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Thursday, 1 March 2012

What Scares a Crime Writer?


A lot of readers will tell you I write some scary stuff, so I’m used to chills and thrills and scares aplenty. I also talk at libraries and writers’ conferences, and sometimes I even run a workshop. So you wouldn’t think there would be much that would scare me.
 
Well, I did something this week that scared the pants off me.
 
It all started with a phone call asking me to speak at a primary school, classes 5, 6 and 7, approximate ages 9 to 11 years. Oh, and there would be about 100 of them. I only had one comment, and that was, ‘You do know that I don’t write children’s books.’ The speaker assured me they did but that was okay, because what they wanted me to talk about was what it was like to be a writer. So, being the nice amenable person I am, I said yes.
 
As the date grew nearer I got the collywobbles. Why on earth had I said yes? I’d never talked to children before and wasn’t too sure how I would handle it. One thing for sure, I wouldn’t be able to intersperse my talk with readings. My books are definitely the kind of book that no parent or teacher would want read out to their kiddiwinkies.
 
Now I usually do my talks straight off the top of my head. I open my mouth and wait to see what comes out. I wasn’t sure that was the best of ideas if I was addressing primary school children, so I cobbled together an agenda:-

1. Introduce myself.

2. Tell them writers aren’t special people they’re just ordinary like everyone else.
 
I congratulated myself, this agenda thing was a good idea. What ho, let’s carry on. What’s next?
 
3. Skills needed.
 
Had to stop and think there. What are a writer’s skills? Pen, paper, commas, full stops, imagination – Bingo, I’d talk about imagination. I’d just have to rely on my ability to open my mouth and wait for something to come out.
 
4. How do writers write their books?
 
Stop for another groan and scratch of the head. Have you ever tried to figure out how you write your books? No, I thought not. We just write don’t we? Goodness only knows where the ideas come from, never mind the words.
 
5. Getting published.
 
That’s a doozie and they’re bound to want to know. After all, it’s easy, isn’t it?
 
6. Selling books.
 
Groaning again. That’s easier said than done. In an ideal world readers would be queuing up to buy our pearls of wisdom, that fantastic story that will have them on the edges of their seats. But wait a minute – what about the other thousand plus books out there all clamouring for the same reader.
 
7. Any questions.
 
Hope they don’t think up anything I can’t answer, but they’re kids, right. The questions they ask aren’t going to be like the ones my adult readers ask. Compiling this agenda has given me one massive headache and I retire to bed to sleep it off.
 
Next day I gritted my teeth and drove to the school. Got there 10 minutes early and as I parked the car it dawned on me that I’d forgotten to take my Kindle, and I intended to bring Kindle publishing into my presentation, and they might not know what a Kindle was. Mad dash back home, lucky there were no speed cops about, grabbed my Kindle and my Sony Ereader and whizzed back to the school with seconds to spare.
 
I was led into the hall, a bare room that doubled as a gym and the dinner hall, and all the kids were sitting cross-legged in the middle of the floor. A teacher pulled a plastic chair over, plonked it down in front of them and asked me if I’d like a desk as well. I declined gracefully, took my jacket off and sat down. The teacher then stood and said everything I had intended to say in my introduction, including the fact it was World Book Day. Ho hum, that was number one on the agenda out the window.
 
A hundred pairs of eyes fixed on me and I opened my mouth and waited to see what came out. I needn’t have worried, they were a receptive audience, no one went to sleep and no one fidgeted, in fact they were engrossed. So I rabbited on for a while and when I came to the questions they came thick and fast. Most of the questions were intelligent, although there were one or two less intelligent ones. Like ‘How old are you?’ and ‘What age did you start writing?’ There were also several of the variety ‘Do you know this author?’ but as they were mostly children’s authors I didn’t know many of them.
 
The spin off was that quite a few of the children said that their grandas, aunties, uncles etc, had Kindles, so several of them went off clutching the flyers I make to advertise my books, with a little bit of luck it might turn into a few sales.

So, on the whole my scary talk wasn’t so scary after all. The children all said they enjoyed it, and I certainly did too.





11 comments:

Sheryl said...

You do realise you probably could have hired one of those technically savvy children to do you on line marketing? Nice blog, Chris. Made me smile! :) x

Susan Russo Anderson said...

Wonderful post, Chris. Susan

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Really enjoyed your post, Chris - and I can imagine how terrifying the thought of it must have been!

Gwen Kirkwood said...

Enjoyed your post, Chris. Children can be unbelievably scary in their honesty so I was trembling along with you. Glad it all went so well.

Joan Fleming said...

Great post, Chris. This could be the start of a whole new career...

Chris Longmuir said...

Thanks for your comments everybody, and Joan, I'm not sure about the new career!

Janice Horton said...

Gosh Chris - you are brave! Kids can be the toughest audience of all and it sounds like you handled it all really well. Just think - now you've done that - you can do anything!

Miriam Wakerly said...

Loved reading about this experience. I faced a couple of schoolrooms recently - one was a group of Gypsy and Traveller children, which was 'fun' and another serious class of 6th formers. Both quite challenging! but does focus the mind and give you fresh insights.

Francine Howarth: UK said...

Hi,

Ha ha, the smaller they are the more daunting they are.

I did a talk for teenagers, once, on another subject to that of writing and afterwards, the form mistress said she'd never known her class so quiet, so enthralled before. She said she did wonder whether I'd hypnotised them! ;)

best
F

Linn B Halton said...

And think how many little minds you have now inspired... plus fingers crossed for a few books sales for your efforts!

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Very nice post and good for you! - I get scared going into schools - although I'm usually asked to speak to older students about one play in particular (Wormwood, which some of them study for Higher Drama) - and that's fine - their questions always seem to be interesting and I really like that age group. But my admiration of infant teachers knows no bounds!