Monday, 21 September 2015

We are all wordsmiths

When I was in my last year in my Catholic primary school (St Albert the Great Junior Mixed Infants) a priest called Father Harry came and talked to us once, and I have never forgotten what he said. He said that saying untrue mean things about someone was very wrong, but that saying true mean things could be even worse. I couldn't understand that at first, but then he said, 'if you use words to tell lies about someone, then at least they can be defended by the truth and they can say they did not do such a thing - but if you know something true but not good about someone and you needlessly pass it on in gossip, then they cannot even say that it is a lie and you can never take it back.' I remember really being struck by that as a child, and I still remember it all those decades later.

I've only just read 'The Apple Tart of Hope' by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald and I really loved it. I thought the way the friendship between Meg and Oscar was affected by the words of the new girl Paloma was brilliant. I don't want to spoil the story for anyone who hasn't read it - but there is one part where I couldn't put it down, whilst at the same time feeling almost sick at the way that words were being used. Words can be terrifyingly destructive weapons and I think this book is great at showing how hard to fight the lies and half  truths of 'spin' can be.  I look at the way politics is reported in this country at the moment, and think how such use of words hurts individuals and our wider society.

I think the job of a writer for children is wonderful. We can use words in such a positive way. We can  write stories about people or communities whose stories are not normally heard, redressing negative historical and/or contemporary 'spin' (For me, for example, writing 'Dog Ears' was about trying to tell children that some of their classmates might be suffering in silence, telling young carers that their story was being listened to, and help from e.g. The Children's Society, was out there).

 Secondly, hopefully we can try to use words in such a way that we inspire our readers to want to write too - so we can give them the power of words to tell their own stories. I love that. There are so many breathtakingly good writers out there, whose sentences just make we want to stop and read them out loud so that I can enjoy the rhythm or the rhyme or the wordplay. I also LOVE the way so many picture books use words and illustrations to such stunning effect. Words are FUN!

Thirdly, we can use words to give readers the ability to look at other stories they are being told and who is telling them. That is what I tried to do in 'Girl with a White Dog', showing how years of anti-semitism in stories and newspapers in Nazi Germany poisoned people's minds. I wanted them to look at the storyteller, not just the story.

The other book I read recently was 'The Wordsmith' by Patricia Forde. What a stunning book! I love the way she focuses on the power of words and imagines a world where words are limited, and she herself writes so beautifully and creates an amazing world out of words.

At this time when there is so much spin, so much distortion in the media and press, so much said by people with vested interests, and so many stories NOT told which should be, I think our job as writers for children is so exciting, fun and worthwhile. We are so privileged to be wordsmiths. It is wonderful to be amongst so many amazing writers committed to diversity, to using words so creatively and positively and who give so much pleasure to readers. Hooray for writers - but also for illustrators who support our words on covers, within or alongside the text. Hooray for agents and publishers and all who work in publishing! Hooray for editors and those who market our books! Hooray for librarians and booksellers and teachers. Hooray for those who buy or borrow our books - and most of all, Hooray for the children who read our words!

P.S. So sorry this blog post is late today! I had in mind I posted on the 25th, and was feeling very virtuous that I had put my words down early, untilI came to schedule my post and found my day was 21st and that I was late.

1 comment:

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