Sharing what we learned: a series of blogs
At intervals during the 2021 – 2022 Megaphone Writer Development Scheme we asked the 50 + writers in Megaphone Community to share their views on how we, and publishing, are doing. We also carried out surveys at key points. We’re sharing our learning in a bid to amplify the voices of children’s and YA writers of colour. We would love other projects to share their learning too, so we can all improve. To give writers the confidence to speak, all comments are anonymous.
Megaphone was set up to help all emerging children’s and YA writers of colour improve their skills and confidence in writing for children. But how far are we really managing that?
1. What ethnicities did we actually reach?
We asked applicants ‘How would you define your ethnicity?’ rather than giving them a pre-filled list to select from. In order to present the data, we then took key words and created categories. With a small number of respondents (40 out of 60 applicants), this was practical.
We had applications from a good range of ethnic groups, as in 2016. Comparing the data from 2016 with that from 2021, the most significant change was an increase in people defining themselves as Black (British or African) from 29% to 43% of respondents, and a decrease in people defining themselves as Mixed or Other, from 25% to 12.5% . It is impossible to know exactly why this is, while other groups stayed roughly the same. However, it is interesting to wonder whether an increase in higher-profile role models for Black writers for children and teenagers since 2016 encouraged more applications from this group. In 2017, The Hate U Give, a hugely successful YA book by a Black American author, Angie Thomas, was first published, and drew increased attention as the Black Lives Movement featured in the media. Patrice Lawrence and Alex Wheatle, both masterclass leaders on the 2016 scheme, went on to win national attention for their work. Role models matter. Could these have prompted more Black writers to consider writing for children and teenagers as a career?
There was a very small increase in applicants from BESEA backgrounds, likely due to author and mentor Maisie Chan offering a place specifically for someone from this background.
2. Did we reach people of colour all over England?
As we had funding from Arts Council England, which has to benefit people who live in England, we limited applications to those who live in England. This is something we’d like to broaden in the future.
We were surprised to find that although we offered the scheme online (due to Covid restrictions), which we thought would broaden the geographic locations of applicants, in fact 26 out of 39 respondents lived in London or the South-East.
Possibly, this is because during lockdown, some of the regional communication networks for advertising the scheme to writers outside London broke down. Libraries (which are important for letting local networks like writers’ groups know about schemes like Megaphone) were closed, and small, writer-focused organisations that serve regions outside London were working under enormous pressure.
Although most people from ethnic minorities live in London, by no means all of them do. People of colour in the UK often have living roots and active connections across the globe, but also live in very specific, locally rooted, communities in the UK, in districts of cities and towns like Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol and many more. These can also be deprived and/or working class communities. Therefore, reaching people beyond London and the South-East is important for diversity of all kinds, and something we want to focus on in the future.
3. Who did we NOT reach?
This is a question every writer development scheme should ask itself. One thing to bear in mind is that promotion of the scheme and delivery was all online in 2021 – 2022, due to the Covid situation. Feedback from Megaphone Community on the value of being online was overwhelmingly positive. Writers told us it had made it possible for them to take part. Barriers posed by caring responsibilities, work commitments, cost and geographical location vanished. This is extremely valuable.
However, we need to remember that we only get feedback from those can access Megaphone in the first place – to access it, it was essential to be online and know where to look for opportunities like this. Delivering schemes online is brilliantly inclusive, but it can also exclude.
As being online – using Twitter and accessing schemes like this – is so important in becoming a published children’s author, many questions arise. At the start of the scheme, we bought an accessibility plug-in for the website, but is this enough to make it inclusive for disabled people of colour? How will we know if it isn’t? Do all the people who want to take part in Megaphone have appropriate technology to write a novel and reach an audience? Should we be providing training in using social media as a writer? Do all people have a quiet place at home to access Megaphone events, or would it actually be easier for some people to be outside the house? These are all questions we will be thinking about as we consider how to develop the next scheme.
We’d love to hear from other projects, whether you’ve found the same as us as or not. Questions and comments are welcomed at megaphone.write AT gmail.com and stay tuned for the next learning blog.