It was just over forty years ago.
I was ten years old, at school, and we were brought into the assembly hall to listen to a special guest speak to us. A man, a children’s book writer stood on the stage in front of us and spent an hour telling us exciting stories about his life, talking about the books that he both read and wrote as he did so.
He spoke of fantastical adventures, of mighty heroes and terrifying villains and, as he finished I remember clapping wildly thinking to myself ‘wow! When I grow up, I want to be a writer. Or a ninja.’
Remember, I was only ten.
That man made me the writer that I am now, and because of this I’ve taken the time over the last fifteen years to try to return the favour, by becoming that man, and talking on stage to a new generation of schoolchildren. It’s something I find immensely satisfying and rewarding, and every schoolchild that I inspire during one of these days spent at a school in return inspires me to be a better writer.
I’ve talked at the Northern Children’s Book Festival, the Bath Children’s Literature Festival and twice at the Edinburgh International Book Festival among others and have been talking at schools for almost two decades now.
I’m best known for my school talks labelled CHANGE THE CHANNEL, where I spend a day at a school (including a lunch with a writing group), based around the simple fact that many reluctant readers, if faced with a book they don’t enjoy will often walk away from books altogether. I compare this to other mediums, showing that if you’re watching a movie on TV and hate it, you simply change the channel – and how ‘changing the channel’ in book genres, and finding your own favourite book ‘channel’ can often be a good thing.
My talk covers the following topics:
My life as a reluctant reader
How a writer at my school inspired me to become one; however I had a problem with both reading and writing – books were just too long! I discuss problems with books and my impatience with reaching the end of them, showing how a book is a journey, not a destination.
I also discuss the attitude of ‘I read a book once, didn’t like it, won’t read another’, comparing this to alternative media such as movies, showing how books can cover many topics. I also discuss comics and the help they gave me as a child.
I discuss how reading comics got me reading adaptations of books which made me a better reader, and more interested in reading, comparing this rise to playing games on a console, with comparisons to the ‘defeating an end of level bad guy and progression of a game’.
My life as a terrible writer
I discuss how I didn’t know how to write, how I was ‘scared of the blank page’ and what I did to get over this.
I discuss how I learned to write exciting stories, and how I beat writer’s block / the fading of a story by picking an exciting moment and working back. For example, in Robin Hood, I give a scene description – the Sheriff is about to hang Marion, and Robin is on the battlements, notching an arrow to a bow. I talk about how the ‘how did this happen‘ is more important than the ‘what happens next.‘
Using that cliffhanger scene, I get the children to tell me their story of what happened here. Often the children, when realising they can give any answers, will let their imaginations run riot. By asking the relevant questions, I lead them back to the start of the story, creating a continuous narrative from the suggestions that they give, showing that no matter how crazy it is, anything can become a story and that ‘homework’ isn’t a dirty word.
If I feel the group is more up to it, instead of getting them to tell me a story, I’ll bring four class members up and, using them as the ‘art’, explain to the audience how I create a comic, telling a story of great evil verses great good, with jokes and laughter throughout, allowing the audience to make decisions on the story as I go along, building up to a twist climax.
To end, I tell a five minute ‘ghost’ story that makes the kids jump, purely to show that when invested into a story, you can be taken anywhere.
With a summing up and questions to end, the talk takes between 45 minutes to an hour, depending on time. It’s loud and boisterous, and the children always give great feedback.
In addition to this, I also spend the whole day in the school, including lunch with a select group of children, usually either reluctant readers or a writing group, where I can give advice and suggestions in a more informal setting. Or, I’ll sit in the library and talk to anyone who comes and speaks to me!
If having me visit your school for the day is something that you may be interested in, then please email me by clicking the ‘Mail’ button on the sidebar to discuss dates and rates. Please note that this isn’t my day job, and as such I only put aside a few dates a month to do this, and often dates fill up fast.
What The Schools Say:
Dear Tony Lee,
Thank you for inviting me to stay and have some time with you. I really enjoyed the vampire stories it made me laugh and also made my eyes water. I had lots of fun!
love from Abigail
Dear Tony Lee,
We really enjoyed a very good time. Thank you for coming in. We all enjoyed listening and making up a story.
yours sincerely, Ryan (Class 7)
This is just a short note to say a very sincere thank you for your time and energy last term. The kids were completely spell bound and are already looking forwards to next year!
Radnor House School
thanks again for coming to our school and giving the children such a fun, interesting and inspiring day. The ones in homework club are still full of it!
Kind regards, Sandra.
Huge thanks to the ubercool author Tony Lee for spending a day with our Y7-9 lads encouraging them to read, read and read!
Barnwell School Twitter