Reading in Times of Global Crisis…

I hope that all of you are healthy and safe!

Given the unprecedented and uncertain times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, I would like to give a brief update regarding my dedication to literature and literacy on this blog:

I cannot stress enough the importance of media literacy. Understanding the ideas and their implications expressed through various media, from videos to radio alerts to broadsheet newspaper articles, is a key skill in the 21st century, yet the last few months have proven this ability of critically evaluating information to be beyond price. Technology gives us access to scores of resources, be it statistical data or news-reports, yet it also puts great responsibility on the shoulders of us – its daily consumers. It is up to us, media users, to discern the significance of numbers and trendlines or evaluate testimonies, advice, and opinions in the context of the ongoing global health crisis. I hence urge you to exercise critical thinking, analyse every source, and scrutinise the conclusions drawn by the media. Trust, but verify – wise words historically used in the context of a different crisis altogether – are no less true today. Seeking out and comparing alternative views and fact-checking both scientific and qualitative claims are useful methods which may lead us to understanding the current situation as fully and as objectively as possible. In the midst of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, media literacy is the key to preventing a ‘pandemic’ of fear, panic, and misinformation.

Having already surpassed my initial goal set at $1000 on Room to Read, I decided to radically reduce the price of my novel, setting it to the lowest possible value on all platforms. Waterdown is, in fact, now available for free on Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Although I have pledged to donate all royalties gained from the sales of this work to my literacy fundraiser, in these exceptional circumstances I firmly believe in supporting those of you – my readers – who are self-isolating or in quarantine at home. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on our society, not only those directly on the front lines or sick with the virus, but also all those of us who are forced to stay inside, who cannot work or study effectively, and who have lost all close social and physical contact with friends and family. The current situation is a source of immense stress on every single person it impacts, which is why I hope to provide a source of rumination, relaxation, and perhaps entertainment by expanding the availability of my written work and making it open-source where possible. Moreover, I hope to hence actively support your reading and encourage literacy skills maintenance – competencies which are especially invaluable now, as I’ve previously outlined.

Please note that for the time being, I do still hope to use my own means to support Room to Read and their work in improving child-literacy globally. While I understand that these may be difficult times for anyone and everyone, personally and financially, I urge all those who can to aid Room to Read in furthering our common passion for reading and learning. In spite of COVID-19, this literacy non-profit has not been idle and I strongly encourage you to read their coronavirus-response statement and, more importantly, explore their new initiatives, which include providing children with reading material using their Literacy Cloud platform, as well as a YouTube playlist of read-out loud stories, all of it on-line and for free .

I sincerely hope that the message and values expressed in this post are something we can all share and reflect upon during the current global crisis.

Stay healthy, stay safe, and stay strong!

AS

Knowing your ABCs isn’t all.

According to the International Literacy Association, 12% of the world’s population is functionally illiterate. On this serious note, let me elaborate:

While ‘literacy’ in itself is a concept fundamental to achieving an educated, developed society, ‘functional literacy’ is perhaps even more so. The distinction between the two can be summarised by the simple question “You can read the words on the page, but can you process the ideas within them?”. Functional literacy therefore involves not only the simple ability to associate spoken language with its written form, but also a broader definition of skills such as reading comprehension, numerical literacy, ability to interpret graphs, analyse texts’ implications and outcomes, in short: it involves a level of literacy at which an individual can effectively function within society.

The aim of this post is to provide a by-all-means non-exhaustive overview of functional illiteracy’s:

  • concept-development;
  • general and personal implications;
  • associated issues and practical improvement initiatives.

The end notes include a list of further reading materials and data sources I used for this piece.

Happy reading (and understanding), because you can!

The evolution of the term ‘functional literacy’ began with the need for a better definition of reading proficiency, beyond that of attained educational level in years-of-schooling as units. United Nations first posed the question in 1978, and while many adjacent definitions of functional literacy have been postulated by different organisations and NGO’s, the key distinction between formal and functional (il)literacy comes down to ‘reading of written information’ versus ‘understanding, interpretation, expression’ of that same information, as well as numerical and communication skills. According to the UN, functional literacy involves a continuum of lifelong learning that empowers people to achieve their goals, to expand their knowledge and reach their individual, contextualised potential. Today, quality education is Sustainable Development Goal 4, and improving functional literacy plays an integral part in attaining the Goal’s targets.

“A functionally literate person can engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective function of his or her group and community and also for enabling him or her to continue to use reading, writing and calculation for his or her own and the community’s development.”

– ‘functional literacy’ as defined by UNESCO’s General Conference from 1978 onwards

As per this definition, the consequences and implications of functional illiteracy are both deeply personal and broadly societal. As with general illiteracy, those with insufficient reading comprehension and numeracy levels may experience an inability to achieve their full personal potential, resulting in subjective feelings of insecurity and an objective limitation in terms of life opportunities. The rise of technology has fuelled an emergence of complex jobs demanding a more and more complete FL skillset, meaning that the future promises a growing employment and inequality gap between the functionally literate and those below the required skill-levels. This leads to wider consequences for a country’s economy: a mismatch between the literacy skills demanded and those supplied concerns not only individuals or NGO’s, but also policy-makers who ensure that education provided within a country is up-to-date with, and indeed ideally ahead of, contemporary social and economic demands.

Moving on, the computational methods used to measure functional literacy range from specific reading-comprehension and numerical tests within the PIACC framework to more general and contextualised testing approaches. While this post has become quite the essay (and with good reason – functional literacy is an underrated, veritable social crisis!), I shall refrain from also making it a lab report – to continue the assignment analogy – and would instead love to endorse UNESCO’s excellent analysis of FL-measuring methods linked below.

Interconnected with functional literacy are its causes, which range from poverty and incarceration to early-school-leaving (the colloquial “drop-out”) rates. Focusing on the latter, given my self-proclaimed specialisation in all things education-related, it is key to note the relationship between young people leaving after completing only the bare, compulsory, minimum years of schooling and functional illiteracy. Limited reading-comprehension and numeracy skills are not just a result of early-school leaving; it is often indeed the main cause. Many educational institutions are structured around the assumption that children have attained a degree of functional literacy once the standard period for initial literacy learning, or mastering those proverbial ABC’s, has been completed. As this assumption is often outright wrong, students struggle with understanding and absoption of complex texts demanded of them in different subjects, resulting in mistakes and lack of accomplishment in results across the board. These fuel early-school-leaving further, forming a vicious circle of sorts that starts with insufficiencies in the education system itself.

The issue is further compounded by the hard-to-pin-down nature of the skillset involved in FL, since, unlike illiteracy, it is often contextual and defined by the literacy needs of a particular person. Functionally illiterate adults may hence develop strategies that allow them to bypass any need for deeper text comprehension and other FL skills. Moreover, once such adults potentially return to complete their secondary-education or any equivalency certifications, e.g. to increase employability, their literacy needs are seldom comparable to those of typical secondary-school age students. Therefore, adult education should examine the functional literacy needs and wants of those who left school early and not simply adhere to standardised FL requirements.

While adult education is one of the principal FL solutions, western societies commendably offering such programs to vulnerable and hard-to-reach social groups, like the previously large-scale Canadian AlphaRoute initiatives which utilised a multilingual online platform for interactive literacy and numeracy improvement, there is still much room for growth. The two major concerns are, firstly, a lack of research into specifically functional literacy skill-bolstering methods, stemming from a lack of consensus on FL definition and the functionally-illiterate’s true needs often going undetected (in stark contrast to complete illiteracy), and secondly, the aforementioned insufficiencies in the existing compulsory-education system. Reading comprehension and analysis skills do not equate simply being able to reproduce a text out loud as part of initial literacy learning and the functional aspect of literacy development is persistently neglected during children’s compulsory schooling years, this semi-hidden educational issue plaguing numerous countries, developed and developing alike.

In short, that “12% functionally illiterate” figure doesn’t lie and millions of people’s need for education goes above and beyond simple reading. On that note, I’m also thrilled to say that Room to Read – my fundraising NGO of choice – includes girls’ secondary education as one of their (or rather, our!) top priorities and advocates empowerment and fulfilment of potential for both communities and individuals – all hallmarks of FL development.

Thanks for bearing with this unusually long and seriousTM post concerning one of the key derivative issues of global illiteracy. Here’s to an educational cause worth solving!

AS

Further reading and Sources:

  • UNESCO’s Reports: Functional Literacy and Numeracy: Definitions and Options for Measurement of SDG 4.6 for 2018 and 2017;
  • A brief update on UNESCO’s own blog;
  • More of a European-outlook in “A Review about Functional Illiteracy: Definition, Cognitive, Linguistic, and Numerical Aspects” by Vágvölgyi, R., Coldea, A., Dresler, T., Schrader, J., & Nuerk, H. C. (2016), published by Frontiers in psychology, 7, 1617;
  • …and many more publications regarding FL, its historical development etc. on academic databases such as JSTOR.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All!

In this season of joy, I would like to introduce a new section on this website: ‘Lit & Art’. Encompassing every aspect of my personal creativity, from short-story writing to drawings and illustrations, my aim is to inspire my audience’s – your – diverse talents. After all, writing and art aren’t limited to 50k+ word novels or to book covers.

Moreover, I hope that ‘Lit & Art’ will be able to serve as my messy-space for ideas and offer a closer look at the human behind the author. My New Year’s Resolution also includes being more active on social media in 2020 and engage with ‘y’all’ (meaning my readers) much more! An ambitious endeavor for a person who has been conditioned by the pressure of school-work-career-aspirations to present a metahuman façade at all times:) .

Let me begin my creative wonderings with the short-story – so aptly named – Wonder, as published right here.

And worry not – I plan to resume my thought-sharing on literacy (I know, that functional literacy research I mentioned before) and, hopefully, get to engage in some real-world projects in the New Year. In the meantime – through everyone’s efforts, $877 has already made its way to Room to Read in 2019 as part of my Literature and Literacy fundraiser. Here’s to helping many more new readers and students!

Happy reading and Happy Holidays (Christmas and otherwise) to everyone!

AS

“You have 1 (one) new review in your inbox.”

Sounds scary, right?

Just as a brief detour from my literacy research and updates, I would like to talk about a first-time-author’s experience with reviews.

For Waterdown so far, it’s been a mixed bag, which is actually quite encouraging for a young writer’s debut. Personally, I find it fascinating to hear my readers’ opinions and find out that my novel has both over- and under-developed characters, is both too ambitious and too banal, and is also somehow unfeminist (though literally written by a high-aiming female teenager).

I absolutely love finding out that someone considered it a game-like narrative, or somebody thought that, despite its generally stereotypical Sci-Fi themes, Waterdown managed to include some original ideas and explorations of the future. I’m less of a fan when it comes to reviews that go something like “I couldn’t finish the first three chapters, 1 star”, notably without an explanation as to why. I’m likewise a little discouraged by the claims that the novel is essentially paraphrasing other books of this genre, adopting the same opinions regarding A.I. and other tech aspects of our potential future.

And yet all of these reviews create a net of my readers’ feedback surrounding Waterdown, and each and every bit of criticism or praise informs me as to an outsider’s perspective on my work. Good or bad, reviews are an integral part of a writer’s public presence and, personally, I feel inspired by the audience’s (your!) views which all show that real people have taken time and energy to read and evaluate my debut. In fact, reviews have reawakened my passion for writing (and blogging) once again, which translates into, admittedly ambitious, hopes of being able to update this blogging space more frequently.

Yet the one unfortunate downside of all reviews, is that my work is already out there. Anything that could have served as useful beta-reader feedback is instead food for “what if” and “potential edit” thoughts running around my mind. Unless I were to publish a second edition, any obsessing over tiny typos is futile. However, I’m absolutely on board with constructive criticism that can be used for my future work – be it in terms of grand plot outlining or minute prose word-choices. While my current efforts are focused on researching literacy, educating myself, and helping educate others along the way, I am looking forward to getting back to creative writing in the very near future and the lessons learnt from reviews will come in handy then.

As promised, my next philanthropy-themed blog will be dedicated to functional illiteracy.

I’m also starting a miscellaneous subsection of my various other Sci-Fi and creative exploits (‘Lit & Art’ coming soon!).

I look forward to sharing more of my Literature and Literacy thoughts & encourage you to submit your own opinions on Waterdown through my contact details!

AS

Cause, Effect, Solution: the Finale.

Let’s add a little hope and positivity!

Now that I’ve established the causes of global illiteracy and its implications, I’d like to outline some of the ways in which education non-profits tackle this problem.

A clear and viable solution, using Room to Read’s tactics as illustration:

  • Room to Read is one of many literacy charities that “create local language materials that readers at various levels can enjoy. These books cover topics that capture children’s imaginations and make reading fun.” Such efforts focus on primary school – the foundation of every education – and help foster young readers’ passion for reading and learning.
  • They have developed teaching approaches that support literacy retention, training school staff in a “phonics-based instructional method” which promotes comprehensive reading and understanding in the long-term. What is more, they actively collaborate with governments, using their experience and success to advocate curriculum changes and education approaches in developing countries.
  • Building schools and training staff, as well as establishing libraries, is one of their core objectives. They work closely with local authorities, organisations and communities to maintain these establishments and create a sustainable environment which encourages children’s reading even without active support from the charity.
  • They have also established a separate programme aimed at encouraging girls to attend secondary school and giving them the material means to do so. In the poorest parts of the world, young women are the most at-risk group, often facing cultural biases that lead to early marriages, unwanted pregnancies and the danger of contracting HIV. Literacy efforts allow young women to reach their full learning potential, seek more equitable employment, “marry later, build a smaller and healthier family” and, most importantly, educate their own children, thereby ending the multi-generational illiteracy crisis.
  • When it comes to figures and facts: $50 is enough to teach a child to read and write for a whole year. $300 can keep a girl in school for a year, as per Room to Read’s girl’s education initiative.

As you can see, it doesn’t take much, if we all give a little: I don’t have a full-time job yet, but I am still contributing every cent of the earnings from my own work for this cause I feel so deeply about. There is no excuse.

I would like to encourage you to take an active part in the global literacy effort and, hopefully, inspire you with a clear and profoundly personal objective:

“As a high schooler, I have seen my fair share of classrooms. I want to help Room to Read fill another one with new students: literate and passionate about reading.”

I will hence continue to donate all of my novel’s royalties from various publishing outlets to my ‘Literature for Literacy’ fundraiser page as part of my ongoing pledge.

What about you?

  • Contribute directly to my fundraising page. Together, we are already well on our way to $1000! 20 children’s reading skills can benefit for an entire year – let’s help them fill that classroom!
  • If you would like to also support a young author or enjoy Sci Fi literature, check out my Waterdown novel. All royalties from all formats and media go to Room to Read.
  • Raise awareness! Share this message or share Room to Read’s website online or even with those closest to you. Use your literate and literal opportunity to research this cause and help others receive the same education you have.

I’m incredibly grateful for the support of all my followers both on this blog and on social media, and those of you donating to my Room to Read page. My research on illiteracy has been a humbling experience, and I’m honoured to be a part of a team effort to improve reading and writing skills for millions of children.

Thanks to all!

AS

Cause, Effect, Solution: 2.0

Another essential piece of the puzzle – a detailed look at the repercussions of illiteracy.

Last time, I outlined some of the main causes of global illiteracy, such as a lack of books in children’s native language and an equally dire lack of teachers sufficiently trained to encourage reading skills development. Today I would like to delve into the far-reaching impact of illiteracy on millions of lives.

The consequences of this issue:

  • Children whose interest and ability in reading has been neglected during their formative years face severely limited future opportunities in terms of education, employment, personal wealth and growth.
  • As a result, they cannot effectively contribute to society or the economic development of their home country, and their family cannot escape the cycle of poverty for another full generation.
  • Literacy can empower various social groups – such as women and marginalised minorities, yet if these segments of society remain illiterate, they face further oppression and loss of independence.
  • Moreover, literacy is strongly linked with education regarding safe-sex practices, and the lack thereof can increase such risks as HIV or early marriage, and unwanted pregnancy.
  • Studies indicate that illiterate youths and adults experience life-long powerlessness, shame, and ultimately resentment towards education or situations which require reading and writing skills. Children growing up in such households can absorb such sentiments regarding education. This is a potential trap for every illiterate person and can further drive this multi-generational crisis.

Finally, on a more personal level, relevant even to those of us fortunate enough to live in developed countries, ask yourselves these questions: How does an illiterate person pay the bills or secure housing? Make educated medical decisions or manage insurance? How does one improve their children’s future or support them in their education? Clearly, the effects of illiteracy are far-reaching and potentially crippling for both individual and societal development. Remember: this issue affects over 800 million people globally!

My final update will be centred around the concrete actions taken by literacy charities to solve this problem. Understanding how our contributions are helping can be truly inspiring!

I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this sequel to my SeriousTM TED talk.

AS

Cause, Effect, Solution: a Series

Jumping on the bandwagon of Gen-Z activism here, but I do have an important issue to share.

I’d like to step away for a moment from the happy-go-lucky casual tone of my blog posts and bring a truly global problem to your attention. No, no: I won’t be talking about the Earth’s climate here, my apologies for dashing your expectations. Instead, I want to focus on a less polarising cause: namely, world literacy and the lack thereof.

I have already written about the wider statistical data and extent of this issue, but I would like to expand on the causes and consequences of global illiteracy through a series of awareness updates. Throughout, I will be referencing info from the Room to Read non-profit I have chosen to support.

The problem, in plain words:

  • As of this moment, over 100 million children worldwide are illiterate, and so are an estimated 750 million youths and adults.

First and foremost, we must be clear on the reasons behind this global problem.

  • It all begins during a child’s formative years. In less economically developed countries, educational systems are often unable to provide children with age-appropriate books in their native tongue. According to Room to Read: ‘books for early readers are often limited or nonexistent in the countries where we work’.
  • Classrooms and schools in the world’s poorest regions are overcrowded and ill-suited for safe education of young children. Teachers lack the methodologies to adjust their teaching for beginner readers.
  • Once a child has acquired basic reading and comprehension skills, their further development cannot be supported due to a lack of libraries and trained librarians – a problem interconnected with a similar scarcity of schools and teachers.

The causes of illiteracy are numerous and complex, and this multigeneration humanitarian crisis demands a range of solutions targeted at each aspect of the issue.

I’d like to expand on a number of answers to the problem in future posts. For now, I’d like to welcome all of you to supporting this cause and contributing to Room to Read’s efforts, either via donation to my fundraiser portal or by sharing this and spreading awareness. Every little helps!

Next up, I’d like to focus on the implications of this problem, and finally give a detailed overview of steps undertaken by educational non-profits to combat illiteracy. Stay tuned!

Thanks for coming to Part One of my blogger TED talk.

AS


Blank Page to Book in 10 steps.

With lessons learnt by a rookie who has no business giving pretentious advice:))


1.      Come up with a concept

Cross it out, come up with another, and so on, until you land on something that is original/interesting/inspirational/visionary/insert-another-positive-adjective from your Pinterest feed. This step depends largely on your genre. Make sure to find someone as a sounding board for your ideas, ideally someone either well-read or an expert in your literary field of interest. Wouldn’t want to reinvent the wheel or write the second Fahrenheit 451.

2.      Mould your characters

Using real people is the easiest and most entertaining way to create multidimensional (anti)heroes, though you might need some descriptive camouflage skills to prevent a mob of Facebook friends coming at you with pitchforks. An important tip: keep track of technical details, including hair colour, freckles and anger issues, and use them effectively when building plot. Little memorable quirks are essential for future reveals, such as where the audience can recognise a spy while your story’s characters are oblivious. As for creating believable descriptions, online lists of character-building questions are invaluable for this step. Inane questions like “What’s your protagonist’s favourite kind of fruit cake?” and “Would you rather work with your family, friends or soulmate OR alone? ” re:Buzzfeed may not be quite it, but any and every little detail should be considered when writing personalities as complex as your own.

3.      Concept + characters + plotconflict = story

Pretend you are at once god and the characters’ invisible drama-queen instigator friend. You will be returning to this step of the algorithm many times over, especially if you decide to get developmental editor feedback. In all seriousness – this is the hardest part. My best advice would be always to keep track of the changes your characters go through, as well as to build up your readers’ expectations (and temporary anxiety issues) as the story progresses. Tension is the key to an audience’s investment in the plot’s resolution.

4.      Write

Enough said. Put some time aside for this.

5.      Petition for feedback and, hard as it may be, embrace criticism

Taking any professional advice and accepting that your story skills or ideas may not be perfect is another hard truth in writing. My own experience essentially comes down to this post, but if I were to add to it in hindsight, I would state that this is the stage where at least 50% of your growth occurs. Both as a writer and as a human (performance feedback leads to improvement, leads to eternal zen yada yada yada, as personal coach influencers would have you believe). In all seriousness, though, do ask for criticism, be it from your editor, your beta readers or close friends/family. Any outside opinion is invaluable to understand the “what now?” and “what next?” of your writing.

6.      Rewrite

Edit, edit, edit. With coffee and procrastination in between. Rinse and Repeat.

7.      The Oxford comma phase

This is where your proofreader will cycle through all the 5 stages of grief, and then some. I do recommend not limiting yourself to vague editor advice on this one: get concrete, detailed help, preferably from an experienced writer. This bit of advice may seem both obvious and rather costly, but the sad reality of (self-)publishing is that books with gross and numerous errors are a more severe faux-pas than Crocs at a gala, at least from my experience.

8.      The title

Write a list of 50 ideas, cross them all out, and rip the paper in half. Keep at it until one sticks – it should be true to the book’s genre, its contents, message and tone. Quite a few boxes to tick, but your title and cover are what the readers first see of your book, both in print and online. A quirky but valuable tip: Google potential titles and look them up in your genre on Amazon. Don’t publish ‘The Martian’ a second time, literally.

9.      The cover

Two simple choices: hire someone or DIY. I chose to design my own cover, and while the process can be seen here, it wasn’t as simple as a 16-second condensed video time lapse. It is actually much the same as your novel itself: concept is vital, before you start on the layers and brush strokes. Sketch and brainstorm, or discuss with your cover artist, until the images truly add to your book’s content. I do so hate being a conceited commercialist, but keep in mind that your work’s appearance is a key selling-point to readers who know nothing about your story. Aim to hook your audience with your cover, same as you do with your words on a page.

10.  Your Initial Public Offering

This one is a metaphor for your book launch. There is a lot of personal acceptance that goes into the decision to release your baby novel into the world. Especially if you are using your own name. Especially if it’s your debut. Lots of herbal tea, comfort food and self-reflective meditation is generally involved in taking the leap. Be brave. And after your book gets out there, the IPO stock market analogy becomes, in truth, quite literal. Your readers are your shareholders. Their reviews determine your offering’s value. So the clear goal of a book-writing startup is to make your novel the best possible product, starting with Step 1.

Good luck on the winding, yet ever-so-gratifying, road to a finished book!

AS

Waterdown!

After months of writing, editing, drawing, and creating the launch of my personal startup is here.

My novel is now, for the first time, available on Amazon as an e-book. I’m gearing up to finalise transfers to a number of other platforms like Apple Books. This couldn’t possibly be more exciting – especially after the self-paved path that led me here, full of the coolest discoveries, as well as much learning.

Yet the most important question now is:

“What’s Waterdown?”

I’ve already published a snippet of my novel’s narrative, but here is a more comprehensive synopsis.

Geo Spears thought her legacy would put her above humanity. She had created Fusion A.I., the superintelligence that saved mankind from itself. Poverty, pollution, crime and war—all gone. The solution was simple—people’s minds just had to be whitewashed… watered down.

By 2135, few human wants, wishes, instincts or memories remained. But this was also the year Geo Spears’ longevity treatment failed. She had weeks to live, at most. Cast out by Fusion and faced for the first time with mortality, her past betrayal of family becomes entangled with the present of those she learns to hold dear. Geo is confronted with the true cost of her A.I. creation. And the one remaining path to absolution.

I do hope you’re interested — especially after you’ve witnessed all the twists and turns of Waterdown’s journey from blank page to ebook.

One last thing: I’d like to reiterate that all proceeds from sales will go straight to my Literature for Literacy fundraising page.

So without further ado, check out Waterdown’s Amazon link – I would love to hear your feedback!

AS

A little teaser…

Self-check over: authorized

Patient: Ford, Scott

Born: 05/30/2130

Gender: Male

Complaint: dizziness, headache, nosebleed, vertigo, physical imbalance, nausea

Diagnosed with 3D-neurotransmitter scanner 42b1

Assisted by MedBot Hb3a

Diagnosis: Deliberate Deceleration Device not detected. Additional verification scans completed: two. No changes in state of patient. No 3D or 3D effects.

Warning! 3D functionality not detected.

Please report to the community Medical Center of your Living Complex (#45) so that your health can be fully assessed by a human health professional, and your 3D reinstated.

<sike>

Scott blinked. Then stared some more into the middle distance. Glanced again at the fateful warning displayed on the holo. He sat up straighter in the medical exam chair, surrounded by the faint, calming buzz of MedBots circling him, cleaning the equipment. An even fainter vibration, almost soundless, ran through the lacy thinner-than-hair electrodes feeding along his scalp as if they too were alive.

A query repeated three times wasn’t lying. He frantically felt around in his thoughts again, trying to reach for information that was previously so readily available to him. Addresses, data, some work-related memories. All he remembered instead was the encounter with the Boogeyman, his morning illness, the vertigo on the rooftop. Other recollections seemed behind a wall of milky glass, and yet some were becoming startlingly sharp. His childhood, weird little details: school; college; stupid jokes from years ago…

Scott’s head was spinning, but he was certain it wasn’t residue from his brush with height sickness. The smooth wires kept curling and uncurling along his hairline, sending signals, searching for a Device inside his head—a nanobot that was no longer there. Scott’s lungs felt suddenly too-empty, his head too-full of odd thoughts running too-fast, as if part of some unnatural illness.

He was no longer a proper Temporal. The 3D that had set the boundaries, the space for his memories, was gone. His thinking… his thinking was different. The electrodes moved like snakes, while Scott breathed heavily, trying to pinpoint what made his new reality so strange. Not one thought was repeated. Instead, his brain shone with stark clarity as if brand new and ready to learn an endless stream of data without forgetting. Fred’s circular questions, the meals always the same and so bland—it all came together in a grotesque image of the Devices’ real power over mind, body and will.

“Aw, mannn…”

Scott grabbed at the wires, dragging them away from the surface of his head. A few snagged behind his ear and he scratched at them desperately. He needed to delete the medical data, any records that his brain was now different. But before he could swipe at the holo, a door to the First Aid room slid open.

“No, wait!” He’d be turned back for sure; the diagnosis had sounded some kind of alarm. There was no real escape.

He expected anything but the apparition behind the door that told him to stop. It was a girl, of some 15 years old, with two tall tufts of auburn hair on either side of her head. Grey overalls, still in school. She snuck around Scott, who still stared at her dumbly, hands frozen in front of him, as she finished deftly unhooking him from the scanner, her hand doing an odd little twitch on the buttons.

She then moved to the other side of the holo, staring into Scott’s eyes through the blueish three dimensional screen. She did a complicated hand gesture, and the message, with all data pertaining to Scott’s diagnosis, vanished.

“That’s that. Welcome to humanity, Scott Ford.”

It’s International Literacy Day!

… What better date to open the floodgates of my new social media focusing on Literature & Literacy.

What do books mean to me? Brief thoughts.

I’m a story-teller as well as a story-reader. Books become friends, mentors and therapists, and my own book has become a brainchild for me. No matter which way you choose to interact with stories, once you start reading or writing, you learn, love, imagine more things than you could in a story-less lifetime.

A Harry Potter book can make you believe in magic, experience flight on a broom and, fun fact: according to this post, it can even help you master a language!

Which is a not-so-subtle transition to the next section of my brief thoughts.

UNESCO’s conference topic for today is ‘Literacy and Multilingualism’.

While UN’s leaders and participants explore policies and objectives to expand “mother language-based, multilingual approaches to literacy”, I’d like to briefly reflect on how books and languages have expanded my own horizons.

I am fortunate enough to be native in 3 languages and proficient in a fourth. Each one’s alphabet is different. There’s the “P” that can mean both an R and a P depending on the language, there’s the “Ř” which is an impossible sound to imitate in English (“rzh?” “rsh?” “zrh?”) and there’s the wonderful letter “Q” that should be written instead of the word queue when talking about lines of people, but for some reason isn’t…

Just these few examples provide sufficient evidence that reading and writing in a language only slightly different to your own can be rather complex. But what if your native language uses logograms? Or any other script but Latin? Learning the meaning behind letters and characters can become much more difficult then.

Personally, I started really learning languages as soon I was able to speak, which has given me the advantage of becoming fluent, fast. I’ve been provided with fairytales and textbooks to help me on my way. The reading I have done in each language has brought me a deeper understanding of the words’ meaning, their synonyms and sometimes etymology.

But imagine that your only chance at an education is an un-inclusive school where you don’t speak the language of instruction, even if it’s in your country… What if you have no proper books to practice your reading… Or no proper teacher…

Although I’m not attending their conference, I have every faith that UNESCO will come up with solutions for global illiteracy in the context of multilingualism. And there’s some simple advice for you and I: we can all do a little to help.

Happy International Literacy Day!

AS

Can you read my book?

Because there is no point in writing a novel if half the world won’t ever be able to read it.

Over 260 million children are out of school.

750 million people are illiterate, of which 100 million are children and youths – the world’s future.

43 million adults in the U.S. only possess basic literacy skills. That’s 1 in 5 people.

I am far from being an expert on data, education or humanitarian work, yet I firmly believe that:

This is a global issue that everyone should be aware of.

Literacy rates are lowest in the least developed regions of the world, and there is severe gender disparity, with young girls, on average, getting fewer educational opportunities than boys.

Illiteracy and lack of education results in the inescapable cycle of poverty and child labour. Young girls who don’t enroll or finish school are forced into child marriage and have a higher chance of contracting HIV. None of those 100 million illiterate children can contribute to their communities and bring constructive change.

I urge you to read the research and data gathered by UNICEF. Especially because you can read.

The statistics are shocking, but what do we do? 

Personally, I’ve been fortunate in my upbringing and education and I want to use my opportunities to bring the same to those in need.

There are numerous charities working on solving the problem of illiteracy – through donations, training school staff, building schools and ensuring students can learn safely and finish their studies. There are links to quite a few organisations down below, but personally, I have chosen to contribute to one of Room to Read’s projects.

I am starting a donation page for this non-profit, to which I hence pledge all proceeds from the first year of sales of my book. A loud proclamation, I know. Yet, even more essential to raising the money I can, is raising awareness.

Please head over to my own Room to Read support page (coming soon), even if you are unable to contribute directly, I encourage you to take a look at all their work and successes in promoting literacy.

Literature for Literacy.

AS

It’s done.

We’ve come back full circle.

My novel is edited, rewritten, proofed and being formatted as we speak. It’s September. And November is National Novel Writing Month. Oh no.

I won’t be writing another book so soon, though. There is a new focus I would like to add to my blog, one that I hope will kickstart an important discussion among readers and writers alike. Stay tuned.

Thank you for this journey.

AS

Sssss… Stress or success?

I really wanted to write that four-letter word that starts with S.

Because I’m in the editing phase now. Progress is nice. But rewriting is not a job for the weak.

Lesson 1: Be humble. Be prepared for hard truths. Editors or beta-readers will inevitably point out weakness after weakness. Even if you desperately want to throw all their criticism overboard and sail the seven seas of Barnes & Noble, Kindle Store and Apple Books on your own, don’t do it. A renegade isn’t a good look for a writer just learning their craft.

Personally, I, to quote one of my editors, “took their comments and ran with them”. Which means that I’m changing a lot of stuff. It takes a great deal of patience and even more coffee to go through with throwing things away and rewriting the rest. Often, it will make you want to yell into the void, incidentally my second favourite pastime after writing. Call constant frustration an occupational hazard. But it will be worth it. 

Sometimes, your editor won’t know what’s best. And sometimes you, as the author, are allowed to say no to suggestions. You can argue your case, but respect those who know all the industry’s ins and outs.

Lesson 2: Be brave. You’ve finished an entire story, be it short or long. That’s already a big achievement. Find the fragile essence of your narrative and stay true to it. Focus on the what and why, and the how will come, even if it’s only in the third or fourth edit.

Sssss… Soldier on.

AS

Shortest blog post ever.

After the last three, which totalled over 1k.

I don’t like to ramble. Even so, my first draft was 10,000 words longer than my second version. Cutting away paragraphs hurt, but a reader abandoning my very slow novel would have hurt worse.

Keep your mind (and eyeliner?) sharp and your pen (cursor?) sharper.

AS

It’s a job.

Time for brutal honesty now: it’s April and deadlines are coming.

Making time for writing has been harder and harder, while my various exams are ever closer. Who am I kidding, I’m still going to panic and cram a week before my tests, but the pile of responsibilities is becoming a mountain.

I know I’ve already talked about never stopping writing and here I went against my own advice. Classic, AS, classic.

The facts of the Case of The Absentee Writer are as follows:

  • 2 weeks without a word added to the manuscript
  • Email to editor still unwritten
  • Cover is just the bare bones of several sketches
  • Would-be-author nowhere to be found
  • But blog mysteriously updated (somehow seems easier to write this sad story of my life than the seriously cool novel I should focus on instead)

I’m guilty as charged in the sense that it’s my own fault there’s been no progress with the writing. Somewhere between 30 and 40k words, it’s become a part-time employment venture with very few benefits and no free workspace coffee or office supplies. Writing needs time-investment, energy, your sweat, blood and tears. You need to get it done. There are deadlines.

Now I’m getting back to it, catching up and moving forward.

It will be a job. But don’t allow it to become just a chore.

AS

How to make time… and keep making time.

TL;DR Keep at it, rinse and repeat. Eventually, the word-count will add up.

I’m still in high school at this date and time. Miserable experience, I know. The long and the short of it is that I can’t write regularly. There’s sports and homework and tests and compulsory reading and the texts from friends on a Friday night that roughly translates to “u busy? lets hang lol” (atrocious punctuation included). Now, my friends are great and all, but you can’t exactly stop and tell them that: “Actually, guys, I want to stay in and work on my dorky sci-fi novel.”

No, you can’t. Same as you can’t seem to say no to your teachers or employers or even your family. All that’s left to do after the clock runs down is to say no to yourself and your projects and go to bed, hoping that the next day you will write at least a few pages.

Writing and finishing a piece is a tough job which takes time, I absolutely know and understand. But you know what will be a tougher and longer job? Rewrites. Edits. But more on that later.

Because, you see, it is physically impossible to edit a blank page with 0 words in the bottom bar of your Word document.

The blinking cursor is intimidating for sure. Get yourself a timed 5, 10, 20, 30 minutes a day. Go! Write the worst nonsense you can, but don’t stop, don’t let a 1-day gap between writing sessions become a week, a month, a story lying in your proverbial drawer, gathering dust. Or, you know, in your head or the Notes app on your phone.

I’ve been there. School and a lot of Stressful Stuff™️ inevitably got in the way. I stopped writing for almost a month. What used to be fun became a mountain looming above me – I was beyond late for all sorts of editing and re-writing deadlines that I’d set myself. The ‘write 20k this week or die’ alert from your Google Calendar is the stuff of nightmares, I’m sure you’ll agree.

What helped with both the stress and my slow progress was coming up with ideas and little story notes while I worked on my other commitments. At school, on the subway, buying groceries. When I re-read them, the world and characters I was building all along became richer, more thought-out and real.

Never stop thinking about your manuscript, finished or not. If you’re too busy to write, get inspired by the things keeping you busy. Being afraid of not writing enough, or not writing well isn’t a valid excuse.

See you after that great writing sesh.

AS

It was a dark and stormy night and I was washing white sneakers.

To write a novel, a novella or even just a short story, you need an idea, a start. A premise from which your plot can grow.

Sometimes that idea can be a vision of new technology, of a world beyond our own, of characters long ago and far away. Sometimes that idea is an emotion. No matter if it’s anger or sadness or pure happiness, you can harness it into a story. It might seem like there are endless possibilities of where you can go from an empty Word page, but, well, speaking of happiness: whenever you begin to develop an idea, ask yourself: “Does it spark joy?” Because you will need all the joy you can get to keep writing after you notice a plot-hole infestation in your novel on page 120, single-spaced.

When it comes to my own debut sci-fi novel, the idea started out some two years ago as a way of expressing frustration with the quite indecent amount of content being produced through our consumerism, both virtual and physical. Not that I’m guiltless in the matter – literally writing a book to express my displeasure at the amount of stuff being written – ironic, I know.

But what if it all stopped? What if people were unable to produce anything, creative or otherwise, beyond their bare needs?

No spoilers! Just consider those questions…

As for the plot, I got lucky, or inspired, or both and the rough outline emerged in just one evening. I was washing my white sneakers (RIP), laces and soles, and the story was set in motion, coming together while my hands turned to prunes under the suds of Vanish ‘oxi action’ stain remover. Kids, don’t walk through a storm in white shoes!

Washing my next pair of white Nikes (I am incorrigible) is still a way of letting my mind wander through concepts and scenes in my novel. Other times, I’m inspired by talking to others, the truly great ideas arriving while I describe a chapter over a call or am messaging my school artist friends. Sometimes, it’s music or music videos. Films. Other books. Fashion. Emotion, again.

But the biggest source of ideas is the story itself. During my writing, I have made my peace with the notion that my own novel is going to enter the (mostly useless) sea of content, content and ever more content. The characters and the plot evolved, as did I. New things and people came into my life, bringing forth new ideas. Washing my new Nikes brought me new words.

Look for your own story in your own experiences, and learn to set apart the ideas that spark interest or joy. To conclude: write what you enjoy.

Good luck with your own white sneaker thoughts.

AS