School Visits

I love visiting schools (and libraries, bookshops and festivals!) to meet readers and talk about reading and writing.

I offer author talks and creative writing workshops.

To find out more or arrange a visit, please contact me on helen@castlekey.org.uk



What age group are your talks and workshops suitable for?

The Adventure Island books are for 7-12 year old readers so most of my talks and workshops are designed for children in Y3-6.

The Secrets of the Tombs books are for a slightly older readership (9-13). Talks based on this series are most suitable for Y5-Y7.

I am also happy to run workshops for older pupils, including reluctant readers and children with special needs. I have also run a series of mystery-writing workshops for a home-educating group, made up of students ranging from seven to fifteen.

Although my books are a little grown up for Reception/Y1/Y2, if I am visiting your primary school, I'm always happy to pop in for a chat with the younger children. We always have fun looking through Emily's investigation kit bag, cuddling Drift and talking about our favourite stories.

Y1 children about to open Emily's investigation kit at Denfield Park Primary

What do you do on a school visit?

I typically spend a half-day or full-day in school. I usually start by talking to a KS2 or whole-school assembly about the mystery/adventure genre, why I love being a writer and how I get the ideas for my books, ending with a question and answer session (30-45+ minutes).
Sharing the stage with Harvest Festival at King's College School, Cambridge

Assemblies can be quite large - like this one at Rosendale Primary School

I can then spend the rest of the morning or the day leading creative writing workshops with a group of children (any number from about ten up to sixty+ students, depending on the workshop).

 I can offer a whole day workshop for one group of students or take one group in the morning and one in the afternoon (or we can just about squeeze three shorter workshops into a school day).

A fabulous display of Adventure Island style
maps, drawn by children at
St John's College school, Cambridge

What sort of workshops do you offer?

I offer various workshops on creative writing and creative thinking, which I adapt  according to the age and number of the children, and through discussion with the school. Here is a selection of the workshops that I have run in the past.



The Mystery of the Staggering Story 

This is a whole day workshop, most suitable for Y5/6/7. I take the children through the process of writing a mystery story; choosing a setting, plotting the crime, developing character and writing powerful prose with hook-lines and cliffhangers.

work in progress:
editing and cover design
The mission is for each pupil to  create a brand new mystery story. By the end of the day we will have planned the stories and written a draft of the short (but compelling!) first chapter. As time permits, we will work on editing and re-writing and on designing exciting eye-catching books covers (or these can be continued as follow-on activities after my visit.)

This workshop works best with a group of about twenty or fewer children, so that I can spend time with each of them.

I have also recently run this workshop as a series of four weekly one-and-half hour sessions for a group of home-educating families. 

The Mystery of the Missing Treasure

This is a half day workshop (2 hours +) suitable for children from Y3 up to Y6. Working as a whole class and in teams, we plan an Adventure Island story together, starting by choosing real "treasure" to hide, and then helping the characters solve the clues and follow the trail to the treasure. This involves code-breaking, map-reading and problem-solving, as well as working together to generate the story. As the class make most of the decisions about the direction of the story, it's different every time!

Dinosaur Discovery
1.5 hours, Y3-6
This workshop is based on The Mystery of the Dinosaur Discovery, in which Scott, Jack, Emily and Drift find fossilised remains in the old quarry.  I read extracts from the book and talk about the inspiration for the story (including David Attenborough and an episode of The Simpsons!).  Children will then have the chance to 'discover' a new species of dinosaur and give it a name (we will look at dinosaur naming conventions, using a chart of Latin and Greek words and almost certainly end up with a very long name!) and write a dinosaur poem based on their discovery
.
Whenever possible I will bring in some real dinosaur fossils for the children to examine.


Identity Unknown
1.5 hours, y 5-6 (or younger with help)
This workshop is based on The Mystery of the Drowning Man.  Emily, Jack, Scott and Drift rescue a man from the sea. He’s carrying no identification and has totally lost his memory, and the young investigators face one of their most baffling cases yet; who is the unknown man and how did he end up in the waves?
In this interactive workshop, I set the children the mission of identifying another man who washes up on the shore - alive but with no idea who they are. Imagination and powers of deduction are required to figure out the identity of the mystery person in this fun and puzzling challenge. Think Cluedo meets CSI!
  
This workshop involves creative thinking and problem solving rather than creative writing, although a follow-up activity can be added in which children write a story about how the person ended up in the water.
This workshop works best with groups of around 20 to 30 students, and is less suitable for a larger group. It also works well for a mixed group of adults and children.


Story structure: Usain Bolt meets Total Wipeout
1.5 hours, Y3 and up

Lots of children (and adults for that matter) find it relatively easy to start a story with a great idea but then run out of steam after a few pages. This workhop aims to solve that problem by looking at the key components of story structure that are common to stories in all genres.
There's plenty of interaction as children generate as their own ideas. When we pull the ideas out in a consequences-style grand finale, there is always a lot of laughter as the stories unfold - but however crazy they are, they'll all have a great structure!

This workshop is suitable for Y3 upwards. It also works well with reluctant readers, as well as older students who find creative writing a challenge.

Sleuths, Salamanders, and Supercars
1.5 hours, Y3-6


This light-hearted workhop is based on The Mystery of the Black Salamander. I talk about all kinds of inspiration for ideas for stories, and we generate ideas for supercars based on properties of the natural world and also come up with the world's worst car names (which more often than not involves Brussels Sprouts!). The session ends with a noisy interactive reading from the book, which highlights the use of dramatic writing in action scenes. This workshop is suitable for Y3 up and is especially suitable as a fun activity for a large group, and to inspire reluctant readers/writers.



What could possibly go wrong? How to write dangerously
1.5 hours, Y 4-7

This workshop focuses on a particular aspect of mystery/adventure story writing; getting characters in and out of perilous situations. We talk about everything from chase scenes to spying on baddies. Using an example scene from The Mystery of the Midnight Ghost, I encourage children to generate their own suspenseful "dangerous writing" in intense one-minute bursts. Together we set the scene, zoom in on details, and come up with "yikes moments' to try to  give our readers goose-bumps and make them jump out of their skins!
(A variation on this workshop involves creating exciting action-packed chase scenes).


I have also given a range of other workshops focusing on setting, character, historical mysteries and plotting. Please ask for details if any of these would be of interest.

The new Secrets of the Tombs series has an archaeological theme and I can also talk about these to tie in with topics on ancient Egytpian, Chinese and/or Maya civilisations.

All of the 1.5 hour workshops can easily fill 2 hours with additional readings, activities and/or Q & A sessions.

For several of the workshops I can leave templates for further writing activities to follow on.


Writing a treasure hunt mystery with children at Kensington Community Primary, Liverpool

What will you need for your visit?

I just need a laptop and projector/smartboard that can show the powerpoint presentations that I'll bring with me on a memory stick. Children will need something to write with for some of the workshops (and something to lean on if we are in the hall.)  I will bring printed worksheets for the story planning and cover design activities, although a supply of scrap paper is helpful for most of the workshops.

Oh, and a cup of tea would be lovely - milk no sugar, please!

Hands up if you love reading!
Milton Rd Primary School on a VERY hot July afternoon!

Will children be able to buy the books?

Yes! At the end of my visit to the school I like to run a book stall so that the pupils can buy copies of the books that they have heard about during the day (and the rest in the two series) - and I will, of course, dedicate and sign them.

 I can either bring a selection of books with me to sell or you can arrange for your local bookseller to come in and run the book sale. If you would like me to bring stock, just let me know and I'll send you a price list to send out before the visit.


Book signing in the sunshine at Mayfield Primary, Cambridge

How do we find out more? 
And what are your fees?

For further information and to discuss fees and travel expenses, please contact me on helen(at)castlekey.org.uk.

I am more than happy to work with teachers/librarians in advance to tailor just the right visit for your school.


Chatting to pupils at St Marys Primary, Hadleigh

And it's always fun if the local press would like to come and take some pictures . . .  


I have public liability insurance and hold an Enhanced DBS certificate.

You can get an idea of how a full day author visit might look in this lovely report of a recent visit to Bishop's Stortford College.

Testimonials

"Wow! What a fantastic day we had with Helen Moss. The children and staff had a fantastic time learning all about the writing process. Helen made the sessions with the children exciting and engaging. She was willing to answer all the questions the children had and was very personable with both children and staff. Helen made children very enthusiastic about reading and writing.....the children have not put down their adventure island books since she left! We can't wait for her to return." 

Emma Cuthbertson, Y3 Teacher, Madley Brook Primary School, Witney


"Helen lead a very intriguing and exciting workshop that captivated the children. Her illustrious writing techniques were immediately applied in class activities and it really helped bring out ideas even from children who are quiet or are not usually confident. She provided an excellent stimulus for the children and furthermore provided an insight on what it is like to be an author. All in all a fantastic experience."

Mr Austrie (Y3 class teacher) and staff at William Bellamy Primary School, Dagenham



"After a day with Helen, both our children and staff left buzzing with excitement and enthusiasm for writing. For the children to have time to spend not only with an author, but one who can speak to them at their level, engage them and show them the process authors have to go through, is priceless. For me, you know the day has been incredibly worthwhile when a girl who 'doesn't like writing' comes in the next day having written a lengthy (and good) story and tells you very proudly she has decided she wants to become an author!"


Peter Richardson, Y3 teacher, Walton-le-Dale Primary School, Preston.
 
"Helen is beginning to feel like a friend now after inviting her back three years in a row for our new intake (Y7) students. She is a mixture of  passion and professionalism  ! Sharing her own adventures as a child with her love of reading and writing and her new  recent adventures exploring the faraway countries she visits to do research for her books! She is a wonderful speaker and one we look forward to each October, inspiring the students here to read and write and explore their creative side."


Ramona Parkin, Librarian, Loreto College, St Albans

Thank you so much for the wonderful creative writing day that you hosted at our school in October. There was much anticipation amongst the staff and pupils in advance of the day, and I can honestly say that the event lived up to our expectations and so much more! At the whole school assembly at the beginning of the day, you successfully engaged the whole school (from Year 1 to Year 6) with an interactive presentation about your work as an author, your sources of inspiration and the key ingredients to successful mystery and adventure writing. To maintain the focused attention of around 350 children for about 45 minutes was an impressive achievement in itself, but your enthusiastic and approachable style really captivated their imaginations and generated so much creativity throughout the day. The smaller, more focused Key Stage 2 workshops were a great opportunity for the children to learn first-hand about creating an exciting first chapter and the whole process involved in composing, editing and re-editing a story. The day was extremely inter-active and brought out the best in the children and their talents: there was a real energy, buzz and excitement around the school. I know that you really went beyond the call of duty to ensure that the children benefitted from the experience (including addressing each child at the book-signing event and personalising their individual books (no mean feat with a queue of a couple of hundred children!).  

Karen Schilder, Vice Chair of the Governing Body, Manor Fields Primary School, Bishops Stortford



‘Helen worked with a Year 9 boys group on producing entertaining, imaginative writing. She managed to inspire a group of boys who do not find writing easy or enjoyable, they were captivated by the session! It was fabulous to see them enjoying the process of writing and this is down to the way Helen broke things down and made it accessible.  The session brought out creativity, imagination and a real sense of wit and humour in the boys. I thoroughly recommend a visit from Helen Moss!’ 

Victoria Norman, Head of English,  Comberton Village College, Cambridgeshire.

Of all the authors in all the years we’ve been inviting them to Meldreth, I have to say that Helen’s visit was undoubtedly the most rewarding. She absolutely engaged the children on their own level warming up with a funny and stimulating presentation before running two writing workshops of exceptional quality which provided the children with tremendous challenge and guidance. I would be very surprised if we ever have such a relevant and memorable author visit again!

Andrew Jones, Deputy Head Teacher, Meldreth Primary School, Cambridgeshire

Helen visited Denfield Park Primary School on the 18th September 2013 and we had a fabulous day with her. She was very good with our children and valued very child’s response. All the children enjoyed her assembly, where she talked about what inspired her to write. When working with our year 4 and 5, Helen provided good visual pro forma for the children to start writing which was simple and started the ideas flowing. Year 5 were working on creating a dinosaur mystery. They enjoyed hearing about where her ideas came from and were surprised that they were ‘normal’ every day inspirations. Later, Helen worked with our year 4, using her Flash Fiction 100 word story activity. The children really liked the’ story hat’ activity she used for collecting ideas. They put a character, setting or part of the story on a piece of paper and placed it into the hat. The children then pulled out the ideas to create a story. She engaged the children with her story telling and got them activity involved. Our year 6 meet Helen in the afternoon and asked some interesting questions about being an author.  All children enjoyed meeting Helen and were keen to ask her questions about the writing process.  At the end of a very busy day Helen stayed and signed books for our children. They were so excited to meet her. A great Day! Thank you Helen.

Deborah Hynes, Literacy Lead, KS2,  Denfield Park Primary School, Northants

We had a fantastic visit from the author Helen Moss recently. We will be studying her books in literacy and she really inspired us with her tales of adventure and mystery. Our workshop with Helen was great! We acted as code breakers and treasure hunters, which we will use to write our own mystery stories. It was really inspiring to meet a real author and her books are fast becoming a popular choice in our reading area!.

Kensington Community Primary School, Liverpool 


Thanks for the day – it was great fun and lovely to see so many children eager to get themselves further into the stories! You certainly met our brief in terms engaging children in their learning and in reading in particular!
It was a lovely, focused day – lots of learning but also lots of fun and enthusiasm (which must herald the best learning!)  

Julie Branch, Head Teacher, Holywell Primary School, St Ives,Cambs


Thanks for such a great day and all your hard work in creating a purposeful and inspiring atmosphere for the children of St. Mary’s to expand their writing skills.  The children throughout the school loved having an author working with them and hearing all about the way a book comes together.  It was great for them to understand that writing is all about your experiences and as you say -  ‘letting your imagination run wild!’

Mark Girling,  Deputy Headteacher, St. Mary’s CEVAP School, Hadleigh, Suffolk

Chatterbooks children and their families had a great time and found your author session to be inspiring, informative and fun. Thank you once again for making our Children's Book of the Year event so special.

Sue Shead, Youth Service Manager, Bedford Borough Libraries

Helen Moss came to our school on Wednesday 28th March to talk to both my Year 5 classes. The children were so excited and enthralled by having a real author in their class. Helen talked about her new book 'Dinosaur Discovery' she explained the writing process and where she had got her ideas from. The children were really interested in the process and were inspired by how Helen researched the topic. Helen also shared an extract from the book, which the children acted out as she read.
 
Helen also spent time with the class completing a creative writing activity using the stimulus of the Dinosaurs, where Helen (with the help of a fun game) helped them to come up with their own dinosaur name. The children were really keen to take part in the activity and those that might normally be reluctant to write, were excited to start straight away.
 
Helen was fantastic with the children and they were so excited by the chance to meet and ask questions of her. At the end of the day Helen signed books for the children and there was such a long queue, we had a cake sale on the same day and Helen's queue was definitely longer.


Suzy Howden, Class Teacher, Mayfield Primary School, Cambridge


   
Lots of pupils' comments following my visit to Litcham School in Norfolk can be found on their fantastic blog, Books and Beyond, here (secondary phase) and here (primary phase).

 
Amazing library display at Litcham School

Some quotes from children's letters

'You have really inspired me to do more writing and typing. When I get home I'm going write a story because you have given me ideas.' Jack (8)

'We all really liked your writing workshop. I especially liked creating my own person.' Ethan (9)

'I had so much fun in your workshop and really want to make up more characters. You are possibly the best author I've ever met and ever will.' Izzy (9)

'I liked your assembly and all your ideas. I am reading the first book of the Adventure Island series at the moment from our local library. Last weekend I had a whole afternoon reading in the library.' Emily (8)


 It has been a real joy having you here with us. I especially enjoyed you telling us about the groups of authors and the world of publishing. It was very interesting. Nada

You really inspired me to read more. Jack

I'm glad you came in because you inspired me to write more and read more. James

I'm really glad I got to meet you. It was the best experience ever. My best part was when you signed my book and when you were talking about your books. Kayleigh

I was really inspired about your visit and hopefully one day I will become a brilliant writer like you. And hopefully one day you will become just as good as Michael Morpurgo. Liam

Also, these blog posts from Litcham School Norfolk have some lovely student feedback on a recent visit: Y6 students, Y7&9 students.

A wonderful wall display by the children of Meldreth Primary School!
Thank you to everyone at Meldreth for making this a fab visit!

Part of a lovely display of artwork on
The Mystery of the Whistling Caves
by Y3 at Duxford Primary School
See Art Gallery for more of their beautiful work