Acceptance Speech

 

tim-quote‘It’s a tremendous honour to receive the Carnegie Medal, but I feel that the broader purpose of this and any other literary award should always be to celebrate not just one story or the stories on the shortlist, but the whole concept of stories. And stories are truly worth celebrating. We need stories in our society, not just because they entertain us but because ultimately they change us. Stories transform. They’re a kind of moral and philosophical fertiliser that helps to shape our attitudes. The works of the great philosophers, I suspect, are mostly read by other philosophers, but the great stories of our culture are part of the life-blood of all of us. They transport us, but they’re not an escape from reality. Stories are magic carpets that can take us to places from which we see reality differently, and, in that sense, they are engines of growth. And the most potent fuel for those engines is the written word.

I say this with feeling because I’m aware that there are some who believe that the written word is under threat from snazzier, jazzier, visually-orientated entertainment media such as computers, TV, videos, CD ROMS and other technological wonders that are on the way. It’s even suggested that we’re entering a post-literate society, a society in which the written word is a mere transactional instrument, something for writing shopping lists and memos and e-mails and notes to the cleaner, but little of any artistic or inspirational value.

But to consign the written word to such a destiny would be like using a Rolls Royce just to deliver groceries. The truth is that the written word has nothing to fear from the technological revolution. There will be no post-literate society because the written word possesses something so precious and so unquenchable that nothing will ever supplant it as a medium of artistic expression. And that something is its hotline to the imagination. Words are the music of the imagination. They’re the touchstone on which the imagination ignites itself. Words don’t simply stimulate the imagination – they require it. There is an investment needed on the part of the reader and it is through this that reader and writer link hands and jointly become the magus that pulls the strings of the story. Words create an intimacy and an alchemy that no computer game will ever match.

Words can be weapons or love tokens and they’ll travel as far as the creative imagination requires. A thousand words, beautifully written, will create thousands of pictures in the mind, pictures so powerful and so personalised by the imagination that they can stay with the reader for life. You don’t even need a thousand words to do that; sometimes just a few words will do it. ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…’ And we’re off to Middle Earth, seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, as we make our way to the dragon’s lair. It’s words that take us there.

And it’s these magic caskets of words known as stories that we – as book people – are seeking to offer to our challenging target readers. And, my God, they’re challenging. Those who take the patronising view that writing for young people is easier than writing for adults are talking hogwash. Young people are the most complex creatures in the world. They’re a boiling mass of metamorphoses. Teenagers undergo more physical, emotional, sexual, psychological and intellectual changes between the ages of 13 and 16 than at any other time in their lives. They have one foot in childhood and one foot in adulthood. They can be sophisticated and vulnerable, bolshie and sensitive, confident and fearful, and they can smell bullshit at a hundred paces. Writing for them does not mean writing down; it means writing up – to the level at which they deserve to be allowed to operate. It means recognising both the child and the adult within the child.

Yet it’s these same challenging readers that are also the most loveable, most enriching, most wonderful to write for. They are also the future guardians of literature and it’s our duty to give them the very best that we have, both in the matter of the stories and the manner of the telling, not to educate them or to moralise – because we don’t have all the answers – but simply to share with them the things we care about in the hope that they may come to care about them, too. We don’t need to shield them from tough issues. When we do that, we show them the greatest disrespect because they can handle anything we give them to read and if they don’t like the book, they’ll close it. Our job – whether we’re writers, publishers, librarians or teachers – is not to preach, but simply to reach. So, as we prepare ourselves for the National Year of Reading, let us do our part in cherishing the magic of stories, and the wonder of words, and, above all, the beauty of young imaginations.’

Tim Bowler