Saturday, 24 September 2016

Sending your baby to the house of tomorrow - Liz Kessler

I’ve ummed and ahhhed more than usual over what to write about this month. I’ve thought of and then rejected at least half a dozen ideas.

I was on the verge of asking if anyone wanted to do a guest post on my date – and then the advance copy of my new book turned up, and I realised that the joy of holding your new book in your hands for the first time never goes away.

You made this thing. It has so much of you poured into it. And yet, now that it exists in its own right, now that it is out there in the world – your role is done and you have to stand back and let it find its own way.

The letting go can be hard.

See, the thing is – I absolutely love this book. I love the characters, falling in love despite the biggest divide there is.

I loved writing it – each new scene unfolding virtually in front of my eyes as I walked along the wild coast path watching waves crashing on rocks, and listening to a playlist that brought me to tears more often than not.

I loved the process – the collaborating with the amazing poet, Ella Frears, who was so in tune with me that the poems she wrote felt as if they came from the pens of my actual characters. The songs she shared with me felt as if they came directly from the story I was weaving.

I loved all of it. And now that the book is going out there, it is taking a bit of my heart with it.

I am not a parent, so I don’t know if this analogy is as true as it feels, but producing a book does seem, to me, to be a bit like having a child. To be fair, probably not as painful as actual childbirth (although excruciatingly painful at times, in its own way!) Perhaps the process is more like the struggles, joys and extremes of bringing up a child from baby to adulthood.

I spent about eighteen months living with characters who had all sorts thrown at them. Bullying, panic attacks, life-threatening illnesses, drug overdoses, grief. Characters who somehow managed to choose love over all of these, again and again.

So yeah. It was an intense journey. And now, the book is out of my hands and – hopefully – into other people’s. It is finished, and I have to let go.

Luckily for me, I have an amazing editor, Helen Thomas, who helped break the intensity of the moment by sending me a text of the plotline - told in emojis! I love this as much as all the other things.

I have friends who are saying goodbye to their children as they go to university this month. I have witnessed their mixture of pride, fear, grief, loss, excitement and hope.

This is how it is with a book. I want the best for it. I want it to be liked – loved – thought well of.

If I had a child going to university right now, I don’t think I’d be rooting for them to come home with a first class degree and the highest praise for every piece of work they produced. Yes, of course, those things would be nice. But more than that, I believe the things that would make my heart swell would be to hear that they had made friends, they’d fallen in love, they were happy.

And so with the book – I don’t care about awards and shortlistings. Yes, they are nice (I haven’t had many in over a decade as a published author!) But I’d much rather my book found its way into the hands of young people who loved it, whose lives were enriched for having found it, who felt warm for reading it and wanted to share it with their friends.

I will do all I can to try to make this happen. In a few days, I’m off on a book tour where I will be meeting lots of young people all around the UK and sharing my book with them. Next week, I’m holding a book launch where I will celebrate its release. I'll accept every invitation I get to go and talk about it with young people.

I’ll give my baby the best upbringing I can, and send it off with a case full of clothes and books and a heart full of hope. Will people like it? I don't know. Will they criticise it, give it a rough time? They might. Once I've let it go, I have no control over what happens out there. And that’s how it should be. That’s part of the process. The letting go.

As Kahlil Gibran says, in The Prophet:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

I hope that Haunt Me has a great time, out there in the house of tomorrow.

Pre-order Haunt Me
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Friday, 23 September 2016

The Magical Power of Poetry by Steve Gladwin

There is only one subject I could write about this month so forgive me if I do so. At the end of July my partner suffered a serious breakdown, from which she seemed to be recovering well, only for a serious relapse to occur a month later and for myself and members of my family to have to take one of the most difficult decisions you will ever have to face. Now she is recovering and regaining herself a little at a time, although we both know it will be a slow process. She is lucky enough to find herself in the only women’s recovery unit in Wales, rather than in some distant mixed ward where, as a non-driver, I wouldn’t even be able to see her.

I could just as easily write this blog on the theme of art imitating life, because this year has been yet another instance of it. It is a year where I completed my latest book about a professional Victorian mad-girl, where I have developed a near obsession with the work of Robert Schumann, (who ended his days in Endenich Assylum), where both Rosie and I spent much of this year contributing to a forthcoming book on change and loss called The Raven’s Call, and where I am currently in Week 3 of the futurelearn course I'd already signed up for on Mental Health in Literature (this week ‘Bereavement’) long before any of this happened, I now find myself facing a totally unexpected challenge and series of changes whose sequence and results are as yet unknown. I am again living a solo life interspersed with visits to see Rosie when she is well enough, and almost daily ‘check in’ calls to her or one of the staff. I am thrown back on to myself and my own resources without the moral support of the person I have had by my side for the last seven years.

The odd thing – as I have written in The Raven’s Call – is that when these things happen there can occur a phenomena which I can only call, ''The other side of the fence. It’s when at the same time you experience both the thing itself - the feeling you’re having say -, while somehow also being able to observe it from a distance and congratulate yourself on how you’re doing. Didn’t I do well there? Didn’t I choose just the right words? Look at me getting on the bus like nothing’s happened?

And then there are the times that you feel yourself so gloriously in the actual moment – no matter how bad or harrowing it might be – that you could almost shout for joy. Such a thing happened two weeks ago.

I had arranged to see Rosie as usual in the afternoon about 2.30, but when I arrived she was very anxious and agitated and seemed uncertain about joining me or sitting down. At one point she disappeared altogether and I wasn’t sure that she’d even return. But she came back and brought with her a new drawing she’d done to show me. Something – perhaps the act of picking up something she’d created – had calmed her enough, and now it was time for me to read some poetry from the book I’d bought. It was there that the real miracle happened.

Rosie loves poetry as much as she loves art and is very skilled at both. She is a brilliant academic who as a mature student, narrowly missed a first at Aberystwyth University. Last year she won the inaugural Disability Arts Wales poetry competition where the judge, poet Menna Elfyn, said that her winning entry, ‘I Once Had A Heart’,’had haunted me for days’.

The book I brought in - appropriately enough - was ‘From The Heart’, a  selection of poems chosen by Ted Hughes. As we settled back down on the sofa in the visitors room, I set about picking a few which I thought she would enjoy. These included over the next hour, poems by Yeats, Frost, Elliot and Betjeman. But we both agreed that our particular favourite was The Way Through The Woods by Rudyard Kipling. We were both haunted by its message and especially its ending –

‘You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes.
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods …
But there is no road through the woods.

It wasn’t this poem alone which soothed her anxiety and – bit by bit – brought that bright but over-burdened brain into clarity, but it was that poem which seemed to encapsulate the specialness of that afternoon, where just being with someone and connecting them back to all the things they held dear, was enough – quite enough.

That same week I had poetry very much on my mind because the first week of the excellent futurelearn course on Mental Health and Literature with Professors Jonathan Bate and Paula Byrne was on the theme of Depression and Stress and particularly how poetry can combat both. I had already found – that just doing simple things on the course like reading out loud poems such as Wordsworth’s ‘On Westminster Bridge’, Yeats ‘Lake Isle of Innisfree’, Edward Thomas ‘Addlestrop’ and Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach, ( a wonderful poem I hadn’t come across before) - brought me very quickly to those moments of calm and clarity which at the moment are much needed.

You see the truth is that it has taken me an awfully long time to 'get' poetry. I have certainly written it intermittently - and especially in the last two years when I have been almost prolific – Since childhood I have appreciated many poems here and there. I have fallen completely in love with poems like Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods’, Rossetti’s ‘Silent Noon’, and Rosenberg’s ‘Returning We Hear The Larks’. I used to love Hardy and Blake more and would like to do so again. I can still find endless fascination in ‘The Waste Land’

No something has happened with poetry lately and especially on this course, for it is as if I do finally ‘get’ what I never did before – that ability and quality a poem has of stopping a moment or idea dead, so that you can rummage around in it to your heart’s content. Last week, part of the course was on the examples of 'heartbreak', (that week's theme) in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and the very different ways that Elinor and Marianne deal with it. I’ve never taken greatly to your average internet article, ( my fellow bloggers aside) but reading even short extracts from the book wasn’t something I could easily engage with. I think I was missing the space of the poetry and in comparison the lines of packed prose seemed just to crowd in on me and I just wanted the air and freedom of the poem .

I don’t know whether this was because of what happened last Friday or just maybe because I have a profoundly ill partner in hospital and perhaps my patience and indeed concentration isn’t always at its best. What I do know is that poetry is helping both of us in different ways and that it is a connection which we have shared and will continue to share - long after this crisis is resolved - for many years to come.

One of the great joys of the new year, was that we both read the ‘Daughters of Time’ collection by The History Girls,  both getting equal enjoyment and value from it in different ways. For Rosie however it became a true source of inspiration because she decided there and then to write a series of poem about the women in the book whose stories had most got to her.  She wrote poems about Amy Johnson and Emily Davison and others and then raced to the back of the book to find new inspiration from the other women suggested there and wrote poems about a couple of them. We were both however inspired to write about Mary Anning after reading Joan Lennon's wonderful 'Best After Storms', and it was almost a race to get ours down, (I won in the end) first. It was fascinating for us how we could both have such a different take on one subject.. We went on after that to write the animal poems for The Raven’s Call with Rosie taking on Hare, Wren and Swallow and me Raven, Wolf and Butterfly. In those moments of composing and reading and sharing we felt a true connection in a way which we perhaps couldn’t get anywhere else. I'm sure that that deep creative connection applies to many more people than us and provides equal comfort. 

Last week I also gained two very different instances of the healing power of poetry from the futurelearn course. The first was course tutor Paula Byrne’s moving interview with a teacher Jack Lankester. He relates how - following a severe depression after the break-up of a relationship at university - in the end a sympathetic tutor suggested he read a a sonnet sequence by Sir Philip Sidney

.“I believed in my naivety that no one had ever been as heartbroken as I was. No one understood… When I started reading him, the penny dropped in that instant, I felt wildly less alone. And the fact that he had been writing these poems 500 years ago, really did make me realise that being heartbroken or sad or lost is in many ways inevitable. And it’s a part of the human condition.”

 Of course this wasn’t immediately a miracle cure but he did find enough in a single poem alone to give him something to cling on to, where despite the old fashioned language and style the sentiment and feeling came through to illuminate his particular darkness.

Astrophil and Stella 31: With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the skies

Related Poem Content Details

With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the skies! 
How silently, and with how wan a face! 
What, may it be that even in heav'nly place 
That busy archer his sharp arrows tries! 
Sure, if that long-with love-acquainted eyes 
Can judge of love, thou feel'st a lover's case, 
I read it in thy looks; thy languish'd grace 
To me, that feel the like, thy state descries. 
Then, ev'n of fellowship, O Moon, tell me, 
Is constant love deem'd there but want of wit? 
Are beauties there as proud as here they be? 
Do they above love to be lov'd, and yet 
Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess? 
Do they call virtue there ungratefulness?

(Thanks to the Poetry Foundation website)
The second and yes – literally heart-breaking instance - is in the poem Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy by poet and psychiatrist Richard Berlin, where he is dealing with an elderly man who has suffered a suspected heart attack following the sudden death of his wife. In exploring both his own and the old man’s feelings, he marries the technical medical jargon with the image of the over-burdened left ventricle - which now with its narrow neck and rounded bottom, resembles a Japanese octopus pot or Takotsubo . In the end, in commiserating the old man on his loss, the poem ends with him expresssing the wish that he had eight octopus arms to hug him with. You can find this wonderful and moving poem on 

Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy - The condition and the inspiration.

NB As close as you can come to a broken heart, Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy is actually a weakening of the left ventricle which looks like a heart attack but is actually caused by intense stress.

This blog was essentially about three hearts, so let's end with a poem about three more.

I once had a heart       

I once had a heart
all red muscle and hard work. Battle-
scarred and bullet ridden. Never the
victor, always the victim. Wouldn't
win a beauty competition. Yet full of
spirit. But that's what matters most
isn't it?

And so intricate. Would have shamed the 
universe's complex plans. Ad infinitum

tiny arteries that whispered a claret
red, rich susurrus in spiral after spiral.
The life-giver.
How aptly named you were. And worked 
as a heart should. But for one thing.
That endless Thud, Thud. THUD. Too
many memories trapped in the blood.
echoing. Echoing. ECHOING.

For sanity's sake I traded it in.
The new one - a beautiful thing. Hand-
carved. Some said it had a hollow tick.
A heart void of any characteristic
important to life. But in time, I grew
to love it as my own. Then -

in a heartbeat, Woodworm.
Countless tunnels, raised up like embroidered

So the choice was made. One last fling
in the arms of fate. What seemed a faultless 

A heart to die for. A 'work of art'.
And what's better - no flesh, no wood,
or boiled-up blood.

But it had a single flaw. A long-held
tear shattered its core. Fractured red
into yellow and green, bled blue into
indigo, edge by edge into nothing. Like
all the atoms that have ever been.

For a whole galaxy of wonderful poems check out The Poetry Foundation website.

You can find Richard Berlin's Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy on 

If you're interested in catching up with the futurelearn course on Mental Health in Literature, tutors Professor Jonathan Bate and Professor Paula Byrne, or any more of their courses, check out the futurelearn website. You can also find many of the fascinating intrerviews with psychiatrists, actors and academics on youtube.  

Thursday, 22 September 2016

New Fictions, By Dan Metcalf

The novel, the art form in which a lot of us writers on ABBA create our art, has been around for about 300 years. Before that, you had to settle for plays, poems and pamphlets, or be content with staring at a field or embroidering a sample for your entertainment. I have always found it mind-boggling that there was once a world without novels, but of course there was; before 1895 there was no such thing as a film, and before the printing press, there was precious little to read at all (if you could read, that is).
Which lead me to presume that other forms of art have yet to be invented too; the virtual reality experience is really in its infancy at the moment but experts believe that it will take off very soon following the launch of the Oculus Rift and the photo-real graphics of the games played on it. Web-series and transmedia projects are an interesting space to watch, but at the moment are not breaking through to the mainstream.
I've been keen to find an art form that is non-digital and tells a story of sorts, and came across the book 'A New Oklahoma Masterplan' by Sean Bonner & Allen Morgenstern. The book reads like a tongue-in-cheek proposal to a council meeting, like a spoof TED talk put down on paper. With chapter titles such as 'America is like Britney Spears' and 'Can America Even Get Any Better?' you can tell this is not a serious venture, but as the book goes along you find that the central proposal, to turn Oklahoma into a giant waterpark, is not only tenable, but they've done the maths. It would actually work. Now all they need is a crazy billionaire to fund it (and there are plenty of those about).
Another example is the non-linear book 'S', created by JJ Abrams (Lost, MI2, Star Trek & Wars). The book, complete with footnotes, scribbled on pages, unusual bookmarks that convey part of the story and hidden clues throughout, is an experiment in non-traditional storytelling, and it bends my brain to think how they even began writing it.
And a while ago I came across this article from Gizmodo, the story of Gille Trehin.
"Spending a decade (or two) on a project isn’t uncommon amongst urban planners. Gilles Trehin is one of them. Except in Trehin’s case, the project is entirely fictional, and the scale is monumental.
Trehin has devoted the past twenty years to designing Urville, a city of twelve million on an imaginary European island. He started drawing when he was five and began working on Urville when he was fifteen. Since then, he’s produced hundreds of architectural drawings of the city."
Trehin is autistic, allowing him to concentrate in great detail when creating his imaginary city. Twenty years on the same project? I'm lucky if I can train my brain to settle on something for twenty minutes.

His book on the city is available on Amazon. Interestingly, this is filed under 'fiction'. Which is undoubtedly is, of course, but this work of fiction is one which has no narrative, as such, apart from the history of the city which Trehin has made up. It's not a novel. It's not a poem. It's not even an architectural book, really. Is this a fiction all of its very own?

How often is it you come across a completely new type of fiction? This is something which is genuinely original, and which probably could not be copied. A rare feat.
Dan Metcalf is the author of The Lottie Lipton Adventures. Find him at

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

When did it all get so simple/complicated? by Anne Booth

I can't work out if the world is much simpler than people think, or more complicated, and I think it is part of my calling of a writer to explore this.

Re simpler: why, for example, does it seem to be so difficult for everyone to remember that all children need safety, love, food, shelter, education, fun, to flourish? Why do we seem to  have to constantly remind politicians and newspapers to act decently and talk about others with respect, why in our country, do we have to sign petitions and go on marches to stop libraries being closed down, or ask for support for young carers or refugees, for example? Surely it is obvious that children should not be disadvantaged? What's complicated about that?

So I want to write books which say look - it is simple. Basically, love is the answer. Be kind. Don't judge. Listen. Learn.

It's all very simple.

But another part of me wants to say that things are so much more complicated than you would guess from twitter or Facebook or online forums or some of our media. Why do people - even intelligent , thoughtful people -seem to want to put people into boxes all the time? Racism and elitism and snobbery are obvious examples, but I think it is much more subtle and prevalent. Why can't we accept that people don't come with a prepackaged set of beliefs and that there are lots of overlaps? I might disagree with someone about some aspect of politics, for example, and yet be able to work with them on another. I think that makes the world very interesting. I want to say to people - please, don't lump people into groups - don't think all Christians/Jews/Atheists/Hindus/Muslims/Buddhists/Agnostics/left-wingers/right-wingers/disabled/gay/rich/poor etc etc people necessarily  think the same things or are all preoccupied with the same things.  Please don't think that all people from a certain cultural or racial background are interested in the same things or agree about them all. On the other hand, don't think that they can't come together and work in unity for a common cause - like helping refugees, for example.

For writers there is the problem of how to create unique and authentic characters and also give fair  representation of groups often overlooked. Because although all homeless children, for example, are not the same, they DO have something in common - they don't have a home. And if we don't have representation in books of  children without homes, or children from different cultural or racial backgrounds - we are making things simple when they aren't.

It's all very complicated.

I want to write books which challenge stereotyping. I want to write books which say look - it ISN'T that simple. I don't want to write in clichés. But writing is both simple - telling a story - and complicated - whose story and why and how to tell it? And to whom?

And as writers for children - we have to work with agents and publishers and editors and marketing people and booksellers and librarians and teachers and parents and most of all, children, to somehow produce simple/complicated stories to hopefully enthral and inspire and delight and sell in quantities that enable us to put food on the table for our families!

It's the most demandingly complicated and yet simply the best and most fun job I have ever had!

P.S. - Since I wrote this an AMAZINGLY simple and beautiful idea has been put into action - Fiona Dunbar has started - an auction to raise money for refugees - another dimension to the whole simple/complicated issue - we cannot solve all the problems of the world by our writing or our actions - but sometimes we can simply each do something and hopefully help.  Here is the lot I am offering:

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

It's Not Fair - Joan Lennon

My son is teaching English in Indonesia and I've just been to visit.  I was overwhelmed by, well, everything -

But amazingness aside, trying to be helpful with English language lesson plans brought home to me yet again how unfairly easy it is to have grown up speaking the wretched thing.  And I just want to say, to anyone anywhere in the world who is trying to learn English as a second (or third or fourth) language ...


English is an insane language, and it's no help to spread my hands and tell you "You write this rather than something else equally sensible because ... er ... it sounds right."  

It's just not fair.  

Take adjectives.  According to an article in the Guardian this week, there is a rule that, like the writer, I didn't even know existed.  The rule is, when you have multiple adjectives, you always* order them thusly:


And if you jumble that order - a red big jumper, for example, or a Scottish tall teacher - it sounds wrong.**  Have a go yourself, if you've been speaking English from the get-go.  Try and break the rule and see just how uncomfortable it feels.  

And that's just one teeny-tiny cul-de-sac (so to speak) in the shifting maze of English.  So, to all non-English-as-a-first-languagers everywhere, please accept my sincere, ginormous, elderly, well-rounded, rose-tinted, Canadian, iron-clad, unfairness-acknowledging apologies.

* Except when you don't, as the article goes on to explain.  
** Except when it doesn't.  (As in Big Bad Wolf.)  (Sorry.)

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
Silver Skin.

Monday, 19 September 2016

The Cost of Book Piracy - Lucy Coats

Today is Official Talk Like A Pirate Day, but there'll be no Aharrs or Ahoys in this post. Instead I want to talk about a different kind of pirate - the book pirate. Book piracy is rife, and everyone needs to be aware of it. As authors, almost every one of our books will have been pirated and offered as an illegal download at some point - figures show that almost 80% of e-books are pirated. It's almost impossible to police, but in my case, if I find one, I pass it on to my publishers who will issue a take-down notice, but it's like fighting the wind.

In one recent case an author's book was given out in ARC form at a literature convention. Within days that book was up online (it had been scanned) as a free download. This was before publication. So that particular author's book was given a death blow before it was even in the shops.

There's also another kind of piracy - plagiarism or passing off. Sometime ago I was scrolling through research information on Athene, when I happened to notice something on Wattpad (for those of you who don't know what that is, it's a an online community where subscribers post their own writing, eiither through the Wattpad website or a mobile app). It was an Athene story - and as I read through it, it sounded more and more familiar. It was my own work, passed off as someone else's. It was not a nice feeling. Scribd is another culprit - despite their BookID initiative.  Illegal downloads and copyright infringement of foreign editions are also a daily problem for some authors - including CJDaugherty, who tweets about it regularly.

Think about the figure above for a second. At 25% royalty on a e-book - that adds up to serious money. When most authors earn less than the national minimum living wage, every single illegally downloaded copy of our books hits us in the pocket. So what can we do? There's a new programme out there for Google, currently in Beta-testing called Blasty. I'm going to give it a try and see what happens.

Meanwhile - if someone tries to tell you that book content should be free to download 'just like music is' - feel entitled to snarl like Blackbeard and educate them as to just why their kind of piracy is just as bad as stealing a physical copy. Because that's what book piracy is - stealing. And we can't afford it. 

OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review 
Lucy's Website - Twitter - Facebook - Instagram

Sunday, 18 September 2016

School librarians, A precious resource. Still under threat - Linda Strachan

Today I make no apologies for repeating a blog I wrote in December 2013, sadly it is as relevant now as then, if not more so.  We have not progressed, in fact even more schools are losing School librarians and leaving our young people without this valuable and necessary resource.

When pupils wrote to authors to ask for support because local councillors were taking the decision to get rid of their school librarian, Julia Donaldson, former Children's Laureate,   wrote to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

IN these two short videos the pupils say it in their own words

"A library is not a library without a librarian" - fantastic video created by Argyll and Bute pupils

 Some say school libraries could become tech 'think' places... I am all for looking ahead but without experienced librarians, who will make the most of these spaces?
 Below is my blog about School librarians -

What kind of a society are we going to become?  

It makes you wonder when they start to close libraries - now the axe is raised over the heads of the School librarians, champions of reading and often the one person who can open the door for a child into the world of books.

Many children do not have books in their home. In December 2011 the National Literacy Trust released figures which showed that of 3.8 million children in the UK, 1 in 3 do not own a book.
 With fewer libraries and restricted opening times and closures, for some children the only access they will have to books will be the school library. But it will become a mere storage facility for books if the school does not have a professional librarian.

Perhaps you are one of those who thinks that a librarian is just someone who arranges books on shelves?   Do you know what a school librarian does?

  ' School librarians and educational resource service expertise are key factors in the improved delivery of curriculum outcomes, attainment of the goals of education, promotion of literacy and reading, information literacy and technology use, and should be retained.'  CILIPS ( the Chartered Institute of Library and Information professionals in Scotland)

 I have never been a librarian, not trained as one and I don't have their expertise. But what I have seen is the enthusiasm and excitement about books and reading that a great school librarian can create among the children in their school. They organise reading programmes and promote books and reading in a huge variety of ways that no one else in the school has the time or expertise to do.
I have been involved in lots of different events and projects organised or managed by school librarians, such as the Kids Lit Quiz, where teams of 4 pupils compete in a quiz about books, and where the winning UK team travels to the World final, that can be as far away as New Zealand, the USA or South Africa. There are lots of practice runs and many books are read in the run up to the competition each year.

Kate Harrison, Teresa Flavin, Jane McLoughlin
& Elizabeth Wein at Teen Titles event
I've been interviewed by pupils for the glossy Teen Titles magazine where teenagers review books they have read. I have no doubt that these reviews and interviews would never be written, collected and organised without the school librarians from Edinburgh Schools. They also host a great evening during the Edinburgh Book Festival when the young reviewers get to meet some of the authors whose books they have reviewed.

It seems very strange, Teen Titles is an Edinburgh Council publication, so why is it that Edinburgh Council has suggested that as part of its proposed budget cuts they plan to cut the number of school librarians by half?  They suggest that if enough stakeholders act during the consultation process this will be overturned. Surely a matter like this should not depend on a vote of interested parties to over turn it, any more than other important aspects of education?

Red Book Award
I tried to find a photograph of a school librarian to put here but despite librarians inviting me to visit more schools than I can count over the years, I was struggling to find a picture of any one of the wonderful librarians who had organised these author visits.
It made me realise that in these days where everyone seems to want to be center stage, school librarians tend to stay well behind the scenes, working tirelessly and often well beyond their remit and contracted hours, providing an invaluable service to our children.

So instead I put in this photo of the very excited audience at the Red Book Awards in Falkirk. It is an amazing day, full of fun, and a really wonderful example of how school librarians working together can get huge numbers of children reading and talking about books they have read. There are book awards organised by librarians all over the UK, but sadly many of these are also falling foul of budget cuts.

School librarians appear to be a soft target to those who lack a proper understanding, and those who might think that they are a luxury. But reading for pleasure is not an extra or a luxury for young people.

The National Literacy Trust’s 2012 report for UNESCO also found that pupils who read outside class were thirteen times more likely to read above the expected level for their age.

As Lin Anderson  Chair of the Society of Authors in Scotland (2012-2015),  mentioned in her letter to Sue Bruce, Chief Executive at the Edinburgh City Council - ' a new analysis by the Institute of Education (September 2013) has found that children who read for pleasure do significantly better at maths, vocabulary and spelling, compared to those who rarely read. Regular reading and visits to libraries were found to be more important factors in improving a child's test scores than a parent's level of education.'

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”  Albert Einstein.

Librarians have the expertise to know exactly which book to direct a child to when they are floundering, and which they are not yet ready for. In these days of poor literacy levels we need dedicated school librarians to help children discover the joy of reading that will sustain them throughout their lives.

The Society of Authors' survey on Author Visits in Primary and Secondary Schools (October 2013) found that school librarians play a crucial role in selecting texts and organising the author visits that inspire so many pupils. One respondent to the survey said:
I believe that inspiration for reading comes at a very early age. With cutbacks in library services and funding in local communities an issue, schools must play a larger part in encouraging pupils’ reading and writing. As a secondary librarian I see a percentage of pupils who have decided it is not cool to read; some pupils joining us from primaries have already adopted this attitude. It is our job to work hard to convince them otherwise (hence as a passionate librarian I organise as many author visits as I possibly can). It should be our job to enrich, empower and expand pupils’ reading without the hurdles of peer-pressure.’

Primary schools often lose out and if they have a library at all it is all too often staffed by a parent or part time by a teacher and at times it is reduced to a few shelves in a corridor.  Far from reducing the number of librarians, because they seem like a soft target,we should be increasing them by making sure that not only every secondary school has a trained librarian but also that each and every primary school also has, not only a proper library but a well staffed one, too

At least Edinburgh Council have put it to consultation, far too many councils have been reducing the number of school librarians by stealth, simply by not filling posts when they become vacant. This way they disappear without even a whisper of loss.

Sadly even as I write this I have heard that another region is about decide whether to split school librarians between two schools, reducing the number by half.  The worry is that after this has happened and the librarians that remain are unable to keep doing all the work twice as many people did, will that leave them even more vulnerable to even more cuts?

What kind of society do we want to belong to?
Reading for pleasure is a way of understanding the world around us, fiction and non fiction have an important place in the education of our children at all ages. Reading gives children the opportunity to experience life beyond their immediate surroundings and experience, it can show them how to empathise with others in situations we might hope they never encounter themselves, to consider and question other views and to understand the past and how it might influence their future.

School librarians are a vital resource. Parents should ask whether their school has a full time librarian, but to make sure we have a literate and educated society we all need to take responsibility to make sure that this vital resource is retained and not lost by lack of a vote or by stealth when we are not watching.

Does your child's school or your local school have a full time librarian?



Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and a writing handbook - Writing For Children.

Linda is currently Chair of the SOAiS - Society of Authors in Scotland 

Her latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me . 
She is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her bestselling series Hamish McHaggis illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby.

blog:  Bookwords