When I first contact the school I always ask if there’s anything in particular they want me to cover — this goes for my workshops as well. Usually they’ll say ‘Just talk about your work’, in which case I do the general talk. But if they want me to talk about a particular book, or about some aspect of creative writing they’ve been discussing (for example, characterisation or research) or something one or several of my books deals with (for me it’s often bullying, or sex ed) I always do my best to do as requested.
What not to accept
If at all possible, I have a big group for talks, and no more than 25–30 students for a workshop. I would rather do one 90-minute talk to 100 kids than two with 45 to 50 in each group.
Don’t allow sessions to be stretched beyond your agreed time. I have on occasion agreed to do three 60-minute sessions, then been asked to do four 45-minute sessions, but when I arrived, those sessions had become 55 minutes each. I don’t get precious about five minutes here and there — I often go a bit over if the kids are engaged and the timetable isn’t pressing — except when I feel like I’m being taken advantage of.
I’m sometimes asked to meet some other students, like have a chat with the Year 12 Extension kids. Provided I’m not expected to do a complete session as a freebie, I’ll often do it, as a sign of goodwill. This often leads to repeat bookings — I’ll often say ‘Why don’t you think about booking me to do a day of workshops for your senior students?’
I consider myself in the employ of the school for the day, so I always tell teachers that if a kid comes to the library during lunch and wants to say hi, they should let that happen. I need my breaks, of course, but saying hi to a couple of kids doesn’t take much, and it means a lot to the kids, and to their school.
Don’t allow yourself to be pushed into doing two or three sessions in a row without time for a break. Five minutes is all that’s needed to have a drink, gather your thoughts ...