My first school visit – 250 kids – what could possibly go wrong?

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Last week I was writing when my phone flashed with an incoming call – my son’s primary school – and my heart stuttered as I thought of all the things that might be wrong.

‘Will you come into school on World Book Day and talk to the kids about writing? Just Years 5 & 6. Only around 250 children.’

Only?!? 250!?! I’ve never given a talk before and instantly I felt sick, dizzy, afraid. Options pin-balled around my mind. I could hang up, pretend they had the wrong number, put on an accent and say I can’t speak English. So many words formed on my tongue, but I thought about the amazing assemblies I’ve seen there over the years. How brave the children are to stand up in front of the school and act and sing, and of all of the words that formed on my tongue, the one that came out was yes. The children can’t all enjoy performing and yet they do it anyway. What sort of example would I set to my son if I didn’t at least try?

Yesterday, it was a different story. Riddled with doubt I spoke my lovely friend Victoria who told me to imagine I was speaking to one little girl. The little girl who loved to read. Loved to write. Who wanted nothing more than to be an author. The little girl I once was who had her dreams crushed when the career advisor said writing was neither a ‘proper or viable career choice.’ And a quiet determination grew inside. If in some small way I could inspire one child to follow their dreams it would be worth any amount of anxiety I might feel.

img_9444This morning I stood in front of a sea of expectant faces. I locked eyes with my son. He’d been so excited I was visiting and I wanted to make him proud, not faint/vomit/cry and so I ignored the notes I’d made and I spoke from the heart. I spoke of my passion for writing, my love for my characters, how I can’t imagine ever doing anything else. I spoke of my belief that we can all be who we want to be, if only we dare to dream and never stop trying.

I asked the children questions. They asked me questions. Some had written them down, complete with illustrations. Most loved to read, to write, to fabricate stories and many of them dream of being authors and seeing that raw hope, that ambition, that certainty, I am sure they can do anything they set their minds to.

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It was a real privilege meeting these children and I came away hopeful, and inspired, and itching to write. It was such an enriching experience. I learned a lot about them, but I also learned a lot about me. 

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21 thoughts on “My first school visit – 250 kids – what could possibly go wrong?

  1. This post made me so happy and excited, because I had a similar experience (albeit much smaller audience) earlier this school year. I went in to speak to a 3rd grade class about being a writer, and when I arrived another 3rd grade class joined us, so the group was bigger than I expected, but much smaller than 250.
    I have a vivid memory of falling in love with writing in 2nd grade when we were given a writing prompt where we all started with the same person, place, and thing and then took the story anywhere we wanted. So to have the privilege to spark that passion in a group of students about the same age was incredible.
    The best part was that one of the classes wrote me thank you cards, and two of the kids said that I inspired them to want to be authors when they grow up. I actually cried.
    Thank you for sharing this! I remember how special it was for me, and it’s so great to hear someone else talking about a similar experience. I hope you do more talks at schools, and you spark a passion for writing in the next generation.

  2. That must have been nerve wracking, exciting, and just wonderful. I’m sure you did great! I have a daughter, but I can’t image 250 of them all listening to what I have to say lol

  3. Such a lovely thing to do, I wish we’d had that at school. A huge hug to you for bravery & doing this, bet your son was beaming with pride. Love the way your friend Victoria helped you channel your anxiety & nerves – she’s a wise one 🙂 X

      • Also remembering when I used to occasionally be involved in booking (and paying) writers (etc) to come to school, many of them would state a maximum group size, usually 30, 60, or 90 (eg a class/year group). You could get a theatre group to do 250/400 but a theatre group’s different… we did once have a writer who did the whole school at once but he was also a retired headteacher (and he then sold around 300 books to the families at home time!) So your son is right to be proud of you and I hope the school showed sufficient appreciation! If you ever do this again or go to an unfamiliar school you may want to go through a group set up for the purpose – sorry can’t now remember the names of any – and see their guidelines first. I’d like to have been there though – it must have been a great moment!

      • Thanks for all that info! I wouldn’t dream of charging and no way can sell my books to kids but was good to do a ‘follow your dreams’ talk. Wow a retired Headmaster must have been super confident.

  4. Brilliant, Louise! I know we’ve talked a bit about this kind of thing, so I know how hard that must have been. And I’m glad you came away from it feeling it was a positive experience. (Sorry I wasn’t on hand with the cocktails for after.)

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