Training Days – Notes on a Book Tour

(Note: A version of this post first appeared on Book Engine)

Writing can be a lonely pursuit. I spend hours inside my own imagination, forming a meaningful relationship with my MacBook Pro and coffee machine. And so it was a wondrous break from this isolated routine when I embarked on my first book tour this Spring.

I traveled up and down the country, from Brighton to Newcastle, and spoke to and met with over 3,000 young readers (both avid and reluctant), ranging from nine to sixteen. I returned to the writing desk with a bad cold but a richer picture of who I’m writing for….and why.

I was a very reluctant reader as an adolescent. I hated reading. It was hard and I couldn’t win at it. So the first question I ask when speaking to a group of students is: “who enjoys reading?” About half of the hands go up. Then I ask who doesn’t like reading. The other half comes clean. Those are my people.

As a boy, in the 80s, in Canada, I couldn’t find anything in book form as compelling, engaging, or addictive as the best films, TV shows, and video games. So when I started writing, that became the bar; to create a book series that could compete with the amazing array of 21st century visual media on offer.

Holding the audience’s attention
I wanted my ‘MetaWars’ books to be the inflection point for reluctant readers, the book that shows them that books don’t have to be boring, that they can be fun to read and possess big, immersive, challenging ideas that linger with you long after you close the spine.
What I learned on book tour is that the reluctant readers, the second wave of hands in the air, were out of the habit of reading. Reading wasn’t something that was part of their (non-school) day. New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg explores the disproportionate share of human behaviour that’s powered by habits in his book ‘The Power of Habit’ and I witnessed this phenomenon in every school I visited.
For me, getting into the habit of reading was the critical first step on the reading ladder, and it was thanks to the slim and addictive game books called ‘Choose Your Own Adventure” that I persevered. I was able to burn through them, gaining confidence and ability as I read the series. I didn’t know it, but I was practicing.
Now I’m tempted to write series fiction to create a training ground for younger kids to gain confidence to tackle longer novels like the ‘MetaWars’ books. So watch this space!

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