This week I am very excited about the possibilities presented by the digital age we live in.
I have just been doing a Book-Week-type session with a Yr 5 class at Esperance Primary, via Skype. Their teacher was reading Someone Like Me to them and they were loving it. They were so engaged with the story that she wanted them to be able to interview me, face to face, to ask me the questions that particular story inevitably throws up. Because of the twist in the ending, Someone Like Me is a difficult book to talk about unless everyone in the audience has read it. Because their teacher had read it to the whole class over a period of weeks it was a perfect opportunity to discuss the characterisation, plot, and of course, the effects of the dramatic twist. After some negotiations about time, technical possibilities and so on, the teacher linked her laptop to the class Smart Board. Then it was just a question of phoning me up at the appointed time and there I was, large as life, in their classroom. I was able to talk to the students, answer their questions, even show them the translated versions of Someone Like Me and any of my other titles they asked about. I could see the whole class and they could see me. At one point I tossed a question to them as a group and three students put up their hands and gave their answers — just as if I was there in person. Mostly, though, the students put up their hands and the teacher called them to sit in the chair nearest the Smart Board to ask me questions they had prepared before the session. The sound was better when they were up close, but the picture was excellent wherever they were.
I can see this technology revolutionising author visits to remote places like Esperance, Port Hedland and other distant country towns. It is certainly a cheaper option for the school. Sessions can still be billed at the ASA rates, but the school doesn’t have to find money for air fares and accommodation.
I know that there is nothing quite like a face to face visit from an author, but the digital option has to be better than nothing. So often schools, particularly small ones, miss out because the cost of an author visit is so prohibitive. I hope that the improvements in this technology will make us, and our books, more accessible to everyone.