We were delighted to be given the opportunity to travel to Cardiff to meet with Claire Fayers and talk with her about her enchanting new novel, Mirror Magic. Noah takes the lead in this video, with the rest of the worms joining in with a ‘Would You Rather?’ section near the end. Thank you very very much to Claire for being such a great sport and taking the time to film with us.
Why not check out Noah’s written review of Mirror Magic here.
To mark Empathy Day on June 12th, we are delighted to be participating in the Empathy Lab Blog Tour and even more delighted to be hosting one of our favourite authors, Gill Lewis. Empathy Day calls us all to READ – because reading in itself can make us more empathetic; SHARE – because sharing perspectives through books can connect us in new ways; and DO – put empathy into action and make a difference in your community.
Gill is previously on record as saying “Books are more important now than ever for us to understand other people’s lives. They allow us to hear the whole story and to walk in someone else’s shoes. Books can help us understand others and the world around us. Ultimately, they allow us to understand ourselves.” (A Day in the Life of Gill Lewis, retrieved from inkpellet.co.uk). In this blog, she explores having empathy for someone whose views you do not necessarily agree with.
Empathy… A Bridge Across the Divide
A Guest Blog by Gill Lewis
When I was researching for my book, Sky Dancer, a story about the environmental conflict surrounding driven grouse shooting in our uplands, I came across many distressing videos and images of persecuted birds of prey; poisoned eagles, shot hen harriers, bludgeoned buzzards and goshawks. The list went on and on.
I was appalled.
Why would anyone do such a thing?
We often use a rhetorical question to express our disgust and contempt. It entrenches us in our own viewpoint and alienates us from the other.
However, if we ask a genuine question: Why would anyone do such a thing? Why? Then we begin to put ourselves in a position to understand someone’s actions. Empathy is an important skill and the basis of understanding the motives of others. You don’t have to agree with someone or tolerate their views but you can attempt to understand why they have those views. Making the first step towards understanding does not mean you compromise your own beliefs, but that you are willing to listen. Listening is the first step towards dialogue, which can lead to potential resolution of a conflict or the changing of bigoted views or unjust practices.
A writer uses empathy all the time to understand each character’s viewpoint. A writer has to know, for example, why one character might hold racist beliefs. Most prejudice is born from fear; fear of losing power or control. It’s a survival mechanism to protect one’s own interests. Dialogue and understanding can reduce the fear and in doing so be pivotal in changing bigoted attitudes.
For Sky Dancer I wanted to understand why a gamekeeper might shoot a hen harrier, one of our wonderful iconic birds of prey. Why destroy something so beautiful, a part of nature? Why risk breaking the law in doing so?
Well, the answer lies in the driven grouse shooting industry. The Joint Raptor Study concluded that a driven grouse moor cannot be economically viable unless hen harriers are killed. Birds of prey are persecuted on many grouse moors to ensure the red grouse numbers are high enough for a shoot.
The gamekeepers’ job is in the name. It is to keep game in plentiful supply for a shoot. Many gamekeepers have long traditional family associations with the land and with the owner of a grouse moor. It’s a way of life. There is fierce pride in the job. Killing wildlife that preys on red grouse goes back to Victorian times. It’s a cultural norm. Many species such as crows, foxes, magpies, and weasels are now legally killed, and many, many birds of prey are illegally killed too.
If gamekeepers allow red grouse numbers to fall due to predation, they are at risk of losing their livelihood and way of life. To lose a way of life is to lose your identity and your sense of belonging in the world. No wonder it is something people would be fearful of and fight against. No wonder a gamekeeper wants to do his job well and maximize game. No wonder there is fierce resistance to those who want to ban driven grouse shooting.
Similarly, many grouse moor owners do not welcome hen harriers because their business is dependent upon high grouse numbers. Land ownership in the uplands is a complicated mix of tradition, class, wealth and politics. A landowner may fear loss of power and control, not only of the land, but also of their own status.
In Sky Dancer, I wanted to cross the bridge from my own viewpoint, one that sees persecution as abhorrent, and try to understand the stance of a gamekeeper involved in the shooting of a bird of prey. Joe, a gamekeeper’s son, narrates the story and through him we see his father’s and the wealthy landowner’s views, and we also see how Joe is challenged to think another way by a newcomer.
By trying to understand both perspectives, I wanted to build up the arguments for driven grouse shooting and then tear them all down and show that driven grouse shooting is an outdated Victorian sport that has no place in conservation today.
Yet, in this story, I wanted to show that there is a viable alternative to driven grouse shooting that would benefit all. At the moment we, as taxpayers, pay vast subsidies to landowners to intensively manage the land via burning to produce swathes of heather for grouse. Much of our upland landscape of treeless, fire-scorched hillsides has been defined by it. This land management is bad for the environment; it is detrimental to carbon capture, water and air quality and biodiversity. An alternative would be to re-wild our upland with mixed habitats of deciduous native woodland, blanket bog and heath. I’d prefer my taxes to pay for restoration of the natural world. Gamekeepers’ livelihoods needn’t be at risk either, as re-wilding would require wildlife rangers to protect wildlife and wild space, and not destroy it.
My opinion is that re-wilding is the viable option to break away from damaging Victorian practices. It would provide eco-tourism, mitigate flood risk and benefit carbon capture, water and air quality and achieve a biodiversity of such richness that which we can now only dream.
Empathy can build bridges and initiate dialogue.
Whether or not someone with an opposing opinion wants to meet you on that bridge is their choice. But by understanding another viewpoint, it allows you to reassess your own, clarify your own beliefs, sharpen your argument and give courage of your convictions to keep on fighting for what you believe.
Thank you to Gill Lewis for this thoughtful and thought-provoking blog. You can read our review of Sky Dancer here. You may also be interested in her latest book with Barrington Stoke, Run Wild, which also has a re-wilding theme.
Number 6 in a series of blog posts to mark the publication of The House with Chicken Legs
‘In Novgorod, in famous Novgorod,
There lived Sadko…’
Sadko is the main character in a Russian medieval bylina (a narrative poem or song). Sadko’s only possession was his maple gusli (a stringed instrument), but he played it so beautifully he was invited to all of Novgorod’s feasts.
One day, Sadko played his gusli on the shores of Lake Ilmen, the water began to swirl, and the Sea Tsar rose from the surface and said,
‘I don’t know what I can reward you with
For my pleasure, for my great pleasure,
For your tender playing.
Perhaps with countless golden treasure?’
The Sea Tsar tells Sadko to make a wager with all the merchants in the city that he can catch a fish with golden fins. Sadko does this, casts a net into the lake, and catches three fish with golden fins. He wins three shops of the finest goods and begins to trade and make great profits.
Sadko builds thirty scarlet ships and spends many years trading along the River Volkhov, Lake Ladoga, the Neva River, and across the blue sea. He earns barrels of gold and silver, but when he decides to return to Novgorod a storm forms in a cloudless sky and his ships stop in the middle of the sea.
Sadko realises it is time to make a tribute to the Sea Tsar and lowers a barrel of silver into the water, but the storm continues. He lowers a barrel of gold next, but still his ships won’t move. Sadko realises the Sea Tsar needs a living tribute and asks his crew to write their names on wooden lots and cast them into the sea.
All the lots float, apart from the one with Sadko’s name on. So, Sadko takes his maple gusli and sits on a plank in the sea while his ships sail away. He falls asleep and wakes on the bottom of the sea, with the Sea Tsar’s palace before him.
The Sea Tsar asks Sadko to play his gusli as tribute, and when the music sounds the Sea Tsar begins to dance. For three days Sadko plays, unable to stop, and the Sea Tsar dances up a storm that, far above, on the surface of the sea, smashes ships and drowns sailors.
Finally, Nikola Mozhaisky (the patron saint of sailors) touches Sadko on the shoulder and tells him to break his gusli strings, so Sadko plays a chord that breaks his strings, the Sea Tsar stops dancing, and the water calms.
To reward him for his playing, the Sea Tsar asks Sadko if he would like to marry a beautiful mermaid. Under the guidance of the saint, Sadko lets hundreds of mermaids pass by, and chooses a maid at the back of the procession. Then Sadko does not sleep with her on their wedding night, as the saint tells him he will stay forever in the blue sea if he does. The next morning, Sadko wakes in his beloved city of Novgorod.
I recognise several themes in the Sadko bylina, such as paying respect to those who help you, and love of home. But to me, the story of Sadko was always about the power of music.
When Sadko had nothing else, his music nourished him; both metaphorically and literally as he was welcomed at feasts. Music made the Sea Tsar rise from Lake Ilmen and reward Sadko with riches.
Music took Sadko to the underwater realm, where he saw a great palace and many beautiful mermaids. And Sadko’s music was so powerful, it made the Sea Tsar dance up a storm.
I have always loved music. Long before we can talk or understand speech, music provides an introduction to how we communicate, how we feel and express emotions, and how we use our imaginations to create and tell stories. Music is a powerful magic, a universal language of the human soul.
And the story of Sadko has inspired more music! Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov composed a piece of orchestral music based on Sadko in 1867, and later developed this into an opera.
A version of Sadko can be found in Old Peter’s Russian Tales, written by Arthur Ransome, published by Puffin.
Alexei Tolstoy wrote a poem, Sadko, but I have never found an English translation – so if you know of one, I’d love to hear from you!
Do check out the rest of the blog tour (see graphic at the top) – Sophie has written 15 posts about Russian Fairy Tales and what they mean to her. You can read Noah Worm’s review of The House with Chicken Legs here, and Sophie has also answered our questions here.