1. I once visited a charming school book group who all loved reading so much that they had imagined authors as god-like wonders who sat around on purple velvet thrones, spouting a stream of perfect prose while bluebirds transcribed their wise words on to rose-scented parchment. Then they got to meet me with an egg stain on my hoodie. If you’re trying to impress, you might want to choose your school visit outfit from your limited selection of clothes that weren’t chosen just because they’re made of something stretchy. I know, I know, they’re just not as comfortable as your writing rags. I feel your constricting-waistband pain.
2. Children are like my elderly aunts at Christmas; you’ve got give to them a little job to do, otherwise their wrestling and foul language spoils things for everyone. A quiz or game should stop students from chewing each other’s limbs off. You can also get their opinion on the issues surrounding your book, or ask them what choices they would make if they were put in your protagonist’s shoes. Invariably, kids imagine they will react to danger or difficulty with both extreme violence and extreme bravery. I once heard of an author who tested the students’ assertions of heroism by throwing what looked like a live grenade into the middle of the classroom. But I wouldn’t advise that. And anyone who says I ever have didn’t read that disclaimer at the bottom of my website.
3. I know some people find the solitary nature of being a writer difficult to cope with. Personally, I’ve been delighted to embark on a career where I can largely ignore other humans. Usually, I’m only expected to communicate with strangers at book signings and readings, where it is entirely acceptable for me to have a glass of wine in my hand. Unfortunately, it turns out that teachers these days are quite uptight about alcohol in the classroom. (It wasn’t like that when I was girl. On Friday afternoons, Mr Kempton’s science lab was so thick with alcohol fumes that we were afraid to strike a match to light the Bunsen burner.) But all this modern health and safety madness means that you really shouldn’t booze before or during your visit. (By which I mean just the one gin with your breakfast. Two at the very most.)
4. The teenagers in my family won’t unwrap a present unless you can show them a receipt proving the value of the gift is in excess of twenty quid, but once you put children in a school environment they’ll fight over a promotional bookmark like Hunger Games tributes over the last cross-bow. So it’s not a bad idea to take in some swag that you can chuck out to students who answer (or ask) questions. NB don’t throw pencils pointed end first. Parents are really sniffy about kids coming home from school with one eye less than they sent them off with.
5. Once you have successfully completed a school visit (and the only criterion for success is making it back out the door) then you may spend the evening eating whatever you like and drinking as much as you like. This is the law. Also, the calories will not count. And a fairy will do the washing up.
Candy Harper is the fourth of five sisters, which means she still eats with one arm shielding her plate. There are enough children’s books in her house to build a fort, but she absolutely hasn’t ever skived off work to do that.
Candy’s first book, THE DISAPPEARED, is a dystopian thriller set in a school where the teachers are kept in cages for their own safety. Her latest book, HAVE A LITTLE FAITH, is about 14 year old Faith, who is in big trouble because her Head of Year seems to think that she is always blowing stuff up and giving supply-teachers radical haircuts. (Whereas, it was actually just that one time.) Faith’s diary charts her blood feud with her teacher, her attempts to ignore the immaturity of old people, and her quest to find herself a boyfriend who knows how to have a good cheese fight. It’s not a dystopian thriller.