Black Writer

A lack of authentic stories: the consequences of monopoly and monopsony in publishing

By Tom Perrett

Earlier this year, author L.L. McKinney started the Twitter hashtag #PublishingPaidMe, calling for authors to share the advances they had received for their books. The results revealed that Black authors with well-established fanbases still found it difficult to secure advances, as Jesmyn Ward, for example, the first woman ever to win 2 National Book Awards for fiction, stated that she had to “wrestle” her way to a $100,000 advance even after having won the awards.

Publishers typically only offer authors high advances when they are convinced that the book will sell, as according to Constance Grady, authors typically receive royalties of approximately 10% of book sales. The amount an author gets in advances is determined by a subjective judgement on how well the book is expected to sell, according to profit and loss calculations. But this is filtered through a lens of each editor’s biases, reflecting the tastes of the management sector and upper echelons of the publishing industry. These financial and commercial barriers to entry are particularly punishing in the United States; low salaries of around $30,000 are combined with requirements for publishers to live in places such as New York City or Los Angeles, with astronomical living costs. As a result, those who typically work in publishing are those with alternative sources of income, or rich families, and these are the people determining which voices are heard, and which are excluded.

The monopolistic nature of the publishing industry means that, in the absence of genuine predictive data for the projected success of a book, publishers have nothing but precedent and the word of editors on which to base their judgements, meaning that books are likely to be selected on how well they can appeal to a white, middle class target demographic, and which books cover genres that are already popular.

To rectify this problem, it has been suggested that the commissioning, editorial and managerial positions which are overwhelmingly occupied by privately educated people are occupied by groups not traditionally represented in publishing, allowing the decisions about which books are marketed and which authors receive advances to be made by a diverse and representative body. This may also help to broaden the scope of the subjects that emerging authors can write about, as at present, the need to appeal to the aforementioned demographics creates a lack of interest in authentic stories, with writers encouraged to appeal to the preconceptions of a voyeuristic audience.

But it is not only at the most senior levels within publishing that these disparities exist; it is at lower organisational levels that substantive change must take place. Publishing is intimately connected with sales and marketing professions, who bear much of the responsibility for the promotion of new books. The BWG (Black Writers Guild) have cited the representation of Black professionals in these areas as an important element in improving the presence of Black voices in publishing, but this applies to the industry more generally. Within retail, book purchasing remains a centralised, monopolised affair, as an increasingly small number of firms wield an increasingly disproportionate amount of market share, encouraging the purchase of a limited range of books by authors who already have a reputation for lucrative sales. When combined with the white and middle-class demographic that publishing appeals to, it is unsurprising that the monopsony control over the book distribution market by a few firms is such a significant contributor towards the disparities within publishing.

This is not only a result of the demographic of the sales and marketing professions, but the underlying dynamics that drive the accumulation of Capital and the preclusion of high street retailers and smaller, regional establishments from being able to command large audiences, or justify paying high advances. Action, therefore, may have to be taken at the State level, as part of a broader initiative to widen participation in the arts and culture more generally, breaking up the monopsony of major buyers such as Amazon, and opening up markets to smaller, more independent retailers.


de León, C. & Harris, E. A. (2020) ‘#PublishingPaidMe and a day of Action Reveal an Industry Reckoning’, The New York Times, 8 June. Available at: (Accessed: 21 July 2020).

Grady, C. (2020) ‘Black authors are on all the bestseller lists right now. But publishing doesn’t pay them enough.’, Vox, 17 June. Available at: (Accessed: 21 July 2020).

Lee and Low Books. (2020) ‘Where is the diversity in publishing? The 2019 diversity baseline survey results.’, Lee & Low Books, 28 January. Available at: (Accessed: 21 July 2020).

Rowe, A. (2020) ‘Diversity in Publishing Hasn’t Improved in the Past 4 Years’, Forbes, 31 January. Available at: (Accessed: 21 July 2020).

Saha, A. & van Lente, S. (2020) Re:Thinking ‘Diversity’ in Publishing. Available at: (Accessed: 21 July 2020).

Modern Prejudice

Modern Prejudice: Some forms of discrimination are decried, whilst others are deemed acceptable

Steve Mcnaught writes of his personal experience and questions why some forms of prejudice go unchallenged

170919 152826 731 SteveMcnoughtjpg Modern Prejudice: Some forms of discrimination are decried, whilst others are deemed acceptable

‘Every person has a story’

Eight years to this day I was in a cell next to a murderer. He was serving a life sentence, having been sentenced when he was 17, and back then I remember looking at his face and wondering how he could ever be 28. A murderer – an act that might make you recoil; a man surely defined entirely by such a grievous offence. But his case had arisen from a drunken fight and a wildly thrown punch – he never intended to kill, yet had tragically taken a life.  In the cell next to him was a drug dealer, who had played a leading role in supplying MDMA (Ecstasy) across the South East. A drug dealer, but also a father of two young children and with no prior offences – driven into crime after a period of unemployment and alcoholism.

To define these people solely by their crimes, without looking at the circumstances that arose before in their lives, would be very easy to do. But such an act would be no different from picking up a book and glancing at its cover. You won’t know the story, just how it first appears.

Society consistently judges people who have fallen foul of the law, not just after they have been sentenced and put in prison, but even after they leave. Is it relevant that 72% of prisoners have multiple mental health difficulties (Prison Reform Trust, 2019); that in many ways they are products of a failing society, rather than emerging like some random nuisance with evil embedded in their hearts?

I went to prison for a series of armed robberies committed in my early 20s. I will not go into the circumstances around these, for they are written about extensively elsewhere (see ‘Just Sky’ and forthcoming book by Ben Machell, ‘The Unusual Suspect’), but I had never been to prison before. And I ended up spending 7 years in 23 American and British jails. What I witnessed in that time was not a line-up of hardened convicts. It was instead a microcosm of society at large, composed of people who had made the wrong choices, many of them having experienced abuse and victimisation themselves. A sizable proportion had come from fractured families, brought up in deprived areas, swiftly caught up on the conveyor belt of care home, borstal and prison. Few could read and write well; even fewer had a secure job lined up when they were due for release. Locked up for around 22 hours a day, a great many turned to drugs – a well-known route of escapism relied upon since their teens. The few prison jobs and classes available rarely offered real hope for successful reintegration back into society. Out of that environment, I was released, aged 28. Seven years of my life had passed. Society had changed. Support was few and far between, but some sources – like the Princes Trust and Crisis – offered a helping hand. I wanted to start afresh, but I also wanted to make a difference. I had seen, first hand, how writing could change people – not just the writers, but readers. It enabled a form of creative expression that bolstered confidence and self-esteem, enabling people to discover new aspects of themselves and acquire vital skills. Equally importantly, it could break down stereotypes and stigma towards people from disadvantaged backgrounds – even towards prisoners and ex-offenders – by conveying their stories to others. If a reader understands a person’s story, the former labels that were applied begin to slip away. Suddenly, that person becomes relatable. No longer a label or statistic, but a human being.

b2ap3 large prejudice in adolescence Modern Prejudice: Some forms of discrimination are decried, whilst others are deemed acceptable

Acceptable Prejucide?

For hundreds of years, those from minority ethnic backgrounds were actively enslaved, discriminated against and exploited. It continues, in varying degrees, to this day. The ‘rationale’ offered by those responsible for it varied from pseudo-science to warped social arguments. Yet, today, it is widely acknowledged by society that such prejudice is totally unacceptable.

One thing all forms of prejudice have in common is the failure to consider all the circumstances, background and potential of the person being discriminated against. They are instead judged upon some unchanging and arbitrary characteristic: the colour of their skin; the fact they may look or act different because of a disability; that they may speak differently or cannot afford the latest fashion in clothes. And so on. In other words, prejudice stems from an inability to put yourself in the other’s shoes.

When looking at today’s society, there is one form of prejudice that continues unchecked. It is completely acceptable for the media to support it; even for law makers and public authorities to embrace it. In every institution and level we can find evidence of it, to some degree.  It differs from all other forms of prejudice in respect to going largely unchallenged. Why? Well, like with the prejudices based on colour and other characteristics hundreds of years ago, there are ‘good reasons’ for having it. Only a progressive minority – as with hundreds of years ago – protests otherwise.

So what is this prejudice I speak of?

It is the discrimination against people with criminal records.

If someone transgresses against the rules of society, to some extent they should expect to face exclusion and discrimination. And in many ways the intensity of this exclusion should correlate with the seriousness of their crimes, as defined by the harm they inflicted on others.

And yet, unless we are to judge someone’s transgressions for their entirety of their lives, what is the point of that other principle that society also claims to embrace and support: rehabilitation? Where is the place for redemption where every person who finds themselves subject to the penalty of law can expect a life-term punishment, irrespective in many degrees to the nature of their offence? If we are to treat criminals in this manner, would it not be better just to execute them all?

The fact is, even this latter sentiment is embraced by some. And it all stems from a failure to understand – to cast another group as completely alien and ‘other’ to ourselves. The circumstances by which they entered crime are irrelevant. The behaviour they have demonstrated subsequent to their formal punishment under law is likewise void. What matters is some arbitrary label applied to them, based on a miasma of stigma and demonization: they are criminals.

What about in cases where a person may have broken the law in their youth, perhaps in exceptional circumstances, having expressed immense remorse and going on to turn their lives around? Taking it further, what about in cases where someone may go on to actively contribute to society – helping others who might take similar paths, reaching out to ensure others facing prejudice in all its kinds are able to overcome that?

You might think that, surely, these cases break out of that psychological and social barrier of criminality. Of course these cases are different, you might argue.

You would be wrong. The prejudice continues, regardless of a person’s circumstances before and after they committed an offence. One has only to consider that 82% of former prisoners have reported difficulties in getting employment because of discrimination regarding their convictions (UNLOCK, 2016).And amongst these statistics are personal stories, individuals trying hard, like every other citizen, to be part of society – but ruthlessly pushed out to its fringes. Some are more targeted than others, depending on the profiles they keep. But you can rest assured, if the media or general public find out about their past, it will be used against them – regardless of its relevance – at every turn.

Winston Churchill once famously said that: “The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilization of any country.”

He was right, yet if we were to judge present society by its treatment of crime and criminals we might find ourselves wishing to look away. People, as a rule, have an instinctive feeling for unfairness. However, the media – in large part owned by billionaires closely affiliated to right wing interests – consistently scapegoats and marginalises those groups who are easiest to attack. People with criminal records remain the Number One target, followed shortly after by refugees. There are many reasons for this, but a lot stems from the convenience of having a group of ‘irredeemable, violent reprobates’ who can keep wider society fearful, distrustful of each other and pliable to authorities.

Diversity Toolbox Modern Prejudice: Some forms of discrimination are decried, whilst others are deemed acceptable

If we are to be serious about social inclusion, why should it be totally fine to be prejudiced against one particular group, based on the same kind of reasoning that was used to discriminate against other groups?  It is very convenient to decry prejudice that is not socially acceptable, whilst embracing prejudice directed towards ‘fringe’ groups. Just because the press and those in power support such prejudice. Just because we don’t have the emotional or intellectual insight to put ourselves in the other’s shoes.

The alternative: condemn each person based on their transgression against the law at some point of their lives. Disregard the circumstances of this and the behaviour they demonstrated after the formal term of their punishment. Continue to exclude, discriminate and attack them at every opportunity. What you are left with is a cruel, dysfunctional society, one that would cast a whole segment of the population aside to its own harm, one where indeed most people who have offended go on to re-offend. Ask yourself what that society looks like, and you won’t have to look very far.

supporting a diverse

Supporting a diverse, independent publishing industry

The impacts of COVID-19 on all sectors have been immense, but perhaps one of those hardest hit is the independent publishing industry. Already heavily reliant on events to garner income, as well as book sales, with no dedicated financial support from the government, many small publishers across the UK are on the brink of closure.

Yet the importance these outlets play in society is immense. If the publishing landscape folds in upon itself, with only the largest and strongest companies surviving, all evidence suggests there will be a huge fall in diverse authors – not to mention those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The drive for profits and perceived commercial viability, arising from the stereotyping of those from privileged backgrounds who dominate the industry, means supporting diversity will have little priority.

People from Black and Minority Ethnic Backgrounds; those with disabilities; group who have direct experience of significant social exclusion, with powerful accounts to convey – all these (already under-represented within literature) will be pushed further to the sidelines.

Our charity, The Arkbound Foundation, has therefore launched a collaborative crowdfunding campaign, with the sole aim of continuing its key work with diverse and disadvantaged authors, whilst supporting the wider sector.

To find out more, please visit:

devided world

Publishing’s Disparities

By Tom Perrett

The regional, social, cultural and economic disparities in the publishing world are overwhelming, as the publishing industry remains dominated by a white, middle class, privately educated cross section of British society. According to ONS figures, 47% of British authors, writers and translators had professional middle class parents, in contrast to just 10% whose parents had worked in routine, manual professions. The Big 5 Publishing houses (Macmillan, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins and Hachette) are all based in London, with only the latter two having revealed plans to relocate staff outside the Capital. Given the astronomically high costs of living and renting there, and the necessity to work to supplement any internships or placements, it is unsurprising that the publishing industry remains such a nepotistic, exclusionary environment. Only the Northern Fiction Alliance, a network of publishers headed by Manchester’s Comma Press, has come close to challenging the dominance of the London-based publishers.

Sociologist Mike Savage conducted a study into how social, cultural and economic capital can be analysed together as a means of engendering class divisions, arguing that inherited networks of privilege and prestige have enabled white, middle class writers to monopolise the most prominent positions. The surveys carried out by the Common People anthology found a widespread belief among the writers that creative or literary pursuits were not looked upon as viable in many working class communities. The perception of working class identity as exclusively Northern and focussed around manual, practical work is rapidly becoming less accurate; automation and deindustrialisation have stripped communities of these professions, and tertiary, service-sector occupations are becoming more entrenched.

The importance of recognising the plurality of voices that make up British society through the medium of publishing cannot be understated; the recognition of a broad range of identities and experiences is a means of self-assertion for otherwise marginalised groups. In a world increasingly dominated by the interests of monopolistic multinational corporations that have stymied the opportunities for working class or BAME communities to have their voices heard (5 billionaires own 80% of the British media), it is crucial that other platforms can be utilised to foster a diverse, pluralistic portrayal of what the working class is really like.

Moreover, the 2019 election result and the collapse of Labour’s ‘Red Wall’ represented, in part, a frustration with not just a political establishment, but a perceived metropolitan, London-centric cultural elite. The decentralisation of publishing, and the ability for more working class writers from provincial towns and otherwise left behind areas, could not only provide a means of self-assertion and job creation, but a counter to the narrative of a bigoted, parochial and insular working class. A common refrain among right-leaning commentators was that winning back the ‘Northern heartlands’, required the adoption of a socially conservative, nationalistic worldview, reflecting an older section of the population. This indicates that the multiplicity of perspectives that constitutes the diverse working class areas across Britain is not being represented in its entirety.

Kit de Waal cites the work of Scottish writers such as James Kelman and Irvine Welsh and its role in capturing the experiences of unemployment and urban decay in Scotland when Thatcher closed down the mines, and the work of Thomas Morris, who chronicled unemployment and the precarity of work in Caerphilly. The recognition of the multitude of voices that constitute working class identity allows these stories to become commonplace, rather than playing into the expectations of a voyeuristic middle class audience, writing fiction which is tailor-made to focus on the exceptional stories. Dr. Anamik Saha, currently a lecturer at Goldsmiths, has noted that these problems also affect British Asian writers, as they too are often compelled to write constricting and one-dimensional narratives for the consumption of white audiences, that portray a limited vision of their experiences. The broadening of the publishing industry to include more such voices could potentially allow a greater authenticity and depth of writing to come to the fore.

The subject of the underrepresentation of working class voices in the publishing world is not a stand-alone problem; other industries such as retail, printing and marketing are affected by publishing, which is why the decentralisation of the publishing trade and its expansion into areas outside of London and the South East could create jobs and stimulate investment. The impact that publishing has on creative sectors such as film and theatre is also considerable; the dominance of the middle class and privately educated in the creative sectors is more entrenched now than ever before. But for as long as publishing continues to represent such a minute cross-section of British society, a multiplicity of perspectives, experiences and outlooks will continue to be neglected.

Asylum 3D Review of 'The Asylum' by Alice Shuttleworth

Review of ‘The Asylum’ by Alice Shuttleworth

‘The Asylum’ by Zahid Zaman, published by Arkbound Publishers in 2016, is a dark yet strangely uplifting journey down the rabbit hole of life within the walls of a modern day asylum, and one man’s ominous journey to rescue himself from the clutches of Hell.

Told by Zahid himself, a psychology graduate working within St Mark’s Psychiatric Hospital, this short thriller has a complex story which develops rapidly and keeps the reader guessing, with demon-possessed psychiatric patients, bizarre unexplained goings on at 6PM each evening, and inferences to a disembodied “Him”, leaving you unsure of what is fiction and what is reality and where one begins and the other ends.

This uncertainty is further compounded by Zahid himself, who early on in the story reveals that he himself has a complex psychological past of his own. As you delve deeper into Zahid’s strange new world at the hospital, you find yourself mirroring his feelings of paranoia and distrust as you try to discern who is friend and who is foe amongst the staff, patients, and unusual local residents.

Despite the sinister content, Zaman still manages to interweave a charming romantic element throughout the book, sweetly juxtaposing and giving moments of light relief to a sinister tale which pokes and prods at some of humanity’s darkest fears.

The shape of St Marks Psychiatric Hospital itself is that of a crucifix, and repeated references to the full moon, Lucifer, magic, and demon possession make this book a perfect read for fans of the occult and supernatural phenomenon.

At just shy of 100 pages in length, ‘The Asylum’ is a perfect ominous tale to read on a dark rainy night curled up under a blanket by candlelight for those of us who simply can’t resist a good scare – You’ll certainly want to make sure your doors are firmly locked after reading!

Many thanks to Arkbound Publishing for providing me with a copy of ‘The Asylum’ to review.

(Originally published at )

innovation in the publishing industry The Publishing Excellence Programme

The Publishing Excellence Programme

by Enya Holland

The Publishing Excellence Programme, developed by a handful of publishers to offer comprehensive work experience for those seeking a career in publishing or media, is currently considering new applicants. The Programme offers the opportunity to gain valuable practical skills as well as an insight into working within the industry from successful publishers across the country. Publishers currently offering the Programme include Arkbound (Bristol), Valiant (Birmingham), UpScribe (Newcastle), The Write Factor (North Devon) and Mother’s Milk Books (Nottingham).

The Programme involves one-to-one mentorship and is structured in modules covering the essential skills needed to pursue a career in the sector. Candidates can choose from an eight-week programme that focuses on several aspects of book publishing or a twelve-week programme that covers books and magazines and the basics of journalism.  Both programmes have been designed to allow the candidate to develop a first-hand understanding of the publishing process from start to finish. Modules focus on core skills such as proofreading and editing while building knowledge of processes from formatting manuscripts to managing author-publisher relationships.

Assessment of the programme is carried out throughout the placement, with either three or six core assessments depending on the length of the programme selected. Assessment tasks include manuscript proofreading, book reviews and short-story writing. Candidates will be provided with an embossed certificate on completion of the Programme, providing a useful CV-boost, as well as a detailed reference.

In addition to the knowledge and experience gained through the Programme, candidates will be supported in their next steps. This includes first selection for internships and roles within the host publisher or referral to partner companies. During the Programme, candidates will also have the opportunity to establish useful connections within the industry, with the option to work in different locations and take part in seminars and creative workshops. Some successful candidates have even gone on to start their own publishing outlets. The Arkbound Publishing Network is open to those who complete the Programme, offering guidance to those who wish to pursue this route.

The Programme is offered to those eligible to work in the UK with excellent written English skills and proficiency in Microsoft Word. Entry to the Programme is subject to the successful completion of two assessments. It may be possible for candidates to be sponsored for the Programme by Arkbound or another funding body, depending on eligibility.

book12 Bridging the Gaps in the Publishing Industry

Bridging the Gaps in the Publishing Industry

byFrances Golinski Drinkwater

The publishing industry is broad and ever-changing, attracting book-lovers and academics alike – anyone with a creative mind and an interest in communicating important ideas. The industry has faced huge pressures in recent decades, with rapid changes due to increasing use of technology: fewer people are now reading fiction – book sales in this sector fallen by 23% since 2012, and more people are accessing content online (digital sales increased by 6% in 2016 and now account for 35% of total revenues). Nevertheless, publishing, whether in books or magazines, is still a great place to work, offering wide range of roles in a changing industry.

However, publishing faces two major problems: it is highly competitive and there is a distinct lack of diversity – both in the writers being published and the professionals working within the industry. Perhaps surprisingly, publishing has a higher applicant-position ratio than both finance and law, so competition for jobs is tough. Without training, industry knowledge and work experience, even competent university graduates struggle to find paid work in the industry. Applicants may find themselves stuck in that common cycle of lack of experience leading to no job offers leading to lack of experience. Even those who do manage to land an internship, will likely find that it’s unpaid, favouring more privileged individuals who can afford to work for free. The statistics speak for themselves: in 2017, surveyed more than 1,000 people and found that more than 90% currently working in the industry classify themselves as white British.

Its not just the people who work in the industry who are overwhelmingly white – its also the writers they publish? In 2016 World Book Night, organised by the UK charity The Reading Agency, was criticised for its all-white author’s list of 15 giveaway books (their 2018 list is just slightly better, with 5 out of 23 writers of colour). World Book Day also issued its own all-white list of authors in Autumn 2016, along with the Carnegie Medal for Children’s Literature, who similarly failed to nominate any writers of colour to a longlist of 20.

Arkbound, the ‘publisher that has social enterprise at its heart’ confronts both of these problems. Founded in 2015, the Bristol-based publisher is dedicated to supporting aspiring writers and publishing professionals from disadvantaged backgrounds. Arkbound publishes authors who experience barriers to the industry – especially writers with an important message about society or the environment. It also helps individuals to launch careers in publishing.

Along with a small group of publishers across the UK, Arkbound has developed the Publishing Excellence Programme, which offers candidates valuable information about the publishing industry and teaches practical skills like proofreading, copy-editing, getting ISBN codes and contacting and networking with retailers. Candidates receive one to one tuition in the basics of both book and magazine publishing, they are assessed at the end of the course, and leave with a full reference, in-depth report and certificate. Arkbound also ensures that candidates are fully supported after finishing the course; those who complete the Programme will also be the first to be considered for any publishing positions and internships. Gradutates of the course may also be referred on to other, non participating publishers. In some cases, candidates may be directly recruited by a delivery partner after the course. In line with their commitment to improving access to and diversity in the industry, Arkbound can sponsor applicants from disadvantaged groups to cover the full cost of the course and their expenses.

The initiative is unique in combatting some of the barriers to entry in the publishing industry and providing practical and tangible results.

Arkbound also has an exciting new release from a ground breaking writer of children’s literature. Odiri Ighamre’s debut book Arcadia is a beautifully illustrated children’s story which celebrates the beauty of Africa’s natural environment and asserts the importance of conserving this beauty. Through the character of Timone, the story introduces children to contemporary environmental issues whilst celebrating diversity and imagining a truly magical fictional place.

Whilst it’s impossible to authentically tell stories which reflect the experience of every community in every part of the world, nevertheless barriers in the publishing industry are starting to be broken down. Hopefully publishers like Arkbound can play their part: by making a wider diversity of great and exciting literature more accessible to their readers, and also by opening up the publishing industry which supports it, to a more diverse workforce.

More information about the Publishing Excellence Programme
Buy Arcadia

92652871 thinkstockphotos 576896720 Nature Deficit Disorder

Nature Deficit Disorder

Words by Paul Thornycroft

Lucky me when, as a child, access to nature was straight forward.  With no stranger danger inhibiting my parents, I could I roam the wooded slopes that led down to meadows where a small stream meandered the woodland boundary.  This was the Wild Wood of “Wind in the Willows” fame, and the brook was Ratty’s brook, where he and Mole messed about in boats.  I haven’t visited this place for decades since the time that nostalgia drew me there to feel again my childhood haunts.  What I saw broke my heart.  The meadowland is now a motorway link-road, and the stream a foetid culvert choked with rubbish.

When I see nature brutalised I feel a deep, visceral anguish.  I feel loss, confusion and guilt, adding up to a feeling of abandonment–– but have I abandoned nature or has nature abandoned me?

In an everyday sort of way, we don’t notice losses to the natural world.  We admire technology and enjoy its fruits, finding reassurance in doing so.  But deep inside we know, when we care to look, that our wild desires are harvested and seduced into numbed fulfilment by the consumption of irresistible products, both material and ideological.  By these means our wild desires are muted and the anguish is somatised and normalised.

It seems that nature is defined by western culture as just another resource to exploit, use, abuse and control.  Sound familiar?  If it’s ok to do that to NATURE then surely, it’s ok to exploit, use, abuse and control everything, anything, anybody?  Not so.  That’s not what we want, but it is happening.

But how is it that western civilisation engenders this sense of human supremacy and entitlement at the expense of all other living beings, and cultures?  If we could examine this as a pathology, as if the collective were an individual, what do you think we would find?

As individuals we are conditioned by cultural metaphors from a very early age, perhaps even from the moment of conception, and yet children remain remarkably elastic in their imaginations until the realities of life constrain them.  They have an intuitive sense of the wonder of wild nature, and a hunger for this common source of nourishment, which, sadly, is no longer common nor abundant nor inexhaustible.  Many children have severely limited access to un-degraded nature, some none at all.  Sadly, for most, this becomes normalised.

Why should this normalising go largely unchallenged?  Do we really view nature merely as a resource to be exploited for our own economic advantage?  Perhaps we do, but not consciously; such deep rooted values come from the cultural metaphors embedded in our social mores, and in language itself, and these patterns of belief are cultural, not genetic.  We can change them if we choose to.

Nevertheless, the future looks bleak indeed.  Many young people are struggling, unhappy without knowing quite why, scanning the world for meaning and finding an absence.  Isolation, depression and anxiety have become normal, too, for a large number of older people.  And yet we seem to have no choice but to participate in a social and economic system that is degrading the natural world to a condition soon to be inhabitable only by machines, while humans live lives enclosed within urban norms.

Richard Louv, in 2005, wrote a book called “Last Child in the Woods” in which he coins the term ‘nature-deficit disorder’.  He states “Nature-deficit disorder is not meant to be a diagnosis but rather serve as a description of the human costs of alienation from the natural world.”.

Clearly, children benefit from spending time in wild nature, on camping trips, on adventure holidays and equine-therapy days.  We would all benefit from such activities.  But as Louv indicates, this goes much deeper and it is not just children that suffer nature-deficit disorder, it is humans of all kinds, it is society itself, and most significantly, it is Nature itself.

I recently came across a sentence that made me take notice.  “There’s something unsettling about being reassured in troubling times” (source not known).  This exactly resonates with my ‘deep, visceral anguish’.  Well, actually I feel no reassurance.  I’m clearly not consuming enough.  But if I could see back through time, I might see the beginnings of the patterns of culture that alienate us from the Earth, patterns that could be re-imagined.

I’ll need some help, need to look stuff up.  Learn how to shrink time.  I’ll report back.

Paul Thornycroft is the author of The Adventures of Horatio Mowzl, an illustrated children’s story that reflects on the impacts that human activity is having on the environment, whilst taking readers on a whirlwind adventure.

Follow Paul on Twitter, Facebook and his website for more blog posts, information about Mowzl, giveaways and competitions.

The Adventures of Horatio Mowzl is available to buy here.


Diversity and the Publishing Industry

Tom Weldon, chief executive of Penguin Random House UK, noted that the book industry will ‘become irrelevant’ if it continues to fail to reflect and represent the diverse range of voices within our society.

There are many reasons for this, including a lack of contacts within the publishing industry, low levels of confidence, poor experience of mainstream schooling and sometimes greater needs around developing young people’s writing. There are many under-represented communities within the book world, including individuals from poorer backgrounds, from LGBTQ or BAME communities, or writers with a disability.

‘The past 10 years of turbulent change affecting the UK book industry has had a negative impact on attempts to become more diverse’, Professor Claire Squire states in The Writing Future, and if the publishing industry continues down this path, it ‘risks becoming a 20th century throwback out of touch with a 21st century world’.

Attempts have been made to tackle the publishing diversity deficit; Random House launched its new #WriteNow Initiative aiming to discover and mentor authors from the UK’s most under-represented communities in 2016. Authors Sunny Singh and Nikesh Shukla created the annual Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour, an award that intends to ‘celebrate the achievements of British writers of colour’. Pioneering efforts by English PEN, the founding centre of a worldwide writers’ association with 145 centres in over 100 countries, who campaign to ‘defend writers and readers in the UK and around the world whose human right to freedom of expression is at risk’, matching writers with marginalised groups such as people in prisons, in refugee or detention centres and young people in disadvantaged areas. The Arts Council England dedicates funding to support writers from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, disproportionate obstacles to getting published for disadvantaged authors continue.

Whilst the rise of digital publishing and self-publishing services means that more writers can get their work published, there are still challenges in effectively stocking and selling books, which directly impacts what gets read. Promotion and distribution are challenges that self-published authors and even those with an independent publisher face.

The result is a gap or omission in whose accounts, voices and experiences are heard, causing common stereotypes to go unchallenged, or even reinforced by other, more privileged accounts who may misappropriate or misrepresent different narratives.

Literature plays a huge role in exploring the current socio-political climate and debate, reflecting on various aspects of society and highlighting the need for action or change. From the work of Charles Dickens to Zadie Smith, a book can really change the world. However, when some authors are excluded from being published and platformed, it is not only unfair to them as individuals but denies society the opportunity from accessing their unique perspectives.

At Arkbound, we recognise the diversity deficit in publishing and seek to address it by supporting authors from disadvantaged backgrounds. Founded in early 2015, Arkbound is an innovative and unique publisher that bridges the gap between contemporary and ‘vanity’ publishers by offering writers a chance to publish their work in a supportive and sustainable manner.

Supporting individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, Arkbound believes firmly in the power of writing as a healing and inspirational tool. Invested in developing creative talent, promoting social inclusion and breaking down barriers within the publishing industry, Arkbound is a publisher with social enterprise at heart. Many of our titles focus on under-represented voices and have supported authors working with charities like First Stop Darlington on Roofless and Emmaus for No Homeless Problem (to be published in April) to curate collections of poetry that looks at narratives of homelessness and the critical issues that are at the heart of current social and political debates.

Arkbound’s social enterprise efforts are centred around training individuals who want to enter the publishing world, offering alternative routes and equipping people with the skills and knowledge to make their dreams a reality. The Publishing Excellence Programme, launched in 2017, is just one way we try to ensure that everyone gets the opportunity to work in publishing, with many candidates carrying on to secure paid work placements. Our ‘Zooker Award‘ also endeavours to acknowledge debut books by diverse authors with an environmental or social message that encourages their readers to make positive changes, whilst Arkbound’s annual writing competition can sponsor entries from disadvantaged writers.

There is still a great way to go, with many challenges making things difficult to tell a range of stories that are truly representative of our time and society. Arkbound is committed to building sustainable futures for a diverse range of authors and will continue to keep bridging divides within the publishing industry.