Friday, 4 March 2011

World Book Day

Oops! I'm a bit late with this post. I thought World Book Day was tomorrow, but it was - in fact - yesterday (but only, according to their website in UK and Ireland, because the actual day is 23rd April, which falls in the school holidays this year).

If you've got children, you'll know all about this initiative - which aims to celebrate the written word - because schools give out vouchers to encourage children to buy books. If you're an avid user of libraries, there will have been displays (showing the correct date, so I'm obviously immune to posters). If you watch the BBC, you'll have seen them advertsing a whole evening of book related programmes tomorrow - I've already set myself to record it.

I think it's a wondeful idea, to have people all around the world enjoying books, talking about books, going to readings or groups they would otherwise not do. And even if just a few people in every town started reading more generally because of it, then that's a benefit for publishing and writing in general.

There are two points related to this that I've just thought of. (The point of this post was advertising only.)

1. Publishing has to be inventive and fresh and new. But think of the last few years: Harry Potter was inventive and fresh and new, but spawned a few other - however loose - imitations. Vampires have been everywhere, mostly teenaged and angst-y. Before that Bridget Jones practically invented a genre of her very own.

A writer has an idea, maybe mermaids (note to self: no one's written about mermaids yet!) which is new and fresh etc, and it becomes published. Suddenly every publisher wants mermaids and related sea-creatures, so my book - that I've spent years writing - about zebras is rejected for not following the current fashion. Perhaps, somewhere out there, someone would be dying to read a novel about zebras, but all they can find is mermaids. Publishing needs to stop following fashion, or we'll just end up going round in circles.

2. My next point is about encouraging children to read. From personal experience, this is very hard. They come home clutching their voucher, run out to the nearest bookshop and spend it. Brilliant - that's the idea. But actually getting them to sit down and read for pleasure is practically impossible. There are so many other distractions. When I was a child, my favourite past time was reading. I loved Mallory Towers especially, and spent many weekends re-reading the series. I understand that I was unusual, but my kids - boys, so maybe that's why it's so different - will only read when specifically directed, and then only for the briefest time. My eldest would quite happily stop half-way through a chapter, very often never finishes a book, and normally grabs the closest book when I ask him to read so the story is completely missed. I don't know how to resolve this, and would love suggestions.

Enjoy your reading!

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