Tomorrow I start a pilot project with East Grinstead Rugby Club. The plan is to work in a single town using rugby to promote reading – at three different venues: the rugby club, its local schools and in the public library.
The answer is that I want to work with children through lots of different places in one town. To reach them in more than one of the places they might go. To talk sport and reading.
We need to take the reading for pleasure message to children where they are at their happiest. To where they play sport… if they like sport. And where they watch sport too.
Here’s the itinerary.
Friday. Three one-hour Rugby Reading Games in three different schools.
Saturday. One Rugby Reading Game (with fresh questions) in the public library.
Sunday. Meeting kids, coaches and parents at the club’s rugby games on Sunday morning.
In addition, on the Saturday, I am joining the club for a trip to England v Samoa. I can’t wait.
There is another motivation for this pilot.
To sell books.
I am always looking for new ways to reach new readers who might want to buy or borrow my books from libraries.
Not because I am a cash-crazed cynic. But because I am just about managing to make a living as an author now – and if I don’t adapt, experiment and innovate, then I won’t be making a living as an author in ten years.
I predict that this weekend is going to be a lot of fun. I shall report back about that on that on Sunday night.
I’d like to thanks East Grinstead Rugby Club for working on this plan with me.
Two things were launched at the RAF Museum in Cosford today – and neither of them involved the runway at the adjacent RAF base.
First up I was proud to present a copy of my new book Combat Zone to twenty-nine kids from Albrighton Primary School. Many of the children helped me to write the book. Combat Zone is about children from RAF families and that’s just what some of the Albrighton kids are. They helped me understand what it is like to have an RAF mum or dad. I used their input to try to get the book right.
They all got a copy of the book – and some cake provided by Barrington Stoke, my lovely publisher.
The second thing launched was my new role at the museum. I am the RAF Museum Cosford Children’s Author in Residence.
Next year I am writing three books about the great RAF planes featured on the image below. The image is the logo being used to celebrate 100 years of the RAF in 2018. The planes featured are the Sopwith Camel, the Spitfire and the Eurofighter Typhoon.
I am going to use the museum as a base for my research. The museum are going to use me to help promote their wonderful resources and – more importantly – the stories behind them.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to RAF Museum Cosford and Albrighton Primary School for helping make my life as a writer so much more exciting – and satisfying.
We are launching the first book in the Rugby Academy series at RAF Cosford Museum on Thursday this week.
I will be joined by a group of children from Albrighton Primary School, where I am their Patron of Reading .
But my being Patron is not the only reason the children are joining me. They are coming because the helped me write the book.
Rugby Academy is about rugby team at a school where many of the children have parents in the RAF. To write about such an important and sensitive issue I needed to know more.
Albrighton School and RAF Cosford airbase were really helpful, allowing me to talk to children about what it is like to be in an RAF family. And to the parents about how their children cope with the many challenges being in a forces family.
How does it feel when your parents are mobilised at short notice?
What’s it like when they are away for months and you can only talk to them for a few minutes every week?
How much do you worry?
Or does it feel normal?
How do they feel when their parents return?
I learned a lot from the children at Albrighton Primary. They were very generous with their time. And I asked their parents what I could ask them before I went ahead, to avoid asking stupid questions.
The children also read the book once it was written. To make sure it represented their lives. I hope it does. The last thing I want to do is misrepresent their lives .
After all they did to help me, I am very grateful. That’s why I dedicated the book to them.
Being a Patron of Reading at a school is a two way thing. It’s a relationship.
Take my relationship with Stewart’s Melville in Edinburgh.
I go in. I talk about reading. I try to get the boys to see themselves as readers – even if they don’t think they are. I explain why and how I write. I try to inspire the boys to write themselves.
That’s what I give. But Stewart’s Melville give too.
When I stated writing my Rugby Academy series I didn’t know as much as I needed to know about rugby, about boarding schools or about what it is like to be in a forces family. And you can’t make those things up.
I needed help.
The librarian at Stewart’s Melville – Mr Wright – delivered that help. In abundance.
He introduced me to the housemaster at one of the boarding houses at the school. I was given a tour of where the boys live and the housemaster answered the dozens of questions I wanted to ask.
That is where I got the setting for the first book in the Rugby Academy series, Combat Zone.
I also discovered aspects of my characters lives: their places, their things, their routines.
Then Mr Wright invited me to rugby on a Saturday morning. I watched the boys train and play. I met their parents. I saw the rugby coaches in action.
Invaluable. Combat Zone would be even more authentic. Because my rugby team would train like, play like and behave like the boys I’d watched in training.
Verisimilitude. That’s what you need.
I already had most of the help I needed regarding being in a forces family from Albrighton Primary School next to Cosford RAF base. I’ve blogged about that before.
But not all of it. I’ll never forget meeting one boy on the way back from the boarding house at Stewart’s Melville. Mr Wright stopped him and asked if he’d speak to me.
He said he would.
The boy’s dad was in Afghanistan, Mr Wright explained.
It wasn’t easy, the boy told me. And, yes, he watched the news. Sometimes. But at other times he didn’t watch the news.
The boy was quiet about it, so, after a short while, I left it there, said thank you.
I shall never forget the look in that boys eyes. A look that said it all. It helped me a lot. The main character in Combat Zone was born that day. Woody. The son of a fighter pilot in the RAF. A boy whose dad is on active service in dangerous skies.
The look. Calm. Accepting. Stoical. But something unnameable just beneath the surface. Something you have to be shown, not told about.
My two-way relationship with Stewart’s Melville is not unique among Patrons of Reading. Other do it too. You can find out more about the scheme at www.patronofreading.co.uk.
Combat Zoneis book one of three in the Rugby Academy series. The idea is that a British rugby school team plays in the UK, then European and finally world schools ‘rugby finals, as their RAF parents are involved in an unfolding and dangerous humanitarian mission.
I had a good day today at St Albans School in Hertfordshire.
One thing I like to do when running my Rugby Reading Game is ask the children what they like to read. And – because they mentioned a lot of rugby reading material – I thought I’d pass it on.
Lots of the lads said they read newspapers – both on paper and online. They cited the Mail and Metro, but said, to be honest, it didn’t matter what the newspapers was, so long as it was about the game.
They named both the Rugby Paper and Rugby World, which it was good to see stocked in their school library. One boy also said he enjoyed and collected match day programmes when he went to matches with his dad.
The two most popular websites for rugby were the BBC Rugby and RFU websites.
Several of the boys had read rugby player autobiographies and biographies. They recommended books by and about Jonny Wilkinson, Brian O’Driscoll, Clive Woodward, Jona Lomu, Martin Johnson and Jonathan Davies.
Two boys mentioned reading How to Play books about rugby and other sports.
Another said he’d read Invictus, the book related to the film about South Africa hosting and winning the Rugby World Cup after the end of Apartheid.
And one children’s rugby book was mentioned. Scrum by me.
Thanks to the boys at St Albans.
If your school would like to recommend some Rugby Reads to go up on my blog – or if you’d like to put forward a Rugby Reader – please let me know.
On Thursday 20th November I’m having a book launch at the RAF Museum in Cosford.
I’ll be talking about my new series, Rugby Academy, along with a group of children who have parents serving in the RAF.
If you are a teacher or parent who would like to join us – with or without your pupils or children – there are places to see both the talk and then have a look round the museum. All for free.
There’s a reason the launch is at the RAF Museum. Rugby Academy is about rugby, but it is also about what it is like to be in a forces family, particularly the RAF.
I researched the books with the children who will be joining me at the launch. They also read through the books to help me iron out all my mistakes. We’ll talk about how I went about trying to write the book from their point of view.
We’ll also be joined by players form the RAF Cosford rugby team who will be telling the children what they like to read.
The rough idea for the three books is that a school rugby team plays in the UK, European and World school championships. As they play rugby many of their parents are involved in an aerial humanitarian relief operation in the Middle East.
There are three books coming out. All in time for next year’s Rugby World Cup. Combat Zone is out already. Surface to Air – set in Toulon – is out in February 2015. Finally, Deadlocked – set in New Zealand – in May 2015. All with Barrington Stoke.
The event will also launch my new role as Children’s Author in Residence at RAF Museum Cosford. In 2015 I will be writing three children’s books about the RAF. So I will – literally – be in residence, researching the history of the great aeroplanes of the RAF and speaking to groups of children every month.
Where: RAF Museum Cosford, Shifnal, Cosford, Shrophsire, TF11 8UP
When: Thursday 20th November 2014 at 10.30 a.m. Refreshments and book signing from midday.