A different take on gatekeepers
There’s an author coming to my child’s school. I’ve met this author several times. After learning a lot from sitting in on workshops earlier this year during the Maurice Saxby Mentorship, I thought I’d take a chance and ask if I could sit in on Author’s school visit (details kept vague for privacy reasons).
The conversation, at a SCBWI meeting, went something like this:
Me: You’re coming to my child’s school soon. Would you mind if I sat in on a session or two?
Author: Sure! No problem.
Me: Cool. Thanks. I’ll clear it with the school as well.
Author: Great. If they want to check, they can shoot me an email.
We then discussed the good places to buy coffee in town, coffee in general, and what we’re working on.
The next week I approached to the school. Let me say in advance that I understand the staff acting as a barrier between the Public and the Author. However…
The conversation, at the reception desk, went something like this:
Me: Hi, Receptionist. I ran into Author recently, and Author said I could sit in on some sessions at the school.
Receptionist: This seems like an unlikely situation and/or request. I shall speak to Principal. *Leaves to speak to Principal, returns*
Receptionist: Do you have a Working With Children card?
Me: Yes, I do.
Receptionist: Do we have a copy of it?
Me: No, you don’t. But I have it on me. *Hands over WWC card, resists urge to point out this hasn’t been asked for previously when I’ve been a classroom helper at the school*
*Receptionist goes to photocopy WWC card. Returns with Principal*
Principal: Hello, You. What’s all this about?
Me: Saw Author recently, asked if I could sit in, Author said yes. You can email Author to confirm if you need to.
Principal: I hope you didn’t interrupt Author’s dinner to ask this.
Let me repeat that: I hope you didn’t interrupt Author’s dinner to ask this.
Me (internal monologue): Oh, was I not meant to? I mean, I’ve obviously been stalking Author for years in the desperate hope Author may one day, out of the plethora of Authors and hundreds of schools in this state, be engaged to visit this school. Because I do nothing other than follow the movements of Author, obvs.
Me (external response): Ah… no… I saw Author on the weekend at a meeting for a group of authors and illustrators that we’re both members of.
Principal: I’d hate to think you’d interrupted Author’s dinner.
Me (internal monologue): What is your fascination with Author’s dinner, Principal? Did you skip breakfast this morning?
Me (external response): Industry group. Both members. Me writer too. Author published. Me not yet.
Principal: You’ll need a Working With Children card.
Me (internal monologue): I’m a permanent carer, which you know. I have to have a current WWC card in order to be a parent to the child, as you know. And I might point out you and your staff have never before requested to sight this card on the numerous occasions I’ve helped in the classroom.
Me (external response): Receptionist has already taken a copy.
Principal: We haven’t finalised the schedule yet.
Me: That’s fine. I work from home, writing. I’m flexible.
Things I have learnt from this experience:
Established writers continue to be generous to aspiring and emerging writers. Most readily pass on advice and help give up-and-comers a boost where they can. They understand that just because you’re not published, it doesn’t mean you’re not working – because they’ve been there.
For many non-writers, however, if you’re not published, you’re not a writer. They have a perception that books just ‘happen’; that they magically appear on booklists and library shelves. The years of writing, rewriting, pitching, rejection, pitching, acceptance, editing, illustrating and planning are hidden concepts.
Don’t interrupt Principal’s dinner.
Comments: (copied from original platform)
Heather Gallagher 15 July 2016 at 15:21
Oh dear Alex, I admire your restraint in this post. How painful! Perhaps the principal has an eating disorder ;)
Alex Fairhill 16 July 2016 at 11:59
It's a weird obsession. Wondering if the school's hired a bodyguard.
Michael Earp 16 July 2016 at 08:09
How frustrating! And I agree, the Dinner comment is so out of the blue, like you saw them in a restaurant and accosted them about their visit to your child's school. I've attended many an author talk at schools because I work for the publisher and not once was I asked for a working with children's check. How weird.
Alex Fairhill 17 July 2016 at 15:18
Yeah - the dinner comment floored me for a minute. It was a joking-not-joking kind of thing.
Anonymous 2 August 2016 at 19:40
Brilliant insights into the writing, and persevering, life. Thank you. What I am calling my 'apprenticeship' in writing and illustrating may continue for years. Your words have encouraged me that the journey and hours of hard work are valid even if they are invisible to most. Don't let the buggers get you down!
Alex Fairhill 3 August 2016 at 11:32
"Don't let the buggers get you down!" Love it! This is definitely a career where you never stop learning, which is a big plus. Good luck with your writing and illustrating - let me know how you go!