Christmas Writing Workshop for Children

I’m delighted that after a gap of a couple of years, I’m giving a Christmas themed writing workshop for children. Christmas is a time for stories, and this workshop will give children a chance to write their own stories. Have you ever noticed that a lot of Christmas stories are about unlikely heroes: a grumpy Santa Claus, a disruptive elf, a seemingly nerdy child who prevents his family home from being robbed?

The Christmas story the children in this workshop tell features an unlikely hero, an elf who’s clumsy, and who the other elves laugh at. But this elf has a secret power, so when the treasure that gives Santa his magic is stolen, only this elf can save Christmas for all the boys and girls in the world. The children will build this story step by step, and by the end of the two-hour workshop, they’ll have completed their story?

Here are the steps we’ll be taking.

The Warm-Up: This part won’t have anything to do with either Christmas or storytelling, but it’s necessary for building bonds and getting in the mood. I will do activities that have been very successful in other workshops, which will make the children laugh and help them get into the right frame of mind for writing.

What If: A lot of great stories start when the writer asks what if? The children will imagine three things they would do in the event that different unlikely Christmas events may happen: for example, if Christmas were cancelled. Some of the scenarios will relate to the upcoming story, such as what they would do if they got control of Santa’s sleigh.

Character Sketch: Every story has a central character, and this activity will get the children thinking about theirs. They’ll receive a picture of the hapless elf and come up with a bio for them, using different headings laid out on a page. The most important aspect of this character is their special power. This is what will drive the success of the story.

The elf at the centre of the children’s Christmas story.

Creating a Country: Stories also need a world for the characters to live in. This workshop is for 8-12 year olds, and this age group loves world-building, the power that comes with creating your own country. In this case, the children will imagine that Santa’s workshop has relocated to a magical Christmas land of their own making.

Story Spine: The previous activities helped the children come up with the ingredients for their story. The story spine will help them put those ingredients together. In a story spine, you are given a set of sentences with blank spaces, and you fill in the blank spaces to create the structure for a story. The children will use the information from the previous activities to fill in the blank spaces.

Writing the Story: With the story spine, the story is more or less complete, but the children can also use it to expand the story, to add flesh to the basic details. Most children come away with a one-page story, complete with little pictures to add colour.

What’s your favourite Christmas story? And have you ever written a Christmas story of your own?

The Shape of Writing Workshops

I’m always amazed by the tiny things that determine the success of the writing workshops I give. They’re governed by all sorts of intangibles: the weather, the quality of the snacks, the size of the group. But by far the most important of these ingredients is the shape of the room. The way the chairs and tables are arranged has a huge effect on the atmosphere of a workshop, on how comfortable people feel and on how quickly they bond.

Here’s a run-through of three arrangements I have used, and each have a markedly different effect on the atmosphere of the workshops.

  1. Classroom Style

This is the most traditional style, with chairs and tables in rows, facing the teacher. When I arrive at a venue and find tables and chairs arranged in this way, I always ask for them to be changed. People feel that they are back at school and it drives a wedge between tutor and participants. Having said that, in modern classrooms, children sit around big tables, so in a children’s workshop, sitting them around one big table creates the right mood. The structure is familiar to them and feel comfortable.

  1. Circle

In theory, the circle is a great arrangement. It’s informal, and a circle is a symbol of unity. But I find it a little too informal. For a circle to really be a circle, you can’t have tables, and people don’t like not having something to lean on when they write, so it’s not actually a comfortable arrangement for them. You still need to strike the right balance between structure and friendliness …

  1. The U Shape
This is an ideal seating arrangement for writing workshops. Credit: Google Images


… and the U shape, in my experience, provides exactly that balance. People are facing each other, just like in a circle, so the bonding happens more quickly. But there’s also a structure for the seating, and people have tables to lean on. It’s true that the tutor is sitting a little apart from the participants, unlike with a circle or big table, but you can position yourself in a place where people feel they have easy access to you, and you can spot what’s going on.

What seating arrangement works for you as a workshop tutor or participant?

A Writer Goes To A Book Fair

Many years ago, I wrote a book (well, five, actually). Long-time blog followers will know that I blogged about it enthusiastically at the time. The book had varying fortunes, and in recent times, I had let it gather dust in my house. So when I saw a notice a couple of months ago about the inaugural Copper Coast Geopark Book Fair, I was delighted. I thought it was time my book, The Pink Cage, came out of its, well, cage (sorry).

Preparing to Sell

Finally, the day of the book fair arrived. The thing I was most apprehensive about was how my book stand would look. Other people on my Irish Writers Facebook group had elaborate plans for their stands, but visual display is not my strong point. Luckily, my husband has a strong visual sense, and he helped me display my books around an actual pink cage he had bought me some time ago. I ended up wearing a pink jumper as well (the subconscious is indeed powerful).

Displaying my wares at the Copper Coast Geopark Book Fair, Photo Credit: Orlaith Hamersley.

After we set up, the doors opened and the punters poured in. Given the remoteness of the location, this was pretty impressive. Another challenge for me was deciding how to interact with punters. I thought about what I like when I go up to a stall. I prefer that people don’t talk to me, but have an approachable look and are happy to chat once I initiate the conversation. So that was the approach I took with punters.

How Was It Overall?

Overall, the experience was great fun. I enjoyed chatting to the customers and watched with interest how other stand holders interacted with theirs. It was particularly interesting to watch a bookseller who’s been in the game for decade. His books were real treasures, and his enthusiasm for his books won him many customers. I shared my stand with a friend of mine, a great local character, and I was particularly delighted to meet Pam O’Shea (@pamlecky) and Fiona Hogan (@cookehogan) from the Facebook group I set up – always great to meet Facebook buddies in real life.

But the selling environment was a little challenging. I had initially believed that this was a book fair for authors looking to sell their self-published book, but it turned out that there were a number of second-hand book stalls. The stands were intended to raise money for the Copper Coast Geopark, so I can understand why they were there, but it was difficult for us authors to compete with them. We’re not familiar names to the public, and because we produced our books ourselves, they cost that bit more.

Still, I sold as many books as I expected to sell. I’m proud that I put my book back out into the world, and that I represented myself as well as I possibly could. Have you sold at a book fair? What were the challenges and what were the benefits? If you run a book fair, how do you manage to make it viable, and what advice would you have to authors who take your stands?