Nerdy, selfish authors

Writing in a caravan while on the move has proved an interesting challenge. We left Melbourne in such a rush that I managed to carry away a weird assortment of papers. I’ve finally sorted through all the dross but was surprised this morning to find a big wad of feedback from a school in WA had slipped into the pile of unanswered correspondence.

The feedback consisted of dozens of assignments that Year 8 students wrote after I visited their school. One of the lovely co-ordinators forwarded them to me ages ago and I always intended to write a blog about how so many kids have low expectations of an author visit. Plenty of the kids wrote glowing comments but my favourite comments, and perhaps the most revealing about attitudes to authors, were from the kids who were surprised that a writer could be ‘normal’.

The kids were asked to write about their first impressions of meeting a ‘real author’. Following are some excerpts:

• The first time I saw Kirsty Murray I expected her to be a bit selfish. I don’t know why, but I always expect authors to be a bit selfish (I think it’s because of the big pictures of themselves that they put on their books). But Kirsty surprised me. She was really nice and didn’t even look like I imagined authors to look like.

• When we arrived in the P.A.C. I was expecting this to be a boring speech by an old laddy [sic]. But it turned out to be a good and exciting talk about how wrighting has afected her life [sic].

Kirsty Murray was very interesting. She was nothing that I was expecting… I expected Kirsty to be older and more of a nerdy, old fashioned writer. Kirsty looked young, the complete opposite of what I expected.

• My first impression of Kirsty was how could she be a writer because I imagine writers as weird looking people with glasses but Kirsty looked like a normal person.

• I expected her to be an older person with short grey hair. I don’t know why. When I walked in I was surprised to see a young person with long blonde wavey hair. (very flattering – I am actually really old…)

• I thought “Wow! If she’s presenting a speech in front of an audience she needs to spend a little bit more time brushing her hair in the morning!” (another kid wrote that I had hair like macaroni)

• I first thought that it was just going to be another visiting author that sat down and formally talked to us while everyone fell asleep in their chairs wondering what they are going to do once they go home but I found it very interesting!

• I thought she would be really nerdy with glasses and dress weirdly. She turned out to be quite the opposite.

• My first impressions of Kirsty was that she was genuinely happy to be here. She wasn’t longing for escape or bored and uninterested about talking to a bunch of kids.

I think the last comment is the most telling. Kids spend so much of their time being talked down to that it’s not hard to keep them interested if you can convey that you actually are interested in them. And it’s probably a good idea to ditch the glasses and the sensible shoes.

Reading through the kid’s assignments today, I realised that I really do love spending time with students. Some of them wrote fantastic reviews of my books, others about how much it meant to them to meet an author whose books they’d read. But I’ve been feeling a little torn about accepting school bookings. I want 2011 to be a big year of writing. It feels as though too much of the past year was spent simply keeping on top of the messy business of being me. Maybe if I can get ahead on the writing in the next month or so, I’ll be able to spend a season in schools too, though I might have to do something about my hair…

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Books are windows into other ways of being.”

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