New Beginnings, becoming visible and having lunch with Something Else
September is often a time of new beginnings, a sharp intake of breath as we plunge into a different phase. So it is with me, I am delighted to be a recipient of a London Writers Award and to be one of a cohort of 30 writers on the Spread The Word scheme (spreadtheword.org.uk/projects/london-writers-awards/). We have the pleasure of being part of an intensive nine-month programme aimed at increasing the number of writers from under-represented communities being taken up by agents and publishers. It makes such a difference that we are being supported in our quest to connect and become visible to a wider audience through our writing.
Connection is what writing is about. Connection with self and with others. I was reminded of this today, as I ran my ‘Book Explorers’ workshops in a primary school (@booktours4kids). This reading for pleasure initiative aims to excite kids about books. It was brilliant that so many children found a connection through a variety of books. Books that made them think about their families. Their worries. Their friends. The crazy adventures they wanted to be part of. Books that gave them amazing facts about the world – did you know that the humble Sea Cucumber was a recycler, sipping waste out of dirty sand?
One child was reluctant to engage, and so I read their book for them, and as I did so, an amazing thing happened. The book was a picture book called Something Else written by Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell. It won the international UNESCO prize for Children’s and Young People’s Literature in service of tolerance. Something Else is the name of the protagonist who is excluded from everything because he looks different. He does not play the same games, eat the same lunch or draw the same pictures. As we read out the words, telling Something Else that, ‘You don’t belong here. You’re not like us. You’re something else,’ the children were rapt. Even the reluctant reader crept closer. Books, and communal reading in particular, can reach parts that other forms of communication cannot. It struck me too, that all of us, of every background, class, race or religion, at some point in our lives will experience feeling like Something Else, of feeling other. Be it at work, in our homes, in our wider relationships, or when we travel. The notion of Something Else resonated with every child in the room. At a time when our political landscape is rife with division, books can be a bright beacon of tolerance and inclusivity. Powerful books that voice the universality of our condition, whilst celebrating difference with wit and authenticity, still have the ability to connect. I truly look forward to growing my own and other people’s books this year, and, whatever their stories, I hope that they might hold their audience as spellbound as the wonderful words in Something Else did this morning.