Monday, March 17, 2008

Well done kids!

The picture above shows a team of students from Habershers’ Aske's Knights Academy secondary school. in Lewisham. They are involved in voting for the best book in a shortlist of 6, one of which is mine, in all the secondary schools in Lewisham, south London.

I met them a month ago when I was invited to the school, and their presentation has been judged the best in a competition run at a local library.

I’m not surprised. I was totally impresesd by this school. Run by a charity that took over a failing state school, it has been turned around, keeping the same students and teachers, in just two years, to achieve outstanding results.

The new school building, while seeming corporate, is conducive to focussed learning. Boys and girls are taught separately. There is a fantastic sports hall also available to the people on the surrounding council estate.

When I asked the English teacher who was my contact there what the secret of its success was, she said it was the fact that the new headmistress was always available, always popping in and out of classrooms, and not tucked away in an office.

The staff felt there was always back-up when they needed it and the kids seemed to have a very positive attitude that I know only comes when they are taken seriously. The head’s philosophy is that ALL children inately want to learn and the staff’s job is to facilitate this.

Why can’t all schools be like this? Good luck to them all!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

An interview with me

Neonebaam 4 coverThe literature 'zine 'Neonbeam' has published in its latest issue (4) a long interview with me. It's full of all kinds of highly revealing stuff.

I am quizzed about my approach to life, how I go about trying to find the truth and strive for simplicity at the same time, where I get inspiration, what I am working on now, and the conflict between wanting to change the world and being content with what I have. I am asked whether writing is an agency for change, or an end in itself, and what's the most important thing in the world: friendship or writing. I give an answer, but I'm still unsure.

You can download Neonbeam 4 here.

Thank you Sammi.

The State and Religion

Buddhist monks are standing up for freedom and self-determination of their country's people again - and being killed for it.

This time, in contrast to Burma, the US and UK are less supportive because we can not apparently upset China. There is too much trade between UK plc and China plc,unlike with Burma.

This raises once again the vital question of the role of religion in politics.

We are supposed to think nowadays that religion is bad and produces bad politics.

But there is a very interesting piece on religion and secularism that attacks the anti-God squad of Dawkins and friends by John Gray in yesterday's Guardian.

He argues that -

- forms of socialism and communism have led as much to war and torture as monotheism;

- secular states are still open to religion and still promulgate war and torture (the US, UK);

- you can no more eradicate religion than religion would like to eradicate the sexual drive;

I would add:

- the same applies to war and torture;

- except when you consider Buddhist states!

Gray uses the word 'religion' almost exclusively to refer to monotheism and not to Buddhism, like that in Burma and Tibet/Nepal, and other non-monotheistic religions.

I do not want to be a Buddhist; I am a humanist; I believe in the power of myth - the power of the stories we tell ourselves to move the human spirit to extraordinary places; I believe liberal democracy to be the most advanced form of society yet conceived; but that it is still self-deluding and highly vulnerable as a result; it contains notions of individual freedom that have been allowed to be exploited by unfettered capitalism; I believe that while education is a good thing (Dawkins believes it should be used to eradicate the illusions of religion), the content of education must be more open-ended and evidence-based; I believe liberal democracy does not have to be allied to capitalism but there is no example of a successful model of this.

And I believe there is no difference between the behaviour of modern China and that of a modern large corporation, benefitting its directors.

What we're seeing in Lhasa is a graphic and direct version of what happens more slowly, invisibly and less directly everywhere as a result of this type of behaviour, which is no more driven inevitably by religion or even secularism than is the will to trade.

I believe instead that the potential of human nature is manifold, to behave or manifest in any number of ways; and that therefore it is necessary as a society and as an aim of good global governance, to develop social and legal structures which reward and encourage constructive human behaviour and do the opposite to destructive tendencies...

Whether this happens through religion or through law and education is ultimately immaterial, as long as we recognise the means as being contingent, not absolute, which evangelical religion does not.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

What about a ’fair trade’ ’organic’ publishing imprint?

As a writer I feel the same way towards the retailer and publisher as a farmer feels towards the supermarkets - they call the tune, if the profit margin isn't right and the niche targetted it doesn't matter how quality your product is, you're out.

Editors expect agents to do their work for them. Agents expect you to have paid one of the legion of bottom-feeding 'consultants' to get your submission up to scratch so they'll even look at it.

It's a buyers' market and you have to be not just excellent, marketing driven, and very lucky, but prepared to be poor, especially if you're relying on the internet for your audience. Only a few can get to the top of the pyramid.

It's similar in the music industry. Music currently is going thru a big shakedown. My partner's got a band and her own label and finds it almost impossible to get paid gigs - how do you make being a musician pay when everyone expects music to be free?

She reckons in a couple of years musicians are going to have to come up with some radical new ways to get noticed and an income stream. The market's super-saturated.

Writing's the same.

So where can we go from here? In the end, the way things ar now, I think the reader is losing out.

Here's an idea: what about a 'fair trade' 'organic' label where you know the writer gets a good deal and the editor really cares? As with supermarkets, the industry might find the public will pay the premium.