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Chapter and verse

An author's visit can inspire pupils to read, but plan the session carefully, writes Nicola Morgan

Books change lives. Author visits can too. A visit by a good author can turn non-readers into readers, readers into book-lovers.

And bad author visits? Are there such things? Er, yes. Bad author visits leave other authors mentally bruised, and pupils oblivious - the worst outcome. I'd rather fall on my face than have pupils not notice I'd been.

The best events are not always in the wealthiest or the most book-orientated schools. They are in schools which have thought extremely carefully how to spend their money and made huge efforts to add value.

Choose the author carefully. Time spent researching him or her pays dividends. Ask librarians or teachers for recommendations (don't forget untried authors, they may be excellent speakers). Most authors have websites, often with advice on inviting them to speak.

Once you've identified your author, communication is essential. Be clear about your wishes but accept that the author knows what works for him or her. Agree times, audience size and age, and the exact nature of the event.

Ask about technical requirements and mention any pupils with additional needs.

Should pupils have read any of the books to be discussed? Is particular preparation by the teacher or class useful or necessary? Will pupils require paper or pens? What travel arrangements and costs are involved?

Clarity about money is vital. The root of all evil is tangled and there is frequent confusion about what a "session" is. For clarity: it is one talk or workshop. It will probably average an hour. A workshop is often longer, perhaps 90 minutes, and may cost more. A session with younger children may be shorter. If your timetable only allows 40 minutes, then a session is 40 minutes. The point is: one session equals one fee. A shorter session is not a smaller fee, as losing 10 minutes doesn't reduce preparation time or energy.

Of course, compromises can be reached, and it's worth asking, explaining your parameters. Some authors have a minimum daily fee - because travelling can use a whole day for one event.

Say whether you have Live Literature Scotland (LLS) funding. Visit the section on the Scottish Book Trust website. Increasingly, authors charge more than the LLS minimum (set to rise next year) - if so, can you cover the difference?

Some authors bring their books to sell; others don't or can't. Some schools find it problematic and we appreciate this. But owning books really encourages a love of reading. And, frankly, authors don't earn money if their books don't sell. (Violins away now, please).

If you will be selling books, discuss the author's recommended structure, including supply of books, help with selling, pricing, and have a float for change. Encourage and remind pupils to bring money - often, pupils are disappointed because they find they want to buy a book but have forgotten their money.

Making the pupils excited affects the event. It's possibly the most important thing you can do. Get them to use the websites and prepare questions. Ask publishers for promotional material. And ensure good staff presence and decent behaviour from pupils. The author's energy should go into inspiration, not discipline.

A well-prepared event with an inspirational author and interested staff can be mind-opening for pupils. Scottish children's authors are an incredible resource, and right on your doorstep, keen to do the best possible talks.

Use them. Together, turn pupils into book-lovers; change lives.

* Nicola Morgan's new novel 'The Highwayman's Footsteps', based on Alfred Noyes's famous poem, was published last week; www.childliteracy.coml

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