In her National Book Award acceptance speech, Ursula K. Le Guin said: ‘Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Et9Nf-rsALk
And that was the final thing I needed to hear on my internal debate on what to do with my third novel. So I have taken the step and simply made it available on Kindle and Lulu, rather than ‘publishing’ it in any way.
So, what is this novel about? It’s called A Fountain in Berlin, by the way.
It is about living with hope and kindness in a terrible world. And so it is about: the imagination, which makes that possible. The imagination sets us free, because that it how we create a world that is different from the one we live in, we imagine better ways to be, better ways to treat each other better ways to live in kindness and hope – we imagine freedom and then we find it and live it.
I cannot think of anything that is more important in the world today, or anything that is more under threat – right here in the so-called free world that is rapidly enslaving its people to commerce and a frighteningly gormless pursuit of leisure, which costs us our lives, our individuality and too often our integrity.
In the world of the novel, which is mostly the world we live in too, the imagination takes the form of music. And the main characters are a young girl and her traveller grandmother in Nazi and then Cold War Berlin. There is also a clarinet.
Le Guin finishes her speech with: ‘We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds; but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. Its name is freedom.’
A Fountain in Berlin I am hoping is my first step into that freedom.
One of my many long-suffering colleagues was working on a document today called a ‘staff capability policy’ and I felt quite strongly that the words ‘capability policy’ were an oxymoron – or at least to some extent contradictory. I am not sure exactly why this should be. I have an abiding and deep-seated suspicion of the word policy and really do think it capable of all kinds of subterfuge and camouflage of less than savoury ideas.
The word seems to be invoked when actions need to be justified about which the perpetrator feels uncomfortable on a human and humane level – the policy is then used to explain the apparent necessity of the action, e.g. cutting someone’s hours or letting them go. Despite its lofty origins from ‘polis’ city via citizen and prudent conduct ‘policy’ has still now landed on ‘a written statement of a contract of insurance’; and with that falls squarely within the remit of cowardice. It becomes all too clearly something to fall back on when humanity and indeed capabilities have failed!
‘Capabilities’ on the other hand is a happy confident word, suggesting cheerfully power and skills and resources.
One clearly does not need a policy for capability; one needs it for incapacity and therein lies my sense of the contradiction lurking within the deadening power of such official euphemisms. Staff Capability Policies are not for capability but for incapability but are, in that bureaucratic way, too cowardly to say so.
Literacy at the school where I teach is a hot topic currently: we’re not very good at it: below national average apparently on various yardsticks of reading proficiency.
What to do about it?
At secondary school, few teachers are equipped to teach reading explicitly – and as Louisa Moats says: it IS rocket science. Because teaching reading is teaching thinking, is teaching the interpretation of the world and all it throws at one – and there is no ‘just’.
There is no ‘if they could just learn spelling/verb constructions/punctuation/word recognition they would somehow magically be able read.
There are so many aspects of it – and if it has been neglected there are years of frustration to combat, too.
How can we give back to these children the joy, the power and the freedom of being able to read?
when willows green yellow
and casual grace throws white
round naked branches
when almost is a yearning earth
of never quite forgotten
urgent hugely returning
of pulses quickening
waiting and aching
how brief the blaze
For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
Song of Solomon
a mistranslation – it seems – for turtle-doves
and a smug glee in scholars
till curiosity leads to
creaky quacks grunts squeals
and oddly plaintive trills
by which these carapace-d ancients
call from their solitary habits
for yearly company
and after the anxious blind scramble through warm-dark sand
turtle-song is not in sound but sea
the pulse of plankton-surge
diving and swelling in weightless chords
to doze long days in the contented
wordless companionship of birds
I dreamed of Ithaca I think
and knew it not
after much swimming in circles
round a famed-for-wonders city without gates
through rising speeding water full of
small and slimy things
on the seventh round
I saw perilous alps and caves of startling blue
where couchant lay a giant snow-white goat
on slopes too steep for horses
serenely licking ice
as my father’s wildebeest
once licked salt
its face was human
and his place was home
I could not go to him
swam on dream-driven
and dared to name
where I had not quite been