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The other night I was lucky enough to have dinner with some of my author-colleagues from the Skrivarakademin, the vocational writing college I teach at in Stockholm.  I find fellow authors in general to be pretty cagey about their work, not wanting to talk about manuscripts until contracts have been signed and the actual production cycle is underway –– especially in times of publishing-industry uncertainty like this, when even authors with decades of experience and dozens of books to their names are nervous about whether their next manuscript will be accepted.

It might have been the wine, the blood-pumping-in-our-veins jazz, or the pots and pans banging in the kitchen next to us, I don’t know.  But for once people were actually talking about their manuscripts, and for once I actually spoke about mine.  Writing stories to be read in the classroom isn’t glamorous, it’s true, but it’s important work, I said, reaching tens of thousands of readers who deserve excellent literature –– and besides that, it pays well.  Also, my publisher takes care of me and sends me around the country speaking.  In the past, I haven’t been able to explain that to my colleagues and feel completely proud of my work, but after a half a dozen books for Natur och Kultur, which I myself regularly read and discuss with young people in classroom settings, I finally understand how important these books are.

Happily, I was also able to tell the other authors at the table that I’m currently in the editing phase with another publisher on the beginning of a new, long fiction manuscript. To research this project, I’ve been interviewing soldiers who’ve served in Afghanistan.

It turned out two other authors at the table were working with this same publisher, and were just as enthusiastic about their projects. We all have verbal contracts at the moment (as a matter of fact I’m still on a verbal contract with Natur och Kultur), so none of us can be sure our projects will ever see the light of day, but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm.

Authors are usually modest to the point of timidity when discussing their work.  So it felt healthy to finally be able to discuss what we’re working on.

 

High school English teachers in Sweden sometimes ask me why they should buy the Echo books for their classes.  My answer is in two parts –– firstly, why we English teachers should invest in textbooks in general, and secondly why the ones I wrote might be a better investment than the others.

Firstly, why invest in textbooks at all?  It’s a fair question.  I myself taught for years without textbooks, and now that my students have English textbooks, we still don’t use them every lesson.  But I’ve grudgingly come to understand that the right books are worth requesting funds from your department head or principal.

Why are high-quality textbooks worth purchasing?

 Develop a common understanding: I support students’ freedom to choose novels to read (this increases their interest in reading them); however sometimes the whole class benefits from reading and discussing shorter texts together, to help us develop a common understanding.

2  Help for both struggling and bored student: Both struggling and bored students benefit from having textbooks to turn to, struggling students because the book serves as an extra resource, bored students because the books serve as intellectual stimulation when they have already grasped concepts.

3  Students trying to catch up appreciate textbooks: For students trying to catch up with coursework, textbooks help.  It’s helpful to be able to refer them to a specific chapter first, and then later answer any questions they might still have.

4  Textbooks are designed to fit course goals: Textbook authors and editors spend months, sometimes years, planning, writing, editing and fine-tuning texts and exercises to fit the national curriculum’s course goals –– which means that if we use textbooks (or parts of them) efficiently, we spend more time teaching, and less time scrambling to meet curriculum goals.

Why buy Echo: Main Issues, specifically? 

1  Designed and written for Gy11  My editor Åsa and I designed every aspect of the books with the course goals in mind. (Other books still being sold were originally written for the old curriculum).

2  Purpose-written texts.  I’ve designed the texts in each book to be psychologically engaging and offer a complete reading experience –– unlike the extracts or adaptations to be found in other books.  (Yes, I wrote all the texts in Main Issues 5 & 6, even if they appear be be written by other people.)

3  Integrated linguistic exercises –– I wrote the exercises together with the texts, so they are fully integrated with one another.

4  Respectful writing workshops: Other books encourage students to criticize each other’s text in a peer-response process.  Unfortunately this leads to poor textual analysis –– and hurt feelings.  Echo: Main Issues follws the same guidelines I use with my college students: analysis of how a texts works for us, structurally and linguistically, without any value judgments or helpful suggestions. And the author remains silent and listens, in order to avoid unnecessary apologies, explanations, corrections, and arguments.  It’s a tried-and-true method, and very helpful.

4  Natur och Kultur’s democratic mission: Natur och Kultur Publishers is a non-profit foundation whose mission is to work for peace and democracy.  Thus the stories and other texts I wrote have a democratic purpose –– they deal with issues like bullying, football hooliganism, racism, poverty, gun violence, women’s rights, etc.

5  Professional experience. I bring professional experience to these books.  I’ve been publishing professionally since I was seventeen –– working for newspapers, magazines, as a translator and editor, and as a fiction and non-fiction author since 1987.  I also have a double-masters in English Literature and Education, and I’ve been teaching since the 1990s.  In addition to high-school English, I also teach creative writing at a college in Stockholm.  So for intance the reference sections of the books that deal with various types of texts and writing feedback –– these are issues I’ve been working with professionally for decades.

The other day I unexpectedly received a padded envelope from my publisher.  I could feel there was a book in it, but I didn’t know which one, or why.  Last spring when an author named Lena Andersson won the Swedish August prize, I received a copy of her book in the mail, compliments of our publisher.  Was this book one of those?  Or something my publisher wanted me to read?  That has happened.

I didn’t think it could be any of the books I’d written – or helped written – because the latest ones were still in production.  Besides, when my books are published, I generally get a package slip and have to go pick up a box of them at the grocery store, specifically from the gambling kiosk near the entrance which these days doubles as a post office.

But this book turned out to be something different: the second printing of my first textbook Echo 5 Main Issues – for which I wrote fiction, non-fiction, creative non-fiction, and an extended poem for.  When I signed on to write the book, my editor mentioned the possibility of it being reprinted.  But already, after only just over a year?  Apparently yes.

At the moment I’m working on three other projects with the same publisher, (as well as another project for myself) and there are always moments in the middle of every manuscript when it seems like it will never be publishable.  This was a pleasant surprise, a reassurance that I’ve been through this before, and that hard work does pay off.

So far I haven’t written about the book I just spent a year completing.  But it was finally released yesterday, so maybe it’s time.

The book is called Echo: Main Issues 5, (an English textbook for high school students in Sweden) and has been beautifully produced by Natur och Kultur, who commissioned it from me last spring.  Writing a textbook was something new for me.  Even though I regularly write instructional texts for my students, I’ve never put this many thoughts into a single instructional text before.  In addition , it’s also full of genuine, tailor-made writing.  The way such textbooks usually work is that the main reading texts are culled from a wide variety of sources (which in my opinion as a teacher tends to be awkward and unwieldy to work with).  I decided to work in a holistic fashion, writing texts to unify purpose, situation, and learning goals.  It was an enormous amount of work, much of which would have been impossible without my editor.

I’m pleased with and proud of the results:

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