“But have you actually made any money yet?” someone said to me.
It’s a question that certainly makes me think about my motivation for what I’m trying to do. And I know that it’s not about the money. So what is my motivation?
I’ve never been a money-oriented person. Yes of course it’s very useful, and the bills need paying, but money has never been my goal for doing anything – I surely wouldn’t have been a school librarian if it was! My motivation is simple: I want to share my passion for reading with as many children as possible. The idea started with bookchat. When I was working in schools, I noticed lots of children who wanted to read, but didn’t know how. Not ‘how’ as in the mechanics of reading, but ‘how’ as in, how to choose a book. Have you ever seen very young children play football for the first time? They’re like bees round a honey pot; they all follow the ball not knowing what to do. It was like that in the library; a child would pull a book of the shelf and a whole group of children would follow that child holding the book, nervously laughing and not knowing what to do or where to look. They simply didn’t know how to choose books and were so uncomfortable with them, it was somewhat heartbreaking. It became absolutely clear: we need to teach our children how to choose a book.
It sounds so obvious and maybe it is, but it’s not happening enough, not unless the school is lucky enough to have a library/trained librarian, or there happens to be a teacher who is an inspired reader, or a parent who reads avidly. And sadly, we know this isn’t the case for many children. No one has the time. So this was the beginning of the idea, and in October last year I left my job to start The Book Activist…..gulp.
Whenever you have an idea for something, you write a plan. I like planning; see my slightly scrappy mind map – which has been on that board for six months! That brainstorm again made me realise it was bookchat that was at the centre. But then you panic and think ‘Will it work?’ ‘Will people get it?’ ‘Will I be able to do it?’ ‘Am I barking mad?’ and yes, ‘Will it make any money?’! Thank God for my lovely family and close friends being on hand to encourage me in those doubting moments. As a very smart bear once said “always remember you’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think” (Winnie-the Pooh, A A Milne). I hope so!
I have this huge desire to open the door of reading to children and show them the wonderful stories just waiting for them; to help teachers support children in schools, recognising that teachers have so much to do, they can’t find time for books, even if they want to; to show parents the amazing resources there are to help them guide their children as readers. Talking about books to children; listening to their interests, worries and concerns relating to reading and then simply recommending books based on that conversation is the way forward. And it works. I know it does.
‘You’ve reignited his love for reading’ one Mum said; another said ‘Bookchat has truly transformed her appetite for reading and her reading habits. She was immediately enthused, and started reading that very evening”. It’s these things that keep me going and keep me motivated. Even if it is one child at a time.
I’ve spoken/emailed/tweeted/facebooked more about books in the last few months than I ever have. It’s great, I love it! I’ve also spoken/emailed/tweeted/facebooked many people in the ‘world’ of books – and yes, there’s many more to contact – and mostly, I’ve had a great response (thank you everyone!). Okay, so not all have followed up on their interest but you just have to keep plugging away at it. And hold tight to the positive replies – “I’m inspired by your vision” one lady at Scholastic very kindly said. “It sounds like a brilliant idea and just what is needed” Jonathan Douglas, National Literacy Trust. “What a wonderful thing” Neil Gaiman (a name drop here and there helps!). I’ve attended events, made ‘connections’ and got some lovely books to use as samples and review from publishers (thank you!). I’ve also got a few authors who have been SUPER supportive and I can’t thank them enough. But sometimes I’ve been sorely tempted to throw my iphone, ipad, laptop across the room and never look at social media again! It gets under your skin.
As does endless research into grant funding, community interest companies, social enterprise, charity status, trading laws, rules and regulations. A fast reader I may be, but I sometimes wish I could read like Johnny Number 5 in the movie Short Circuit…I know that I need this knowledge to ensure bookchat can reach as many children as possible. Schools don’t have money to spend and some might consider it a luxury – which is terrible in itself, as we all know reading is at the heart of learning. It can be very frustrating at times but “anything worth doing is devilish hard to do.” (Henry James)
I know you have to be flexible and ‘see where the wind takes you’. So that is what I’m doing. It’s quite hard working on your own. I’ve been self employed before but not in this way, starting something completely from scratch. So distractions can get in the way of things. My house has never been so clean and tidy… ‘I can’t possibly work with an untidy sock drawer/under stairs cupboard/man drawer!’ A fellow self-employed friend shared how clean her pantry always is; it’s good to know I’m not the only one.
Distractions aside, I am learning not to be too hard on myself if I do have an ‘off’ day. Reading for me is one of life’s essential ingredients and so many children haven’t discovered this. If anything is worth doing it is this. I know that if I hadn’t taken this leap I would have always regretted it, so here I am. Travelling bookcase at the ready!