Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Undiscovered Voices--So Much to Celebrate!

Tonight sees the launch of the 2014 edition  of SCBWI British Isles' Undiscovered Voices

I was part of the 2010 cohort, and I'd like to take this opportunity to wish the authors and illustrators featured in this year's edition the best of luck!

Getting into this anthology does change lives, and not always in ways that seem obvious.

Many of us have been lucky enough to get signed with agents as a result, or to get a book deal. Inclusion in the anthology (or getting a coveted Honourable Mention place) is a real step up the ladder to publication, but that's not the only thing that being included in Undiscovered Voices can do for a writer (though, that's pretty amazing!)

And many more titles have been added to this list! 

For me, being part of  Undiscovered Voices has felt like getting a fantastic gift that never stops giving.

Writing is a lonely, often frustrating, and sometimes heartbreaking undertaking. Through Undiscovered Voices I've met fellow writers who have become my friends. I've met people who've been there to help me celebrate the good stuff, and who've also helped me through the tough times. Struggling with a passage in your WIP? Dealing with a disappointing rejection?  Finding it hard to meet a deadline? Unsure of whether it's even worth it any more? Chances are that someone you've met through Undiscovered Voices has felt this way, too, and can offer support and encouragement when it's most needed.

The UV2010 Gang!

Very few of us are lucky enough to avoid at least some setbacks on the writing road, either before publication or afterwards. It's a long journey, and a sometimes turbulent one. How wonderful it is to have fellow travellers who are wise, generous and, above all, know what that whole "slings and arrows" thing is really like. To be in the company of such great people, each of them accomplished and talented in their own right, has been a real honour.

So, class of 2014--consider yourself fortunate to be part of such a special group of writers and illustrators. I wish you all success, but more than that, I wish you the goodwill and support that I've been given.

Thanks to the editors, the judges, and especially the wonderful writers and illustrators who have made such a difference to me!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

National Libraries Day--Still Not Just About Books

Saturday, 8 February, is National Libraries Day in the UK. This wonderful event was set up three years ago to highlight the threat of library closures across the country and to celebrate the amazing work that's done by Britain's trained and dedicated professional librarians.

Last year, I wrote the following post for National Libraries Day. One year on, libraries seem more precious than ever...  

For most of us, libraries are about books--about cultivating the love and joy of reading.

But libraries serve the public, and the public good, in many other ways...

My husband grew up in West London. His family was not bookish (and neither was he, for the most part--playing football was his obsession). But he was an intelligent kid who had lost out in the 11+ selection lottery of those days and was sent by the local LEA to a less-than-inspiring or enabling Secondary Modern. 

My husband's childhood hero was Stan Bowles, not Charles Dickens...

However, Jim wanted to learn--even though the system had determined that he had no right to--and and he wanted to carry on with his education.

To do that he needed to find things out--information about colleges, about what exams he might need to get to university. His parents, though highly supportive, couldn't really offer him much help in this area and the system, as I said, had already written him off.

So where could he and his family go for guidance? There was no internet in the 1970s, so where could they find the information needed to improve Jim's chances in life?

In the library, of course--his very own search engine, as he once called it.   

The local library provided him with information. and with trained professionals who could help him find it. It  also became the safe, quiet space where, once he began his post-16 education, he could work and study. 

Jim ended up becoming a university lecturer. He's taught thousands of young people throughout his career, and probably values comprehensive education more than anyone I know. He had to fight for his chances-- they certainly weren't handed to him as a matter of course--and he hates to see anyone denied the opportunities he was finally able to take advantage of.  Don't talk to him about how great grammar schools were, OK?  Just don't...

Libraries have changed since those days, of course. But there are still plenty of Jims in the UK. There are still avid readers (more than ever, in these hard times) for whom books are not part of the standard household kit. There are still plenty of students who don't have access to the internet at home, or an adequate study area, or who need a quiet, safe, and free space to linger over an essay or just be alone for awhile. 

If we care about people, young, old or in-between, we must care about these valuable public spaces. Closing libraries--or limiting access hours or the numbers of trained librarians--limits opportunity, diminishes life chances and lessens social mobility.

Libraries are great equalisers, and they are there for us all, regardless of age or ability to pay. We lose more than just books if we let them disappear.  

Your library--Use it, love it, join it!