Caitlin Shewell-Cooper, BA Swahili and English
Disgusted with the UK government’s response to the refugee crisis in Europe, author Patrick Ness began an online fundraiser that united the Children’s and Young Adult literary community and raised £600,000 for Save the Children. Ness is no stranger to dystopian worlds, and to many it increasingly seems like we’re living in one. In one of his most celebrated young adult novels The Knife Of Never Letting Go the protagonist Todd flees on foot from almost certain peril in his homeland, with no hope of return and an uncertain future ahead of him. This story is eerily reminiscent of the plight of a refugee, yet is a pale imitation of the horror and tragedy people travelling from unspeakable situations in Syria, Eritrea, Iraq and elsewhere have experienced and continue to experience as they seek sanctuary in supposedly safe and welcoming Europe.
On September 3rd Ness was supposed to be preparing to launch his new book at Waterstones Piccadilly that evening, but he had other things on his mind. Images of the body of 4 year old Aylan Kurdi adorned many newspapers and George Osbourne had argued that “criminal gangs” had sole responsibility for his death, and that the UK was taking a “leading role” in tackling the crisis. Ness tweeted “As far as I can tell, @David_Cameron has never stood for anything except getting elected. You shame us, sir, you shame this country.”, and expressed his frustration that simply posting his opinion to social media had no real effect. Two tweets later he had started a Virgin Giving page for Save the Children and pledged to match the first £10,000 donated.
John Green, author of Paper Towns offered to pledge another £10,000, he was followed by Derek Landy, Jojo Moyes, Rainbow Rowell, Philip Pullman; prize winning author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, Suzanna Collins; author of the Hunger Games trilogy Francesca Simon and many, many more. Publishing houses got involved, with Penguin Random house and Hachette UK pledging large donations alongside the public; there are now over 6,600 individual donors noted on the page. Authors offered incentives for the public to donate; Rainbow Rowell sorted her popular characters into Hogwarts houses on tumblr when large milestones were met, others offered to name characters in their new books after donors. A grammar school in Bradford donated over £1000 collected from a school assembly and a fair-trade tuckshop.
When Ness was in Piccadilly that evening describing his “utter disgust” with the UK government the total had already reached £60,000, and at the end of the event it had surpassed £88,000. As it stands, the page has raised almost £600,000 and it is increasing every single day. In the traditional literary world, Children’s and Young Adult literature are often unfairly maligned, yet throughout this fundraising campaign (apart from David Nicholls) all the big donors have been either female, or Children’s or Young Adult authors. Not utopia, definitely, But a little more hope.