Sunday, 31 March 2019

The 500k Gift: Reading to Children for Fun and the Benefits - Raquel Edwards

March saw another World Book Day where children and parents alike competed to see who had the best costume. Celebrated each year, the day pays homage to authors and illustrators united by the innate knowledge that reading is fun. However, while World Book Day began with the aim of giving every child a book, for many today, it is all about the dressing up!

I am privileged to write for a publisher, In The Book, that felt strongly about this diversion from the reading aspect of World Book Day. 

We recently conducted a survey which showed only 18% of adults in the UK read to their children for 20 minutes a day. With so much excitement surrounding World Book Day, we were surprised to find this excitement didn’t translate into a passion for reading. And the benefits of reading to kids for 20 minutes or more a day are abundant.

You can read the full post from us here.

Did you know that a child’s brain develops the fastest up to the age of five than any other stage in their life? 

The 90% Reading Goal by Lynne Fielding highlights the link between basic literacy skills and the importance these basic requirements can have on lifetime earnings. It concludes that “a mom or dad, sister or brother, who reads twenty minutes a day with a child from birth can first increase their chance of high 3rd-grade reading skills and then of high school graduation.” 

In fact, a child who can read to 3rd grade level or above has a 77% greater chance of graduating high school.

The advantages of being able to read mean better concentration and focus for your child as soon as they enter the classroom. Children who read at home have a higher competency for learning in new environments and in turn, they’ll gain better communication and social skills to aid them in all walks of life.

Amazingly, further research from Fielding’s study indicates that those who are read to for 20 minutes a day up to age 5 will earn, on average, $500,000 more than those who are not (based on high school graduation figures and lifetime earnings.)

There have been no directly related studies in the UK surrounding this topic, but our recent survey shows that the majority of parents are unaware of such benefits. We are hoping to spread the word.

Beyond the academic and financial advantages of raising a reader, there are a number of developmental advantages too.

Our friend at Egmont, Consumer Insight Director, Alison David and author of Help Your Child Love Reading perhaps summarises the pleasure and benefits of reading to kids best:

“There are so many wonderful things that reading for pleasure brings to children beyond academic success: comfort and reassurance, confidence and security, relaxation, happiness and fun. It feeds their imagination, helps them to empathise, it even improves their sleeping patterns. And reading is a really important element of family life. It provides a connection between you and your child from the very early days through to teens and beyond. It’s a strong ‘glue’ for your relationship, bringing you closer together through the sharing of reading and stories.”

Friday, 29 March 2019

Do you have to be you? N M Browne

So this month I’ve mainly been thinking about Brexit but I’m not going to talk about that. My other obsession has been fake news, social media outrage, and identity politics. I’ve been pondering the way in which writing and the nature of the writer has some how become entwined. I blame Trump for most things but, not in this case, for everything.
   To get one important thing out of the way: at the moment we only get to hear the stories written by certain types of people and it is my belief is that such a limitation restricts  us, that we can only gain as a culture and as humans by hearing as many stories from as wide a range of people as possible. I wholeheartedly believe that there should be greater diversity in the arts.
   Having said that, I don’t believe that we can only tell stories that are based on our culture and identity. I mean Shakespeare was probably a man, but Portia, Juliet, Lady Macbeth are not insignificant figures, Emma Bovary, Tess of the D’Urbevilles, would not have been written if writers were not free to explore what it might be like to be other than themselves. Sometimes this imaginative freedom produces incredible characters. The very best writers can express themselves in stories that transcend their own experience even as they are suffused with it. Let's not stop this. Let's accept that creativity shouldn't have boundaries, and artists are supposed to challenge, subvert and generally piss people off. 
  Yes, writers can get it wrong. I have read too many female characters that are men-minus  (any redeeming feature) or men plus (boobs,) we all have. Crude cultural appropriation abounds, as does stereotyping of all kinds. Some of us cannot transcend who we are. Perhaps we fail to do the research, listen or learn so write really bad books. Does that make it wrong to try? Can only women write about women, BAME writers about BAME characters, gay writers only write about gay characters?  For me that is a kind of censorship of the imagination which fundamentally misunderstands the function of fiction. It is our capacity to imagine being something other than ourselves that is the basis of empathy, of creativity, of art and culture.
  Of course books are multi-layered: there is the story the writer wants us to see, the narrative they think they are writing, and beneath that the story they don’t know they are writing, the story of their own beliefs and prejudices. It is perfectly reasonable to be aware of that. Our own point of view always lies beneath the one that narrates the story. Quite often they are at odds, like Amber Rudd wanting to be anti- racist and coming out with the word ‘coloured’ to describe a black MP.  The world view of her upbringing leaked into the story she wanted to tell: I understand the furore, but as a writer I know it happens to everyone. We all come from somewhere and that place is usually an alien one to much of the rest of the world.
   Right now there is veritable blitz of criticism of writers, particularly YA writers, who are trying to tell other people’s stories and may be misrepresenting ethnic groups or misappropriating culture – twitter is awash with it and such criticisms can end careers. Some of it comes from young people, some of it from people who  want to protect the young from the complexity of prejudice, the intractable problem of being part of a deeply divided society. It is part of a climate of rage and as there's a lot of injustice around, rage is a perfectly reasonable response to it.
     However, I think we need to step back. All writers are flawed; we all come from somewhere and my somewhere isn't your somewhere and that is kind of the point. I don't think that is shocking. We should shout it from the roof tops, broadcast in on the covers of our books: 'This book is written by a person whose views you may not like.' Readers should know that up front. We shouldn’t bay for blood and the banning of books, question the moral worth of an author, and demand their eternal damnation, instead we should interrogate the book, accept that every story is freighted with the author’s viewpoint, acknowledge that, evaluate it and move on. We should stop criticising, shrilly and immoderately and instead be more critical.
   Literature and the other arts demand that we recognise subtlety, that we search out meaning, that we are critical of the means and the method even as we are seduced by stories (and let us always be seduced by stories.) It is how we learn to hone our critical skills. 
    So, let’s turn down the ad hominem outrage and instead teach our young readers to be alert to prejudice and bias wherever they find it, to consider a story's viewpoint, its implicit values and its explicit intent so they are armed for the complexity of this messed-up world. We need to help them distinguish between fake news and the real thing, shallow propaganda and good literature. The latter is not supposed to be simple, it is often uncomfortable, and it should always challenge our own perception that the only truth is our own.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

What Lies Around Us - Andrew Crofts

Imagine this, fellow writers: You have been paid a million dollars by a Silicon Valley billionaire to ghostwrite the autobiography of your favourite film star – who may even be your secret crush. 

As if that wasn’t good enough, every publisher in London and New York is pursuing you, begging you to put in a good word for them, offering eight figure advances.

Your employer, however, has far more money and far more marketing muscle than any mere publisher, so you don’t need any of them. You can do the whole publishing process yourself and then hand the finished product over to his marketing machine.

Too good to be true? Well, yes actually. This is just the starting point, and one of the many sub-plots, of my forthcoming novel, “What Lies Around Us”, due out from Red Door Publishing in June.

Image result for what Lies Around Us by Andrew Crofts

Once the ghost gets to California, of course, he discovers there is far more at stake than a mere publishing deal. Everyone he meets seems to have a hidden agenda and someone is willing to kill to ensure that their plans work out. But what are those plans, who are the ultimate puppet-masters and how far are they willing to go?

The plot takes the reader to a world where ghostwriters work with presidents, (James Patterson and Bill Clinton writing “The President is Missing”), and create presidents, (Tony Schwartz who ghosted “The Art of the Deal”, setting President Trump on the road to becoming the most famous and reviled name in the world).

This is the world of myth-makers, story-tellers and media manipulators – the people who really run the world and the ones who shape the global conversations – and us, the humble scribes who watch and tell.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

A Malaysian Celebration of Diversity on World Poetry Day, by Dipika Mukherjee

March 21st, 2019 was World Poetry Day. For those of us lucky enough to be at
Lit Books that night in Malaysia, it was a feast of poetry at The Noise of Time - Readings on World Poetry Day.

Pusaka organized fourteen poets to read poetry in 11 languages (Malay, English, Mandarin, Bengali, Arabic, Persian, German, French, Spanish, Malayalam and Russian...with translations into English). Led by organizer and emcee Pauline Tan, the room resonated with the words of Omar Khayyam, Wang Wei, Paul Eluard, Cesar Vallejo, Else Lasker-Schüler, Bei Dao, Mallika Sengupta, Goenawan Mohamad and many other voices, both ancient and contemporary.

I chose to read a Bengali poem by Mallika Sengupta, translated brilliantly by Amit Mukerjee titled Prithibir Ma (Mother of the Universe):

Unbound, my hair spread over the sky
created dark stormclouds.
My green dhanekhali sari
became the lush fabric of forests.
Stealing the melody from my throat
birds chirped into morning song,
the babble of my words became
mother-tongues of vast populations.
My sweat mingling with menstrual blood
is the aroma of rain on the parched ground.
Nurtured by my hunger
tendrils of rice and wheat burst through the ground,
to bathe me were the rivers born
to dry me spreads the sunshine.
My anger made flintstones
flash the first flicker of fire.
My fierce need for love created man,
and into my body he burst his seed,
then, in my womb, was born this universe.

Amit Mukerjee is my brother, and this translation appears in his book, The Unsevered Tongue (Nandimukh Samsad; Calcutta, 2005). This is a book of Bengali women's poetry translated into English, and I am glad I was able to read this poem on World Poetry Day. This reading was especially bittersweet as the brilliant Amit Mukerjee -- Writer, Translator, Professor of Computer Science -- now lies in a vegetative state in New Delhi after an accident and cannot speak at all.

Dipika Mukherjee holds a PhD in English (Sociolinguistics) and is the author of the novels Shambala Junction, which won the UK Virginia Prize for Fiction, and Ode to Broken Things, which was longlisted for the Man Asia Literary Prize. She lives in Chicago and is affiliated to the Buffett Institute for Global Studies at Northwestern University and is Core Faculty at Story Studio Chicago.