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The Ramblings of A Few Scattered Authors. 15 British children's authors from the SAS (Scattered Authors Society) get together to tell it like it really is. Tips on writing, not-writing and all the assorted hopes, dreams, fears and practicalities of our profession.
1. These Island Stories - John Dougherty

Do you remember the Opening Ceremony? It’s a measure of its impact that I don’t have to say which one, or what it opened. You know what I’m talking about. For days - perhaps weeks - afterwards, the country seemed like a warmer, friendly place.
I don't have permission to use any photos of the Opening Ceremony.  So here instead is a picture of some cake, courtesy of Michael at www.foodimaging.co.uk

Of course, not everyone felt this way. Daily Mail columnist Peter Hitchens on several occasions derided it as ‘a social worker’s history of Britain’, a phrase which I found revealing in its oddness. Does Mr Hitchens believe that social workers don’t have a right to history, or that their history is somehow inferior to other people’s? Does he think that a person who spends his or her working life looking after the needs of others is somehow less worthy than someone who spends his working life writing opinions for a newspaper with a less than glorious history of bending the truth, not to mention supporting parties with less than pleasant ideologies?

It’s the sort of question that is all too pertinent in these days of Gategate, the scandal of the Government’s Chief Whip apparently calling a police officer a “pleb”. The whole row has that sense of “some people are better than others, not because of who they really are but simply because of their station in life”, which unpleasantly echoes Hitchens’s ‘social worker’ jibe. I’m reminded, as the row unfolds, of how the Opening Ceremony made me feel.

You see, I’m not the only one to have reported unaccustomed feelings of patriotism after watching the Opening Ceremony; and I think I know why. On previous occasions on which I’ve been asked to feel patriotic, the feelings were supposed to be stirred by things that, well, don’t stir me. I quite like the Queen, I suppose, but I don’t feel the country would necessarily be a worse place to live if someone else were our Head of State instead. I never think, “I love being British because we have an army and some big ships!” or “gosh, isn’t it great that we once sent emotionally damaged ex-public schoolboys out all over the world to impose their values on whatever cultures they found there!"

But what Danny Boyle and Frank Cottrell Boyce did, bless them, was to provide an alternative narrative of which I could feel proud. Free universal healthcare! Black people and white people having babies together and nobody even thinking it comment-worthy until that twerp Aidan Burley and, yes, the Daily Mail point it out! Creativity in writing and music and art! Children’s literature, for goodness‘ sake!

I suppose, really, that what it did for me - and this is hugely significant, considering that I grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles - was to tell me: it’s okay to be British my way, whatever that means to me. If I want to prefer a social worker’s history over a right-wing pundit’s history, I can. It doesn’t make me a “pleb” who needs to ‘learn my place’.

So why am I mentioning this here, so long after it’s all over? Well, I just felt moved to point this out:

Literature, and perhaps particularly writings for children and teens, do this as well. Can you remember, during your childhood, reading something in a book and thinking, “But I do that, too!” or “That’s just how it feels!” or “So it’s not just me!”

I can. And the lesson of the Opening Ceremony is that that’s important. Enormously important. Children’s writers do many things, but one of the best things we do is to say to children: “You know - it’s okay to be you.”

John's website is at www.visitingauthor.com.
He's on twitter as @JohnDougherty8 
He will be appearing at the Cheltenham Comedy Festival on November 17th 2012.

His most recent books include:

Finn MacCool and the Giant's Causeway - a retelling for the Oxford Reading Tree
Bansi O'Hara and the Edges of Hallowe'en
Zeus Sorts It Out - "A sizzling comedy... a blast for 7+" , and one of The Times' Children's Books of 2011, as chosen by Amanda Craig

13 Comments on These Island Stories - John Dougherty, last added: 9/26/2012
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