DAY ONE of the CIEP CONFERENCE
Straight from three days (well, two and a half) at the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) conference into two full-on days in a client’s office…
And I am still recovering.
Also hugely missing the bubble of wordsmiths, litterateurs, scriveners, scribes, linguists, blue-pencillers, rewriters and book dilettantes (more on that word later).
The CIEP annual conference is a thing of wonder; I’ve attended two online, but this year voyaged to Glasgow to join in person. (If you can call two measly trains and a four-hour journey a voyage.)
Bumped into fellow delegate Helen Bleck at Dalmuir station, and we tottered* along to the Golden Jubilee Conference Hotel, making jokes about its handy location next door to the hospital. (Well, I made jokes. I shouldn’t make implications about the darkness or otherwise of Helen’s sense of humour.)
A few others who arrived slightly earlier at the hotel had taken the opportunity to join a tour to The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. I missed that, so instead bought a cup of tea and girded my loins for the speed networking session.
Loins definitely needed to be girded for that one-and-a-half-hour socialising sprint. I pity the fools whose loins were not sufficiently treated thus. It was Full On. (I’ve done speed dating before and while that was slightly more nerve-racking, this was definitely more intense.)
But it was a surprising amount of fun, and a great way to warm up the socialising skills. I immediately made connections with similar souls and it meant there were people I could smile at and say hello to whenever we passed for the rest of the weekend. Actually, the number of people smiling and saying hello increased dramatically throughout the two-and-a-half days.
After the intense getting-to-know-people came an hour of “social activities”. I thought the craft room looked interesting – I love a bit of painting and colouring in – so wandered in, somewhat dazed after the 90 minutes of chat preceding. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realised that, to engage in craft, one needed to bring the craft. Some others, for example, had brought their knitting. Next year, I will take a bag of colouring books and some Crayola pens.
A foray into the games room was similarly confounded when I realised I was too brain-fried to learn the rules of new games. An attempt to join a game of… lord, can’t remember its name. See, if I can’t remember the name of the game, how can I possibly be expected to learn its rules? It involved different colour cards with images and instructions on them, brains, rockets, something about winning the game if you had more than 10 cards in your hand…
I seemed to be the only person who didn’t have a clue what was going on…. No, I think there were one or two other learners but they were not slack-jawed and glassy eyed with the ineptitude of an exhausted novice. Or, if they were, they hid it well.
Anyway, having insisted I didn’t have a clue what was going on and watched with growing confusion as everyone else played their cards, I then won. Without even knowing how or why.
At this stage I realised my bewilderment and fatigue might cast a pall over the joy of the next game – some sort of Scrabble derivative – and I excused myself to buy some crisps and sit in the bar with some other editors. For, praise be, throughout the hotel were patches of editors – patches? Clans? Instances? – to whom one could attach, as a person falling into a fast-flowing river might flail and grab hold of an overhanging branch to save themselves from certain death.
It didn’t really feel like that. I’ve been reading histrionic books.
And then it was time to get changed for pre-dinner drinks and dinner itself. Pre-dinner drinks were spent chatting about pressures on the NHS with Cathy Tingle and Juliet Wilberforce. I needn’t go into details there because we all know them.
Dinner involved trying to espy the most intelligent-looking people in the room, because whoever we sat with would be our team for the postprandial quiz. I had been warned about the quiz. It was impossible, apparently. This didn’t worry me because I *love* any and all quizzes, despite being preternaturally bad at them. I don’t know whether it’s an uncharacteristic optimism I might suddenly remember everything I’ve ever read or just a joy of learning new facts all over again (facts I won’t remember beyond this night), but I get so much enjoyment out of quizzes.
I didn’t vet my tablemates at all but in the end I didn’t need to. I got lucky. I was seated with fellow East Lothian editor Philippa Tomlinson, a bevy from CIEP head office (Diane, Cecilia and Sarah), Diana Ben-Aaron and three others whose names I didn’t note. Gah. If I’d thought ahead to this report obviously I would have noted them. If I’d honed my socialising skills even the slightest bit, also I would have noted them**. Their names unremembered, their presence is not, and they were definite contributors to our team effort – though, in the end, we were all as nothing next to the encyclopaedic brain power of our final team member, Catriona Turner, who seemed to be a veritable machine of quiz facts.
She spat out answers within milliseconds of the question being asked. I was especially impressed by the speed of her answer to question two: Wilson (bonus point for Tony Wilson). Her knowledge of first lines of songs was spectacular.
I remember offering Antarctica; Manchester Utd, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Newcastle; and Paris (the French Open) as solutions to a few questions, but mostly my contribution was limited to nodding and telling Catriona I thought she was right about her answers. And we came fifth! Out of about 16 or 17 teams! “A very respectable result,” I announced proudly to the table. Proud, smug and entirely disregarding the fact it was mostly Catriona who had made us so respectable.
In a thoroughly out-of-character move, I then decided to head straight to bed so I wasn’t too tired or hungover the next day. (A somewhat naïve aim, since I’d had a white wine and soda and an Aperol Spritz.) I sunk into the enormous double bed in my wonderful room with a huge sense of satisfaction.
* Tottered in the sense that we were relying on my ability to interpret Google Maps (I couldn’t) and the differing opinions of two separate people who gave us directions.
** I have been reminded that one of my unremembered teammates was the aforementioned Helen Bleck. An absolutely memorable person! I'm a dimwit.
Next: DAY TWO of the CIEP CONFERENCE
Language, to all intensive purposes, is just a means of communication. But it really tests my metal when I’m given a poorly written piece. I mean, I don’t like to be a damp squid about people’s creative work, and it doesn’t have to come to me in top draw condition, but sometimes giving a writer free reign is just asking for trouble. But I won’t be a pre-Madonna about it. As long as the writer has passion, their work will pass mustard.
Fun fact! There are seven eggcorns in that paragraph. An eggcorn is defined on Wikipedia as:
The alteration of a phrase through the mishearing or reinterpretation of one or more of its elements, creating a new phrase having a different meaning from the original but which still makes sense and is plausible when used in the same context.
A little like a malapropism, another of my favourite comical language cock-ups.
‘To all intensive purposes’ is a really common one (it should be ‘all intents and purposes’); as is ‘free reign’ (which should be ‘free rein’. That one really doesn’t change the meaning too much; if you’re giving free rein to something or someone, they can do what they want – so they do reign, I suppose?).
I love ‘damp squid’ instead of ‘damp squib’. A damp squid might sound logical but the correct phrase refers to a firework – aka a squib – becoming damp and therefore failing to explode.
Another common one: ‘to the manor born’, which should be ‘to the manner born’ (from Shakespeare’s Hamlet). I blame the BBC series starring Penelope Keith for that one.
One I once got wrong myself at work was leach. I overlooked a sentence, I think it was about a cosmetic leaching blackheads, or something, and allowed it to slip through as leeching. Slightly different contexts.
To leach is to ‘to dissolve out by the action of a percolating liquid’ or ‘to draw out or remove as if by percolation; to leech is ‘to bleed by the use of leeches’ or ‘to drain the substance of’. An understandable mistake but could have been embarrassing for the cosmetics firm.
Any other eggcorns? Oh yes! ‘Another think coming’ – that’s just a big no-no. It should be ‘another thing coming’. ‘Escape goat’ instead of ‘scape goat’; oh oh oh – ‘expresso’ instead of ‘espresso’. If I were a barista I would refuse to serve anyone who said expresso. I’d get fired pretty quickly.
The wonderful and voluble Gloria in Modern Family makes me laugh with her ‘doggy dog world’ (which sounds a lot nicer than a ‘dog eat dog’ one). I wouldn’t correct Gloria though. She’s far too scary. I would definitely toe the line (rather than tow it 😉).
What’s your favourite eggcorn?
“Why is that gold ring a different colour from that gold ring?” asked my daughter.
“Because they use different carat gold,” I replied.
“Carrot gold?” said my daughter.
“Yes, this one is 18 carat gold, so it looks, well, brassier than this one, which is nine carat gold.”
“Nine carrot gold?” asked my daughter.
Well, you can see the problem here, and it did suddenly make me wonder where the word carat came from.
Yes, it’s another etymology post!
Carat (or karat for our North American chums) comes – via a long and winding road heading back through Middle French carat, Latin carato and Arabic qirat – from, in the very beginning, the Greek kerátion (κεράτιον), meaning carob seed (or, literally, “small horn”).
What do seeds have to do with the quality of gold?
Well, it was all to do with the weight of said carob seeds, which was deemed (wrongly, of course) to be steady and unchanging.
From the Greek kerátion, the Arabic term quirat came also to mean “weight of five grains”, a unit of mass.
And this unit of mass – the quirat – came to be used to describe the purity of gold, or how much pure gold was being used in an item.
Now, in jewellery, 24-carat gold is essentially pure; 18-carat gold is 18 parts gold, six parts another metal alloy; and so on.
Carat is also used as a metric unit to measure the weight of precious stones, and is equal to 200mg, so you’ll hear about a two-carat diamond, for example.
No carrots, though.
Do you ever wonder where certain words come from?
I’m constantly tripping over words in conversation, suddenly wondering, after years of not really giving them much thought, where they came from and why we came to use them.
Today’s lesson in etymology: escalator!
I can’t remember why the word escalator suddenly stopped me in my tracks, but it’s in my list of words to research and so here we are.
My initial assumption was that it came from the verb “to escalate”. And my next assumption was that escalate must be a Latin term meaning “to move on”, or something.
Note: I have never learned Latin.
So you might appreciate just how much my mind was blown when I learned that the verb “escalate” – “to increase or develop by successive stages” – was first recorded in use in 1959, in the Manchester Guardian, and was derived from the word for a moving staircase!
This isn’t some Latin term that’s been in circulation in the English language for centuries.
When we see what we consider a fairly benign exchange on social media degenerate into defamatory name calling and we respond, “well, that escalated quickly,” we’re using a word that came about only after the escalator was invented!
The verb “to escalate” – established in 1922 – originally meant “to travel on an escalator”.
The word escalator was trademarked in 1900 by Charles Seeberger, an American inventor employed by the Otis Elevator Company.
Charles, advised by lawyers to give his moving steps a name, flipped through a Latin dictionary and came up with scala – meaning ladder or sequence – prefixed with “e” and suffixed with “tor”, possibly to emulate the already existing elevator.
It was originally pronounced es-CAL-a-tor, which has much more of a He-Man crossed with King Arthur ring to it (maybe I’m mixing up Skeletor and Excalibur).
Far from being an old-school Latin word absorbed into the English language, escalator was made up by an American inventor.
Isn’t that interesting?!
Fan fiction – or fanfic – is a genre that’s been floating around on the edges of my consciousness for a while now, and it’s been quietly fascinating me.
Is it plagiarism? Is it unoriginal? Is it a homage to established authors? Is it a love letter to famous works?
Fanfic does use a published author’s characters, settings and ideas – unauthorised (see what I did there?) – so there is a huge red flag waving above the issue of copyright and intellectual property.
But fanfic is rarely professionally published, so its author isn’t necessarily making money from somebody else’s hard graft.
Although… 50 Shades Of Gray was famously fanfic born out of the Twilight series of books, and has arguably gone on to garner just as much (financial) success. 50 Shades author EL James changed only the names of the lead characters to avoid infringing copyright.
Then, of course, you have all the Jane Austen novels whose plots are closely mirrored in very poorly disguised ways in modern films (and books): Clueless, based on Emma; Material Girls, based on Sense & Sensibility; Bridget Jones’s Diary, inspired by Pride & Prejudice and even having a love interest called Mark Darcy!
The characters and settings might not be original but many of the ideas, events and storylines sure as heck are. Have to give credit to the fanfic creators for their imagination…
Well, would you write so much about a character you hated? Even if you did find a particular author’s canon risible, parodying it is a form of homage, too, isn’t it?
See above – the fact that much fan fiction is enjoyed by what amounts to a clique of a famous author’s supporters, with the resultant fanfic rarely being published for money, points to a particular kind of ardour.
Personally, I’m quite envious of fanfic authors’ output. They’re being creative, they’re making up stories, they’re writing. Kind of admirable, no?
They’re forming an entire community of fanfic authors, readers and crits, and even have their own terminology, eg, “drabble”, which is a piece of writing that is only 100 words, and “shipping”, which means… well, this is far too complex to define now. Read more here.
The fact that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello and As You Like It were apparently all based on fiction by other authors is merely proof that fanfic is nothing new.
How many human stories can there be in the world? Even when we’re writing about dogs, aliens and robots, we still attribute them with human fears, hates, loves and desires! All the stories in the world are just an endless recycling of the same emotions played out in a limited number of ways by different characters in different settings.
Why wouldn’t admirers of a particular genre or author play around with their characters and settings and come up with their own plots? While, at the same time, forming a community of likeminded fic lovers and storytellers?
Well, not every published author is happy with this movement, and it’s not really surprising. Even if you don’t want to protect your income source (and, let’s face it, who wouldn’t?), you’d want to get full credit for the art you create, wouldn’t you? Your work is your baby.
While JK Rowling has said she is “flattered” by fanfic, Twilight’s Stephenie Meyer is grudgingly pragmaticabout it, and Interview With The Vampire’s Anne Rice and Game Of Thrones creator George R R Martin are vehemently opposed to such works.
Indeed, Martin has said: “My characters are my children… I don’t want people making off with them, thank you. Even people who say they love my children. I’m sure that’s true, I don’t doubt the sincerity of the affection, but still… No one gets to abuse the people of Westeros but me.”
Neil Gaiman once said, “I think that all writing is useful for honing writing skills. I think you get better as a writer by writing, and whether that means that you’re writing a singularly deep and moving novel about the pain or pleasure of modern existence or you’re writing Smeagol-Gollum slash you’re still putting one damn word after another and learning as a writer.”
But Martin also said: “Every writer needs to learn to create his own characters, worlds, and settings. Using someone else’s world is the lazy way out.”
So this war of words rages on…
Where do you stand?
I’m not one for looking back – no regrets! – but now that Green Gables Editing has been up and running for three years I thought it was about time I completed a review of the past year.
And I’m glad I did. It reminded me of the lovely clients I’ve had the pleasure of working with, the diversity of projects I’ve worked on, the reason I launched Green Gables Editing* and how much I love my job.
In 2022, I:
🏠 Wrote news and features, sub edited and designed pages for the local newspaper
🏠 Edited web copy and a yearbook for a global event organiser
🏠 Edited brochure copy for a Scottish women’s charity
🏠 Edited web copy for a newly launched consultancy firm
🏠 Edited packaging copy for a chef
🏠 Advised a first-time writer on how to structure her planned book
🏠 Edited web copy for a financial advisor
🏠 Edited a book on animation
🏠 Wrote a Burns Night speech
🏠 Performed a developmental edit on a self-publishing author’s opening chapter
🏠 Provided an in-depth edit sample to a self-publishing author.
In addition, I provided complimentary web copy edits and wrote press releases for a cancer charity, and voluntarily managed the social media platforms for a businesswomen’s networking group.
It has been an absolute blast, and I have loved every minute of it, thanks to the diversity of the projects and the sheer loveliness of my clients.
Thank you to them – I look forward to working with you again!
And looking to the year ahead… I hope to have more of the same while also factoring in a couple of new services I’m currently working on. Hint, hint, no spoilers!
If 2022 was a nourishing and delicious meal, I’m thinking 2023 will be a veritable feast, with tantalising amuse-bouches, three savoury courses, a dessert with sparklers and a cheeseboard that I’ll insist I don’t have room for but will still nibble at as we continue chatting.
* Because I love a challenge. And, launching just as Covid hit, it’s a good job I do…
The Oxford comma.
Hoo boy, now there’s a contentious subject.
Raised as I was with English literature and writing, I was – until recently – a vehement opponent of the Oxford comma.
And I love commas.
But I must confess I’ve come round to the idea and admit that the occasional Oxford comma helps to avoid confusion.
What is the Oxford comma?, I hear someone ask.
(More to the point, why is it called an Oxford comma, since it’s a very American* feature?***)
The Oxford comma is also known as the serial comma, which makes more sense.
It’s a comma used after the penultimate item in a list of three or more items, and before ‘and’ or ‘or’.
For example, “an orange, an apple, and a pear”. “Chocolate éclair, lemon meringue, or rhubarb crumble”.
I always thought that final comma in a list was unnecessary. What misunderstanding could possibly arise from a list citing an orange, an apple and a pear?
Well, none, since that’s a fairly benign and simple sentence.
But let’s look at a sentence shared by renowned writer and editor Benjamin Dreyer about Donald Trump:
The highlights of his waning administration include encounters with Rudy Giuliani, a healthcare disaster and a dildo collector.
What does that sentence say to you? It could be merely a list of three items – but it could be explaining that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani is a healthcare disaster and dildo collector.
And litigation fears would make that claim undesirable.
The serial comma is almost obligatory in American English, its ability to resolve ambiguity being the most powerful argument for its use.
However, that litigious statement about Mr Giuliani could simply be rearranged to state:
“The highlights of his waning administration include encounters with a healthcare disaster, a dildo collector and Rudy Giuliani.”
No misunderstandings there, surely.
In fact, as the Wikipedia page points out, the serial comma can introduce ambiguity. The example it uses says:
“They went to Oregon with Betty, a maid, and a cook.”
Is that a list of three things? Or is Betty a maid?
Which is why the Oxford/serial comma is not obligatory in British English and can be used at the writer’s/editor’s discretion.
Are you a fan of this grammar tool?
* This is my opinion. I’m going to look this up and confirm**.
** Wikipedia says I’m right: “British English allows constructions with or without this comma, while in American English it is common and sometimes even considered mandatory to use the comma.”
*** It was first mandated for use in Hart's Rules for Compositors and Readers at the University Press, Oxford [my emphasis]
Hands up who's looking for a literary agent.
If you're a writer keen on getting published using conventional methods, your best bet to get publishers to notice you is the legendary literary agent.
Legendary because they have traditionally been seen as a "gatekeeper" to publishing success, and also because they are the first port of call for critical feedback.
I attended a talk by four literary agents at the Edinburgh International Book Festival to hear more about their role in the industry, and also any tips they might have for budding and ambitious authors.
The agents were:
• Emma Paterson (Aitken Alexander Associates)
• Chloe Seager (Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency)
• Abi Fellows (The Good Literary Agency)
• Isobel Dixon (Blake Friedmann Literary Agency).
They were interviewed by Heather Parry, co-founder of Extra Teeth literary magazine and the Society of Authors’ senior policy and liaison manager for Scotland.
First of all, I will say that none of the women was at all scary. Not even the tiniest bit. They were reasonable, approachable and softly spoken, so I shall cast aside my previous understanding of them as being hard-nosed and brusque...
So, first off – do writers really need a literary agent?
Chloe said: "I can't imagine the publishing process without agents. We are fighting on the author's behalf. We're managing the author's career, talking about their writing, their next steps, publicity... We are the middle man. We are on the writer's side."
That last point is the most apposite – an agent is not your enemy. They know if your writing will sell, can help you edit and rework it in the first instance, then sell it to a publisher, oversee and approve contracts, liaise with editors and publishers to see you through the process, make sure you're getting paid...
And the agent doesn't get paid unless you do, so they're going to work hard on your behalf!
(Heather added here, in her role with the Society of Authors, that authors shouldn't sign a contract with a literary agent until the SoA has had a look at it and made sure it's all above board.)
So, what are literary agents looking for among the thousands of submissions they get sent by authors? The women agreed on the following, among other points:
• The writer must have conviction (in their own story)
• The voice must be distinct
• There is an element of gut feeling, before the agent thinks strategically about whether the story can be sold
• The work should be tapping into conversations that are bubbling up (since it typically takes a year or so for a book to be published, writing that predicts what will be talked about is on to a winner)
• Sentences should sing on the page
• A rhythm and tightness of writing.
Ultimately, though, Isobel said: "The magic is hard to describe!"
While agents are canny with their knowledge of the markets and what is likely to sell, they are also human and therefore subjective, so don't be too downhearted if they don't connect with your work.
And that connection is definitely what the agent is after. Authors are generally asked to submit a cover letter, synopsis and first chapter or two of their work. You might think the synopsis would get read before the sample – the agent wants to know the plot, right? – but that's not necessarily the case.
Isobel said: "I read the letter then go straight to the first page of the sample, then to the synopsis. There is no point reading the synopsis at all if you don't like the writing."
And if the agent loves your work and is convinced by it, the author also has to have that conviction in their writing, as Emma reiterated.
"The writer must have conviction in their work because it will need to persuade [publishers, editors, readers] when it's out in the market – and before," she said. If you aren't passionate about your writing, why should anyone else be?
Passion was a concept Isobel also referred to in the relationship with her clients. She compared that professional connection with love affairs, the chemistry necessary to make it work.
"The chemistry has to work," she said. "I want to be with an author for a long time. You have to have that passion at the beginning [of the relationship]. You can't think, 'I will maybe take a punt on this.' That won't end well."
One interesting question, in this day and age, was about social media exposure, and whether agents thought authors should be active on social media platforms.
The overwhelming response was 'not necessarily'.
It does seem to depend on the genre the author is writing in, specifically whether they are writing for adults or children.
Chloe, who works with children's and YA authors, said that being active on social media wasn't important in the initial stages but authors should show a willingness to engage with audiences via social media and at author events.
She added: "It is a tricky balance engaging on social media and maybe saying the wrong thing, especially in children's and YA writing."
Abi pointed out that social media can be a toxic place, and her duty is to safeguard her authors.
She said: "There is a danger in excluding those who aren't or can't be on social media platforms."
In fact, Abi was the most vocal about the need for diversity in the industry, and the importance of making it accessible and attractive to all.
A final word on the chat about editing, which of course made me prick up my ears, because that's my job, in case you hadn't noticed.
It seems that publishers' in-house editors are more and more stretched these days, and ideally want to see work that is already as 'clean' as possible.
The agents themselves do quite a lot of editing before submitting a work to publishers, pre-empting what publishers will like or dislike.
Emma said: "You need to feel as confident as you can of the work's editorial quality."
Isobel added: "I am always looking for reasons an editor will turn a work down."
So at this point, I'd like to proffer my services as an editor who can clean up your work before you even submit it to an agent. Let's get that work of art as shiny and beautiful as possible before you send it on its journey.
I’m learning Spanish. Cómo estás? Me llamo Isla. Tengo dos hijos y un perro.
That’s about the sum total of my conversational ability.
What I’m really enjoying about the lessons, aside from my wonderfully eccentric tutor Ana Maria, are the grammar pointers she gives the class.
I’ve said elsewhere in this blog, I wasn’t taught grammar at school. Knowing what is right and wrong came organically through reading many, many books.
(Ana Maria has to give grammar pointers in English precisely because none of us understands our own language, and we have to be able to before we can understand Spanish. Rolls eyes emoji.)
I am always fascinated when Ana Maria names and explains a rule I knew but didn’t know I knew.
My latest favourite: when we use “something” or “anything”*.
I hadn’t ever paid the blindest bit of notice to when or why I say “something” or “anything” but, when you think about it, there are definitely contexts that require one over the other.
As Ana Maria explained: “If we have been for a hike, and you come back to my house, I might say, ‘Do you want something to eat?’ The assumption is that you will answer yes. The assumption is that you are hungry and will want something.
“If I say, ‘Do you want anything to eat?’ I am open to the fact you will say no.”
The implications of this rule blew. me. away.
I had never thought about it like that!
Generally, in English we use “something” in a positive sentence or expecting a positive response; but we use “anything” either in more negative sentences or not assuming there will be a positive response.
“I got something lovely for my birthday”
“I haven’t eaten anything”.
Have a think about this. Isn’t it great?
* We needed to learn this because Spanish does not use the word “anything” (or “any” or “anyone”). Depending on the context of “anything” in an English sentence, Spanish would use “something” or “nothing”.
One of the most important things about communication is making yourself understood.
Simple messages, expressed clearly using uncomplicated language.
Left to my own devices I’m naturally pretty voluble, thanks to my formative teen years reading swathes of Victorian literature, lol.
But where I let rip in my personal writing, when it comes to sharing essential information, I believe in getting to the point.
Management speak annoys me. Bureaucratic twaddle infuriates me. Complicating a sentence doesn’t make it more important. Making up new words in place of perfectly serviceable ones that already exist isn’t clever, it’s egotistic.
But if corporate jargon irritates me – someone who works with words – what about those with much more serious literacy issues?
The isolation and exclusion faced by those who struggle with reading and writing is something that has bothered me for some years, ever since I started helping five-year-olds to read in my children’s primary school classes.
But it was highlighted and emphasised during a workshop at last year’s CIEP conference.
The conference was hosted by Cathy Basterfield, of Access Easy English, a service which interprets written content into simple everyday language, often supported by images.
The statistics Cathy shared at the workshop were eye-opening, to say the least.
Data from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult
Competencies has shown that 33.1% of UK adults and 31.5% of US adults do not have the literacy to manage a range of day-to-day reading tasks.
When you think about the sheer amount of written information you encounter every day, imagine how hard it is for someone who can’t read to navigate.
Instructions for medication. Bank statements. Letters from the local authority. Ingredients on a cereal packet. Directions to a venue. Consent forms.
As Cathy pointed out, everyone has a right to access the same information, and everyone has an equal right to be able to access it at the same time.
Indeed, this right is expressed in the United Nations’ Article 21 – Freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information.
Put simply, everyone has the right to receive information in a way that is understood, such as sign language, braille, large print, so it can be heard, using easy words and pictures, or in a different language.
It’s not just a case of being “fair” or polite*.
People with serious literacy issues are more likely to:
• live in poverty
• struggle with employment
• have poorer health
• be involved in the justice system.
It is incumbent** upon us all to make sure our message, whatever it might be, can be understood by everyone. Whatever the reason for an individual’s issue with literacy, that isn’t the point. Making information accessible and easily understood makes people’s lives easier.
And who wouldn’t want to help with that?
*At this point, some people would probably use the word woke. I’m not going to.
** I could have just said necessary
This is the bit where I write about wordy and linguistic things that take my fancy...