Monday, 27 April 2015

Why I’ll still be voting Green, despite their crazy copyright policy.

I don’t usually use this blog to make political statements, but as a Green Party supporter I’m concerned by the way the party has been criticised and attacked by many other authors and illustrators on blogs and social media in the last few days and wanted to show that not all authors and illustrators regard the Green Party as “morons”.

The furore is over the Green party’s current policies on copyright, as outlined on their policies website. The proposal that’s created the biggest fuss is the reduction of copyright to 14 years. Whether this is 14 years after creation or 14 years after the creator’s death is the subject of some disagreement. The proposal to legalise peer-to-peer sharing has attracted less outrage, but seems every bit as problematic.

As a full-time author whose living is dependent on copyright, I’m not going to attempt to defend these policies. I think they show a lack of understanding of how many people working in the creative industries actually earn a living and appear to be a triumph of ideology over common sense.

I’m not a Green Party member and, although I have voted for them in the past, I’ve only done so intermittently, partly because of impractical policies like these. However, like any political party, the Green Party’s policies are subject to constant revision and over the last few years, as the party has grown bigger, I've noticed that such unrealistic policies are increasingly being supplanted by more pragmatic, properly thought through alternatives. Some Green Party members, including the MP Caroline Lucas, appear to have got the message that their current copyright policy is unsuitable and this morning the party announced that that it will be reviewing the policy at its next conference. However, this will not be until after the general election, which may be too late for some of the authors and illustrators who have said that they were thinking of voting Green but, because of the copyright policy, will now be voting for another party.

I will still be voting Green. Copyright is important to me, but there are far more important issues at stake in this election. And if the election results in a hung parliament and the Greens gain enough seats to have some influence over government policy, I don’t believe that revising copyright will be one of their top priorities.

I think it’s reasonable to assume that one of the Greens’ top priorities will be addressing climate change. This is just as well as, while the Greens may currently be inept on copyright, the last 20 years of government has clearly demonstrated that the other UK parties are inept on tackling climate change. And climate change is THE single most important issue facing our generation. Hundreds of thousands of lives have already been lost as a result of our failure to address it effectively and things will get far worse if our politicians continue to downplay its importance. Here’s how environmental organisation Greenpeace outlines the enormity of the problem.
Glaciers, permafrost and sea ice are disappearing. Sea levels are rising, coral reefs dying, seasons changing and extreme weather events becoming more common. The impacts of climate change are already responsible for killing an estimated 315,000 people every year and damaging ecosystems. And this is just the beginning - the science predicts that anything more than 2°C rise in global temperatures puts us on the road to potentially catastrophic problems. There will be more flooding, more drought, more disease, more famine and more war, creating hundreds of millions of refugees and causing the destruction of entire ecosystems and species.
While issues such as the NHS, the economy, education or the benefits system are important, in 50 years time our failure to tackle any of these effectively will seem trivial in contrast to our failure to tackle the threats posed by climate change. If we don’t get our act together soon, future generations will wonder how our generation could be so astonishingly short-sighted and selfish.

Authors and illustrators tend to be relatively left-wing in their views, so I assume that most of those authors and illustrators who have decided to switch their vote away from the Greens are planning to vote Labour instead. Unfortunately the Green party’s crazy copyright policy is more than matched by some of Labour’s crazy policies on climate change, such as those relating to the aviation industry.

This is what Greenpeace had to say about the last Labour government’s stance on aviation in its Blair and Climate Change – The Rhetoric-Reality Gap report of 2005.
The Government’s denial of the urgent need to tackle climate-changing pollution from aviation is probably the greatest failure of all. According to the Sustainable Development Commission, the growth in emissions from air travel threatens to negate any reductions made on the ground.
Currently aviation emissions account for 11% of the UK total. Aviation emissions will account for 25% of the UK total by 2030 – this will rise to 33% by 2050. The Government’s decision to commit to airport expansion, against Royal Commission advice, demonstrates an utter lack of consistency with its commitments to tackling climate change and an inability to take the real steps needed to address the problem.
The Labour party leadership’s extraordinary naivety regarding the effects of aviation growth were highlighted in a 2007 interview with Tony Blair in which the then Prime Minister admitted that he would be reluctant to give up his frequent holidays abroad to help tackle climate change. Blair went on to say that encouraging people to holiday nearer to home was “impractical” and suggested that we ought to look at making air travel more energy efficient instead. A chorus of engineering and transport experts subsequently made it clear how "impractical" Blair's own suggestion was, explaining that even if energy efficient airliners were to be developed immediately, it would be 20 years before they had any impact on the industry. Only 5% of the world’s population have ever flown on an aeroplane. Effectively Blair was arguing that maintaining the lifestyle of a relatively affluent, privileged minority was more important than saving the planet for future generations.

Labour's policies on aviation are as ill-conceived as the Greens'
policies on copyright, but have far more damaging consequences.
Despite climate scientists' increasingly urgent calls for tougher restrictions on carbon emissions, the Labour party continues to doggedly support airport expansion. The 2010 Labour manifesto supported the construction of a third runway at Heathrow – a move that was opposed by the Greens, the Lib Dems and even the Tories on environmental grounds. The 2015 Labour manifesto refers to a “need for growth” in UK airport capacity and the party’s current leader, Ed Miliband, has dismissed sanctions to curb aviation growth, saying that it would be wrong to impose targets on airlines.

Claiming that you're committed to tackling climate change, but are not prepared to tackle aviation is like saying you're committed to vegetarianism, but are not prepared to give up your weekly hog roast. One person’s transatlantic flight adds as much to their carbon footprint as a typical year's worth of driving. Unfortunately, studies have shown that UK air passengers are unlikely to change their flying habits unless they are made to do so. And, if we have a majority Labour government after the next election, it’s clear that this is not going to happen any time soon.

Despite their deeply misguided stance on aviation and climate change, I don’t think the Labour Party are "morons". I think they have got their aviation and climate change policy badly wrong, just as I think that the Green Party have got their copyright policy badly wrong. However the consequences of Labour’s ineptness on climate change will be far more devastating, which is one of the reasons I will be voting Green rather than Labour next month.

Another reason I’ll be voting Green is that policy comparison websites such as Vote for Polices and Verto have told me that the Green Party’s policies across a wide range of areas are more in keeping with my own views than those of the other parties. I’m a supporter of the Fair Admissions campaign which aims to end religious discrimination of students and staff in UK state-funded schools. While the Greens and the Lib Dems support the campaign, Labour and the Tories do not, so this is another area where I think these other parties have got their policies badly wrong.

So that’s why – despite a crazy copyright policy that’s clearly not in my personal interests – I’ll still be voting Green. I hope that other authors and illustrators who are concerned about climate change will be able to see the bigger picture and consider doing the same.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Silver Serpent Cup • Round Hill School Edition

The Silver Serpent Cup illustrated by Ed Eaves and the Round Hill School Edition.

I have a new picture book coming out next month called The Silver Serpent Cup. The version you can buy in the shops is illustrated by Ed Eaves who also provided the initial inspiration for the story (more about that in a future post). However this post is about another very special version of the book that was illustrated by the children of Round Hill Primary School.

Round Hill is my local primary school and both of my children went to it. Last year Gina Bore, the school's literacy co-ordinator, got in touch to ask if I would get involved with the school’s book week. We talked through a several ideas and the one that took Gina’s fancy was based on a day-long illustration workshop I occasionally do in schools. In the standard workshop, I spend the whole day working with a single class. At the beginning of the day, I present the children with a picture book text. Then I teach the children some of the principles of character design and illustration and they spend the day producing a class version of the book, with each child illustrating an individual spread. I use texts for picture books that are currently in production, but have not yet been published to avoid the children having any preconceptions about how the finished book should look. At the end of the day, I show the children roughs or final artwork that the real illustrator has produced for the actual book.

Gina wondered if we could extend this activity over a whole week and have the whole school (more than 400 children) illustrating the book. I wasn’t sure how well this would work, but I said I’d be happy to give it a go. In the end, it worked brilliantly!

The book week was in February. I introduced the project to the whole school in an assembly on Monday morning, read them the text and gave them a few very basic tips about book illustration such as “Beware of the gutter!” Then I spent some extra time with the year 6 classes giving them some more in-depth advice. Every child in the school produced a spread, endpaper or cover design. Each teacher selected a complete set of illustrations from their class to make their individual class edition, so we ended up with 12 different editions of the book. I then chose at least one spread from each class edition to go into an overall Round Hill School edition.

This was quite a Herculean task, so when I went in to collect the class editions, I wasn’t sure what I would find. Fortunately the whole school had got behind the project. The children were buzzing about it in the corridors and Gina had a stack of impressive class editions for me to take home.

The school had already whittled down the illustrations into 12 class editions, which left me with about 200 spreads to choose the school edition from.

A set of illustrations for 6H's class edition

It was a tough job selecting the spreads for the overall school edition and I had to leave out lots of excellent illustrations. I was really impressed with the original way in which many children had chosen to interpret the story. And the children who had been working on the book’s cover had written some really appealing blurb to go on the back. Eventually I settled upon a final selection which I bound together to make the school edition.

The Round Hill School edition

Here are some of the spreads from the school edition, with Ed’s illustrations for the regular edition shown beneath them.

Lauren's cover had a lovely detailed drawing of Mole's tunnelling machine on the front
and some very engaging blurb for the back.
Jack's illustration style for this train spread reminded me of David Tazzyman who illustrates the Mister Gum books
Rabbits class used eye-catching collage for all their spreads, including this one by William.

We wound up the week with an assembly on the Friday afternoon, just before the school broke up for half term. After showing the children the illustrations I’d chosen for their school edition, I showed them the illustrations that Ed Eaves had done for the actual book. The children were really impressed by these and were able to appreciate Ed’s artwork all the more having spent some time creating their own versions.

Here's me revealing the illustrations I'd chosen for the school edition …

I’d explained at the beginning of the week that we would choose one spread from the school edition as an overall winner and that the spread’s illustrator would win a copy of the actual book, signed by me and Ed, along with a dedication in one of my future books. I’d decided that, as the book’s illustrator, Ed was much better qualified to make this decision than I was and he announced the winner via a live FaceTime video connection during the assembly. 

… and here's Ed announcing the overall winner via FaceTime

The spread Ed chose was this endpaper, showing all the different vehicles. It was a collaborative effort by Otter Class, so we awarded the prize to the whole class.

The winning spread was this endpaper created by Otter Class

The project would have worked nearly so well if the whole school had not got behind it so enthusiastically, so I’d like to say a big THANK YOU to all the young illustrators, their teachers and TAs and Gina who did such a terrific job of co-ordinating the project in the school.

The Silver Serpent Cup is published next week by Oxford University Press.

Click here to find out more about the book.

Buy this book at amazon UK Buy at amazon US 

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Derbyshire Literature Festival events – Clay Cross & Dronfield Libraries, Sat 16 May 2015

If you live near Clay Cross or Dronfield Libraries in Derbyshire you might like to come along to one of my free events for this year's Derbyshire Literature Festival. I'll be reading my new picture book The Clockwork Dragon, illustrated by Elys Dolan, explaining how the story came about and we'll be making some 3D dragon masks.
Here's a quick description of the story:
The Kingdom of Rodney is being terrorised by Flamethrottle the dragon. Fortunately Max, a young toymaker, and Lizzie, an armourer, are more than a match for this man-eating monster and the two of them come up with a clever plan to drive it away.
Here's a trailer for the book:

And here's me wearing one the dragon masks we'll be making. Come along to one of the events and you too could look just as handsome as this!

The events are suitable for children aged four to eight.

TICKETS ARE FREE and can be booked at any Derbyshire library or online using the links below. 


Saturday 16th May
Clay Cross Library 
10.30 am - 11.30 am

Holmgate Road, Chesterfield, Derbyshire S45 9PH


Saturday 16th May
Dronfield Library 
1.30 pm – 2.30 pm

Manor House, High Street, Dronfield S18 1PY


Visit my website to find out more about the book