Learning from mentors helps us to improve and evolve in our chosen field. I still recall the advice given to me at the start of my writing journey.
To help other writers, I started a feature whereby established authors shared their words of wisdom and top ten writing tips.
It was a huge success and I was delighted to bring the feature back for a second season! You’ll find all the Top 10 Writing Tip articles here.
Meet Rachel Coverdale
Rachel Coverdale was born and bred in the beautiful North Yorkshire countryside in North East England. Raised with copious amounts of animals but without the distraction of a modern TV set, she turned to books and her own imagination for entertainment. Animals were and still are a huge part of her life and inevitably they made their way into her stories. Believing strongly in fresh air, nature and outdoor…
Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I’ve loved following the crazy activities of your bunch of puppies which you affectionately refer to as the Coggles.
My book, “The Boy Who Dared” (sequel to “The Boy Who Couldn’t“) will reveal the horror of unscrupulous puppy farms, (also known as puppy mills) where dogs are treated as commodities, their welfare is neglected resulting in many of the puppies born with life-limiting defects and illnesses. People often think the only alternative is rescue dogs, but there is a case for ethical dog breeders such as yourself also. What are the positives of buying a dog from a breeder?
A good breeder will give their puppies everything they need to grow up into healthy well balanced dogs. Their parents will be fully health tested, thus reducing the risk of inherited diseases & defects, such as hip dysplasia, or Collie Eye Anomaly. My dog was genetically tested for 11 different breed specific defects. She was clear of all of them. Both puppies & Mum will be correctly wormed & fed good quality food, which again, gives them the best chance of growing into strong, healthy adults.
The puppies will be exposed to many different sights & sounds at the appropriate age, things like vacuum cleaners, washing machines, different surfaces, and objects. They will be given appropriate things to play with & supervised at all times, as well as being handled & introduced to things like nail trimming and grooming. They will be introduced to children and adults in a controlled manner to make it a good experience for them.
All of these things help to make a calm, confident adult dog, who is easy to live with.
Can you tell me, what made you decide to breed these puppies and do you plan to repeat the process some time?
The whole reason for breeding these puppies was the Mother. She is quite simply the most amazing dog I have ever owned. Her temperament is second to none, she is steady, calm, kind and has a phenomenal work ethic. She competes at agility & has won an incredible amount of prizes, as well as qualifying for many finals.
Not only this, but she is a lovely type of dog with good conformation – If any one of these things hadn’t been present then I wouldn’t have bred from her (I have her full Sister, who has all of the same attributes, except her temperament is not as good. I would not breed from her).
I also knew a dog who had all of the same attributes & he was the only dog that I wanted to use.
Just as puppy mills can be a bad start for puppies, a bad owner can be a terrible life for these fur-babies. What checks did you do to make sure that your puppies were going to safe homes?
I was very lucky that all of my puppies went to people who were known to either myself or the owner of the Dad.
I witnessed how attached you became to your Coggles. How did you deal with handing them over to their new families?
That was the hardest part of the whole thing. The puppies had become part of my family. I had fed, them toileted them, played with them, cuddled them & nursed them for 2 months. To then hand them over to someone else & wave them off reduced me to tears – there are tears in my eyes as I am typing this now 2 weeks later. Even though I know that they all have fabulous homes & there was no way I could have kept them all.
What is your favourite breed of dog and why?
I have to say Border Collies are my favourite breed. They are intelligent, loyal, & great fun. They will give you 100% every time you ask them to do something. Their work ethic is second to none, they really would work until they dropped.
They are happy to just be with you. Their learning ability is limited only by their owner’s imagination. They are incredible.
Each dog breed has its own characteristics, needs, strong points and weak points. What type of human do you think your breed of dog is best suited to? (Please name breed.)
The Border Collie owner needs to be active, they need to have a sense of humour, and be prepared to work hard to keep their dog amused. Collies are amazing dogs, but they are certainly not for the faint hearted or weak willed. If allowed to, they will take control of their humans and become unmanageable. They need to be occupied, or they will become destructive and unruly. In short, you get out what you put in. If you are lazy and inconsistent a Collie will be a nightmare dog. If you are prepared to put in the effort and time, you will be rewarded with the best friend you could ever wish for.
If somebody reading this interview wanted to breed their dog, what would you warn them about that you wish you’d been prepared for?
Oh gosh, so many things. This has been the hardest thing I have ever done. I was prepared for the hard work, but my first and most important warning is BREEDING IS HARD WORK – REALLY HARD WORK.
Be prepared to lose everything, I came so close to losing the puppies’ mother & all of the puppies. This is a very real possibility. Do not think it won’t happen to you. It might.
If you are doing it to make money, then don’t bother. I barely broke even & probably made a loss. You need at least £2000.00 readily available should things go wrong.
I was not prepared for the emotional side of breeding. I consider myself a strong level headed person, but I was reduced to tears more than once. It is emotionally draining and incredibly tiring.
Many people underestimate the time, cost and commitment of adding a dog to their family. Do you have any advice to help in any of these areas?
No advice, as such, but just a few things to consider.
Firstly the cost – A dog is a huge financial investment, they need regular worming & flea treatments, as well as annual boosters. Obviously there is their food to consider, a 12kg bag of good quality dog food is upwards of £50 and the price is increasing almost weekly. These are regular outgoings, but you must also consider the costs of veterinary treatment should something go wrong. Insurance starts at £300.00 per year.
Then there is the time that your puppy will need – A puppy needs almost constant supervision for the first few weeks. An adult dog will ned to go for a walk at lest twice a day, whatever the weather, they need to be trained, played with, groomed, and given affection. If you cannot commit to this daily then a dog just isn’t for you.
If you want to go out for the day, you will either need to take your dog with you or arrange care for it. The same goes for holidays. Dogs are there 24/7.
They will shed hair onto everything you own, walk around your house with muddy feet, chew things, steal things & probably wee on things when they are young. In short they are hard work. Constant hard work.
I know you love horses as well as dogs (and possibly other animals too). What is it about dogs that you love so much?
Where do I start on that one??
My dogs make me laugh, every day, without fail. They are completely without ulterior motives. They love you unconditionally for who you are. They don’t care if you are rich or poor, beautiful or ugly, fat or thin. They never judge & are always there when you need them. They are always pleased to see you. They are great fun, they get you out & about when you perhaps wouldn’t bother.
They are great ice breakers when you meet new people.I have made so many great friends through my dogs.But mostly my dogs are my best friends and I love them.
If you decided to breed one of your dogs again in the future, what would you do differently?
I’m not sure I will ever do it again, but if I did, I wouldn’t wait until my dog was 6 before breeding, I think with hindsight that the ideal age is probably 2 or 3.I also wouldn’t have a litter of puppies in winter, it makes everything so much harder.
Apart from that, I think I was pretty happy with how I raised the puppies & how they turned out.It was an incredible experience & on the whole I thoroughly enjoyed it. I learned so much about puppies and breeding.
I have a new respect for good breeders who produce happy, healthy puppies for us to have as our best friends. It takes so much commitment – both emotional & financial.
Thank you so much for your time. Puppies are so tempting, but you’re right it’s a huge commitment, so I’ll stick with just the one big dog I already have. For now!
Struggling to think of a decent Christmas present for my difficult-to-buy-for husband, I hit on the brilliant idea of a three-day walking holiday in the Lake District and we could take the dog too. My brother’s rental holiday home was available the first weekend of Spring half term so I booked it.
Then Storm Eunice hit. Before we’d even set off! The met office was telling everyone not to travel unnecessarily, the road we were due to take, over the top of the Pennines, was the same road in which I’d once been stuck in a snowdrift overnight many years earlier and is notorious for blizzards and drifts. The stupidity of planning a hill-walking holiday in the north of England for February struck me forcefully in the face!!!
So we stayed at home for a day. I sulked and my husband listened to music.
The next day we had to decide whether we were going to make the 80 mile journey west, to The Lakes for the remaining two days, or stay home. The area of England we live in appeared to be the only place in the whole British Isles that wasn’t being battered by Eunice. The weather forecast for The Lakes was 100% rain. Nothing against my husband, but if I’m going to be trapped indoors, there’s only so much TV, book reading and chatting I can do. I’d rather be stuck in my own house with all my belongings where everything I want is to hand.
Now I had to make a head decision: I couldn’t spend another two days sulking. We decided, although we were home, we were still going to treat the last two days as a holiday. The location of the holiday just happened to be our home town that’s all.
What a different view you get of your home town when you treat it as a holiday destination – I thoroughly recommend everyone to try it. We started with a relaxed, pre-breakfast walk into the High Street with our dog and stopped off to have coffee and a slice of something nice at a newly opened coffee shop, sitting outside continental-style.
Next we had a walk around the river admiring the stunning view and the ducks, swans (and seagulls).
Once home, we enjoyed a lovely lunch cooked by my talented husband then I chilled out reading a book and he listened to some music.
In the evening we went to the newest micropub in town, which I’d never been in, followed by The ELO Tribute Band at the local (and very posh) theatre.
Sunday was the last day of our staycation. It was finally raining (pouring) here, so in the morning, instead of being trapped in a holiday home, I was able to turn to my writing and editing and hubby was able to grab his guitar to practice some songs for an up-coming gig.
We treated ourselves to another fabulous lunch (very cost effective as we’re strides from Aldi), then in the afternoon we travelled our longest journey (10 miles) through the torrential rain to watch “Dog” at the pictures. (Brilliant by the way.) Then for tea, we pushed the boat out and devoured an Indian takeaway.
A student at school frequently asks me “how can you be so happy all the time?” The answer, to quote Oscar Wilde, is “When it rains, look for rainbows.”
In the darkened corner of a dreary, dusty library, an unlikely army is gathering. They’re shaking down their cardigans, firmly pressing their spectacles back to the bridge of their nose and stamping their sensibly shoed feet.
On closer inspection, many of these school librarians are much younger than you may think. Some have pink hair, tattoos, arrived on motorbikes, hold black belt karate certificates… goodness me, some aren’t even women! Hmmm, what happened to the stereotypical dusty old spinster who daren’t say boo to a goose? (Each librarian shudders a little at the over-used cliché.)
This clandestine army is marching on a secret. A secret that only a few privileged school leaders and many students know – the librarians hold the answers to the universe…
Ask a librarian any question, and they will show you how to find the answer. After all, as Albert Einstein said, “The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.”
These quiet (well some of them), intelligent (all of them) creatures have guided young children from curious to studious and from darkness to light (and back again when they request it). The child who wanted to know how bones grow had their curiosity inflamed and has qualified as a doctor. The child who was fascinated with drawing manga has flourished into a book illustrator. The child who requested everything available on nuclear technology has developed into a respected peace campaigner.
More than that. These wise individuals have watched children’s eyes light up as they flew on broomsticks across the skies, spoke with animals and adventured across islands into the past.
Once it was enough for schools to know that this fact-finding, imagination-inspiring group were there. But the librarians have become so adept at fading into the peeling wallpaper, some staff are ignorant of their uses.
For the first time, the army needs to cast aside their invisibility cloak, march loudly forward and make their skills explicitly known. Below are twenty ideas on how to stride out of the darkness and into the brightness of the school hall:
Non-fiction: It occurs to me that “non-fiction” is a terribly negative name for this important section in your library. It may be worth rebranding as “Facts and Information” or “Research Section”. Currently, many heads of department have no idea what non-fiction books you have available for their subject or why it is even relevant. After all, they’re going to teach what the children need from the class text books. Point out all the benefits of students carrying out research for homework. Not only does research enhance the students’ learning, but it is tapping into children’s natural curiosity. Wondering why and discovering the answers for themselves inflames a passion for the subject. Explain the pitfalls of Google research and suggest the homework is set whereby the students must reference one pre-approved website and one non-fiction book from where they found their information. Offer to stamp the planner or homework book of every child in their class who carries out their research in the non-fiction section of your library. Teachers sometimes run out of homework ideas which are both relevant and enhance their students’ learning, therefore, you’ve just helped the teacher out, enhanced the students’ learning experience and shown that you and your library are a valuable resource.
Displays: Every department loves to have a great display which is the envy of all the other departments. They rarely have time to make one, so in you sweep, the hero of the hour. Of course, displays must have a purpose and attract attention to that purpose. Pick a relevant national date or an important topic for that department and offer to make a display for them based around it. Make sure the display is amazing (see my tips on displays here). Importantly, make sure you reference relevant fiction and non-fiction books in your library pointing the viewer of the display in that direction. You’ve helped the department and you’ve helped yourself.
Events: This is where you get to be the conductor of your own success. Students love having an exciting event. SLT love having something exciting to show on their website and social media. It causes chatter based on that event so if the event is about books, guess what – the conversation is about books. The uptake of books after each author visit to our school is always astronomical. An author visit is perfect, IF you invite the right author. Don’t just pick anyone available, make sure you check out reviews and take recommendations. Yes, these events take a lot of planning and organising, but I can assure you they are worth it and you quickly become efficient at arranging them. (Information on how to organise a successful author visit can be found here.)
Bulletin/Newsletter: Read the newsletter or school bulletin each week. Is there anything the library can be involved in? Is there a relevant notice you can put in there? Don’t let opportunities to market your service slide by. Being proactive is key.
Wellbeing: The links between reading and mental health are well established and have been highlighted through the recent pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Make sure staff know that they too can borrow books from the library (honestly, they think it’s only for students). Point out that you don’t have to be a child to read children’s fiction, some of the best books in the world were written for children and it’s relaxing to have an easier read from time to time. Make a shelf-help section of your library and ensure your SENCo, SLT and all staff know it is there.
School council: Students love to have a voice, that’s why they’ve joined the school council and they’re always looking for something they can be involved in. Ask them to gather feedback about the library. Be brave, you might not like some feedback, but it immediately points out where you can improve your service and relevance to the school. Perhaps you could invite them to hold one of their meetings in the library and ask them what new books (fiction and non-fiction) they would like to see. Let them choose some books from a catalogue. Involve them as much as possible as they can become invaluable ambassadors.
Positivity: the last thing we want is people to associate negativity with the library, but often the only times some students see us is when we turn up in their form room demanding the return of their lost library book. Look for opportunities for positivity. If you have a lot of overdue books, offer raffle tickets in return for the overdue books. At the end of the set time, one lucky winner will win a prize. Run fun competitions and visit the forms to tell the students about it. You will deliver it with far more passion and enthusiasm than the poor form tutor who is just trying to read through all the notices as quickly as possible.
Parents evenings/open days: Create an informative and attractive mobile display about the library. Ask some student librarians to attend with you. Prospective parents love to see an active library. On open evenings, our library is open at my insistence. I have heard many a parent comment that our library has helped them decide to pick our school. Another tick for SLT – but make sure you tell them. Don’t keep it a secret. Just pop them an email the next day along the lines of, “I’m very pleased with the positive impact of having the library open on parents evening. The room was constantly packed, parents and children really enjoyed the activities I had put on and I heard comments such as…”
Competitions: Who doesn’t love a good competition? There are all sorts of competitions you can run: design and decorate your own bookmark; Book Bingo; best book review; find out 10 interesting facts about… from a book; design a new book cover for…; short story writing; write a new ending for…; etcetera. Make sure the winner is announced with a fanfare. Don’t ask them to quietly collect their prize from the library – find out when the awards events are or enter their form room and encourage the whole tutor group to clap for the winner.
School website/social media: Use these to your advantage. Every time you positively promote the library, you are positively promoting the school. It is a win-win situation. You don’t need to do anything amazing. Just photograph opportune moments, for example unboxing new books, latest book display, author visit, parents’ evening, competition winners, etcetera.
Communication: you do all sorts of wonderful things in the library. You have all sorts of wonderful eureka moments with students, but nobody knows about them. Just drop an email to your line manager, the child’s tutor, or anyone else you think relevant and let them know. Go on – do it.
Literacy coordinator: this person needs you more than they may realise. OFSTED are placing a lot of importance on literacy and reading and are keen to see librarians involved. Offer professional support from day one. You can offer all sorts of stats from your LMS and also from Accelerated Reader or similar reading programmes if you have them. (See my blog on Accelerated Reader here.) As well you know, literacy is important for all subjects, therefore the reading age of every child must be lifted to their personal best for them to be able to achieve in all subjects. You can help them in their job by involving them in a lot of what you do. Not giving them extra work, but including them in emails and keeping them in the loop about literacy events. Suggest ideas to them which you can help with, such as book of the week, World Book Day activities, staff recommendations, etcetera.
Meetings: I have known librarians who turn up to meetings and are ignored. This can feel like a personal slight, but from the perspective of the other attendees, they probably have no idea why the librarian is there and are too focused on the million and one topics they have to discuss to pay any attention. Only invite yourself to a meeting if you have something of relevance or importance to discuss. If there is something I wish to discuss with a whole department, I usually contact the Head of Department and request 5 minutes at the beginning of their meeting. I thank them for their valuable time, deliver what I came to deliver, answer any questions and leave. There’s no point wasting your time or theirs. The short visit will make a greater impact than over-staying a welcome.
English: This department should be your biggest ally. There can be a clash between the English teacher and the librarian both thinking they know which books are best for the students to read. A discussion is far more useful. Why do you think this book? What do you have against this book? Of course in busy schools there is rarely time for discussion. It may take a while and you may never win over some, but take one win at a time. Visit the English department with a selection of new books and explain why you chose them and who you would recommend reads them. Or find out which book the class is studying and offer ideas of similar books/authors the students might like to read independently. Some teachers won’t have time to read any other books around the one they’re teaching, therefore what you tell them about the books they will find useful to then pass on to the students. A nice touch is to wrap up one book for each member of the English department to take home over the school holiday, with a note inside saying you hope they’ll enjoy relaxing with a good book and please return to the library when you are finished so the book can be labelled and shelved for students on their return after the holiday. Hopefully, this will create some great book-based conversations on their return to school. You’ve done some nice team-building and library promotion in one.
Other departments: The library can be completely invisible to some departments, many believe it is just a part of the English department. Here are some ways to involve staff from other departments: run a book themed cake decorating competition and ask the Food Tech staff to help judge it; ask Textiles if the children could make cushions for the library. Ask the art department if they have any student art work which you could display. Do the maths department know about the Murderous Maths series? Maybe you could set up a Forensics Who Dunnit evening with the science department. Can the school band have their music recorded and piped in the background at events or during evening homework club? Ask Modern Foreign Languages for book recommendations either set in the country of the language they are teaching or famous books from there translated into English. IT could help students create a podcast for the library. Advertise other after school clubs on your noticeboard. There will be a way to weave each department into the library.
Qualifications: Offer your student librarians certification as librarians. This can be using the SLA, your local school librarian network or an in-house one you have created yourself. This helps students begin to develop their curriculum vitae when applying for work or further education. You could also offer to support EPQ qualifications for Sixth Form. Make sure that the certificates are awarded in front of the whole school at an awards evening or some other relevant event.
Student librarians: Schools intend to develop the whole child, the experience is more than just academic. This is where libraries really stand out from the crowd. There are not many “jobs” a student can do in school which will give them the life skills they need as they develop into an adult. Being a student librarian is an excellent first foot on the career ladder, teaching them responsibility, reliability and leaderships skills. Make sure the Careers Advisor is aware of the student librarian role within school and additionally, offer work experience to non-student librarians during Work Experience week. They’re always looking for placements so you will make them happy and have extra help for a week too.
Clubs: Extra curricular activities are a big deal in schools. The students love them, the parents love them, SLT love them and OFSTED love them. One hour a week after school is the norm. Some librarians like to run their clubs half termly and some termly. They can be as simple or as complicated as you like, from a simple Book Club to a huge inter-department Murder Mystery club. All the ones we run are free, but there are also some great resources you can buy in, such as the Creative Writing club through Authorfy.
Pastoral: The library is a safe place for many students, whether they’re shy, anxious or have a special need. Liaise directly with pastoral staff and your SENCo to make sure they know that these students are welcome here. Depending on how and when students are able to access the library, you may want to make some special passes for the most vulnerable students to be able to enter the library immediately without needing to queue or wait for their allocated time.
SMSC: Spiritual – students’ imagination is expanded through fiction; Moral – their ability to understand and appreciate other’s viewpoints by “walking a mile in their shoes” through reading biographies, true accounts and fictional situations; Social – participating in after school clubs, being part of the librarian team, being involved in conversations around books and authors; Cultural – experiencing other cultures through biographies and fiction as well as learning about other cultures through the non-fiction section of the library.
OFSTED are never far from any school’s door, nor from any SLT’s mind. They currently (and rightly) have a big focus on literacy and embrace the importance of an effective school librarian. All the above will be extremely helpful to your school in the event of an inspection.
Remember: not all heroes wear capes, or should that be, not all librarians wear cardigans!
If you work in a school and intend to host an author visit, I recommend you read through this blog carefully. If you’re not, I recommend you don’t read it at all – this really is an example of writing to inform and not writing to entertain!
Every year I book three authors to visit our school. Our Patron of Reading always visits our Year 7s then I choose a different author each year to visit our Year 8s and finally we are “given” an author at discount price through the “Crossing the Tees Book Festival” for our Year 9s. I was pretty daunted the first time I had to organise a visit; worried sick I’d forget something important. Having done it several times, I thought I’d set out everything I do here so you can use it as a starting point for your author visits 😊 This list is…