I have a confession.
I went to the theatre recently and, as part of the show, the audience was asked to write on small pieces of card what they considered to be their finest memories. To my right, my wife wrote: My wedding day. To my left, my mother wrote: Having children. As we passed our cards down the rows towards the stage, one of the performers collected them and then hung them with clothes-pegs on to a washing-line which drooped from wing to wing. I hoped my wife and mother would not be able to read my card, because I feared that, were they to read it, they would think me ungrateful.
I had written: Getting published.
I have had three books published now, and the excitement and thrill I feel at this point in the publication process has only continued to grow. At some point during the fortnight before the book’s official release, a delivery van arrives at your doorstep, and you are presented with a large cardboard box filled with the advance copies of your book. Your book, which you have sweated and debated over for who knows how long. Your book, which for so long was a patchwork of words inside your own head. Until now.
Those three times when I’ve reached into that box and pulled out a copy of my book – my book! – it blew me away. My work had become tangible, my book had become real. Moreover, it had become real because someone else had decided to take a chance on me, and sharing my ideas with the world.
Who was it who said there is no such thing as a readerless writer? (Google won’t tell me, I’ve just tried.) It’s dispiriting, to say the least, to carry on with your work when you have no guarantee whatsoever that anyone will ever actually read the thing. If we know this feeling as adults, it must be extra frustrating for children. For the last ten years, I have taught English in various secondary schools across the country. I have, throughout those years and throughout those schools, worked with some tremendous young writers, and often, I was the only one reading their work. Countless times, I was presented with a story or essay which bowled me over with its sheer imagination and force (for young writers can transliterate their experience of the world in ways which us older writers can only ever nostalgically dream of).
I would take in that work, and I would mark it. I would give it back. It would be placed in a book or a folder. And it would never be seen again. Out of school, in private, I thought: what a waste.
That’s where Pobble comes in, with its tag-line, Creating a more literate world. Pobble, quite simply, publishes the work of young writers, and shares it with a gargantuan audience spread across the world. This audience celebrates that writing by commenting on each piece in one of the most positive online forums I’ve ever seen. I began to look through the work from individual students as they posted regularly throughout the year. The work was improving, and at such a rate that I had to keep checking the dates each piece was posted. There were leaps and bounds in those successive pieces of work which I had never seen in my own classroom. These children weren’t just learning, they were learning at a rate so advanced it made me envious. Pobble clearly was, without doubt, creating a more literate world. But how?
I wanted to know more, and signed up. When I showed Pobble to my Year 7 class and asked if they would like to write something for it, they jumped at the chance. It was gratifying to learn that it wasn’t just me who wanted others to see their work, but they did, too. Of course they did! What writer doesn’t? They had never worked so carefully on their writing and, once it was published, the starter activity for each lesson became, at their demand, a visit to the website. We watched as the view-counter rose ever upwards, and we delighted in every comment made – some from as far away as the UAE and Australia. We read over each other’s work and, while I marvelled at how developed it was, they discussed methods of improvement. They decided unanimously that their next collection would be even better. There it was, as simple as that.
They wanted to be better writers.
They were getting, as Pobble had promised, more literate. That, you see, is the power of publication. Authors write because we don’t want to be readerless, and young writers benefit from the same motivation. It’s not because they have to; it’s not because their teachers tell them to. It’s because they want to. And, like every other writer from J.M. Barrie to J.M Coetzee, they want others to read what they have created.
I have a new bunch of Year 7s now, who I introduced to Pobble in a recent lesson. When I told them that, at the end of the day, they too would all become published writers, a certain look came across their faces. It’s exactly the same look I have when I open that box of advance copies.