You can watch Tanya's acceptance speech at the Carnegie ceremony on 22nd June 2015 here -
A lot of people have asked for the text of it, so here it is…
"When I was working on Buffalo Soldier I had a dream. In it, I was at a writers’ conference at this massive stately home. There was a sweeping staircase, big chandeliers, the works. Every writer I knew was there, all chatting away and laughing.
But I was locked in a side room and I wasn’t allowed out until I’d finished my task.
I had to knit a jumper.
The trouble was, the only implements I’d been left to knit with were a pair of forks.
Knitting with forks. That’s pretty good metaphor for my writing process.
I’d actually signed a contract with Walker Books to write something that was set in Greece in the Second World War. I’d done a synopsis and everything.
What I finally delivered was Buffalo Soldier. It was literally thousands of miles away from what they were expecting.
Thank you Walker Books for bearing with me. Thank you for having the courage to publish it. Special thanks to Caroline Royds, my editor, Alice Horrocks, her assistant and Gill Evans – the big boss – who’s always been so supportive.
Thank you to Lindsey Fraser, my agent. Also my agony aunt and life coach.
When my Labrador rolled on a dead seal (long story) it was Lindsey who told me how to get rid of the smell. (With HP Sauce.) She is some woman.
I want to thank my family. My husband Rod, my two children, Isaac and Jack. My mother.
When I was growing up my mother had an incredibly demanding job but she always found the time to read to us and take us to the library. So I grew up surrounded by stories. It was through all those library visits that I discovered books were an escape from real life. An adventure. An education. Being a reader was what eventually turned me into a writer.
I hope I’ve passed that love of reading on to my sons. It seems to me to be more important than ever.
Isaac and Jack have grown up in an age of testing.
As they’ve gone through school I’ve watched their teachers - talented, creative people - being tied in straitjackets by the demands of the National Curriculum and by Ofsted. I’ve seen students imprisoned in boxes that need to be ticked. I’ve seen children for whom reading has become a chore rather than a pleasure because these days it’s all about targets. Measuring. Levels of attainment. As for creative writing – the idea of that being about self-expression has gone right out of the window – it’s just become an exercise in grammar and punctuation.
At a time when China is looking for ways to teach their children to create, to innovate, to invent we seem to be heading in the opposite direction. We’re so intent on producing employable units to service the economy that our system is in danger of squeezing every scrap of imagination out of our children.
Imagination can’t be measured or assessed but Einstein said ‘imagination is more important than knowledge.’
Reading is all about the imagination.
It’s all about the ‘what ifs’.
What if you drowned?
What if your mother walked out, or got bitten by a snake?
What if all you wanted to do was run?
What if you met Death, or if if changelings were real?
What if you couldn’t stop swearing?
Long after you’ve closed the book those ‘what ifs’ stay with you. All those ‘what ifs’ take root. They carry through into the real world for years after.
So a reader will look at - say - a woman huddled in a doorway, or a man sleeping on a park bench, or a child on a boat full of refugees – and a reader will think - What if that person was me…?
Someone who reads fiction for pleasure is far less likely to be a bully or a bigot. They are far less likely to cause harm to others because they can imagine how it would feel. They are far less likely to collude with any kind of persecution. They are far more likely to DO something about it.
(Maybe that’s why dictators are so fond of burning books.)
I want to read bit from a review of Buffalo Soldier that was posted on the Shadowing site -
“Why oh why did I read such a book? It made me laugh, it made me cry but most of all it made me empathise with other people. People who cannot have what I have but still wish to have it. And more than anything it made me realize how many things I take for granted. The worst part is I do not even notice. Prior to reading this book I felt that my life was terrible, I have so many allergies, exams are right around the corner and I also kept on forgetting things but when reading Buffalo Soldier I felt ashamed and disgusted by my thoughts. I had always known that there were people out there who were worse off than me but I never really paid any heed to this and I do not know why. Buffalo Soldier opened my eyes.”
I found that really moving. That young reader has summed up the importance of stories way better than I can. (Although I would say to the person who wrote it- allergies and exams are very real problems – don’t be so hard on yourself.)
Books allow us to experience other people’s lives – people of different cultures, different countries, different times in history. And - ultimately - all those differences show how alike we are. They show that we’re all members of one race and we share one tiny planet in a really, really big universe.
What could be more important than that?
There’s so much research about the social and individual benefits of reading for pleasure. In a healthy, affluent society everyone should have free access to books.
So why on earth are our libraries under threat?
It seems our politicians, locally and nationally, won’t listen to all that expert advice. Why? I really don’t get it. Is it because they’re arrogant? Stupid?
Or is it a little more sinister?
Back to the what ifs....
What if a population that is disengaged, uninterested, apathetic is easier to manage and control?
Thinking along these lines can get pretty depressing.
So THANK GOODNESS for the Shadowing Groups.
I love the Shadowing Groups, even when one of you posts a review that says you’d rather chew your own hands off than read another book by Tanya Landman. You – the students, the teachers, the librarians – you are the people who have resisted the brain numbing effects of testing. You refuse to be put into straitjackets or imprisoned in boxes. You are remarkable. Passionate, engaged, intelligent, imaginative, witty. When I look at the Shadowing site –- when I do Skype interviews, or visit schools, when I talk to you lot I feel reassured. You are the future, and actually in your hands I know the world will be safe.
I want to thank Librarians the world over - the professionals who read and talk about books on a daily basis - your job is so, so important. You open minds you change lives. You’re the defenders of the imagination and the guardians of civilization.
Lastly - Judges. THANK YOU for your truly Herculean reading efforts. I can only marvel at the mountains of volumes that you’ve scaled this year. Thank you for choosing a longlist and then a shortlist of books that are dark and challenging, and warm and funny, books that are all of them brilliant reads.
And thank you so, so much for picking Buffalo Soldier. It means more than I can say.
22nd June 2015