From Christina Booth
Being a children's author and illustrator is, as I tell students when I visit schools, the best job in the world. In very simple terms, I get to colour in for a living, tell stories with twisted truths and occasionally spy on people as 'research'. I don't have to grow up, much, and I can work in my pyjamas.
'Are you in your pyjamas now?' asked a young student a few weeks ago. 'I wish', I said, 'my pyjamas are very warm and comfortable.'
One other part of being an author I love is visiting schools. As a trained teacher I do, on occasion, miss working with children rather than producing for them. I enjoy sharing my passion and encouraging them to have a desire to learn about their world (this lasts until I think of reports, staff meetings and parent teacher interviews, then I'm VERY content with what I do now) and to be invited to a school to present to an assembly, a classroom, run a writing or illustrating workshop makes my world complete.
It sounds quite perfect. Swanning in and out of schools between days in the studio sounds like bliss, but it does, like all jobs, have its down sides.
Presenting is exhausting. I've been a classroom teacher (K-12's) so I know the hard yakka of days with children. But this, this is like running a marathon in your Ugg boots! And the number of visits, the invitations.....not as often as you might expect. It is a bit like fruit picking and invitations can be far and few between. Sometimes people expect that you must be so booked up they don't bother to ask and Book Week can be feast or complete famine (children's authors rely on Book Week bookings to help boost their usually meagre incomes to survive the year).
Sadly, many potential bookings fall through. Many are offended at what we charge for a school visit or that we would charge at all. I am frequently asked if I could drop in for half an hour to chat to a class, or 'would you please come and work with our budding writers?' or could I do a presentation or judge a competition, 'could I do it for free because there is no money left or allowed in the budget?' Or, 'we can pay your travel fees, just not your author fees.' Sadly, I have to decline. It breaks my heart. My reasons and those of other authors are simple. It is our job, if we do it for free we can't keep doing our job. We have mortgages to pay, groceries to buy, cars to run, debts to pay. Our work often has more overheads than income. If we say yes to one, then how do we say no to others?
When the plumbing breaks down or the computers crash, do we ask the plumber or IT man to come for nothing because it isn't in our budget? Do teachers go to work each day because their passion for teaching and children's learning is pay enough, or do people need to be paid for their skills and talents? Authors are the same, if our skills are valued enough to use to teach and motivate students, it needs to be paid for.
Another fabulous thing about school visits are the letters and responses I receive. When I work in a school I am often inundated with letters from students and teachers alike. When a teacher in tears tells me that a disabled student who wouldn't hold a pencil on their own has just spent the whole day independently drawing pigs after a 'little piggy' workshop, that is priceless. When a non reading student decides it's time to go to the library and find 'their just-right book', what value can we even put on that? What I love about what I do isn't the pay cheque at the end of the day but knowing I have made an impact on children, their desire to read, be creative and learn. If I did it for money, I would have quit a very long time ago. But I still need to be paid, or else I will have no choice in the matter.
Most authors love to visit schools. We are cave dwellers yet we have a huge desire to 'share our world', it is what makes us writers. It is a delight to come out and meet our readers. We love what we do, most of the time, and to encourage others to find their passion and follow their dreams is a joy.
One of my most amazing memories: visiting a school in Canberra for Book Week. I was facing a sea of bored faces, just in from a cold, muddy lunch hour. Two schools sharing the one community library. They didn't know who I was, why should they, I was just another boring adult who was going to talk on about something boring. When I was introduced as the author who had written Kip, they began to scream, not at me but at Kip, they were so excited, I was amazed. Kip had just won his award and it was my first time out and about reading him to schools. One hundred and fifty screaming fans, Kip was a rock star and I didn't even know it. He was just my pet rooster that inspired me to write a story. In my cave, on my own, he was Kip, in the big wide world, he was Elvis!!
You should hear one hundred and fifty primary school children scream 'Cock-a-doodle-doo! Priceless. I love my job.
How authors feel at the end of book week!!