August is the month where children's writers spend an awful lot of days in schools, because during this time is Children's Book Week. If you are lucky enough to have a book shortlisted for the CBCA awards, you are likely to be even more in demand. Nevertheless, schools go all out to celebrate books. I've been to a few dress-up parades with kids in every kind of costume from Dorothy (Wizard of Oz) and Harry Potter to Angelina Ballerina and a teacher dressed as a cow, udder and all. This is primary school, of course. I can't imagine any high school kid being so uncool as to dress up as a book character!
Some authors take to school visits like a duck to water (cliche warning) but most have to "feel" their way into it. A few years ago, the Centre for Youth Literature ran some training sessions to help authors work out how to do a successful school visit, which were very useful. We learned about "show and tell" items, being genuine, telling stories, and being enthusiastic. I remember once hearing Andy Griffith, the king of school visits (and of kid's books here), talking about doing a course in stand-up comedy in order to learn how to create a "script" and present to kids effectively.
There are dangers here, of course. Your script can become too familiar, so that you are sick to death of hearing yourself spout it! You can certainly do too many school visits and lose that important enthusiasm. I still enjoy them, I think because I mostly go to primary schools where the kids love reading and are not afraid to ask questions (including "how old are you?"). I quail at a class of Year 9s who lean back in their chairs and pretend they couldn't care less about books, even if they're dying to ask you something.
With the "show and tell" element, I often take with me objects that have inspired stories, or helped to create the story for me. On my desk is a very small toy wombat. Five years ago, I bought him on my way to the USA, and wrote a story about him while sitting in San Antonio airport, waiting for my flight. I'd just spent four days with my writer friend, Kristi Holl, talking about writing, so maybe it's hardly surprising that a story popped out, but it was the toy attached to my bag that started it.
Of course, I have a lot of pirate "objects" - everything from a flag and some replica doubloons to photos and eye patches. I show them to the kids, but I think the things that helped me the most with writing Pirate X were the images - old pictures of Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard, and photos I took myself of settings. I also have an amazing cross-section of a Spanish galleon by the artist, Stephen Beisty. It helped me imagine myself on an old sailing ship with a bunch of pirates.
When I look at other things I've written, often I've found the objects after working on the story idea, but every so often there's either an object or an image that has inspired some writing, usually a poem. My latest poem is about Little Saigon, a market in Footscray. I volunteered to write a poem for a project about Footscray, and I couldn't write it without going back to the market again and looking, smelling, tasting and listening.
What objects have led to you writing something recently?