Diversity: The Daily Telegraph Debate

Lorna Bradbury, The Daily Telegraph’s book reviews editor, talks to two acclaimed writers about the need for diversity in children’s books and what that really means. Join the discussion with Liz Kessler (Read Me Like A Book) and Bali Rai ((Un)arranged Marriage). No topic is off limits.



Date 28-09-2015
Time 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Venue Guildhall
I received a free ticket for reviewing this event.


Well this was always going to be a though one wasn’t it? Diversity in books is something I am personally very passionate about.

Each panel member was given a brief introduction. Bali Rai, Liz Kessler and Shannon Cullen who is a publisher at Penguin Random House.

The event was scheduled with the first half for the panel to debate questions given by the Chair (Lorna Bradbury), after which the audience was given the opportunity to join in. Personally I don’t think an hour was nearly enough for this topic, just based on the number of hands still up in the air when the Chair closed the questions from the floor.

To begin Lorna Bradbury talked about the yearly survey America publishes giving the statistics of diverse characters in children’s literature. She also referenced the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement.

And then it began…

For passion and conviction I think Bali Rai led the debate. He talked about how there had been some improvement but that publishing had not moved forward nearly has much as it should. How some voices were still missing.

Shannon Cullen (Penguin Random House) agreed with him and said that they were looking to agents, to find the stories. She also talked about helping people get into the publishing industry.

Liz Kessler talked about not just being restricted to writing what you know, but authors writing beyond their own experiences.

Initially there was a lot of consensus amongst the panel about how the publishing industry should do more to promote diversity in books but when it came to the how not everyone agreed.

Bali Rai wanted publishing to take more risks and to spend the money on promoting it. Not just marketing books that already had a guaranteed audience, his example was the last John Green book publicised in the UK. I thought this was a fair point as John Green has such a huge fan base (which he has worked for, don’t get me wrong) so that some of that budget could have been used elsewhere.

Shannon Cullen responded explaining that the money being bought in by those sales was being used to take risks and promote other authors.

The Chair asked put forward the question of self-publishing for authors who weren’t succeeding on the traditional route. Bali Rai didn’t support this idea, as self-published works miss out on editing and don’t necessarily sell. Sometimes only a copy or two a week.

The problem of ‘gatekeepers’ was also addressed. Bali Rai talking about how they were frequently people who had no cultural reference points to understand what was written in his books.

So many things were touched upon during the debate but with only an hour there wasn’t really the time to explore them fully. Especially once the audience joined in.

I wrote down many question/notes during this discussion and wish I could have asked some of them during the debate. I do hope that Bath Children’s Literature Festival will host another one.


The Telegraph Bath Children’s Literature Festival runs from
Friday 25th September to Sunday 4th October.

Twitter @bathfestivals
Facebook /bathfestivals
Website: bathfestivals.org.uk/childrens-literature/

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