I’ve been a writer for a long time now, more than 20 years. I pootle along OK, though nobody knows who I am and movies have not been made of my books. There is no merchandise. I have a mortgage, no time to dust away the cobwebs and my car is mostly held together by mud. But I have written a lot of books and thanks to the wonderful foreign rights department of my publishers, they have been published in a LOT of languages. I have boxes of my books in my loft in Finnish, French, German, Russian, Spanish,Italian, Portuguese, Swedish. My favourites are the Japanese, Chinese and Korean ones. The text looks so beautiful, more pattern than print. Some editions have entirely different covers, that I like better than the originals. I love to think of children in all these countries reading my books. It makes me feel that I’ve done something ok.
But sitting on my shelves, shoring up my self belief these books are really not doing much.
So, I do periodically try and find a good home for them: I’m delighted when my friends tell me of foreign relatives with children; I once sent all my Danish editions to Sandy Torsvig.
Last Summer I spent a day in the Evalina Children’s hospital school. The Evalina is a truly wonderful institution and the school – with classrooms under the great glass roof on the side of the building is a bright, inspiring place. Children come from all over the world and from all over our multicultural capital for treatment. Finally, I’d found a great home for my non English books. The staff at the school said they’d love to have them. I went home intending to send them. But books are heavy and I have an awful lot of them. The cost of posting is prohibitive. I resolved to drive them up next time I drive to London.
In the meantime, quite a big meantime, I came across another good home for ‘foreign’ editions. The Hackney Empire started a children’s books swap, and said they’d love books for kids with English as a second language, at Hackney empire. Hooray.
This weekend I was going to drive to London ( to work in the three schools in Hackney where I have been working regularly for the last three years ) with boxes of books for Hackney’s lovely rainbow population and for the Evalina.
BUT I have a misbehaving shoulder. Lifting heavy boxes and driving to London are impossible this weekend.
So was lying awake at 5.30 this morning fretting about this when I thought, maybe I can find a solution. Maybe some courier company like DHL whose vans I see zooming about the lanes round my home, would take my books to London for me, as part of their work for their charitable foundation. Then I thought, if that were possible, perhaps it could be a bigger thing. All over London shelves in publishers offices are groaning with the weight of foreign language editions. The foreign rights department at Walker periodically put out boxes of them in the canteen and beg staff to take them home. Could all these books find their way to good homes, like the Evalina, like HackneyBook Swap, or schools with lots of kids from other countries, or libraries in multicultural Burroughs? Surely it can’t be hard to get publishers courier companies, or Uber, or London cabbies-( who already have a track record of work for children.)
So I’m putting this out there. Publishers, can you gather up your foreign language editions? Couriers and cabbies can you offer your services? Schools, libraries, hopsital schools can you say if books in other langurs would be welcome??
Can we make this all fit together and do something small and good so that a child living in a new language, or having medical treatment far from home can have the comfort of a story in their mother tongue? This is a small way to remind ourselves of the joy and richness that people from other cultures have brought to the UK, and how we still need to remember to extend a kind and courteous welcome