Showing posts with label Dawn Finch. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dawn Finch. Show all posts

Thursday, 7 January 2021

What fresh hell is this? The B-word and creative freelancers by Dawn Finch

I have always held the opinion that it's probably best not to express too many opinions. This means that I have usually opted to not say anything at all about Brexit preferring to wait for people to tell me just one positive fact about it (still waiting, by the way...). Facts - love those, but like all of us, I'm drowning in opinions right now and those are not always the same as facts.

Most of us are already feeling the negative impact of changes that restrict our freedom of movement and impede our ability to see Europe as our wider work-space, but for most of us, we simply feel so overwhelmed by the whole thing that it just feels like a massive dog-pile of opinions. Picking the facts out of this dog-pile is becoming increasingly difficult and it is with great relief that I read the latest piece from the Society of Authors. I say "relief" but I should stress that's not relief about the content, but about the fact that the details her are at least clear and understandable.

The end to Freedom of Movement means that many creatives will have to negotiate complicated visa and work permit regimes before travelling to EU27 countries and we'll all need to be aware of the extent of any potentially varying exclusions that may apply to us. Authors travelling to an EU country for research or work should remember from now on to check with the UK consular office or embassy, and this is not always going to be as simple as it sounds. There is a significant risk of backlogs, and of paperwork delays as even the embassies try to set into place how this will all work.

Some things are clear, such as the fact that we should still be able to work in France for up to 90 days without a visa, but we will need a work permit. Sadly the details for other countries are still up in the air and awaiting conditions based on reciprocal arrangements that have yet to be agreed.

There is, of course, a huge amount of confusion and uncertainty about the emerging rules, but what is clear to the Society of Authors is that it will "present a costly and complex barrier to thousands of freelancers working in the creative industries". The Society draws attention to a petition calling for a Visa-free work permit for touring creative professionals that has already gained well over 200,000 signatures.

I would strongly recommend reading the Society of Authors' article and following them on social media for regularly updated information. With so many opinions flying around it is refreshing to have a source of information tailored to my needs as a freelance creative European.

Access the latest news from the Society of Authors via their website, and the article referred to in this piece can be found here.

Dawn Finch is an author and information professional.

www.dawnfinch.com

@dawnafinch



Monday, 7 December 2020

Finch's Festive Fifty! by Dawn Finch

It's that time of year again and for the sixth year running, I'm sharing my favourite Festive Fifty. The challenges of 2020 have hit us all and it is somewhat heartening to discover that people have been turning to books and reading more to get through the Lockdown periods. I hope that this has set a habit that will keep growing, and that this will be the season of books for all. 

This Christmas will be one of separation for most of us and this is the perfect time to indulge in a bit of nostalgia as we reach for books help us escape to another type of Christmas. The books I have chosen for my list are all frosty and festive, and all of these will also work well as read-alouds. Maybe if we can't be together, we can read together. I can't help thinking how nice it would be to share the same titles with other family members and have a family winter book group. Maybe read your favourite excerpts aloud and create a few family zoomed storytimes.

This Christmas we should allow ourselves the luxury of not watching the news, and instead draw the curtains against the advancing night, light some candles, and settle in with a story that will take you away to another place.

This list is in alphabetical order of author's surname. These are all longer novels for age 9+. There are so many lists of picture books so I have just focussed on family-friendly books that can be read aloud and shared with all independent readers (including grown-ups!)

As many different editions exist of some of these titles, I've left that to your own choice, but personally, I'd opt for the illustrated editions. Treat your family to something beautiful and tuck it away with the decorations to re-read every year.
Start a new tradition!
  1.  Aiken, Joan – The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
  2. Arden, Katherine – The Bear and the Nightingale
  3. Bell, Alex and Tomic, Tomislav – Polar Bear Explorers’ Club
  4. Boston, Lucy M – The Children of Green Knowe
  5. Butterworth, Jess – Running on the Roof of the World
  6. Carroll, Emma – Frost Hollow Hall
  7. Cooper, Susan – The Dark is Rising
  8. Crossley-Holland, Kevin – Between Worlds (illustrated by Frances Castle)
  9. Dale, Anna – Whispering to Witches
  10. Dickens, Charles – A Christmas Carol
  11. Doherty, Berlie – Children of Winter
  12. Doyle, Catherine - Miracle on Ebenezer Street
  13. Ende, Michael – The Neverending Story
  14. Elphinstone, Abi – Sky Song
  15. Fisher, Catherine – Snow Walker
  16. Fisher, Catherine – The Clockwork Crow
  17. Foxlee, Karen – Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy
  18. Gaarder, Jostein – The Christmas Mystery
  19. Gardner, Sally and David Roberts – Tinder
  20. Gayton, Sam – the Snow Merchant
  21. Gordon, John – The Giant Under The Snow
  22. Hargrave, Kiran Millwood – The Way Past Winter
  23. Hitchcock, Fleur – Clifftoppers - The Frost Castle Adventure
  24. Horwood, William – The Willows in Winter
  25. Ivey, Eowyn – Snow Child
  26. Jansson, Tove – Moominland Midwinter
  27. Lauren, Ruth – Prisoner of Ice and Snow
  28. Lean, Sarah - The Good Bear
  29. Lewis, CS – The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
  30. London, Jack – Call of the Wild
  31. Masefield, John – Box of Delights
  32. Matthews, Caitlin and Helen Cann – Fireside Stories, Tales for a Winter’s Eve
  33. Montgomery, Ross - The Midnight Guardians
  34. Morris, Jackie – East of the Sun, West of the Moon
  35. Nimmo, Jenny – The Snow Spider
  36. Pratchett, Terry – Wintersmith
  37. Preussler, Otfried – Krabat
  38. Priestley, Chris – The Last of the Spirits
  39. Pullman, Philip – Northern Lights
  40. Raby,  Lucy Daniel – Nikolai of the North
  41. Ransome, Arthur – Winter Holiday
  42. Rundell, Katherine – Wolf Wilder 
  43. Smith, Dodie – 101 Dalmatians
  44. St John, Lauren – The Snow Angel
  45. Streatfeild, Noel – White Boots
  46. Torday, Piers – There May Be A Castle
  47. Wilder, Laura Ingalls Wilder – The Long Winter
  48. Wilson, Amy – Snowglobe
  49. Winter Magic edited by Abi Elphinstone (11 stories by contemporary writers)
  50. Woodfine, Katherine – The Midnight Peacock
As always - please add your own additions in the comments. I would love to see someone do a list of poetry for the season too! Apologies for missing anyone out but I only ever list books that I've actually read. If you'd like me to read yours, drop me a line.

Dawn Finch is an author and former children's librarian. 2020 Chair of the Society of Author's Children's Writers and Illustrators Group (CWIG) and Trustee of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CWIG)
www.dawnfinch.com
@dawnafinch


Saturday, 7 November 2020

Granted - why you should apply for grants for creatives, by Dawn Finch


As you know I am always badgering authors to ask for (and expect) fair pay and fair deals for their work, but as 2020 marches towards its close many of us are looking to a winter that will make excessive demands on our already overstretched incomes.

I often forward links to grants and hardship funds for authors, only to have people reply to me with “Oh, I wouldn’t want to take money away from anyone worse off.”

I’m going to have to stress this in no uncertain terms – THAT IS ABSOLUTELY NOT HOW GRANTS AND HARDSHIP FUNDS WORK.

Your application will be assessed on genuine need and merit and if the assessors feel that you are in genuine need (or that your project is of genuine use and merit) you will be fairly awarded a grant. You will NOT be taking the money away from people who are “worse off”. No one is going to come around your house and shame you for a grant application that is approved - or not approved. These grants are all managed by good and kind people who know exactly what you are going through and they will try to support you the best they can.

Yes, the hardship funds and grants have never had more applicants than they have now, but they have also never had more support and more funds. These grants and funds exist to support authors and other creatives and often to help people re-examine or reimagine their careers in this CV-19 world. This might be the time to revisit that creative project you started but didn’t have the funds to finish. Taking the financial burden off you for a while might just unlock that creative block that’s been hanging albatross-like from your shoulders.

Applications for grants and hardship funds can, at first, appear complicated, but the Society of Authors can give members support and advice with how to progress, and all of the online access points to the various grants offer extensive guidance. It is also worth noting that you do not have to be a member of the Society of Authors to apply for hardship grants handled by the Society.

 I know that most of you will already have had these grants on your mind (and may have already looked at the websites and forms) but I hope that this blog encourages you to apply. It is important to society as a whole that creatives find a way to survive this financial crisis (for that is what it is) and this means many of us will need some help, and that’s what grants and hardship funds are for.

The creative industries are vital to a thriving economy. YOU are vital!

Lockdowns and restrictions have been hard on everyone, but I know with absolute certainty that it would have been impossible to get through this without the output of creatives. Where would we all have been without books, music, art, drama? With so many creatives struggling to continue it is important that you feel comfortable applying for grants so that you can continue with your work, and continue to make this all bearable.

Without creatives, we’re all just staring at blank walls.

 A few handy links

As of 26th October, the Society of Authors partnered with Creative Scotland to help distribute £600,000 in grants from their Hardship Fund for Creative Freelancers in Scotland.

https://www.creativescotland.com/funding/funding-programmes/hardship-fund-for-creative-freelancers


If you are working on a larger or more long-term project in Scotland, you might also like to look at the Open Fund. This is a fund that provides organisational and individual funding for much larger projects that work with the fabric and culture of Scotland. The grants are complex application forms, but they will answer questions by email and there are full booklets that take you through the process step by step.

https://www.creativescotland.com/funding/funding-programmes/open-fund-sustaining-creative-development

 

The Authors Contingency Fund is managed by the Society of Authors and the website has a simple questionnaire to assess your eligibility for any funds before you apply.

https://www.societyofauthors.org/Grants/authors-emergency-fund


The Society of Authors also manage a number of other contingency grants for some for works in progress and most of these do not require SoA membership.

https://www.societyofauthors.org/Grants


Arts Council England have a number of “open funds” to which you can apply. These all have different eligibility requirements, and each of these can be accessed through these portals.

https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/funding


It is also important to not forget the third part of the Government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme Grant. The grant was extended from 1 November 2020 and will cover the critical period of the winter months. The third grant will cover a 3 month period from 1 November 2020 until 31 January 2021. The Government will provide a taxable grant calculated at 80% of 3 months average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment and capped at £7,500 in total. This is an increase from the previously announced amount of 55%. The Government has also already announced that there will be a fourth grant covering February 2021 to April 2021. 

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/self-employment-income-support-scheme-grant-extension/self-employment-income-support-scheme-grant-extension

 

If your family has an overall low income, and you also have limited savings, you should also examine Universal Credit. This is particularly important for people in your family who are in full-time education but have found that the pandemic has stripped them of the opportunity to earn money through casual employment. If your income has fallen to worrying levels and you are concerned about your ability to financially support your student children, they should apply for Universal Credit and this could ease some of the worries you are currently feeling.

https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit/eligibility


Dawn Finch is the Chair of the Society of Authors' Children's Writers and Illustrators Group, Trustee of CILIP, library activist, children's author, seed library curator, community bookseller, allotment committee secretary, and is currently a food writer (on top of everything else...thank you 2020) Most of these jobs are sadly unpaid... #ShowMeTheMoney 

www.neepokra.co.uk



 

 

 

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Seeing Sense by Jake Hope, reviewed by Dawn Finch

 


First the blurb...

The burgeoning field of visual literacy can be universally understood across a wide variety of cultural backgrounds, regardless of traditional literacy levels. A key tool for navigating digital devices, there is often an antipathy surrounding visual literacy borne out of stigma and at times, intimidation. At a point when funding for public libraries in the UK is in decline, Powerful Pictures will include new research and bring together best practice from different organisations and institutions from a national and global perspective. This book will showcase the role of visual literacy as a tool for promoting reading, helping to raise understanding and awareness among librarians and education practitioners and promoting aspiration and achievement among the children and young people they work with.

I would not normally use my space here to review books, especially not academic books that are ostensibly pitched to information and educational professionals, but after reading this book it felt essential to me to share it with an audience of authors.

As writers and illustrators, the concept of visual literacy is not new to us, but it is often difficult to put into words why it is so important to our work. The idea that readers (both developing and established) use visuals to interpret stories and understand them is ingrained in what we do, but to fully understand visual literacy as a distinct concept takes a deeper examination, and this is exactly what Hope has done with Seeing Sense.

Elements of visual literacy are all around us (think signposts and pictographic instructions) but when we expand our understanding of that we, as authors, can begin to incorporate a greater level of visual communication in our work that breaks down the barriers of language and culture. For both established and new illustrators and writers, Hope’s book lays out the concept of visual literacy in a way that is not only approachable but useful and fascinating.

So many big names in the world of children’s books have contributed to this book with both anecdotes and tips that it feels like taking advice directly from the very best people in the business. From the foreword by Philip Pullman to dozens of illustrators and writers representing almost every field of children’s books you’d care to mention! Hope is hugely knowledgeable (with a masters in children's literature and over two decades working in the field) and has worked with everyone who matters in children’s books and literacy. Many of us know Hope and have worked with him and you can recognise him and his passion for literacy in this book. He has a writing style that draws you in and never feels patronising or alienating.

The chapters of this book cover everything from what exactly we mean when we’re talking about visual literacy, to a brilliantly handy guide to terminology, and on through use and application via a series of case studies that put the subject into context. Children’s authors will find chapters on reader development, insights into the processes that shape visual narratives, and the importance of visual representation to build inclusivity particularly relevant. Everything here is directly useful to the work of the children’s illustrator and writer. The chapter examining the structure and processes of the big awards for children’s book illustration is also a must-read for anyone working in the field.

Hope wrote this book as “a tool for libraries, learning and reader development”, but with my author hat on I can’t help feeling that this really is an essential book for the bookshelves of anyone engaged in the process of producing books for young readers.

Yes, on the surface it is expensive, as are most academic books. At £39.95 this does feel like an eyewatering price right now, but as this one is absolutely for your work it can fit into the deductible category as being relevant to your trading activities. I feel that this would be a hugely useful addition to your reference shelves as it would not only give you a greater understanding of visual literacy, but it could better sculpt how you use it and even give your work more power and deeper meaning.

Dawn Finch is an author and librarian and the current chair of the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group (CWIG) and a trustee of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).


Seeing Sense by Jake Hope is published by Facet Publishing – the publishing arm of CILIP

£39.95 to non-members (£31.96 for members)

This book is an unbiased, unsponsored review and represents the reviewer’s honest personal opinions. 


Monday, 7 September 2020

Step up - supporting authors, by Dawn Finch



The current health crisis has been catastrophic to authors' incomes and every day I hear more heartbreaking stories of how badly people have been impacted financially. Since March the Society of Authors has paid out over £1 million in hardship grants, and it doesn't look as if the applications to the fund will stop any time soon. With the self-employment grants and the furlough scheme ending soon, I fear that the true hardships are only just beginning.

For the past 60 years, the SoA Fund has provided small grants to professional authors of all kinds facing hardship, paying out around £95,000 a year. Since the beginning of the health crisis, the ongoing demand for grants has increased exponentially. With the long-term financial impact of the health crisis still uncertain, if the SoA is going to continue to support authors in financial need, they need to raise more funds to sustain their grant giving into 2021 and beyond.

The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), Royal Literary Fund, Arts Council England, the T S Eliot Foundation in partnership with English PEN, the Literary Consultancy, the National Association of Writers in Education, Amazon UK, and many individuals, generously contributed a combined £1.1 million to our existing Contingency Fund.

SoA have made a big difference this year with the funds available – supporting many authors through personal health crises, others to take on caring responsibilities, many simply to make ends meet, while enabling others to continue to work through lockdown. But funds are running low as applications continue to come in. They estimate they will need another £400,000 to keep awarding grants at the current rate until the end of 2020 – and more to sustain the Fund into the future.

Applications to the fund are open to all professional authors who are resident in the UK or British subjects – including all types of writers, illustrators, literary translators, scriptwriters, poets, journalists and others – for whom author-related activities make up a substantial amount of their annual income.
Grants are likely to be up to £2,000 and designed to meet urgent need with the possibility of review as the situation continues.

The fund is doing great work supporting authors, but the fund needs our support too. It is vital that we all support the fund in as many ways as we possibly can. There are three key ways you can do this - shopping, fundraising and giving.

The Contingency Fund is only made possible by the donations. If you can afford to give, there are a few ways you can do it – from one off gifts and regular payments, to remembering the Fund in your will. If you are one of those who can afford to donate, please do. Guidance on how to do so can be found here.

Can you spare a few hours to organise a sponsored event or auction to help raise money for the Fund (and even have some fun in the process)? Could you put together an event to raise money for the fund? Maybe do a sponsored event? Fundraising is a key element of the fund. You can find more ideas and information here.

There is a very simple way of donating while you shop from supporting organisations. If you shop online from Blackwell's, Waterstones, Hive, M&S, John Lewis, Argos and more and do so via the links from the Society of Authors' page, it won’t cost you a penny extra, but each time you shop that way the Fund will receive a small contribution.

This is all part of us supporting our own. These are terrible times and it is important to make sure we look out for each other. If you, or anyone you know, need help from the Fund you can find the paperwork on the Society of Authors website. Membership of the Society is not a condition of application, but I will always advise authors to join as the legal advice and support is priceless as are the networks and guidance.

Please support the Fund because by doing so, we support each other. In these hideously uncertain times, there is only one certainty and that is that we are stronger when we stand together.

Dawn Finch is an author and library activist and the current chair of the Society of Authors' Children's Writers and Illustrators Group (CWIG)

Please support the fund in your tweets by sharing events and information using #StepUpForAuthors

You can access all the necessary forms for the Fund here.

For more information and ideas for fundraising and supporting the fund, click here.

Friday, 7 August 2020

Free Stuff – Creator choice or user expectation? By Dawn Finch

Copyright Gecko&Fly

As we move into the next phases of managing the pandemic, we can now take the opportunity to lick our wounds. It seems to be within the nature of children’s writers and illustrators to want to make the world a better place and I wasn’t surprised to see so many of you offering up your time and materials for free. I know that this made lockdown a lot easier for many parents and there’s even a chance you might have had a few sales from this.

But the grants for self-employed people are drying up, and so are the opportunities. It’s looking increasingly likely that schools will have neither money or time to book many digital visits and events for the next year or so, and this means that author’s already fragile incomes are about to take the worst hit of all. It’s time to think very hard about whether or not you want to leave all that free stuff out there.

You are going to hear me talk about this a lot over the coming year. As chair of the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators committee, I know that this situation is going to require some very specific support. This has been something that the committee has been talking about right from the start. We know that there are concerns that are bigger than just the technical matters of a digital visit.

CWIG are working on a way of giving you advice for this, but when you are making and booking your digital visits, please don’t be afraid to be very specific about how that video you are making will be used, and what you are giving permission for. Have you given them a video that they are free to roll out to every school in the Academy chain? Have you given them permissions you are allowed to give? Have you given them rights to repeat-show that video in perpetuity? We work with words, but why are we so bad at getting things in writing? Why do we just assume we can trust people to respect our permissions if we don’t respect them ourselves?

These might seem like a thing that doesn’t really matter, but why would School B book (and pay for) a digital visit if they can just get a copy of your video for free from School A? If you talk about all of your books and do a generic-age workshop, your video won’t age for a few years so why would anyone pay you to come back when your next book comes out? How much are they going to pay you for different versions of your video? Live stream with chat and interaction is one thing, specially recorded video is another? Get it in writing! Don’t be afraid to pin down your conditions.

I meet and work with hundreds of authors and my main grumble with you all is that you’re too damn nice! It is absolutely essential that you feel empowered to ask for payment and conditions because you are entitled to it. It is also extremely important that you do not feel pressurised into giving your work away for free. Yes, I’ve said this before and it certainly won’t be the last time I talk about it.
CWIG are also examining creative income streams and looking at how we can support authors to find ways to pay the bills, and to carry on writing and illustrating and generally making the world a better place. We’d love to hear your creative methods of earning money related to your writing and illustrating. Drop me a line in these replies, or head over to twitter and send me a message.

I’m also hoping that we can encourage those authors who already have super-massive platforms to stop and think before they give so much stuff away for free. There is absolutely nothing wrong with giving your work and time away for free if you feel if will amplify your work and your career, but it should always be done because you choose to and not because of end-user expectation. I am hoping that some of the biggest names in children’s publishing will give up #EveryTenthTweet to amplify the work of some of the smallest. Imagine if those huge names started sharing work by lesser-known authors, and linking to their outlets. I know the power that they hold and that endorsement could relate to genuine sales. I’m not just talking about newbies and new books, I’m talking about bringing light to all authors currently languishing in the shadows. It’s time for the biggest names to take a step sideways and let the light flood in.

The future is certainly going to be a challenge for authors in every field, but as children’s authors used to be able to look to school visits and events as a significant part of their income, there are going to be particularly tough times ahead. This means we need to really pull this family together and support each other even more. Let’s amplify each other, support each other’s work, and most of all let’s all make sure that people remember to #PayCreators

Dawn Finch is a children’s author and librarian and the current chair of the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group committee (CWIG)
@dawnafinch

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Small Wins, by Dawn Finch

Every month I write this blog. The 7th if every month is my day and I’ve not missed one yet. Every month I post here about something to do with children’s books, or children’s reading, or libraries, or activism and how to change the world.... Every month, no matter what, I manage to find something to write about that I hope you’ll find interesting.

#SmallWins
But here’s the thing, I’m burned out. The fire and fury of the last few months have burned out every last bit of imagination and creativity. I find myself tapping away at a game of penguins instead of doing anything useful or productive. Yesterday I sat with a book in my lap and read the same paragraph repeatedly while watching the rain. I lost two hours like that.

#SmallWins
Obviously, this sounds like the classic signs of depression. As a diagnosed and carefully monitored depressive I know all the signs of the Dog when it bites, but this is something different. This deep and still melancholy is more akin to that felt by the wild bird who no longer batters itself against the bars or the pony that shivers but wears the bridle. This is the sigh and the sadness of passivity. It's the malaise of not feeling angry, of helplessness. Everything feels insurmountable and it’s not even making me angry anymore.

I’m not looking for sympathy here,  what I’m actually doing is saying I’m okay with this. I’ve had the therapy in the past and I have the tools to deal with this. The thing is, I know I’m not alone feeling like this. In fact, it would be a very damaged person who didn’t feel distress or helplessness in this situation. I know I'm not alone in watching my income go from Barely Anything to Absolutely Nothing overnight. I'm not alone in realising that the life I had before is now gone and replaced with something I can't yet identify. I'm not alone in wondering if I'll ever earn any money writing again. Some people have been uncomfortably successful in monetising this crisis, but I'm guessing most of us have not.

#SmallWins
I’m taking a deep breath every day and hoping the next stage of all this is not too destructive. I am done beating myself up because I can't fix the world. Maybe I can just fix my little corner of it. Slowly. I've hand-delivered over 300 free packets of seeds all over town (I curate our Seed Library) and have helped to get our wee bookshop safe to open again. I managed to prune the allotment trees all by myself. Those are definite small wins, that feel like big wins.

Let’s all accept that we’re feeling crappy and that for most of us creativity requires freedom of thought and we don’t have that right now. Let’s all forgive ourselves for not leaving Lockdown with three new novels and a shiny new portfolio, or an immaculately redecorated house and while being fluent in a new language

I think we should all make more fuss of the tiny things we’ve been achieving and accept that they are, in fact, BIG THINGS because of the huge difficulties we’ve all faced. Let’s all look to the small wins and acknowledge that if 2020 felt like business as usual, we weren’t doing it right.

Share your #SmallWins with me on Twitter and let's spread some positivity @dawnafinch
#SmallWins

Before CV-19, Dawn Finch was (and hopefully will be again) a writer and library activist. She is the current Chair of the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group (CWIG), and didn’t expect her first year in the role to be this challenging. She grows lovely fruit and veg and makes a fine sourdough.
www.dawnfinch.com

Sunday, 7 June 2020

“Pay Me” is not an offensive term, by Dawn Finch


Copyright Gecko&Fly

I’ll be honest with you – I love free stuff. Who doesn’t! Getting something for nothing when you live on a wage low enough to make people on regular wages spit their tea is absolutely the BEST. If I can score a bargain or a freebie, I’m there.

However, as an ethical shopper I will never push for a discount from people who can’t afford it. In small shops and independent retail outlets I won’t ask for a discount, and I’d never expect those people to give me something for free. The same goes for creatives.

The Lockdown has seen a huge rise in creative people giving content away for free. Every day I see another author, illustrator, poet, singer, actor etc offering up a video or other content free of charge. Amazing, what a hugely generous thing to decide to do. Sadly, I am also seeing a huge rise in expectations that everyone can afford to give away their content for free. In preparation for writing this article I did a bit of research just on Twitter and found endless requests from people directed at authors asking for free stuff, or for them to hand over permission to perform or reproduce their works free of charge.
Copyright Gecko&Fly

I am very concerned that there seems to be a shift towards an expectation of free content, and that it is somehow selfish or greedy for creatives to ask for payment for their work. I see creatives who are afraid to say “no” for fear of bad publicity. I’m also seeing creatives who have already had their work taken and reproduced online without payment or permission, and they are afraid to look like ogres if they ask someone to take it down.

There has never been a tougher time for people in the creative industries. Incomes were already incredibly low (and opportunities slim and fragile) and when the virus hit, many creatives instantly saw their incomes vanish. Having been shoved off the gangplank into the deep and cold waters of the digital world, creatives rapidly adapted and began to seek new income streams. Virtual visits and talks, digital content, recorded presentations of materials – all showed potential for a new way of digital working and of earning a living. Then the free stuff started flooding the market and the demands for free stuff ramped up.

We all want to support our audiences, and we felt a strong emotional need to reach out to them. Sharing our work when we are locked down felt important because it allowed us to feel in touch with real world – the world outside. Many of us felt that without our audiences, are we even still creatives? The need to maintain contact with our audiences was (is!) vital not just to our incomes, but to our own mental health and wellbeing. We love what we do and we fear that being taken from us! We also wanted to do our bit to help people and to support in any way we could. 

Unfortunately, as the weeks ticked by, people found the demands for free stuff overwhelming and felt hugely guilty when they needed to say no or to ask for payment The most important things to remember here is that this should always be a choice, and that it’s not greedy or selfish to expect payment for your work. You should never feel bullied into giving away your rights or permissions, and absolutely never feel ashamed for needing to put food on your table.

This isn’t always easy, so here are a few tips - 
  • ·     Make sure you have a set of rates in mind for reproduction of your work.  You can set these as you see fit and the Society of Authors has a page with loads of advice to help you set these. You can find those here - https://www.societyofauthors.org/Advice/Rates-Fees
  • ·         If someone (be it individual or organisation) asks you for free stuff, be realistic. There may well be times you want to do something for free because you know the organisation or you feel that it may be mutually beneficial – but be honest with yourself. People die of “exposure” and it doesn’t pay the bills!
  • ·         Don’t be afraid to refer someone to your publisher or agent, and if you are a member of the Society of Authors you can always double-check with them.
  • ·         If you do provide permissions (or digital content) make sure that you are fully aware of what will happen with the content. Is it freely available via open access? Are people paying to see it? Is the platform showing your content making money out of it? How widely is it being reproduced? Can it be re-recorded and shared by others?
  • ·         Think about how much you are giving away for free. Is it an entire work (poem, picture book etc) or is it a sample? Is someone using your work for entire lesson plans? Is it a simple reading, or a whole performance?
  • ·         Is the work yours to give? If you are a picture book writer, have you sought permission from the illustrator too? If your book was written on a single book contract, do you have permission to share it at all? Does your publishing contract allow you to give your work away for free? If you have an agent, what do they think about you doing work for free?
  • ·         Check your contracts. If your publisher is planning on doing something new with your work (such as making it open-access or turning it into digital content) check what your rights are. If this is a new version or format of your work, you may be entitled to either veto it or to claim a fee. Once again, this is a good reason to join the Society of Authors as they can check your contracts for you.

A very important thing is to not feel bullied into this. This is your income, your career and you have every right to expect to make a fair living at it. Just because you enjoy what you do it does not mean you shouldn’t be fairly paid for it.

Dawn Finch is a writer and librarian and the current Chair of the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group committee
www.dawnfinch.com
@dawnafinch

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Carnegie Greenaway and THAT virus (or The Party Doesn't Stop Here) by Dawn Finch


Sadly, it was announced earlier in April that the wonderful celebration in June for the announcement of the winner of the Carnegie and Greenaway Awards has been cancelled. However, this does not mean that the CKG itself has been cancelled – far from it!

The announcement itself will still go ahead as planned on June 17th with a big media splash. This is definitely something we can all get involved in thanks for this new digital world. If you are not already following @CILIPCKG on twitter, now is the time to do so because as the announcement date rolls closer the team will be tweeting about their favourite past winners, and there will be lots of things linking out to the current shortlists.
The 2020 CKG shortlists are definitely something to shout about.

If you would like to get more involved, why not take a look at some of the winners and shortlisted titles from the past 84 years and let people know why you feel a personal bond to that title. Did Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome make you take up sailing? Are you a dancer because someone gave you a copy of Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild? Do you still look under hedges because of The Little Grey Men by BB? When things go missing in your house do you blame Mary Norton’s Borrowers?

Support the announcement and online celebration for #CKG20 by writing about the winners and shortlisted titles that you remember most, and sharing that on twitter. We are hoping to raise enough digital noise to have a twitter takeover in the days up to the announcement on June 17th.

You can find a list of previous winners on the CKG official website (www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk) and Wikipedia has a good list of all previous awards including the shortlisted titles for both the Carnegie Medal and Greenaway Medal. I would also recommend reading our own Paul May's brilliant blog posts on here as he's been rummaging through the CKG archives for the last few months. These articles have been a joy to read and lots of times have made me remember books that show just how high the standards are for these awards.

The changes forced on the CKG process by Covid-19 are not all bad though, it has forced something into play that could be highly beneficial for both schools and authors. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the CKG for most of us working in the field of children’s reading is the Shadowing part of the awards. This is where the books are read by pupils in schools who then discuss the titles and pick their own favourites. These votes are pooled and the CKG panel reveals who are the Shadowers’ Choice Award winners. As Shadowing can’t currently take place, the CKG team have decided to roll the Shadowing Scheme into October. This will give everyone in schools a chance to get the shortlisted books in and to see who will be the winner chosen by the Shadowers. This will be announced during Libraries Week 5-10 October.

Having the Shadowers’ Choice Awards in October means that we will all get a chance to properly engage and focus on the shortlists (and the winners) and schools will have the opportunity to really celebrate books and reading. I would strongly advise authors (and school librarians!) to be ready for National Libraries Week and really make a time to share a joy of wonderful books. This would be a great time for author visits and so do keep your diaries handy!

To support and engage with the whole process – from the weeks running up to the announcement on June 17t to the Shadowers’ Choice Awards announcement during Libraries Week – follow @CILIPCKG on twitter and keep an eye on the CKG Awards website. Tweet using the hashtags #CKG20 and #BestChildrensBooks

Just because we can’t be together on June 17th, doesn’t mean the celebration of children’s books has to be put on hold!

Dawn Finch is a writer and librarian and trustee of the Chartered Insitute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). She is also the current chair of the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group (CWIG) and wishes she was Nancy Blackett dropping anchor from the Amazon and climbing Kanchenjunga.

@dawnafinch
www.dawnfinch.com
www.dawnfinch.co.uk

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

The Podful Truth... by Dawn Finch


Like most people, I went into this lockdown with the best of intentions. Oh yes, I was going to finish that novel and start another. I was going to complete all that research I had roughed out in my notebooks. My whole house was going to be redecorated and cleaned, and oh all sorts of stuff. I was going to come out the other side of this with a spick and span house and a whole bunch writing done, and probably speaking another language. I've been working from home for years so this should just mean I have even more time away from meetings and stuff. That should be fine... right?

Well, that’s not exactly been how things have gone, and I’m pretty sure that’s not how things have gone for most of us. I very quickly found that the uncertainty and the Cold Dread and the lack of sleep would make a mess of all my plans. Stuff was cancelled (including publishing dates and events), meetings and conferences delayed or gone completely. Travel and visits to family, all gone with no idea when those plans can be remade. This was not "business as usual", this was something completely different and I didn't have the tools to deal with it.

A new way of thinking was needed and I decided to throw out the entire new “working from home” plan and to stop feeling guilty about it. I took a week to settle myself into this new way of living and instead of making grand plans, I made small ones. Lots of tiny achievable things like growing tomatoes, and baking a good sourdough, and finding out what that smell is in the larder. Stuff like that.

The first step of my plan was to reduce my watching of endless news reports and social media scrolling. I was finding that it was akin to picking a scab and my mental health was suffering. I limited that to a look at the news every morning to see if any rules had changed, and then a look at the website of the National Allotment Association in the evening (I'm the Secretary of our allotment association and I keep a careful eye on those guidelines too) Instead of wading through repeated news and depressingly rising numbers, I decided to continue my explorations of podcasts. 

Anyone who has also dipped their toes into the murky waters of podcast listening has probably discovered the same thing as me. There are some truly excellent podcasts out there, but there are also some absolutely awful ones. I mean, I know there is some poor quality tv in the world but even that looks classy next to some podcasts. Some podcasts are so poor they defy description and are so bad they are not even funny.

This virus has certainly thrown us all in the digital deep-end and I suspect a lot of us have quite fancied the idea of doing a podcast of our own but aren’t sure where to start. Many of us have stumbled across the appalling ones and that’s put us off even trying. There also seemed to be hundreds and hundreds of people offering conflicting advice. I thought I’d have a hunt around for something a bit more accesible, and a bit more reliable.  I have written in the past about MOOCs for authors and FutureLearn have a brilliant new online course for anyone thinking of starting podcasting.

It’s a free two-week course with lots of advice on things like writing narratives, potential pitfalls and the tech you might need. The thing I like about FutureLearn courses is that you will also have access to a forum of other people doing the same course. I think this is one of the most important things about these courses right now because it means you can all chat about something you have in common that isn’t… well…y’know… that other thing. The course officially started on April 6th, but has many start dates and you can start at any time and you have access to the course materials for four weeks.

Give it a go, and maybe see if there is something else on there that could keep you occupied and positive for a while. You can dip in, and drop out if it doesn’t suit you. No pressure, and if something dazzlingly creative occurs to you while you're doing something else... brilliant.

Dawn Finch is an author and librarian who is currently filling every windowsill with seedlings and not decorating.
@dawnafinch
www.dawnfinch.co.uk

Start Your Own Podcast course from FutureLearn - click link to register


Saturday, 7 March 2020

Celebrating Reading for Pleasure, by Dawn Finch

With the dust of World Book Day barely settled I’m hoping that everyone is entering the weekend mulling over the wonderful times they’ve had. Now, before anyone throws anything at me, I know that not every school visit is wonderful for authors, but I do believe that the overwhelming majority of school visits find you in welcoming spaces where reading for pleasure is not just a box ticked on WBD, but something that is celebrated all year round. We know the schools I’m talking about, the ones where the school buzzes with excitement about books and reading. The schools that make us feel like shouting about how wonderful they are.

This brings me to the CWIG Reading for Pleasure Award. Children’s writers and illustrators visit thousands of schools every year and see a wide range of approaches to teaching literacy and encouraging reading. We meet teachers and librarians who are doing exceptional work and the CWIG group at the Society of Authors thought it was about time we had a way of showing schools how much we appreciate their work towards a culture of reading for pleasure. To do this we came up with the Reading for Pleasure Award. This is the perfect time of year to ask you to start considering who you might put forward for one.
Brian Abram nominated Parklands Primary School (pic credit Chris Dyson)
If you visit lots of schools, you will know when you have come across a school doing that little bit more – maintaining the library at all costs, making strong links with the community library, encouraging peer-to-peer recommendations, working with reluctant readers, running book clubs or reading groups and putting on mini-festivals or literary and illustrative activities - all sorts of things that go beyond the remit of the curriculum. Schools celebrating reading for pleasure not because they have to, but because they want to.
Sita Brahmachari nominated Little Green School (pic credit Little Green School)
Join us in rewarding those schools that go the extra mile in encouraging children to read for pleasure.

Here are the FAQs for authors from the Society’s website.
How many awards can I give?
CWIG members can honour, via the SoA, schools with 3 awards from now until 13 August 2020 (although summer term visits can have an extension of four months). You must have visited the school over September 2019-July 2020. Schools can receive more than one award from different authors. Welsh schools will receive certificates in English and Welsh.

Who can nominate?
SoA members only.
Awards can be given to any nursery, primary, secondary or special schools throughout the world that an author has visited (either virtually or in person) during the 2019/20 school year.
Members can reward schools with an award in whatever combination they like e.g. one primary, two secondaries.

When do I submit details?
This scheme operates on a rolling basis, so members can reward schools in whatever order or timing that suits. You could spontaneously gift your award immediately after your visit when you feel really inspired; or leave your decision to the end of a term or the school year. We would prefer early nominations to sustain interest in the award throughout the year.
This year’s deadline is 13 August 2020.

How do I nominate?
You will need to send contact details to the Society of Authors along with a citation (no more than 150 words) detailing why you are presenting an award. An optional paragraph of why the school deserves the award and images would be appreciated for publicity purposes. Please complete the form on the Society of Author's CWIG website.

Let’s use this year to celebrate the good things, the happy things, the things that make us smile and make us feel like this is all worthwhile.

Dawn Finch is a children's author and librarian, and current chair of the Society of Authors' CWIG committee. 
@dawnafinch
www.dawnfinch.com

You can read more about the CWIG Reading for Pleasure Award on the website.
Link here https://www.societyofauthors.org/Groups/Childrens-Writers-and-Illustrators/Reading-for-Pleasure-Award

When tweeting about the award, please use #CWIGAward #readingforpleasure, tag @Soc_of_Authors and mention the school, librarian, staff or headteacher. If the award is given around an annual event or local festival you may like to mention that too, e.g. World Book Day, National Libraries Week etc. 

Sample tweets:

I’ve given @school @librarian/teacher a @Soc_of_Authors #CWIGAward for their work inspiring #readingforpleasure.
Congratulations to @secondaryschool @librarian/teacher for their @Soc_of_Authors #CWIGAward for their amazing promotion of #readingforpleasure
I awarded @secondaryschool @librarian/teacher a @Soc_of_Authors #CWIGAward for developing #R4P. Congratulations, you are an inspiration!

Friday, 7 February 2020

Words on a Wire - a look at literary podcasts. Article by Dawn Finch

Okay, I’ll admit that I’m a late arrival to the world of podcasts. These independently made audio documentaries, plays, quizzes and discussions have been around for a good few years now and there can be few people who are unaware of the power and reach of things like real-crime podcast examinations.  As a stalwart radio listener, I tended to stick to what I knew. A bit of gentle (!) cajoling from my offspring and a bit of an explore and I quickly became a convert.

As a writer we are always drawn to things that are listed as “For Writers” and this was definitely the case for my first foray into the world of podcasts thanks to excellent articles on here from both Alex English, and Dan Metcalf. Instead of retreading that ground I thought I would do an occasional piece looking at one or two literature-related podcasts that you might have missed. These will all be podcasts with a literary leaning and are informative, but the focus here is going to be on them being interesting and entertaining rather than educational. I’ll leave the examination of educational and career developing podcasts to others better placed than I.

The two podcasts I’m going to chat about today are Shedunnit, written, hosted and produced by Caroline Crampton, and Words To That Effect which is written, hosted and produced by Conor Reid.

Artwork credit - Rebecca Hendin
In Shedunnit, writer and researcher Caroline Crampton examines and explores the world of classic detective fiction. Crampton packs a lot into each twenty-minute episode but does so with such an easy and listenable presentation style that it never feels rushed or crammed. Each episode focuses on an element of detective fiction from the Golden Age and how that relates to the genre as a whole, and the world in which the genre developed. The episodes cover everything from real-life notorious historical murders and the impact they had on writers, to the methodology of teaching sleuthing today. Add into this the fact that Crampton has the perfect voice for this and you have a winning podcast. Somehow Crampton has managed to make these podcasts sound like she’s (ever so gently) talking just to you. This gives the broadcasts a kind of confidential authority that is very pleasing. There is plenty here for the fan of classic detective fiction, but if you have never read any you won’t find too many spoilers and where they exist there are warnings.


Words to that Effect was launched in 2017 by writer and researcher, Conor Reid, and is an examination of the way the written world and “real” world overlap. An extraordinary range of subjects is covered, some familiar ground such as Conan Doyle’s spiritualism (always interesting) but some incredibly fascinating new ideas too such as transhumanism and AI. The podcast is based on solid research and Reid invites a wide range of experts as guests to broaden the discussions. This is not a podcast that only examines fiction as a Reid describes it as a “show about the intriguing places where fiction, history, science, and popular culture intersect.” Once again, Reid is a presenter with a very listenable voice and each episode is compelling. I particularly recommend the very first episode where Reid and guests examine why a group of famous British authors secretly met at the outbreak of the First World War.

Both of these podcasts have useful websites where you can find out loads more information about each episode and stuff like how to listen, and how to support the shows. It’s worth remembering that podcasters like this are relying on donations and support from sponsors so do check out their “how to support” pages and lend these independent creatives a helping hand.

If you are looking to give podcasting a go there are lots of books (and podcasts) out there, but I would suggest keeping an eye out for regional events by writer’s groups and from the Society of Authors.

I will revisit this subject every so often throughout the year and will try to highlight some of the smaller podcasters that you might have missed. The world of podcasts is not dissimilar from the world of self-publishing in that there's a lot of brilliant stuff out there, but there's also a lot of dross. It can be really difficult to find interesting things to listen to. There are endless magazine articles out there about podcasts but many are sponsored. For a good regular roundup of other podcasts, I recommend listening to Miranda Sawyer’s BBC Radio 4 show, In Pod We Trust. This is broadcast on a Saturday morning, but available to download at any time via Iplayer. The show is handily themed each week so you can listen to episodes based around podcasts specific to your interests.

You might also want to read Dan Metcalf's excellent look at scripted drama podcasts - you can find that by clicking here.

Dawn Finch is a writer, librarian and library activist and current chair of the Society of Authors'  CWIG committee.
@dawnafinch

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

We're (not) going on a book hunt, or "How to stop tracking and learn to love reading again", by Dawn Finch


As you can imagine, I read a lot of books. I won’t bore you with the numbers, but trust me, it’s a lot.
A lot.

One of the questions I’m asked a lot is how I track my reading. It’s a conversation that comes up time and time again. There are endless online discussions about the various methods of tracking reading. People use spreadsheets, Goodreads, specially designed journals, and even apps. This week I saw a whole discussion about how to set your “annual reading goals” and track your progress towards your targets. A bit of a scroll through various hashtags and trends and I realised that there are a lot of people out there talking about how many books they are reading, and how quickly they are doing it. It’s all got a bit competitive, and it all felt a bit like school.

Last year I realised I was spending more time writing and speaking about the wider benefits of reading for pleasure, than I was actually doing it. There I was passionately speaking about how reading for pleasure improves your mental health and wellbeing, but most of the reading I was doing was for review or research purposes. When I stopped to think about it I hadn’t actually chosen a book purely for pleasure for months. That’s not to say I hadn’t enjoyed a lot of the books I was reading, but most of them had been chosen for specific purposes other than pleasure.
Last spring I decided it was time to practice what I preach.

First, I needed to look at my working hours and to consider reading for review and research as properly part of my work. This meant removing all work related reading from my evenings and weekends. I had been squashing review reading in at all sorts of times. As soon as I framed it in my mind as actual work, I stopped feeling guilty about setting an hour or two aside for it during the day and that meant I got more of it done.

The next step was to trim down my review reading and now I feel less guilty for saying no to requests for reviews. I set myself a limit for how many books I review at any one time, and I don’t break that rule. I never give bad reviews (in over 30 years working with books I’ve never found the need to review books I dislike) so I simply don’t finish books I’m not enjoying. This brings me to my next liberating moment – I never tell people what I’m currently reading. I only talk about books I enjoy when I've finished them. I don’t have it as my email footer, and I don’t put it on social media. That takes the pressure off, and I don't feel as if I'm trying to impress people or prove a point.

In the evenings, on holidays, while travelling, and at weekends I read for pleasure. I go to the library as often as I can and I choose a book simply because it catches my eye. Sometimes I get something because I’ve been chatting to the librarian and we read very similar books. If someone I like recommends a book to me, I pop a request on the library app before I forget – and then I forget until it appears. I don’t beat myself up for not finishing books, and I don’t feel as if there are any books I ought to read.

As for tracking…. I don’t. I stopped tracking all of my reading, even the review reading. I have a digital copy of all the reviews I've ever done so I don’t need to keep a note other than that. I do quite often find I’m halfway through a book I’ve read before, but that doesn’t matter and I don’t care if I read something again. It's not a race or a competition.

I’ve found that all of this means that last year I estimate I read about a third more books than I did in the previous year. At least I think I have, but as I don't track them I'm guessing. Ditching all my formal tracking definitely meant I read more, and I read a hell of a lot more for pleasure. I found myself looking forward to the evenings and the book I was reading for pleasure, rather than feeling nagged by the “to be reviewed” pile.

I always say that I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions, and this year is no exception. So I won’t be setting myself reading targets, or goals. I won’t be compiling a list of “must-read” award winners, and I won’t be checking to see how many of the “100 classic books” I’ve read. I’ve nothing against people who do track their reading, or who have targets, but it’s no longer for me.

I will be listening to people I respect and get on with, and giving their choices a go. I will be chatting to the librarian, and the people I run the bookshop with and giving their suggestions a go. I will be allowing myself to relax and really enjoy reading purely for pleasure.

Dawn Finch is an author, librarian and library activist, and bookseller.

If you are interested in the wider benefits of reading for pleasure, the report below contains links to all the evidence you will ever need.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Ssshhh, don’t tell anyone – impostor syndrome and the activist author by Dawn Finch



I’m just about to take over a role that I feel wholly unqualified for. This month I take over from Shoo Rayner as the next Chair of the Society of Author’s Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group committee. The committee has a long and illustrious list of former members and Chairs. Award winners and celebrated (and famous) writers, poets and illustrators have held this position. Shoo is proper famous, and amazing and an inspiration.

And now me. What on earth am I thinking? Imposter syndrome is kicking in big-time right now. I mean, I’ve never won anything for my books, or even been shortlisted. Sure, my non-fiction books are in pretty much every primary school in the country, and on the curriculum, but I’m no Carnegie winner. I’ve never had anything turned into a movie, or a tv show, and I’ve never had publishers bid in one of those six-way auctions things. I’m not famous, and my bank account shows that.

Who the hell am I and what am I thinking?

Well, maybe some people will know me from my library activism. Maybe some will have heard me on the radio talking about national literacy or library campaigns. Maybe some will have read my articles in the newspaper, or used my resources on degree courses. Maybe some will have been among the crowd when I’ve given speeches. Maybe others will have been at events where I’ve been talking about the rights of the reader and the rights of the people who create for them. Maybe some will use my reference materials for research, maybe others will have been on training courses I’ve delivered.

Maybe I can do this. I’m not as big a name as some of my predecessors, but I know I have the support of them and I have a world of experience around me to lean on and to turn to. I have the rest of the committee and the Society and all the members and together we can keep on making a difference.

Maybe I’ve got this.
Maybe we all have.

Dawn Finch is a children’s writer and library activist and the new chair of the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group (CWIG)

Join and support the Society of Authors and protect your rights, and help to protect the rights of others.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Bad Bosses by Dawn Finch



I have had many bosses in my time, and have been bullied by a few of them. I’ve been made to do things that were not in my job description, and I’ve been treated like dirt and even driven to resign more than once. None of these bullies even come close to the worst boss of all – me.

Since I went freelance and self-employed a few years ago I have fallen foul of the worst kind of employer treatment. I am a hideous employer. The worst. I almost never give myself a day off and even insist that I work on public holidays like Christmas.  I forced myself to work through weekends, birthdays, family occasions etc. On the rare occasions, I do take a holiday, I still work through. I get no sick pay, or holiday pay, and even if I am sick… I still work. If I ever take a break I spend most of it feeling guilty for not working and know that when I return to my desk everything will have stacked up so I’ll have even more to do.

Working from home means that I don’t have a staffroom or colleagues around me. Facebook is my staffroom and I love nipping in to have a chat and a cuppa. I look at people’s photos and “meet” up with old friends and make new ones. Twitter is my picket-line, and over there I campaign for libraries and literacy. There I support library workers and writers and stay in touch with everyone else working towards similar goals. I love a bit of social media and, if you work it well, it can be a wonderful tool.

But it eats up time, and the more you do it, the more it requires of you. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – it is always there, and people need replies quickly.
I had to be quick.
Quicker…
Quickest…

But this wasn’t about the real world, it was about me and most of this was in my head. This was actually me putting pressure on myself to be perfect. To work harder. I wasn’t getting either emotionally or financially rich doing this. The harder I worked, the poorer I seemed to get. I was not only getting sick, but I was doing most of my work for free and was not being as useful to anyone as I should be. I was overloaded with things I’d agreed to, and I wasn’t finishing things. I was late with deadlines and was forgetting important things. I was getting sicker, and depressed, and angry.  I had to find a way to change this.

My mental health was being torn apart by my need to keep going and to reply to every message, and every email. I was gradually breaking down. Without realising it I was becoming sicker physically too. I hadn’t paid attention to my own physical health and had failed to deal with a medical problem that might have killed me.

(Spoiler – it didn’t.)

Lots of things made me reassess the kind of employer I am. I was a union rep for a long time in my workplace and if any of my colleagues had come to me with the kind of grievances I have, I would have recommended a formal complaint followed by a tribunal. Why was I doing it to myself? Everyone knows that a happy employee performs better, so why was I trying to drive myself into the ground?

I knew I had to do something about it, and in January last year I decided I had to force myself to take back control of my life. I decided to look at my life just as I would a real job, and to try to treat myself with more dignity and respect. I wanted to reassess my life and give myself some more quality time and a better work/life balance.

This was not easy. Library campaigns and writing deadlines don’t go away at the weekends. Things happen that need replies, government documents sneak out late at night or just before bank holiday weekends, tearful library workers email late at night and they deserve replies, huge stacks of board and committee papers won’t read themselves, journalists ask questions that require immediate answers or they say something else. Things happened that I felt I had personal responsibility for.
But something had to change

I went offline for a day. I had to hide first of all because I knew my mean-assed employer would nag me until I weakened and went back to work. That meant that I had to go somewhere I knew I had no signal. My first escapes were windswept and rainy places where I was absolutely sure that even if I totally guilt-tripped myself it wouldn’t make any difference.
That little “no signal” thing is surprisingly liberating.
That little thing worked, and it started me on a bigger thing.

As I mentioned before, I’m not rich. In fact, I’m far from it. I looked on social media at all the things that other people were doing to relax: fancy holidays, shopping, spa days, makeovers, meals in expensive restaurants…. I couldn’t afford those. I don’t drive, so my escapes were limited to where I could walk, or what I could afford on the train. I can’t afford lavish meals out, but I can afford a sandwich, and I can afford to fill my little flask with tea. I don’t have the money to travel in the lap of luxury, but my old walking boots have new laces, and they’ll do for me.

Now, every weekend I go offline and shift from the virtual world to the actual one. I don’t switch on my laptop, and I don’t open emails. I’m not saying I threw out social media altogether. I’m still a solo worker so I still want to chat to people. I spent a few months sorting out my Facebook and made an announcement stating that I was shifting my campaign work to Twitter and that people should follow me there if they want only that. I warned people that my Facebook might now become a thread of “books, reading, hedgehogs in baskets and sarcastic jokes”. People seemed fine with that. At the weekends I now avoid emails and Twitter, but I still hang around Facebook a little bit.
A very little bit, because mostly I’m up a hill, or a cliff, or slightly lost in a forest.


This brings me to #SandwichOnTheKnee

I started taking pictures of where I was eating my little sandwich because I wanted to encourage other people to stop being crappy employers and to treat themselves with a little more respect. I wanted other people to take time for themselves in any way possible. I’m pretty sure we would all make a stand against people treated poorly by their employers, why do we treat ourselves so badly? Why do we tolerate it?

Join me in my #SandwichOnTheKnee campaign. You don’t have to sign anything, or pay anything, or make a banner – all you have to do is make time for yourself in a simple way. Doesn’t have to be a sandwich; it might be a bit of fruit, or a bar of chocolate, or just a bottle of water.

#SandwichOnTheKnee is more of a symbol than an actual sandwich (although I will still be making my sandwich). It’s about climbing your own hill and taking time back for yourself. All you have to do is remember that you matter and that it’s time you took back time! Drag your eyes from the screen to the horizon, and feed your brain with a blast of fresh air. Right now, with all that's going on in the world, I suspect this is more needed than ever.

Tweet me your photos using the hashtag. It might take me a while to reply. I might be up a hill.
See you there.

Dawn Finch is a children’s author and library campaigner. She is a trustee of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) and is Chair of the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group committee (CWIG)
You can find her on Twitter as @dawnafinch or with a #SandwichOnTheKnee