School/Author Visits/the Glories of Q & A/Fake Blind Bank Robbers

Yesterday I did my first school visits in Sydney.1 I went to Willoughby Girls High and Ravenswood Girls School on the North Shore.2 I was dreading it as I always am when I have to speak in front of people I don’t know. Why can’t I stay home and write?! Waaah! I hate public speaking! I hate school visits! Etc.

But then, as always, I got to Willoughby Girls High and everyone was lovely, especially the school librarian, and my talk on how Team Human went from idea to finished book didn’t seem to put anyone to sleep. Not even the teachers.3 I didn’t faint or vomit or drop my water or show the wrong images and best of all the question and answer portion of proceedings went exceedingly well.

I love Q & A.4 That’s the part where I get to hear what other people are thinking. I know what I think. I spend all day listening to my thoughts. I rarely get to hear what schools girls on the North Shore are thinking and interested in. Willoughby Girls High Years 8 and 9 did not disappoint asking many smart questions.5 I think we were all disappointed when the bell went that we couldn’t keep on asking and answering questions for a few more hours. Though that might be because their next class was maths.6

In fact, yesterday’s talk was inspired by questions I’d been asked at previous such talks. People outside publishing are always bewildered by how long it takes for a book to go from sold to a publisher to being in the bookshops. I’m frequently asked how long it takes me to write a book, and how I made my books’ covers. So I took them through the whole process. And I even brought some cover elves along to demonstrate how a cover is made. They went over a treat.

Afterwards me and the librarians and some of the teachers were talking about how we’d never had author visits back when we were in school and how lucky these kids were. Back in the day we hadn’t even been aware that people who wrote books were alive. Much less someone you could meet and ask question of.

Then on the way home I remembered that I had in fact had an author come to my school. I was stunned I’d forgotten about it because it was totally scarifying. In a good way. When I was in Year 10 at the Australian International Independent School7 there were two boys in our class who were on the verge of getting into serious trouble. They were at the minor breaking of the law stage. But they had started to steal cars and go for joy rides. Our teacher decided to scare them straight by getting the author of the book that the movie Hoodwink was based on to come in and talk about life as a prisoner.8

This guy was the leanest, hardest looking bloke I’d ever seen. He walked into that room and we all went quiet and we were a noisy lot. He told his story. That he’d been a bank robber, that he’d gotten caught and been sent to prison. Loads of time. He said being sent inside was not an occupational hazard but an occupational certainty. He didn’t know any bank robbers who weren’t done eventually. He’d gotten early release by pretending to go blind and fooling everyone including eye specialists. He had a bit of a grin on his face describing it. It’s an amazing story and we were amazed.

He talked in great detail about how awful it is in gaol. How it breaks you and hardens you. He spared us no details. He talked about how the young blokes were always raped. You could feel the air go out of the room when he said that. When we got to the Q and A part he went out of his way to deglamorise every aspect of his outlaw life. What living in hiding is like. How you make almost no money from being a bank robber. And even when you do get a big haul and get away with it you get busted as soon as you spend it. Etc.

I raised my hand to ask what it was like in women’s prisons. Surely that wasn’t as bad as the men’s? No, he said, it’s much, much worse and went into detail about just how awful it was.

I don’t know about the two boys at risk but that author visit certainly scared me into total law abidingness.

In conclusion: Don’t rob banks! Read books! Author/school visits are educational and fun and sometimes scary! Ask questions!

Did any of you have an author visit that has had a big impact on you?

  1. Actually, they were my first visits as an author to any school in Australia. That’s because for the duration of my writing career I have mostly been in Australia during the summer when schools are not in session. []
  2. Or as we inner city types think of it Here Be Dragons. []
  3. True fact. I have seen teachers nod off during these things. Yes, while I was talking. []
  4. So much that every Monday I find myself watching the ABC’s Q and A and yelling at the television set and swearing that I will never watch that damn show again. And yet there I am the following Monday yelling at the tellie. []
  5. Unfortunately, I got the timing wrong at Ravenswood and there was no time for Q and A. :-( My bad. []
  6. Seriously, high school students everywhere, maths will be really useful later on and if you’re like me and paid no attention whatsoever and are a maths moron you will be lost at tax time and understanding stuff like royalties and other number related things that are important to you and oh, how you will regret your decision that maths was stupid lo those many years ago. /lecture []
  7. A hippy school at North Ryde that was all about internationalism and peace studies. It was excellent. But full of kids who’d been chucked out of other schools or were gently asked to leave. *cough* []
  8. I have done some limited googling and failed to find the name of the book or the author that the film was based on. If you know please to tell me! []

6 comments

  1. Helen Landalf on #

    Just like you, I always get really nervous about speaking in public – especially at school visits – but once I get started, I usually don’t want it to end. I agree with you that it’s better to read books than rob banks, though I don’t know from experience (of robbing banks, I mean.)

  2. infinitieh on #

    Was the bank robber Carl Synnerdahl?

    • Justine on #

      infinitieh: Thank you! Yes, that’s the bank robber author.

  3. Pauline Dickinson on #

    Glad you got to see a bit of the lower North Shore (and my adult home territory) – Willoughby’s a good school.

  4. Carole Wilkinson on #

    Justine,
    Just this minute got back from a school visit. 3 sessions back to back. I was not really looking forward to it. But as always, kids are bright, ask good questions and make me feel like I’m 100 years old. Tired though. Don’t understand why it’s so tiring. I need a lie down and it’s too early for a stiff drink, so I’ll have to make do with a cup of tea.

  5. Suzi on #

    Patricia Bernard came to my school when I was in Year 7 (I think, it was a long time ago…)
    I loved her book “The Outcast” and wanted desperately to become a writer. I always remember one thing she asked our class – she said, “Who here thinks they are a show-off?” and of course, nobody put their hand up even though I know some of us really were. She then went on to say what a shame that was, because the people who like to tell stories generally are show-offs. That one comment really stuck with me, because it challenged how I perceived roles – I always thought being a show-off was a bad thing until that day.

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