On the face of it, these events were all quite different. The first was about the dinosaur in the middle of the room (which we all hoped was in no way symbolic), the meeting up with friends and fellow authors, and the trying (and utterly failing) to say ‘no thank you,’ when asked if I would like my champagne glass topping up.
|The not at all symbolic dinosaur|
The second was mostly about being in awe of the amount of talent in the room, the collective wisdom, the inspiring speeches - and the Jamie-Oliver-designed cocktails. Oh, and the fact that I was out in a dress for the second time in a week. A fact which has not occurred since I was thirteen, so I'll 'treat' you to a pic, otherwise you might not believe it actually happened.
|Yes, it's me in a dress|
And the third. Well, the third was the point when I realised what the first two were really about.
As I sat in the synagogue, listening to my youngest niece singing – beautifully – her allotted portion of the Torah, and trying not to cry, as I wasn’t sure my mascara was waterproof, I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging. I’m not religious – AT ALL – so at first, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was feeling. But as I looked around me, at the packed synagogue, at the family members greeting each other as they came in, at the strangers turning to face those who had recently lost loved ones during the Kaddish, at the children plaiting the tassles on their father’s tallis, I realised what it was about – what it was all about.
It’s about community. It’s about being part of something with other people. And something that is in constant flux, like a river that we are all being swept along together.
As Katie continued to sing, it occurred to me that we were at the point where this river was ending, and would soon flow into another. The sixth and youngest of her generation, hers would be the last of these occasions for many years. The next bat- or bar- mitzvah in our family would be for the child of one of these six.
Once I’d made this connection, the mascara didn’t stand a chance. And as I looked at my older nieces, standing with their boyfriends who all suddenly seemed to look like grown men, with their suits and their beards, I realised that this day might not be such a long time coming.
|One of the nieces, with two of the bearded boyfriends|
When the Rabbi blessed Katie at the end of the service, his words took me back to my own childhood. The ‘Cheder’ or Saturday School, where my strongest memories were not of any religious teaching but of the times we sang happy birthday to someone, or played hide and seek behind the beautifully stained windows. And I realised how seamlessly the past flows into the present and catches us out when it gets there. Glancing again at my nieces and their beard-clad boyfriends, it occurred to me that before I know it, the present will already have flowed on into the future.
And then I was reminded of the book-related celebrations earlier in the week, and how those were about community and flow as well.
Just as Katie’s singing held the moment between this generation and the next, the two earlier events marked a pivotal moment in the world of books. As Orion Chief Executive Peter Roche said in his speech, 'The world of the written word has experienced its biggest transformation since the invention of the printing press'.
E-books have brought new challenges to everyone in the world of publishing. But as well as the fears that all of us must have, if we approach the situation in the right way, it has also opened up new possibilities. The 'right way' will be different for all of us. It might mean having a publisher who is forward-thinking, proactive and creative enough to thoroughly embrace e-books without deserting the world of paper and bookshops. A tricky balance.
Or it might mean having a serious go at self-publishing. Many are seizing the opportunity to publish or re-publish their own books. For some, this is a bold and exciting step forward. For others it may be a last resort. Either way, some authors are beginning to do very well from it.
Whichever way we face these new challenges, I believe we need community. Whether that means a loyal and monogamous relationship with a publisher, or a team of fellow authors setting out on an e-publishing (or blogging!) venture together - or any number of other possibilities - my point is that, as we travel from one era of publishing to the next, we need each other.
As with family, there will be squabbles – and possibly even divorces – along the way. But if I think now of my niece singing, my brother looking proudly on, and the warmth of their friends and family all around them; if I think of the chief executive of my publishing company telling his authors, 'Our future is in your words,' and if I think of the fact that, whilst I was with my family, thirty children’s authors were spending a weekend together in a hotel in Peterborough, sharing ideas and inspiration – that’s when I know that, wherever these rivers take us, our best chance of successfully navigating the waters is by joining up with others to share a raft.
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