The week of November 2 was a splendid one for writers, writing and publishing. First there was the JAMCOPY (Jamaican Copyright Licensing Agency) Onlinemind Caribbean Digital Publishing Conference, November 2-5, at the Pegasus Hotel. Presentations were made by Jamaicans, persons from other Caribbean territories and overseas (outside of the Caribbean). Excellent organization and execution. All presentations I attended were really interesting and informative.
What did I take away from this conference and how might this affect children’s books and writers? First, it solidified digital publishing in my mind. Maybe it was just that I was ready; when the student is ready the teacher will appear sort of scenario.
So to all children’s publishers and textbook publishers, you need to engage meaningfully with this technology at some time, even if you are convinced that Jamaicans will be using print books for ages, since we won’t be able to afford tablets for all children. One presenter felt that children’s picture books were actually better as print books. Normally, I would have felt a surge of validation by this statement. This time I found it merely an interesting comment.
I found two sessions had a major impact on me and made the entire conference worth my while. One was Born Digital: Creating an e-Book, with Troy Weekes of EZLearner Inc , Barbados. Mr. Weekes showed us how to produce an e-book using templates. Wonderful! And even though I managed to lose my e-book at the end of the session (these things happen while using technology) clearly I had been made confident enough to replicate the activity the next day without losing it. So I have been greatly empowered, even if I do not get to the point of being able to turn one of my children’s stories into an e-book myself. And who knows now?
The other was Re-imagining Content for the Caribbean Classroom. This was presented by Allman Town Primary, a school for which I have a big soft spot as I had done some research there while doing my MEd. The vibrant Principal, Mrs. Crooks-Smith, declared that they do not say that Allman Town is an inner city school, but rather it is a school in an inner city area. Important change of focus towards great expectations, eh. The children have been encouraged to create learning for themselves using technology. Students, looking smart in their navy blazers over the normal khaki uniform, explained how they used technology, how they created their own computer games. For those who know me, I was blown away, sort of in heaven on earth. I thought of best practice being replicated, videos of their achievements to be sent all around the island, etc. (these are all ideas which the Ministry itself has for various aspects of education). So there is hope; always there is hope. Our children can be brilliant wherever they are if the right environment is provided. My take away from this was children, whatever their circumstances, can be interacting with technology. I know; why has it taken so long for the penny to drop for me? The children in my latest YA novel (at final editing/reconciling stage) are still not interacting with cell phones, because their parents don’t want them to. (My grandchildren, younger than my protagonists, have a tablet between them - still no cell phones though). Hmm. So I will have to bring technology more meaningfully into my stories. That is, allow the protagonist to interact with it rather than have grown-ups controlling all access. I’ll think about this carefully, because some control is still needed in this world of too much technological freedom, which can lead to serious trouble. Nonetheless, it was a revelation to me that I needed a change of mind.
Lignum Vitae Awards: Then on November 6 we had the Lignum Vitae Awards for Literature. The Awards consist of The Una Marson Award for adult literature, won by Donna Hemans; the Vic Reid for young adult literature, won by Diana McCaulay (a former pupil of mine at secondary – rather nice - and also winner of a number of writing awards since she came onto the world stage a few years ago), and the Jean D’Costa Award for children's, won by Janet Morrison. The Vic Reid and Una Marson had originated with the National Book Development Council, but had not been awarded for some years. The Jamaican Writers Society (JaWS), along with JAMCOPY, decided to resuscitate them, and to give an additional award for the under twelves, thus making the Vic Reid become a YA award.
‘Una Marson was a poet playwright and journalist and coordinator of the seminal radio programme, BBC’s Caribbean Voices’. My grandmother acted in one of her plays staged at the Ward Theatre here in Kingston, and I have a playbill with all their photos. My fifteen minutes of historical glory. I’m actually very proud of that.
Vic Reid wrote fiction about significant aspects of our history for young adult readers, which can be also be read by the under twelves. His books are often found on schools’ literature book lists.
Jean D’Costa’s well known children’s books are also on schools’ literature lists, and she is the only one who is alive. She was a judge as well as the guest speaker. I was struck by her pointing out that we all have stories, and that there are so many stories to be told about Jamaica, in Jamaica. That’s an important fact for children’s writers to embrace.
The prize money is actually quite significant, more in keeping with awards around the world. The competition is to be held every other year. So we now have our writing awards again and there are two for children’s literature. Children’s writers, we can’t complain. The majority of the entries were for the Una Marson award. I hope that we see a significant change in that in the future. Children’s writers, you have time to write your YA novel or children’s stories/novel for the next competition. Grab the opportunity and write.