Authors and social media: Kate Cunningham

Today on the blog, Kate Cunningham is here to share a bit about her social media journey as an author. Kate and I worked together at the end of 2019 / start of 2020. When she offered to send me a copy of her book before we started, we discovered that we are also neighbours! Not just in the same neighbourhood, but I can actually see Kate’s house if I poke my head out of the window. What a small world!

I have become a huge fan of Kate’s books, because my kids both love them, and they really do help kids learn without realising they’re doing any learning. It’s been lovely to see how she’s gained in confidence online since we worked together – may more people discover these wonderful books!

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hi, I’m Kate and I write children’s books that tell stories about history. I’ve published five picture books with accompanying activity books, all narrated by my main character and alter ego, Vlad flea. My son is an illustrator and produces all the pictures, so it’s a family production. I was a primary teacher for nine years and the books were born out of wanting to create fun and interesting ways to engage children and sneak a bit of learning in along the way.

When did you first start using social media in a professional capacity? What made you take the leap to use it to promote your work?

I went from working in a hugely busy, sociable school environment to being alone in the house. I knew I had to find other ways of connecting and also keeping up with the professional developments in the education sector. At first I stuck to the familiar, niche and non-traditional social media route which was TES (formerly known as Times Education Supplement and the main forum for teachers). It was the obvious place to share all the free teaching resources that I created to go with the books.

Once I started to look further afield I went on Facebook to keep in contact with friends and colleagues and then Twitter where I found there were other people out there who filled their houses floor to ceiling with books, and were passionate about the importance of reading.

Do you feel like you have a balanced relationship with social media?

No! I am terrible at going down rabbit holes, all in the name of research, obviously. I will see a fascinating discussion about how heavy chainmail is and before you know it I will be reading an article about giant sloth tracks or desperately needing to know how many children Julius Caesar had. This has definitely got worse this last year with museums being online and out of bounds for real visits.

I find being spontaneous on social media terribly difficult. I know I have a dry sense of humour and it is very easy to come across as dour and miserable when in real life I’d have them rolling in the aisles (🤣🤣🤣)! That’s where the prompts and workbook are a lifeline as I came to realise that with ideas and planning it took the pressure off trying to rethink it all every time I logged on.

I feel that I’m still finding out so much, but that’s okay, I’m a firm believer in being a life-long learner and I love, love, love seeing things pop up from schools such as a class of children re-enacting one of my stories, or making Vlad fleas out of toilet rolls.

Your books are for younger readers, who likely won’t be on social media. How does this change your approach?

I do find this challenging and suspect I end up being a bit of a split personality. On the one hand I am Kate, an author with a whole lot of opinions, on the other I am still a mother and teacher with my young audience constantly present in my mind. Occasionally children contact me through their adults and they tag me to show me their work and I write back, sometimes as Vlad flea. I do wonder if anyone reading my feed without the context might wonder what is happening.

Mostly, of course, my posts are for the adults, parent and teachers, which allows me to share some of the research behind my picture books. For example, talking about the prosthetic toe in the British Museum enables me to comment on the importance of a realistic portrayal of diversity in history and aiming to change how we represent communities in the past.

What boundaries do you have around your social media usage, and why are those important to you?

I steer away from being political or sweary. As mentioned above I do respond to comments from children and I don’t want someone showing them the feed and then realising there is something inappropriate above or below it. I follow a couple of historical accounts that often feature really interesting biographical or medical stories that would not be appropriate for children at all, and if my feed at the bottom of my website showed their tweets, it could be seen by small eyes.

I think it’s also a hang-up from my classroom days when discussions about morals and opinions were great, but you had to be careful about expressing your own political affiliations. I’m sure folk could work out my views by what I retweet or say about government cuts to education and libraries.

What is your best advice for an author who wants to promote themselves online?

I think it’s probably really useful to know what you want from it, as well as what you have to offer. By that I mean that many writers want to connect with authors to discuss the writing process and feel the support of others in the same situation. Great if that’s your aim and there are a lot of writer hashtags where people connect. However, they may, or may not be your audience for your books, so it’s worth considering if you actually really want to be talking to a totally different group of people too.

Thank you so much Kate! Kate’s latest book is Vlad and Tutankhamun’s Tomb.

You can find information about all of her books and activities on the Reading Riddle website, including links to the developing Vlad Flea site that will only feature child-friendly images and games. She is also on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook too, so head over and join her there.

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