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Community spirit created these stay at home stories for children

By Barbara Henderson

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Right, that’s it. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

I’ve tidied my study, put on some make-up and brushed my hair. I am wearing a clean top, too.

Deep breath. I push the button to activate my camera.

Like most of us, I’m still getting used to this Zoom lark and sometimes navigating this brave new world of techno-encounters. Not long, and up they pop, one by one – writer after writer, like a bright kaleidoscope on my computer screen.

Soon we look like a giant collage of faces, smiling slightly awkwardly at one another. But there is a truly uplifting reason we are all meeting here together – it is the launch day for a new anthology on which all of us have been collaborating: Stay at Home – Poems and Stories for Children Living in Lockdown.

It has been hard to keep the secret. With so many challenging weeks of cancelled book festival appearances and postponed book launches, we all need good news. Many writers have been struggling to find the motivation to work, among financial worries and emptying diaries.

Stay at Home eBook Cover
Stay at Home eBook Cover

When the anthology’s editor, author Joan Haig, got in touch and invited me to participate, I didn’t have to think long. Some of the most well-known names in Scottish children’s publishing were taking part, including some of my absolute writing heroines, Lari Don, Pamela Butchart and Janis Mackay. Contributors hailed from across Scotland, from Shetland to Galloway. This project had kudos, diversity and a worthwhile cause – and plenty of positivity.

However, it also had a shockingly tight timeframe. Eeek!

As I’m a last-minute girl anyway, this proved not too much of an obstacle. Short pieces were all that was required, and there were many possible angles, both about life in lockdown and the world beyond. I set to work on a light-hearted story about kitchen haircuts.

Exactly four weeks after the idea first entered Joan Haig’s head, we were all meeting online to celebrate the e-book’s publication, and with a significant ‘audience’ too. Amazingly, it felt not unlike an actual book launch, with live readings (among them Highland-based Merryn Glover reading her poem Rainbows), the illustrator’s perspective and a question-and-answer session.

The schedule for the meeting, too, had to be tight – Zoom tends to cut off after 40 minutes. But if you want to enjoy an unhurried recording of the event, it should be available on the Cranachan Publishing YouTube channel soon.

Author Alan McClure summed up the spirit of the project perfectly. What have been some of the good bits of lockdown, he was asked during the event. "Some of the new connection I've made," he answered, talking about the new-found community spirit where he lives, about people genuinely being in this together and looking out for each other.

Evidently, the writing world is the same. Could I ever have envisaged working with such a diverse, talented, gifted, fleet-of-pen, motivated and generous group of people? The virus-world has brought us together, from yet-unpublished newcomers to veterans of the canon of Scottish children’s books. Forty faces but one picture, and 40 poems and stories, attempting to make sense of this strange collage of our lockdown world.

The generosity at every stage is inspiring too; all writers and the talented illustrator Darren Gates have given freely of their time and talent. The book has been edited and typeset for free, published for free and is offered to children, families and schools free to download.

If that isn’t writerly community spirit, I don’t know what is!

You can download the anthology from https://booksfromscotland.com/2020/05/stay-at-home-poems-and-prose-for-children-in-lockdown

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