Blueprint for success

1st October 2004 at 01:00
It's all in the planning. Kate Aldrich and Susan S'ari offer chapter and verse on writers' visits

Ludlow C of E Secondary School has a strong tradition of inviting writers to run workshops, give readings and talks. Home Farm Twins author Jenny Oldfield has even dedicated a novel to pupils at the school who inspired one of her books at workshops with us.

First steps: Start by looking for the right author. We have always had excellent recommendations and advice from our school library service and word-of-mouth recommendations from other schools.

The web is useful: Booktrust's children's books site,, led us to the National Centre for Language Literacy site,, which has national listings of writers. We email publishers or agents to suggest dates at least six months in advance.

Guest writers are asked to appear at a school assembly then speak to smaller groups during lesson times, so we check that they are comfortable with this. This confirmation stage can take months but it's worth the wait to get the writer we want.

Preparation Once we have a date and we have started encouraging students to read the writer's books, we run a competition with the art department to design a cover for the latest book, which the writer is invited to judge during the visit. The library, English department and any other departments involved meet about three months before the date to plan the event in detail.

Timing: We try to coincide with key dates such as World Book Day, National Poetry Day (October 7 this year) or our local Marches Feast of Words this month, set up by Shropshire schools library service, Ludlow Assembly Rooms and local county and school libraries.

Finding the money: The cost for more popular writers has often been shared with the community. When Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo came for last year's Marches Feast of Words, the cost was shared between the school library and the Assembly Rooms. We always budget for at least one author a year from the library and English capitations. Our local further education college shared the cost of Simon Armitage, the poet and novelist, working with key stage 4 students.

Best events: Michael Morpurgo had the students mesmerised. So many of them had read his books. We invited Year 6 pupils from 14 feeder schools to attend with our own Year 7.

When Andrew Fusek Peters performed his poems in 2002, the Year 10 and 11 students were awestruck because of the taboo subjects from which he created poetry - and his height. Poems with Attitude was the most borrowed book in the school library for some time.

Both events are still talked about in school. Every contact with writers helps students develop independent reading as well as encouraging their creative writing talents.

Coming soon: The Two Steves (Barlow and Skidmore) visit on October 8 for this year's Feast of Words. We're sharing this event with our own Year 7s and Year 5 pupils from our feeder schools.

In December we have award-winning children's author Alan Gibbons from last year's Writing Together conference. Many of his books involve myths and legends, which are taught as part of the curriculum. We want him to conduct history writing workshops for Years 7 and 8 and give a performance and talk for Year 6s from our feeder schools.

Kate Aldrich is head of English and Susan S'ari is librarian at Ludlow C of E Secondary School, Shropshire


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