Friday, 31 December 2010


“That was the year that was. It’s over, let it go,” to parody the old Millicent Martin TV intro ... though she did express it exactly that way in kissing goodbye to 1963. Gosh ... am I really so long-in-the-tooth now that I can remember every word she sang?

And what a year 2010 was for writers, editors, publishers, retailers, readers – the whole book thing we love so much has shot off in a direction old  Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg could never have dreamed of back in the fifteenth century when he came up with movable type and ran off the first printed book for the common man.

In fact, not even the big boys of the modern publishing industry saw it coming until well into this passing decade:

*The emergence of the ebook.

*The introduction of dedicated reading devices.

*The 2010 explosion of the ebook into the mainstream.

The e-revolution eclipses even the printing press in terms of its reach and value. The world’s biggest retailers are now regularly reporting more ebooks sold than print books, hundreds of thousands of freely downloadable classics and other public domain works are now available to the bookish professor in his Oxford study and the literature-starved children of remote villages in the developing world, new and previously unpublished authors are by-passing the traditional publishing gatekeepers to rush into e-print with their own raw material, offered freely or cheaply ... and by no means always without worth.

The word is out!

The doomsday prophets who have been predicting the death of reading since the advent of radio, TV and cinema are now eating their own words. Reading has been rejuvenated in the age of computer games and instant movies. Jane Austen entered the 2010 best-seller lists.

Why? Because a book is its content and not its means of presentation. Carved in stone, stamped into a clay tablet, on a scroll, crafted into a hand-tooled leather-bound hardback, web-offsetted for a mass-run paperback, an ebook reader screen ... it’s the words that matter. The message, not the messenger.

Easier and cheaper access to literature does not reduce its value, it merely finds it a greater readership.

BeWrite Books spearheaded the ebook movement, as old friends know. We predicted dedicated-readers and an ebook revolution back in the mists of the last century. So we’re ahead of the game with every single title in our catalogue now offered in all major digital formats and available internationally at all the huge new ebook stores.

Many BB authors will have a pleasant surprise when their next royalty cheques arrive. Many new BB readers will have a pleasant surprise when they are introduced to our top-drawer authors and their work.

Even so, 2010 hasn't been plain sailing for us at mission control. Tony and I have been working at least 14x7 to keep ahead of the game. We had to re-register BeWrite Books, first in Canada and then in the USA just to get our ebooks into the new retail outlets. Tony’s technical talent, energy and sheer guts has taken my breath away. Unfailing and enthusiastic support from the excellent and diligent Hugh McCracken and Sam Smith on the editorial team and from our authors has been wonderful and energising.

Some of you might know that we have felt badly let down by our printers over recent months. (In fact, you can’t currently even buy print books from our own site because of an unforgivable hitch with a company we now call Laughing Stock – pick them up elsewhere and we’ll eat the retail commissions. And, of course, all ebook versions are available from site for instant download.) But even that set back we are taking in our stride, tackling head-on and making progress with.

In 2011, we will take seven-league strides. We will most probably release more new titles than at any time since we launched our publishing side in 2002. We are extending the genres in which we publish.

We will NOT be less selective in the books we publish or editorially less than top-whack. Our design and technical side is second to none. With ebooks, the playing field is levelling out ... we can now, for the first time, compete with the Big Six in terms of sheer quality and availability if not yet on star-appeal.

This new decade will see our authors and our readers more satisfied than ever.

Happy Hogmanay, folks. Here’s to the future. Here's to you all. Here's to e-volution!

Love and luck: Neil, Tony, Hugh, Sam et al

Saturday, 18 December 2010


My book, Bullycide: Death at Playtime, in which I identified the lethal syndrome of bully-associated child suicide, named it 'bullycide' and exposed it for the first time, is to be re-released in January 2011 in paperback and ebook by BeWrite Books.

The original release came as a profound shock and prompted positive and immediate action by governments, education authorities, schools and citizen groups around the world. It spawned countless other books, scholarly studies and papers and media campaigns, inspired plays and movies.

So I considered its job done and resisted requests for re-release when it went out of print. But there's been such high demand that I decided to re-think that decision.

The re-release is NOT an update, more a history lesson and a reminder of just how shamfully secret the bullycide epidemic had been up to the end of the last century and publication of the exposé.

As I re-read the original, added a new introduction and proof read, the tears flowed just as freely as when I investigated the unacknowledged problem and wrote the words all those years ago. Memories came rushing back of the shattered families I’d spoken to (most still in a state of shock); of children who could speak only from the grave, having chosen in their pain and desperation to make their statements through a last, desperate action: the chilling statement that life for them was a fate worse than death.

The re-release is timed to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the first release of Bullycide: Death at Playtime and the word 'bullycide' entering the vocabulary, and also with the fifth anniversary of the death of my dear friend, co-author and tireless anti-bullying campaigner to the end, Tim Field.

May kids everywhere have a happy Christmas and a bully-free New Year as we enter the second decade of, hopefully, a more enlightened century.

Love. Neil

Monday, 6 December 2010


This fascinating article is contributed by BeWrite Books author Steve Attridge, a well-known, TV, theatre and cinema scriptwriter in the UK. His debut novel is 'Bottom of the List'. See our bookstore by clicking on the open book icon at the top right of this post or any major online store. This is a lengthy article of 1,500 words, folks, but well worth the reading.

Consolidating Differences, and the Death of Reading
Dr Steve Attridge

I recently published a novel in which a shy retiring man is forced to make a stand against corporate tyranny and encroaching philistinism. What facilitates his stand is the slow and shimmering support he receives from literary figures he has imaginatively lived with for thirty years: Molly Bloom, Hamlet, Nietzsche and Ulysses all appear in his hour of need. The point being made in a darkly comic turn of events is that his life in books has furnished him with an inner world of diverse characters, ideas and possibilities for living. Without these he is lost.

The debate about reading books versus watching moving images on a screen is pointless. We live inescapably in a world of moving images and, at best, this can be instructive and entertaining. The question of the value of reading is a separate imperative. When our ancestors invented alphabets 5000 years ago they triggered a revolution in human life. Not just that reading and writing became the foundations of civilizations, but in ways still little understood, they changed the structure of the human brain. This changing, evolving, complex organism is now on the endangered species list.

Reading is the most powerfully acquired cognitive skill. We were not born to read, so the brain has to literally change and rearrange its constituent parts. It physically grows as reading skills are acquired and new texts are mastered. MRI scans demonstrate that in reading and encountering new word formations and associations the brain grows intricate reading circuits, new neuronal pathways and connections.

Professor Phil Davis at Liverpool University underwent tests to see exactly what was happening inside his brain when reading. In particular, as he was exposed to some of Shakespeare’s more densely written lines that coined new word associations, such as ‘A father and a gracious man ... have you madded’ in King Lear, and ‘This last old man ... Love me above the measure of a father, Nay, godded me, indeed’ in Coriolanus. 

The word ‘madded’ compresses an adjective and a verb and ‘godded’ a verb and a noun, and experiencing these words created higher electrical activity in the brain. This Shakespearean linguistic technique, known as functional shift, causes a sudden peak in brain activity and forces the brain to work backwards in order to fully understand what Shakespeare says.

The neuroimaging data obtained shows that this surprise effect leaves the processing of meaning unaltered, the reader (or listener) understands the message equally well.

Twenty participants were monitored using an electroencephalogram (EEG) at Professor Guillaume Thierry of Bangor University’s School of Psychology as they read selected lines from Shakespeare’s plays. The findings were published in the journal Neuroimage. The brain is literally growing, just as the orienteering part of London cabbies brains, as they acquire ‘the knowledge’ (the memorising of London streets over a two year period), becomes bigger and more sophisticated.

These experiments show that Shakespeare has created a gymnasium for the brain, in which there is a distinct, measurable, functional shift. The analogy with the body is obvious – just as muscles enlarge and become stronger so can the brain. It is surprised into activity by the dynamic engagement with language. Levels of attention are raised. New possibilities present themselves. We can move more adventurously from concrete apprehension to conceptual and abstract thought. The recording and reading of knowledge and ideas means we find out where we came from and who we are with greater understanding. Ironically the very technology which is allowing us to understand the process of neural change in the brain is also responsible for the recreational apparatus that is replacing reading.

Popular culture itself understands the significance of reading. In Kubrick’s '2001: A Space Odyssey', the following exchange takes place between the main protagonist, Dave, and the ship’s computer, HAL:

Dave Bowman: Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?
HAL: Affirmative, Dave. I read you.
Dave Bowman: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
HAL: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

It is the word ‘read’ which intensifies this pivotal dramatic scene, the first chilling proof that HAL is not the benign servant of the ship and its crew, but a psychotic manipulator determined to eliminate anyone who gets in his way. The word ‘read’ here allows for a whole dramatic subtext to come into play – HAL has literally been reading Dave’s lips, so he knows the plot against him. He also understands Dave in a comprehensive way – the man, the mission, the motive – he has studied him and can now use that knowledge against him and to ensure his own survival. Polite words belie Machiavellian intent. You only have to substitute other words - ‘acknowledge’ or ‘understand’ - to see how potent the word ‘read’ is in this scene. It acknowledges that to read is a special activity, a vortex of high attention and comprehension, putting the pieces of a puzzle together to form new realities.

It is this intensification of experience which is under threat. Ironically it is in the sphere of education that some of the more alarming results of an ‘unreading’ culture are apparent. 

Cardinal Newman was insistent that the primary purpose of a University is intellectual and pedagogical, not moral or religious: ‘The view taken of a University in these Discourses is the following – that it is a place of teaching universal knowledge. This implies that its object is, on the one hand, intelectual, not moral. 

Tony Blair’s attention-seeking slogan, ‘Education, education, education’ and a moral belief (it was always a ‘moral belief’, a tenet of faith, not reason or argument) that just about everyone should go to University, has driven divisions deeper in the sphere of education, and highlighted the problem of fundamental illiteracy. As Nietzsche said, ‘a casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.’ Blair’s gesturing towards a democratisation of higher education was, of course, part of a cynical politics of headline catching superficiality. Changing examination standards, fiddling with entry requirements, simply drove divisions, intellectual, academic and pedagogical, deeper than ever. The gap between haves and have nots was never so manifest.

The older universities simply raised their entry requirements to ensure they got the cream. The rest could compete for what was left. Students had already been converted into consumers, and bums on seats became the order of the day. The two cultures are just that and have little in common. The older universities mostly still have systems of limited contact, academic staff having six or seven contact hours per week, while the “new” universities have a system more in common with FE Colleges, up to 18 or 20 contact hours per week, with almost open entry as long as fees are paid.

Those they teach highlight an alarming problem. Many current undergraduates in UK universities have severe literary problems. Many are called dyslexic. ‘Dyslexia’ comes from the Greek, meaning ‘difficulty with words or language.’ It is assumed that this condition is biological, yet the skyward trajectory of its increase suggests otherwise.

‘Dyslexia’ confers an ambiguous status. On the one hand, the sufferer has enormous problems, yet the label creates a sense of distinction, a ‘special need.’ Dyslexic students avoid reading, which nullifies the educative process they have entered. Reading and learning go hand in hand. One must learn to read in order to be able to read to learn. A poor reader will usually also be a poor learner. A student who cannot read properly is not a student. In many institutions a yellow sticker on a student essay means that grammar and spelling cannot be assessed, even if the essay is indecipherable, because the student is dyslexic. Often, they are not dyslexic, but illiterate. They simply haven’t been taught to read. 

Jan Strydom, a doctor in education, reacts strongly to the popular notion that dyslexia is a learning disability caused by a biological deficit. ‘I believe there is no physical, genetic or biological reason why they have this problem. The cause of dyslexia is that the foundational skills of reading and spelling have not been automated. Learning is a stratified process, in which one skill needs to be properly mastered before other subsequent skills can be learned,’ he says. Basic skills like attentiveness, visual discrimination, precise scrutiny and memorizing, skills of association, visual memory and logical thinking form the foundation of good reading, says Dr Strydom. ‘All these skills are employed constantly while a person is reading, but a good reader is unaware of these events because they have been automated.’

These fundamental skills must be taught to children from infancy. If a child has not mastered these basics he or she will have reading and writing problems as a result. The increase in dyslexia worldwide is caused by our changing life circumstances, says Dr Strydom. ‘The conditions in which children grow up today are drastically different to what they were 50, 40, or even 30 years ago, and certain everyday experiences that are vital to the correct interpretation of the written word have been removed from their lives. It was, for example, a tradition that parents drilled their children on the ability to distinguish left from right. Today, few parents are aware that knowing left from right is an important foundational skill of reading.’

The loss of reading is arguably the single most debilitating feature of modern culture and means that building blocks which can create futures are absent. We may be entering a timeless present of indecipherable texting where information passes for knowledge and, eventually, thought will disappear. The brain will no longer be surprised into action because it will not understand the black scrawls in front of it.

Dr Steve Attridge is a professional writer and a tutor at Ruskin College. His recent book, Bottom of the List, is published by Bewrite Books.

Many thanks for a fascinating article, Steve. And thanks to the Oxford Left Review for carrying it in full in their latest edition.  You can read more about Steve Attridge here: and about his new book, 'Bottom of the List', in the bookstore at:

Best wishes. Neil M.