author visit 14 Nov 2013 001After several years running my successful Change The Channel talks, I’ve added four new workshops to my repertoire,  allowing me to return to schools I’ve already spoken at, or even add alongside a day of Change The Channel talks. (See School Talks on my menu bar.)

If you’re interested in any of these workshops, email me at

VAMPIRES ATTACK! (Up to 60 students, no writing involved)
One of the things that I’ve always tried to get across in my talks is that people always like books where they can relate to the character. Harry Potter didn’t sell because he was a wizard, but instead because he was an 11 year old who discovered a world of magic. Katniss in The Hunger Games was a normal (if slightly good with a bow) girl thrown into a new world. Even Doctor Who has a normal, human companion. The reason these stories work is because the reader gets to go ‘what would I do’, becoming a normal character in a fantastical situation.
And this is the joy of Vampires Attack. The group are given a simple scenario – they’re the only ones left in the building and there are five Vampires outside. What do they do? The workshop builds upon their own decisions, real world ones made to this fantastical threat. Where do they find weapons, and will they affect the Vampires? Do they want to fight or hide – or worse still be a Vampire? If it’s the latter, would they betray their friends to do this?
As the workshop continues, each student takes a role depending on their own involvement. Some may lead. Some may betray and destroy. But the story will be based in realism, and show the students that, when placing a character in a story, to put yourself in their shoes is sometimes the best thing one can do.
Please note: I don’t use Vampires to shock, I use them because they have established rules. They can’t enter without being invited, which gives the students time to make choices. They can only be killed by certain things, and many of these can be found in the school, the canteen or the sports hall. Because of this, the students can really become creative. Last year during the blizzard I had a class create garlic snowballs!
THE WHEEL OF MISFORTUNE (Up to 60 students, groups, writing)
Many schools I visit inform me that one of the biggest problems they have with students writing stories is that they get too attached to one thing, get ‘tunnel vision’ or ‘blinkers’ about the story and it fails as a result. With the Wheel of Misfortune, the student doesn’t get this chance.
Arranged into small groups, each writing one story, the students are given up to ten minutes to create three characters and a scenario based around a wedding. It could be the bride, groom and vicar. The bride, groom and best man who secretly loves the bride. The bride, her mum and the thief trying to steal her tiara – anything. But there are only three characters. The wedding can also be anywhere, at any time – but by the first changeover, the three characters and the location of the wedding must be set.
And then the wheel turns. Each group passes their story to the NEXT group.
So now the group has someone ELSES characters and location, and must spend the next ten minutes writing a scene where the line ‘put the gun down‘ is said. Who has a gun? Why is it out?
And then the wheel turns. And the sheets are passed again. Now, you have characters that aren’t your own, a location you didn’t design and a situation you didn’t create. And now you have ten minutes to end the story.
By the end of the workshop, each group has worked with three different papers, and the thought about being precious about it has disappeared. Also, they can see what other people would do with their characters. This not only helps the students relax on their stories, but also gets them thinking fast and improvising on their feet as well as seeing alternate takes on things that they’ve created.
PICK A CARD (Up to 60 students, writing)
In this workshop I show how a story can go any direction between start and finish, and how a good thing or a bad thing happening to the characters can change the whole structure.
To begin, the class creates the start of a story. It can be anything, at any time. I usually suggest a public location, perhaps a cinema or a shopping mall. The class creates characters, and we build to a moment of story and then…
Pick a card. The class is split into half. Each half picks a ‘writer’ to write down the ideas made and each half picks a card, a red or black ace.
The two teams must then continue the story – the Red Card team having something good happen, the Black Card team having something bad happen.
Then? Pick a card. They split again. Now there’s four groups. And four aces. Now the red team and the black teams continue their stories, both with a good or bad twist.
And finally, Pick a card – they split into eight groups. And now there’s another choice of good or bad. By this point we have eight endings to the original story, four good, and four bad. By sheer luck of the draw, the four stages of the story could be anything – it might be all good, all bad, a great story with a terrifying end or a dark and broken story with an optimistic finale. It’s random, and it’s all down to the pick of a card, but the students will be able to see how one moment can inspire eight completely different ends purely by thinking through each stage.
THE BUTLER DIDN’T DO IT. (Up to 60 students, writing optional)
Halloween, 8pm. Lord Victim is dead. And we all know who did it. Because we started with the murder…
Six characters, created like characters in Cluedo. The socialite. The rich banker. The devout nun. The gamekeeper. The manservant and the loyal and hard working wife of the murdered man. Every one of the culprits had a reason to kill and an opportunity to kill Lord Victim – but who did it? And why?
Using hindsight and the ability to work backwards from the death, the class will show, one by one, how each of the murderers killed Lord Victim, why they did it and how they were caught. Maybe they worked in a pair? Maybe it was an accident?
By working backwards and debating each character’s motives for being there at that exact moment, what weapon they’d use and how they’d find it, the class get more into a characters head than ever before, both working out how to commit the perfect crime – while at the same time working out how to solve it.