Wednesday, 29 March 2017

being bold for change

A few weeks ago I was kindly invited by Stacy Astill to speak at Henry Bloom Noble Library for International Women's Day, along with a fabulous collection of local authors, poets, and musicians that highlighted the huge variety of talent we've got on this island.

This year's International Women's Day was about being bold for change. So I said a few things on the subject of change, and I talked about it in terms of writing, because really I don't know much about anything else. But when I say 'writing', feel free to substitute any activity you care passionately about.

So, in terms of writing, a lot of stuff has changed over the years. The way we write, the physical process of it, has changed from pen and ink to keyboards, to mobile phones and writing software. It's never been easier, technologically speaking, for us to physically put words onto the screen.

How we're published has changed. There are more ways than ever before to get your work out there. Publishing is no longer a closed industry reliant on paper copies of books - now everyone has the option to publish their work in hardcopy, or print on demand, or ebook. You can post serialised novels on blogs. You can write interactive stories via Twitter polls. You can send your work around the world in an instant. You can ask for and receive immediate feedback from people throughout the globe. Never before have we had the chance to be read so widely.

What we write has changed. With the ability of everyone to self-publish, many old barriers have been taken down. You can write whatever you want and put it out there in the world. If you want to write a period romance with added dinosaurs - no one can tell you not to.

Who we write about is changing. Old stereotypes are being ditched (and some new ones are being created). With the upsurge in self-publishing, we've never had a better chance to create diverse characters - in terms of race, background, goals, motivations, lives, ability, everything. The world is changing and I want to believe literature is changing to reflect that.

How we read is changing. The electronic age has given us quick, immediate access to almost every book under the sun. You can buy and read the latest novels without having to leave your bed.

How we share our love of books has changed. Online sites like Amazon and Goodreads let us review our favourite books with a few simple clicks. Social media lets us connect with people who love the same novels as us - and gives us access to communicate directly with the authors we love.

But none of these are entirely positive things. There is greater diversity in books, yes, but we still have a long way to go. Look at your bookshelf and make a mental note how many main characters are non-white, or female, or differently able. Even if you believe you read diversely, you're likely to be surprised.

We may have immediate access to books via internet, but this is causing problems with piracy and the decline of the high-street bookshop. We are able to voice our opinions, but so can the vocal minority who will shout us down and tell us we're wrong to love the books we love, to defend the authors we care about, to want to see greater diversity and equality and change in what we read.

And while it might be easier to put words onto screen, the process of writing is as difficult as it's ever been. We are, and always will be, plagued with self-doubt and negativity. We question why we write, what we should write, whether we're any good, whether what we're doing will change anything. The obstacles are still the same - we all have other commitments, jobs and kids and families, and we never have enough time for the things we love doing. Some attitudes have changed, but some sadly have not, and there will always be those who'll ask, why are you writing? What's the point?

Here's what I think:

We write because we have a passion. Because we must. Because we persist.

We write to change things.

Maybe not to change the world, or opinions, or attitudes, or to make grand sweeping gestures that will benefit mankind, but because the smallest change is still a change. We can read and share diverse books. We can post reviews online. We can support our libraries and independent bookshops. Every time you buy a book, you're voting. You're telling the industry, this is what we want to read and how we want to buy. This is what we want more of. Every time you use your library card, you're telling the government, we need this resource.

Best and most of all, we can change ourselves through the positive act of creating something, or sharing something we love, or telling people about the things we care about. We can change our own opinions - the internal critic that says, how can I write when the world's such a mess? How can I write when no one will care what I say? How will this make a difference?

Change is difficult, we all know that. We're only one person. But everyone is just one person. Everyone can be bold and change something.

That's it, lecture over, please buy my books. :)

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