15 October 2020

World Values Day and How To Save the World


Image by Margit van der Zwan.

Our guest blogger Rob Martin has written a book. How does it reflect his values?

Thursday 15th October 2020 is World Values Day.

What’s important to you? What would you say your values are? And where would you say they came from? Are they fixed or do they change? Do you tend to associate with people who have similar values for a comfortable life or do you prefer to have your values challenged?

World Values Day feels like an appropriate time to think about something I’ve just done, something which connects to my own values, and why I did it.

I’ve written a children’s book and it’s being published soon. In this 10-chapter verse, a little boy with learning disabilities and his carer dog encounter emotionless aliens who want to blow up the world. The title might give you a clue as to what happens - Joe and Dusty Save The World.

I’m funding it all myself out of money my Mum left to me after she died in December 2019, although I am raising funds here for printing free copies to give away to charities and families struggling with finances under the current situation, should you be feeling generous. Keeping it local, I’ve paid a friend and wonderful artist, Margit van der Zwan, to create over 50 illustrations, and another friend, Anne Louise Kershaw, to edit, design and help me out with printing options. 

Image by Margit van der Zwan.

Someone I know a little, the actor and social justice campaigner, Julie Hesmondhalgh, likes the book so much that she’s written the foreword.

 Dr Sarah Gordy MBE, the actress and performer with Down's Syndrome, is writing an introduciton. The hardback version will be printed by a Vegan Society-approved ethical printing company too.
 It wouldn't be much good for Joe and Dusty to save the world only to contribute to its pollution...

So, my values of trying to keep things ethical and green, of including authentic voices, and of supporting those you know and care about with paid work when you can, and of giving something away to people who may benefit from it but can’t afford it… well, I guess they’re there.

But what about those bigger values that the story itself represents? Where do they come from? What business do I have writing stories about a disabled child? And making it rhyme for goodness sake?

I grew up in a very working class household. We had very little money and even ‘littler’ aspirations. Mum and Dad were too busy to have them, given that my Dad held down two jobs whilst my Mum looked after me and my two older sisters, the oldest of whom, Pauline, had been born with severe physical and learning disabilities. In those days she was called ‘spastic’, ‘handicapped’ and ‘crippled’. She was deaf, she had no speech, and she had numerous fits a day. My parents got very little state support. 

One lasting impact of growing up with my sister is that disability has always been just another version of normality to me. It has never been a ‘them’ and ‘they’ just an ‘us’, and I’m a big fan of DaDaFest’s terminology which describes people as ‘disabled and not disabled yet’. I’m a proud Board member there, encouraged by my values of fairness, equality and social justice.

Another lasting impact on my values from my early home situation is that my family were always very open with their (our) emotions - good or bad. We didn’t have the luxury of time, of social etiquette, of posh education to care about not letting it all out. We cried, we laughed, we argued, we hugged. When my dad broke wind, he used to pretend that he was climbing onto a motorbike. It made us howl with laughter every time. We didn’t hide things. There wasn’t room, for a start, but we just couldn’t as people anyway. It made it much easier for me to come out as gay to my family than it might have otherwise, had there not been a sense that being true to yourself really mattered. And perhaps it meant that the horror of my sister’s death when she was 16 was a burden shared.

Consequently I’ve grown up valuing openness, honesty and truth. I value the ability to recognise that emotions, feelings, are just as important as intelligence, and I value the essential ability to laugh and cry as and when required. I admire authenticity.

Empathy, openness, humour - these are the values with which Joe and Dusty save the world. 

When I was starting the book I did some research into existing books for kids which deal with disability and I was surprised at how many deal with just that - the disability - and not the child. Whilst Joe’s different abilities inform who he is and how he responds to situations, it’s his empathy, openness and humour which the story concentrates on. In that way, he represents the best of us.

I guess that Joe’s ‘values’ reflect my own. And yes, there’s even a fart joke in there.

But why now? Maybe I wanted to write it because these values feel as if they are under threat. Are kindness and empathy declining forces in society? Sometimes it feels like it. Maybe Joe and Dusty represent my belief that we all have something good and positive to contribute and that different abilities are not lesser ones. We all have value.

So, whilst I’m not going to give the ending away entirely here - you’ll have to buy it, I’m not stupid - one the most important things about Joe and Dusty is their ability to express something which we should all put a high value on.

And it rhymes with dove, shove and glove. I know, I’ve got a rhyming dictionary.

Visit joeanddustybooks.com

Joe and Dusty Save The World by Robert Martin will be out by Christmas. You can support the fundraiser for printing free copies here.

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