Mark Barry otherwise known as Wiz Green joins me today. I wanted him to talk about a children’s literacy project that he has been working on called Brilliant Books. This wonderful project is funded by the U.K. Big Lottery Fund.
Since we can’t can’t sit down together for high tea in some fancy London restaurant I have to settle for this interview here on my blog. My dream is for that to happen. Of course the talented historical fiction writer, Mary Ann Bernal is invited too. We might have to fight over the sweets though I am sure there will be enough for all.
Mark Barry is the the king of blogs in my opinion. His posts will blow you away. On his website The Wizard’s Cauldron, he does fabulous interviews with authors and other creative people. Mark has a great mind and it appears in his books. His novels are far from ordinary. I call him brilliant but he is far too modest for that tittle.
He is the author of The Night Porter, Carla and Ultra-Violence among other works of contemporary fiction and the proprietor of Green Wizard Publishing, a company dedicated to publishing innovative, independent writing.
I have come to love and admire this man and hearing that he was involved in something so meaning added to my admiration.
BP: Mark, please tell us about Brilliant Books.
MB: Once upon a time, my colleague, Phil Pidluznyj, and me, who run Empleo Community Interest Company were bemoaning the apparent lack of interest in reading amongst children in the inner cities; working class kids, normal kids, particularly boys, and so we contacted the Big Lottery Fund with a proposal to encourage reading and they decided to fund us.
That proposal is Brilliant Books. Here is how it works. Successful people visit a group of around twenty youngsters in schools, identified by teachers as reluctant readers and then give a talk. We buy important books from the person’s childhood and lots more recent stuff for the kids to take home. Then, in the second half of the session, the kids break up into small groups and work with specialist mentors. The work they create is collected into an anthology they can keep forever. We give out our first Brilliant Books anthology to nineteen completers of the first project next Wednesday in front of 500 of their peers.
It’s about role modelling. The hosts we’ve invited include a top romance writer (Georgia Rose), a brilliant robotics designer, a music journalist, a top PR professional and an MP, Chris Leslie, who opened the programme.
We have John Collins opening the next course in January. John is the leader of Nottingham City Council, which is like the Mayor of the OC, Brenda, so we’re buzzing about that. He’s a serious player and the kids will see that to get where he is, the top of the greasy pole, you need to read – you need to have the imagination that comes from reading fiction, something that John is going to confirm.
Phil Pidluznyj and Mrs. Pearce
BP: That sounds pretty darn amazing. It's so good of you all to give your time and efforts to such a noble cause. I love it! So I want to know what inspired you to get involved in children’s books?
MB: I love reading, Brenda, as you know, and it disturbs me when kids prefer video games. Did you know in one game, Grand Theft Auto, there is an option for a player to beat a prostitute to death with a baseball bat? What’s all that about, Brenda? Tell me what moral framework allows that to happen? Its an obscenity. And please. Don’t give me the standard game company answer about GTA is an 18 plus game. I’ve seen eight year olds play it. When I saw my then stepson carry out that virtual activity, I immediately stopped him and I was shocked at the psychopathic tendencies of the designer of that game. I wrote a letter to Rock Star Games. Obviously, I got no reply.
A great kids writer like Roald Dahl, whose imagination was equally dark, would never have resorted to that horror and he created a cornucopia of work which uplifted the imagination of so many kids and it hurts to see him ignored by large swathes of people in favour of these violent video games. It’s no wonder, Brenda, that our two nations have problems with young people and violence and it doesn’t take too much imagination on our behalf to see that children have been brutalized and desensitized to death and aggression by these video games. So, there’s another reason I got involved. I want to help…I need to deal with this. Books are positive and clever. I wrote about the differences between books and video games on my Inkspokes interview, which your readers may like to read.
BP: That is an exceptional interview. Very inspiring. Thank you for sharing!
MB: I am a natural intervener, Brenda. I am always shocked to see so many people just saying, well, gee, its, like, what little Johnny wants to do, so, like, totally let him play the games and stuff. I’m having none of that. I’m in like Flynn.
Dr. Paul Beardsley of Disney
BP: I couldn't agree with you more. I am not a mom but I can relate. I could see it in eleven year old Rex, my boyfriend's grandson. Getting him to read would be like pulling teeth. Quite literally! He and other kids spend so much time playing mindless video games that they have no interst in reading or playing outside. It's really sad.
So Mark, where would you like to go with Brilliant Books?
MB: Hard core schools. That school off the Michelle Pfieffer film “Dangerous Minds”. Fenn Street. Grange Hill. I want to address those fourteen year old kids who haven’t read a book since Huey Lewis and the News. If ever. I want to get in there and preach and evangelise and change minds. I want to talk books, Brenda. Lord of the Flies, War Horse, the dark horror of Roald Dahl, Of Mice and Men, even the work of Anthony Horowitz, Sebastian Faulk’s new James Bond adventures, Charlie Higson. And then I want to get them writing about their lives. A cathartic exercise. Relationships, rivalries, families, pressures. Growing up. And I want them to read from the anthology we all create. This is personal, btw. I know Phil wants to work with eleven year olds in two other Nottingham schools first and I’m working on the bid for that. I’ve got time. I would also like to deliver Brilliant Books in the US, if you know any rich geezers who’d like to fund it.
I know you and “Bo” will put us up if there’s a school close by ha ha. You can even come and teach your brilliant Faction and Memoir stuff, Brenda.
BP: Oh, without a doubt Mark. We will set you up. ;-)
Rich geezers? Ha. Too funny. I think you are the only one who has ever called my work faction. See how brilliant you are? Love it!
So how has the response been thus far?
MB: Well, fifteen out of the nineteen kids stayed every session of the whole eight weeks and we completed the anthology, which is fantastic. Some lovely work from the pupils. When we told them that last time was the last session, some were genuinely upset. We began to lose a couple toward the end to the rival attractions of football (soccer, which is a plague in this country for many traditional activities, including cricket), and a couple of girls point blank didn’t want to do attend any more (we don’t know why as yet), but at the same time, several hard core reluctant readers produced some exciting stuff for us and took books home for the first time ever. It’s been a definite success as far as I am concerned. These kids performed miracles and that was down to Phil, Shellie and Anona who worked with the kids every week and the guests whose enthusiasm was palpable and transmitted brilliantly. The response of all my friends, including you, Nelson at Inkspokes who interviewed me last week, all the Monday Bloggers, and our friends Rebecca, Terry, Georgia and Emma have been incredible. I think there is a huge need for a project like this. A project to show that reading is the business, an exciting way a young person can spend their time instead of yet another session on COD or FIFA. A world without readers would be a mechanical world, Brenda, a world without warmth and imagination. I can’t imagine anything worse – we all need to get behind inititatives like this.
Shellie working with the kids
BP: That is so wonderful. Totally inspiring and motivating! What can people do to help you with your mission?
MB: Get behind your local school. Do something similar. Talk to the Governors. We’ll talk to anyone who wants to on e-mail. We’ll advise. We’ll help with the funding applications. We’ll even franchise the marketing and the name, Brilliant Books, which is fantastic – Phil’s invention. I’ll help with the final product.
You can also buy a copy of the anthology for your bookshelf here. The profits (approximately a pound/a dollar fifty) will go to buy more stuff for the kids of Seely.
BP: Thank you so much for joining me today. You are all doing such a fantasic thing for kids and our future. You have my blessing. For sure.
The Scribes Of Seely Anthology on Amazon
Brilliant Books can be found at the Brilliant Books Blog.
You may also connect with Mark Barry via Twitter and The Wizard’s Cauldron blog and learn more about his books via his Amazon author’s page.