funny. I really enjoyed our discussion.
As part of their project, the class had re-written, The World in Johnny's Back garden, in their own words. Some used my original story, pointing out the parts that stood out to them, others made up their own version with changes to the story, even different endings. One at a time they all read out their own stories to me so I could give them feedback and encouragement. From my perspective it was great to see the different parts of the story that stood out to different children. And the alternative versions were so funny. The kids reading was brilliant. They didn't hesitate in the slightest to read out loud their versions to me. I was very impressed.
Then came the school assembly. I won't lie, that was scary. Mr Barlow is dressed as a Mexican Cowboy. He claimed he was trying to blag his way as a character in one of his books. He introduced me to the school and then it was down to me. I started talking and realised within about ten seconds that how I imagined me telling my inspirational story about becoming an author just wasn't going to work. The kids in the class were the oldest in the school and the crowd in front of me went all the way down to about five-years-old. I started to stumble. I could hear myself starting to waffle. I was trying to wing it and beginning to fair.
Mr Barlow came to the rescue with his back up plan. A board with some post-it notes so I could demonstrate how I put a story together. This was doable, I'm back on track. First we need a scene. I decide to make it interactive and ask the kids. Hands shoot up everywhere. The suggestions come thick and fast and in many varieties. This is going well, we settle on a school, somewhere everyone can relate to. Then we need a character. How could I not choose Mr Barlow, the Mexican Cowboy. Post-it note number three came out as America somehow and post-it four, the ending, was a horse. What can I say? lol
Mr Barlow discreetly mentioned we could start wrapping this up now and turned to the audience and said, "Now this is how the author would turn these ideas into a story." Now call me naive or stupid, but I swear to God I didn't see this coming. I think I replied, "No pressure or anything then." I will try and re-create my off-the-cuff story.
Once upon a time (one of the kids suggestions.)
There was this school in England that was quite unusual. What made it unusual was there was a Mexican Cowboy that used to roam the halls and corridors. Nobody knew who he was or what he was doing there, but every day the Mexican cowboy would always be there wandering around. Everyone was too polite to say anything to him so they never found out who he was.
What they didn't know was their school building had come all the way from America. They do that, you know. Take buildings down brick by brick and ship them to other countries and re-build them. Like London Bridge was taken down and re-built in America. Somehow, the Mexican Cowboy had got packed up with the building and shipped over to England with it. Because he only spoke Mexican he couldn't ask anyone the way home. He didn't know what they were saying.
So he stole a horse and rode off into the sunset to find his home and hopefully lived happily ever after. (Notice the classic ending.)
Yeah, okay, in hindsight I should have gone for borrowed a horse, but I was under pressure. The assembly was over and I could breath a sigh of relief.
We went to the staff room for a tea and Mr Barlow introduced me to some people including the head. We made our way back to the classroom for the final part of the day, the creative writing workshop. The kids had to choose a picture from a board of very inspirational pictures and write an opening line for a story whilst we guided and encouraged them with ideas. They wrote an opening line and I gave them ideas on how they could make it into a great hook to draw the reader in. They really took on board my suggestions and totally got everything I explained to them.
We all had cake that Mr Barlow had made himself and the conversation went on into the afternoon covering everything you could think of, most of which wasn't even writing related. By the time lunch time came around I gave a final summery and said goodbye to everyone.
It was such a brilliant day. I have to say a super special thank you to the kids for all their hard work and for making me feel so welcome in their class. You rock! And thank you, Mr Barlow, for being such an awesome teacher.
The World in Johnny's Back Garden