School Trip Report ~ Outside the Margins with KJ Charles

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I spent much of yesterday at my children’s primary school, being a Visiting Author. (Not as KJ Charles, don’t be silly.) I wrote a picture book for children under my real name, and while I know this doesn’t make me a children’s author, my kids’ school is not exactly rammed with celebrity parents, so cut them some slack.

We live in London. There are some 37 languages spoken at the school; about half the kids are on free school meals (a poverty indicator). There are a lot of people just trying to make ends meet. The school is excellent, but it’s fighting for every inch. A lot of them don’t have parents who are able to buy them books, or competent/willing/able to take them to the library, and the school’s grossly inadequate book collection (in boxes and in rolling shelves) includes readers published in 1972.

What I’m saying is, these are not children who assume cultural capital is theirs by right. If you walk into a publishing house in London, you don’t find many people from this sort of school sitting at the desks.

So. I got given a set of 15 eight-year-old kids each time, all of whom looked at me with wide eyes as I told them what publishers do and how books are made, and showed them books I’d worked on. I could see them trying to compute that a book was written, and made, and a creation of people, like the person—the mum—in front of them. Not a special person, not a different person: just a person. I told them I write stories for a living, that I wrote the story in the book I was showing them. They made noises of actual awe.

Me: If I told you to write a story about something, could you do it?

[cautious shrugs]

Me: If I told you to write a story about a princess is that easier or harder than just “write a story”?

Kids: Easier?

Me: If I said, write a story about a princess and a cat…

Kids: Easier!

Me: Okay. What about a princess, a cat and … a fridge. An angry fridge. [NB this was a memorable story prompt my own small children gave me many moons ago. Call it payback.]

[Tiny pause. Eyes widen around the room. I point to a child.]

Me: Tell me a story about a princess, a cat and an angry fridge.

Kid: Uh, once there was a princess…and her cat was hungry so she opened the fridge, and… [accelerating] the cat jumped in and ate all the food, so the fridge was angry! And it fell on the cat! And–

And they were off. We had five completely different interpretations of the Angry Fridge. I picked one, got them to shout out other random elements. A spaceship captain, a dog. What happens next? Then what? Hands waved frantically. Ideas tumbled over each other. It ended up as the tale of an evil fridge going for world domination by freezing everything in its path, with the heroic princess leading the rebellion, while her cat warred with the captain’s dog…

I got three kids to shout out new random things (a square, a snake and a flying unicorn) and told them to outline a story based on those. They scribbled unstoppably. They drew pictures. Every child wrote a story, every one differently and bizarrely ingenious.

Some of the things that stick in my mind:

    • When I asked, “Do any of you tell yourselves stories in your head?” and every hand went up at once. The way they all looked at each other. The awed tone in which one little girl said, “I didn’t know anybody else did that.”
    • The little boy who wanted to know which story was going to get first place. I said there was no right or wrong, no best. His expression of bewilderment: I did work that isn’t being assessed?
    • The little girl who tugged at my sleeve after the session and whispered that she used to write her stories down in a notebook. Who signed the thank-you card I got that afternoon with the words, I will keep writing.
    • The boy who took time to point out to the whole group that that he and three of his friends wore glasses, just like me. The high fives they exchanged, glorying in this fleeting moment of spectacle-coolness.
    • When my daughter told me afterwards that one of the little girls hardly ever speaks in class because she’s so shy. I asked, Who was that? She said, The one who made up the flying unicorn and the dragon that lived in the fridge.

I write my books because I believe we all need stories. But I don’t think I realised how much we need stories, and how terrifyingly easy it is for them to slip out of people’s reach–children’s reach–until that visit yesterday.

~KJ Charles


Title: Rag and Bone
Author: KJ Charles
Publisher: Samhain
Publication Date: 03/01/2016
Cover Artist: Angela Waters
Genre: Historical


It’s amazing what people throw away…

Crispin Tredarloe never meant to become a warlock. Freed from his treacherous master, he’s learning how to use his magical powers the right way. But it’s brutally hard work. Not everyone believes he’s a reformed character, and the strain is putting unbearable pressure on his secret relationship with waste-man Ned Hall.

Ned’s sick of magic. Sick of the trouble it brings, sick of its dangerous grip on Crispin and the miserable look it puts in his eyes, and sick of being afraid that a gentleman magician won’t want a street paper-seller forever—or even for much longer.

But something is stirring among London’s forgotten discards. An ancient evil is waking up and seeking its freedom. And when wild magic hits the rag-and-bottle shop where Ned lives, a panicked Crispin falls back onto bad habits. The embattled lovers must find a way to work together—or London could go up in flames.


Rag and Bone on Goodreads
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA
All Romance eBooks

About KJ Charles

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

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11 thoughts on “School Trip Report ~ Outside the Margins with KJ Charles

  1. Great post it must have been wonderful for the children to realise they could make up their own stories I can see a repeat visit on the horizon!

  2. Storytelling is so important and its so easy for a little one to be told not too be silly, not to tell lies. I wonder how many great storytellers we’ve missed out on through them being told off for ‘making things up’?

  3. It’s wonderful, isn’t it? When children come into their own like that. We had a similar experience in the library where I work when a visiting author/illustrator had the classes visiting describe the features of a monster to him while he drew it. It was magical.

  4. Words as have magic. Sadly, access to that magic is harder for the lower economic spectrum… Sometimes mum and dad are working so hard just to put food on the table that the luxury of time to read to their children is just that. ..A luxury.

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