The impact of school author visits

Man Booker Prize-nominated author Wyl Menmuir explains the powerful impact author visits to schools can have on children.

I remember vividly meeting my first author. It was at my local library. I was eight and the writer was Robert Westall. He signed my copy of The Machine Gunners, talked to me about writing the book, answered my questions, and showed an interest in me as a writer. In the nicest possible way, Robert was ordinary; he was like me.

That day, something clicked. I made the link between the book in my hand and the person who wrote the words. It was the first time I considered that I might become a writer one day. I started to carry a notebook around with me and wrote my first short stories, inspired by having met Robert. I read and reread his novels and tried to write like him.

At the same time, other authors I admired (at that time, Alan Garner, Michelle Magorian and Ursula LeGuin) started to become real people to me, too, as if meeting one meant I could see others as real people too. And along with it, there was the slightest chance that one day I could write something that might appear on a library shelf, that could affect a reader in the way the work of those novelists affected me.

Three years ago, my first novel was published and by some stroke of luck made its way to the longlist for the Man Booker Prize. I am lucky also that I now spend some of my time trying to use what I have learned as a teacher and an author to inspire writers both young and old through writing workshops and courses.

At their best, author visits are transformational. When authors reflect back at the children their interests and backgrounds, when they convey their passion for writing and reading, they can inspire, through their interactions with young people, increased motivation to read and write, and improved attitudes towards reading and writing. At their best, author visits leave children inspired to engage more deeply with texts.

However, I have observed enough to know that when author visits are not well-delivered, they are an opportunity wasted, and that there are few opportunities for authors to develop their knowledge and skills in this area before being plunged straight into a visit, an experience that can be detrimental to all involved.

I have seen the impact well-delivered author visits, writing residencies in schools, and author ambassadorships can have on children’s motivation to read and write, and I’ve seen too how authors can be instrumental in achieving something that is central to the work of all the partners on this project: getting the right book into the hands of the right child at the right time.

Our new School for Writers course, developed in partnership with Arvon, BookTrust and The Reading Agency helps writers who want to engage with schools, libraries and cultural and community venues to deliver workshops for children and young people.

We have workshops coming up in Bristol and Leeds — apply now.