Archive for the ‘Any Other Business’ Category

You judge someone by their actions. The real life effects of Conservative government policies are killing sick and disabled people, and leaving others to starve ( = rely on food banks). In the 21st century. In a developed, wealthy, modern nation.

I can’t escape the deepening, sick suspicion that Conservative advisers have decided to cull the population. Looking at the horrifyingly frequent reports of critically ill people having heart attacks or dying within days of being assessed as “fit to work”, I wonder if those responsible should be charged with murder?

At the very least, I believe that voting Conservative is a vote for cruelty.

Labour’s Mr Corbyn stands out by virtue of the flatness of the surrounding countryside. A warm human being in a sea of sound bites. It’s clear he cares. He wants the population to thrive in rich diversity.

But Corbyn is on his own, even within his party. He doesn’t understand national defence and his team is a bickering omnishambles. I have no confidence in their ability to handle Brexit let alone day to day government. And certainly not national / international finance.

This, dear reader, is all our fault. We elected each government. And if you didn’t vote, if you shrugged Oh They’re All The Same then it’s even more your fault.

If you voted for Brexit, you are part of just over half the nation who’d rather see Britain go to hell than thrive. Because you’re scared of foreigners. Because you wanted to bash posh Mr Cameron. Because you didn’t think through how this would play out over the next 50+ years.

Under Conservative rule there will be no arts at all after Brexit except rich people indulging their hobby. Because we’ll lose European support for the last projects that haven’t already been cut in recent UK budgets. Most of you reading this will say, too bad – who needs the arts anyway? Just so you know, without my art form I have nothing to live for. We can’t all be mobile phone sellers.

OK, something that might matter to more of you: Brexit has handed the UK’s food supply to importers on a plate. British farming is going to fall apart because all the European farm subsidies, on which most of our better (smaller) farms get by, will vanish. I guess you wanted to have only imported, tasteless, nutrition-less, mass produced food that destroys the environment for all other plant life and wildlife. Remember I’ve lived in a farming community more than 20 years…

Britain will also have to import energy and pretty much everything manufactured, too – at cutthroat disadvantage prices. Because Britain can’t make anything any more. And we certainly haven’t the money to invest in the huge amount of new farming and manufacturing startups that would be required to make the UK self sufficient. Hmm… Are you looking forward to WW2-style rationing? It’s what you Brexiteers have voted for; except you couldn’t see it.

Who can you vote for on 8 June? Liberal Democrats have been emasculated. Except… the only effective local politician I know is one. Greens are nowhere to be seen. Independent candidates are being denied BBC airtime. UKIP if you want to, I remember what my parents told me about the Nazis in 1936 and I’d rather swallow ground glass.

Oh dear oh deary me, scary isn’t it? Because this election will decide how you spend your old age, how you die, as well as the life chances of your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Who ya gonna call?! Who will you vote for?

Stupid has won. Twice, if you were disappointed by Brexit. I can hardly bear to write this: Donald Trump is set to become the next president of the United States.

Brace yourselves for hunting down (I mean it) of blacks, Native Americans, gays. Racism, xenophobia and homophobia are ok now, the president says so.

Stand by for the crushing of women’s rights. Starting with our devaluing and belittling. Bring on the trophy wives. Be ready for massive increases in rape because it must be ok when the President does it…

Say goodbye to clean water and clean air, give up hope for great swathes of natural habitat and wildlife.

Be ready for a huge, important nation to dive headlong into shit and wallow there for 4 years, splattering everyone around with their festering crap. Stupid is very loud, and can’t listen to anything else.

I cling to the hope that everything we suspect about corridors of power remains true… That people will NOT “just follow orders”. That behind the scenes, the administrators, senators, judges, law enforcement, CIA / FBI and all of them who blocked and corralled Mr Obama’s instinct for decency will for once put their insidious influences to good use. To save the world.

If you have any sense of history at all, consider the fast run-up to WW2. Today we’re on the path to WW3 as nuclear missile launch codes are handed to a person who thinks it’s ok to lie, slander, bully, dodge taxes, hate non white people – and violate any woman he chooses.

May our gods help us all.



Gloucester Guildhall 2pm daily until 27 August – Ticket £7
This week is your last chance to catch the final performances in the debut run of The Secret Life of Dads by Jarek Adams at Gloucester Guildhall, 2pm every day until Saturday. It’s the perfect cast and a sparkling gem of a new play that brings something truly new to family theatre. Just because it’s for children doesn’t mean it has to be about children!
    So here are three no-longer-young blokes who love their kids but really need a break from fluffy bunny world! Over beer and daft blokey banter in the pub they talk themselves into resurrecting their old band The Cabbage Heads for a talent show.
    But it’s not so simple, as each man struggles to put the stresses of modern life into perspective – wage cuts, new baby worries, grumpy teen – and grab some time to live and be playful for his own sake. You can feel the warmth and strength of friendship; and the music also turns out very much better than you might expect! This is live performance, too: no cowardly backing tracks here.
    Officially suitable for age 4+, the audience I observed included several dads with children under 10, all watching keenly. Seating is café style, more relaxed for youngsters. What a great way to start conversations about family and why parents are sometimes so embarrassing.
    Written by Jarek Adams*
    Directed by Jilly Breeze
    Original music by George Moorey
    with Murray Andrews, Darren Lake and Craig Rogers
Tickets: £7  No online booking at Gloucester Guildhall! Be patient with 01452 503050
Where? Gloucester Guildhall is in the city centre pedestrian precinct next to BHS (for now!): 23 Eastgate Street, GL1 1NS. A brave urban tree shades the entrance!
Parking + public transport: Nearest parking is Gloucester Eastgate and lots of bus stops are a 2 minute shamble away, outside the Museum and Library.
    * Jarek Adams is an award winning playwright based in Gloucester. Her science and history have been seen by more than half a million school children. She now runs the Scriptorium, a group of emerging playwrights based in Gloucester Cathedral – where you should look out for Jarek’s new work Tapestry in May 2017.
   And finally… Apologies for rubbish layout of this article. WordPress is refusing to insert paragraph breaks. Bah! Millennium hand and shrimp!!
Chloe of the Midnight Storytellers

Chloe of the Midnight Storytellers

I’m an entertainer not an economist or political expert. I’ve stayed out of the UK Referendum rows on social networks. But I have been looking at history … hearing feeble reasoning everywhere … and I see sensible people, people I hold dear, spewing out hatred…

I believe 23 June 2016 could the most important vote I ever cast. With all the unwisdom of my 55 and three quarters years, and knowing it’ll cost me friendships, I still want to say:

A friend posted on Facebook. “If you wouldn’t vote to join the EU today, why vote to stay?” Oh, gor blimey – look at the tottering, overloaded juggernaut of the EU. Asphyxiating in its own bureaucracy. Paralysed by its own layers of crazy regulation.

But voting to leave isn’t the same as not joining in the first place. Things have changed since 1975.

  • 100 years ago, millions of lives were thrown away in meaningless European conflict. And just one lifetime ago, Europe crawled out of its own wreckage and vowed NEVER AGAIN.

For some weird reason, among all the desperate stories of World War 2, I always think of sailors dying in the North Atlantic convoys: burning alive; lungs filling with oil; crushed under tons of metal and sea… weeping, screaming, screaming down into the dark…

If you have anything like that in your heart, you will not risk European peace and prosperity.

Because the UK leaving the European Union will subtly and fatally weaken it. Not in your lifetime, oh yes you’ll be all right, Jack; but your grandchildren could face what Syria is enduring now. Will you risk that?

  • From the faint traces of fact that have ‘informed’ this debate, and watching the decisions of public figures whose humanity and (or!) common sense I respect, I see that nobody can predict the full consequences of a Brexit.

I don’t drive around corners in the dark if I’m not sure the road is there.

Gut feeling based on months of observing the arguments: there’s enough doubt about leaving to make me choose to stay with the devils I know. Oh, and to get serious about chivvying my Euro MP – no idea, since you ask! But I will, oh I will! – out of their comfy chair and into reforming action.

  • I no longer trust a UK government of any party to act in the best interests of the people.

Look at the NHS, schools, emergency services, public transport, defence – everything that makes life safe and liveable: Thatcher’s, Major’s and Blair’s governments began the dismantling and Cameron’s crew have sped up the process. All hidden under “we’re giving you more choice”. Ssssptttt!!!

It’s the EU that protects pensions and working conditions. If you think your job is tough now, just wait until those European protections are stripped away.

  • It ain’t broke so don’t… Oh. Ahem. The European Union does appear to be at or near breaking point. It’s been described as “failing”. So this is no time to run away bleating about sovereignty! It’s time to get in there and be more bolshie and more influential. Or can’t British politicos and civil servants cut it any more?
  • If Britain leaves the EU, be prepared for a generation of racist, xenophobic madness to roar through our streets.

This insanity has guns and knives, and online social networks, and the infected ones are already crawling out of the dungheap. If Britain officially rejects ‘them furriners’ then gods help you if you have a dark tan, a funny accent, a foreign-looking name. And don’t dare speak up for those who do.

  • I have lived in France and visited Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and a couple of Greek islands. Time was, they all just laughed at the Little England mentality. After a Brexit, the leading countries of Europe will, out of sheer spite – and to prove their point – bring down the shutters on UK/continental trade.

Imports will become extortionate. Exports won’t happen. There will be no ‘new deals’ with the EU for 20 years.

Can we replace our European business by doing more with China, India, the USA? Possibly. At a price. Because they’ll have us at their mercy. Will we deal (more) with those regimes and others – Russia? Saudi Arabia? – that are vicious tyrants to their people? Oh, I could get very detailed and very poetical about your food and your services coming from places where people are slaves, where women are less than slaves… or people… But hey, it’s all right Jack, you “want your country back”.

  • In self interest I must note that there will shortly be No More Money for the arts in Britain. Whatever June 23rd’s decision, austerity Britain is set to drag on. And on. They can’t afford not to. The only funding for creativity will come mainly from European sources.

Yeah, yeah, you hate opera and highbrow crap. You’re a pie-’n-a-pint bloke, or bloke-ess, yeah, right? Working class means no posh rubbish, right? BOLLOCKS TO THAT! The arts are for everyone – from Game of Thrones to sharks in aspic – and the more you learn about humans through different kinds of art, the better you’ll handle the stupidity and cruelty you face in everyday life.

By the way, I work office hours plus evenings and weekends so I count myself working class. Just paid less. (And I can’t cope with operatic singing.)

Humans need the arts. Britain without the gentler moments, the wry reflections, the sharp questioning provided by ‘the arts’ will be drab, inarticulate and vicious. Going backwards. D’you want that, for the people you know who shine with creativity? For your next generation?

People who want to Brexit want to run away from how hard it is to be European.

That’s not British.


90,000 gallons of crude oil are polluting the Gulf of Mexico – Image credit: Telegraph

Shell’s second spill in two weeks: why are we silent? (Article by Shannon Lawn)

Truly it doesn’t make the news any more. It barely circulates Facebook.  If we get ‘compassion fatigue’ do we also get ‘disaster fatigue’?

As an alleged communication expert, I feel something is not being done right. You’re unlikely to bother to open the report … probably because you can guess it says, in a heavy tone, We Must Do Something Or We’re Doomed.

This is hard to pay attention to. Even though the writer is clear, logical and (I have to assume) well informed. But I suspect we’re into ‘boy who cried wolf’ effect. Also what can we do? Everything is run by and for Them … big corporations, government… Never before have people been so empowered to communicate. We’ve never been so aware of our controllers – nor ever felt so powerless.

Hey, it’s not that we don’t care, right? We’re just keeping our heads down. We’re desperately hanging on to our rotten jobs, we’re exhausted from the daily slog of keeping going… There’s a lot of sea, isn’t there? Does this sort of thing really matter? So many other horrors nag at us, from barbarous acts of terror to the permanent background threat of losing our home if we can’t keep up payments – all the payments, all the time…

Distracting, isn’t it? And of course you and I sitting at our laptops are not gagging on the stench of oil, our food isn’t smothered in poisonous gunk or unfit to eat because of the pollution it’s absorbed. Although you might want to wave a Geiger counter over anything coming out of the Pacific these days: that Fukushima radioactive waste water is spreading far and wide! But hey, as a friend says, we all gotta die of something!

It took a no holds barred TV report and Bob Geldof to focus useful public attention on the Ethiopian famine. And now we mock Live Aid…

For you and me, the ocean environment is largely out of sight. We can count the (lack of) bees and birds but we’ll never see dolphins choking to death… When green fields get covered in shoddy houses we understand the loss of productive farmland and wildlife habitat. When sheets and gobbets of crude oil disperse for hundreds of miles under water we have no concept of that destruction. 

So … Which celebrity naturalist / pop star / hip film maker will take on the thankless task of inspiring the fight for our oceans?

UK flag A newsletter alert from a nursery school was shared on Facebook: “Prevent duty: From the 1st July 2015, all schools and childcare providers must have due regard to the need to prevent people being drawn into terrorism…”

Comments were scathing.

“They’re literally assessing the children to check they’re demonstrating British values… *shudders*”

“I hope they’re also teaching [toddlers] how to root out and report illegal immigrants at nursery. Hmmm. Which side of the Iron Curtain were we on?”

We need to get past the clichés. Prevent strategy contains several worrying bits – but I see an opportunity to connect all British young people with a magnificent heritage of story (eg traditional folktales) and some rather important bits of history. Plus of course we can make clear what we’ve learned from national mistakes of colonialism and exploitation.

I sighed with boredom at school over the list of Factory Acts created in Victorian times. Only recently have I understood how important that legislature was: locking into law the protection of workers’ rights; saving childhood and guaranteeing children the right to education.

Now our rest days and right to withhold labour are being whittled away. There isn’t even a Workhouse for people to go and die in when cut off from essential benefits … But that’s another story.

A sense of belonging (or not) really does start among small children. People who feel part of a nation, and who feel they have a chance to contribute to and profit from that national community, are less likely to want to blow it up!

Hmm… What are ‘British values’?

Cleverly, even the Prime Minister who ringingly asserts their importance has shied away from defining British values in his public utterances. But of course there is Department of Education advice for grant maintained schools.

 My version includes a nice cup of tea; generosity and quiet kindness – sometimes, admittedly, only when things are dire; respect for privacy; and an irrepressibly wicked sense of humour!

My British values encourage everyone to be self directing individuals within their group of family, cultural and social circles: to think clearly, form their own opinions, build resilience to life’s downs and ups, treat people fairly, protect the vulnerable, know the difference between authority and bullying, and to have the knowledge and courage to speak truth to power. Or at least to lampoon the powerful – and those who try to control us – without mercy, until they get over themselves…

So here’s a cliché for you: as a pro storyteller working with British cultural stories, I’ll be putting Prevent front and centre of my approach to schools. So there.

A nice cup of tea

“My idea of heaven is a nice cup of tea”

• What are YOUR British Values? What mindset do we need to live together well in the 21st century?

Chloe with Save Our Libraries banner at Bourton on the Water

Trying to Save Our Libraries 2010-11

I’m 54 and live in rural England. Whatever you see on the tourism websites, life round here is not glamorous. We endure low wages, expensive housing (second homes and tourist prices), poor public transport, poor work prospects, unaffordable leisure and arts (tourism again), lost banks, closed post offices and libraries. If it weren’t so stonkingly beautiful every time I look out of the window, there’d be no point living here.

Anyway, the UK holds a General Election next week. Mindful of what British women went through to get the vote, and of how many countries deny their citizens any vote at all, I’ve been trying harder than ever before to understand what the political parties are offering.
And NEVER have I felt so excluded, misinformed, disinformed and generally treated like an idiot.
For once it’s not the BBC’s fault. The wretched political parties release tiny dribbles of information. Partial glimpses of the truth as they’d like us to see it. There are no facts – only opinions and sniping. It’s impossible to make an informed decision.
The only possible conclusions to draw are:
  • Nobody in power actually understands Britain’s finances, and they have no idea what we need or what we can afford. This is terrifying!
  • In 2015 vote Tory = vote cruelty
  • Vote Labour = vote incompetence 
  • Vote LibDem = vote not sure what will happen
  • Vote Green = vote naive
  • Vote UKIP = vote rabid racist and cut us off from Europe. Although this morning UKIP leader Mr Farage sounded like he’s been fitted neatly into Mr Cameron’s pocket [prime minister since 2010; Conservative]. Both of them are ‘insisting’ they want to ‘offer the country a referendum’ on leaving the European Union. Talk about distraction technique!

Westminster politicians are incapable of representing the electorate because they don’t live real lives – they have NO IDEA what it’s like to struggle for a fair chance in Britain today.

I see my friends’ lives, their creativity either sidelined or crushed by the daily grind to pay the bills. Members of Parliament have never lived like that. Nor do many County Councillors have to worry about paying the Spare Room Tax. None of these people has had to go without food or warmth because their benefits were sanctioned when the bus made them 10 minutes late for the Job Centre. Note that it’s County Councils – under the Westminster thumb – now relentlessly taking away services which directly affect daily life.

Clever people have said “Nations get the government they deserve” – well, we deserve better than what’s lining up for Westminster now. I see nobody capable of governing this country with intelligence let alone compassion and decency. It’s a shock to get to my middle age and realise how bad things have become and how powerless we are.
Snow morning

“We get proper winters up here!”

Perhaps it’s cheating. Perhaps it’s turning into a personal tradition. I happen to like the piece I wrote for ‘A Cotswold Christmas’ [Tempus Publishing Ltd, Stroud, Gloucestershire UK] so I’m sending it out again. (This year I have a few readers, too!) For years I’ve lacked confidence about writing. Being asked to contribute to an anthology was a big boost! And it was a pleasure to write about the magical effect of storytelling in the festive season: a magic not made by me – I just say the words that open the door to a world of quiet and kindness. Too few people reach that world: but everyone knows what it looks like.

The anthology is a delicious mix of historical anecdote, literary tradition and whimsy. Plus grand old photos including the River Severn frozen jagged ice bank to bank in 1940.

By kind permission of editor and Cotswold historian June Lewis-Jones, here’s The Storyteller’s Tale:

‘Every Christmas I sense relief rising off my audiences like steam from a plum pudding. While you listen to a story, whining children and demanding mothers and the whole miserable debt-inducing race to shop, cook and shop again for the Big Day do not exist.

‘In the world of story, Christmas snow lies deep and crisp and even. Wolves howl in the approved manner, forests are satisfyingly mysterious. Ugly women become beautiful by the power of love and kindness (a magic that works in any world). A beggar discovers the meaning of generosity. And it doesn’t matter how fake my Babushka accent is, people laugh when she scolds the Magi and hearts melt when she offers the newborn Prince of Peace all the trinkets she’d gathered for the children she never had.

A spontaneous art form

‘Traditional stories carry the identity of nations, the memories of communities, in myths, legends, folktales. This worldwide heritage contains powerful and moving reminders about what it means to be fully human. Morals and messages underlie every tale. Thoughtless choices have results you can’t imagine, or control. Beware what you wish for – you might get it! At the same time, every listener interprets the tale in their own way.

‘Storytelling is a spontaneous art form. No scripts, no reading out of a book. The storyteller is like a jazz musician – following a theme; drawing on artistry, tradition and adrenalin to make magic.

‘Christmas audiences can be merry, sour or stodged to the ears with festive fare. I have to assess quickly if the telling needs to be crisp and light, rich and romantic, or just over and done with as fast as possible! (…)

‘All year round I go for glamour. At Christmas the serious glitter comes out. Little black dresses, wild child evening wear (pink or peacock!) with swirling duster coats, red and green, and mega-sparkly earrings. Glitter eye shadows, bright lipstick. And, of course, the leopard-spotted or scarlet high heel boots. It’s the middle of winter, it’s England: people are in desperate need of cheering up!

Two golden rules

‘In the Cotswolds, one audience can contain a mind-bogglingly mixed bunch: from fusty professors to shiny IT experts to tweedy young WI ladies. Invariably there are weary, wind-blasted farmers. Two golden rules apply: Do Not Get Between An Audience And Their Food; and, Don’t Start Later Than Nine-Thirty. Cotswold people work hard and drive long distances: come evening, they don’t appreciate being kept waiting for supper. By 9.30pm, they’re sleepy, energy for listening dwindles, and I’ve learned to wrap up by 10.30pm at the latest.

‘I lost my heart to the Cotswolds when I was eight years old. It’s a privilege to live here, and to work at what I love. Doesn’t matter if it’s a cosy country inn or a cruise liner-sized hotel all chintz and no taste. Doesn’t matter if it’s a glittering dinner party or a rickety village hall in some hamlet that’s not even on the map. Faces light up with joy and wonder, the atmosphere swirls with dreaming and laughter. Those winter tales and festive fables hold a power which calls to the true spirit of Christmas in everyone.

‘So, next November and December, I’ll be finding my way in the pitch dark, nursing my poor old car down ancient lanes, in gusts of rain, bouncing through puddles with potholes as deep as Australia. There’ll be skies quivering with stars, the smell of frost, bare branches against the moon. Several nights a week I’ll be coming home to hot chocolate, happy cats and (the secret of comfortable country life) my electric blanket!

‘It is very special to be a storyteller in the Cotswolds at Christmas.’

Photo on 2012-02-03 at 18.11

From my fluffy little paradise…

I’ve just been horrified by reading a book from the Teen section of the library. I’m researching what publishers think teens want. Because I don’t wish to publicly attack an author about whom I know nothing, I’m not going to name the work.

The story, first published in 2007, zooms past in 134 pages of big print with gulfs of white space between lines. I read the thing in 20 minutes.

It’s about an Edinburgh ‘hard man’ who tries to save an ex girlfriend from a gangster. The action unrolls like something low budget out of Hollywood: starts with a road rage incident – showing us how ‘hard’ the hero is – and continues with guns, murder, assaults, kidnapping a mum in front of her children, and all the trappings of lowlife subsistence, to the final shoot-out in which the mother dies.

Every page – and I mean every page – is splattered with expletives. Someone has to shout  “f—–g” in almost every paragraph, and “c–t” is thrown in every three pages. This in a book for teens and, unavoidably, children. When women the world over are battling a tidal wave of hatred, I really don’t think it helps to use anyone’s body part as a swear word.

Vomit and violence

Presumably the layout is meant to make the book ‘cool’ for a target market with poor reading ability. Ditto the brutally short sentences. Stabbing phrases. Scenes barely set. Colours and faces sketched without detail. Done for pace and hard boiled effect?

It’s like Philip Marlowe for 12-year-olds. ‘Spender’ (Jimmy Nail) dumbed down for the semi literate. A highlight comedy moment, b t w, features a small girl vomiting in the back seat of a car and the hero’s dog trying to eat the result.

There are some … jokes. The bad guy is called Banksy and his sidekick is a Jack Bower. Ha very ha.

There is nothing here to show impressionable young readers that life can be anything other than a sewer.

Nothing in this story suggests that anyone can escape a sordid existence of fear and violence. Indeed with its humour, swearing and slick style, this book glorifies the worst of everything. Guns are admired, chopping off a finger is a spinetingling tale, smashing up someone’s car is shown as a thrill – and justifiable.

But the young people who are likely to read this book are exactly the ones who, I’d say, desperately need to see that life can change. That they DON’T have to endure being bullied and used and terrified. That they DON’T have to endlessly say fuck and cunt, and hurt people, to gain status.

Wallowing in negativity

Yes, I know, my middle class is showing… Yes, I know my life is a fluffy little paradise compared to what millions of inner city kids go through.

But I keep my eyes and ears open as I float around being all posh and useless. I happen to think pretty much everyone gets scared and pressured. Sometimes it’s at knifepoint or by social media; sometimes it’s over years working for lousy bosses who constantly threaten unemployment.

People need hope – especially our young people. Grim school environments don’t help. From my admittedly limited experience with a widely spread sample I’d say that large numbers of students throughout the UK currently see education as pointless. Punishment for existing. The OECD recently identified that English young people start adult life with nearly the worst literacy and numeracy skills in the developed world [see ].

I think that writing about decay and despair became necessary during the 20th century, especially after the first and second world wars, into the Cold War. But I also think that wallowing in negativity and/or sleaze became worthy – “read these books because they’re good for you” … and then intellectually fashionable… Think (in slightly random order) Crome Yellow succeeded by 1984Kes (originally A Kestrel for a Knave), A Clockwork Orange, Lolita, Lord of the Flies.

We don’t want Pollyanna but neither do we now need hopeless-and-horrible fiction. We all have bad times, friends with troubles. We watch international tv news: we bloody well know life is hard. And science has made it very clear:  if all you can imagine is failure – then that’s all you’ll get.

Our teenagers need stories that help them imagine how they go about success. How to think their way out of difficult situations and how to overcome disadvantage.

As far as I can see, this book fails its teen readers. Miserably.

  • So, you tell me: what does a story like this do for (young) people whose lives are affected by violence and/or real hardship? Does this story glorify brutality or does it warn against it? I am trying to understand: what good is a book like this?
  • If you’re itching to know title and author, message me via the Contact Form.

Writing: not a proper job, is it?

Writing: not a proper job, is it?

Last week young adults in England were revealed to have very nearly the worst literacy skills in the industrialised world. In the same week, an author making a school visit in England was so shabbily treated that she drove home afterwards thinking quite seriously of jacking in the whole lonely, poverty stricken game.

My friend is no celebrity author. Let’s call her Fiona. Now in her sixties, she has steadily and rather quietly developed her craft over a lifetime with a modest frisson of success in the last 10 years. Fiona’s books for very young children are loved so much, they have to be cuddled in bed… Her series for young adults has won fans who like their fiction to contain thoughtfulness and compassion as well as swashbuckling action and evil magic monsters.

Fiona has also raised four highly intelligent and extremely challenging children alone, surviving on a low budget for decades.

Risky – but the only chance

Author visits are slightly notorious as cheap ways for schools to provide high quality inspiration for their pupils. Sometimes the publisher can afford to pay the author’s travel costs; the pocket sized publisher now producing my friend’s books can’t. What’s more, if my friend wants to sell books at festivals or in schools she must first buy them from the publisher. This is the real world for most authors.

The school in this incident contacted Fiona asking her to visit but declined to book her for formal workshops, for which she charges a perfectly fair, non-celebrity day or half day fee. The school insisted it was “too small” to find that kind of money. Nonetheless Fiona was required to prepare and provide four hours of sessions with various classes. Lunch was not provided. Neither were travel costs.

However, Fiona believed she had an agreement with the teacher who contacted her. They had discussed notifying pupils and parents to bring money in that day to buy Fiona’s books at the end of her visit. It’s risky because you can’t know if sales will cover your travel and book purchase costs, but for many authors it’s the only chance they get.

No customers

As Fiona drew breath between classes, the teacher forcefully demanded, “We’d like three books for our library. You will sell us three for the price of two, won’t you?” Perhaps the teacher didn’t know that Fiona doesn’t get her own books free of charge. Taken aback, Fiona stalled.

Having delivered four cracking sessions of inspirational literary creativity – Fiona is an experienced and rather brilliant tutor – she was disconcerted to see teachers vanishing after her last class. Where was she to set up her book stall?

The school office knew nothing about her arrangement and directed her vaguely to the library, where the only available table was in a corner behind a screen. Unsurprisingly no customers came in.


While packing her bags and book boxes back into her car, Fiona chatted with pupils she’d met earlier and several parents. It became clear no-one she spoke to had known in advance about the author visit – and they certainly had no idea they could buy her books that day. The school had made no attempt whatsoever to fulfil the arrangement that was Fiona’s only means of covering her costs, let alone earning an income to pay her bills.

Exhausted, nearly in tears, Fiona drove the near 30 miles home wondering why she bothers with any of it… She’d make a better living filling shelves in a supermarket.

This school effectively stole from Fiona the value of a day’s work and her costs of doing it – as surely as if they’d snatched her handbag or burgled her house.

I suspect that school did this knowingly. Even if not, they’re guilty of blinkered ignorance: they treated Fiona as some kind of lady writer of leisure, floating around schools for the fun of it…

Anyone who knows publishing will know the crushing commercial pressures of the modern industry. An author is a business not a charity.

Not a proper job

“Well,” you say, “She’s not a dentist or a plumber. We don’t NEED what she does. She’s not doing a proper job. She could write in her spare time.”

And there you have the core attitude in Britain – the reason why our young adults compare so abysmally in literacy skills, falling an eye wateringly long way behind students in the Czech Republic, Estonia and South Korea.

Writing professionally can’t be a hobby. It’s nine to five graft. You’re engaged in complex tasks: factual research, character and plot development, and simply stringing together words in ways that will keep readers turning pages. Yes, authors enjoy much of what they do. And it is demanding – sometimes all consuming – work, easily equivalent to the strategic planning and management of a large business.

Then – just like a ‘real’ business – there’s the promotional and marketing work. If you’re filling shelves or teeth, you don’t have to write press releases and interact with social media; you don’t have to flog around the country speaking to audiences in the uncertain hope that enough people will be moved to pay out less than a tenner each, so that you can eat and keep warm this winter.

Because somebody gets job satisfaction, is that a reason not to pay them?