Summer 2019

Pleasure and partnership

By James McConnachie, Editor

The children’s books publisher, Egmont, recently published a report on reading for pleasure. The activity, it argues, has beneficial effects on society, parent-child bonding and children’s educational attainment and wellbeing. It is also... pleasurable. And yet it is threatened. Less than 30% of under-14s, the report says, now read for pleasure every day. The pleasure deficit is blamed on screens, which eat up leisure time, parents, many of whom stop reading to their children as soon as the child is literate, and schools, where ‘the curriculum makes reading a subject to learn, not something to do for fun’.

The SoA has been campaigning in support of reading for pleasure for years. Authors can nominate schools for a Reading for Pleasure Award, for instance. This scheme is run by the SoA’s Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group, and it is clever, celebratory and altogether lovely. I tend to believe, however, that children learn by imitating their parents. Parent modelling, the psychologists call it. And when I see train-loads of adults absorbed by their smartphones where once they were buried in their books and newspapers, it is hard not to come over all Jeremiah. If you never see an adult reading a book for the fun of it why would you imagine it to be something you might do yourself?

Schools can help, though. How they might do so, with enlightened leadership, is sketched out for us by Kate Clanchy, in an extract from her recent book. I am proud to publish it here. Clanchy teaches poetry at an Oxford secondary school, and she argues, from experience, that children learn to write not by learning to be little critics and budding grammarians, not by developing their use of fronted adverbials or deploying as many adjectives as they possibly can, but by imitating great writing. By reading – and reading for pleasure.

Clanchy has to balance teaching writing with actually doing it, of course. The strain that can produce, and how to manage it, is tackled for us by Shelley Weiner. She finds that the effects are not all negative, though; working with young writers can also be inspiring.

So much for working with children… What about that other notorious ‘no’, animals? The novelist and former zookeeper Polly Clark has tried it. She describes her extraordinary research into the Amur tiger, and how its Siberian habits of solitude and vengefulness shaped her recent novel. The only creatures harder to work with than children or tigers, you might think, are authors. We are not known for our complaisance and tractability. Judging by Dan Brotzel’s article on author-collaborators and writing partners, however, this reputation might be unfair.

This issue offers lots more, including an interview with Philip Pullman and our usual practical articles – including one on submitting poetry to magazines and another on trying your hand at audio drama. We also offer a final collaboration. For five years, now, I have commissioned leading book designers to guest-design our covers, responding to the themes explored within. This Summer cover is by Mark Ecob, and it celebrates the partnership between author and artist, between text and image. It is a partnership that is vital to the success of our work, and too often unsung.

James McConnachie | @j_mcconnachie

Cover image by Mark Ecob, who writes: 'Borrowing and echoing ideas as a kid was important in finding my own voice, as was the space to do it at school under the eye of some brilliant teachers. So I was inspired by Kate Clanchy’s article – and sad to learn that writing fiction and poetry at school is in decline. My intertwining DNA-shaped pen and brush illustration is intended to convey the message that we all borrow and reform ideas. It also celebrates the partnership that designers and writers have in creating beautiful books. We should pay forward what we took when we learned to be creators, because tomorrow’s artists will need ideas to copy and borrow from, so that they in turn can make things to be proud of.’

In this issue


  • Sing me one back by Kate Clanchy
  • Imposters by Kayleigh Keam
  • Sacred Fridays by Shelley Weiner


  • Sent to Siberia by Polly Clark
  • Better together? by Dan Brotzel
  • Scandal and delight by Mark Piggott


  • Diary of a writing nobody by Pete May
  • Making the cut by Robin Houghton
  • Don’t forget to shut the door by Neville Teller


  • Need to know
  • Letter from Canada by John Degen
  • Ask an author by Philip Pullman
  • To the Editor
  • What’s on
  • Industry news
  • Notices
  • Grub Street by Andrew Taylor