Thursday, 26 April 2018

Reading In The Dark- YA Books in Braille by Shirley-Anne McMillan

When A Good Hiding came out in 2016 I was contacted by the Braille unit in Maghaberry prison to see if I would like them to turn my book into braille. The unit is staffed by prisoners who spend their days learning how to translate books into braille and making these amazing large print braille editions of books which can then be borrowed by braille readers or people who need larger print. I was lucky enough to get a copy of the four volume book, signed by the people who did all the work. Writers always get excited when their books are translated into different languages, but how many can say that their books can be read in the dark with no light at all?

In 2017 The Unknowns came out and recently I received a braille copy, made by the same unit.

At the meeting I was able to speak with the person who runs the unit, Mark Mooney; amazing braille reader and activist Margaret Mann; her son, Marc Mann; braille expert and enthusiast David Johnson, who also volunteers with the unit; and Fred Caulfield, chief executive of the Prison Arts Foundation.

As someone who has never given much thought to braille it was absolutely lovely to meet with them and hear about the work they're doing. Margaret is really keen to promote braille as an empowering skill and an important art.

If anyone would like to read either A Good Hiding or The Unknowns in braille then please get in touch with me (click here for email) and let me know where you are and I can arrange it.

Many thanks to the braille unit at Maghaberry, and to Mark and Margaret for making this happen.


Andrew Preston said...

Given that visitors to the prison are forced to have their photographs taken, and also their fingerprints, I do wonder if the work that the prisoners do is actually voluntary.
Or whether it's a case of volunteer, or your life will be difficult.

Andrew Preston said...

Or to be exact, more difficult.

catdownunder said...

Writing Braille is a very skilled craft, even with the modern techniques available for doing it. (It used to be written "backwards" one dot at a time and that required intense concentration.) It isn't a simple matter of copying the words in English because there are "contractions" to be used (to save space - Braille is bulky) and other rules to be followed.
The people who are doing this would have volunteered because, unless you wanted to do it, the skills and time it takes to learn to do the job properly simply wouldn't be acquired. Some may have an ulterior motive (a shorter time inside perhaps)but it isn't something many prisoners could do because of the generally poor levels of literacy among the prison population.
It's lovely seeing something you have written transcribed though!

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks, Shirley-Anne. It must be very satisfying to know that your book now exists in a Braille-readable form.

Thanks too, Catdowunder, for explaining more about how Braille "works" and the skills and learning process behind those indentations on the pages.

Andrew Preston said...


Well, quite. An acquaintance of mine went to rob a Chichester convenience store. He managed to obtain quite an amount. The police soon caught him, though, on account of the string vest he'd worn over his head. An as he only lived 200 yards up the road, it didn't take long to find him.

That convenience store was quite popular. Kieran, another acquaintance, also did some business there. 7 years worth, as I recall. I don't think the axe helped his case.

I do appreciate that many people in prison might not have a great education. I still do wonder just how voluntary voluntary actually is.

Shirley-Anne McMillan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shirley-Anne McMillan said...

HI all! I can confirm that the prisoners are indeed volunteers. Before they can work in the braille unit they undergo many weeks of training. Not all prisoners get the opportunity to work in the unit and those who do say that they enjoy the work. There are efforts being made to enable them to continue the work when they leave prison (funding is an issue!) Certainly the prisoners who signed my book seemed proud (rightly so) of their work. It would be nice if people could be positive and encouraging about it because I imagine they don't get a lot of positive encouragement. Thanks for your comments.

Andrew Preston said...

Thank you for replyy.

My comments about robbing may have seemed slightly frivolous. Both of the people mentioned were guys that I met when I used a night refuge for homeless people. I lost count of the number of people who died of, for example, heroin overdoses. Some were hardly out of their teens. I also witnessed and wrote about various incidents of police violence against homeless people. At the time, in those circumstances, the string vest robbery was almost light relief, daftness and sad, and rather hilarious.

My understanding is that the prison system is creaking, jails are full, and there have been massive funding cuts. And when unrest breaks out, as it very obviously has in recent times, it seems that there now seems to be special squads of what appear to be almost militia that are sent in. And I consider it quite important to ask questions. So I did.

Glad to hear that the prisoners enjoy the braille work, and again, thank you for posting the reply.