Let me tell you about a meeting I had three years ago with two-hundred and fifty young people between the ages of eleven and eighteen. I was the guest speaker at the opening of the tenth annual Mare di Libri book festival for young readers, held at Rimini, a seaside town on the north-east coast of Italy. It’s an extraordinary, indeed inspiring event, organised almost entirely by a group of the young people themselves, based on the town’s children’s bookshop. They decide which authors they want to invite, look after them while they are there, organise the meetings, a bookshop, and other activities over a four-day period in June. Groups of young readers from many parts of Italy attend, along with interested adults.
At one point in my talk I said,
Look, I’m eighty-three. I’m probably the last of the traditional book people. And you are the first of the new book people. The readers who read books on iPads and mobile phones. For me, these are new, almost strange devices. You take them for granted. They’ve been around since you were born. They’re not a novelty, just part of your everyday life. A teacher recently told me the worst punishment for pupils’ misbehaviour is to take away their mobile phones and ban their use for more than a day.
Because of that, I’m wondering whether your experience of reading stories and novels or anything in fact is different from mine. And if it is different, how it’s different. So, let me tell you about my experience and then perhaps you will tell me about yours.
For a start, I do read digital books, on my iPad. But what I’ve discovered is that if a book really matters to me, matters so much I want to read it again, want to roam through the pages in any order, want to find particular passages again, and even mark words or sentences or paragraphs so that I can easily find them again, then I buy a traditional printed copy and read that instead of the one on my iPad.
There’s something else. I don’t find reading a book on my iPad as satisfying as reading a printed book. It’s as if the book on my iPad doesn’t exist. Whereas a printed book has an individual identity. I can hold it in my hands. It has a feeling and a smell. And when I’ve read it I can keep it on my bookshelves, and see it and take it down and look at it again whenever I want to. Easily, quickly, a pleasure in itself.
Books that I value become part of my life, part of myself, and I want them with me. They are companions. That is not true, for me anyway, about books on my iPad.
At this point the audience, who had so far been quiet and attentive, began to react. Some were nodding, some began muttering to their neighbours. One called out ‘I do that!’
I was so surprised that I stopped and said, ‘Are any of you like me? Do any of you start reading an eBook and then decide you want it as a printed book?’ There were cries of ‘Si! Si!’
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Do something for me. Please hold up a hand if you prefer reading a book that matters to you as a printed book rather than as an eBook.’
Almost everyone in the room held up a hand.
‘And if you start reading on screen, how many of you then buy the printed book?’
The same crowd of hands went up.
We spent the rest of the time talking about the differences. We agreed that when you want information quickly, and in brief, online reading is best. We agreed that young people nowadays write and read vast amounts, because they are always busy sending messages on their mobile phones and finding out what they want to know by using search engines. But we also agreed that if you want to read carefully, with lengthy concentration, if you want to think about what you’re reading while you’re reading it, if you want to imagine what you’re reading, when it’s a story, and feel as well as think, and if you want to read something that is long, then the printed book is far better than an eBook or any other digital form.
This was face-to-face living evidence of all I’d read in Maryanne Wolf’s Tales of Literacy for the 21st Century, and Reader, Come Home, which make clear for those of us who are not specialists in neuroscience just how different the experience is of reading a text in a traditional book, and digitally, and why. At its heart, it’s the difference between what Wolf has called ‘deep reading’, and superficial, quick reading. What was inspiring was the conscious distinctions those young readers were making about reading as a valued, necessary activity. And as well as that, their passionate love of reading fiction, poetry, and other forms of narrative writing.
I was with them for four days. Time and again they came up to me in ones and twos to talk about what we’d said in that opening session, and what they thought of the books they were reading, and of mine. I watched them in the bookshop, where ten of the older organisers acted as sales assistants, introducing other young people and adults too to books they thought especially worthwhile.
It made this dinosaur feel that he was not at an end of a culture but part of its evolutionary developments. They were particularly interested in the novels and books published ‘for’ them – the books I call youth fiction, which in my estimation are not merely ‘for’ them but belong to a literature with its own poetics, its own special qualities and identifying features. This is the fiction I write about in The Age Between, in which I try to set out my own experience of writing novels of this kind, and my reading of books which are examples of the literature.
We’re delighted to be publishing Aidan Chambers’ new book, The Age Between: Personal Reflections on Youth Fiction.
This series of essays explores the history and form of classic texts such as J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Anne Frank’s Diary, and Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War. Chambers also examines his own fascinating experiences of reading and writing youth fiction, weaving these together with fresh insights from narrative theory, anthropology and neurology. The book includes a lively discussion between the author and Dr Deborah Cogan Thacker. Chambers is well known for his young adult fiction and critical writings on the craft of fiction, publishing, and young people reading.
We are holding an official online launch for The Age Between on Wednesday 4 November, 18.30-19.30 GMT. Check back for more details and follow Fincham Press on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram .
To everyone planning to come to our March 25 book launch and writing soirée – sadly that event is now cancelled. Like others, we are following best advice on social distancing to avoid any contribution to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However we do have plans for an alternative virtual event, which we will announce shortly, along with full results from the Writing Competition. Please keep an eye open for updates.
Meanwhile, we hope you are all taking care of yourselves, and we look forward to seeing you in person at a future date.
It is the start of a new decade. New Year resolutions for another ‘productive’ beginning have been tried, tested and dismissed. University classrooms vibrate with inspiration – and stress-inducing deadlines. But there is at least one event coming up at Roehampton which provides a chance to shake this year into shape.
That event is the Soirée on March 25, hosted by the Creative Writing programme and Fincham Press. Every year, a new group of students submits work to a writing competition, for the chance to be included in the next annual anthology. This year, the Soirée is combined with a launch of the anthology The Box, showcasing last year’s work. The keynote address is by Sara Collins, the 2019 Costa Competition First Novel winner.
A team of staff, students and alumni have been working hard to create an event that will delight and surprise. One member of the team, Steph Elliot Vickers, graduated from the BA Creative Writing with a first in 2018. A five-times anthology author, she won the Editor’s Choice Award for best submission at the 2011 Soirée, and has attended the event every year since then. Steph delights in seeing nervous student writers find their feet on the stage when they perform their work, and in striking up working relationships with industry guests.
The opportunities provided by the annual writing competition, and the support of Fincham Press, have kickstarted her career as a published writer, says Steph. The event provides ‘a unique chance for students, staff, alumni and industry professionals to come together and celebrate Roehampton’s next generation of talented writers’.
Another alumnus who couldn’t stay away is Joseph Shafique. He graduated in 2019 with a BA in Journalism and Creative Writing, and has stayed at Roehampton to pursue a MA in Publishing. In the meantime, along with some fellow students he has set up Cottage House Films, and is now writing and producing two upcoming films for the company.
Joseph says the team is ‘hoping this year exceeds the high standards set by previous soirées’, which for him include the highlights of ‘mingling with industry guests and enjoying the entertainment’.
One of the newest additions to the team is Lilly-Ann Newman, a third-year undergraduate student of Creative Writing and Journalism and founder-editor of Fresh Media, an online magazine created with Roehampton’s Student Union.
The talent and dedication of her peers makes her proud to be a part of the team, she says: ‘I have enjoyed every soiree over the past three years and jumped at the chance to be a part of the team who create them. We have been working very hard to provide another amazing evening. These events are a brilliant opportunity to hear the work of peers and talk to industry professionals, who were once in the same position I am, and to learn from their experiences.’
Working as a volunteer, the third year Creative Writing and Film undergraduate Lisa Gaultier expresses optimism about the upcoming event: ‘I hope it will make everyone attending even more passionate about their craft. The soirées are inspiring events. Seeing people who are students, just like me, read out their work makes me feel confident in my position as a writer. And it’s a great time to meet people, both from the university and the industry.’
Fincham Press and the Creative Writing programme at Roehampton are combining forces for a joint book launch and writing competition soirée on the evening of Wednesday, March 25.
The soiree will be held in the Digby Stuart Chapel on the main campus on March 25, with doors opening at 6:30pm. The evening features readings, a keynote speaker, and a spread of food and drink.
The first half of the evening will focus on our sixth creative writing anthology, The Box, which includes work from last year’s competition – you can buy a copy on the night (for cash) or at any time from the university e-store.
The second half gives a stage to writers from this year’s competition, which has just opened. Authors who have been shortlisted have the chance to read their work to an audience of peers, agents, editors and published writers.
The deadline for submissions to the competition is 11pm on Monday, February 24. Submissions must come with a completed entry form which can be found at the top of the Moodle page for the BA Creative Writing or downloaded here. The guidelines are here. Enquiries can be sent to email@example.com.
The official launch, originally scheduled for November 26, has been postponed until the new year, as it fell in the period of planned strike action. But a new date will be confirmed and announced here, before too long.
It’s that time again: undergraduates are preparing for the end of term after an exhausting but stimulating year; the blossoms have started to appear; and the yearly Creative Writing Soirée is just days away.
The Soirée is a showcase for winners of the annual writing competition, and every year a selection from that long list is published by Fincham Press, an anthology edited by writer and faculty member Leone Ross. This year’s anthology will be the sixth in the series, following last year’s collection In Which Dragons Are Real But. It is a night of wine, refreshments, and stories from a diverse pool of aspiring literary talent, as well as contributions from teaching staff, alumni, and guest speaker Aki Schilz, director of The Literacy Consultancy.
Behind every great Soirée is an even greater team of dedicated, hard-working staff and volunteers who make the evening happen. This year, the team consists of Research Fellow Amy Waite, Senior Lecturer David Fallon, the two Fincham Press editorial assistants – myself and Katharine Cheetham – and volunteers from the UR Writing Society, all working together in the lead-up to this year’s event.
These are the people who have been busy selecting readers, booking microphones, printing posters, and making sure there are enough vegetarian options on the menu – generally ironing out the kinks, to ensure an enjoyable night for all.
As the date draws in, David Fallon and Amy Waite took a break in the preparations to talk about how they have been occupying their time.
What is your role in the Soirée?
D.F: This is the first time I’ve been involved in the competition. I’ve been working with Amy on the initial sifting, to select those for the long list, and those who will read their work on the night.
How were the entries?
D.F: The standard is good across the board, which made narrowing them down quite hard. There are some outstanding entries and they were really enjoyable to read. I was impressed with what our department’s Creative Writing students have been producing.
What are you most looking forward to, about the Soirée?
A.W: Reading all of the competition submissions. Working with students and colleagues to create an exciting event.
D.F: I look forward to seeing individual writers bring their work to life. It’s not only about the students winning prizes, but about being involved and getting a sense of fulfilment.
What’s it like seeing students, who wish to be writers, receiving what might be their first public audience ever?
A.W: Incredible. It’s such a privilege to be able to work with writers at this stage in their career.
D.F: It’s good because I think there is a big difference between completing a piece of work because it’s an assignment and getting [wider] recognition. Literature in a live context is different to being printed on the page; I’m looking forward to the performance side of things in a good, supportive environment.
What’s one thing you’ve enjoyed most, in the planning?
A.W: Reading the submissions is such a fun and rewarding experience. But it’s nerve-wracking trying to order the correct amount of wine and food!
D.F: I enjoyed reading through the material and discussing it with Amy; it’s good fun when you think, ‘Yes, I like this one,’ and you’re both excited about the same text. I mainly work on eighteenth and nineteenth century literature, so it’s nice to read something which is very much from the present day.
What do you think we can expect this year?
A.W: We have a fantastic keynote speaker, and brilliant group of panellists lined up. And the student readers are excellent. It promises to be an engaging and buzzy event, filled with literary discussion and creative expression!
D.F: I don’t know what to expect really. I’m sure the students will do themselves and the university proud. I’m looking forward to being entertained. I also haven’t met many of the students, so it will be interesting to connect the writer to their text.
The Creative Writing Soirée takes place on Wednesday March 27, 6pm to 9pm, in the Portrait Room at Grove House. Tickets are free and can be acquired via Eventbrite.
I must categorically deny the vicious rumours suggesting that The Rook is the consequence of John Doyle’s midlife crisis and my own. John has a loving family to keep him sane and honest, and I have wine and a Cineworld Unlimited card. And besides, we are not middle-aged. Yeah, right.
The Rook is the result of other kinds of despair: despair over the state of the world; despair over the nightmare that is Brexit; despair over the crisis of journalism. The anthology was conceived in 2016, as Donald Trump was tweeting his way into the White House and Brexit-means-Brexit Theresa May was shepherding Britain out of Europe. The Rook was our cry in the dark, a bloody ¡No pasarán! – our chant of defiance against nationalism, misguided patriotism, crude, blatant or I-am-just-worried-about-uncontrolled-immigration racism; and of course, also, against read-and-forget, it-takes-a-second, one-millimetre-deep journalism. We did not expect to defeat those beastly enemies at the first battle. But we have now crossed swords and drawn blood.
This does not mean that the brilliant young men and women who wrote most of the stories in The Rook share our ideas. While we adopted for this edition May’s insult to Remainers, ‘Citizens of Nowhere’, as our theme and a personal badge of honour, we did not impose on our contributors any political or professional manifesto. We just asked for their permission to include in this anthology some of the magnificent articles they had written while studying Journalism at Roehampton.
Isobel Rafferty’s ‘Lost on a Stranded Land’ and Vilde Haugen’s ‘Dreamland Beach’ – exquisite reminiscences of their trips to Northern Cyprus and Bali – and Josh Downe’s vivid ‘Bulls and Blood’ were all class assignments. Ellis King’s ‘Mallorca, Martina and Me’ was also an assignment, even though it reads, I told him, like the early script of a great romantic movie. Barbara Palovcikova’s ‘The Sounds of Camden Town’, which made me reconsider my dislike of the famous London market, was submitted for a module called Travel Journalism. And there is ‘Going Country, Going Undetected’, a shocking investigative piece about children used as drug mules by London gangs, written by Rafferty and her classmates Federica Infantino and Stephanie Badaru, three young women who have the courage and intelligence many career journalists have never shown.
We also commissioned three of the contributions: Isabelle Kern’s delicate-as-a-ballet-dancer ‘My Russian Friends’, Aleksandra Antonova’s fiercely honest, sad and stubbornly optimistic ‘A July Morning in Bulgaria’ and Conor Young’s ‘North of the Heart of Babylon’, a piece that both of us would have liked to have written, and which represents the kind of journalism we believe in: truthful in a way run-of-the-mill journalism never is, slow to read but hugely rewarding, intellectually and emotionally alive, candid, daring and beautiful. Beautiful. The one thing that will impress the readers of The Rook the most is how beautifully these current or former Journalism students write.
John added to The Rook his own formidable piece, ‘Citizens of the Sea: a Reawakening’, about the rise, fall and glorious resurgence of Liverpool, and I – cheekily – translated a piece (‘The European’) that I had written for a Cuban magazine on the week of the 2016 European referendum. But the stars and heroes of The Rook are not its middle-aged editors but these young authors, who give us hope that all is not lost for Britain, Europe or even journalism; that there is life, energy, talent, ambition, and raw, pure, untainted goodness in the generation that older people, incorrectly, associate with the Kardashians and Love Island. Being associated in any way with these writers, being published with them in The Rook, being their teachers and, hopefully, their friends, is a huge honour.
Fincham Press and its indefatigable publisher, Susan Greenberg, who made The Rook possible, have done a great service to our university and its Journalism programme, for which we will be always grateful. I hope that their reward will come in the future, when The Rook appears as the first in a long list of published work by some of these authors.
By then, who knows where Britain will be, in or out; whether there will finally be a woman in the White House or someone even more Trumpian than Trump; and whether there will still be something resembling journalism, newspapers, literature. But John and I will surely still be shouting and protesting and telling our students they should do better than clickbait and nonsense journalism. And we’ll tell them, Look at the kids of The Rook. Read The Rook. That’s the way. Try.
The Professor in Children’s Literature gathers and reprints a selection of twenty-six illustrated stories for children originally published in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, offering a brief introduction to each of them. The volume complements the author’s book-length study Picture-Book Professors: Academia and Children’s Literature; both works are open access, available as free downloads. Get your copy of The Professor in Children’s Literature in EPUB or PDF format!
The book launch will take place in the Portrait Room at Grove House, starting at 5.30pm.