Anyone up for a School Visit? They're great, says Griselda Heppel

Setting up for the Creative Writing group,
Headington School.

One of the best things I get to do as a children’s writer is visit schools. 

I love these visits. There’s nothing like getting together with a group of 9 – 13 year-olds and their teachers and introducing them to the ideas behind a particular book, drawing them into the excitement of story creation and giving tips on how to make strong, believable characters and a gripping plot.

Ante's Inferno by Griselda Heppel
Because my books tend to be inspired by other, much greater works, there’s plenty of background information young people find fascinating. Ante’s Inferno, for instance, in which 12 year-old Antonia finds herself on a dark journey to the heart of Hell, is based on (can you guess?) Dante’s Inferno. Dante, in turn, drew deeply from Greek and Roman legend of the afterlife, rendering my school talk full of references to monsters like the Minotaur and Harpies, and giving my audience the chance to tell me what they know.

The Minotaur © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons,
CC BY 2.5,

And they all know something. Occasionally a reference to Cerberus draws a blank; but all I have to do is mention Fluffy, Hagrid’s pet dog in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and they get it at once.

The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst
by Griselda Heppel
The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst, in which my hero makes a pact with a demon (no, not a good idea, you’re quite right), it’s the legend of Dr Faustus that inspired the story, and I tell the children about Marlowe, Shakespeare and Elizabethan ideas of magic and science. Questions and lively discussions invariably ensue and it’s always a thrill to see how young people can grasp and enjoy stories with complex themes, if you give them a chance.

My most recent visit was last week to Headington School's Creative Writing group, with whom I shared what inspired me to write my latest book, a kind of supernatural thriller called

 The Fall of a Sparrow

No big literary themes this time. Instead, I explained that this was my most autobiographical book yet, having been sent away, aged 11, to a spooky school set in a 16th century building (the model for my fictional Ashstone House).

Griselda Heppel signing The Fall of a Sparrow
at Christ Church Cathedral School, Oxford.

While I couldn’t resist weaving some of my own experiences into the plot, these didn’t include being haunted by a strange, awkward little boy who nobody else can see and who, horrifyingly, knows all about my past. Because that’s where fiction takes over from fact. How that happens, and where the ideas come from… well that’s the million dollar question! 

The benefit of school visits goes both ways: it’s fun and inspiring for young people for a real, live author to share with them ideas and techniques, and it’s wonderful for the author to experience the enthusiasm and direct feedback from the very audience she’s writing for. 

More info about my school visits here

The Fall of a Sparrow by Griselda Heppel
BRONZE WINNER in the Wishing Shelf Awards 2021 
By the author of Ante's Inferno  
WINNER of the People's Book Prize


Peter Leyland said…
A fascinating post Griselda which takes me back to my middle school teaching years, largely spent in Bedfordshire. You're right that it's wonderful to have a real author in to talk about their own books and writing. That age group love another view (apart from their teacher!) and the visitor's freshness and enthusiasm can be so inspiring to young readers as I expect yours is. A bit of autobiography as you say goes a long way to help this. Like you, I loved visiting schools in one phase of my career, but that's another story...

Thanks for a great blog.

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