The book, A Definition of Snow, is a collection of fifteen stories of humanitarian, development, health and social care and peace-building workers writing about their experiences working in their own communities. When I first heard about the project, way back in spring 2016, I knew I had to get involved. The project began when the project coordinator, Annina, spent six months working in Bolivia for the Red Cross. When she came back, she noticed that friends, family and even many strangers were interested in hearing her experiences, but the experiences of her Bolivian colleagues - people working every day in the hospital, with a profound understanding of the challenges, difficulties and day to day realities of that work - were totally missing from the narrative. And when she looked on the shelves of bookshops, she found that nearly every book on development was written from the perspective of a Western worker who had gone to a country not their own, for a limited period of time. The crucial perspectives of people working for years in their own communities were lost, and this was a massive gap in the bookshelf which she wanted to remedy.
When Annina told me about the project, and showed me the first draft of two of the writers' stories, I knew I wanted to be part of the project. The stories were powerful, necessary, and unlike anything that I had read. There's something about reading another human's voice, talking honestly about their experiences, that opens up a whole world of understanding. It's the same reason I became a writer, and these stories, I knew, needed to be told. As I've worked on the project, I've grown to be incredibly proud of the work of our writers, most of whom - though they are doctors, nurses, run NGOs and work in expert roles in peace-building projects - had never written a story before. The writers talk about what it's like to be a female doctor working in a rural Bolivian prison; about being a refugee who risked his life to further a dream of becoming a doctor; about growing up in an organisation for orphans in South Sudan and later working for that same organisation to help women become business-people and successfully support their families after years of war. The stories are fascinating, poignant, outspoken and honest. As writing advisor, I've worked with each writer over several drafts, helped with the preparations for the publication process, worked on the manuscript, and advised the project coordinator and the regional contacts. It's been a privilege, but the real magic in the project came from the stories themselves. Two years on, the VOICE team is made up of ten people speaking six different languages, and we work with writers all over the world. This year, we presented a proposal for a fifteen-story book to Unbound, the publisher responsible for ground-breaking essay collections like The Good Immigrant, and it was accepted. Our book is crowd-funding now!
And this is where I need your help... If you are interested in development, in memoir-writing or in stories from around the world which open a reader's eyes to different realities, I would be honoured if you would consider pledging towards helping make the book a reality (in return, you'll automatically receive one of the special first editions as soon as it's published). Or, if you know someone who might be interested, I would be delighted if you would share the project with them or ask them to pass it on. The Unbound model is a great one for a book like ours, because it works by giving early supporters special extra rewards for preordering. Those who pledge now can receive personal gifts from our writers, city tours, Skype calls and book club benefits. In addition, all supporters get their name in the back of the book. I've personally supported several books on Unbound over the last couple of years and it's quite a magical thing to contribute in this way to a project as a reader and see your name in the list of supporters when you receive your first copy.
For aspiring writers, one of the rewards we are offering is an exclusive writing consultation. If you choose this option, I will read the first part of your novel or memoir, give you detailed feedback and advice on publication, and organise a personal Skype conversation with you to discuss it. I promise I will be as helpful as possible (I have lots of experience now, after all, since I've spent all this time working with our VOICE writers and helping them get their work to publication standard!). There are only three available - unfortunately I can't offer more as I want to spend a lot of time on each one and also get Book Two redrafted before the deadline - so if you want to pledge for this reward, now is the time.
You can read more about Project VOICE here, and find the Unbound page here, where, excitingly, we are already 6% funded in just 48 hours!
If you are one of my existing readers and you do decide to support the book, send me a screenshot of the thank you message - I would love to send you a postcard personally to say thanks. Being British, I'd never ask you directly to buy one of my own books. But I'm making an exception for these fifteen brilliant writers because their stories really deserve to be told.