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Publishing and Parental Oscars

Our 7-year old grandson, Sebastian, knows a great deal about reptiles. But he doesn’t know much about his mother’s(Emma’s) job. This week he asked her: ‘I know what Daddy does. People pay him to do drawings for buildings and then they build them. But what do you do? Do you just sit in front of a screen all day?

The question arose soon after his mother’s ‘sitting in front of a screen all day’ had helped to create The 2020 British Book Awards this week. Instead of the annual gathering of the glitterati of the publishing trade at a swanky London hotel, the online awards ceremony was open to the general public.

Twenty-six ‘publishing Oscars’ were ‘presented’ to the writers and publishers and booksellers etc. of 2020. Each ‘presentation’ was sponsored by a company within the publishing industry – each one looking to increase its profile. Each presentation was presented by a publishing celebrity – many of them with new books to sell themselves. And each recipient of an award had to be ‘managed’ while the ceremony was built – to ensure an authentic response of surprise when the award was announced.

No pressure, then, on Emma and the other organisers! We can only imagine the artistic egos to be massaged, the deadlines to be met, the delicate balances to be struck, the public opinion to be considered – and all under a cloak of secrecy so that there were no leaks about the identity of the winners.

Emma appeared briefly in the ceremony as a continuity announcer but mostly her work was as entirely invisible in the finished product as it clearly was to her son!

‘Soft skills’ like Emma’s are largely unseen – though their effects are widely felt. Teamwork, the ability to communicate with all manner of people, to recognise and work with different feelings, needs and perceptions, to meet deadlines, to solve unforeseen problems creatively - all these are vital and significant skills. They are much in demand by employers and rarer than educational attainments. A 2019 report from the CBI reported that ‘character, behaviours and attributes (are) considered to be the most important consideration when recruiting school and college leavers’. Another estimate calculated soft skills to be worth more than £100 billion annually to the UK economy.

Sebastian clearly has a few more years to ‘get’ all this! But he is already on the receiving end of his mother’s skills in developing the ‘character, behaviour and attributes’ which have stood her in good stead at work. She, like most other working parents I’ve talked to, are under constant pressure during lockdown. While exercising ‘soft skills’ at work, she and James, like so many other conscientious working parents, continue to encourage their children not only to work hard at their home schooling but also to share, to listen, to negotiate, to adapt and adjust. Clearly, if despite all the relentless pressure, they and other parents can succeed, their children will be more employable one day – and in the meantime, they'll be family members and citizens who are easier to live with!

So I’m ending this blog with a shout-out of encouragement for working parents in lockdown – hang in there! You may be tearing your hair out and your work may seem invisible at the moment, but what you're doing is worth a parental Oscar!

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