Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Politics and writing by Anne Booth

I am very aware that mixing up politics in writing for children can easily turn into propaganda, but more and more I think that giving  children the tools to understand how politics works is a really good idea. Just as we think children should be financially literate and emotionally literate,  and to have responsible sex education, and education about religious beliefs, or atheism,  they need to be politically literate before they are old enough to vote.  It is so inspiring to see American teenagers speaking out about how they are affected by gun control, and saying that they want their voices to be heard by politicians. They have had to become politically literate because of a tragedy, and politicians are finding they can't dismiss them any more.

I have just bought 3 copies of Usborne's 'Politics for Beginners' and I am keeping one and giving two away to schools.  I think it is excellent and empowering and actually I am learning lots myself.  I find I am very vague about things I really should know more about, and I am grateful to Usborne.

I wa struck by the need for us all to be more politically literate when I recently read a facebook post by local residents in a hostel in our city. There were 13 families, most with small children, and there had been a tummy bug which had affected all the children in the building. The  hostel's washing machine had broken and they were not allowed to have a tumble dryer OR hang out washed and wet sheets over bannisters to dry, but were expected to dry them in their  overcrowded flats. They could get nowhere with complaints to the Council -run housing association and felt desperate. I read the post and managed to get in contact with a local councillor, who then went to see them and went on the warpath with the the council and demanded that they should have a new washing machine and tumble dryer. I knew how hard she worked to get this done, but I was astonished and sad that there were some subsequent comments on the city facebook page which indicated that some residents thought that, because she was the authority figure who visited them, that it must have been her fault in the first place. There were other, equally frustrating comments where the awful council got the credit for the washing machine being put in.  I did my best to clarify things, but i was depressed at how the good unselfish person who had put so much work in was getting so little credit. Oh yes, and also somehow immigrants and asylum seekers managed to get blamed too - all because people were really unclear about who was responsible for what.

Nobody had contacted the right person because they did not know who to contact. Children were directly affected by that.  I want to help children to know who to hold responsible, both for when they eventually get the vote but also for now, so that they are empowered to challenge adults when things are wrong. When libraries are closed, when school budgets are decimated, these are all political decisions which affect children, and will hurt them long before they are 18. They have a right to comment and speak out - and we have a duty to help them them know who they should contact, while making sure we do not, in turn, try to indoctrinate or influence them unduly. I think Usborne have done a magnificent job producing this book, and I think there is plenty more scope for us as fiction writers to write stories where we see children being constructively political, and where children can see themselves as political beings.

In my next middle grade book with Catnip, due out in June,  I have a school community torn apart by political decisions and arguments by adults.  I found it a very difficult book to get right, and it needed a fair bit of editing, which I was so lucky to  get, first by my agent Anne Clark and then the editor Melissa Hyde. I think it was Anne who noticed at the beginning that I had given a very important saviour role to a good adult, and on her advice I worked on the story and I thought up a story line so that it was the children, with very differing stances on something, who came up with an ingenious, and very politically astute, compromise. As I wrote about the school children out-manoeuvering the adults who were trying to exploit local tension for political ends, I realised that this was totally believable. Children are more than capable, if we give them the tools, of making the world a better place.

We haven't yet done a cover reveal for my book, but it is BEAUTIFUL, and as soon as I can I will be sharing about it, and as it is rather scarily, but excitingly getting nearer publication in June, I would be ever so grateful for RTs when I do!


Susan Price said...

Anne, your post makes me feel like cheering! Good for you, and I hope your book is the success it deserves to be.

Anne Booth said...

Thank you very much.

Penny Dolan said...

Excellent ideas here, Anne, and I'll lookout for that Politics title myself.