Thursday, 24 September 2015

'One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.' Malala Yousafzai - by Liz Kessler

I’m off to London today to see a film.

Given that I live in Cornwall, it’s a long way to travel to go to the cinema. But then, this isn’t just any film; it’s the movie premiere of He Named Me Malala, which I’ve been invited to see because Malala and I share a publisher.

As soon as I realised that the date of this event coincided with my ABBA post, I knew that there could be no better subject for me to write about.

Malala is not just one of the most amazing teenagers alive today. She is one of the most inspiring, wise, brave and intelligent people you could imagine meeting. Not that I have met her. But I have read her book, I Am Malala, and that left me in awe of this incredible young woman.

As authors, we often get asked to do interviews for blogs. On this occasion, I decided to turn the tables and interview my publisher instead. So here is Fiona Kennedy, publisher of I Am Malala, talking about why this book – and Malala herself – is so important and so special.

LK: Can you tell me how you felt when you first heard Malala’s story?

FK: I first heard Malala's story like everyone else on news broadcasts in 2012 - she was the young girl from the SWAT valley who had been shot at close range by the Taliban for speaking up for her right - and every child's right - to an education.  She was flown to England in a critical condition and no one knew whether she would survive. Like everyone, I was shocked by this, but at the time it was first reported had no idea how significant Malala's story would become to the world.

Malala did survive and is more passionate than ever about everyone's right to live in peace, to have equality of opportunity and to be treated with respect. We particularly wanted to emphasise the importance of her message about education and there's no better way to sum that up than with words from her powerful, memorable speech to the UN on her 16th birthday: 'one child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.'

LK: Did you face any obstacles/challenges along the process of publication?

FK: I worked closely with my US colleague at Little, Brown, Farrin Jacobs, who came over to England for weeks to work with Malala.  Malala was still recovering from her ordeal. She had a busy timetable: school, first and foremost (she has been studying for her GCSEs and has just got brilliant results). During that time, many, many invitations from all around the world came pouring in to her, and she, her family and her team were always generous with their time.

LK: How do you feel to be the publisher of this book? 

FK: It is a huge honour to publish Malala's story and, in whatever way possible, to help spread her words and message as far as possible. This is a book close to her heart, and it's one that absolutely everyone - not just a teen audience - should read.  It's written in the first person by Malala and really tells the story of the girl behind the icon - from Nobel Peace Prize to netball courts.

She may be the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and one of the most important teenagers in the world, but she's also a girl growing up in a new home, going to a new school, making new friends. It’s been fantastically interesting and a privilege to publish this book – and I know I speak for the whole team involved with it at Orion. We’re really excited for publication of our Indigo paperback edition and the brilliant documentary about to be released in November. The book and film are perfect companions.

As J K Rowling has said: 'Malala is an inspiration to girls and women all over the world'. She's right. Every word counts – and reading this book, it's impossible not to feel a whole range of emotions.

LK: Have you met Malala? What’s she like?

FK: I was lucky enough to meet her and her family at their home in Birmingham.  She's just extraordinary.  Tiny and gentle, but with such presence and such a sense of purpose and determination. I am sure she will fulfil all her ambitions.  She is truly inspiring just to be with.  She's chatty, charming  and witty - we talked about everything from why English schoolgirls roll their skirts up at the waist (very puzzling to Malala given our rainy, cold weather), to her practising for the school debating team, to how she is still recovering, to teasing her brothers, to missing her old home  - all sorts of things.  The family are incredibly close - it was a pleasure to meet them.

LK: What does the future hold for Malala, and for girls the world over still denied the education and the rights that she is fighting for?  

FK: Malala is continuing her studies and her tireless work with the Malala Fund which reaches far and wide.  She brings hope and with that hope, positive change for the future. Her 'Books not bullets' remains such an effective message.

LK: If you could tell young people today one thing from Malala’s story to inspire them, what would it be?

FK: We all have the power to make things better for each other in some way - large or small. We probably have an inner strength that we have never had to test to the full, but it's there.  I'm not saying we could all be as brave and amazing as Malala is, but we all have potential to do more.

Thanks Fiona. And thank you Malala, for being an incredible and genuinely awe-inspiring individual.

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catdownunder said...

Malala managed, with everything else she was doing, to get excellent exam results last year. She is an amazing person doing an amazing job. We all need to remember that she is young and she needs to be supported as well.

Joan Lennon said...

Thanks for this - she IS an inspiration!

Sheena Wilkinson said...

Lovely post, and a timely reminder that people caught up in terrible situations in their home countries can have a lot to teach us. I always love hearing about Malala and her wonderful message.

Nick Green said...

Interesting to reflect: if any one of us wrote a novel with a heroine who has achieved what she has and survived what she survived, both publishers and the public would throw it aside and dismiss it as unbelievable.