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World Book Day 2024 and Other Tales

“An independent author can usually be found,

In the early days of March doing the story book rounds…”


I do love this time of year, for all its new beginnings and feelings of change in the air. The first event to pull me out of my little front room studio is World Book Day, which is not long after Storytelling Week, and is usually celebrated on the first Thursday in March. This year I was asked by local poet, Attie Lime, if I would like to be part of Swadlincote’s first ever Festival of Words, organised by Ingrid van der Weide, Editor and Publisher of Swad Style. So I found myself on a very pleasant and scenic bus journey through Derbyshire, finally arriving at Swadlincote, where I was greeted by Ingrid and some volunteers at the No.2 Coffee House on The Delph. I have a habit of arriving at places about 2 hours earlier than I need to, so I enjoyed a wander about the high street before eventually remembering that I had to talk to a lot of school children at the local library.

 

Prior to my visit, I had been in contact with the very lovely and helpful Ruth Sharpe, who was the library manager. She was so helpful organising the visiting schools and she gave me some great feedback afterwards. We have a few plans for the library summer reading challenge ahead, and I know we will stay in touch.

 

This was my first time delivering a talk to children at a library. Usually, I feel fairly confident in a classroom situation, but this very much felt like an assembly. I’m not really used to projecting my voice, in fact, I barely speak to anyone most days (drawing and daydreaming in my house!). However, I like to push myself out of my comfort zone every now and then, and more importantly, I always come away from these talks feeling positive, having thoroughly enjoyed myself. The thing that makes them so enjoyable is always the children. As you read your book, something you’ve poured so much of yourself into, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing the reactions of little faces. The library itself was quite open, so lots of activity going on around the storytelling area, but it felt pretty special to be able to hold the attention of a carpet full area of primary school children.


The first session was with a year 3 class from Springfield school and some home-schooled children, so I was able to hold an illustration workshop afterwards. I really enjoyed talking to some of the many characters as they were designing their own Greatest Cakes. It sounds strange to say, but I sometimes forget the imagination and energy of young children. I always find them entertaining, and I feed off their excess energy! I always love answering their many varied and sometimes random questions – my favourite part of any school visit.

 

The lovely year 1’s of Belmont School were the last session of the day. Somehow, we managed to fit the entire year group on that little library carpet! So many children were dressed up as Willy Wonkas, pirates, dinosaurs, princesses, and in their cosiest pyjamas – just a delight for me to look out onto picture book characters that had seemingly come to life. I could not believe what a well-behaved group they were. They all listened and asked really quite grown up questions (you can always tell when they’re good questions because I really have to think). With each school visit, I am learning to explain things in a language they might understand. “How do you make a book?” is always a difficult one to whittle down into a few sentences!!




The next day I had a much quicker journey, a short walk to spend the day at Field House Infant School. Both my nephew and niece were pupils here (now both at secondary school), so it was lovely to see what once would have been their little worlds. I visited each class from Nursery, Reception then up to Year 1 and Year 2. I followed my general plan of introducing myself, then reading a book or 2, talking a bit about how and why I make them, then a little q&a at the end, followed by a drawing exercise. I was with each class roughly about half an hour, and even though there’s always a general plan that I try to stick to, this inevitably varies from class to class. With Nursery, I am finding that it is more of a case of reading a couple of books and finding out a bit more about what they like about stories. Reception tend to be little bundles of energy, eager to ask questions and join in, then whizzing through the drawing activity.

 

Year 1 and Year 2’s are probably where I feel most comfortable, and I wonder if other authors feel the same. There’s a good mix of listening and asking interesting questions, as well as creating some beautiful work when they are encouraged to draw something themselves. I think it was the Badger class that I enjoyed the most, because they had brilliant sketchbooks and I talked a little bit about how important my own sketchbook is for me. It’s where the ideas first begin (when you’ve got them onto paper out of your head) and I love to trace the development through the pages. I also really love looking at other people’s sketchbooks because they are their own personal illustrative voices, a bit like your handwriting. I’m always much more comfortable talking about my books in terms of the illustration artwork than the words, so I think I would like to do more of this in future school visits.


I had some great conversations with the teachers, like Miss C-P, who was telling me all about how the children had recently learned about Ilkeston’s history as a mining town, with great enthusiasm. So they were excited to see the connection in my “About Me” section where I had written that I was from “an ex-mining town”. It made me realise how important it is to show children, particularly from areas like mine, that it is possible to make a living doing something that you’re passionate about. If a visiting author/illustrator had ever visited my school, I know this would have stayed with me for a long time. I do remember a “storyteller” visiting an English class at secondary school once, and I’ve never forgotten the excitement of listening to somebody bring a story to life without any books or visuals. I think it must have had an impact on me without me realising, but I have no idea who she was or where she came from…it’s one of those dreamlike memories, where you almost wonder if you imagined it?



I remember enjoying a lot of the questions in Fox class, particularly from a little boy called Joseph. In every school there’s always one child who stays in your mind because they are almost on a level with you, in the things that they ask. You can almost see the cogs working in their minds, trying to work out how to make a book, how to get it printed, what it should be about. By the end of all the intelligent questions, it’s almost like you’ve had a conversation and you know them a little bit. I think it’s making those connections that are as important to me as they (hopefully) are to them. His mum very kindly messaged me a week ago to tell me that he felt very inspired to write his own story and wants to be an author, a marine biologist and an explorer one day. Entirely possible that he will achieve all of those things, I think!


It was so lovely to feel part of Field House School for the day, I even enjoyed watching the assembly at the end of the day. I was given the very difficult task of judging their “Book Bake Off” competition, where one of my Greatest Cake books was given to a winner from each year group. To be honest, it was the thing that I found most stressful in the whole day! Genuinely every single cake was so good and really reflected their book choices so creatively. Even now, looking at the photos, I wonder if I chose the right ones as winners. It was the perfect end to World Book Day week, and one that I will remember for a long time.




The following week was a completely different vibe, as I made my way to Nottingham College for a chat with the Art and Design Foundation Degree students. I was invited by a former tutor, Tom Hackett, who taught me at Art and Design Foundation way back in 2005 (I think!). I didn’t really know what to expect, but I immediately felt at home in the old Adams building in the Lace Market. I’m always much happier in an old building for some reason! It was a lovely group of around 10 students. We all sat around the table and I gave them lots of mock up books and art work to pick up and look at, which I’m told makes a nice change from everything being mostly on a screen these days. I talked them through my “journey” as a children’s picture book author/illustrator, and it really made me sit back and realise why I do what I do.

 

It was useful to just stop and take stock of the fact that I’ve found my own way in the publishing world. It wasn’t the result of a big life plan, and when I look back, I can see how differently things might be for me now if I’d persisted down another route e.g. tried harder to get an illustration agent, pushed more to follow the more traditional, accepted route…but actually, I feel really fulfilled with the life I’ve created for myself. I hope I was able to get across to the students that it might not be everyone’s idea of success, but it’s about finding the right route for you, and anyway, it’s not over yet!! I still feel like I’m at the beginning really, and who knows what will happen in the next 10 years or so. I think the key for me has been realising it’s mainly to do with having the confidence to go for the thing you feel most passionate about in the world. We all talk about things we would like to do or achieve in life, but the biggest hurdle is actually stepping into it. We have all got to start somewhere and only you know what you want, it’s really nobody else’s business, and a lot of the time, nobody really cares! Which is why it is always such an honour to be invited to these things, and waffle on about what I do, because you just never know if it will give somebody that kickstart of confidence that they need (however young or old they are).




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My children loved your visit at FieldHouse school, my Daughter Ava still talks about it and was very excited to see her picture on your page xx

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Kerry
Kerry
05 abr
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Thank you for this! So pleased Ava is happy to see her "poppycayk" on here. She insisted that I keep it, so thought I would share it with everybody! Just love it x

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Lovely inspiring words as always ♥️ sounds like you make a lasting impact on some little minds 🥰

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Kerry
Kerry
05 abr
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Thank you Suze...I try!! x

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