A few years ago I was reviewing events at the Wigtown Book Festival for the local newspaper and I wrote one article commenting on how much of a writer's life was now taken up with performing at festivals. This was before I wrote my first book and at that point I had no notion I would end up in this position myself. It was painfully obvious that many writers were wonderful at their craft but hated being dragged into the spotlight. They spoke too quietly, were awkward or trembling wrecks or just delivered lecture, their heads buried in a pile of papers, and who could blame them? They had chosen to be writers not performers and just wanted to be left alone to get on with it.
The ability to present your work, to talk about it, and if you're a children's writer then keep a crowd of youngsters happy for an hour, is increasingly part of an author's life. I'm involved in the children's committee for a festival and the decree from the director is that anyone selected for an invitation to appear should be able to present an 'experience' not just a reading of their work. This is a tall order and pretty unreasonable. By this criteria many excellent writers would be left on the shelf.
When I wrote my first children's book I was invited to appear at a book festival. My event attracted a large audience and luckily the illustrator agreed to appear with me. We had never done an event before, let alone before a large crowd of young children, but I thought we did pretty well. We both talked to the kids, I read the story and Pauline explained how she'd done the illustrations. We then played a game and we had some colouring sheets to do. Everyone seemed happy apart from the publisher who claimed we'd lost sales as some children had drifted away. (Friends who were at the event later told me that one child had been taken to the toilet but that was it).
I have since become more experienced at public speaking to adults and reading stories to wee ones and looking back I know that our first event was pretty good for a pair of novices. I've seen some real stinkers from authors who just want to read the book and go home. I don't blame them but there is the expectation now that children should be entertained. One popular author performs a series of spectacular magic tricks at his events (and leaves quite a mess!), another runs around so much he must lose a stone!
At a recent workshop about becoming a children's writer, Debbie Williams, course leader at the University of Central Lancashire, said that you are far more likely to be taken on by a publisher if you've been a teacher or can show that you know children, and can engage with them. In fact you have to be able to engage with people.
As I left the building after the talk I passed an author (the event was for writers) who had been at the same (small) event, and I smiled warmly. He looked through me as if he'd never seen me before in his puff! That's not the way to do it, I thought.