Blog in 12 2010.
The Government have cut their funding for Booktrust, the charity that gives every child in the country free books.
Cutting this funding is idiotic in so, so many ways. If you haven’t already read this letter from a girl who had to write her book report about Yellow Pages, because it was the only ‘book’ her parents had in the house, please do so. It’s heart-breaking. I’m a writer. I need books like I need air. Reading that letter just makes this cut feel all the more like the government turning off our children’s oxygen supply.
Quite apart from just being the mark of a civilised society, there’s the small matter of the cut being utterly self-defeating. Home reading has such a profound effect on literacy, emotional development and indirectly things like exclusion rates, that it seems pretty obvious that every penny the Government ‘saves’ by cutting the funding will inevitably have to be spent fixing stuff further down the line.
There’s been much big talk recently from the Government about ‘nudge’ theory: thinking smarter about identifying the small triggers that can ‘nudge’ people towards making big positive behavioural changes in things like diet or exercise.
It’s doubtful, of course, that anyone in the Government is reading any of the hundreds of outraged letters, articles, blog posts, tweets or comments against this cut. (They’ve proved they’re not much into reading, after all.) But maybe, just maybe, they could understand a little better if we use their jargon:
Putting a book into the hands of every single child is an astonishingly powerful nudge:
It’s a nudge towards literacy.
It’s a nudge towards empathy.
It's a nudge towards confidence.
It’s a nudge towards living a better life.
It’s a nudge towards imagination.
It’s a nudge towards creativity.
It’s a nudge towards all we want for our children, our society, our economy.
It’s a nudge you were already doing.
It’s a nudge you have exchanged for a shrug.
We’ve just discovered Peppersmith. They make ‘fine English chewing gum’, and they do a fine job at telling people about it. Their website is worth a visit. And if you get your mitts on a pack of their gum, take a good look at the words. Our favourite bits are the ‘Moustache Heroes’, (little stories about notable, moustache-sporting persons from history) and the list of ingredients.
‘*Xylitol is also known as wood sugar (‘xyl’ is Greek for wood – think xylophone).’
Learning while you chew. Nice.
It’s National Plain English Day today.
It’s a Good Thing, obviously. Plain writing is better than jargon-filled gobbledigook any day.
But there’s something about the word ‘plain’ that bothers me.
Sometimes people say in workshops ‘oh yes, we do try and make our writing plain.’
They never exactly say it with much enthusiasm.
And who can blame them?
Who ever called a friend and said ‘It’s love at first sight! She’s just so... plain.’
Have you ever said to someone ‘that meal was lovely. Really plain food.’
Who the hell wants to be plain in life?
So why on earth is ‘plain’ good enough for our writing?
Especially these days, when your words have to fight for attention in the daily blizzard of emails, or you need to write a speech or presentation to inspire your team in these tough times.
Don’t be plain. Be brave. Be Bold. Be interesting.
Plain? It’s for crisps.