A collective voice for literature and languages in Scotland

Headline notes on Turning the Next Page – LAS Sector Away Day

We were delighted to welcome 65 people from all walks of literary life to our Sector Away Day in sunny Dundee on 1 October, including writers, publishers, literary agents, literature organisations, festival programmers – not to mention 10-week-old baby Sophia with mum Rachel Humphries currently on maternity leave from Moniack Mhor.

The day has been described as a fascinating, informal and welcoming and we’re very grateful to all the speakers and delegates for their contribution.

Below are the headline notes from the day, including Valentina’s excellent round-up of the key issues highlighted in the roundtable discussions.

We’d like to get input from delegates and LAS Members on which 3 priorities to focus on as outcomes to develop for 2020. Please respond to the email from Jenny listing your top 3 areas and we will confirm the majority consensus.

Headline Notes

Morning sessions

WELCOME

LAS Chair Peggy Hughes opened the event very positively, by showing LAS’ strengths: our openness and willingness to share our knowledge, as well as our concrete actions, which she returned to later in the AGM. Through our open meetings and our current initiatives, we encourage co-operation and collaborative working. Peggy mentioned the work of ROAR in promoting gender equality, as well as our willingness to listen to our sector, diversifying and amplifying our work through meetings and with our network of writers, including our Writers’ Advisory Group represented on the day by Maisie Chan and Heather Palmer.


Director of Scottish Poetry Library Asif Khan’s reading of ‘Mary Shelley on Broughty Ferry Beach’ by Robert Crawford from Whaleback City and his discussion on Shelley showed the way in which this city has inspired “the aery flights of imagination.”

 

Literature in Dundee – Dr Erin Farley, local historian, storyteller and library worker

Erin addressed these ‘aery flights of imagination’ with aplomb in her opening address, citing how literature is part of the landscape, is social and inventive – this city, where “landscape, memory and people are intimately connected”:

  • Dundee has a vibrant literary history
  • Literature is social – citing examples of the Green H, a sign of the Hopscotch literary group meeting; Scrieve, Dundee’s new monthly playwriting scratch night; and Dostoyevsky Wannabe Cities, a snapshot of a selection of writing from one city at one time as chosen by a guest-editor (Erin Farley).
  • Literature works example of Dundonian poet, songwriter, weaver and activist Mary Brooksbank
  • Stories will always be in fashion
  • Dundee’s literature belongs to everyone and is open to everyone to participate in.

 

Keynote speaker Laura Brown – writer, editor and former Editor-in-Chief of Comics at DC Thomson

Laura’s account of her nimble career in future-proofing, through keeping abreast with the things that keep people buying magazines was inspiring:

  • Stories are what matter, whether that’s the Beano or pricey hardback fiction
  • The future is so out of date so quickly
  • Focus on what we do best: telling stories; we peddle the exteriors so the interiors can be experienced
  • Future-proofing is more about keeping the best bits of what works while adapting to tech and social change, rather than chasing fads
  • In literature you’ve got bold thinkers, you’ve got innovation
  • In terms of future-proofing, literature is already embracing new technology and new formats. You make an event out of a book. We (in magazines) have a lot to learn from you.

‘NEXT’ PRACTICE

Breakout discussion – how do we tackle key sector issues on- and off-line? Facilitated by LAS Trustees with the 6 key topics highlighted in the ‘What’s Next?’ session below.

 

Literature Talks launch: ‘On A Lifetime of Ticking Boxes’ by Chitra Ramaswamy, award-winning journalist and author.

You could hear a pin drop as Chitra read out her deeply personal and incredibly powerful essay on diversity in literature and publishing. Read it here: http://bit.ly/ChitraRamaswamy

 

Afternoon sessions

LITERATURE ALLIANCE SCOTLAND AGM

Download the AGM papers.

 

QUICK-FIRE KNOWLEDGE EXCHANGE, chaired by Ali Bowden

Upcoming literary anniversaries – Daniel Cook, Head of English at University of Dundee

 

VisitScotland’s Year of Coast & Waters 2020 and Year of Scotland’s Stories 2022 – Marie Christie, Head of Development – Events Industry 

  • Opportunities for promotion, celebration, participation, collaboration and industry engagement
  • Chances to spotlight and celebrate Scotland, in all its particulars and diversity
  • See the slides here.

 

Scottish Books International – Sasha de Buyl, Manager

  • An outline of SBI’s strategic plan for activity for the next 14-month period, including aims to empower Scotland to connect with international literary ecologies
  • Core aim is to act as a connecting force for Scottish books and writing around the world
  • Three pillars of Informing, Connecting and Growth
  • The plan intends to raise awareness of Scottish books and writing overseas, connect our publishers, writers and organisations with international partners and to create an infrastructure for sustained development in the longer term.
  • Newsletter launched
  • Online opportunities page coming
  • News and blog section aimed at outward-looking writers/publishers
  • SBI website is a shop window for Scottish writing
  • The aim is to develop an international database
  • Germany is the focus for 2020 with plans for market insight seminars, inbound delegation to Germany and delegations of Scottish writers to German literary festivals with a tie-in to Scottish Book Festivals
  • Plan is to scope current knowledge via a survey with the aim of developing a road map for growth
  • See the slides here.

 

Open Book on outreach/ building networks – Marjorie Lotfi Gill, Co-Founder and Development Director 

  • Advantages of shared reading – without homework – through reading aloud together with a paired poem and then take participants to see authors at literary festivals
  • Objective and aspiration to allow lots of people to have access to a book who might not otherwise
  • Valuing of diversity in authors – allowing groups to own their own sessions from Stranraer to Eyemouth to Shetland
  • Building connections through reading workshops in prisons, healthcare, community, libraries and with people who have vision problems, who have English as a second language, with refugee women and children
  • Participants are more confident and connected at the end of the session

 

Lighthouse Bookshop on working with industry and beyond – Mairi Oliver, owner

  • The bookshop has a key role in the literary landscape
  • Sell books <–> build community
  • Bookshops are the interface between authors, publishers and readers – and performers too
  • Met young poets and people of colour through Intercultural Youth Scotland who use the space of the bookshop for their events
  • Book Fringe collaboration with Golden Hare Books
  • Link with Zines offering both artistic and literary collaborations and connections
  • Great advice: find local bookshops, meet passionate people and hold events.

 

The Scottish BAME Writers’ Network – Jeda Lewis 

  • Jeda offered to give an impromptu talk on the Network as co-founder Jay G Ying was ill
  • Advocacy role of writers of colour with a connection to Scotland
  • Creating a community and space where everything goes with no need to self-censor
  • promoting work, and making opportunities with literary events for
  • Launch of Ceremony on 15 Oct – a new pamphlet featuring 15 writers from the BAME Writers’ Group who met at Scottish Poetry Library
  • Panel at Golden Hare Books Festival on Fri 18 Oct
  • Network event on 23 November in Edinburgh

A Vision for Change – Creative Scotland

Mairi Kidd, Head of Literature, Languages & Publishing at Creative Scotland along with her team members Harriet MacMillan, Viccy Adam and Alan Bett.

  • Responsive talk on our ‘Literature Ecosystem’
  • Shared their thinking on Is literature in an ‘Equalities Emergency’ and welcome challenge on this topic
  • How do we understand and tackle barriers?
  • How do we move past diversity initiatives to sustained change?
  • Why do we (sometimes) find the discussion threatening and how can we change that?
  • Encouraging and inviting us to contribute to their work in progress
  • We need a fundamental change in the way we work together as a sector
  • What is the product of a not-for-profit sector?
  • How do we understand what value for money looks like?
  • We need to move beyond the well-intentioned outreach model, and the idea quality & diversity are separate, to make sure that benefit it given back to everyone who lives and works in Scotland.

 

WHAT’S NEXT?

Priorities from breakout discussion with Valentina Bold, LAS Co-Vice Chair

The following priorities came out of the breakout discussion in the morning session. We’d like to get input from delegates and LAS Members on which 3 priorities to focus on as outcomes to develop for 2020. Please respond to the email from Jenny listing your top 3 areas (from the headings in bold below) and we will confirm the majority consensus.

Diversity, Equality & Accessibility (events)

  • Respect the author
  • Ensure quality of experience
  • Deploy sensitivity readers (more than once)
  • Embrace diversity but be critical
  • Need for Scottish data
  • Ensure equality in income
  • Listen and be open to those affected
  • Possibility of Citizens’ Assembly model
  • Travel grants needed
  • Sign language
  • Share resources
  • Break down hierarchies
  • Give writers time/space – a longer vision

Suggested actions:

Diversity – advocacy, support, sensitivity.

Equality –  advocacy, practice.

Accessibility –  survey LAS members, members to include accessibility info on websites, invite speaker on accessibility to next LAS meeting.

Payment

  • Reduce expectation of work for free (anthology / events)
  • Use Scottish Book Trust Live Literature rates as a starting point

Suggested actions – advocacy, show good practice, payment as the norm.

Festivals

  • Be green (keep control if poss, not always poss [venues])
  • Adopt carbon reduction plans
  • Avoid branded merchandise (often not sustainable)
  • Reduce meat/dairy
  • Support local writers
  • Involve Creative Carbon Scotland
  • Carbon off-set flights
  • Ensure diversity in programming

Suggested actions – advocacy, build knowledge

Climate emergency

Action: Consider the following

  • Travel in Scotland / international
  • Technological issues – potential for access.

Data sharing

To include:

  • Insights
  • Trends
  • Book sales
  • Tourism
  • And reservations – social media: take care with pronouns

Suggested actions: Consider how we do this already; how can we be innovative; offer social media training sessions through LAS.

Resilience

  • Need for flexibility
  • Amplifying Scottish voices
  • Open Book model – support writers in getting voices heard
  • Developing community
  • Exploring what is ‘Scottish literature’ for diverse voices & experiences (language, ethnicity)
  • Avoid no-platforming and censorship
  • Stop ideological divides

Suggested actions – next steps, future-proofing.

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 18, 2019

Breaking New Ground: celebrating children’s writers & illustrators of colour

LAS’ co-Vice Chair Valentina Bold blogs about Breaking New Ground, an event celebrating children’s writers of colour with Faridah Àbíké-Íyímíde, Ken Wilson-Max, Sarwat Chadda and Emily Hughes.

More than 60 people, including writers of colour living and working in Scotland, and publishers, agents, teachers, librarians and industry professionals, joined us at Scottish Storytelling Centre on Tuesday 18 June to hear more about the writers’ work and why children from all backgrounds need to see each other in the books they read.

Breaking New Ground: celebrating children’s writers & illustrators of colour

It was an absolute pleasure, and a privilege, on behalf of Literature Alliance Scotland (LAS) to introduce Breaking New Ground: an exciting new initiative which deserves support and promotion. This was a night to remember, celebrating children’s writers and illustrators of colour, both through the publication and in person.

The event opened with a speech from Sharmilla Beezmohun of Speaking Volumes, who created this catalogue. She spoke movingly, and powerfully, about the organisation’s firm belief in “supporting diversity as much as possible”, and their desire to “create a different understanding of what Britain is about.” The book certainly does that. Four contributors spoke, compellingly, giving us a great deal to consider.

Debut author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímíde (above) enthralled us with a reading from her new YA novel Ace of Spades, out with Usborne in April 2020: “essentially Get Out meets Gossip Girl,” as she described it. Still a student at the University of Aberdeen, and from Croydon, she said: “I wanted to create something that was like a puzzle,” and the glimpses we had of the novel (one character memorably observes ‘they treat my black skin like a gun’) showed that, as promised, this book will “tell us what institutional racism looks like and how it affects us mentally.” This is a writer to watch out for.

In a last-minute change to the programme, we were delighted to hear from veteran illustrator and writer Ken Wilson-Max (above) who writes for younger children, and whose work is already familiar to audiences in Britain and the United States. Zimbabwean by birth, his stories allow children “to see themselves in a book, reflected back in something positive – for some people that hasn’t happened, ever.” He had the audience beating out heartbeats, to the rhythm of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’, as he read his wonderful book The Drum, out loud. His new book, Astro Girl, contains powerful messages for children of colour and, particularly, for girls – a must-have for those with early readers to buy for.

On a different tack entirely, Sarwat Chadda (above) – who describes himself as ‘British-born, Muslim-raised, South-Asian descended’ – read from his Ash Mistry series, inspired by Indian mythology, and hugely entertaining – he made a powerful case for taking fantasy fiction beyond Tolkien: “I can add to that,” as he said. Other work includes City of the Plague God, exploring Mesopotamian mythology through the eyes of an American Muslim child, from an Iraqi family. Again, great reads – especially for younger teenage children.

The last speaker was hands-on — picture-book maker Emily Hughes (above) demonstrated how she explains drawing emotions to children. She talked, too, about her own inspirations: “fairy tales were some of the most important things when I was younger,” along with Japanese children’s literature and the art she saw in books like Taro Yashima’s Crow Boy. Her own work includes The Little Gardener and Wild.

The Q&As which punctuated the evening were just as fascinating, touching on issues including publishing, bookselling and writers of colour. Hughes said, of Breaking New Ground: “I hope it can get in the hands of publishers who don’t see it as a risk to publish people of colour.” Chadda added: “if you can’t pronounce a name on a book, it shouldn’t stop you from buying it.”

In a damning statistic quoted by Farrah Serroukh, of the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, in Breaking New Ground, of 9115 children’s books published in the UK in 2017, only 4% featured a black, Asian or minority ethnic character. One hundred resounding voices, represented in this new book, offer an alternative future, to be appreciated and embraced.

 

This free event was a collaboration between Literature Alliance Scotland and Scottish Book Trust in partnership with Pop Up Projects, Speaking Volumes and BookTrust and is part of a national tour of Breaking New Ground. We’re also grateful to Lighthouse Bookshop who provided a pop-up bookshop.

 

June 26, 2019