The first hurdle to clear when thinking about working with a writer or illustrator in school is the cost - Pounds 150 a day is the minimum going rate. The Arts Council of England may be able to help. It has Pounds 150,000 to spend on its Writers in School Initiative during the National Year of Reading and is about to announce grants of Pounds 3,000 each to eight local education authorities, with two more allocations of cash to follow.
The grants are for the authorities to spend on projects that involve at least five schools working with professional writers and which focus on the writer as reader as well as author, but the authorities must match the money the council gives them. The guidelines encourage applications from areas where schools are targeting disaffected readers, special needs or readers to whom English is a second language.
The closing date for first-stage bids for the second round of funding is September 25. There will be a third round, which closes on January 26.
Local sponsorship is another option and the London Borough of Ealing has the ultimate Year of Reading partner in Transworld Children's Books, which publishes Pete Johnson. Every junior school in the borough will get a free visit from a Transworld author or illustrator over the next three years. The publisher will supply schools with guidelines for a successful visit and suggestions for preparation activities.
Generally, publishers do not directly organise school events but will forward inquiries to authors and some produce a tips sheet for making the most of the visit. There is also advice in the current issue of Literacy Today.
You may need to book big names a year in advance. Much of the National Year of Reading, especially key dates such as World Book Day (April 23) may already be booked up.
Although nobody can do the preparation or follow-up in class for you, there are other ways to lighten the load. The demand for professionally organised visits has led Jan Powling, formerly of Books for Keeps magazine, to set up Speaking of Books, an agency which matches schools with writers, illustrators and storytellers. The agency organises classroom events or in-service training for Pounds 35 added to the writer's fee. It also supplies the visitor's books on a sale or return basis, with 10 per cent sales commission for the school.
To help you organise events yourself, the National Association of Writers in Education has a useful database (www.nawe.co.uk) which lists writers geographically and by speciality (including storytelling, journalism, film and television scriptwriting and non-fiction) and gives details of fees, the size of group writers prefer to work with, and so on.
Speaking of Books, 9 Guildford Grove, London SE10 8JY. Telfax 0181 692 4704. For more details and guidelines of the Arts Council scheme, local authorities should send a large addressed envelope to Christine Paris, Literature Department, the Arts Council of England, 14 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 3NQ. Tel 0171 333 0100; fax 0171 973 6590. Bids must then be made via regional arts boards.