Like many writers, I thrive on face-to-face contact with readers, and I’ve conducted workshops at schools and libraries across Canada. Typically, these are one-time visits in which I read from my work followed by a Q&A and open discussion period. Sometimes the visit is tied to a performance of one of my young-audience plays which the class has just seen. On several occasions, I’ve worked with the same group of students over a period of weeks, helping them write original stories or create a play (in one case, an opera) collectively.
With my theatre background, I know how to make my readings engaging and lively. I find that the kids are always full of questions and comments, and I never find it difficult to get a discussion going after a reading. I don’t like to overmanage things, but instead let the discussion be guided by their interests and questions. I’m always energized by the give-and-take of meeting with young people, and I’m comfortable speaking to any size audience. I also give presentations to adult audiences, based on my non-fiction books Kid Culture and Honey, We Lost the Kids, and do workshops for groups of teachers or teachers-in-training.
The Notherland Journeys
Since the three books in The Notherland Journeys series explore the theme of creativity and imagination, they’re particularly good workshop material for students age 9 and up. I begin my presentations by briefly setting up the overall narrative of the trilogy, and follow that with a reading from the most recent book, The Songweavers. The length of the reading can be 10-20 minutes, depending on the situation and the time allotted. After the reading I talk about the writing process (which I emphasize should actually be called the rewriting process) and answer the FAQs that come up: “How long does it take to write a book?” “Where do you get your ideas?”
I find that students are invariably fascinated to hear how the core idea for the trilogy first came to me, and how the story grew and developed organically. I also pose them some questions, to find out how well they understood the reading, how they feel about the characters, whether they have a sense of where the story is going. With groups of students age 11 and up, I might discuss “craft” matters, such as the challenge of maintaining a clear storyline through several books, and ask if they want to share some of their own writing.