Saturday, 9 June 2018

Diversity

My lifeline 
I am feeling intensely irritated this morning. Lionel Shriver has yet again been given a chance to spout forth about her views on diversity. Fine, let her have her views on it, but do you really need to devote a whole article to them when they are against everything that the whole world is fighting so hard to achieve? I am not going to link to the article in this piece because I am not going to add to the traffic. Basically, she has had a go at Penguin Random House for their diversity policies.

Now I will start off by stating that I fully support and congratulate PRH in their efforts. And secondly, I should point out that I am potentially one of the people she is having a go about. I am not published by PRH, but I am a diverse author in that I am disabled. I have never really shouted about the fact and I would hope that my novel stands on its own merit. I am pretty certain that Firefly took my manuscript on because of the story and not because I happen to be a diverse author. It is only as the information has gone out about me and my novel that people have said to me 'I had no idea you were disabled!' Yes, I am. I have a PEG tube fitted through which I am fed. I also have issues with one of my knees now that means I am on crutches. I am registered disabled.  I am also a single parent, a woman, an academic, a writer, an editor and I was a carer. The list could go on. None of these things defines who I am on their own, they are all just part of who I am.

Diversity is vital or rather, maybe a better word is inclusivity, as we want everyone to feel included. It is important on so many levels, and when I am talking about this I am referring to the definitions used by the amazing organisation Inclusive Minds. It is not just about the stories, which, of course, are important. There is a great drive to get diversity within publishing itself, with increasing job opportunities (HaperCollins BAME traineeship programme for example) as well as authors themselves. I am thrilled to be part of the Quarto Translation/Golden Egg Academy Diversity Award which we set up because we felt every child deserves an author and story they can relate to.

What I mean is thinking in terms of windows and mirrors. Diverse characters mean children have an opportunity to see characters just like them but also for others to walk a mile in another's shoes. It is a chance to create empathy - opportune in the week of #EmpathyDay on 12th June. 'A good book is an empathy engine' as said by Chris Riddell former Children's Laureate. It should never be a tickbox exercise nor should they be seen 'just as issue books'. Look around at your group of friends. I imagine they are an eclectic mix. When creating characters in books they should reflect that fact.

I feel better having got that off my chest. I would welcome the day when we do not need to speak of diversity but I fear that is a long way off and certainly when articles like Shriver are produced. It will not stop us fighting for it though.

I love Laura Mvula's work and this piece 'Phenomenal Woman' seems appropriate:

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