Today I had the strange but lovely experience of having to read my own book. When you get to the proofs stage, you are in the last bit of the book writing process. This is the proof, if you like, that you have worked together with your publishers and their team, and made a book. You want to be sure that your book is as good as you can possibly make it and I’m very lucky to have had the team at Crownhouse Publishing to work with. With illustrations by Elly Watson, and a great copy editor and art designer, Road School looks gorgeous. There are scraps of our children’s writing, and images from our trip. This kind of team work is really important, because making a book is not just about the writing, it is about an object that people will want to hold in their hands and read. My one remaining job during proofing is to ensure that there are no errors of fact, technique or expression that might get in the way of the reader and the text. But the book is basically complete. It’s not mine any more. It is about to belong to its readers.

Asking people to pay money for your book can feel like a slightly awkward proposition. It is the ultimate in ignoring Imposter Syndrome to say that your writing might be worth paying for. And yet, this is the very basis of making a living out of being a writer. If you don’t want to do (a) you can’t have (b). You can’t be squeamish about it. The main thing in being a writer, it seems to me, is to take account of your readers. Not to write for them as such, but to write with them in mind. To try and make a connection with them, so that they understand what you mean. As you read through your book one last time before it is published, you get the chance to see whether you have managed to do this. But to figure out whether you have done it, you have to try and read your book as though you’ve never read it before. And this is very hard.

One of the things that struck me as I read my book once more was how the knowledge that we gained from our learning journey seemed to connect up all over the place. Languages and art and history and geography all merged into one. English and maths and science were all around us, rather than separated out into curriculum subjects like they usually are in school. Perhaps this approach didn’t get the knowledge over as quickly as you could in a classroom, but the patterns of understanding offered a different kind of experience. The places that we went to and the music that we listened to as we got there had connections to memories from our past, ones we wanted to share with our children. Going to Goa, living in Portugal, hearing the fall of the Berlin Wall. Visiting Venice, living in Germany, meeting cousins. Everything meant something, because of its connection to something else.

Cultural literacy is not only made up of the stuff that we read at school. It is not a kind of wall of Shakespeare and Dickens that can shore us up against real life and make sure we exceed expectations. Cultural literacy is mostly (or mainly) made up of the things that we choose to do in our private lives. And politicians don’t get to tell us how to do that. It worries me that we don’t celebrate the positives about our breadth of cultural references, rather than constantly elevating some above others. My cultural literacy is about crime novels, music, shared interests, family, friends, and travel; my choices may or may not be high brow enough for Nick Gibb. Yours may very well be different. But if you’re a fan of the music of the late twentieth century, you might like to test your musical knowledge on my Road School Playlist. How long can you go without hitting ‘Google’?


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2 Responses to Connections

  1. annadelconte says:

    Hi Sue, I lament the fact that my students generally have so little to bring to our learning experiences because of their limited cultural literacy. It’s us, the school that has to take them out to see the world and to bring the world to them. Their parents are so busy earning enough money to live or are just too tired from working that they don’t want to go far from home that they hardly take their children anywhere different. Some of our children have never even been to the beach and we live in Sydney! When we took our 6 and 7 year olds to the Opera House they were running their hands all over the surface. Without much cultural literacy they have little to bring to their reading, writing and general view of the world. Sometimes school affords them a window to the world, that is if they are allowed to come on our excursions and field trips. Lucky kids whose parents take them to different places and experiences. They are the ones who have so much to bring to the table of learning.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tim A says:

    Whenever people talk about culture, and restrict it to art, (certain types of) music and books over 100 years old, I roll my eyes. Culture? Whose culture? I am a reasonably educated, reasonably middle class person and I am struggling to think of anyone I know who regularly attends opera, ballet or spends their leisure time reading the great works. People I know read mostly modern books and go to watch plays/concerts/shows/sport. For every example of a teen who fell in love with Shakespeare at school I can give you an example of 29 who never looked at it again and was bored to tears by it. I’m not saying we shouldn’t read the “greats” just that there is a huge range of literature out there, why can’t we just read more and cut down some of the micro-analysis. This only really exists for testing purposes.
    I wonder if people who think this high culture is what people associate Britain with have actually had a conversation, with a normal person, from another country? From game reserve workers in Namibia to waiters in Laos almost every single conversation I’ve had with a local has started with asking which football team I support. Our cultural icon is the Premier League. Compulsory study of football would be far more reflective of our actual culture than rote learning the royal family. Somehow I don’t think that would go down well with the “We’ll tell you what knowledge is important and test you on it” brigade.

    Liked by 1 person

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