The joy of educational writing: Q&A with Anita Loughrey

Each quarter, our Educational Writers Group (EWG) interviews a different member. Here, Anita Loughrey explains how she made the move into educational writing, and the joy of working in a varied sector.

How did you come to be an educational writer?

I became an educational writer when I decided I wanted to work from home after my third child was born. I taught in primary schools full time with my first two children and found it increasingly difficult coming home and being patient with my own children after spending all day looking after other people’s. I had produced lots of teacher resource packs for a wide variety of primary school topics and decided I would send them out to publishers in the hope someone would want to publish them. So I did. I went through the Writers & Artists Yearbook and sent out resource packs to every single publisher who printed books for primary schools.

You can imagine my disappointment when they were rejected by publishers, who said they didn’t print other people’s ideas as they prefer to come up with their own and use a bank of authors to write them. I wrote back to all of the publishers who had got back to me and said I was available for work, and to please add me to their list and send me a brief for any projects they were developing. Only three of the publishers wrote back with briefs. After viewing my samples, all three publishers accepted me for the jobs. This was the beginning of my career as an educational writer.

What do you think are the necessary skills for working in this sector?

I think it is important to have a good grasp of the national curriculum. You also need to have reasonable expectations of what children are able to produce at different ages. This doesn’t mean avoid difficult concepts – you just need to approach a subject in a way that children can identify. I am very organised and break tasks down into smaller pieces, which I believe is a good skill when approaching a new project and presenting information to children.

Tell us about your typical working day.

My typical working day starts 9:30am after I have done the school run. I now take my grandson to school every morning in the same way I used to take my youngest boy. I start by checking my email and answering important messages. Then I consult my to-do list from the day before and usually give myself three tasks to complete each day; these are then broken down into smaller targets. This can range from research to producing worksheets, or writing information on a specific topic. It’s dictated by the project I have been commissioned to do.

Before lockdown, if my day involved a lot of reading, I would escape to a coffee shop to read and write longhand, which I would type up the next day. This is not advisable now, although I find it difficult to concentrate on reading without going and staring into the fridge for ages. Once I am into a project it is hard to drag me away from the computer. I pack up about 5:30pm to make dinner. I try not to work in the evenings as this is family time, unless I have a deadline looming. At the end of each day I write my list of tasks for the following morning.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I think the thing I enjoy most about my work is that it is always different. Sometimes, I am writing photocopiable worksheets or pupil books to support topic work; sometimes picture books on a specific theme or plays for children to act out in groups. Sometimes short stories for charities or scripts for audio books. These are just a few of the different things I have worked on over the years and I look forward to producing more innovative ideas.

What would you consider to be the main challenges currently facing educational writers, and what can be done to address them?

The main challenge facing educational writers in the current climate is the impossibility of doing live school visits. On top of that, many publishing houses ceased production during the first lockdown. Books were postponed to later in the year and 2021. Two of my picture books due out in October 2020 will now be released October 2021. (Keep a look out for Fox’s Winter Discovery and Squirrel’s Autumn Puzzle.)

The first two books in the series, Frog’s Summer Journey and Rabbit’s Spring Gift, were launched in March as planned but all my school/library visits had to be cancelled. This meant a serious drop in income. Educational writers make a lot of their money from school visits. My advice is to be adaptable. I have developed a wide range of virtual workshops, which have proved to be extremely popular. Of course, they are not the same as being there in person – particularly when there is acting out or craft work to do, but I always aim to make it fun.

Do you have any advice for those starting out in educational writing?

For those of you starting out in educational writing, my advice is to persevere. Publishers will always want new material from fresh voices to support topics that are taught in schools. Your challenge is to approach these topics in unique and inspiring ways. Keep up to date with new educational initiatives as well as the current national curriculum and no matter how long you have been writing – always, always check your facts. The last thing you want is to get the information wrong. Remember, you are shaping the minds of the future.

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and non-fiction for primary schools as well as educational picture books on a wide variety of subjects for host of educational publishers, with more than 100 books published in the UK and many more worldwide. Recent books include a technology encyclopaedia, the first three levels (nine books in total) of The Learning Adventures programme for science, which follows the Cambridge Primary Curriculum (aimed at international schools), and four new picture books based around the seasons, for the A Year in Nature series. / Twitter: @amloughrey / Instagram: @anitaloughrey