UGLY WORDS – by Kim Rackham

Kim is an author and parent and also works with children.

Last week when I turned up to do parent helper duty in my daughter’s grade 3/4 classroom, I walked into a room that was buzzing with activity.  Children were coming up with ‘ugly’ words – and having a great time doing it.

The activity was based on a poem they had just read and discussed. The poem used words which conjured up a dim and bleak mood to describe a rusting old freight boat.

The kids’ task:  to brainstorm a number of ‘ugly’ words – words that created an image of things old, or tired, or crumbling, or ruined… you get my drift.  When they had a list of words they liked, they were to write some into a paragraph or two, and see what kind of mood they could create.

Without exception, the children threw themselves into this activity. You can imagine how the concept of ‘ugly’ words proved irresistible even to those who may usually shy away from this type of activity.  (They repeated this activity later with ‘beautiful’ words – it goes without saying that this did not inspire quite the same high levels of enthusiasm with the boys!)

An activity such as this should not be evaluated merely on the quality of the resultant piece of writing. The enthusiasm shown during the process was enough to demonstrate its success. That said, however, some of the children’s final paragraphs blew me away. A couple in particular showed tremendous potential.

Swept up by my own enthusiasm, I couldn’t help but wonder: could some of these kids be our writers of the future?

Sadly, this may not be possible.

If changes to current parallel importation laws are made, Australia is unlikely to develop our writers of the future. This is because it takes considerable investment from publishers to bring new authors to the marketplace and stick by them while they build up a readership. And if we import our books from overseas rather than buy them from home, we remove the likelihood that the publisher will recoup their investment. Why then, would they make this investment in the first place?

Australia has many successful authors, with followings at home and overseas. They have fought for international recognition and demonstrated that Australians can compete with the rest of the world.  Our children can read Aussie stories, and they can see that Australians are capable of chasing their dreams.

Today, an Australian child with a talent for words can look ahead to an uncertain and risky career in writing, but a possible one.  And if they make it, they can tell the stories of their time to our society.

Tomorrow, this may not be so.

I’m saddened, despairing, dejected, troubled, (any number of ‘ugly’ words!) that the future choices of our enthusiastic children may be limited, simply because Australia does not value our writers.


4 thoughts on “UGLY WORDS – by Kim Rackham

  1. Kim,
    This is exactly what I spent time pondering the other day. After doing workshops at the local school with 2 groups of very enthusiastic students, I mentioned it to one of my writing groups. Someone said ‘Just think you might be inspiring a future writer.’
    It made me wonder if I’m doing these children a disservice. Am I giving encouragement when there is such doubt for writers’ futures?

  2. In summary:

    Fair Wages.
    Fair Go.

    Fair Trade.

    Something doesn’t stack up when we put our own out of work and say it’s good for everyone. Let’s be:

    Fair Dinkum,

    before our culture recedes into “Whatever”.

    Our kids deserve better.

  3. There would seem to be something patently wrong with a prosperous country putting itself into the situation of not being able to feed itself or reflect back on itself through its literature because it had priced its own people out of the global market. At what price, Free Trade?

    Next, we’ll have stickers produced by the Coalition for Cheaper Books saying that they Support Aussie Writers. Just like Woolies Supports Aussie Farmers. Yeah, right. Imported beans on toast for all of us.

    Has it occurred to the Government Bean Counters that maybe, just maybe, people want BETTER, not simply MORE ‘CHEAP’ STUFF from somewhere else? How is it that the bigger the (global) market, the less choice the consumer ultimately gets? Enough already!

    This government has thrown money at pink batts, em-plaqued school halls (which, by coincidence, double as voting halls), $900 cheques just because it could. Why then, if it’s so committed to the Education Revolution, has it not ponied up some support for the local publishing industry, subsidised books for schools, or simply taken away the GST on each stage of production? It’s called putting your money where your mouth is.

    Culture cannot be imported. But it can easily be lost. Now, who would want to be remembered for that?!

  4. If fewer Australian young people succeed in developing careers in writing, that will mean fewer Australian books for future generations to enjoy. And this effect will continue to grow.

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